LACONIA — It's a quiet, mid-winter night at the Laconia Municipal Airport. Windy and cold, the general aviation community definitely has better things to be doing on a windswept Thursday night than fly through the mountain ranges of the Lakes Region area. By all accounts, the airport should be quiet and empty, so it's a contradiction to see the airport aglow with lights and activity. Packed with about 13 young adults in their Civil Air Patrol cadet uniforms, the airport is alive with marching, saluting and drill routines, engaging the teens who have braved tonight's winter weather.
The Laconia Airport is home to the Hawk Composite Squadron of the New Hampshire Civil Air Patrol Wing, one of nine squadrons around the state. Every Thursday beginning at 6:30 p.m., up to 29 young men and women arrive at the airport. A youth program not unlike others in the area, the Civil Air Patrol (or CAP) cadet program differs in that it focuses exclusively on aviation. In the program, youth from the ages of 12 to 21 serve as the junior arm of the Civil Air Patrol, the United States Air Force Auxiliary. According to the organization's website, the cadet "program allows young people to progress at their own pace through a 16-step" curriculum of "aerospace education, leadership training, physical fitness" and character development.
"This program builds confidence and develops relevant skills," states Diane Terrill, who is airport's general manager. "Each week, I watch these kids come in and a tackle a new objective for the evening. They are committed to building each other up along their paths of exploration. It's a great experience for all of them and the Laconia Airport is proud to have the facilities to serve as home base for the Hawk squadron."
Terrill is referring to the main terminal, where the cadet's are practicing one of the many drills they've learned throughout their time in the program. According to one cadet, he's been able to take his love for sailing and transfer it into the cadet program with the Civil Air Patrol. "I've been involved with CAP since I was in 8th grade," stated Riley Woods, a Belmont High School sophomore. "I always loved to sail and fly, and I knew that celestial navigation between the two types of craft were pretty similar so when I came to a few meetings to find out if the program might interest me, I was hooked right away."
The broad reaching program allows for most individual interests to be satisfied, especially if they're aviation driven. Whether it's photography, astronomy, flying and flight training or even survival training, there's something for young adults participating in the Civil Air Patrol youth program, including the opportunity to fly in an airplane during a summer camp program!
There are many rewards for the young participants. For those who continue with the program until the end of high school, the Civil Air Patrol offers academic and aviation scholarships. All cadets are eligible for 10 orientation flights: five in powered aircraft and five glider flights. Participants who become a cadet officer (or a Cadet 2 Lt.) must pass rigorous leadership and aerospace education tests, engage in physical conditioning and training, and attend a minimum number of character development classes during eight different achievement phases. But before they earn the title, they must pass both comprehensive leadership and aerospace tests as well as a review board. Finally, a cadet who goes on to enter the Air Force, they may do so at the Enlisted 3 level (instead of Enlisted 1), which has specific pay advantages.
Another step beyond the weekly CAP meetings is the Honor Guard program within the Civil Air Patrol. The Honor Guard has a very specific focus and requires an added level of commitment from Civil Air Patrol youth cadets. This select group meets an additional day of the week for three extra hours, and must maintain their grade point average and other academic commitments in order to be accepted into the program. Their mission is four-fold. The first is to provide precision riflery in both drill exercises and ceremonies, much like that of the U.S. Air Force drill team. The second is to seek out opportunities to be positive role models to those within the community. Supporting families of fallen soldiers through ceremonial funeral processions is the third element of their mission and lastly, to embrace all aspects of ceremonial flag etiquette. Nothing speaks to this element more than the efforts of the Honor Guard over the holidays as they participated in Wreaths Across America, helping to place holiday wreaths at headstones in veterans cemeteries.
Brendan Drew, a senior at Plymouth Regional High School, is a Civil Air Patrol cadet who began his affiliation with the program only 12-months ago. When asked what he most enjoys about CAP, he says it has given him a small taste of what he believes basic training will be like when he (hopefully) heads off to the Air Force Academy to which he just applied. On a recent night, Brendan and the other cadets were seen engaged in their annual fitness test in the terminal building of the Laconia Airport, which benchmarks the physical condition of each of them. With stopwatches in hand and orange cones marking off a path, each cadet took turns sprinting through the terminal in an attempt to capture their best individual time, with echoes of encouragement from their peers sounding throughout the airport. Physical conditioning is important since each cadet is expected to maintain good health to insure optimal strength and agility should they be called to serve. The Hawk Squadron cadets were recently on stand-by to provide some strenuous and critical community support. They were about to be dispatched to a neighboring community, tasked with providing search assistance over rough terrain in an attempt to help locating a senior citizen stricken with Alzheimer's Disease. Fortunately, the person was found but the cadet's were ready to go, thanks to their weekly conditioning and training.
A community service project the cadets have been involved in is the annual Christmas Village. Held at the Laconia Community Center, Santa's Village offers area children an opportunity to visit with Santa. Since that coveted opportunity to wish for that special gift while sitting on Santa's knee comes with a long waiting line, local children could have their faces painted to ease the boredom of the wait thanks to the Civil Air Patrol cadets. The reindeer, snowmen and Rudolph noses that Brendan and Riley painted on the patient children brought squeals of delight to those who waited in long lines to visit with St. Nicolas!
"It's a joy to watch these kids develop," states Terrill. "I wish every young adult in the Lakes Region would come to the airport on a Thursday night to get a glimpse of the leadership skills and character development program the Civil Air Patrol has to offer. These are tremendous kids in their commitment to service."
The Hawk Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol invites interested youth to come to the airport on Thursday evenings to see what it is all about or to check the program out online at http://hawksquadron.nhcapcadets.org
CAPTION: Cadets from the Hawk Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol/New Hampshire Wing helping out at Christmas Village at the Laconia Community Center in December. (Courtesy photo)