Civil Air Patrol
Coming from a flying family, I became interested in Civil Air Patrol. What I didn't know at the time was how profound my decision to join as a 14-year-old kid would turn out to be. Paradoxically, it had almost nothing to do with flying. That got me in the door. and that turned out to be a very prophetic one indeed.
I walked into a cavernous Air Force hangar located at Paine Air Force Base near Everett, Washington. Upstairs a large briefing room became my CAP home for the next five years of my young life. There were two realities at play there, one obvious and the other well hidden. Paine Field was what is called a composite squadron made up of both adults and kids, or what CAP called Cadets. The adults concerned themselves with Search and Rescue and flying activities. The unit flew an old USAF spotter aircraft, a Stinson L-5, an overgrown Piper Cub. The cadets learned various aerospace topics such as the theory of flight, engines, navigation, search and rescue, drill, and ceremonies, and at the bottom of this list, an area they called 'leadership'.
Running the cadet program pretty much fell to a young adult Lieutenant by the name of Robert Sanford. He was on a quest to find and develop young minds in the art and craft of leadership. It was a quest that was not readily apparent. Robert began to build the cadet squadron into a powerhouse within CAP. On the wall a large chart emblazoned with his motto "FOLLOW ME' listed our growing accomplishments.
Cadet Mike Jones 1960
Me on the left and my good friend Steve Webber at Paine Field 1963
Robert began grooming us. This education ranged far beyond aerospace education and marching around the hangar below this squadron briefing room. Every Monday evening, Robert would pick me up in his VW Beetle for the 11-mile drive to Paine. Every minute of contact with Robert was teaching time. We covered things I'd never considered before. I studied Hamlet and helped him build a model of Shakespeare's Globe Theater. He was teaching character development, responsibility, and other aspects one would consider crucial elements of a well-rounded educated mind. For several years much of what he was saying didn't make much sense until one very important night.
The Squadron was spending a weekend at a remote airport called Bayview. I don't remember a thing about the day's activities. But Saturday night, Robert's group had gathered in a large room, and his teaching continued. Finally, the impromptu class session broke up. Alone, I wandered into a training room. Sitting on the floor was an old LINK trainer used in World War ll to teach instrument flying. It was still functional. Into the early hours of Sunday morning, I flew the trainer. Out of the blue, so to speak, I had what some might call an epiphany, Suddenly all the hours and hours of Robert's teachings, sitting in a little roadside cafe just outside the airfield engaging in lively discussions, and trying to absorb a thick book on the 33 interpretations on Shakespear's Hamlet, fell into place for me. It was as though all that information had been floating around my head as disconnected wads of thought instantly made sense. Everything changed at that instant. I changed. I began to write; Poetry poured out of my unlocked soul.
Robert was the first of three other people who profoundly impacted my life.
Oh, and the FOLLOW ME Chart? Under Bob's amazing teachings, Paine Field Cadets amassed an impressive list of honors, awards, and accolades I doubt no other CAP cadet squadron has equaled. My friend Steve Webber won the prestigious International Cadet Exchange program, IACP. Through a rigorous and demanding series of screening boards, mastery of cadet leadership objectives, and recommendations, the two top cadets from Washington Wing were selected to go on Foreign Exchange overseas for a month, courtesy of the USAF! Steve went to Turkey.
Sue McAdams won the coveted FAA School held in Oklahoma.. She also was named Top Cadet at a Summer Encampment, and I was selected to attend Jet Orientation, flying T-33 jet trainers at Perrin Air Force Base in Texas. I wonder what happened to that chart. There were many other people's names there. Our lives were enriched beyond measure, all because of you, Robert.
Link Trainer Photo Courtesy Stocton Aviation Museum
My first CAP summer encampmen, 1961 held at Portland Oregon Airport. Note: Senior member Major Bob Turner, shown on left, kneeling in front row was Robert Sanford's mentor. The torch was passed.
One final bit of irony: 12 years later I would walk into this very same hangar as a Vietnam veteran combat helicopter pilot and Warrant Officer in the Army and spend 20 years flying Chinook helicopters there. One more thing: This old hangar was purchased by my last employer, Mr Paul Allen after my Army Reserve unit moved to Fort Lewis in 1996. He turned it into one of the finest aviation museums in the world. Now it stands empty. . Actually two more things: CAP had a training site called Camp BelTac at a small airport called Sanderson Field near Shelton Washington, Sue McAdams and I repurposed the camp's mission from Search and Rescue training to Leadership Training. Shelton was my birthplace. I never imagined I'd be living two miles from there today. And lastly, my first ever airplane ride took place at Sanderson Field with my dad in a yellow Piper Cub in 1949. This year, 2022 I took my second flight in a bright yellow Piper Cub from this same airfield!