A MILITARY EXPERIENCE Civil Air Patrol lets youths try on wings
About 25 percent of the CAP cadets eventually enter the military, but the experience also leads some to decide that it's not the life for them.
VIENNA -- When he was in sixth grade, Steven Brownlee could not decide if he wanted to be a lawyer or a pilot. After two years in the Civil Air Patrol, he chose pilot.
"I just didn't think it was worth it to be paid a lot to do something I didn't like," Steven, 14, said. "I've always wanted to fly."
The CAP is a nonprofit youth auxiliary of the United States Air Force. It has more than 52,000 members nationally, and it stresses aerospace education, leadership and emergency skills and physical training.
Locally, the 304th squadron has about 25 teen-agers, mostly male, and nine senior members. The group meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday nights at the Air Force Reserve base in Vienna.
His 3 sons: Squadron Commander Dave Mullins, 51, joined CAP in 1991 after a family viewing of "Top Gun" inspired his eldest son, Eric, to join. After three years in the program, Eric decided against going into the military.
The middle son, Matthew, was in CAP for six years and is now a colonel in the Air Force. The youngest son, Ryan, will also enter the Air Force. About 25 percent of the cadets eventually enter the military, Mullins said.
"At first I joined because my brothers were in it," said Ryan, a Cadet master sergeant. "But then I got to be in a leadership position, and I got to help people, and now I love it. It's just an awesome program."
In addition to training, CAP does charity work, including the Handicap Jamboree. The group has also helped with 25 search-and-rescue missions since Mullins joined, five of which were actual plane crashes.
Improvements: Ryan, 16, says it has helped with school. Formerly a 3.0 student, he now earns a 3.5 grade point average at Austintown Fitch High School. He is also on the tennis team and some other school clubs. He credits CAP with his improvement.
"This may sound funny, but I love the discipline," Ryan said. "Now I fight to get a better grade in school. The program has been a huge enrichment."
Steven, one of three cadets from the Boardman area, has also improved his grades. He regularly pulls A's, after getting B's and C's the past few years. Steven, a Cadet 2nd lieutenant, will begin working on his pilot's license when he's 151/2.
Both cadets said the main draw is the friends they've made; the main drawback, the time investment -- normally five to six hours per week.
"That's the only downfall," Steven said. "If you play sports, you sometimes have to make a choice between the two."
Both say they will stay in the program until graduation. Mullins, who served two tours in Vietnam and now works as a legal assistant, may be there longer. His daughter can join in a couple years.
"I thought I could retire," he said with a laugh. "Being squadron commander is sometimes a lot of grief. But I love the program."
CAP is open to anyone over 12, and anyone over 18 can become a senior member. Anyone interested may call (330) 609-1203.