Civil Air Patrol taking flight again in Northeast Ohio

by Emily Chesnic

A program serving all youth of Northeast Ohio is continuing its mission of “[transforming] young men and women into dynamic, ethical Americas and aerospace leaders ready for the challenges of the future.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted how members of the Civil Air Patrol Cuyahoga County Cadet Squadron GLR-OH-131 could meet over the past year, the unit is now soaring as it did for 12 years prior to the pandemic.

The squadron, more commonly known as the “Blacksheep,” is a nonprofit auxiliary of the United State Air Force. Open to students 12-18 years old, the program focuses on advancing knowledge in aviation, while simultaneously creating a variety of leadership, character development and community service opportunities.

“We follow the mandates of the Air Force and are founded on the core values of integrity and service before self,” said the squadron’s Capt. Vijay Anand, a resident of Bath Township, said.

The squadron, which has cadets from several local communities – from Independence to Bath, Brecksville and Broadview Heights to Medina and all communities in between – has access to several airplanes as part of its training. Anand said CAP members not only learn hands-on about flight and aviation, but also are able to take part in orientation flights and get their private pilot licenses – in many cases before they even graduate from high school.

Those who join Northeast Ohio’s chapter of the CAP, formed more than 50 years ago, are provided a uniform to get started and receive instruction from the unit’s Capt. James Olschlager, a retired police officer who served for decades as the chief pilot for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

Squadron 131’s former unit commander, Capt. Ken Septaric, is a police officer for the city of Brecksville and veteran Air Force officer. He teaches emergency services to the cadets.

Though many of the students involved in the program have aspirations of one day becoming pilots themselves, the program is also designed to help mold young adults into the nation’s future engineers and leaders in other fields of interest.

“My passion is to get the kids excited about a STEM career. It is not always about flying,” he said. “We offer hands-on activities and build model rockets and launch them, for example.”

Shaping future leaders

Graduates of the program often secure scholarships for their future success, said Anand. He recently heard from a cadet graduate just accepted into Princeton University. Cadet graduates also head to the United States Air Force Academy, United States Military Academy, and the United States Naval Academy. Anand said the program has sent students off to other “top schools” to study engineering, computer science and medicine, as well.

“Although we do not expect every cadet to go and serve their country in the armed forces, we have many cadets that pursue aerospace and mechanical engineering, computer science, attending the top schools with very good scholarships,” he added.

For example, one of the squadron’s previous cadet commanders, Kristen Septaric, of Seven Hills, will be starting medical school at Northeast Ohio Medical University this fall, after having completed her accelerated bachelor’s and masters programs at Kent State University.

The same goes for the squadron’s latest commander, Ruth Anand, who headed to the United States AIr Force Academy in June. She also was accepted to West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy as well but ultimately decided to follow her brothers, Joe Anand (USAFA 2020) and Daniel Anand (USAFA 2023), with hopes of fulfilling her dreams of becoming a fighter pilot.

Thanks to CAP’s summer flight program, Ruth already earned her private pilot’s license and was able to secure a $10,000 flight scholarship because of it.

Likewise, Ferenc Somogyi, of Parma Heights, the squadron’s former aerospace cadet officer, has been accepted into the freshman class at Princeton University this fall.

“It is a commitment. The more you put in, the more you will get out,” Vijay Anand said.

Although CAP is technically a U.S. Air Force auxiliary, the Blacksheep’s prior cadet commander, Spencer Clark, is now attending the U.S. Naval Academy in the class of 2024 following her brother, who was also a cadet commander of CAP in a different squadron.

Independence resident Jude Telez joined the program the fall of 2014, and could not wait to do so, as he has been fascinated by the idea of flying since he was 10 years old.

Being part of the program the past seven years helped him “leaps and bounds with public speaking and leadership,” said the current University of Akron student.

Telez said becoming a CAP cadet allows young men and women to receive the tools they need later in life to succeed in the military or as a civilian.

“The program helps you become a well-rounded person,” he said. “Every job wants you to be a leader and every job wants you to know how to manage your resources.”

Telez said people often are impressed by his maturity, which he credits to the cadet program.

He specifically has enjoyed being able to perform community projects, working directly with military members to serve others.

Telez currently is studying mechanical engineering, hoping for a career in motor sports. However, he is quick to add he also is considering joining the Air Force.

“That is still a decision I have to make,” he said. “The program is opening a lot of doors for me.”

Recruiting new members

While Squadron 131 has approximately 24 members currently, Anand said the unit is able to take in more students, as additional volunteers are ready to help

Though the group has been meeting virtually over the past year, following strict CAP and state guidelines, it is now meeting again in-person as many of the volunteers and cadets have been vaccinated.

Prior to COVID-19, the students gathered weekly for meetings in the in the human services wing of Brecksville City Hall, however, the group is now looking for a new indoor classroom space somewhere in Brecksville or Broadview Heights that offers enough room for physical therapy and drills to be conducted.

Anand said students are able to join the program any time of the year and information on how to do so can be found on the Cuyahoga County Cadet Squadron Facebook page.

“With costs for joining CAP is less than a pair of sneakers per year, this may be the best kept secret in your back yard,” he noted.

There are no pre-qualifications needed to join, however, students must attend three meetings before becoming members in order to make sure the program is a good fit for them first.

He encourages those interested to visit the group’s Facebook page for more information on upcoming meeting dates and locations. ∞