10:28 AM

CAP Helps Propel Cadet Toward High-Flying Performance

Civil Air Patrol recognizes National Native American Heritage Month with a profile of Cadet Lt. Col. Isabella Mollison, an Alaska Native descendent.

Loretta Fulton
Contributing Writer

Isabella “Bella” Mollison wasn’t exactly thrilled when her father, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Anthony Mollison, suggested she give Civil Air Patrol a try when she was 13.

Just for a year, he suggested. More like a one-year sentence, she thought. But she stayed with it, thanks to senior members encouraging her along the way. Now 19 and a cadet lieutenant colonel, Mollison has had more life experiences than most people twice her age. That includes piloting a glider plane at 15 and preparing to earn her private pilot certificate this January.

As the daughter of Air Force parents, Bella has lived on bases all over the world. Not too far into her “one-year sentence,” Bella realized that Civil Air Patrol provided a much-needed constant in her life. She even credits her CAP leadership experiences for the award she received in 2019 as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Overseas Military Youth of the Year.

Now she wants to share her experiences through CAP with other youth, especially those who are interested in the aviation industry.

“I want to help inspire other Black, Native and Latino youth to envision themselves participating in general aviation just as I was when I had the pleasure of being introduced to the commander of the 36th Airlift Squadron,” Bella said.

The commander was the first female pilot of color Bella had met, and the experience was impactful. Now she’s giving back by virtually helping the Florida Wing’s new Capital Hill Cadet Squadron.

Bella, her father and her mother, Maj. Charity Mollison, live in Tampa. Her parents are stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, and she’s taking online courses from Howard University, where she’s a sophomore majoring in international affairs and Arabic with a minor in Spanish.

Bella also is a member of Air Force ROTC and hopes to commission as a second lieutenant when she graduates from Howard. Her long-term goal is to pilot C-17 cargo planes.

Howard University is located in Washington, D.C., and Bella plans to move back there in January.

Among the Mollison family’s numerous global stops was Alaska, which holds a special interest for the entire family. Bella’s mother, Charity, is Alaska Native. She grew up in Anchorage and was raised by her grandparents until she was 12.Charity’s grandmother — Bella’s great-grandmother, Hilma — was born on Nunivak Island and is of Cup’ik (pronounced “Choopik”) descent. Hilma, 85, still lives in Alaska and is “an award-winning seal skinner,” Bella said.

Besides seal skinning, she’s also known for her beautiful hand-woven baskets and jewelry, with many of her crafts on display at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. Charity Mollison learned about Cup’ik culture growing up, but not the language. When their island was colonized by Christian missionaries, speaking Cup’ik became a dark experience for her grandparents, so they refused to pass the language on.

“Their mouths were washed out with soap if they didn’t speak in English,” Charity Mollison said.

Thankfully, attitudes have changed since then. November is Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month — something Bella Mollison is proud to be a part of.

Bella discovered early on that CAP has a diverse membership. She grew up on Air Force bases in several states, including Alaska, and Japan and South Korea. Diversity is second nature to her, and she was pleased to learn CAP shares that philosophy.

Lt. Col. Elizabeth A. Sydow, CAP’s national diversity officer, notes that CAP has been inclusive from its beginnings in in 1941. Decision-making and operational capabilities are enhanced by diversity among members, Sydow said.

“Diversity makes our organization stronger and contributes to excellence,” Sydow said.

Bella freely admits that if not for her dad’s insistence, she wouldn’t have attended her first Civil Air Patrol meeting at 13. Anthony Mollison said he understood her reluctance but remembered his own initiation into CAP. A private pilot, he was asked years ago by a CAP member to speak to a group of cadets and to take them up for orientation flights.

He soon realized what was happening — the CAP member who invited him was slowly reeling him into the organization.

“First was the line,” he said, “then the hook.”

Anthony Mollison never regretted being caught. He has loved all his CAP experiences, which is why he eventually got the entire family involved: Bella, an older sister and a younger brother.

No one is prouder of Bella than her father, who encouraged her to give CAP a try. He feels blessed to have watched his three children grow up in the program and take advantage of the many opportunities presented to them.

“It’s part of who they are,” he said.