The Atlantic Ocean lies less than 10 miles away, but for most members of the New Jersey Wing’s Capt. Bud Jackson Composite Squadron, it’s the Pacific that holds a special significance in May – Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – and throughout the year.
After all, some 90% of the Jackson squadron’s 29 senior members and 106 cadets are of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent. The squadron is located in Edison and in Middlesex County, which has the nation’s highest concentration of Asian Indians, accounting for 28.3% of residents in the 2010 census.
The squadron is commanded by Capt. Jose Vergara.
For Cadet Lt. Col. Varija Mehta, the squadron “provides a unique environment that allows all individuals to prosper, regardless of their background.”
“As an individual of Indian descent, I am grateful for this opportunity to serve my community and work alongside diverse individuals,” Mehta said.
She has been a member of Civil Air Patrol since May 2018.
“Being from India has influenced me in countless ways, including my ideas, culture, and my overall identity,” said Cadet Tech. Sgt. Samarth Parekh, who joined the squadron Jan. 25. “Knowing that I come from a nation with such a rich history makes me proud beyond belief and is something I relish.”
In addition, Parekh said, “serving in CAP“ is really a great honor. Having the ability to serve my nation has long been a dream of mine, and this might be the closest I come, as I have alternate future plans.
“But as a CAP member it’s incredible to be part of such a great organization where I can give back to my community, especially after all it has given to me,” he said.
During her 15 years in Edison, “I have seen the growth in diversity in the AAPI population, specifically the Indian population,” said Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Inchara Mottana, a squadron member since November 2019.
“My Indian roots made me who I am today, and joining Civil Air Patrol has enhanced my Indian and American sides and made me a better person and leader,” Mottana said.
Cadet Capt. Niyati Shah, who joined the squadron in July 2017, added: “Being of Asian American descent, I have grown up learning about my cultural heritage and being proud of my Indian background.
“Our CAP squadron is a great environment to share with people of similar backgrounds and/or similar interests. NJ-102 brings a diverse mindset in everything we do, and together our achievements speak for our dedication to our core values.”
Those achievements include such contribution to the community as assisting with local events like the Solberg Balloon Festival, Westfield Bike Tour, and the Malcolm E. Nettingham Middle School Science Fair. Cadets and senior members also took active roles in COVID-19 relief missions, creating personal protective equipment and assisting in food distribution centers.
Another young squadron member, Cadet Lt. Col. Priya Abiram, was selected to serve as a spokesman for CAP cadets during the International Women In Aviation Conference two months ago in Nashville, Tennessee.
Abiram, who’s also an aspiring astronaut, was recognized with the prestigious Frank G. Brewer Sr. Civil Air Patrol Memorial Aerospace Award for CAP’s Northeast Region.
The squadron’s CyberPatriot team consisted of six AAPID cadets – Mehta and Shah, Cadet Lt. Col. Jadon Pinto, Cadet 1st Lt. Annika Santhanam and Cadet 2nd Lts. Satyam Shah and Krishnasaketh Kosaraju. They placed in the top 15 teams in the Platinum tier of the national Air and Space Forces cyber security competition’s All Services division.
In addition, Mehta, Santhanam, Cadet Tech. Sgt. Samarth Parekh, and Cadet Staff Sgt. Shristhi Sharma placed second in the AOC 2021 STEM Competition, winning $2,000 for the squadron and its aerospace/STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program with the video they created about the electromagnetic spectrum and its applications to everyday life and future care.
Cadet Lt. Col. Jadon Pinto
Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Mrika Jambudi
Capt. Bud Jackson Composite Squadron
New Jersey Wing