EDMOND — Nearly every Thursday, a few dozen young people show up in military camouflage uniforms at the Edmond National Guard Armory for Civil Air Patrol.
They come to serve their country and prepare for their future.
The organization is part of the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. Junior cadets, ages 12 to 18, learn about aviation, space exploration and humanitarian missions. Edmond Composite Squadron Commander Capt. Travis Kyle said the cadets develop leadership skills, confidence, discipline and physical fitness.
“They're also entitled to 10 free flights,” Kyle said. A cadet can remain in the squadron until age 21.
Nationally, the patrol receives congressional funding. Kyle said the funding comes with three teaching directives: emergency services, aerospace education and cadet programs.
Occasionally, real-life service is required of the cadets and their adult leaders. Such a time came two years ago.
“We did damage assessment for the 2011 tornado that struck Piedmont,” Kyle said.
Some of the cadets have even more real-world experience.
Sarah Wood is a senior cadet with six years in the squadron. She's also with the Army National Guard and returned recently from deployment in Afghanistan.
“I valued the experience,” she said. “I love the military and would go back.”
On a recent Thursday, she was teaching proper techniques of search and rescue.
Civil Air Patrol chapters were called into service when Hurricane Sandy battered the nation's northeast. Patrol members took some 158,000 photographs of the destruction. They also assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other relief groups in helping to feed and shelter Sandy victims.
While these missions benefit the public, it's the aerospace education that draws a lot of cadets to the training.
That's the case for cadet leader Caleb Ritchie, 18, a Deer Creek High School senior.
Ritchie wants to earn his officer commission and attend the Air Force ROTC program at Oklahoma State University. From there, he will pursue a military career. He has a 3.5 grade-point average and wants to rise to the highest rank possible for a patrol cadet.
“The way I see it, there are only 293 cadets in Oklahoma,” he said. “It's not for everyone, but the few and the proud.”
He hopes to travel abroad and meet youths worldwide who share a love of aviation. His family supports his time in the organization, and he says he's “very patriotic.”
Continuing to recruit
Recruiting is an ongoing effort for the Civil Air Patrol. Cadet ranks swelled to 26,384 in 2012, up from 21,000 just four years ago.
The patrol was formed in December 1941, the week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Under the jurisdiction of the then-Army Air Corps, the patrol logged more than 500,000 flying hours, and that war service led to the Civil Air Patrol becoming a permanent fixture.
On May 26, 1948, Congress made the patrol an auxiliary of the newly formed U.S. Air Force.
Anyone interested in membership in the Edmond Squadron should contact Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.