DALTON, Ga. — As Erlanger's Life Force helicopter drifted over the field and landed behind the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the uniforms of the cadets from the Civil Air Patrol fluttered in the winds stirred up by the rotors. But a little dust on the uniform was a small price to pay for the high school students who have a keen interest in all things dealing with aeronautics.
“When I was 3, I went to my first air show, and that is kind of where it all started,” said Cadet Capt. Hannah Miller. “I have always had an interest in aviation. When I was 9 years old, I went on my first flight lesson and that was when I knew that I really did love it and wanted to pursue it.”
The Civil Air Patrol is the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. The cadet corps in the Dalton unit includes 23 students, and the total membership of the local unit is nearly 50, including all members ages 12 and above. The demonstration at the church off Tibbs Bridge Road is one of several activities the Civil Air Patrol promotes throughout the year. The Life Force helicopter is used for medical missions for the Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga.
“We primarily focus on aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services,” Miller said. “I initially joined the program because I was interested in the aviation side. I want to become a pilot. But I have fallen in love since I joined with so many other aspects of the program. This is just one of the many excellent opportunities that the Civil Air Patrol has provided me with.”
Miller, who attends Dalton High School, said she hopes to advance in rank as a senior and plans to pursue a career in aviation. She is seeking congressional sponsorship to one of the service academies and is also looking at some of the top colleges in the country that feature degrees in aeronautics. Her goal is to be a multi-engine commercial pilot one day.
The Dalton unit was started five years ago with two adult members and three cadets. The unit is built on a military model with ranks and designations. Most of the adult members are licensed pilots, and several of the cadets are looking at careers in the military when they finish high school.
Over the years, members of the local Civil Air Patrol have assisted in search and rescues and helped with other emergency situations.
“We can go looking for anything from a kid who wandered off of a campsite to an aircraft that crashed and we are hearing the beacon,” said Capt. Eric Rochelle. “We train in leadership and discipline. A lot of the kids don’t go military, but some of them do. We use the uniforms and command structure to reinforce that commitment to training and preparedness.”
Cadet Sgt. Elliot Miller, who also attends Dalton High, said he plans to use his training in the Armed Forces after graduating from high school.
“I know I am going to join the military when I graduate from high school, so this will help me get there,” said Miller, who plans to enlist in either the U.S. Army or the Marine Corps. “We’ve done things like this before. We have gone to air shows over the years. My brother was in the Boy Scouts, and some people from the Civil Air Patrol were at a camp and I was very interested in it.”
The Life Force demonstration included tours of the helicopter along with time to ask questions of the pilot and emergency personnel on board. Flight nurse Rob Owen said he enjoys showing off for students and the public.
“It is a pleasure anytime we get to come out into the community or to the schools and teach them a little bit about what we do and how our routines work,” Owen said. “It is a good job to have. Our job is to bring calm to chaos, so being able to answer questions and show people what we do is always fun.”