mdwing2A few days before the Maryland Wing’s recent change of command ceremony, the incoming commander was still absorbing its significance. 

“I’m starting to reevaluate my life choices,” Col. Brenda Reed said, chuckling at her own joke. “Back in the day when I worked for wing commanders, and I saw what they went through, it never occurred to me that it was something I could do, let alone something I was interested in doing.” 

The March 10 ceremony represented not only a change in leadership for the wing but also the culmination of a highly decorated, 20-year career in Civil Air Patrol, during which Reed has held numerous positions and received praise and recognition at all levels. 

From being named the Maryland Wing’s Public Affairs Officer of the Year in 2005 to its Squadron Commander of the Year almost two decades later, Reed remains dedicated to seeking excellence, not perfection. 

It’s Reed’s leadership style and work as an educator that will likely define her legacy. 

“She epitomizes the definition of a servant leader, always taking care of others and making sure the mission is accomplished that way,” said Col. Joseph R. Winter, a CAP member for 30 years, who’s Mid-Atlantic Region vice commander-north, a former Maryland Wing commander, and previous provost and chief of CAP’s Education and Training program. 

“You can have the most challenging day, and she just sort of figures out how to make you seem like you’re a rock star,” Winter said. 

MDgraniteReed is also a visionary who has expanded cadet ranks and opened new recruitment opportunities. Before becoming top leader for the Maryland Wing, she served four years as commander of the Granite Cadet Squadron, the first CAP unit consisting of homeschooled cadets. 

|It was inspired by Reed’s own years homeschooling her three children during husband Chief Master Sgt. Tom Reed’s numerous tours of duty in the U.S. Air Force 

Two of her children, Jacob, now a lawyer, and Jennifer, a graphic artist, were CAP cadets. Her other daughter, Erica, a homeschool mom herself, might have joined if there had been “a horse component,” Reed remarked with a broad smile. 

Her son met his future wife while both were cadets. And Reed’s oldest grandchild recently became eligible to join. 

While serving as Maryland Wing chief of staff, Reed met a homeschool mother who asked if a group of students could tour headquarters. There wasn’t much to show, but Reed and another wing officer, who also homeschooled his children, created an aerospace expo. 

That visit sparked an idea: Why not form a squadron of homeschooled children that could meet during the day, as opposed to evenings for other students in school classrooms during that time?

Reed approached Winter, who had worked with her at Loyola University of Maryland in Baltimore, about launching a squadron for homeschoolers. 

Winter immediately said yes to what would become the Granite squadron, which was chartered Feb. 27, 2020 just two weeks before the COVID-19 lockdowns began and the pool of potential members exploded. 

Given that timing, “we got some brand-new homeschoolers,” said Reed, who became the squadron’s commander. 

Though new,  the squadron easily transitioned during the pandemic to online learning. Reed had ample experience in online education from past jobs and knew the required tools and how to teach remotely. 

In almost four years, the squadron has grown from a dozen cadets to nearly 100, some of whom drive a couple of hours to daytime meetings. The squadron has  continually earned accolades and annual awards, including 2023’s Maryland Wing Squadron of the Year, Quality Cadet Unit Award, Squadron of Merit recognition, and the Aerospace Excellence Award. 

Last year the squadron celebrated its first Gen. Carl A. Spaatz recipient – Cadet Col. Vincent Martucci, a charter member. Three others are working toward the Spaatz award, the highest honor a cadet can receive. Two cadets flew solo at a National Flight Academy, and one is about to achieve his private pilot’s certificate through the Cadet Wings program. 

One of those Spaatz hopefuls is Cadet Lt. Col. Jacob Stigdon, who joined CAP’s Fredericks Composite Squadron seven years ago with an eye on a military career. 

Because he was homeschooled, he couldn’t join a high school Junior ROTC program; CAP filled that void. One day he saw an Instagram post promoting the new Granite squadron. 

“I remember being surprised that a senior member knew how to post to Instagram,” Stigdon said. “And when I started going to the meetings, I realized this individual cares about others and that she is intrinsically motivated. She really wanted to see the success of others.”

Stigdon, who is pursuing a career in sales, credits Reed with strengthening his interpersonal skills – a necessity for a successful career in his chosen field. Such skills were limited when he first tried to lead his peers. 

“It didn’t help that I was 5 feet, 2 inches and my voice hadn’t changed,” he said of those initial efforts to motivate his fellow cadets. Only after Stigdon’s failure to garner needed respect prompted Reed to quietly share some helpful tips – such as tweaks to his speech delivery – did he experience personal growth. 

Because of Reed’s influence, Stigdon is still very active in Civil Air Patrol. Recently, he was selected to serve as cadet commander for the 2024 Tri-Wing Encampment, where he will oversee the education and training of more than 200 cadets and staff this summer.

He credits this accomplishment to Reed’s unwavering support and outstanding mentorship, “I would not be the cadet, leader, or person I am today without her influence,” Stigdon said. 

He added: “I’ve worked with a lot of adult members, but she’s mastered the ability to be incredibly involved but not overbearing. She will never tell you that you can’t do something. Whatever problem it is, whatever goal you have … she encourages you to take ownership of what you want and guides you to that goal.” 

As a longtime and highly active member of CAP, Reed has witnessed the organization’s female ranks grow, though women still account for only a fraction of wing commanders. She recalls her days as chief of staff, when she was the only woman in the room and got the distinct impression she was expected to clean up and serve lunch. 

But she pushed back against the stereotypes and earned her male peers’ respect. 

“CAP gave me the opportunity to develop as a leader professionally,” Reed said. “When I first started, I was actually very shy and didn’t have any confidence. I fully credit mentors I had in CAP for putting opportunities my way to build me as a leader.” 

Since then, she’s paid it forward and become the mentor to many others starting or winding down their careers. 

She’s also an excellent recruiter, Winter said.

“She’s had a major impact not only on our program but, from a growth perspective, opening opportunities to an entirely new community – in this case, homeschoolers,” Winter said. 

“She’s helped the organization as a whole recognize that we can do things a little differently,” he said. 

Her recruiting efforts extend not only to cadets but also to potential adult members.   

The day of that local homeschooled group’s initial visit, Reed connected with two of the students’ mothers. Both are now active members of the squadron. 

winterqoteReed and her husband recently retired to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which required her to seek a waiver to serve as wing commander since she now lives just beyond Maryland’s border. But, she said, that will have no impact on her ability to travel throughout Maryland to meet with other squadrons. 

She hopes to expand opportunities for homeschoolers across Maryland … and beyond. She also intends to use her new position to build up all members personally and professionally – cadets and adult members alike – to become their best selves.

“I think she’s going to reestablish the concept of nurturing and empowering future leaders within the organization,” Winter said. “She’s going to apply the same model she used to meet the needs of those homeschool cadets to advocate for engagement and personal development.

 “She’s going to create a nurturing environment where everyone feels valued and supported and is truly inspired to achieve their fullest potential.”
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Anne Saita
Contributing writer

Civil Air Patrol recognizes Women’s History Month with this profile of Col. Brenda Reed, commander of the Maryland Wing.

This look at Reed’s service is 20th in a regular series of articles showcasing how CAP and its members make an impact in their communities and throughout the nation.