Thanks to the Lowcountry Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol for sharing the story of cadets from throughout Beaufort and Jasper counties who attended a special training session called an encampment last month in Columbia.
Cadets in the program, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, range in age from 12 to 21. Some have served for eight or more years. Cadets are encouraged to train, study and test in various areas of Civil Air Patrol education, and are promoted and decorated in accordance with CAP guidelines.
Higher-ranking cadets can go on to the U.S. Air Force Academy or other branches of the military. Some get a paid education for their proven performance and hard work during their time in the Civil Air Patrol. Adult senior members have similar promotion opportunities in CAP and are the leading support for the program.
The Lowcountry Composite Squadron, under commander Roger Kelly and cadet commander Mark Eudy, meets from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. each Thursday on the General Aviation side of the Hilton Head Island Airport.
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'FROM REVEILLE TO LIGHTS OUT'
By Michelle Oakes
One awakes to the clanging of lockers and flickering lights, as the 5 a.m. reveille begins the day. Had I not known better, I would have thought I was in the midst of a Dr. Seuss storybook. As the cadets awaken, from too few hours of sleep, they prepare for the beginning of another rigorous day.
A seven-day encampment is just the beginning of a Civil Air Patrol cadet's many adventures and huge stepping stone to the future that lies ahead.
Physical fitness, or "PT" in military terms, begins at 5:20 a.m. Cadets, also known as basics, begin each morning with a 20-minute workout. The counting aloud of push-ups, pull-ups and jumping jacks begins to rise above the chirping of the early birds and crickets.
Breakfast is served promptly at 7 a.m, and this is one time you don't want to be late. Cadets take one plate and one cup -- no seconds and no turning back. If it wasn't a favorite before, it will have to be today, as the Southern-style sausage gravy and biscuits are plated. It has been duly noted, however, that you will only go hungry if you choose to; word on base is that the cooking is better than Mom's, but I've been asked to put that in small print.
Immediately after a 15-minute breakfast, the troops head to training. For some, it's M-16 simulation practice. For others, it's a trip on the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, courtesy of the U.S. Army; a C-17 flight; or an afternoon at the Fort Jackson water park. When not in simulators or airplanes they are in classrooms, taught by senior CAP members or cadet staff. Classes run daily, fulfilling the 40-hour training requirements of the Civil Air Patrol for graduation.
Along with customs, courtesies and standards of the uniform, cadets are trained in aerospace flight, rocketry, ground training and emergency services. Videos, crafts and group sessions are some of the ways cadets learn the ins and outs of Civil Air Patrol and its commitment to the U.S. Air Force and the local community.
The sound of watches beep throughout the group. It's noon, and a single-file line forms once again at the chow hall. Pulled barbecue, baked beans and coleslaw appear on the serving station.
As the day wears on, the cadets move toward the parade deck and begin their training on basic marching, formation and drill. Preparation is the name of the game at the S.C. Wing Encampment, and it's exactly what they get, day in, day out.
It's 1700 hours when hot and tired cadets fill the chow hall for the last time of the day, with half smiles and uncertainty on their faces, wondering if it's worth it all. The supper dish is chicken and rice with side salad and green beans. The cadets stand before their chairs in perfect, quiet attention, awaiting the arrival of their full flight before taking a seat. Not another word is spoken.
After another fast meal and a quick change of clothes, the PT games begin. With renewed energy and determination, the cadets face off with flag football, ultimate Frisbee, old-fashioned kickball or relay races -- the kind of games every cadet needs to just be a kid.
The sun sets fast, and it's back to the barracks for cleanup and foot checks -- looking for blisters and fungus. Fortunately, the hygiene seems pretty well under control, demonstrating the astuteness of the health/medic staff at the encampment.
Only a few rations of Band-aids, powders and gels are needed.
It's 10 p.m. Dawn breaks early at the S.C. Wing Encampment, so it's lights out for all. A quiet hush looms over the barracks as the exhausted cadets drift off to sleep.
After seven days of sweat, fears and tears, these 115 cadets have proven themselves strong and are honored in a semiformal graduation. Donned in standard dress blues, they march across the parade deck in unison, marking step with the flight before them. Arms are rendered in reverence to the flag as well as their encampment commandant, as they pass by. Another day passes before them, another milestone achieved.