When asked what separated the Puerto Rico Wing’s champion team from the rest of the field at the 2023 National Cadet Competition, Civil Air Patrol’s national command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Todd Parsons, needed only five words:
“They go the extra mile.”
The Dr. Cesareo Rosa-Nieves Cadet Squadron cadets, representing CAP’s Southeast Region, took home the prestigious Air Force Chief of Staff Outstanding Team Championship trophy at the end of the three-day competition at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio..
As a former senior enlisted adviser at Arlington National Cemetery, working with the iconic Arlington honor guard for all military services during his U.S. Army career, Parsons should know what was involved.
The 16 teams – two from each of CAP’s eight regions – that qualify for the competition all shared such characteristics as ambition, discipline, and willingness to work hard
But the team from Puerto Rico had something more.
“The ones that really win, they put in the hours,” Parsons said. “If you look at the team from Puerto Rico, they hand-tailor their uniforms, so that they’re form-fitting. … If you look at their pockets, they sew them shut so that they look clean.
“That’s a level of attention to detail that the average person doesn’t have, even military members.”
Leading the winning team was Lt. Col. Felix Davila, who has guided Puerto Rico Wing teams to five NCC championships in his 37 years of mentoring cadets.
The team members were:
- Cadet Lt. Col. Rayesh Figueroa;
- Cadet Capts. Saul G. Andino, Jarielys M. Rosario, and Mary E. Rosario;
- and Cadet 2nd Lts. Ian Y. Acosta, Andres A. Casiano, and Jose L. Medero.
Along with the demands of preparing for the competition, the winning team had other hurdles to clear. English is a second language for the cadets. And like their family, friends, and fellow citizens of the U.S. territory, they’ve weathered hurricanes and other challenges on the island in recent years.
“Even with all those things, they come in and knock the socks of everybody,” Parsons said.
In the past, Parsons collaborated with cadets across CAP, including Puerto Rico, as part of his duties as commandant of the Honor Guard Academy. The cadets from the island made an enduring impression.
“They were very determined. They just had a lot of internal ambition, and they were there to do something great,” Parsons said. “They weren’t there to waste time.”
Over the years, the squadron has captured three NCC drill team titles and two color guard championships.
As Parsons said, the cadets don’t waste time, training an average of 12 hours per week for at least three months in advance of the competition.
Faith runs deep in Puerto Rico. Davila said that helps his team overcome the unique challenges kids from the island face in the competition.
“We pray to the Lord to help us, because for us, it’s very difficult, especially with the language barrier. That’s why we have to prepare for such long hours,” Davila said. “The language barrier is something that is real. It’s not something we can hide.”
Pride and perseverance are also at work.
“I think perseverance comes from their parents, and [the parents] pass it on to their kids,” Davila said. “And with those hardships — hurricanes Maria, Irma, Fiona — the kids work on those disaster relief missions. So along with the color guard thing, we also participate in those missions, helping our fellow Puerto Ricans overcome the hardships of those natural disasters.”
In order to reach the national stage and compete in color guard and drill, “everybody has to work together and know what everybody’s doing,” Parsons said. “It’s a team effort, not an individual thing. It causes cohesion. That’s why drill is still taught in militaries all over the world.”
The Puerto Rican cadets’ victory sends a message to their fellow islanders as well as to their comrades across Civil Air Patrol.
“The message is that if you work hard, you will accomplish and you can overcome any obstacle,” Davila said. “Work hard and do whatever is your passion, and then you will overcome all kinds of obstacles.
“I’ve seen this at least four other times,” he added, “and it’s priceless.”
Davila has stayed connected with many of his former cadets, who now apply to their daily lives the lessons they learned in CAP. The cadets’ success is also a credit to eight other adult members who worked with the team, as well as to cadet families — a village, if you will, that feeds, trains, and raises funds for the cadets to travel to competitions.
And the cadets themselves juggled jobs, school, and other responsibilities.
“A lot of people make sacrifices. It’s not just me,” Davila said.
Team member Andino made a speech at the NCC that made a big impression, Parsons said. The cadet spoke on how Civil Air Patrol helped him overcome anxiety, a common struggle among teens.
“I could close my eyes and hear an adult military officer,” Parsons said.
For Andino, the impact of participating in Civil Air Patrol and competing in the NCC has been deeply personal. For three years Figueroa, his cousin, urged him to join CAP before he signed up.
CAP’s teamwork, military discipline, and the protocol of drill made a difference in his life.
“I was in a very bad spot when I joined CAP,” Andino said. “I’ve been focusing on CAP since I joined the program.
“And honestly, I’m in a way better state.”
Another quality is at work in the winning Rosa-Nieves cadets — humility. When their victory was announced, they didn’t whoop and holler or dance in victory.
The cadets wept.
Civil Air Patrol recognizes National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, with this article on the Puerto Rico Wing cadet team that won the National Cadet Competition in July.