MT. COMFORT — With all his might, Drew Clift crossed his arms and pulled himself up repeatedly, trying to do as many sit-ups as he could in a minute’s time.
It was one of many drills the 13-year-old Greenfield resident performed during a recent training session for cadets enrolled in the Indiana Civil Air Patrol.
“I really like this,” Drew said before class started. “Probably like every other cadet, I want to be a pilot in the Air Force.”
Drew is among more than 20 youngsters taking part in local squadron C.A.P. training. The group meets once a week, mostly at the Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mt. Comfort, to learn the program’s four core values: integrity; respect for people; volunteer service; and excellence.
The nonprofit organization is the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. C.A.P. is a volunteer organization with an aviation-minded membership.
“We predominantly look at aerospace,” said Deputy Cadet Commander Steve Schwartz of New Palestine.
Schwartz became involved in the program after his daughter, Sarah, a New Palestine High School junior, signed up.
“Sarah started in February of 2012, and I started about six months later, in July of 2012,” he said. “Sarah, she really enjoys the military aspect of things, and her goal is to go to one of the military academies.”
The national C.A.P. organization has deep roots.
According to the National Civil Air Patrol website, C.A.P. was founded in the late 1930s just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. More than 150,000 volunteers with a love for aviation signed up to put their planes and flying skills to use in defense of their country.
In 1946, President Harry Truman signed a law incorporating C.A.P. as a benevolent nonprofit organization. In 1948, Congress passed a law establishing C.A.P. as the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
The program has three primary missions: aerospace education; cadet programs; and emergency services, which include search and rescue for downed aircraft.
The aerospace education officer for the local squadron is Bob Seymour, a member of C.A.P. since 1964.
“This November, I will have had officially 40 years in C.A.P.,” he said. “Not a lot of people know about us. We’re kind of the best kept secret in the world.”
Last week, he taught the youngsters about how to launch a model rocket and more.
“They learned how and why an airplane flies and about navigation and the space program,” Seymour said. “This gives cadets a great idea of what the military is like, and it promotes discipline.”
For a fee of $34, youngsters as young as 12 can join the training program and can stay a cadet until they reach 21. After that, they are considered part of the adult C.A.P. program.
“Most of them, when they turn 18, either move onto something else, or become an adult member,” Seymour said.
David Nickels of Greenfield is one of the adult CAP members. With a passion for aviation, Nickels said C.A.P. was a natural fit for him.
“I started out with the Indy Seniors squadron, another group that meets in Indianapolis, but then a co-worker who comes to this squad told me about this here, so I decided to come.”
He said the membership gives him a good feeling of serving the community.
“Aerospace education is big,” Nickels said. “Getting the kids involved in science and technology and doing math through flying is great because they realize, suddenly, math is not bad stuff.”
Elizabeth Harris of McCordsville is also an adult member. She signed up after observing the training for several months.
“I’m the recruiting officer,” she said. “But I do work cadet programs because I like working with the cadets. I even did the international cadet program this summer and went to Hong Kong.”
Part of the cadet program allows the youngsters to take at least five flights.
It’s one of the many reasons Drew elected to sign up.
“Every once in a while, we get to fly,” Drew said with a smile. “I’ve had two flights so far. Once of them was a G8A Airvan, and another one was a Cessna 172.”