Alton teen lives military life at 'Encampment'

Civil Air Patrol cadets (teenagers) from Halifax County, Danville, Pittsylvania County and all over Virginia including Cadet Kayleigh Morris of Alton recently returned from living at Ft. Pickett for a week as a result of volunteering for “Encampment,” a week of military-style activities that challenged them mentally and physically. Morris (first in line) joins other cadets at Encampment learning to solve problems as a team.

Civil Air Patrol cadets (teenagers) from Halifax County, Danville, Pittsylvania County and all over Virginia just returned from living at Ft. Pickett for a week as a result of volunteering for “Encampment”, a week of military-style activities that challenged them mentally and physically.

They gave up cell phones, junk food and other distractions as they became involved in experiences that taught them leadership skills, aerospace knowledge and careers, physical fitness and character.

A week of being required to get good sleep and healthy food powered them through activities like exercising each morning, aerospace study, tackling the “Leadership Reaction Course” (an obstacle course where they overcame challenges as a team) and super-organizing their personal items “military style.”

The “Leadership Reaction Course” taught teamwork. The cadets were organized into groups called “flights” (CAP is the Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force).

Cadet Kayleigh Morris, daughter of Keith and Kristie Morris of Alton and granddaughter of Wayne and Linda Morris and Harold and Pam Newcomb, all of South Boston, described it this way, “Our flight was presented with an obstacle to overcome together. We had to cross murky water as a team without falling into the water. We had to figure it out and accomplish this together as one unit.”

Cadet Grace Hopper described how neat they had to be: “We had to organize our foot lockers and wall lockers exactly like a picture they showed us. Uniforms arranged from fatigues to blues, shoes underneath the bed from shower shoes to dress shoes all in a line and even. We had to make our beds precisely, with hospital corners where a ruler can go in it, with 6 inches of the sheet pulled back 1 inch from the top of the bed to the folded part of the sheet. And you had to make your pillow ‘smile.”’

Civil Air Patrol cadets know what encampment will be like, and many cadets go every year to enjoy the challenge and personal growth it offers. Cadet Rorer Payne had attended before and is looking forward to Encampment 2020.

She said, “My favorite part of Encampment 2019 was getting to know so many amazing people.”

Cadet Hopper made new friends as well.

“My whole flight got really close during the week, completing hard tasks and pushing through together as a team. I grew in leadership, pushing through challenges, never giving up and focusing my self-discipline,” she said.

And they learned how to look sharp.

Cadet Morris said after their personal items were organized in detail, the way they wore them had to be precise.

“They grade you on whether or not your boots are shined, your sleeves are rolled properly and even, if your hair is neat, boots blouses correctly worn and if your insignia is even,” Morris said.

Of course, there were “sacrifices” for the sake of discipline.

One cadet said, “One of the most challenging parts was not being allowed junk food. The only snacks were water and Gatorade, and we could not bring any food with us. So that meant no junk food for the week. One evening while waiting in the line for dinner, an army soldier came by with a large bag of Skittles and shared. Our flight was gobbling them up as fast as we could. It was a treat, but we would have gotten in trouble if caught, because candy is considered contraband.”

Cadet Reagan Payne said, “The food was good, but I was ready to get back to mama's cooking.”

Encampment sees about 400 cadets a year, learning to solve problems as a team.

Cadet Morris said, “It showed me that I should never give up, no matter the circumstances. I should keep pushing through and just keep going.”

Hundreds of cadets are looking forward to going back next year, making new friends and learning how strong and focused they are capable of being.