I am a Civil Air Patrol Cadet Technical Sergeant, and though I have my whole life ahead of me, I will never go on an orientation flight, or earn a flight scholarship. I will never participate in the International Air Cadet Exchange, or National Blue Beret, or participate on a CyberPatriot team. I probably won’t achieve all of the Cadet Program’s milestone awards, like the Eaker and the Spaatz. Why not? Because I am already eighteen years old, and the CAP cadet program ends at age 21.
If you are an older cadet who joined your program at sixteen or seventeen, rest assured that you are not alone. Here are some tips from a cadet in the same boat.
1. Don’t let yourself be devoured by regret.
It’s easy to fall into this trap. When you see much younger cadets at your same level in the program, you realize how many more opportunities and how much more time they have. Don’t let yourself wallow in grief, and don’t blame your friends or parents for not introducing you to the joys of being a cadet sooner. It only makes you miserable, and that doesn’t do you any good. A better way to look at it is by asking yourself, “How can I use the time I have wisely and honorably?” You won’t get anywhere with your remaining time if you don’t have the right attitude.
2. Live life to the fullest before you age out of the cadet program (and join the dark side).
If you want to get the most out of what time you have as a cadet, whether you are limited by your rapidly-approaching twenty-first birthday, or going off to college in some far-flung place where the nearest unit is forty miles away, then get busy. Work on those promotions. You may not have to fit it all within the absolute minimum time-in-rank, and you certainly shouldn’t kick and claw your way to success at the expense of those around you, but don’t be lazy. Go to every squadron event possible. Try to attend a summer encampment, even if you think you will never need it for promotion. Go to every SAREX you can, and politely (but proactively) hound the officers in charge of signing off qualifications. A career does not have to be long to be illustrious.
3. Realize that more is required of you.
As a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old cadet, you will quickly discover one thing: rank is very powerful. You will naturally feel more comfortable mingling with cadets closer to your own age, even if they are cadet officers. This is normal, but it can be dangerous to your professionalism. At the same time, it’s tempting to say, “Well, I’m an airman – I don’t have to be as dignified and mature as Lt Mitchell.” No! If you are 17, and Lt Mitchell is 17, then you should both be serving as models of the Core Values and behavior in the uniform to the younger cadets, even if one of you is wearing stripes and the other is wearing pips.
I hope that this article has helped some of you out there. When I joined CAP, I felt big, old, and foolish, and I didn’t think there was much the cadet leaders could teach me. I had to learn on-the-fly, but my short cadet career is proving to be one of the best decisions of my life. I hope that you also are making the most of your cadet years. Remember, you are only limited by yourself, not your time in uniform.