A blindfolded visitor participates in a leadership training game at the Civil Air Patrol open house in Herndon.

The William P. Knight Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, held an open house in Herndon September 16, where current members showcased the opportunities offered by joining.

The Civil Air Patrol is a congressionally chartered non-profit corporation composed entirely of volunteers, with a rank system that mirrors the Air Force. The organization assists with a wide range of non-combat missions in the United States such as search and rescue, locating downed aircraft, logistics, and aerial surveys, especially in the wake of natural disasters. 

The recent experience of the Knight Squadron underscores CAP’s domestic reach. CAP members from Virginia were deployed to Louisiana to conduct aerial damage assessments in the wake of Hurricane Ida. The Knight Squadron and others have also provided critical support during the pandemic by assisting with the construction of Covid vaccination sites and distributing vaccines and personal protective equipment to rural areas across the country, including in the Commonwealth. 

CAP recruits year-round and is divided into two main groups of cadets and senior members, who must be between the ages of 12-21 or over 18, respectively. Senior members carry out the organization’s key functions and many are licensed pilots who typically fly single-engine aircraft. Cadets are taught the fundamentals of aviation through a flexible, accredited curriculum that focuses on four main themes of leadership, aerospace, fitness, and character. Many activities, such as ride-along flights with senior CAP members, offer direct exposure and involvement. (Cadets can be involved in some CAP missions too, but usually on the ground.) Cadets are also expected to apply aerospace science, albeit on a slightly smaller scale: cadets at the open house displayed small rockets they constructed, which they were required to successfully launch to fulfill one of their many educational tasks. 

At the open house, cadets and senior members guided newcomers through several rooms with various exhibits, where visitors could learn more about CAP as well as browse equipment that can identify the source of emergency signals of downed aircraft, play interactive games like flight simulators, or watch a brief film of CAP’s history. Cadets of the Knight Squadron were eager to stay active, breaking out into arm-wrestling and push-up contests during breaks in the crowd.

The squadron was recently named in honor of Lt. Col. William Knight, who first joined as a cadet in 1951 and rejoined as a senior member in 1962 and attended the open house as well. His career represents the crucial role CAP plays in response to crises: after the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island facility in 1979, he flew a CAP mission over the site to assess radiation levels, providing critical information to emergency responders and officials. Knight said that joining CAP is a distinctive experience to learn about science and aviation, as well as for those interested in future military service. “If you want a chance to learn about first aid and emergency service capabilities, cadets can go into the parts of our program that are usually considered risky for people under 18” he said. 

Maj. Zoe Morozko, the Knight Squadron’s deputy commander for cadets, similarly said “there’s so much exposure to opportunity” for all those who join, particularly cadets. Cadets, Morozko reasoned, who are young and face competing pressures from school and other extracurricular activities, have a chance to acquire unique skills and learn valuable lessons even when they fail, which they can do without fear of penalty. “I don’t know where they would get to do this elsewhere,” she added. 

The Knight Squadron’s Commander 1st Lt. Lester Flores, said that anyone should join the current 71 members of the Knight Squadron if they “want to support the community and volunteer in a role that makes a difference.” Senior members can conduct important missions and “develop tomorrow’s aerospace leaders,” Flores noted, as well as support local education. Meanwhile, cadets can “learn about becoming a leader in a STEM-focused environment,” where they can play a firsthand role in improving their community. “Our emergency service missions are direct, we help people, we make a difference,” Flores said. “With the Civil Air Patrol, you are given the opportunity to directly assist and support your community.”

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