Cadet encampments are a familiar summer activity for CIvil Air Patrol’s 52 wings, but that’s far from the case for the 12 Overseas Group squadrons on military installations in six nations in Europe and Asia and the territory of Guam.
Geography presents a particular hurdle for the squadrons in Japan, Korea, and Guam, as air travel is necessary for any three squadrons to meet in one place.
This summer the 2023 Far East Encampment marked the first such activity overseas overseas in the Pacific since 2019 to involve squadrons from more than one country. A Far East Encampment planned for 2020 was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions on travel and public gatherings.
After several years of only local-level encampments in the Pacific, the Overseas Group decided to take on the challenge of planning an encampment for cadets from the five squadrons in Japan (Misawa, Okinawa, and Yokota cadet squadrons), South Korea (Osan Air Base Cadet Squadron), and Guam (Andersen Air Base Cadet Squadron).
The Osan squadron was able to secure the support needed to host the encampment at Seoul Air Base, also known as K-16 Air Base.
According to the encampment commander, Capt. Kevin Abington, who also commands the Osan squadron, the greatest challenge planners faced was staff being spread across three countries. Most Overseas Group adult members are active-duty military, so staff also dealt with interruptions from being on temporary duty or reassignment to another country.
“The Google Workspace suite was critical for coordinating, but nothing can really replace face-to-face interactions,” Abington said.
Several adult members had experience with planning and working at encampments both stateside and overseas, but none had ever planned one as large as this one. They were able to draw on experiences from both CAP and their military duties to both come up with a plan and adapt as circumstances changed.
The 2023 encampment staff also faced the welcome challenge of dealing with about twice as many cadet participants. Since 2019 the Pacific has added two cadet squadrons, with the Misawa squadron in Japan being reactivated and the Andersen squadron in Guam receiving its charter.
In all, 41 cadets traveled to Seoul for the activity.
Cadets and adult members alike had to figure out passport and visa requirements, determine how public health requirements applied to each squadron, and of course work out how to move dozens of youth by planes, trains, and automobiles while following Civil Air Patrol’s cadet protection requirements.
Meanwhile, the Osan squadron had to not only find a facility that could provide beds for all participant but also secure linens and other essentials for the cadets and staff at their temporary home away from home.
The Andersen Air Base squadron members in particular overcame many hurdle. With over 30 cadets and five adults planning to travel to Korea for the encampment, the squadron worked aggressively to raise the required funds for travel.
In the end, they raised over $20,000 through a mix of donations, CAP Cadet Encampment Assistance Program funds, and parent contributions. Before final arrangements could be made, Guam was struck by Typhoon Mawar, resulting in utility disruptions, damage to cadets’ homes, and temporary closure of the island’s Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport.
Ultimately, 22 Andersen cadets were able to make the journey.
Many of the cadets and adult members alike were participating in an encampment for the first time, but some old hands were involved as well.
Abington, the encampment commander, had previously worked at an Illinois Wing encampment in 2013, and Cadet 1st Lt. Hanna Chung of the Osan squadron had attended two previous encampments, including the 2019 Far East Encampment.
Based on her experience and seniority among the Pacific cadets, Chung was selected cadet commander for the 2023 encampment, leading two flights.
She was able to look back at her previous encampments to know what to expect, and she used that experience to keep up with schedule changes and other unexpected events while providing subordinate cadets with mentoring and feedback.
“[The] most impactful lesson learned at encampment: Always go the extra mile for safety,” Chung said.
Capt. Michael Pacacha of the Andersen Air Base squadron was particularly pleased watching the cadets grow as individuals and come together as a team, bonding as they worked their way through leadership problems, a confidence course, and the day-to-day hustle of encampment.
“The best part of the confidence course was seeing cadets set aside their weary minds and act as natural leaders,” Pacacha said, “There was no guidance, no external influence; only youthful cadets stepping up and guiding subordinates through challenging tasks without any need to stop and think about it — only the need to act.”
Beyond the standard encampment experience, cadets had the opportunity to visit military units stationed on the South Korean peninsula.
They received a closeup view of an A-10 Warthog attack jet assigned to the U.S. Air Force’s 25th Fighter Squadron and learned about the Air Force’s close-air-support mission at Osan Air Base.
In addition, they learned about the UH-60M Black Hawks flown by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade and a UH-60L Black Hawk simulator operated by the air base’s Synthetic Flight Training Systems team.
The base’s medical personnel spent time with the cadets talking about the different sorts of medical care they offered.
The cadets also learned about air defense during a visit to a Patriot missile battery operated by the Army’s 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
Capt. Jeffrey MacHott
Public Affairs Officer
Misawa Cadet Squadron