For National Volunteer Week, we salute Lt. Col. James D. Peace, a Texas Wing squadron commander who also serves as Civil Air Patrol’s National Cadet Special Activities coordinator and teaches at a Houston middle school where he fills a number of roles.
Volunteer service with Civil Air Patrol is a way of life for Lt. Col. James D. Peace, not only as head of his Texas Wing squadron but also at the organization’s national level and as a middle school educator.
A CAP member since November 1996, Peace is commander and aerospace education officer for the East Houston Cadet Squadron. He also serves as CAP’s National Cadet Special Activities coordinator, overseeing 37 cadet activities conducted throughout the U.S. and 12 foreign countries that explore civilian and military aerospace careers, provide flight training, develop leadership, and enhance emergency services skills.
And that’s just the start of his service. Peace also puts in plenty of volunteer hours as a teacher at Michael R. Null Middle School in Houston, where he has taught since 2009. He does double duty with CAP, leading his squadron and also serving as Civil Air Patrol classroom teacher at Null through the Cadets at School program, an elective for sixth- through eighth-graders nationwide.
In 2020, Peace was selected as CAP’s National Aerospace Teacher of the Year.
Raechel Broussard, associate principal at Null, has worked with Peace about a dozen years. Both moved to Null when it opened in 2009. In addition to being an excellent and engaging teacher, Broussard said, Peace has secured a number of grants and other opportunities for students.
He also volunteers for anything needed on campus – whether related to his job or not, including getting his students involved in campus beautification projects and the Adopt-a-Highway program.
“He’s just done so many great things for our students,” Broussard said.
A visit to an air show in 1982, where 11-year-old Peace got to see the space shuttle, tweaked his interest in math, technology, and the sciences.
“From that point on, I was hooked!” he said.
That experience also came into play years later when Peace became a teacher, thanks to his understanding how important hands-on experiences are.
He also incorporated a lesson learned from one of his Marine Corps Junior ROTC instructors at Ross S. Sterling High School in Baytown, Texas, Master Sgt. David Aiken. From the first day, Aiken motivated his students to ask why things work the way they do, Peace recalled. He took that advice himself and now passes it on to his students.
Peace was introduced to Civil Air Patrol at Baytown Airport, where he took flight lessons. He noticed a CAP poster and called the number that evening.
“I was excited to see other people my age who were interested in aviation,” he said.
Peace became a student pilot and soloed while still in high school. After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1994, he earned a commission in the U.S. Air Force and served as an intercontinental ballistic missile operations officer.
“That did not involve flying,” he said, “but it did allow me to be immersed in aerospace.”
That experience led to a passion for rocketry, which he draws on in his teaching. From the beginning of his career in education, Peace has used aviation and aerospace activities as classroom tools. He uses rocketry to teach the laws of motion and hot-air balloons to teach air density. And he has students explore aerospace careers in learning to write essays.
The students in the Cadets at School program, led by Peace, are surrounded by rocket models, pictures of the planets, and photographs of aviation pioneers in their classroom.
“Throughout the year, we have opportunities to explore model rocketry, astronomy, weather, aerodynamics, and the science of flight,” Peace said.
It’s not just the students in Peace’s classroom who benefit from his knowledge and enthusiasm. He interacts with the entire campus, never passing up an opportunity to talk about the CAP cadet program and aviation.
Each year, local elementary schools bring their fifth-graders to Null for a campus visit. As part of that experience, Peace speaks to over 500 students about the CAP cadet program and the opportunities it offers youth.
In addition, “I bring out our squadron’s hovercraft and give the students a chance to ride around,” he said.
And when they get ready to board their buses, he stages a model rocketry presentation to send them off.
His hope is that the students will experience the same spark that ignited a passion for aviation in him. After getting a bachelor’s degree in 1994 from Texas Tech, Peace added two master’s degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, including a master of aeronautical science.
If it hadn’t been for a phone number on a Civil Air Patrol poster, he might not have followed that path. And that would have been a shame.
He doesn’t want his students to miss their opportunity to experience the same thing.
“Civil Air Patrol continues to provide me tremendous opportunities to serve,” he said.
“Supporting the aerospace education mission allows me to draw from my military career and my formal education to work with young people.”