A freshman at Big Walnut High School recently earned a prestigious award that only 15% of participants are able to achieve.
Cayden Smith, 15, an honor student who lives in Berkshire Township, was presented the Billy Mitchell Award by the Civil Air Patrol’s OH 139, Columbus Composite Squadron.
“I’ve been working at it for the past two years,” Smith said in a telephone interview while remote learning. “It was a smaller goal that I set for myself that I wanted to get this award in the first half of 2020, and I did.”
Mitchell was a pilot known as the “father of the independent air force.” The Mitchell Award, established in 1964, marks completion of phase II of the Cadet Program, for excellence in all four areas of cadet life (aerospace, character, fitness and leadership).
In addition to his high school lessons, Smith attends weekly sessions at the Beightler Armory in Worthington.
“Every Tuesday night from 7 to 9 p.m., we have a meeting, and depending on the week, the meeting is based on different aspects of the cadet program,” Smith said. “Sometimes we’ll have meetings about aerospace, a lesson about the aerospace books we study. Sometimes the meeting will be leadership, and we’ll be given a military-style scenario in which we have to figure out how to get through it. Sometimes the meeting will be character development, so basically bettering ourselves and learning more about ourselves. Having social discipline and self-awareness. Then there’s also physical training. To be a cadet, you have to be physically fit, so we do that sometimes.”
Mitchell cadets have a leg up if applying for ROTC or the Academy. In addition, Mitchell cadets become an officer, a cadet second lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol, which means they lead junior cadets.
“Also in the Civil Air Patrol, you get far enough in the program, for example after the Billy Mitchell Award, you can enlist in the U.S. Air Force and once you complete basic military training, you can enter as an airman first class, so you skip ahead a bit,” Smith said. “There’s also some scholarships you can enter for once you get high in rank. There’s something called the Cadet Wings program, which is highly competitive for higher-ranking cadets. If you get in, Civil Air Patrol will either complete or endorse your private pilot training so that you can get that license.”
The Cadet Program was established in 1942 for males and females age 12 through 18. There are 25,000 cadets in 1,000 squadrons participating in weekly two-hour meetings with an emphasis on STEM education, exams, a monthly Saturday event and a week-long summer encampment.
“My next goal is to get the Earhart award, which i’ll probably get next year,” Smith said. “It’s the next achievement in the Civil Air Patrol program.”
Earning the Amelia Earhart award involves further exams in aerospace, fitness and leadership.
Described as “America’s Air Force auxiliary,” the Alabama-based Civil Air Patrol’s website states its mission is, “Supporting America’s communities with emergency response, diverse aviation and ground services, youth development, and promotion of air, space, and cyber power.”
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center credits CAP with saving 60 lives so far in 2020 through its emergency services and disaster relief missions.
Founded in 1941, the 60,000-member CAP’s core values are “Integrity, Volunteer Service, Excellence and Respect.”
“My dream has always been to become a commercial airline pilot, and I figured with being in such an organization, professionals who are dedicated to trying to get cadets into the aerospace field, I figured there was a lot of opportunities that could potentially help me reach that goal, so I joined the program because of that,” Smith said.
The website states, “Many of the nation’s astronauts, pilots, engineers and scientists first explored their careers through CAP.”
“I’m hoping that with the aviation program at The Ohio State University, I can eventually go there to complete my ratings and such,” Smith said.
For more information, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.