While the Wesley Chapel Cadet Squadron is affiliated with aviation, its their performance on ground that has granted them national accolades.
The squadron’s color guard team, known as The Wesley Chapel Knights, has won two consecutive national championships in 2018 and 2019.
1st Lt. Cesar Alayon is one of the commanding officers who helps oversee the local cadets.
“We’re the only team in the history of Civil Air Patrol (CAP), under the new competition program or new format, that has won two times in a row, back to back,” Alayon said.
The 2019 championship comes at the same time the Wesley Chapel squadron is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
The Wesley Chapel squadron, which has more than 30 members, belongs to the United States Air Force Auxiliary’s Civil Air Patrol.
The Civil Air Patrol was established over 70 years ago during World War II, helping to prevent enemy advancement, with equipped planes.
Its cadet program was implemented not long after, for youth who may want to pursue a military career.
The program teaches cadets how to operate aircrafts, and helps to respond to disaster relief – such as the aftermath of a hurricane.
While the Wesley Chapel cadets have participated in these endeavors, its six-member color guard team offers another physical component.
Lt. Col. Cassie Ramer is the commander of the Knights team, having led them to their multiple championships.
“There’s a lot of different aspects of color guard that we all focus on,” the 18-year-old said. “Being the ones that represent the squadron colors and the national flag, those cadets need to be at the top of their game.”
Consisting of riflemen and flag-bearers, the Knights have to undergo different requirements.
This includes proper handling of their rifles and flags, precision, and working in unison.
They also must take exams to test their knowledge of squadron rules and must be physically fit.
On occasion, they’re asked to take part in public events. For instance, they provided the color guard for the inauguration of the flagpole at The Shops at Wiregrass mall.
Ramer said: “When we meet up anytime throughout the week, whenever we can, we’re practicing and acting as though we’re actually at the competition.”
The distinction they recently won began as a tournament at the state level, which attracts color guard teams from across Florida. A similar competition is held in each state.
The top two finalists at the state level move on to the regional competition – which also recognizes the first and second place winners.
At the national level, the top 16 teams from across the country challenge each other during a three-day contest in Dayton, Ohio.
The Wesley Chapel Knights have won the national competition twice in a row.
Those victories came after the team was unable to make it past the regionals in 2017.
“It really hurt knowing that we couldn’t go to nationals that year, because that was a team promise that we made,” Ramer said.
She recalled that cadets who were set to join the Air Force, put it aside temporarily to help the team reach the national level.
Lt. Col. Andrew Alayon is Cesar’s brother and a former color guard for the local chapter.
Before being promoted to his current rank, the 19-year-old filled in for a color guard member, helping to take the team to the nationals this year.
“I’ve always said ‘It’s not about the trophies, it’s always about the experience and what led to those trophies,’” he noted. He said the accolades displayed in the squadron’s clubhouse are a “visual representation” of the team’s hard work.
He is a member of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of South Florida, and is planning a military career.
Ramer, who intends to pursue a health care career as a civilian, said the team’s victories have deeper meaning than the recognition that comes with trophies.
“It’s about the concept of family and the concept of friends,” she said. “A family works by helping each other, not just because we want to get a trophy.”
Published November 13, 2019