Civil Air Patrol

York County Civil Air Patrol cadet Seth Brown salutes another cadet during a recent meeting in York.

(Melissa Cherry •
York County Civil Air Patrol cadet Seth Brown salutes another cadet during a recent meeting in York. (Melissa Cherry •

With a click of his black polished shoes, 16-year-old Cadet Master Sgt. Seth Brown stops beside a fellow cadet to perform uniform inspection of the York County Civil Air Patrol Squadron.

Seth measures the placement of ribbons, scrutinizes the shininess of shoes and checks other uniform regulations, then gives cadets the news -- passed inspection or failed.

Seth, a sophomore at Westminster Catawba Christian School in Rock Hill, said he joined the squadron more than a year ago to get a head start on fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a U.S. Air Force pilot.

Since joining the patrol, he has become a cadet leader, received flying lessons, trained to perform search-and-rescue missions and has learned outdoor survival.

"There are opportunities here that you can't get anywhere else," said Seth.

The Civil Air Patrol, or CAP, is a volunteer, nonprofit auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. Its missions are search and rescue, cadet training and aerospace education.

Adult members, called seniors, and adolescent members age 12 to 18, called cadets, undergo rigorous training to perform search, rescue and disaster relief missions, homeland security operations and counterdrug reconnaissance missions.

First Lt. Ceryl Johns, commanding officer of the York County squadron, said the jobs in the CAP are the same as in the Air Force, but patrol members are civilian volunteers. Many adults in the patrol are retired from military service, but others are ordinary people who just want to participate in air missions, said Johns.

The York County squadron recently partnered with the York County Sheriff's Department to assist in its air missions.

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said his department receives air support from the S.C. Law Enforcement Division and the S.C. Air National Guard. But state budget cuts may force the department to seek additional sources for missions, such as the CAP.

"I may need them before today is over. To know we have that is good," Bryant said, referring to the patrol.

Since partnering with the sheriff's department, the squadron has moved its meeting place from the Rock Hill Airport to the York County sheriff's training complex in York, which has given the organization a larger area for training, said Johns.

Last weekend, Seth and 15-year-old Cadet Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Figarola assisted senior leaders in training a group of cadets in search and rescue at Lake Greenwood State Park in Ninety Six.

Joshua, a Northwestern High School student, joined the squadron two years ago.

"I've always loved flying and being in the woods. Ever since I was 10, I wanted to be in the Air Force," he said.

During the three-day training exercise, the cadets dressed in camouflage, slept in tents, performed mission scenarios and ate MREs -- the military's ready-to-eat meals that come with a built-in warmer that's activated by adding water.

One training scenario in which Seth and Joshua participated was an urban direction finding exercise -- finding a plane's black box.

"We were part of the ground crew that had to find the plane using instruments," said Joshua.

Another scenario involved rescuing an injured patient and transporting the person in a military-style litter carrier -- a handled basket used for helicopter transports.

Seth said the exercise included moving a live, "injured" patient across rough terrain to an air transport area.

An opportunity Seth said he is looking forward to is participating in a three-day survival mission offered next summer.

"You have to survive three days in the woods with nothing but the supplies in a back pack," said Seth.

In addition to the valuable training from the CAP, Seth said he has noticed big changes in himself.

"I used to have stage fright. I was shy to talk to people," he said.

But now, that hasn't been a problem. "We had a huge skit at school, and I didn't get the least bit nervous," he said.

Another change, Seth said, is that he is more excited about life.

"Whenever I go back to school I'd be more upbeat, more bold in leadership, ready to step up to the plate," he said.

Seth's parents also have noticed a change since he joined the CAP, said his father, Lon Brown.

"He wasn't a bad kid before, but he is more disciplined, more organized, more focused," he said. "I think it helps kids become better adults all around."

Johns said most cadets are transformed when they put on a CAP uniform. Cadets cut their hair, learn respect and carry themselves with dignity, said Johns.

"We turn our cadets into responsible citizens," he said.

Seth said his favorite experience in the CAP has been learning to fly.

"Right away, I loved it. The second I did it," he said.