Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Mia Mastandrea
Walk into any on-ground training class at Coles County Memorial Airport this week and in a crowd of 15 drained teenage boys, you’ll find the single bobbing ponytail of Rebecca Kramer.
Participating in the Civil Air Patrol Camp may be intimidating for teens coming from all over the country, yet not for Kramer. It is her third year as a CAP member and she has already earned the highest ranking for enlisting. Most kids have never seen a glider before entering the program, but Kramer walked in ahead of the game since she flies year round in her hometown of Louisville, Ky.
“My dad and grandfather take me down to the gliding club every week,” Kramer said. “I’m the only teenager there.” She also is a member of the aviation club at school, which had recruited her to the CAP program.
The boys around her clearly respect her as an experienced member, but Kramer simply shrugs it off. “It’s not like they treat me differently,” Kramer said with a laugh. “I’m just one of the boys.” She explained that in the beginning it was hard to be taken seriously because of the common stereotypes of girls, but now she is close with everyone.
A typical day for the students includes waking up at 6 a.m. sharp in the dorms of Eastern Illinois University, arriving at the airport, and dedicating their every thought to flying from there on out.
In class the students discuss emergency procedures as if they’re studying brain surgery, using terms such as “stalls” or “rudders” in discussions. Kramer does not sit resting or uninvolved during these. She raises her hand respectfully, questioning and challenging the information.
Kramer’s family is supportive of her favorite hobby. It’s actually a fairly familiar topic for dinner-table conversations.
”I have an entire military family,” Kramer said. Her father was in the Air Force and, before him, her grandmother was also a CAP cadet. Kramer serves to keep the tradition rolling.
Yet to Kramer’s friends back home, CAP is nowhere in their range of knowledge. She is the only teenager she knows of in her area who flies.
“They think it’s interesting,” Kramer said. She finds it funny that she has to explain the basics to everyone. She usually starts with what a glider is.
Programs Director Nina Rossini noted that Kramer has shown potential. “She is very bright,” Rossini said.
Rossini now has the ranking of a major, but she started in the cadet program when she was only 14 back in 1969. She noted that the friendships made through the program are lifelong.
Surprising to some, Kramer has no desire to pursue a military or flying career in her future despite the positive feedback received from her advisers. Instead, Kramer hopes to join the Peace Corps in Africa. “I feel like I’ve been so blessed in my life that the least I could do is help someone — anyone,” Kramer said.
No matter where the final destination is for Kramer, her drive to succeed will take her there with ease. [judgment]