By Laura Barnhardt Cech
In the shadow of a hangar at Lee Airport in Annapolis, more than a dozen teenagers march in military uniforms, turning crisp 90-degree angles in unison, snapping to attention in the presence of a Civil Air Patrol commander.
Civil Air Patrol cadets do these nighttime drills every week, then return on Saturdays for a two-hour workout at the nearby gym. While their peers pore over algebra homework or X-box games, CAP cadets might be in fields and woods, with heavy backpacks, training to search for plane crash sites and missing people.
“It’s you and your compass,” says Emmy Hoyt, a 14-year-old cadet chief master sergeant from Annapolis. “It’s real life experience.”
Cadets in the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol— there are more than 26,000 in the U.S. — can join when they are 12 years old, serving until they are 21 when they move on to become adult CAP members.
In addition to learning first aid, navigation, and communications basics, cadets take five instructional flights in a single-engine aircraft.
Not all adult CAP members are pilots, but many are. During the recent Tropical Storm Sandy, for example, CAP pilots took aerial photos of the coastal damage, says CAP Col. Tom Casey.
In Maryland, CAP members help the U.S. Coast Guard patrol the Chesapeake Bay, looking for boaters in trouble. They also help with state wildlife surveys and searches for missing people.
There are more than 830 CAP cadets in Maryland; 37 are in the unit based at Lee Airport in Edgewater.