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 Harley Anna Jones, right, 17, of Sterling Heights, receives the Amelia Earhart Award from state Sen. Steve Bieda, while ranking members of the Civil Air Patrol look on Nov. 13 at Fraser VFW Post 6691.

Harley Anna Jones, right, 17, of Sterling Heights, receives the Amelia Earhart Award from state Sen. Steve Bieda, while ranking members of the Civil Air Patrol look on Nov. 13 at Fraser VFW Post 6691.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

Cadets gain lessons, impact lives through Civil Air Patrol

Three locals awarded for dedication, longevity

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 11, 2018

 Alyx Kasprzak, 20, of Harrison Township, speaks after receiving the rare Ira C. Eaker Award.

Alyx Kasprzak, 20, of Harrison Township, speaks after receiving the rare Ira C. Eaker Award.

Photo by Sarah Purlee


FRASER — A child about to enter his or her teen years, or an adult seeking to make a difference, can find optimistic enthusiasm through Civil Air Patrol.

Nationally, Civil Air Patrol, or CAP, has three missions: aerospace and aviation education; training youths to be the leaders of tomorrow; and emergency services in the form of inland search and rescue, disaster relief and community service.

On Nov. 13, at Fraser VFW Post 6691, the Van Dyke Cadet Squadron held an open house and award ceremony, honoring three longtime cadets for their dedication and longevity.

First Lt. Renae Little is the deputy commander for cadets at the Van Dyke Cadet Squadron. She oversees the program as a whole, which includes about 51 members — approximately 30 of whom are cadets, while the rest are adult or senior members.

She said cadets learns the ins and outs of flying, cybersecurity, hacking, and conducting search and rescues for the U.S. Air Force and the Michigan State Police. Cadets can join at 12 years old and stay until they’re 21, when they can personally decide if a military career is the right path forward.

Cadets, who rank up as Air Force members, hail from the immediate area and learn responsibility and leadership. They meet every Tuesday evening and hope to continue to grow.

“I’m doing my best to get into the schools,” Little said. “We’ve had some success. … It’s a lot of public relations and reaching out. People don’t know about us. The Boy Scouts have a nationwide program; everybody knows about them. We have a similar program, but it’s just harder.”

Col. Rajesh Kothari is the commander of the Michigan wing of CAP. His role entails engaging with communities and acquainting cadets and adults with the missions. He is responsible for about 1,500 members and 40 statewide squadrons.

“We’re working hard to build awareness,” Kothari said. “A big part of our challenge is, not a lot of people know about the organization, even though we’ve been around since Dec. 1, 1941.”

He discussed how cadets aided in such disaster relief efforts after hurricanes Florence and Michael, while also helping K-12 teachers with STEM programs. They also engage in activities like Veterans Day parades, open houses and Wreaths Across America.

“It gives our young people a lot of opportunity to build on skills that they don’t get an opportunity to exercise anywhere else,” he said. “A lot of kids are out screwing around on the weekends, or playing video games.

“Our cadets are doing CyberPatriot. They’re learning drill and ceremonies, how to do Honor Guard, how to do customs and courtesies around the flag. That’s what our young men and women are doing on the weekend. We find a lot of kids find that compelling and interesting.”

Matthew Creed is the CAP commander of the Great Lakes Region. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is responsible for squadrons in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio — encompassing approximately 6,800 members.

Creed said CAP tries to maintain a borderless operation. For example, first responders during Hurricane Sandy were from the Midwest region. When Houston was flooded, aircraft from 29 states supported the relief effort.

“The way that we interact with our states and our local governments can be a little different, just based on the political realities of where we are, but from an organizational and operational standpoint, the cadet program here is the cadet program in California,” he said.

Three cadets were honored Nov. 13: Jonah Wilhelm, 17, of Harrison Township; Harley Anna Jones, 17, of Sterling Heights; and Alex Kasprzak, 20, of Harrison Township.

Wilhelm and Jones were honored with the Amelia Earhart Award, while Kasprzak received the Ira Eaker Award — given to about 1 percent of cadets nationwide. State Sen. Steve Bieda, along with Kothari and Creed, helped deliver the awards to the cadets.

Wilhelm said he joined at age 12 due to friends, and “fell in love” with it.

“I’ve learned a lot of invaluable leadership lessons,” Wilhelm said. “I’ve learned how to fly an airplane, I’ve learned how to search for missing people and save people’s lives when they crash airplanes — all kinds of just crazy things you wouldn’t normally learn as a teenager. … I’ve put a lot of work into this program, and it’s good to get something back from it.”

Jones, who joined at 12 at the encouragement of her mother, has been home-schooled her entire life. She’s currently working toward her private pilot’s license.

“It’s definitely helped me a lot with my leadership,” she said. “I’m currently juggling two jobs, and I don’t think I could have done that without the experience I’ve gotten. I’ve made a lot of friends and I’ve been able to network, so I know a lot of people around the nation, and I think that’s a huge opportunity a lot of people don’t have.”

Kasprzak joined at age 15 at the recommendation of a family friend. He oversees the cadets each meeting, teaching character development and military-style lessons. He said he is the fifth- or sixth-highest ranking cadet statewide.

Currently working for MedStar, he aspires for a career as a paramedic firefighter.

“It feels really good,” he said. “When I started, I never imagined I’d make it this far and do the things that I’ve done. It feels really good actually. It’s taught me a lot, and I probably wouldn’t want to be a firefighter if it wasn’t for this.”

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