Eastlake alum flying high with Civil Air Patrol

August 21, 2014

By Neil Pierson

New: Aug. 21, 12:42 p.m.

Like many teenagers, John Hughes got into an activity because his friends were doing it, and more than a decade later, Hughes is the one who has become a leader and positive influence.
During his sophomore year at Eastlake High School, Hughes got involved with the Civil Air Patrol, a nationwide body of civilian aviators who have served as the official auxiliary branch of the U.S. Air Force since 1948.
“At first, I didn’t think it was the type of thing I’d be interested in,” said Hughes, a 2005 Eastlake graduate who lives in Woodinville and works for Google Maps.
“A lot of people get into it specifically to try to learn how to fly, or as a head start on a military career, but that’s not really what I was after.”
His initial intentions aside, Hughes’ discipline and dedication have taken him far in the Civil Air Patrol. On July 15, the 27-year-old was named commander of the Overlake Composite Squadron, a Redmond-based unit that has 15 senior members and 60 cadets under age 20.
After graduating from Eastlake, Hughes attended Central Washington University, where he earned a degree in geographic information systems. He also served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, attaining the rank of sergeant before his retirement.
Hughes’ military service has greatly influenced his time with CAP, where he’s reached the rank of major. While some senior members and cadets may not have military ties, they’re likely to get a taste for what it’s like to be a Marine, soldier or sailor by working with Hughes.
“A really strong sense of work ethic definitely comes out of the Marines … and you’re exposed to small-unit leaders who really strongly care about their people and getting things done quickly and correctly,” Hughes said. “Having those people as role models really did a lot for me.”
CAP, which has more than 34,000 senior members and 24,000-plus cadets nationwide, has three primary missions: Aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.
Hughes said the Overlake squadron is particularly focused on training cadets. They meet regularly, with the expressed purpose of engaging with peers, molding leadership skills and managing projects.
The benefits of physical fitness and a drug-free lifestyle are stressed, and the program includes a “strong character development aspect,” Hughes said.
“If you were to attend a CAP meeting … you’d find cadets are running the show from start to finish,” he said. “The cadets do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of planning.”
Cadets learn the history of aviation and space exploration programs, and they’re given a wide array of hands-on learning opportunities. The Air Force pays for up to 10 flights per cadet, giving children as young as 14 the chance to sit in the cockpit and learn the controls from licensed pilots.
One of the Overlake squadron’s most popular educational events is an annual weeklong flight academy in Ephrata, where a cadet with little to no experience can earn their student pilot certificate, a precursor to flying solo.
The squadron has a small fleet of single-engine aircraft – mostly Cessna 172s and 182s – that are used for training purposes and emergency missions.
Most recently, Overlake CAP members have assisted with aerial surveillance efforts at the Oso mudslide site in Snohomish County, and at the Carlton Complex fire in central Washington, the largest wildfire in state history.
At a July 15 ceremony in Redmond, Hughes took command of the squadron from Maj. Bill Gibbs, who had led the group for the past 18 months. Senior members regularly rotate leadership duties, Hughes explained, a helpful thing because everyone knows how to do multiple jobs.
Hughes admitted he needed direction and structure as a teenager, and he got it from CAP. As squadron commander, he’s trying to pass on the same lessons.
“Really, it’s a very meaningful thing for me, because I had such incredible mentorship from other people who had this position,” he said. “… I view it as an incredible opportunity to provide mentorship to other young people.”

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