Motorists zip down Interstate 75, at the edge of Tampa North Aero Park — oblivious to what goes on at the airport on a typical Wednesday evening.
That’s when members of the Wesley Chapel Civil Air Patrol Squadron gather to expand their aerospace knowledge; receive search and rescue training; and take part in cadet programs that emphasize drills, discipline and character building.
The Wesley Chapel Civil Air Patrol Squadron, known as Wesley Chapel CAP for short, includes 43 cadets ranging from ages 12 to 21, and the 15 senior members who are 18 and older.
Most squadron members live in Wesley Chapel, but some live in other communities, including Land O’ Lakes, Spring Hill and Brooksville.
The squadron has earned some bragging rights.
Squadron Commander Daia Jung received the Squadron Commander of the Year Award for 2015. And, the squadron itself was named Squadron of the Year for the Florida Wing for 2015, and went on to be named Squadron of the Year for the Southeast Region. Those awards are in addition to scores of others the chapter has earned over the past several years.
Jung is the squadron’s third commander. She follows Steve Lampasona, who established the squadron, and his wife, Joyce, who became the chapter’s second commander.
“We’re a cadet program. Pretty much everything here is run and taught by cadets, with senior members being their guides,” Daia said.
Cadet Capt. Austen King is the squadron’s cadet commander.
There are essentially three components in the CAP, said Daia, who was introduced to the program by her husband, who oversees the emergency services program. He is a veteran of the first Gulf War and is 21-year veteran of the Tampa Fire Department.
The CAP’s focus is on leadership development, aerospace education and emergency services, including search and rescue missions, she said.
Many squadron members have an interest in aviation and aerospace, and some get their first taste of flying, too.
“We have two types of orientation flights. One is in powered aircraft and one is in glider,” Daia said.
Some members want to do more than ride in a plane. They want to take the controls.
Seventeen-year-old Cadet Commander King is one of those. He made his first solo flight on Aug. 28.
“It was exciting,” King said, and, it was always part of the plan. “That was a goal of mine, to learn how to fly. That was one of the reasons I joined,” he said.
King thinks there are some common misconceptions about CAP.
For one thing, he said, “Not everyone who goes in CAP has to go into the military.”
Some members are interested in cybersecurity or careers related to mathematics, science, robotics and other fields, he said.
For example, Daia’s child Nick, another squadron member, wants to become a herpetologist and to study reptiles.
At the same time, the 15-year-old is in the midst of pursuing a pilot’s license.
“For the past two summers, I’ve attended national glider academy. I’m just about to get my pilot’s license. I have my learner’s license now. I’m really close to receiving my glider pilot’s license. I wouldn’t have ever been able to do that, if I had not joined this program,” the Wiregrass Ranch High School student said.
Belonging to CAP has provided a chance to meet people from all over the world and to develop leadership skills that have come in handy in Wiregrass Ranch’s marching band, Nick said.
Fourteen-year-old Christopher Cuozzo, a student at Land O’ Lakes High School, said he enjoys running through drills and developing the ability to move from one place to another, in an orderly fashion. The orientation flights are cool, too, he said.
Cadet Master Sgt. Cassie Ramer and her brother, Matthew, a tech sergeant, both enjoy being part of the squadron.
Cassie said she is shy by nature, but belonging to the group has helped her to break out of her shell.
“I like the way our squadron functions. The military bearing, the military standards, thing like that. I admire that,” she said. “I like being a part of color guard.”
She said she also enjoys serving in the color guard not so much for the personal attention it brings to her, but because it gives her a chance to bring honor to the squadron.
Her brother said he hopes to become an aerospace engineer and to design new aircraft.
The squadron commander said she welcomes new members.
“My door is open to anybody that wants to come in,” Daia said.
But, anyone who wants to join should take the commitment seriously, she said.
A potential member must attend three meetings and appear before a membership review board before being accepted as a squadron member. There’s also a meeting with their parents.
“We’re all volunteers here, so we want to make sure that it’s worth everybody’s time,” the squadron commander said.
Once in the program, members can pursue all sorts of opportunities.
Squadron members are involved in community events and take part in training programs available through CAP. Cadets also can compete for a slot in special CAP training activities that include powered flight academies, glider academies, hawk mountain ranger school and the National Blue Beret, an air show in Wisconsin.
The programming is geared for a wide range of ages.
“The 18-year-olds are not learning what the 12-year-olds are learning,” Daia said, and, in many cases, the older members are teaching the younger cadets.
“We try to make it fresh and interesting every week,” she said.
Membership is $45 for cadets and $67 for senior members, but it also has other costs, including those associated with uniforms and various activities.
No one is turned away because of financial need, Daia said. To help cover some expenses, the squadron holds an annual gift-wrapping fundraiser every year on Christmas Eve at The Shops at Wiregrass.
For more information
Want to learn more about the Wesley Chapel Civil Air Patrol Squadron? Email Squadron Commander Daia Jung at .
To learn more about CAP’s aerospace education programs, products, and other resources available to our members, go to CapMembers.com/ae. For information about joining as an aerospace education member (AEM) and to join online, go to CapMembers.com/joinaem.
Published September 21, 2016