WATERVILLE — Jordan Craig sat among 12 other cadets at a meeting of the Waterville Squadron Civil Air Patrol Thursday night at Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport, listening to former squadron commander Arthur Philbrick talk about safety.

Afterward, Philbrick addressed Craig: “You were at school Jan. 29 for your pilot’s check ride,” he said. “Did it occur?”

“Yes, sir,” Craig replied.

“And did you pass?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Congratulations,” Philbrick said.

Craig, 18, of Benton, has been a member of the squadron since 2013, and in March, he will head to San Antonio, Texas, having joined the U.S. Air Force. He will pursue a bachelor’s degree at the same time. The Air Force, he says, pays for 75 percent of his future pilot training, and he wants to become a commercial pilot in the future.

A 2015 graduate of Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Craig spends two and a half hours every Thursday night at the airport with other cadets ranging in age from 12 to 21, learning about leadership, discipline, flying, aerospace, drills, search and rescue and other skills.

They also earn rank as they progress in the squadron, starting at E-1 and progressing to colonel.

The cadets, who live within about a 60-mile radius of the city, attend a summer encampment at a National Guard training camp in Gilead and travel around the state the third Saturday of the month for training exercises.

Craig attended flight academy in Bangor. The Civil Air Patrol, he said, helped prepare him for the Air Force.

“It was a factor, and it was helpful knowing drill and layout of rank order,” he said. “I am a pilot, but I want to be a pilot for a living. I figured that out before I joined Civil Air Patrol. This helped me get my solo wings. The big thing for me was flying time. That really put a boost on my pilot’s license.”

FROM FIZZLING TO WINNING

Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the Air Force and modeled after it, according to Roger Sabourin, the current commander of Waterville’s squadron, which officially is Waterville Composite Squadron 056. In addition to the cadets who attend the meetings, senior members who are former cadets attend and assist with transportation, training and other activities. Each state has a wing of Civil Air Patrol and Waterville’s is one of nine squadrons in the state wing, Sabourin said.

In 2014 Sabourin, who served 14 years in the U.S. Navy and 10 in the U.S. Army, took over the fizzling squadron. Last fall it won a statewide Squadron of Merit award at the annual wing conference held in Bangor. The squadron won the award for several reasons, including increasing its membership from five to 12 in three months last year, garnering more orientation flights than any other squadron in the state, retaining membership over a period of a year and increasing the number of cadets making rank.

The squadron has an additional six members who did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

The all-volunteer squadron, which meets on the second floor of the airport, operates on money from corporate sponsors as well as money the cadets gather through bottle drives and spaghetti suppers.

As the cadets practiced drills Thursday night in the airport lobby, Sabourin, of Madison, said they have come a long way.

“I’m damned proud of them,” he said.

Students who have had Civil Air Patrol experience have a head start when applying to military schools, he said.

When asked how many of the 12 cadets attending Thursday’s meeting plan to enter the military after high school, five raised their hands.

UP THROUGH THE RANKS

Destiny Jones, 16, of Waterville, entered the Civil Air Patrol the summer before her freshman year at Waterville Senior High School. Now a junior, she said she initially had planned to join the military after high school, but now wants to go to college to study criminal justice administration.

Of the Civil Air Patrol she said, “I just like the structure of the operations.”

When she started in the local squadron, it was unorganized. Cadets sat in a room and joked around, Jones said, but when Sabourin took over, things changed.

“It’s a lot better. We have our own space. We learn about leadership, aerospace, atmosphere, airplanes, and we do training for different things, including search and rescue. Since we have our new leader, we’ve done a lot and we’ve made good friends.”

She said she also has learned self-discipline.

“I’m normally a chatty person. I used to get yelled at a lot in classes and in sports for talking. I’ve gotten a lot better with paying attention and being focused and helping other people. I’m so glad I did it.”

Donnavon Doughty, also 16 and a junior at Waterville High, joined the squadron about the same time Craig and Jones did.

He was recruited by a former cadet and believes being in Civil Air Patrol influenced his decision to join the U.S. Air Force. Next year, he said, he will be in a delayed entry program where he will learn about what boot camp will entail.

“Right now I’m currently taking an EMT course through Mid-Maine Technical Center. By the end of this year, I’ll be a nationally registered EMT, and next year I hope to get intermediate,” he said.

He plans to go to Kennebec Valley Community College or Southern Maine Community College after he graduates from high school to get a paramedic license.

“I want to go into the Air Force as a paramedic,” he said. “If I become a second lieutenant in Civil Air Patrol before I join the Air Force, I can go in as an E-3, which is a higher rank than if I had no experience.”

In addition to attending high school and being involved in Civil Air Patrol, Doughty works for Liberty Tax between 14 and 16 hours a week.

The squadron marches in parades and recently formed a color guard that will march in Waterville on Memorial Day, July 4 and Veterans Day.

The squadron’s youngest member is Jiana Forsythe, 12, of Bucksport. She and her brother Kyle, 14, who is also a member and wants to be in the U.S. Marines one day, are home-schooled.

“I would like to become a cop in Bangor or Bucksport,” Jiana said.

At the meeting Thursday, Sabourin presented Cadet Paul Southwick, 13, of Albion, with a Wright Brothers Award for working his way up to the rank of master sergeant and completing his first comprehensive exam.

“Everything is done in stages,” Sabourin said. “This is the fourth step and Paul’s done it in less than one year, which is quite an accomplishment in itself.”

The group got its newest — and oldest — member Thursday night when Airport Manager Randy Marshall re-enrolled.

Sabourin said the squadron welcomes his talent.

“I joined when I was 12, and I got done when I was 21, and now I’m 32,” Marshall said.

Philbrick was squadron commander many years ago when Marshall was a cadet in the squadron, which then met in an old bus station on Airport Road. The bus station was razed last year.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17