Maj. Margot Myers
Public Affairs Officer
Civil Air Patrol cadets may wonder if there is life in CAP after they turn 21. The short answer is “yes.” Cadets who transition to senior membership often find their participation in CAP to be just as rewarding and fulfilling, but in different ways.
Brig. Gen. Edward Phelka, CAP national vice commander, who will succeed Maj. Gen. Mark Smith as national commander in August, started in CAP as a cadet. Phelka said his time as a cadet was a terrific opportunity to explore a lot of different areas, both inside and outside CAP.
“When I finished my cadet career, I had a strong desire to give back, so I wanted to work in the senior program to create opportunities for cadets that came after me to continue to succeed, he said.
Working with cadet programs isn’t the only option. “You can continue to explore different ways that you can help Civil Air Patrol be successful,” Phelka said. “You can join an aircrew, you can join a ground team, you can teach in our education and training program.”
Smith echoes Phelka’s thinking, linking a cadet’s senior transition to CAP’s core value of service. For a cadet, that service may involve mentoring younger cadets and filling various leadership positions in the squadron.
“But as you transition to senior member, it’s an opportunity to serve in a larger capacity, wherever your particular interests are as an adult volunteer, bringing your talent, passion and enthusiasm to help us as an organization,” Smith said.
Here are five things older cadets should consider as they near the time when they’re eligible to transition to senior membership.
Help others succeed: Cadets count on senior cadets as well as senior members to guide them to succeed. Once cadets transition to senior membership, it’s time to give back by putting their knowledge and experience to work to help others succeed.
Capt. Travis Brodbeck joined the New York Wing in 2008 when he was 12 and went on to achieve the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award – the organization’s highest cadet honor — before becoming a senior member. “If you are struggling on deciding whether to stay involved, then I ask you to reflect on one or two senior members who positively influenced you whether in CAP or beyond,” Brodbeck said. “Then, I encourage you to think about how you can be that person for someone else in whatever capacity you wish.
“I am thankful to all the senior members who donated their time and money to support my days as a cadet. … Giving back to the program was something that I knew I wanted to do, but also the right thing to do.
“When a program invests so much into you that helps you win scholarships, have great experiences, learn new skills and so much more, then it is only appropriate to help others to experience the same.”
Maj. Klara Olcott, another Spaatz cadet and now the youngest squadron commander in the Arizona Wing, echoed Brodbeck’s thoughts. “I continued as an officer primarily because of dedicated seniors and mentors who helped me and sacrificed for me all along my cadet career and I wanted to pay that forward,” Olcott said.
Develop a sense of balance: Cadets juggle their CAP responsibilities with school, work and family obligations. Senior members carry out that same balancing act, but often on a larger scale. Senior members also have more latitude to decide just how much time and effort they will put into CAP. It’s possible to remain in the organization while in college or the military, even if that means reducing the amount of time devoted to CAP activities.
“I was balancing work, private pilot training and then EMT (emergency medical technician) training,” Olcott said. “I thought I might not have time to be a senior (member), but the great thing about CAP is you can participate as much or little as you choose – if you are serving in a support role. Command roles or those where you are the primary officer in a duty position should be allotted the time they are due.”
Brodbeck agreed. “As a senior member, you don't need to be super active, but instead, you set the boundaries of how involved you want to be,” he said. “That control is so important, but also makes the transition so much easier. Don't feel obligated to be as, or more busy, (than) you were as a cadet; instead, this is the best time to step back and observe.”
Continue to learn: Cadets follow an established curriculum as they work through the 16 steps of the cadet program from stripes to diamonds. Senior members have the freedom to be more specialized, depending on their interests and abilities, choosing one or more specialty tracks to focus on, such as emergency services, transportation or safety.
“The education and training credit that carried over from being a Spaatz recipient really helped,” Olcott says. “It’s a great thing after years in a program not to start from zero.”
Increased opportunities: Cadets who transition to senior membership not only take on additional responsibility but also have broader opportunities to contribute. This may include serving in squadron leadership, taking on wing or region staff assignments, working on special projects or filling an incident management team position.
“I waited as long as I could to transition to the senior side, but I knew I would, because I had been accepted as a peer in emergency services and as a leader in cadet programs,” Olcott said. “My rank didn’t matter; my position (ground branch director) and experience did.
“From what I have observed from others who have made a successful transition, what is important is creating a bridge to a primarily senior mission or activity while you are a cadet and building those relationships and skills,” she- said.
“For staff officers who seek to retain their older cadets, watch for ways you can integrate the cadets into areas like mission staff, radios, sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems) and other aerospace or mission functions,” Olcott said.
“Serving in these capacities puts young adults in an environment where they can be treated according to their duty role, not their CAP grade, while allowing them to build skills that will position them for greater responsibilities in the future.”
Keep having fun: Transitioning to senior membership gives cadets an opportunity to remain in the CAP family and continue doing things they like to do.
“Joining as a cadet, you create lifelong friendships,” says Capt. Elizabeth Bratton, a cadet who successfully made the transition to senior membership and now serves as the Alaska Wing’s director of cadet programs.
“I still was running encampments (my favorite!),” Bratton said. “I was still creating cadet competitions, and I was working at the wing level to create opportunities and activities. What’s amazing is you still have that camaraderie.”
And Bratton says there’s value in being able to see CAP from two different perspectives. At 27, she has served in the Alaska National Guard full-time for eight years while continuing her CAP activities as one of the wing’s younger leaders.
“I thought the camaraderie would stop when I aged out,” Bratton said. “I thought it would be boring and dull. I was so wrong. I have been wing director of cadet programs for six years. Not only am I still doing what I love, but I have gained even more knowledge and skills that I directly apply to my military career.
“If you’re a cadet, thinking about closing the door when you ‘age out’ – reconsider. Look at everything that you gain and can still do,” she said.
“Keep that door open; your journey is not over yet.”
Find additional information about the cadet to senior member transition in CAP Pamphlet 40-8, Phase V: Moving Beyond the Cadet Program, A Guide for the Cadet to Senior Member Transition.
Thanks to Maj. KIara Olcott, commander of the Arizona Wing's 388th Composite Squadron, for her contributions to this article.