I wrote this 21 years ago

Started by Stonewall, December 04, 2020, 03:53:41 PM

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I don't recall what prompted me to write this in 1999, but I originally shared it with a website called The CAP Officer. It was poorly written, but then got edited to make it more readable when it was re-published on CadetStuff in 2002. Not sure if any of you old timers recall either of those, but they were good resources back in the day.

Well, I stumbled upon this writing again, and thought I'd share. WOW! So much has changed, including how I think about things, but not to the point that I disagree with my original thoughts on the subject.

Maybe I'll go paragraph by paragraph and add some notes based on 21 more years of experience in CAP after adding two more wings, three more squadrons, and a group command since writing this.

Quote from: undefinedPersonal Views and Experiences in Creating a Successful Composite Squadron
By Major Pete Bowden, CAP
October 29, 1999

In January 1996 I transferred to a squadron that was struggling, to say the least. I wasn't happy in the  squadron I was in so I didn't have anything to lose. When I transferred it was with the understanding that I would assume duties as their Deputy Commander for Cadets (DCC and attempt to salvage what was left of their  dwindling cadet program, which consisted of about five active cadets. It is with this in mind that I will lay down for you what I did to make this squadron a successful, vibrant, and professional squadron.

First, I must say that the success of my new squadron did not come from my actions alone. The squadron commander at that time was the kind of commander that all squadrons need and want. He trusted me to run the cadet program and use my personal techniques for managing and leading that cadet corps into its new beginning. Basically, he advised when he deemed necessary and kept a watchful eye over the program as a whole, which is to be expected of a squadron commander. I might also add that this particular commander had what it takes to build an equally successful senior program that put seniors into uniforms, had them in formation, and every meeting they were doing something constructive, not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. In addition to the commander, three cadets were given permission to transfer in from my previous squadron to help out.

The one thing I want you to keep in mind as you read through my chronicles of success is that this way my way, no one else's. My way may not work for everyone, or anyone for that matter. But it worked for my squadron commander, the cadets, and me. For some, this may be considered "tooting my own horn", but nevertheless I want to offer my assistance or maybe help another squadron who is struggling and can use that extra bit of help from someone who's "been there, done that".

My philosophy in CAP is not that simple. In fact, it changes constantly to adjust to different situations with different people involved. I think if you follow along you can begin to understand the method to my madness. Listed below are the tenets that I believe make the difference between my squadron and those that strive to be equally successful. Like I said, you may disagree or simply think I'm a nut, so see for yourself:

1. Be real! Don't be something you're not. What I mean by this is many people in CAP, cadet and senior alike, tend to want to portray themselves as soldiers, marines, airmen, pilots, rangers, etc. Although we attempt to follow many of the same rules as the "real military", we must first realize that we are our own entity. Instead of trying to be like them, be like us, the committed volunteers of Civil Air Patrol. Realize the true importance of the standards set forth in writing for our organization. Abide by these standards and teach these standards to everyone, cadets and seniors. More importantly though, enforce our written doctrine.

2. Looks count! Do everything within your power to make yourself look good; no different than if you were being paid to wear that uniform. Then, do everything you can to make your squadron members look good, just like you. DO NOT allow members of your squadron to get away with anything like wearing part of a uniform or a uniform without proper insignia. No matter how much that person wants to go on that mission or help out at a recruiting drive, they'll only make you look bad. I believe that CAP offers too many patches to choose from for our uniforms. Use good judgment on this one. There is no need to wear the ES (Pluto) patch if you wear a GTM badge. My "looks count" tenet goes for vehicles, ES equipment, and airplanes as well. You are lucky to have a CAP corporate vehicle so take care of it and keep it simple. Don't go crazy with decals and unneeded antennas. As for ES gear and equipment, keep that simple too. Use what you need and don't wear that silly Rambo knife upside down on your web gear. Do your best to keep from looking too "Hollywood". Don't have all those annoying bells and whistles dangling from your gear. You'll just make yourself look sloppy and unprofessional – don't feed into the stereotype. About that CAP plane; it's not your plane, its CAP's, so leave it better than you found it. Don't leave anything behind that wasn't there when you got it. Perhaps the most annoying thing is getting into a corporate vehicle and finding it without fuel. Don't let this happen!

