Hartselle, Ala. -
Brian Williams served in the Army for 30 years and 21 days. Now he oversees the Civil Air Patrol program at Hartselle High and Hartselle Junior High. The Decatur native had been involved in Civil Air Patrol prior to his time in the military, and he said he knew he wanted to give back through the same organization that gave him so much. “We had a Civil Air Patrol in Decatur. It meant a lot to me, and it gave me a place to connect,” Williams explained. “I always promised when I got finished, I would go back.”
A volunteer organization, Civil Air Patrol “promotes aviation and related fields through aerospace/STEM education and helps shape future leaders through CAP’s cadet program,” according to its website.
In Hartselle Civil Air Patrol is serving in a similar manner as JROTC. The cadet program has 80-100 students involved, and Williams said it centers on physical fitness, character development, aerospace education and leadership. “What I think I want to teach is the ability to do anything they want. With the right motivation, a little bit of good luck and a good work ethic, you can achieve almost anything,” Williams said.
The cadet program is conducted through classes in the schools as well as activities outside the schools. This summer the squadron went to Camp Shelby, where cadets flew in an Army plane and met with pilots and navigators who chased storms. The cadets have also been to numerous speaking engagements to talk about Civil Air Patrol with the community. “What amazes me is the acceptance and the support the community has given,” Williams said.
Williams said the program has also helped bring students of different groups and affiliations together. “I have students from all the groups. It is the only optional class that they do not have to come together, but they do. That is the great thing I see in Civil Air Patrol classes,” Williams said.
The program also helps the cadets learn to lead healthier lives. “A lot of kids are intimidated by physical fitness. We teach them how to be a little more healthy,” Williams said. “If I can teach them to have a better quality of life by taking care of themselves mentally, physically and spiritually, then that is what we are going to do.”
Outside of taking ownership of their own health and speaking in the community, the cadets are also learning leadership skills in the classroom. Williams said they are first taught to lead by learning to follow and then through gaining leadership experience. “The cool thing about cadets is they lead themselves,” he said. “We teach them how to follow, then they learn the basics and fill leadership positions.”
Williams said he was first inspired to start the cadet program in Hartselle by his daughter. She knew she wanted to become an astronaut and requested his help through the cadet program. “When I was her age I did not even know what I wanted for breakfast, but she knew what she wanted, and she had a plan. I talked to Dr. Jones about starting a program for one night a week and one Saturday a month,” Williams said. “We got more into it, and we decided to do it in the schools.”
Williams said Civil Air Patrol was founded Dec. 1, 1941, as a way to protect the nation from the looming war overseas. Following Pearl Harbor, they began getting more involved and even were able to sink some of the German U-boats. Williams said he always tries to impress on the cadets the tradition they are carrying on through Civil Air Patrol, reminding them, “You have a legacy of heroism.”