When Did This Happen?

Leadership and followership are words that have been a large part of my life since February 2014. When I attended my first Civil Air Patrol meeting in January of that year, I was absolutely terrified. Petrified, even. The only thing I knew was what my friend who “recruited” me had told me the alternate uniform was- a black shirt, jeans, and a belt. A belt? I didn’t have a belt. I borrowed a belt from my neighbor for that night. I had to fill out a form about why I was interested in CAP, and how I found out about it. I answered “I’ve always been interested in airplanes, and am planning to go into aerospace engineering. I think this would be a great opportunity to meet new people and learn new things that could potentially benefit me in that field as well as in life”. I went into the day nervous, but excited. That night, my mom drove me to the base where the meeting was. Building 113. We have to find building 113. We found it, and went inside. We were a few minutes late, but that was no issue at all.

I walked inside and was ushered into a small room to the left by a guy in a blue uniform. He looked incredibly intimidating, and I was so nervous still. My mom and I were forced to sit up front, since everyone else filled in from the back. A Power Point was shown about the Civil Air Patrol. I was nervous- but excited. I wanted to learn how to fly. I wanted to travel the world with that one program no one remembered the acronym for. I wanted to be like the girl standing against the wall, the one that was clearly in charge. She was blonde, and wearing little circles on her shoulder. I knew that meant she had to be pretty high-up, since everyone else I had seen was wearing something on their collar.

The cadets took my class- a group of myself and six others out of the smaller room into the large room across the hall, where all the other cadets were. In my class, there were four other girls and two guys. One girl was wearing heels and a lot of makeup, and seemed to not want to be there at all. The other people all seemed to know what was going on, either because of prior family being in Civil Air Patrol or military knowledge. One girl stood out to me, because she did incredibly well. The instructors- a female cadet second lieutenant and two male cadet chief master sergeants- lined us up in a line and started explaining drill to us. We started with a right face. Then a left face. And finally, an about face.  I was next to the girl wearing heels and she grabbed me so she didn’t fall over. She mumbled something along the lines of “I hate this”. I wondered to myself why she was there if she hated it so much.

The weeks progressed and the girl with the heels stopped showing up. We did activities like memorizing the cadet oath, and learning the ribbons and insignia. I had a lot of trouble, so I went home and made my own flash cards to study. One girl was doing very well, and I remember wishing I was her. She was athletic and smart- the opposite of how I felt when I was there. I befriended her, and she quickly turned into my first friend in the Civil Air Patrol. At the end of the training period of six weeks, we “graduated” into the Civi Air Patrol. Everyone but me from my class already had their first promotion. I was a cadet airman basic, while they got airman insignia pinned on. I was a little discouraged at first, but quickly saw it as a challenge. The athletic girl and I would race each other to promotions, and eventually were neck in neck.

We both went to encampment holding the rank of cadet airman first class. At encampment, a girl from my squadron who usually taught aerospace lessons was my squadron’s executive officer. She had led the class about model rocketry just weeks before encampment. She was a cadet major, and she was everything I wanted to be. I knew major was a high rank, and she was serious and seemed to know everything. I looked up to her. I also looked up to my flight sergeant. She was a chief, and she was exactly what I wanted to be. Calm, collected, and smart.

When I came back from encampment, I had made many new friends. I’d race them instead of the athletic girl- who seemed to have a different attitude after encampment. She ended up leaving the Civil Air Patrol not long after. I met Kat at that encampment, and we’re still incredibly close today.

I held various positions at my home squadron- things like element leader and flight sergeant; even public affairs NCO. There was always someone I looked up to; someone I wanted to be like. Time progressed, and I attended two more encampments. I attended three national activities (okay, it was the same one that I attended thrice). I moved up on my squadron’s staff- even holding the position of cadet commander briefly before moving to Europe in 2016. I was active in the state- starting out on the cadet advisory council as a representative, then eventually being voted Vice-Chair. I represented the entire Wing to the Great Lakes Region on the Cadet Advisory Council.

This year, I am the Chairman of the Cadet Advisory Council. I am the Cadet Deputy Commander for Operations at Encampment. It’s my second run as Cadet Commander of my squadron. Somehow, I became the person I used to look up to. When did that happen? I don’t remember a big change. I don’t remember waking up one day saying “okay, people are going to look up to me now”. But yet- they do. There is at least one cadet that I know of for sure that looks up to me, and I find that the weirdest concept.

I’m that major that knows what she’s doing to some people, and I find that amazing. I have the opportunity to be an influence to people’s lives. I have the opportunity to be the reason they keep learning. That’s such a great responsibility, and I won’t let people down.

I no longer want to be an aerospace engineer like I originally thought when I signed up for this wild ride called Civil Air Patrol. But through Civil Air Patrol, my love for all things cyber flourished. Participating in CyberPatriot showed me what I want to do. Through CyberPatriot, that guy that was so intimidating that first night quickly became a friend and mentor- someone I’d often end up going to for advice.

Coming up on 4 years in the Civil Air Patrol this February, looking back at everything I’ve done is almost unbelievable. Quiet, shy, young cadet me always dreamed of attaining the Spaatz award one day. On average, only five cadets in one thousand earn the Spaatz Award. Since the award’s inception in 1964, Civil Air Patrol has presented the Spaatz Award to only 2103 cadets nation-wide (as of today).

Now, that seems attainable.

If I attend a region cadet leadership school or go to cadet officer school, I can get my Eaker- that’s cadet lieutenant colonel. I’m planning to go to Michigan’s RCLS this summer after encampment. After that, I can test for Spaatz. It’s never felt closer. It’s never felt more attainable. I know it won’t be easy, but it’s finally hit me that this goal might actually be something I can do. That with everything I’ve learned, I am good enough. I have accomplished a lot. Am I still learning? Absolutely.

I’d always struggled with self-confidence, something that time and time again was mentioned to me at form 50 interviews and things like that. I think I finally get it. I think I’m finally confident in myself, confident in what I’ve learned, and confident in what I can do.

So here’s to Civil Air Patrol, and the 2 and a half years I have left as a cadet!

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