AUGUSTA – Brandon Gamble stands straight, looks you in the eye when he talks to you and peppers his answers with “sir” and “ma’am.”
But that isn’t all the 16-year-old Cony High School junior has learned as a senior airman in the Civil Air Patrol. From history to aerospace, Gamble says, his 1½ years in the patrol have prepared him well for life in general and, specifically, for what he hopes will be a fruitful career in the Army.
“It covers the whole field,” Gamble said during Saturday’s open house at the 36th Composite Squadron’s hangar at the Augusta State Airport. “I’ve learned so much that I couldn’t have learned in the outside world.”
The nonprofit Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, has more than 64,000 members nationwide, not including the 27,000 12- to 19-year-olds who serve as cadets. The patrol performs a variety of duties nationally, including search and rescue, disaster relief and drug enforcement.
There are nine squadrons spread across Maine from Caribou to Portland, including those in Augusta and Waterville. Both central Maine locations have composite squadrons, meaning they have both cadet and senior service programs. The patrol is made up of people with and without military experience and from a variety of industries.
“There are builders and doctors. We don’t have any lawyers, but we do have a pastor,” said Capt. Stephen Vorpagel of Readfield. “It’s people from all walks of life.”
There are six airplanes and numerous crews to fly them in Maine, Vorpagel said. Those crews fill a variety of roles, from responding to emergencies, such as searching for missing people or even downed airplanes, and searching for fires deep in the state’s forests. Patrols have also provided extra security escorting newly christened ships from Bath Iron Works to the sea. And about a dozen Maine air crews helped provide aerial assessments of the damage after Superstorm Sandy blew through New York and New Jersey last October.
Saturday’s open house was geared specifically toward giving young people a chance to see the benefits of becoming a cadet. Vorpagel said every cadet is given five orientation flights during which each receives instruction about instrumentation and flight. Cadets meet once a week, often receiving instruction from professionals from myriad industries, Vorpagel said. He said the training is useful whether the youths choose to pursue pilot’s licenses, join the military or go into the aerospace industry. Four cadets from Maine will attend a U.S. military academy in the fall, Vorpagel said.
As cadets progress, they are given more opportunities for flight instruction and must pay only for the plane rental and fuel. Patrol instructors are volunteers.
“A couple of cadets have gone all the way through to get a license,” Vorpagel said.
“In my opinion this is the place to be,” he said.
Gamble already has made two orientation flights.
“It’s amazing up there,” he said.
Gamble said he first learned of the program through a friend and was immediately interested.
“I’ve always been interested in the military,” he said.
Gamble hopes to attend West Point or a college Reserve Officer Training Corps program when he graduates from Cony in June 2015. Ultimately, he wants to be an airborne paratrooper. Gamble thinks his time as a Civil Air Patrol cadet is giving him a boost toward that goal.
“It will be a big benefit,” he said.
Harold Rietdyk of Augusta attended the open house with his two daughters, 14-year-old Marlys and 11-year-old Kylee. Rietdyk said his older son was a cadet for three years and particularly enjoyed the encampments.
“It taught them good leadership principles,” Rietdyk said. “They are able to learn a lot of different skills.”
Marlys Rietdyk, who plans to join next month, said she has flown only once in her life. It’s an experience she is anxious to repeat.
“I’ve always wanted to fly,” she said, “and the encampment sounds fun.”
For more information about the Civil Air Patrol in Maine, call Maj. Dale Fellows at 441-9674.
Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at: