In the heat of a German summer afternoon, 28 young people make their way through the forest. They are mostly too young to be Airmen, yet they wear similar uniforms as they carry fellow members on stretchers, over walls and under barbed wire, following the orders of their cadre.
The Civil Air Patrol cadet encampment is a summer program for youth, ages 12 to 21, who are part of the CAP Cadet Program and who chose to better themselves by practicing leadership, increasing knowledge and building physical fitness in a military setting.
Instead of sleeping in and enjoying a lazy week of summer, these cadets spent more than a week living in deployment tents on Ramstein, carrying out physical and mental tasks in a manner somewhat similar to Air Force Basic Training.
“It’s taught me how to listen, how to follow directions, how to help others, and how to do everything to the best of my ability,” said CAP cadet 2nd Lt. Zane Fockler, European Encampment cadre and B Flight commander.
The cadets begin every day with stretches, formation and breakfast before diving in to a variety of classes and activities. The classes focused on leadership, life skills and aerospace knowledge, while daily sports, drill and ceremony practice provided challenges of strength and discipline.
The cadets faced the many challenges that come with figuring out how to communicate and operate as a team.
Cadets who have been through the encampment at least once, like Fockler, have the opportunity to become cadre and take on more leadership responsibility.
As B Flight commander, Fockler was expected to organize his flight at a moment’s notice and march them safely. On the obstacle course, he made sure his team stayed hydrated and talked them through the various challenges as they made their way carefully through the woodlands.
“It’s a challenge being in charge of eight-plus people, especially when you have someone jumping down your throat when things go wrong,” Fockler said. “A really important part of the encampment is learning how to take orders and criticism.”
Fockler said that the humbling experience of the cadet encampment has helped him become a better person.
“It’s hard to own your failures,” Fockler said. “The most important thing cadets take away from this experience is learning how to grow from our mistakes and better ourselves as a people.”
For those moments when the cadre may fail, the cadets had a number of experienced volunteer CAP personnel overseeing and guiding them.
Fockler explained that the challenges of the encampment can make cadets want to quit.
Yet, with the help of their senior leaders, if the cadets drum up the courage to stick it out, they have the opportunity to gain life skills through perseverance and humility.
CAP Maj. Walter Brown, Royal Air Force Mildenhall Cadet Squadron deputy commander, helped lead his seventh encampment this year.
According to Brown, the purpose of the cadet encampment is to transform American youth into leaders and to build up the level of knowledge of aerospace throughout the U.S. population.
Brown said by the end of the week the cadets have always improved in a number of areas including discipline, knowledge, physical fitness and attitude. He said any one of the adult leaders who has been in the program for a little while can share many stories of positive transformations they’ve witnessed in the cadets.
“When I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I was helping to get a CAP cadet squadron started at a middle school,” Brown said. “There was a kid at the school named Sam who was in the principal’s office every week. A few months after we got the program started, the principal pulled me aside and said ‘I don’t know what you guys are doing, but I haven’t had Sam in my office in two months. He’s become one of the examples for good behavior in his class.’”
Later, when Brown questioned Sam about his transformation, Sam explained that he had become involved in the CAP program and that it was benefiting him.
“What keeps me coming back is a deeply held belief that I’m making a difference in someone’s future,” Brown said. “If I make a difference in only one of these cadet’s future, whether they become an aerospace professional or join the military or not, even if it just makes them a better person somehow, that’s the most important thing.”