By Tenley Ong, EAA 1388744
Who are those young kids in camo uniforms with blue hats that roam the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 grounds?
They are the Blue Berets, part of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) National Cadet Special Activities Group (NCSA). Each year they meet for two weeks during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
Blue Berets are 12 to 18 years old, and are a part of CAP, a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. CAP also consists of more senior members older than 18.
All CAP cadets are volunteers, although a handful of people receive a paycheck, and most are wing administrators. Currently, CAP serves all 50 states, and Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., with disaster relief. They look for emergency locator transmitters, or ELTs, and take photos of places before and after storms hit.
At AirVenture, the role of CAP members is to provide fire marshaling, pull airplanes off the runway, and help safely direct airplanes to their parking spaces. They also provide emergency services by investigating ELT signals that may have been triggered by a harder-than-average landing. In addition, CAP provides other logistical support, such as helping to set up warbirds and counting airplanes. Lastly, they provide flightline security, using ropes to block off sections and keep people safe.
First Lt. Cody Matthews, 21, a senior member from North Carolina who joined CAP nine years ago, said days begin early for cadets during AirVenture.
Cadets start getting ready for their day at 5:30 a.m. At 6:30 a.m., they have opening formation, raise the flags, and eat breakfast. By 7 a.m., they go to their jobs for the day, which vary by the day and may last until 7 p.m.
Cody said, “We have different shifts that go out to flightline, over to Warbirds during the air show to help support them, and running around on the ES carts.”
But after the retreat ceremony, Cody said: “Cadets and seniors can relax and play volleyball, socialize and do whatever they need to do to get ready for the next day. It’s very much a work environment.”
Cadets stay on the CAP grounds adjacent to the convention grounds, and everything they need for those two weeks is within that fence: a dining building with a medical corner, public affairs corner, administrative shack, and barracks, where everyone, except a few campers, stay.
Each group of cadets has a certain amount of time during the day to go enjoy AirVenture. Due to COVID-19 and the limitations it brings, however, the cadets have less time to go see the fly-in convention than during a normal year.
Cody said he has weekly meetings at his local airport in North Carolina as part of CAP. He is currently starting college, and will enlist in the U.S. Air Force. He added that CAP has helped to prepare him for the Air Force.
He said CAP is similar to Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts as you have the opportunity to earn “certain awards from CAP.”
Christopher Freeze, CAP public affairs officer from Virginia, said the value of CAP is in instilling servant leadership. “[I was] searching for a way to give back to the aviation community,” he said. “Aviation has given so much to me.”
Christopher joined CAP in summer 2020, after earning his Boy Scout Eagle Award and remembering that his grandparents were a part of CAP in the 1950s. “I can’t even imagine the last year without it,” he added.
The senior aviation technical writer for the Airline Pilots Association International, Christopher is also a part-time flight instructor with 3,500 hours. In addition, he holds the Guinness World Record for the longest distance wheelie in an aircraft, set in February 2020.
In his role, Christopher said he helps provide the grease to certain aspects of CAP and AirVenture, keeping things moving and flowing well. He also assists with parachute recovery, ensuring that cadets run in and catch the flag before it touches the ground.
CAP will celebrate its 80th anniversary on December 1. To learn more, go to CoCivilAirPatrol.com/.