LANSING | It was a science project on water rockets last year that sparked Ismael Gomez’s interest in aerospace and got him thinking about a possible career as a pilot.
The 13-year-old Heritage Middle School eighth-grader is now a cadet airman first class with the Civil Air Patrol Thunder Composite Squadron and is this year’s winner of the squadron’s Cadet of the Year Award.
Civil Air Patrol cadets are between the ages of 12 and 21. The CAP Thunder Composite Squadron is made up of about 28 members, 19 of them cadets. Most are students at Heritage Middle School and Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing, according to Rick Zalud, squadron captain and emergency services officer.
Zalud is employed as a network specialist for Sunnybrook Elementary District 171 which serves Lansing and Lynwood students at Nathan Hale Elementary and Heritage Middle schools. He said he is grateful to the District 171 administration and School Board for its support of CAP.
CAP is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and members must abide by the four core values of integrity, volunteer service, excellence and respect. Cadets receive training in aerospace education and emergency services such as search and rescue, and have the opportunity to participate in special activities, including attending encampments and flying an airplane for the first time.
During the past 12 months, Gomez has been at the controls of a Cessna 172 airplane three times on flights over Chicago and the shores of Lake Michigan.
His leadership ability, aerospace knowledge, strong character, community service and physical fitness qualified him for the Cadet of the Year Award, Zalud said.
“You have to stand out (to win the award),” he said.
Gomez, the son of Elvira and Nicolas Gomez, of Lansing, said he was surprised, and thrilled, to win the honor.
“I felt really proud of myself for achieving my goal,” he said.
Gomez received an engraved plaque and he is scheduled to be recognized by the District 171 School Board at its March meeting.
While his favorite subjects at school are science and social studies, the teen already is thinking about life after middle school and high school. He plans to join the U.S. Air Force and become a cargo pilot, attend college and land a job as a commercial airline pilot.