Capt. Jose G. Vergara was 55 when he joined Civil Air Patrol in 2015, and true to his nature his reasons for signing up were selfless.
He wanted to support his daughter, Veronica, as a cadet, and he wanted to teach and motivate young people toward science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers through aerospace education.
Vergara retired in 2022 after a 22-year career as a civilian with the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center of the U.S. Army. He has four college degrees, including a master’s in engineering management from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
In short, he had the ideal qualifications for supporting his daughter and motivating other youth. And he wasted no time in doing that once he joined CAP, donating many hours every week to that goal.
“I share my motivation and experience with cadets and senior members about their essential role in improving our nation’s future with STEM careers,” he said. “I believe an educator-mentor must have a contagious enthusiasm and teach the youth to dream of what they can achieve.”
His willingness to share his time and expertise has certainly paid off. His daughter is now captain in CAP and pursuing her dreams of attaining a master’s in electrical-computer engineering and attaining the rank of second lieutenant in either the U.S. Air Force or Space Force ROTC program in 2024.
Vergara’s tireless service hasn’t gone unnoticed. He serves in the New Jersey Wing’s Capt. “Bud” Jackson Composite Squadron as commander and assistant aerospace education officer, having filled the role of aerospace education officer from August 2020 until June 28.
He has been recognized numerous times at the wing and region levels for his aerospace education accomplishments, most recently as the 2023 Northeast Region Frank Brewer Memorial Aerospace Award – Senior Category.
Susan Mallett, education outreach coordinator with CAP’s national aerospace education team, is among Vergara’s many admirers.
“His squadron is involved in every AE program offered, and Capt. Vergara stays on top of all of them,” she said. “His cadets view him as their role model and mentor, and while he is strict with rule enforcement, he is admired and respected (and loved) by his cadets.”
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, he moved to the U.S. in 1987 at age 27. He predicted Venezuela’s political and economic situation would deteriorate, as would public safety.
“I wanted to live and have a family in a nation that could guarantee freedom, justice, and basic living standards,” Vergara said, “and allow me to pursue my professional dreams.”
He was project lead engineer for advanced technologies in the Army, hoping his service would help protect the nation. Now he’s sharing his knowledge and motivational skills with CAP cadets as a continuation of that service.
Vergara’s interest in aerospace education stems from a couple of places. Before he joined Civil Air Patrol and was still working with the Army as a developmental engineer, he volunteered as a teacher in a high school chess league. Surprised to learn that only a few wanted a STEM career, he thought he could be an inspiration as a teacher.
The second impetus came when he learned that a vital technology used by the military wasn’t produced in the United States. He was concerned and set about researching youth programs that could provide vision and motivation for STEM careers.
He discovered CAP.
Many, like Mallett, are thrilled that he did and believe he made the right choice, based on outcomes with his cadets. She got to know Vergara in 2020 — the first year of COVID-19 — when seeking innovative remote programs for cadets. Mallett found that Vergara’s squadron was using an online platform to conduct a variety of aerospace education programs, and she asked some of his cadets to conduct a session for CAP’s first virtual national conference.
“Under his leadership, their session was professionally and interestingly presented,” she recalled.
In 2022, Mallett and Vergara coordinated to arrange for one of his female cadets , Cadet Lt. Col. Priya Abiram, the cadet who won the AFA award.to join other cadets and Mallett in Nashville, Tennessee, for the Women in Aviation International Conference. Abiram affirmed what Mallett already knew of Vergara – that he is an inspirational and enthusiastic mentor.
“I think my opinion of Capt. Vergara has evolved since 2020 as I have seen how he seeks opportunities to encourage and then recognize and/or showcase the work of his cadets,” she said.
Another of Vergara’s cadets, Cadet Maj. Annika Santhanam, is the 2023 recipient of the Air & Space Forces Association national CAP Aerospace Education Cadet of the Year award.
Vergara is creative in leading his cadets. To accommodate his huge squadron of more than 170 cadets, Vergara created an AE-STEM program that works in six-month cycles, with courses within each cycle that can be taught by cadets or adult members.
Examples of the courses are basic robotics, programming, introduction to cybersecurity, and basic electronics. All courses are taught simultaneously, and cadets sign up for one each cycle. At the end of the cycle, the cadets make a capstone presentation, similar to a science fair.
Vergara also encourages his cadets to enter such national competitions as the AFA’s CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers programs, as well as those held by NASA and CAP’s own High Altitude Balloon Challenge. He also created a video task force to motivate cadets to make videos related to CAP. Many are AE-STEM related and are uploaded to the squadron’s YouTube channel to reach a larger audience.
“We are always looking for new ideas and opportunities,” he said.
Mallett appreciates his diligence in providing cadets with helping cadets gain exposure to aerospace competitions and career exploration opportunities.
“How he stays abreast of all that’s going on with this large cadet membership is just amazing,” she said.
It’s all in a day’s work for Vergara. He believes Civil Air Patrol has a critical mission to support the U.S. in maintaining worldwide air supremacy. One way to do that is through educating and motivating young people in STEM fields so they will help develop needed technology.
Along with his obvious qualifications, Vergara leads with the support of his squadron and his family. His wife, Capt. Ceti Vergara, joined CAP when he did and shares his commitment to helping the cadets set lofty goals and work to achieve them. She’s the squadron’s deputy commander for seniors and education and training officer.
Vergara’s involvement with young people is about more than just science, technology, engineering, and math education. It’s also about motivating young people to dream big — maybe even with a poetic side.
“We are sailing vessels that move toward the horizon by letting our dreams expand and thrust our sails to our futures,” he said. “Let the dreams blow and take us to places that we did not imagine.”
This profile of Capt. Jose G. Vergara is 14th in a regular series of articles showcasing how CAP and its members make an impact throughout the nation.