3. Uniformity goes along with professional image. We are the auxiliary of the US Air Force; the fourth leg that holds the Air Force high in the sky. Everyone looks the same or everyone looks bad. This means that either everyone wears their BDU sleeves down or no one wears them down. If your squadron has a squadron hat or T-shirt, then they all wear it or none at all. Enough said about that. And never, I mean never, wear just part of the uniform. If you're uncomfortable wearing the BDU top because you're hot, then take off the pants too, because you either wear all of it or none at all. Naturally, if your unit is on a work detail in the dead of summer then take them off, everyone. But when you're in the public's eye, think 39-1. If your squadron designs a unit shirt, be sure to make it black so that when you wear it with your BDUs it meets CAP regulations. Grey looks cool, but you can't wear it with your BDUs.

4. Build a unit schedule and live by that schedule. Pick a time frame, and make a schedule that fills in the blanks. I suggest designing a schedule that covers a six-month period. In this schedule you will cover both weekend activities and the weekly squadron meeting. However, you should have a generic schedule for weekly meetings that follows a certain theme (Wk 1 is ES, Wk 2 is Aerospace, Wk 3 is PT, Wk 4 is Leadership/ML, etc.). Include in your schedule topics for your squadron meeting as well as the person responsible for either coordinating someone to teach that topic or teaching it themselves. For the weekends, don't over-schedule your squadron. I recommend no more than one emergency services training exercise per month and maybe one other activity that's not ES related.

The most important thing about a schedule is to STICK TO IT! Regardless if only 2 people show up to an activity, go through with it. Don't forget to check your activities calendar against your group or wing calendar. Nothing causes more trouble than a conflict on a training schedule.

5. The only thing that should be last minute is a REDCAP. Always be aware of what activity is coming up. You built your schedule now use it. If you know that your annual air show is coming up May 15th, don't wait until May 1st to organize it. My thought on scheduling is that if it's not planned a month ahead of time it's not planned properly. You may need help from another unit; let them know ASAP, not the week before, and when you are heading up an activity plan every last detail, even the ones that aren't supposed to happen. If you are helping with traffic control then remember the orange vests and radios. It's really quite simple, but it's also easy to make it more difficult than it should be.

6. Communicate and distribute all information. E-mail is the best way to communicate today. People forget about a phone call, and they forget about email too. But the next time they open up their email account it will hopefully still be sitting there and remind them they were supposed to call their cadets. Always put out information multiple times. By multiple, I mean every chance you get. Don't tell your cadets about the air show in May back in April and have that be the last time you talk about it. Mention it in every e-mail you send and at every meeting. Even if you don't have all the information, simply remind them that their support will be needed and we'll get the information to them ASAP.

Weekly email – I started this the week I got my first computer. I got the address of everyone in the squadron that had e-mail and sent out an email every Monday to keep them on track for what was to come at the next meeting and up to a month in advance for weekend activities. I started with about nine addresses and got up to sixty, which included cadets and seniors. This e-mail is very important and shouldn't be done unless it's done right. Don't confuse people with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, keep it simple and to the point. Talk about what's coming up at the next meeting to include the uniform of the day. Then talk about past actions where you can recognize people for doing a good job. Finally, list all activities for the next 4 or 5 weeks. When you do this just don't put "Orientation Flights", put down all the information about the orientation flights and include where, when, how long, the uniform, and when to be picked up.

7. T-Flight. T-Flight, or Training Flight, is one of the best concepts to ever come about during my tenure as DCC. With the help of an experienced cadet whose maturity level exceeded his age, we developed an 8-week program for all new/potential cadet members. T-Flight could take up pages of this paper so I won't go into it in great detail. Basically, you take your new recruits, make them wear the same thing (black t-shirt and jeans), teach them everything in Chapter I of the leadership book, and have them graduate together wearing a complete uniform (usually BDUs). It is essential that you have one or two of your sharpest cadets running this program. It is very structured and their hands are basically held throughout the entire 8-weeks. I also make sure to keep a close eye on the program to make sure it's going according to the plan. It's not a scene out of "Full Metal Jacket", but it is a serious environment with serious results. These cadets should not interact with the other cadets or participate in any activity but the regular meeting. This gives them the feeling that it's an honor and privilege to serve in the other flights; a rite of passage, as it should be. Perhaps one of the most important facets of T-Flight is to only conduct it 4 times a year. Some people disagree, but never let new cadets start in the middle of the class. The quality just won't be there. They may have to wait until the next class starts, but don't let them just hang around. Trust me on this one, it works.

