Cadet Officer School Students Find 'I am Always Learning'
Cadet Officer School marked its 52nd year this summer, welcoming more than 90 cadets from 33 wings to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, home of Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters.
The school is a rigorous, academically challenging leadership course patterned after the U.S. Air Force Squadron Officer School. The program provides an in-depth academic and practical study of leadership and the intricacies of this evolving skill set.
The 10-day course, which ended July 27, drew on a range of lecturers and guest speakers, including many of the same instructors and other professionals who train Air Force officers at Air University at Maxwell. The course highlights the partnership between CAP and the Air Force by using a combination of Air Force officers and CAP adult members to facilitate seminars and create a positive leadership laboratory learning experience.
“Cadet Officer School is an experience unlike any other cadet program, and we pride ourselves in calling it ‘CAP’s premier National Cadet Special Activity,’” said Air Force Maj. Joshua A. Pete of CAP-USAF’s Southeast Liaison Region.
“Cadets show up expecting to learn more about leadership. What they end up learning goes far beyond the classroom,” added Pete, who served as the Air Force director alongside the CAP activity director, Lt. Col. Rob Smith.
The school’s goal is to contribute to cadet officers’ growth as mature leaders and responsible citizens. It’s an introduction to strategic perspectives in leadership, consistent with CAP Cadet Programs’ leadership education goals for Phase IV of the program.
Underlying this goal is the belief that leadership is a multidisciplinary subject requiring academic study and continual self‐assessment. Michelangelo’s statement, “Ancora imparo” — “I am still learning” — serves as the school motto and underlines the belief that leadership education is a lifelong process.
“What keeps me coming back to COS on staff each year is being able to see firsthand the impact we have on each generation of cadets coming through the program; and there is no greater feeling than when a prior-year cadet reaches out to myself or another one of our instructors, immensely grateful for the lessons they learned at COS,” Pete said.
The school this year featured lectures, seminar discussions, and hands-on training designed to develop character and discipline, presented by current and former CAP and Air Force members ranging from fighter pilots to priests and professors.
Most cadets arrive having developed good leadership skills, with two or three years’ experience leading small teams in the tactical arena. That means they’ve been focusing on enacting plans developed by their superiors, and their chief concern has been to achieve immediate results.
The school builds on that foundation, providing valuable leadership insights via lectures, reading assignments, projects, and seminar discussions.
At this stage in cadet officer leadership development, participants find themselves on the cusp of more demanding challenges, which will require a broader perspective and more sophisticated understanding of leadership. They’re often called on to contribute to the CAP mission above the squadron level.
They can no longer afford to focus on their team’s immediate needs. Rather, they must prepare themselves for indirect leadership — the process of leading other leaders.
And because many are about to enter college or the military, they come to Maxwell in search of a leadership experience that will deepen their maturity and prepare them for success in adult life.
The selection process identifies cadets who have a pattern of demonstrating the qualities of leadership CAP needs to ensure the organization’s continued success.
Here’s what three participating cadets had to say about their 2023 experience:
“Cadet Officer School was a life-changing experience that taught me how to manage time, lead strategically, and serve as a leader,” said Cadet Maj. Caleb McCracken of the Indiana Wing’s Weir Cook Cadet Squadron.
“It would be nearly impossible to find another event with such outstanding staff and world-class speakers. I would recommend COS to every cadet officer looking to take their professional development to the next level.”
“One of many great experiences from Cadet Officer School was not only learning about others and leadership, but (also gaining) a deeper knowledge and understanding of myself internally as a leader,” said Cadet Capt. Issac Olivea of the Missouri Wing’s Springfield Regional Composite Squadron.
“Many amazing people and lessons I've learned at COS have contributed to shaping my character as a leader, a professional, and a person,” Olivea said. “COS has strongly prepared me for the great challenges I face in the future. Ancora Imparo!”
“I learned what it truly means to be a leader,” said Cadet Capt. Gavin Olson of the Michigan Wing’s Willow Run Composite Squadron. “The academic rigor of the week was intense but rewarding in every way. Through the classes, flight seminars, and people who were there, I advanced my leadership capabilities as well as myself as a person, knowing that no matter what, I am always learning.”
In addition to the CAP cadets, the activity also attracted air cadets from Canada.
“I am always amazed each year as our staff and cadets come together from all over the country, and sometimes even from Canada and the UK,” Pete said. “We come from all walks of life and experience levels. In a sense, COS is ‘like a box of chocolates; [we] never know what [we’re] gonna get.’
"Yet we come together for 14 days and create an amazing experience that forms lasting memories and lifelong friendships among the staff and cadets alike.”
“2023 was no different,” he said. “We were pleased to welcome back our Canadian partners this year for the first time since 2019, and it was no surprise that the 10 cadets they brought to the program won half of the cadet awards!”
Maj. Kathleen Crockett
2023 Cadet Officer School