As they prepare to graduate high school, seniors are often asked, “What do you want to do after graduation?” DeKalb High School senior Angeline Tolliver knows her answer to that question.
Tolliver, 17, plans to join the Air Force as soon as she graduates early in December. She said one of the factors in her decision was joining the DeKalb County Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol in January with her parents, Lori and John Tolliver.
“CAP has helped me become a better person and a better leader,” said Tolliver, a cadet commander. “CAP teaches character development and four core values: integrity, volunteer service, respect and excellence in all we do. It teaches you how to be more confident in yourself, and you learn how to lead. I can’t wait to join the Air Force and become who I want to be.”
The Civil Air Patrol is the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. CAP consists of approximately 1,440 squadrons and 58,000 volunteer youth and adult members nationwide.
People have been joining the DeKalb County Composite Squadron of CAP since last winter, but the group became an official squadron on June 9. To become a squadron, 15 members are required; the local squadron now has 23.
The squadron’s dedication and inauguration ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, at DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, 3232 Pleasant St. in DeKalb. The squadron’s weekly meetings are held at the airport from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays.
The three main missions of the Civil Air Patrol program are aerospace education, the cadet program for ages 12 to 20 and emergency services. Each year, CAP saves an average of 80 lives. So far this year, CAP has saved 104 lives.
“CAP is a great way for children, teens, adults – anyone – to get involved in aviation,” said Steven Weber, commander of the local squadron. “Only a few of our senior members have their pilot license. You don’t have to want to fly planes to be interested or involved with the group. It’s about helping young men and women to be successful, for them to have purpose, goals and core values. We help make them future leaders instead of followers.”
Tolliver describes CAP as a great experience, regardless of interest in the military or flying.
“I actually had my first airplane ride with CAP,” she said. “It was really fun. I was nervous at first, but it’s exciting. I’ve found my passion. I’m interested in having a career with the Air Force, but in law enforcement, not as a pilot.”
Blake Starzyk, 14, of DeKalb joined CAP in May after his father, a Navy veteran who flies as a hobby, heard about the organization. Starzyk said that after a few months in CAP, he has realized he wants to join the Air Force after high school.
“Everyone has been very welcoming,” Starzyk said. “I learn more and more every day. I love the program.”
Travis Dulzo, 12, of DeKalb was inspired to join CAP by his father, who is serving in the Air Force and will soon be deployed to Kuwait.
“I love to fly and to learn about the military, but CAP is more than that,” Dulzo said. “CAP is a lot of fun. I want to one day fly planes and see the world from the sky.”
Ethan Peterman of DeKalb, a captain with another CAP squadron, has been helping start the local cadet program. Peterman joined CAP when he was 14 and describes the program as the reason he joined the Army after high school.
“After high school, I joined the Army and became a combat medic and was deployed in Afghanistan,” Peterman said. “Now, I’m a high school history teacher. My time in CAP helped me understand basic training necessary for drills and ceremonies, gave me an opportunity to fulfill leadership positions and taught me about being a good citizen and community member.”
Adult members of CAP who are age 21 and older are called senior members. Friends Steve Klopfenstein and Wesley Anderson, both pilots from Shabbona, became senior members because they wanted to share their love of flying and aviation with the youth of the community.
“In other programs, children have a 15-minute flight, but with CAP, flights last an average of an hour, and they can learn how to fly,” Klopfenstein said. “I love teaching the kids how to fly and help them get involved with aviation. I love the emergency services aspect, too. As a volunteer firefighter for 20 years, the training is similar, and I can help others.”
Pilot and senior member Steve Gugala of Plano said his goal is to become a mission pilot for CAP, helping with search and rescues.
“I joined CAP just for fun, but it’s become a great opportunity for me to serve in some capacity and to help the community,” he said. “Especially with the recent devastating hurricanes, I want to help with disaster relief. I can help others and help educate kids at the same time. It’s a way for us to take what we know and love and to teach it to the next generation.”