8. Give your cadets responsibility. This is probably the newest thing I did at my squadron. It wasn't until 1999 that I got the idea to start having some of the older, higher-ranking cadets teach emergency services classes. It's not as easy as just telling them to teach some random task, I had to first give classes to them on giving classes – "train the trainer". I taught them everything I know about standing in front of a group of people and giving a professional presentation that is informative, interactive, and practical. This idea proved to be successful at that year's Middle East Region Search and Rescue College where a handful of my cadets helped instruct over 60 ground team trainees from 7 different wings. They practiced giving a class to an audience a month before and were expected to have their class ready one-week before SAR College. They performed as professionals and so they were treated as such.

9. Identify with your cadets. Remember, they are at a difficult age where they may be making decisions that affect the rest of their lives. Some of them are striving for an academy or maybe trying to make that "A" so they qualify for a college scholarship. Bear with them, and help them out when you can. Realize that not all cadets want or need to strive for such high goals. I wasn't ready for college right out of high school, and I know I am a better person today for enlisting in the army for 4 years and waiting to start college. Whatever they do, support them. Know that some may be weaker than others, so don't ignore the weak ones. Build their confidence and make them aware that they are part of the team. You may not have been a cadet before, but that doesn't make a big difference in how they view you. Carry yourself in a manner that will make them respect you, as a person and as an officer in CAP. Never assume they aren't looking because as soon as you do you'll make a fool of yourself and you can quickly lose that edge of respect. They aren't adults yet, but with your help they will turn out to be well-rounded productive adults that you can be proud of. Lead by example or don't lead at all.

10. Emergency Services. I believe ES is where we make our money. Cadets leave the Scouts because CAP has a real-world mission where they can make a difference. Never underestimate your cadets' desire to do ES related activities. Granted, not everyone wants to be on a ground team, but working communications or helping out on the flight line can be equally gratifying. Don't simply take them on a walk in the woods just to please their hunger for quality training. Operate and train as if your unit were preparing to save someone's life. We should be a mirror image of how the Air Force trains for war with the only difference being in our mission statement. Don't give your cadets false hope. The fact is that your unit may never be called on a real mission, but they need to know the importance of training as if a mission is imminent. Cadets on a ground team can make a difference so make sure they know this.

So, you've read my unofficial tenets that I follow to keep my squadron functioning the way it does. Do I have these 10 paragraphs memorized? Not a chance. The point I'm trying to make is that these things I have listed helped me put together the best squadron CAP has to offer. All too often I talk to cadets from squadrons just a few miles from mine and they ask me how we have such a charismatic squadron that's so active. I begin by telling them it hasn't always been like this. Our squadron has been around for over 30 years and has seen good times and bad. I came on board when things weren't so great, and one day the squadron may be struggling again with only 5 active cadets, just like we were back in January 1996. As the DCC however, I would never let that happen.

There is no reason why any squadron has to suffer. If a squadron is suffering, it's because the leadership doesn't fully understand how to lead and manage a squadron of young cadets; it's different than leading adults in the corporate world. I knew of one squadron commander who only wanted the squadron to do drill team activities. Well, that squadron soon went downhill, and as far as I know has yet to revive itself. Cadets lose interest when you concentrate on one thing. If your cadets lose interest, they won't recruit their friends, they'll have a bad impression of CAP, and once again the squadron suffers.

During my four year enlistment in the army, I often came across soldiers who had previously been cadets in CAP, maybe about 10 in all. Most of them told me that it was a waste of time and wouldn't recommend it. They usually described it as a bunch of "wannabes" who ran an unstructured group of kids that acted like they were in the military – "a bunch of GI Joe's". To an extent, I know that some of what they were saying was true, because I've seen what they're talking about. A few soldiers thought CAP was a great program and helped them get accelerated promotions, but all said they wouldn't join as a senior because they were a bunch of over-weight slackers who couldn't show up to a meeting with a decent haircut or half-shined boots. Think about it, is this the impression you're giving your cadets? I hope not.

