Meet the Civil Air Patrol at McChord

By Lorin T. Smith/JBLM PAO on July 9, 2011

Joseph Claypoole's lifelong dream is to be a military doctor helping troops at an austere forward operating base thousands of miles away from the U.S. If he can't get into Harvard Medical School, his fallback plan is to work as a military attorney serving in a Judge Advocate General's office.

It seems that Claypoole, 12, dreams a little differently than most sixth graders, but he's the norm, not exception, among the cadets of the McChord Composite Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol Squadron at McChord Field.

More than 60 cadets from ages 12 to 21 gather every Tuesday night in Building 1155 to participate in the Air Force's premier youth leadership training organization.

The national Civil Air Patrol program is a congressionally funded nonprofit organization whose young members assist the states and federal government in emergency services like search and rescue, disaster relief operations and homeland security. In addition, cadets receive an aerospace education and participate in programs like weekend field trips, Civil Air Patrol camps (similar to basic training) and other schools and classes.

Cadets learn how to be leaders and responsible citizens through aerospace-based activities. They have to study, do homework, and take tests on aviation and space-related topics. Physical training is required, and they have to pass physical fitness tests to get promoted. Students routinely recite Air Force values, standing orders, drills, customs, courtesies and policies on demand. It's all part of the process of teaching them how to be responsible Americans, said 1st Lt. Katie Gabb, squadron commander.

Getting the opportunity to climb into an airplane and fly or develop the military knowledge to join the Armed Services after high school or college are the driving forces behind why cadets typically join the Civil Air Patrol. The children receive an academic understanding of the principles of flight, and once completed, can climb into the cockpit of a glider or Cessna aircraft and fly with a rated Civil Air Patrol pilot.

Those looking at a military career enjoy getting a trial run at the real thing, as they wear uniforms, rank and are inspected on the proper wear before each Tuesday-night meeting begins.

"For those cadets who reach the (cadet) rank of second lieutenant, the Air Force gives an automatic promotion to (airman first class) when they enlist," Gabb said. "And it looks really good on a resume for college."

Squadron leadership is made up of senior Civil Air Patrol members. Some served in the Air Force's auxiliary as cadets; others are retired military or veterans who just want to keep serving. Because it is a volunteer program, most senior members have jobs in the community. Gabb is a critical care nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, and 14-year Civil Air Patrol member Craig Glover works for Apple Inc.

"We have a wealth of experience and senior members enjoy teaching the cadets all their knowledge," Gabb said.

That's the viewpoint of Donald Warren, who retired out of the Army after more than 20 years of service. He loves the military, loved what the military did for him, and wants to share that passion with his Family. That's why his son, daughter and brother, Lance, are also in the squadron.

"(Civil Air Patrol) builds more than Family values; it helps the kids to relate to older folks," Warren said. "We mentor them along to build on the philosophy of CAP."

Warren joined McChord's Civil Air Patrol after seeing how well his son was doing in the program. Newly promoted Airman 1st Class Max Warren, 12, has been participating for six months. He wants to walk in his father's footsteps and become a Soldier.

Donald and brother Lance Warren are both senior members and instructors for Max, which means that Max must listen to his dad and uncle at home - and at the Civil Air Patrol. He doesn't get unfair treatment, though.

"I get no special privileges," Max Warren said. "Having the whole Family part of this is pretty cool."

That spirit of acceptance and maintaining a tight-knit unit made Claypoole feel right at home when he joined a month ago.

"When I first came here, they greeted me and made me feel like I've been here the past three years," the Lochburn Middle School student said. He used to do nothing before playing football and participating in the McChord Field squadron, but he now enjoys having a busy social life.

"I'm always busy, and (Civil Air Patrol) is the big difference," Claypoole said. "I love to just come here and have fun."

The McChord Composite Civil Air Patrol Squadron meets on Tuesdays, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., at Building 1155 on McChord Field. Costs are $34 a year for cadets and start at $75 for senior members.

The national Civil Air Patrol headquarters provides one uniform each for the cadets, but individuals must purchase badges and name tags. For more information, call (317) 777-1458 or visit the website at Walk-ins are accepted. Arrangements should be made to sponsor non-DOD personnel onto the base.