SIERRA VISTA — The young cadet braced himself Friday afternoon, placing his hands on the doorway as he looked down close to 40 feet. Though he had been rock climbing before, rappelling from a large structure like the Rappel Tower on Fort Huachuca was a first.
“Leaning out of the doorway, you see a four-story drop down and you see the instructor loosening the rope so you can actually go down, and he tells you to lean back as far as you can,” Jed McClain, 12, said. “That’s really the hardest part, but once you go down it’s a breeze; you’re having a blast.”
McClain was all smiles as he got his footing and made it to the ground to cheers of support from a group of his fellow cadets.
He was one of 135 Civil Air Patrol (CAP) cadets aged 12 to 20 who spent a week at Fort Huachuca from June 22 to 29 for the Annual Summer Encampment.
“I have a lot of people from my squadron here and all my role models are down there cheering me on, so I really love it,” he said. “I’m really glad they cheered me on because that’s what we do in CAP — we cheer each other on.”
The Civil Air Patrol is a Congressionally chartered, non-profit that acts as the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force.
The organization “is there to search for and find the lost, provide comfort in times of disaster and work to keep the homeland safe,” according to CAP’s website.
“Its 60,000 members selflessly devote their time, energy and expertise toward the well-being of their communities, while also promoting aviation and related fields through aerospace/STEM education and helping shape future leaders through CAP’s cadet program.”
The CAP encampment serves as a training session for young cadets to prepare for leadership roles, stay in shape and get a feel for the military setting.
Cadet Lt. Col. Jacob Little, 19, serves as Deputy Commander of Support. He started as a cadet himself at the age of 12 and continued on in the program because of the numerous opportunities it opened up.
He said encampment is a great way for young people to get the full experience of being a military cadet.
“The main goal of summer encampment is to immerse the cadets in cadet lifestyle,” he said. “It’s really their first step in the program, and their first step to being leaders in the next part of CAP.”
Most cadets in CAP need to complete an encampment for credit, which makes them eligible for additional programs.
“The main thing is they’re eligible for activities called national cadet special activities — that can be anything from learning how to fly to going on the international air cadet exchange which is going to other countries,” Little said.
The Arizona encampment at Fort Huachuca has been going on since 2015 and CAP Public Affairs Representative Katie Hamiel said this year’s group is the largest they have ever had.
“We have about 800 cadets in the wing, so we get a lot of our new ones and a lot of cadets from past years talk about how fun it was,” Hamiel said. “A lot of it is just by word of mouth and most cadets have to go to an encampment anyway.”
“We recently have gotten a reputation of having a good encampment here in Arizona,” she added.
The cadets who participated this week came from all over the state, from Bullhead City to Sierra Vista and everywhere in between. One cadet even traveled from San Diego.
For the week, the group stayed in barracks on base and followed a rigorous schedule of activities, study, challenges, physical fitness and team building.
Hamiel said the cadets started their days at 5:30 a.m. and went to bed around 9 p.m.
“We have about two to four cadets per room so they have to keep it inspection-ready,” Hamiel said. “Their beds have to be made with hospital corners, their clothes have to be folded the right way, their pillow has to be a certain way.”
“They’re long days, but it’s a lot of fun though, and that’s why we keep coming back.”
Cadets did a variety of activities, including shooting at the range, rappelling, daily sports, obstacle courses and leadership activities.
“We’re really building our team cohesion through problems that challenge them and that they have to work as a team to complete them,” Little said. “The big thing here at summer encampment is attention to detail.”
“There’s a whole lot of curriculum, a tight schedule we have and to get through it all they really have to pay attention in their classes and pay attention to what they are doing. That will give them the best success in the program.”
For McClain, who came to the encampment from Chandler, his first year participating has encouraged him to continue on. He hopes to become part of the cadre, the cadet staff leaders, and eventually become a Navy jet pilot.
“People should really join Civil Air Patrol because it teaches you discipline and at encampment ... well, a lot of people today are glued to their phones and you don’t have that here,” he said. “So you can actually have a face-to-face conversation with people.”
“The first day is a little intimidating, all the flight sergeants are staring at you, but the second day you start getting the hang of it and by the fifth day you do obstacle courses and its super fun,” he said.