15:52 PM

A Sense of Belonging

Cadet Program Propels Young Immigrant to Meaningful U.S. Military Career

Jennifer S. Kornegay
Contributing Writer

Lt. Col. R.C. “Archie” DeJesus knew as a young teen he wanted to serve his country as a member of its armed forces, and like many, his military aspirations were rooted in a sense of duty.

Yet his patriotism was a little fresher than most; DeJesus immigrated to the United States from the Philippines when he was 9 years old.

And when he became a CAP cadet in 1989 as a ninth-grader, his family was still applying for citizenship. He heard about CAP from a friend, and when he learned of its connection to the U.S. Air Force, he eagerly signed right up.

“At that age, the idea of wearing a uniform affiliated with the military made me feel like I belonged,” he said. “I felt like it was a way to prove to myself that I had earned my right to be here. I understand now those who shaped our cadets are the ones who truly serve, but for me back then CAP became an opportunity to be part of something greater that is entirely American.”

DeJesus soon realized that everything he was learning as a cadet would benefit him in the military. And since his goal included being an officer, he entered Air Force ROTC, excelling ahead of his peers who were still learning how to wear their uniforms, drill and adapt to new customs and courtesies. He received his Air Force commission through ROTC after graduating from Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Today, he serves as director of staff for the 479th Student Squadron at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where he oversees all unit staffing functions and administrative actions vital to training over 350 combat systems officers each year. He is also a senior navigator with more than 2,100 hours in C-130H, C-130E, T-1A, T-43 and T-34C aircraft

As a young captain in 2003, the U.S. Army awarded him with a Bronze Star for his efforts to resupply four divisions engaged in combat during the initial weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom. At every step of his military career, he’s successfully leveraged the lessons learned and skills gained while he was a cadet.

“The military has its own culture, far different from civilian life, and CAP gives its cadets an edge with that transition,” he said. “With the help of great mentors, CAP taught me to be aware of regulations and appreciate differences” — a priceless skill when you’re deployed, as he has been, to far-flung spots around the world as well as here at home.

“I know how to learn from others who don’t always think like me,” he said. “And that awareness is important everywhere. Since I belong to a particular aviation community, it is easy to take for granted that the way our unit operates is the only way to accomplish a task.

“But when you talk to aviators from other units and see how differently they do things in the pursuit of accomplishing their mission, you marvel rather than recoil at their diverse approach. That all started when I was a cadet on National Capital Wing’s Cadet Advisory Council, where I learned from other cadets across the wing how they planned their activities and conducted their meetings.”

Hard work and teamwork are additional qualities that his cadet days pressed into DeJesus. “Things aren’t going to be given to you; you only move up if you work for it,” he said.

“And your success is not entirely about you. A large part of it is the others around you and your mentors who play a key role.”

The mentors and friends he found in CAP inspired him to reach for his dreams, offering encouragement that goes a long way for a teenage boy searching for his identity.

“I was so lucky to meet the senior members I did as a cadet,” he said. “You have these insecurities, but they help you push past them, gain confidence and understand how you fit into the bigger picture. You can be that little cog in the big gearbox, but a key cog who keeps everything else running smoothly. That’s reassuring.”

That big-picture perspective has proven especially useful to DeJesus. “If you want to have a fulfilling career in the military, you have to take the baby steps to the big goal; you have to be as good as you can in the here and now.”

While he often points out how CAP gave him a leg up in the beginning of his military career and how his cadet experiences have continued to come into play, once he entered active duty the Air Force became his priority.

Still, he never gave up his membership over the years.

“Being in CAP meant a lot to me, so I couldn’t give it up completely. I kept paying my dues as a patron until about four years ago,” he said. “That was when I decided to participate more.”

And participate he did. He resumed his CAP involvement in New Mexico with the Albuquerque Senior Squadron as its professional development officer. When the Air Force transferred him to Pensacola, Florida, he filled the same role at the Florida Wing’s Emerald Coast Senior Squadron.

In 2016, he took command of that squadron, overseeing its support of Air Force requirements to the tune of 500 hours flown with zero mishaps, to save the Air Force about $1.9 million.

His team’s good, hard work was recognized with the Florida Wing’s Senior Squadron of the Year honor for 2016. DeJesus doesn’t take the credit, quickly shifting any praise to his fellow members.

“They have done and continue to do an exemplary job,” he said. “They deserve all the recognition for their outstanding accomplishments.”

His humility extends into other facets of his CAP service as well, as Bobbie-Jean Tourville, CAP’s National Headquarters chief of professional development, explained. She met DeJesus in 2004 while he was attending Squadron Officer School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. She gave the former cadet a tour of the base, and the two struck up a friendship.

Fast-forward a decade later, when she and Col. Jean Desmarais asked DeJesus to speak at this year’s National Staff College at Maxwell. “He asked why we wanted him, saying he wasn’t sure if he rose to the level of the keynote speaker for CAP’s premier leadership experience for adults. That’s actually one of the reasons we wanted him to speak so badly,” she said.

It was not the only one. Since Cadet Programs is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, DeJesus was a natural choice thanks to his Air Force accomplishments and his deep appreciation for everything the cadet program has provided him.

“And he’s someone who is ‘paying it forward,’” Tourville said. “He’s also a great role model to the cadets, as he illustrates how CAP not only saves lives through things like emergency services, but also how it shapes lives, as it has shaped his life.”

DeJesus' accomplishments are highlighted in the new issue of Civil Air Patrol Volunteer, which celebrates Cadet Programs’ 75th anniversary by focusing on how former cadets’ experiences have helped shape their lives and careers in and out of CAP.

To support Civil Air Patrol cadets and their academic and flight goals, consider donating to Cadet Scholarships. 

If you are interested in setting up a designated CAP cadet scholarship in your state or region, contact CAP's Development Office.