MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Recently, in my positon as the Director of Aerospace Education for the Alabama Wing Civil Air Patrol (CAP), I had the pleasure of hosting two major exhibits at the “Worlds of Work” job fair at the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds, Dothan, Alabama. During this two-day event, several thousand eighth-grade CAP cadets from southeast Alabama, southwest Georgia, and northwest Florida descended on Dothan and received “hands-on” experiences in a variety of career fields and an introduction to a number of CAP programs.
One exhibit showcased CAP’s Aerospace Education outreach program. Through this program, CAP promotes aerospace and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs among school-age students. The objective of this program is to spark interest among young students in the scientific and technical disciplines early in their school careers, hoping that they will continue that interest later in their education careers when they reach college age.
Also, assisted by cadets and senior members from the Dothan CAP Squadron, I focused on the CAP cadet program with the object of obtaining new members. Although the CAP is not an Air Force recruiting program, it is formally considered the civil auxiliary of the Air Force, and many of its activities directly and indirectly support the Air Force mission. Over this two- day event, we showcased the kinds of activities cadets in which CAP cadet can participate, such as search and rescue missions and various emergency services for numerous federal agencies, including the Air Force.
Historically, the CAP experience has served as an exciting steppingstone for former CAP members to transition to an Air Force career. For example, if a CAP member enlists in the Air Force, he or she receives an automatic two-step promotion to senior airman. Also, on the average, about 10 percent of the freshman class of the US Air Force Academy for the last ten years have consisted of former CAP members.
During the exhibit, a number of these young visitors expressed an interest in various Air Force careers. We quickly showed them pictures of cadets in action, stating that CAP missions were a good way to develop skills that could be used later in the Air Force.
Our outreach at Dothan is also in keeping with Secretary of the Air Force’s intent to encourage more youth to develop an interest in becoming pilots. For example, we informed many about the possibility of attending a CAP flight academy for a chance for them to learn to fly a CAP aircraft.
As the fair took place in late February, I reminded students who visited the CAP exhibit that this was Black History month and used the opportunity to showcase Lt. Col. Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell, the first female African-American fighter pilot and former CAP cadet. She received her first flight lesson at age fourteen, then later joined CAP, worked at air shows and earned her private pilot’s license before attending the Air Force Academy. She graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1998 and earned her pilot wings in 1999.
We also pointed out that Col. Eric Boe, Air Force astronaut, made his first solo flight at a CAP encampment. In highlighting their achievements we demonstrate that CAP and the Air Force provide opportunities for anyone who wishes to succeed. Indeed, when speaking to young CAP members, I encouraged them to define who they are and what their goals are, not to let others define who they are or what they should be, and that we would always welcome being a part of their future, and to help them develop the unique set of skills CAP cadet program has to offer.