FORT POLK, La. — Fueling a child with the fire and passion to learn about aviation can give them the chance to soar — literally and figuratively. That’s what happened when the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk’s 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment hosted a tour for the Leesville squadron of the Civil Air Patrol and their family members April 27.
The group toured the Fort Polk Air Field and tower, explored and sat in both Lakota and Blackhawk helicopters and learned and asked questions of the pilots that fly those aircraft on missions on and off Fort Polk.
Lt. Col. J.D. Swinney, 1st Bn, 5th Avn Reg commander, said the tour was a wonderful chance for community outreach and to share his pilots’ knowledge and love of flying.
“It’s a show and tell opportunity to give these young people access to things — like our helicopters — that they normally wouldn’t be able to experience,” he said.
1st Lt. Patrick Hiller, 1st Bn, 5th Avn Reg, helped conduct the tour and said he thinks it was just as much fun for the pilots as the participating cadets.
“It gave us a chance to talk to youth who want to be pilots and strengthen the bond between Fort Polk and the local community,” he said.
Chief Warrant Officer 2, Dusty Miller, 1st Bn, 5th Avn Reg, pilot, also helped conduct the tour. He said the tour was a great chance for kids to learn about aviation. “I wish I had this kind of opportunity when I was a kid,” he said.
The Civil Air Patrol is a U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. The organization’s mission statement, according to Caution-www.gocivilairpatrol.com < Caution-http://www.gocivilairpatrol.com > , is to support America’s communities with emergency response, diverse aviation and ground services, youth development and the promotion of air, space and cyber power. The group’s core values focus on integrity, volunteer service, excellence and respect.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. C. Ronald Kariker is the commander of the Leesville Civil Air Patrol squadron and was the driving force in its inception in August 2019. It is the newest Louisiana unit and Kariker said they were growing quickly before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We had 19 cadets before COVID-19 shut everything down. We were down to nine cadets, but now that things are getting better, we are back up to 14 and have a goal to recruit 35 more this year,” he said.
Kariker said their unit is a composite squadron made up of young cadets and senior pilots.
“We have five pilots at the moment. They are volunteers who work tirelessly with these cadets and pilot the orientation flights for them,” he said.
Kariker said one of the Leesville squadron’s volunteer missions is Wreaths Across America — a ceremony held each December on National Wreaths Across America Day to remember and honor veterans with wreath-laying ceremonies on their graves.
“This will be our second year participating in the program. We provide wreaths for six cemeteries along La. Hwy 111. It’s a big deal. We make sure that 400 veterans have wreaths placed on their graves,” he said
Kariker said CAP is the best kept secret in the Leesville community.
“We teach these young men and women life skills they can use and many of them enter the military and become the next generation of American pilots,” he said.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Will Bryant, JRTC Operations Group, is also a senior member (pilot) in the Leesville composite squadron, Civil Air Patrol where he holds the rank of captain. He said he believes Fort Polk service members should find a way to serve the community. Along with his love of aviation, Bryant said as soon as he found out about the Leesville squadron, he wanted to join, especially after finding out more about CAP.
“I did some background research and it’s impressive. The cadets have opportunities to volunteer in their community and during disaster relief, learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM programs) as well as aerospace education and more. I decided it was something I wanted to be part of and it was a way for me to give back to the Fort Polk community,” he said. “I also think of CAP as a wonderful resource for youth that can keep them on the right path and out of trouble.”
Bryant said the 1st Bn, 5th Avn Reg tour came about because CAP leadership wanted to get cadets involved in Army aviation and Fort Polk jumped at the chance to encourage that goal.
“The regiment has been incredibly helpful in organizing and hosting the tour for our cadets and their Family members,” he said. “We can’t thank them enough.”
Cadet Senior Master Sgt. Logan Bordelon, commander for the Leesville squadron, said the tour has been a great opportunity.
“It’s been wonderful to learn about these helicopters because many of us want to fly in the future,” he said.
He said he loved learning about the helicopters from the pilots who fly them.
“They told us about all the different parts on the helicopters and how they use them. It was great,” he said.
Brian Walker attended the tour with his children, two of whom are cadets. He said CAP gets youth involved in aviation at an early age, which isn’t an easy thing to do.
“CAP affords them opportunities they might not otherwise have,” he said.
Walker said a tour like this means a lot to his kids.
“We have family members who are pilots serving in the military, so my kids are interested in joining to become pilots themselves,” he said. “Seeing these helicopters up close and listening to the pilots that fly them means the world to them,” he said.
Cadet Airman Wesley Walker, 12, said the tour was cool.
“I have always wanted to fly in the Air Force, but now I kind of want to fly Blackhawks for the Army. I have been so excited about this tour. It’s awesome,” he said.
For more information about the Leesville Civil Air Patrol Squadron call (281) 732-5812 or visit Caution-www.gocivilairpatrol.com < Caution-http://www.gocivilairpatrol.com > .