It’s 107 degrees in the Utah desert sun. Smattered with decaying buildings, the dilapidated remnants of Historic Wendover Airfield are reminiscent of a ghost town — save for a few structures that offer a glimpse of its once-bustling heyday — as cadets of the Civil Air Patrol Nevada Wing march through the campus.
The cadets are there for Encampment, a week-long training program based on the U.S. Air Force’s actual Boot Camp, which will give the dozens of adolescents a taste of military life. Encampment is only a small part of what Civil Air Patrol cadets experience on their path, but it leaves a lasting impression as friendships with familial-strong bonds are forged through physical training, team building, aerospace workshops, marksmanship, and flight training programs.
“Statistically, 10% of the Air Force Academy comes from [Civil Air Patrol] cadets,” explained Dan Beadle, public affairs officer for Tahoe-Truckee Squadron 027 of the Nevada Wing. “So, it’s a great way to get into the Air Force academy.”
In July, the Civil Air Patrol Tahoe-Truckee Composite had five cadets participating in Silver’s Edge II Encampment in Wendover, two as students and three as staff. As one of the smaller-sized squadrons, they accounted for nearly half of the local composite, which, due to its proximity to Reno, is part of the Nevada Wing. Beadle said that having about a dozen cadets is a pretty decent number in correlation to the Truckee/North Tahoe population. The Reno squadron has 33 cadets, a lower figure, considering its population. Beadle and his fellow senior members would like to see 027’s number of cadets grow.
“I read one of our [squadron’s] histories of Civil Air Patrol,” Beadle said. “It talked about in the ’70s, how we had 35 cadets. I mean, that’s in the Vietnam protest times.”
The key is to gain exposure for an organization about which many people are unaware.
“We are the civilian auxiliary to the United States Air Force, with three primary missions for the United States Congress,” said Lt. Col. Ken Aronson, squadron commander of NV-027.
Those missions are aerospace education, emergency services, and cadet programs.
Roots of the Civil Air Patrol can be traced back to the early days of World War II. According to an online history on the CAP website, the origin dates to 1936, “when Gill Robb Wilson, World War I aviator and New Jersey director of aeronautics, returned from Germany convinced of impending war. Wilson envisioned mobilizing America’s civilian aviators for national defense, an idea shared by others.”
After gaining support over the years, Wilson’s model was eventually adopted on Dec. 1, 1941, with recruiting commencing a week later. It wasn’t until the following year that a provision was made to allow for youth cadets.
Locally, the Tahoe-Truckee Composite, as it is now, came about in 1968, when the two separate Tahoe and Truckee composites joined together. It is currently made up of about 50 senior and cadet members.
There are two major misconceptions about CAP. One, that members are required to be active or retired military, and two, that a person must be a pilot to join. Presently, only about 10-20% of 027’s members are pilots. There are a number of positions that do not require a pilot’s license: administrators, teachers, logistics, I.T., ground transportation, finance, communications, and more.
The Tahoe-Truckee Composite works to fulfill its missions of aerospace education, emergency services, and cadet programs in numerous ways. Searching for a way to facilitate aerospace education in a manner more hands-on than just going into schools and speaking about planes, Aronson instituted the popular Mission to Mars summer camp, which teaches kids about robotics, rocketry, drone technology, space travel, and the possibilities of life on Mars.
The emergency services aspect often comes into play in search and rescue operations using the branch’s government-issued 2020 Cessna Turbo 206H. With their specialized training, CAP members support federal, state, and local agencies and authorities in a variety of ways including search and rescue of downed aircraft and crew, airborne reconnaissance of infrastructure such as dams or power grids, aerial transportation of resources such as search and dog teams and governmental agency personnel, airborne still imaging in near real time with satellite downlink, incident command system qualified personnel for local and state agencies to use in emergency services missions, and more. More recently, a team from NV-027 took aerial photos of the burn scar left following last summer’s Caldor Fire.
Perhaps where the squadron has made its greatest impact, however, is on the youths passing through the ranks of its cadet squad.
Cadet Lt. Col. Gerald Mon Pere was barely the minimum age of 12 when he first became a cadet. Knowing he wanted to be a Naval aviator, he sought to join the U.S. Navy’s auxiliary, the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corp, but the nearest branch was Carson City, Nevada. At age 11, he was at the Truckee Tahoe Air Show and Family Festival when he stumbled upon the CAP hangar. He learned about the cadets and then became even more enticed by the program after speaking with cadets he’d met while attending the Mission to Mars camp.
“I finally attended my first meeting when I was just over 11 and a half,” Mon Pere told a roomful of senior and cadet members at his last meeting as cadet commander in May. “I did suicide runs in physical training while dressed in a button-down shirt … I was pretty instantly hooked from that day forward. I have never once looked back.”
Mon Pere reflected on the ups and downs of his six-and-a-half years as a cadet, noting that the physical training aspect was regular and relentless. But it was the support of fellow cadets that kept him pushing.
“On many occasions, I thought there would be no way for me to finish another set of 50 flutter kicks or roll out another 35 pushups,” Mon Pere recalled. “And had I been doing them on my own, I probably would’ve been right. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I looked to my left and my right, and I saw my fellow cadets going through the exact same pain as I was. And never once did they drop out of the formation or the exercise. Never once did they disappoint the group. And so neither did I. It was only … because of this intense sense of fellowship, camaraderie, and togetherness with my fellow cadets, which I found in the squadron, that I was able to do these things.”
Mon Pere has spent the summer traveling the country, working at multiple Encampments and attending Cadet Officer School before he ultimately joins the Newton County Composite Squadron in Covington, Georgia, where he will enter freshman year at Oxford College of Emory University.
Through his years as cadet commander, Mon Pere has honed his leadership skills and grown as a person, evolving into the epitome of what Civil Air Patrol cadets can accomplish. Like Mon Pere, Maile Giansiracusa has known from the young age of 7 that she wants to be a Naval aviator and joined the CAP cadets just as soon as she could at age 12. She’s now 14 and was just named as Mon Pere’s successor as cadet commander. The youngest Truckee cadet commander, Giansiracusa is only the fifth female to hold the top post in the chapter’s 60-year history, and the first female commander in 34 years. She, too, has had much in the way of personal growth through being a cadet, learning self-discipline, time management, and leadership skills.
“I want to better myself in this program so that I can help everyone else in it,” Giansiracusa said. “There’s that leadership aspect where I’m leading and developing all the cadets in our squadron so that they can go out and be successful.”
Many former cadets have gone on to pursue careers in the military, aeronautics, and STEM-related fields, all of which are incorporated into the CAP activities. Cadets can take up to five orientation flights on each, an engine-powered airplane, a glider, and a balloon, which familiarizes them with basic controls and operation of various aircraft. They also learn drill exercises, marksmanship and gun safety, color guard, aerospace technology, leadership skills, strengthening through physical training, and how to use a flight simulator. Cadets also assist with the monthly EAA Young Eagles flights at the airport, the Truckee air show, and Mission to Mars camp, and participate in events such as Memorial Day ceremonies and the July Fourth parade.
The cadets meet every Thursday at 6 p.m. at the EAA building at Truckee-Tahoe Airport. Beadle is hoping to revive pre-pandemic activities, too, such as the group’s Fun Saturdays and overnight trips, including backpacking and staying overnight at the USS Hornet — Sea, Air, and Space Museum in Alameda.
Learn more about the Civil Air Patrol Tahoe-Truckee Composite at tahoetruckee.cap.gov.