Civil Air Patrol Story - Minneapolis Newspaper

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From The Minneapolis

Last update: October 31, 2006 – 10:04 AM

Home-schoolers find home, friendship in Air Patrol
Young recruits say the west-metro Civil Air Patrol is a social environment with a moral compass.

By ALYSSA FORD Special to the Star Tribune
Seventeen-year-old Angela Shields grew up home-schooled because of her parents' views on the teaching of evolution, the lack of prayer in public schools and their attendant amoral environment.

She was not allowed to watch TV, and she lost a network of friends when her church pastor stepped down and her youth group -- including its acting club that she loved -- disbanded.

"Socially, you could say I wasn't as well off," said the Minnetonka teenager.

That changed when Shields joined the Civil Air Patrol's Viking Squadron, which operates its Emergency Response Center out of Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.

The CAP is a nonprofit auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force that enlists cadets as young as 12 to learn about aerospace education, emergency skills and leadership training -- all framed by a military-style moral code with an emphasis on integrity, respect, excellence and volunteerism.

Though cadets must be 18 to participate in CAP's best-known program -- aerial search and rescue -- all cadets get 10 orientation flights for free, and many attend the flight academy held each July in Mankato. For the most serious wannabe pilots, CAP offers free flight instruction and cheap plane rentals for lessons, giving even financially disadvantaged cadets a chance to get their pilot's license.

Shields, dressed in fatigues with her dark hair pulled back in a military-style bun, talks enthusiastically about the steps required to go from a basic cadet to her rank of cadet lieutenant and beyond.

Civil Air Patrol is "a big part of my life. It's huge," said Shields.

The Viking Squadron has benefitted, too, from the boost it has gotten from the home-school community. It was on the verge of disbanding eight years ago when cadet membership was so low that it was hard for the state organization to justify buying the group a single-engine plane to use, said Lt. Col. Paul Thompson, a retired Air Force pilot who teaches the cadets how to fly light aircraft.

Setting up booths at air shows has helped with recruitment a lot, but the word spreading around the home-school community about CAP as a social activity with a strong moral compass has given the west metro one of the largest and most decorated CAP squadrons in the state.

Dozens of home-schooled teens have joined the 100-member Viking Composite Squadron in recent years. About half of Viking Squadron's cadets are home-schooled, which Viking Squadron senior officials believe is unusual.

"There are definitely more home-schooled cadets in our squadron than any other one I've ever heard of," said Thompson. "It's good for them, because it gives them social interaction they have a harder time getting, because out of love their parents are protecting them more."

With its intense emphasis on moral leadership, volunteerism and respect for higher rank, CAP is attractive to many home-schooling parents. The program is intensive -- between two-hour weekly meetings, extra study and activities that often take up whole weekends, it's not unusual for cadets to devote several hours a week to CAP.

Gary Hall, a Minnetonka father of nine home-schooled children, joined CAP as a senior member two years ago with his now-16-year-old son Stefan. "I think it's great because it teaches him to be more outward-focused than inward-focused."

Civil Air Patrol members learn to fly single-engine piston aircraft not just for fun, but so they can help on missions as varied as searching for lost Alzheimer's patients, transporting body tissue for transplants, hunting for signs of illegal drugs and helping in the rescue efforts with downed planes.

Stefan, who hopes to pursue a career in the Air Force, enjoys the service aspect of CAP, but he also likes the coolness factor of doing formations and drills in military-issue uniforms and getting an up-close look at the war toys. "Last year we got to go on rides in a Blackhawk helicopter, and at [cadet boot camp] we got to shoot an M-16," Stefan said.

Joshua Waddell, 20, a home-schooler from Prior Lake, will be one of only a handful of Minnesotans who make cadet colonel each year if he passes a final test. His sister Rebecca was named one of only seven honor cadets at a recent statewide CAP conference, and another home-schooler, Julie Crevier, 19, of Eden Prairie, was named overall outstanding cadet at the statewide version of boot camp last summer.

"For home-schoolers it can be true that there isn't as much social activity because you're at home most of the time," said Rebecca Waddell, 17. "But having CAP has given us this great thing that we all have in common, so it's easier for us to come together and socialize, both with other home-schoolers and with non-home-schoolers. We're like one big cadet family."

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