By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Correspondent
A local high school junior and Cadet Major in the Gadsden Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol recently graduated from Cadet Officer School, the most rigorous and prestigious school the CAP cadet program has to offer.
Nathan Phillips was one of only 120 cadets chosen nationally to attend the 10-day training course at Maxwell Air Force Base, where he gained practical knowledge about officers’ responsibilities and experience in thinking strategically and implementing effective leadership tactics.
“Going to Cadet Officer School allows you to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Civil Air Patrol, which is the next-to-highest rank after Cadet Colonel,” Phillips said.
Obtaining officer status during the possible nine years – ages 12-21 – in the cadet program makes a cadet eligible to enter the U.S. Air Force as an Airman First Class instead of the usual and lower rank of Airman Basic.
Phillips plans to continue his education at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., before joining the United States Air Force.
“It’s kind of a mix between basic training and an academic program, and you can enter the Air Force as an officer right away if you graduate from the academy,” said Phillips, who looks forward to building on his aerospace education.
As they continue to progress through the ranks, Phillips and his peers assist in teaching and mentoring younger cadets in the basics of the program under the guidance of senior Civil Air Patrol members and other officers.
One of those officers is Captain and Deputy Commander of Cadets Catherine Stanley. According to Phillips, Stanley wears many hats in her role as Deputy Commander.
“She leads us in the right direction, and any type of award we get, it’s because she put us in for it.”
Stanley enjoys guiding the cadets into opportunities in areas that intrigue them, and she is inspired by their willingness and desire to become great leaders for the future.
“They get tickled at me because I get emotional talking about their newest ranks or accomplishments, but it’s because I remember the first day they entered the unit, some so scared they could barely tell you their names,” Stanley said.
Without Stanley and a few other interested families in the area, the cadet program would not have achieved the status it now holds among other programs, both in the state and in the nation.
In fact, the local CAP program might have disappeared completely.
Gadsden Composite Squadron Commander Major Talmadge Butler, who first became a senior CAP member in 2001, said the cadet program was all but nonexistent at that time.
“When I first joined, it was mostly just senior members doing emergency services,” said Butler, who has been the squadron’s commander since 2004.
Since being reactivated in 2009, Gadsden Civil Air Patrol cadets twice have been named Alabama’s Squadron of the Year and have received the Squadron of Merit award, both of which Major Butler said are high-level awards.
“It makes this job extremely rewarding for me, seeing these cadets step up, take leadership roles, and work toward aerospace education within a military framework,” he said.
In addition to Phillips’ accomplishments at Cadet Officer School, other CAP members recently joined the Alabama National Guard, received scholarships to Auburn University to participate in ROTC and major in aerospace education. Several squadron members expressed interest and shown the ability to move on to military academies.
Stanley and Butler are both looking forward to what the future of the Gadsden Composite Squadron will hold in the capable hands of the members of its cadet program.
The Gadsden Civil Air Patrol meets every Tuesday from 5 – 7 p.m. at the National Guard Armory on the corner of Airport and Steele Station roads in Rainbow City. Visitors are welcome to attend and watch the opening ceremonies, awards, new rank presentations and cadet drills.
For more information about the Civil Air Patrol, Gadsden Composite Squadron, visit gadsdencap.webs.com.