RUMFORD – Saturday at noon, three members of the Sundown Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol in Rumford will be laying wreaths on some of the graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

The three youngsters, ages 12 to 16, will be among a group of Civil Air Patrol cadets from Maine.

“I’m glad to have the chance; glad to be able to honor the soldiers who died in the wars,” said Matthias Kroger, 12, who joined the CAP a few months ago, following in the footsteps of a brother and sister.

Participation in Wreaths Across America is but one way the young people learn about leadership and citizenship.

Barbara Arsenault, an educational technician with SAD 43, has been their commander for nearly three years. It’s something she believes can open up a whole new area of learning and fun for River Valley youth.

“They learn about aerospace, military customs, leadership. They are an auxiliary of the Air Force,” she said Wednesday evening as the youngsters, their parents, and adult members gathered for their annual Christmas party at her Hancock Street home.

“It gives them a step up if they go into the military,” she said, adding that several former members are serving in the armed services.

Galen Topper, 16, a student at Gould Academy in Bethel, joined the local CAP because he thought it would help him decide whether the military was right for him.

“If I’m not accepted to a military academy, I’ll enroll in ROTC,” he said.

He also likes the chance to learn about all aspects of flying.

During the two-week summer encampment, held last summer at the Bangor Air National Guard base, he had a chance to fly in powered aircraft, gliders and a Black Hawk helicopter.

“It was like a boot camp, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” he said, with classes in wilderness survival management and other topics.

Next year, the local squadron’s cadet commander expects to be a flight sergeant at the annual encampment.

Megan Arsenault, now 16, joined the local CAP as soon as she reached the minimum age of 12.

She served as cadet commander for a couple years before turning the leadership position over to Topper.

She likes the flying opportunities offered from the Bethel Airport, the drills and the search and rescue training. And she wants to join the Air Force or Navy, as well as take part in ROTC in college.

“I definitely like flying, and I like that everybody gets along,” she said.

The group meets weekly at rotating sites where they often have a chance to use equipment in an aerospace class taught by Randy Autrey at Gould Academy, or travel to Augusta to learn other skills.

The Air Force supplied Barbara Arsenault with a van for transporting the cadets and adult members taking part in training.

She’ll drive to Augusta very early today with her daughter, Megan, Matthias, and Kevin Chretien, 13, a new member of the squadron who attends Dirigo Middle School. There, they will meet up with squads from Calais, Ellsworth, Machias, Caribou, Waterville, Augusta and Portland for the trip to Washington D.C.

Chretien hopes to join the National Guard when he’s older, and right now, he’s looking forward to winter survival training scheduled for February.

Sue Ellen Richardson, Topper’s mother, has been a parent adviser for about 18 months. She likes getting involved in all the young people’s activities, and all the things she has learned.

“The people are so dedicated, and it’s nice to be around that kind of energy,” she said.

Barbara Arsenault has had as many as 15 young people in the group, although that number is fewer right now. She wants to try to get more middle school-age children involved, before they get too busy with college plans in the later high school years.

Dues are $28 a year.

Anyone interested in checking out the organization may call Arsenault at 364-7901.


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