by Dennis Dalman
Eighteen-year-old Benjamin Greshowak’s nickname could well be the “The Recruiter.” After all, it was he who recruited his brother, his sister and his mother into the Civil Air Patrol (CAP for short).
The official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, CAP is a non-profit that provides help to veterans’ related causes, promotes patriotism, does disaster relief, offers aerospace education and conducts search-and-rescue missions. There is a junior cadet group (ages 12 to 21) and a senior members’ group 18 and up.
“When we moved to Sartell six years ago from the Twin Cities, we’d never heard of the Civil Air Patrol,” said Jennifer Greshowak, the mother of the family. “We didn’t know it existed in our area, much less across the country. We didn’t know it was formed just days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941), and we didn’t know the role it played after 9/11 or that it is responsible for 90 percent of the inland search-and-rescue efforts in the United States.”
Now the Greshowaks not only know all those things first-hand, but they have become proud and avid members of the organization, all because of Benjamin’s initial enthusiasm.
In November of 2019, Benjamin decided to volunteer at a Veterans’ Day parade where he was intrigued by the Color Guard of CAP. He first learned who they were and what they were all about, then he joined the squadron. He is now a cadet master sergeant and also a member of the St. Cloud Composite Squadron’s Color Guard. In addition, Benjamin is the cadet wing public-affairs officer and a member of the assistant squadron Cadet Advisory Council.
His family quickly shared his enthusiasm for CAP, and they joined too.
Megan, 16, is a cadet staff sergeant; Lukas, 14, is also a cadet staff sergeant and Jennifer is an emergency-services assistant and squadron public-affairs assistant, working toward becoming an assistant emergency-services officer. Outside of her CAP duties, Jennifer is director of communication for Ra Foods, based in Texas.
What all the Greshowaks love about CAP is that while volunteering, they learn an enormous amount about so many topics, all the while acquiring personal life skills that include discipline, teamwork, dedication, confidence, leadership and national connections with so many other CAP members and programs.
Some cadet CAP members can train and earn a private pilot’s license even before obtaining a driver’s license, but piloting a plane is not required to be a CAP member.
Members of the St. Cloud Composite Squadron hail from Sartell, St. Joseph, Rice, Royalton, Milaca, Cambridge and many other areas of central Minnesota.
By joining CAP, one is not joining the military or making a commitment to military service. But some who do go on to military service have an excellent background because of their work in CAP.
CAP’s mission statement is “Volunteers Serving America’s Communities, Saving Lives and Shaping Futures.” Its core values are “Integrity, Volunteer Service, Excellence and Respect.”
The following are just some of the organizations the Greshowaks have volunteered with recently:
Wreaths Across America (fundraising and then wreath-placement in December each year).
VFW Post 428 Poppy Sales (during the timeframes of Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day).
Magnus Veterans Foundation (to help serve veterans and families with any physical, mental and emotional needs and even helping some with household tasks or yard work).
Tri-County Humane Society (nine years as a foster family for the animals).
Helping Paws (assisting with demonstrations regarding service dogs for veterans).
And last but not least, one of the Greshowaks’ favorite volunteer tasks – working at a traveling exhibit called “The Wall that Heals” when it was set up in Rice for four days this past August. The wall, made of connective large panels of steel, is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The “Wall” is engraved with the names of nearly 60,000 military personnel who died in Vietnam or who were listed as missing-in-action or a prisoner-of-war.
Jennifer wrote this about the Wall: “Some would stand by themselves and cry. Others had their families around them, some with just a single tear. Some just sat in the distance looking at it, some touched it, some wanted to share their stories of the men they served with – not the battles but who they were as young men. So incredibly emotional . . . to truly understand what these soldiers went through. We’d be a better place if people tried (to understand that).”
Another CAP highlight for the Greshowak children was their eight-day encampment at Camp Ripley at Little Falls. A variation of basic training, the experience involved drills, physical training, leadership, inspections and even how to make a military bed. Cadets from squadrons all over the state participated in the encampment, and many potentially lifelong bonds were formed.
Here are some comments from the Greshowaks:
Lukas: “The pilots in our squadron are great, skilled teachers and help make aerospace really interesting and understandable . . . I enjoy the social aspect of CAP, along with earning rank and gaining leadership skills.” Lukas hopes to be an attorney someday.
Megan: “My favorite part of CAP is the emergency-services aspect, and I also like leadership and aerospace aspects. I would like to encourage girls to join CAP because it provides opportunities that girls might not find elsewhere. My goal is to become a veterinarian and since joining CAP I am now considering serving as a veterinarian for the training and caring for military dogs.”
Benjamin: “I enjoy the structure of CAP, the drill component and the ranks you can earn.” Benjamin hopes to become a teacher as a career.
Jennifer: “CAP provides us with an opportunity to grow in our individual skill sets while also serving a common purpose of volunteering and learning emergency-services skills together as a family. Those skills benefit our squadron, our community and our family.”
The Greshowaks spent 160 hours volunteering this past summer.
“Helping the community feels fantastic, and if people knew how fantastic it was, they’d join CAP too,” Jennifer said.
There are 31 CAP squadrons throughout Minnesota, collectively known as a “Wing.” There are 799 adult members, 669 cadets, 147 air-crew personnel and 871 emergency responders.
Nationwide, there are 66,000 CAP members. To learn more about CAP or how to join, go to any of the following sites: mncap.org, GoCivilAirPatrol.com or do a Facebook search for Civil Air Patro