I was a cadet myself, from 1987 to 1991. I can recall two senior members that really made a difference in my life and were probably the only reason I stayed in CAP as a cadet and then as a senior. I also remember the 10+ seniors who showed up in a wide variety of uniforms or civilian clothes that just talked about flying, or about the days when they used to fly. I also remember a ton of miscommunication and not being told about ES training activities, orientation flights, encampments, and many other activities that could have made my cadet experiences a lot better. But then again we didn't have email back then. Perhaps this is the reason why I am so adamant about having my cadets communicate with each other.

Looking back at my 15 years of service to CAP, I try to think of what I would consider the best thing that CAP ever did for me, and without a doubt it was having to do review boards that were required for each promotion and also, when I was made to give classes to my peers. As a college student, veteran, and just as an adult, I have used those skills more than any other I learned in CAP. Maybe you experienced something else that you think is more important, but for me it was the review boards and teaching classes. Think about it, a review board is nothing more than an interview, just like when you apply for a job. And teaching classes prepared me for teaching classes in the military and then for getting up in front of a class of 40 students and giving a report. CAP definitely made a difference in my life and it should be the goal of every squadron commander, deputy commander, and Cadet Programs senior to make a difference in your cadets' lives.

I can't really think of any other advice to offer right now, but I'm sure as soon as I finish up I'll think of something else because I am always looking for ways to enhance the program. Think about it though, it's because I genuinely care about the program and the cadets – that is why I'm writing this. It's not just for my cadets, my cadets are just fine, it's for your cadets, or the ones you'll recruit next month. Who knows, maybe this will somehow help you in making your squadron more productive. I absolutely hope so.

As I mentioned from the beginning, you may not agree with me and that is perfectly understandable. I just hope your program works for you, and more importantly for your cadets. Right now this is the best way for me to express my thoughts and feelings on what I think can help rebuild a struggling squadron. If you have a better idea, let me hear it. But trust me that this stuff works, I only speak from experience.

Note: This was revised in 2002 for CadetStuff.org from its original writing in 1999, as published in the CAP Officer, an online leadership magazine for Civil Air Patrol. Major Bowden no longer serves as the DCC for this squadron.

BTW, I think #4 is still one of the biggest areas I see units struggling in today.

And for you newbies, on #5, a REDCAP is how we referred to a real emergency services mission back in the day.
Serving since 1987.


Brought a smile to my face. Inverted Rambo knives have been replaced by pretentious plate carriers with morale patches and shemaghs, but otherwise so much hasn't changed.

Your comments on goal setting and scheduling are still timeless and on target. I visited one of my units TUE night and that was our central discussion point, and I've had similar talks with two other of my commanders recently. It is a continuing challenge for training volunteer local leadership and I can only reemphasize the need to get people in (virtual, now) Unit Commanders Courses (UCCs).

I fear (and I'm a former cadet GT centric guy also, who cross platformed into aircrew on turning 18 back in the 80s) that the ES paragraph has become OBE.  With the advent of TSO C91(a) ELTs, the dramatic improvement in GA safety since the 1970s/80s (which is a good thing) and our mission shift to DR focused on AP, cadet GT training is significantly on the wane. I see improved AE instruction as a gap filler there, but the challenge aspect of the cadet mission, filling Lord Baden-Powells thrust to get youth outdoors and into adventure, is much tougher to justify now based on GT mission call outs (ref. your points about having a real mission, and not giving cadets a false hope).

Well written, though, with many timeless points.



Former cadet from the 1970's here - I liked your points & thanks for sharing!

Point 8 was very true for us & in looking back, it might have been too true!  Cadets ran the cadet program with a little  guidance from the senior member who drew the short straw.  We were given opportunities to lead & manage, achieve and fail. 

Point 10 was also on the mark.  Many of my cadet pals were ground team qualified & flight line qualified.  We went on a few "REDCAP" missions and were very proud & pleased to be included.  The ES component is what made us feel in our young minds superior to Boy Scouts.  The biggest insult among cadets was to be called a "Boy Scout". Before you do a dogpile on me... that was the teenage version of us.  As an adult, I know that scouting was a fine program. 

Different times for certain.  Thanks again for posting your article.