Only about a month into its existence at the Red Brick School in Red Bud, the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program promoted its first class of students last Wednesday.
One young Waterloo man was among them.
The promotion took place on the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the significance of which was not lost on those present.
“Today is a day to be proud,” Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis said, addressing the students. “I’m proud of this country, I’m proud of these people we work with, I’m proud of this region and, most of all, I’m proud of you.”
CAP National Command Chief Robert Dandridge expressed similar thoughts on the anniversary to the audience, which included state Rep. Nathan Reitz (D-Steeleville), state Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo), Randolph County Commissioner Ronnie White and Monroe County Commissioner Vicki Koerber.
“It is a time we don’t take for granted,” he said. “This ceremony should be a great reflection to us that we have a great cause.”
Established in 1997, Red Brick is a regional safe school that provides education and related services to students in grades 6-10 in Monroe and Randolph counties who are at-risk of dropping out or failing to graduate on time for various reasons.
“We don’t operate it as a punishment,” Davis said of the school. “It is an opportunity for a new start.”
CAP is the official civilian auxiliary of the Air Force.
The cadet program focuses on teaching youth about leadership, aerospace, fitness and character. It is for children ages 12-18, with the option to continue it in college until students turn 21.
For Waterloo eighth grader Nickelijah Duffin, it was the aerospace element of CAP that piqued his interest because he wanted to learn how to fly.
Duffin said he has enjoyed his time in the program so far.
“They have a lot of good people here,” he said. “I enjoy school more. I have a cool uniform to wear. I’m learning more stuff about flying, and I’m doing better in leadership skills. And I’m learning how to march and doing exercises.”
There are approximately 60,000 CAP members nationwide, but most of their units are not attached to a school like Duffin’s.
According to CAP Chief of Staff – Missions Col. Rickey Oeth, the organization recently started focusing on starting school units.
So, CAP reached out to Davis about starting the program at Red Brick.
Given the focus on recent years on bolstering vocational education, particularly aviation, Davis and Oeth started working to make the unit happen.
“It was a perfect match,” Davis said.
“We’re very proud to have this partnership,” Oeth added.
That partnership has now already led to eight students earning their first CAP promotion.
To obtain that rank of Cadet Airman, students completed basic requirements in the areas of leadership, character and fitness.
“You should feel great,” Master Sgt. Kris Matthews, who leads the unit, told the five cadets who attended the ceremony. “However, this is back to day one. This is step one of 21. You’ve got 20 more achievements to go.”
The first step is important, though, as Matthews noted CAP has produced police officers, astronauts, businessmen, Harvard University professors, Walmart managers and everything in between.
“They all start right there,” Matthews said. “They all go on to do great things, so that’s what you guys have to live up to.”
Duffin said he feels good about achieving the first milestone with CAP.
“I was nervous at first, but afterwards I felt great,” he said. “It was a cool experience.”
As he works toward his next rank, Duffin said the main focus will be continuing his aviation education, a task made easier by the resources available to him.
“The flight simulator helps out,” he noted. “I have a great teacher.”