As a freshman at Socorro High School, Christin Armijo has been active as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol for three years. She talked with us about training, flying and gaining leadership skills in the CAP last week in the New Mexico 822 Socorro Warrior Squadron headquarters on Fisher Street.

What’s being in school like this year?

It’s virtual right now. It’s very difficult to do. We have 30 minutes for each class. The day goes by pretty fast and it’s kind of hard to learn over a screen.

Is the Civil Air Patrol program an accepted extracurricular school activity?

It can be. There is a curriculum. It’s called Aerospace and we used to be a part of the high school but then kind of separated. Civil Air Patrol is kind of an after-school deal. Kind of a club. We are the NM822 Socorro High School Squadron.

How many active members in your squadron?

We have 18 overall, and that includes 11 active cadets and three senior members in the New Mexico 822 Socorro Warrior Squadron.

What are your responsibilities as a member of the CAP? What’s expected of you?

In CAP, there’s a chain of command, as all military branches have.

What’s your cadet rank?

I am a Chief Master Sergeant. My job specifically is mentoring cadets of a lower rank. I help them out with any questions they may have. I’m also a drill sergeant. I take them out and work with them in marching. I started doing that at a younger age, but at that time we didn’t have any higher echelons.

How is the cadet program organized?

All the cadets and the flight sergeant comprise a squadron and the group of cadets that are drilled are the flights. Right now, the squadron has only one flight. Eventually, we’ll have another and we’ll have to get another flight sergeant.

Are cadets called upon by the Civil Air Patrol for bigger duties?

They can be. As a squadron back in the day, we used to do that. Hardly now because we’re so small. But they can call on the senior members, and they’ll go and do real search and rescue missions. The divisions include ground control with the radios, navigation, and the actual search and rescue in the air that go around in the planes to search the ground.

How far can you go into the program?

You can be a cadet until you are 21, and then you have a choice to stop or become a senior member. As a senior member you can actually rank up to lieutenant or even colonel.

How has COVID-19 changed the way things are done?

It has affected us a lot, as a squadron. We are used to doing everything in person. Having our meetings here, drilling and being able to practice in person. Having switched to virtual we can’t drill like we are used to. How do you drill when you have to stay 14 feet apart? As for other events, I was supposed to go to the Honor Guard Academy in Virginia this summer, and also the Civil Air Patrol summer encampment at Kirtland. It’s kind of like a boot camp for cadets. We do a lot of leadership practices there and teach the new cadets the basics of drilling and leadership and teamwork.

How important is leadership training?

The Civil Air Patrol is based on leadership, in everything we do. We even have a curriculum called Learn To Lead. Right now, I’m in a leadership phase, where you have to learn how to listen to your cadets, have to learn how to manage them, and lead them in the right direction. How to train them. Leadership is important to me personally and I’m still learning to lead. I’ve had some great mentors in the past. Ashley, for one, she taught me some pretty good things. She was a high school student and then she graduated.

When did your interest in flying begin?

It was when I was 11 and I joined the Civil Air Patrol that I really took interest in planes and hot air balloons. It was when I had my first flight that I really fell in love with planes. It was amazing.

What was that first flight like?

The CAP has its own fleet of small Cessnas. They have volunteer pilots and they take cadets out for flights, whether it be for an hour, two hours. They let me fly it for a bit. I just loved it.

The pilot turned it over to you for a few minutes?

Yes. That was amazing. It was way better than I ever imagined it would be. I mean, I was in control of a plane at age 11. I was kind of scared, but it was cool. I had joined the CAP two or three weeks before, so I was new to the program and I was still learning about everything. I was with another cadet that time; Zachary Tull.

Do you have aspirations of being a pilot?

I’m still trying to decide. There are a lot of career opportunities for me right now.

What are your long-range goals? Have you thought about that?

I plan to take advantage of the Civil Air Patrol and its benefits when it comes to maybe aviation school. I plan to go into the Air Force and get tuition service. Hopefully, go on to have a career in biology. Like veterinary biology, marine biology, zoology … the study of animals and their anatomy. And then there is the pilot route, too. I mean, being a pilot would be an amazing career. I just haven’t decided yet.

You would like to get your pilot’s license regardless?

I would. We have a hot air balloon named Integrity. I got to fly with Lt. Col. William Fitzpatrick of the CAP Balloon Program. You can actually get your balloon license at 16 and I want to try to work towards that. It is a little less work than getting your private pilot’s license for small planes.

There’s a separate balloon pilot license?

Yes. You actually can have your balloon license or powered plane license, and then you have your sailplane license.

Is a sailplane the same as a glider?

They’re both engineless. We actually have a trailer and every time we take it out for a flight we have to break it down after every use. You have to be certified to do that, too. You break the wings down and stuff it back into the trailer. We keep it in the hangar at the airport here.

Have you flown in a glider?

I have, yes. CAP does that with cadets, too.

Were you able to pilot the glider?

No, we did not get to do that. But we did get to go up and we stayed up there for about an hour. He taught us all the gauges all you need to know.

How is a glider controlled?

It’s basically falling in style. There’s a joystick, and it controls the turning mechanism and the nose, up or down. As a cadet you’re sitting in the front; the pilot is actually behind you. You both have the same controls, as it is in a small Cessna.

How do you feel about flying in general?

As a kid, that’s probably one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I hadn’t really done anything like that before. Just getting up there in the air and flying. You’re in the air. Just you and the sky. There’s no traffic. And being able to control it, too. In the sailplane, it’s peaceful and there’s noise and you’re just gliding there.

How do your parents feel about you flying?

They are completely OK with it. They encourage it. If they could, they would go with me.