My youngest son was a dreamer and inventor. He had lots of ideas and ambition. He dreamed of flying an airplane and joining the Air Force.
One day, I came home to an idea he was bringing to life in the front yard—a large wooden airplane. It had a wingspan of at least ten feet across and two seats made of two-by-fours. It was too heavy for the boy to move, let alone fly.
It had some problems—no engine, for starters. Instead, it had a coffee can half-full of gasoline strapped onto the tail. Being the wet blanket of a mother that I am, I doused his idea of letting him set the can on fire to make it fly.
Boys want to stretch beyond their limitations of childhood and reach for manhood. It’s our job as parents to give them good avenues.
One of the best ways I’ve found is the Civil Air Patrol, otherwise known as CAP. These fine folks provide a cadet program designed for imaginative, young would-be pilots—for girls and boys alike.
Our introduction to the CAP came around 2007, but we were told the Civil Air Patrol came into existence just one week before Pearl Harbor was bombed. At that time, the CAP flew wartime missions, sinking submarines and saving crash victims. After the war, the CAP became the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
The CAP states that it has three main missions: aerospace education, cadet programs, and emergency services. In the cadet program, young adults from ages 12 to 21 are introduced to aviation through a 16-step program that focuses on aerospace education, leadership, physical fitness, and moral leadership.
For my family, CAP was a good substitute for the Boy Scouts, with their stated core values of integrity, excellence, and respect. And it had the added bonus of teaching my son what makes things fly without setting himself on fire. Three of my children, and now a grandson, have thrived in the program. It’s become a family tradition.
The CAP takes the best of the Air Force and intertwines hands-on experience. They teach cadets all they ever wanted to know about everything that flies, from hot air balloons to rockets to planes and gliders.
The education the cadets receive extends far beyond playing with flying things. They can compete for academic scholarships in engineering, science, and aircraft mechanics, just to name a few. Cadets who earn officer status can enter the Air Force as an Airman First Class.
As impressive as their educational program is, their search and rescue missions save lives every year.
Between organized sports and technology, children are busy. And yet, there is so little for them that has real substance or lifelong applications. CAP is a real find, and one of a parent’s best kept secrets.
If the prospect of riding in a glider and wearing an Air Force uniform sounds as exciting for your kids as it was for mine, you can learn more here and find a wing near you.