Most residents wouldn’t know it, but every Thursday evening, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force is training in the township. The Civil Air Patrol, a national organization of over 60,000 members, has 22 New Jersey squadrons, and one trains at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute on Campgaw Road.
The all-volunteer program has both senior and youth members, called cadets, who receive training in aerospace education, search and rescue, physical training and other activities. Cadets ages 12 through 21 are eligible to participate in the 16-step program, which allows them to advance, and make higher ranks, at their own pace.
Lieutenant Colonel Mike Sternick, who retired from the Air Force and is now a senior member of the Civil Air Patrol, said he helps train cadets in search and rescue missions.
“They are amazing,” he said of the cadets. “They are kids that are acting like adults. They are relied on to do important things.”
Though CAP cadets do not fly solo on search missions, they are called in as Air Force back up on ground search missions. According to Sternick, CAP squads helped in searches after Hurricane Katrina and other domestic disasters.
“Our training is really good, so if there is a missing person or other incident that the Air Force gets called out to, they call for us to assist them,” Sternick said.
When CAP members aren’t assisting in real life rescues, they are training to do so. Cadets participate in mock drills, take aerospace classes, and attend workshops in which they get to go on flights and learn about Air Force operations.
“A lot of people look at our cadets [wearing camo uniforms] and think this is the army,” Captain David Isom, who is the commander of the Mahwah squadron, said. “There are no weapons here, and not every cadet who does this goes into the military. What we do here is more about building leaders.”
Higher-ranking cadets run their own training programs each week. “We are just here to make sure they make the right decisions,” Isom said.
According to Isom, though many cadets come in thinking they want to pursue a career in military service, they don’t all end up enlisting after their CAP graduations. “This program shows them what they are capable of doing, and we like to present them with all of the options for their futures,” he said.
The 30 cadets who train in Mahwah cite the experiences they have and people they meet as reasons for joining, and sticking with, the program.
Cadet Master Sergeant Griffin Endress, a 16-year-old from Ramsey who joined CAP when he was 13, said being a cadet makes him “different. You can pick a cadet out of a crowd.”
Endress, who said he hopes to be an Air Force pilot one day, said he found out about the CAP program through a recruitment at an area air show several years ago.
Since joining, he said he “can do things that are difficult for other kids. Any activities that require self-actualizing or leadership are very easy for me to do. It gives me a competitive edge.”
“I have fun here, and I’ve met some of the most amazing people, and done things I never thought I would be able to,” he added. “CAP is a great thing.”
Get more information about the Civil Air Patrol here.