GREAT FALLS – The Civil Air Patrol (CAP Program) has three primary missions: emergency services, aerospace education and the cadet program.
Major William Gripp, the Cadet Deputy Commander, said the CAP Program is taught by people who are currently on active duty or have military experience.
To join CAP as a cadet member, you have to be between ages 12-18. You can continue as a cadet up until your 21st birthday. After age 21, you can join CAP as a senior member.
Major Gripp said, “It is very important for us to use the lessons we’ve learned during our time in the service, using the lessons we’ve learned during our professional careers, in order to make the youth in this community together.”
C/SSgt Carlon Johnson said CAP teaches members about focus and self-discipline. She said, “We learn how to march, which teaches attention to detail, learn how to take care of our uniforms, we learn search and rescue.”
Major Gripp said members can promote as quickly as every two months, but in order to promote, you must reach five requirements that include: passing a test on aerospace, passing a physical fitness test, passing a drill test, passing a leadership test and passing a character development class.
Many kids involved in CAP want to join the military.
C/SrA Brandon Mills said he hopes to join the United States Naval Academy. He then wants to earn a degree and become a high school teacher.
C/SSgt Matthew McDaniel wants to attend Montana State University and join the Army ROTC program.
C/TSgt Courtney Redford said she hopes to be a pilot for one of the branches of the military. Courtney said, “Become a fighter pilot or a search and rescue pilot.”
C/SSgt Carlon Johnson wants to join either the Navy or the Air Force. Carlon said, “There’s a very high chance I’d become a pilot in the Air Force or I might learn infantry type stuff and become a cop. Sniper, I’m kind of aiming for if I become a cop.”
Although these kids want to pursue a military career, Major Gripp said CAP is not a military recruiting program.
He said, “A lot of our youth will go on to an armed service and that’s great. This is the perfect venue for them to get prepped for a career in the military. However, the leadership skills learned here are applicable across all walks of life.”
Some of those skills include: teamwork, communication skills, how to safely operate a firearm, aerospace skills, leadership skills, etc.
Brandon Mills said he enjoys the Rocketry Program. “During fall we had to build and launch about five rockets. We had to study multiple innovators and inventors of rockets.”
Matthew McDaniel is a part of the Ground Team where they focus on search and rescue and sometimes assist the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office.
Courtney Redford loves going to the Color Guard. She said, “It gives me a lot of pride knowing that I get to post and present and ultimately honor my colors.”
There is also the Marksmanship Program within CAP, where members are taught the ins and outs of firearm safety.
Carlon Johnson said she really wanted to learn how to shoot a gun. “They taught me proper position, laying down, they taught me how to load a rifle,” she said.
Carlon added she is also learning a lot about aerospace through CAP. “I’m learning the names of all the instruments in the cockpit.”
As they learn new skills, the kids are also building a strong bond with each other.
“It’s not like friends, it’s way different, you’re constantly working together, going through struggles today. It’s different than best friends, it’s like brothers,” said Matthew McDaniel.
Courtney Redford said, “They instantly become your family as soon as you walk into the door. Learning to lead and getting to watch all the cadets grow, just all of it is so awesome.”
“Learning from everyone and everything that you do, everything can be turned into a learning experience,” said C/MSgt Berit Bedord. “It’s a great thing to be able to spend time with people who are just as driven as you.”
Being able to help these kids learn these skills and build this strong bond is what Major Gripp enjoys the most.
He said, “Taking an individual who has not been challenged before in a program like this, challenging them, watching them initially struggle with the challenge, learning to adapt and overcome and then overcome the challenge and excelling.”
Although they make memories to last a lifetime during Civil Air Patrol, it’s not all fun and games.
Major Gripp said, “The lessons we learn here are important. This program is fulfilling, it’s not fun. We’re here to build better leaders.”
You can join Civil Air Patrol any time during the year. For more information, you can click here.
Reporting by Kasey Herman for MTN News