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Cadet Programs

While there are many youth oriented programs in America today, CAP’s cadet program is unique in that it uses aviation as a cornerstone.  Thousands of young people from 12 years through age 21 are introduced to aviation through CAP’s cadet program.  The program allows young people to progress at their own pace through a 16-step program including aerospace education, leadership training, physical fitness and moral leadership.  Cadets compete for academic scholarships to further their studies in fields such as engineering, science, aircraft mechanics, aerospace medicine, meteorology, as well as many others. Those cadets who earn cadet officer status may enter the Air Force as an E3 (airman first class) rather than an E1 (airman basic).

Whatever your interests-survival training, flight training, photography, astronomy-there’s a place for you in CAP’s cadet program. Each year, cadets have the opportunity  to participate in special activities at the local, state, regional or national level.  Many cadets will have the opportunity to solo fly an airplane for the first time through a flight encampment or academy.  Others will enjoy traveling abroad through the International Air Cadet Exchange Program. Still others assist at major air shows throughout the nation.

Today's Cadets......Tomorrow's Aerospace Leaders!

Astronaut Eric Boe piloted the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Nicole Malachowski was the first woman to fly for the Air Force Thunderbirds. Both are former cadets, and both credit CAP with helping them achieve their dreams. Today’s cadets are tomorrow’s aerospace leaders. Through its Cadet Program, Civil Air Patrol transforms youth aged 12-20 into responsible citizens. Most cadets experience CAP by joining a community-based squadron that meets for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, one night per week. A growing number of cadets experience CAP as a school-sponsored activity.


A Multi-Faceted Program for Youth

Cadet life is centered around four main program elements:

Leadership: CAP develops young people into leaders. Through classroom instruction, self-paced study, and a laboratory of hands-on learning, cadets develop leadership skills. New cadets first learn to follow, while advanced cadets learn to lead the team. Cadet officers take great pride in having a sense of ownership over their program as they mentor junior cadets. Air Force traditions such as the uniform, the salute, and drill and ceremonies challenge cadets to emulate the professionalism of Air Force officers.

Aerospace: CAP inspires in youth a love of aviation, space, and technology. Through classroom instruction, self-paced study, and hands-on projects, cadets learn about the science that makes flight possible. Best of all, through orientation flights in CAP aircraft, cadets experience firsthand the thrill of aviation. Cadets also have opportunities to explore aerospace careers through field trips, encampments, and national cadet special activities.

Fitness: CAP encourages cadets to develop a lifelong habit of regular exercise. The Cadet Program promotes fitness through calisthenics, hiking, rappelling, volleyball, and more. At a time when many youth are obese, cadets discover the connection between staying fit and having the energy needed to achieve their goals. Their commitment to fitness is measured through a performance test modeled on “The President’s Challenge.”

Character: CAP challenges cadets to live their Core Values of integrity, volunteer service, excellence, and respect. Through character development forums, cadets wrestle with ethical issues relevant to teens, with the overall goal being that they develop moral reasoning skills. Mentoring programs connect new cadets to experienced cadets, CAP senior members, and Air Force Reservists. Finally, through Drug Demand Reduction activities, CAP challenges cadets to be ambassadors of a drug-free lifestyle.

A fifth program element – Activities – unifies the four main elements. Through cadet activities such as flying, leadership academies, bivouacs, field trips, and more, cadets apply what they have learned in the four main program elements and display their enthusiasm for the cadet ethic.

The Challenge and Excitement of Cadet Life

“I made my first solo flight at a CAP encampment.” -Colonel Eric Boe, NASA Astronaut and pilot of Space Shuttle missions STS-126 and STS-133.

Surveys tell us that the #1 reason cadets join CAP is that they want to fly. Coming in a close second is their interest in the military. Those two themes – aviation and the military – should be visible in all aspects of cadet life, motivating the cadets to continue in the CAP program.

Flying is how CAP keeps cadets motivated, allowing us to be successful at developing their character, fitness, and leadership skills. Likewise, because an interest in the military is another huge motivator for cadets, uniforms, military courtesies, drill, and the like play a huge role in cadet life. Cadets see those aspects of CAP as the special qualities that distinguish them from ordinary youth. They inspire the cadets to strive for excellence.

Cadet Activities

The weekly squadron meeting is the venue where cadets experience their program the most. Special activities on weekends and in the summer further energize the cadets, but it is the 52 weekly squadron meetings during a cadet’s membership year that will have the greatest impact on them. Weekly meetings are where the squadron provides activities that help the cadet qualify for promotions and advance in the program. Hands-on activities are always preferred to dull lectures. Organizing a successful weekly squadron meeting requires lots of planning and coordination, with the adult and cadet staffs working together. During their first year in CAP, each cadet should expect to participate in most of the following activities:

  • Flying
  • Color guards & drill teams
  • Leadership training
  • Hiking & camping
  • Obstacle courses
  • Emergency services
  • Field trips & tours
  • Model rocketry
  • Teambuilding
  • Social events for making friends

Cadet Advancement

The Cadet Program is organized around a system of 16 achievementsand 5 milestone awards. This “path of progression” provides a structure that guides the cadets’ development, matching cadets with activities suited to their longevity and accomplishments in the program.

A spirit of competition motivates cadets as they work to earn promotions, qualify for increased leadership roles in their squadron, and collect awards faster than their fellow cadets. During each achievement, the cadets are called upon to complete a task in each of the five program elements.

  • Leadership: Cadets study a chapter in their leadership book and then must pass a written test.
  • Aerospace: Cadets study a chapter in their aerospace book and then must pass a written test.
  • Fitness: Cadets must perform at a certain level, based on their age, rank, and gender, during a multi-faceted fitness test.
  • Character: Cadets must participate in a character development forum, where they apply the Core Values to case studies in ethics.
  • Activities: Cadets must attend weekly meetings and special events on a regular basis.

A cadet’s maturity, individual character, and leadership skill is a final performance test local leaders use to decide if a cadet is ready for the new challenges that come with advancement.

“My experiences as a CAP cadet were fundamental to my success.” Colonel Nicole Malachowski, USAF Thunderbirds
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