Washington D.C. “Best weekend ever!” was the quote from several Central New York (CNY) Civil Air Patrol Cadets upon returning to Hancock Air National Guard Base on 26 February. CNY Group (NER-NY-134) organized a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum and Arlington National Cemetery the weekend of 24-26 February. Twenty cadets and five officers from across CNY undertook the awesome adventure.
Saturday, 25 February saw the group loading into the vans and trekking the short distance from the hotel to the Air and Space Museum. The group was greeted to the Museum’s celebration of Black History Month. The first stop was to get front row seats to hear Astronaut Stephanie Wilson’s presentation on her three missions in the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Astronaut Wilson was mesmerizing, keeping the cadets enthralled with stories from one specific mission; her trip on STS-120. The video she shared of adding sections on the International Space Station kept the cadets in rapt attention. As a life-long space enthusiast, Captain Joseph Gallo, one of the trip chaperones, was especially captivated. “Can you imagine going in to space three times?” he asked. Astronaut Wilson had the same effect on the cadets. During the question and answer period one of the CNY cadets asked what advice Astronaut Wilson had for the audience. Wilson’s recommendation was to “find your passion and then pursue it.” The advice was perfect for the cadets, many of whom are nearing high school graduation. The astronaut went on to elaborate that “being an astronaut and having the associated duties makes me want to get up each morning. I love what I do. If you can find the same passion for what you want to do, your life will be very fulfilling.” What great advice.
The Air and Space Museum was packed with hundreds of aircraft, helicopters and space craft. The cadets were allowed to explore the museum at their own pace and many felt they couldn’t see it all in one day. There were aircraft dating back to the earliest moments of flight to modern day wonders. The reconstruction area was especially fascinating due to one special exhibit. “Seeing the Apollo 11 capsule in refurbishment was awesome!” said C/A1C Joseph Anderson.
Two presentations, “Living the Tuskegee Airmen Legacy” and “Conversations with Tuskegee Airman,” were both extremely interesting and motivational. During the first presentation, people with various careers in aviation spoke about their experiences and how they chose an aviation profession. There were pilots from several major airlines, a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller, two military pilots and an aerospace engineer. All the panelist provided exceptional advice and inspiring stories from their careers and many of the cadets clamored to meet the panelists after the presentation to talk to them some more.
Mr. Major Anderson was the final presentation of the day. And the best was certainly reserved for last. He was an inspiration. Mr Anderson was a mechanic during World War II, working on the “Red Tails” of the 332nd Fighter Group. Cadets and Officers alike were enthralled with his stories of working with the likes of General Benjamin O. Davis. His clarity of mind and sharp wit made for an entertaining presentation.
Unfortunately, the museum day came to a close too soon. But the fun wasn’t over and it was back to the hotel for a night of swimming and games and a meal of everybody’s favorite pizza. But soon it was lights out and it was time for bed.
Sunday morning started off clear and cold. But the cold temperatures didn’t cool the anticipation of going to Arlington National Cemetery. Captain David Mackintosh organized a tour of a lifetime. The cadets and officers presented flowers at the graves of Air Force legends Generals Hap Arnold, James Doolittle and Chappie James. Additionally, they honored US Air Force Lt Col Frank Bryant, a hero from the war in Afghanistan and personal friend of Lt Col Dean Anderson, one of the trip chaperones. But certainly the highlight of the visit was C/Capt Robert Rice, C/CMSgts Ahmed Aly and Devon Seale and C/SMSgt James Brown presenting a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The four cadets did a superb job representing Civil Air Patrol in this high visibility event, with hundreds of onlookers. The pressure was on, and they performed.
By twelve o’clock the entourage was back on the road. After a couple of quick stops for lunch and leg stretches, the entire group was back to the CNY Group Headquarters on Hancock Air National Guard Base by 8 PM. Families picked up their cadets, the CAP vans cleaned and then the trip was over. But not without the cadets final motivation check led by C/SMSgt James Brown. All shouted “Best Weekend Ever!”