Civil Air Patrol's Simon Chuang earns two prestigious awards
Aurora Composite Squadron Captain Marc Minato of the Civil Air Patrol still remembers the moment he realized Simon Chuang was going to be a special cadet. It was during a drill exercise just a few short weeks after Chuang, 17, had joined Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in 2014. Similar to a military version of Simon Says, the exercise required cadets to follow marching instructions obeying legitimate commands while ignoring nonsensical ones. As cadets tripped up they would walk off to the side, tasked with distracting remaining cadets to add to the exercises difficulty.
One of the first things I noticed was his focus, Minato says. It got to a point in the drill where there were just two or three people left who would not budge or respond to the distractions. He was very new at that point but he was in the remaining group. So it was very clear then that he had laser focus, because you have to ignore the distractions. It was a lot of fun to see because it was uncommon for someone to have that much focus at that point.
Chuangs focus has only increased since then, culminating in the Air Force Sergeants Associations Outstanding Cadet Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award in August. Chuangs hard work over the past three-plus years then led to a second prestigious award, when he was presented with the Amelia Earhart award Oct. 25, making Chuang a cadet captain.
The Civil Air Patrol is the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, and as part of its mission, it maintains a cadet program for 12- to 18-year-olds that focuses on teaching aerospace education, leadership training, physical fitness and moral leadership above all else. Chuang, who lives in West Linn, was a freshman at Riverdale High School in Lake Oswego when he first joined the Aurora Composite Squadron. Chuangs rise through the cadet ranks was fast, as he worked his way up the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) ladder. He says he gravitated toward the leadership aspect of Civil Air Patrol, and began taking initiative whenever an opportunity to lead came about.
Initially I was interested in the military environment, but as Ive worked my way up the program Ive learned I really like leading other people, he says. Its really satisfying to me to see other people succeed because Ive helped them along the way. I started because I liked the structure of wearing a uniform, showing up, learning how to march and I definitely stayed for the leadership aspect and all the opportunities.
He took advantage of the wide array of opportunities CAP provides, joining the cybersecurity team as well as participating in various rifle events among other things. He was also appointed to represent Oregon as part of the Pacific Regions cadet counsel, and recently taught a leadership activity at the state level.
Chuangs efforts didnt go unnoticed. Minato nominated him as the Aurora Composite Squadrons top NCO last fall, making him eligible for the national award. What neither Chuang nor Minato could have guessed, however, was what came next. Chuang beat out the rest of the NCOs in the entire Pacific Region, which includes Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Then, in August, his ascension reached a pinnacle when he formally received the Air Force Sergeants Associations Outstanding Cadet Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award from Civil Air Patrols national commander.
When I saw the letter that I had been chosen as the best in the nation I was shocked, Chuang says. From there I just kind of glided. It was pretty surreal. There were multiple times where I thought to myself They selected me as the best NCO in the entire country. I had to keep repeating that to myself.
Chuang traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to accept the award, beating out more than 23,000 CAP cadets nationwide. Minato says someone from the Aurora Composite Squadron winning an award of that prestige is unprecedented, and that while Chuang is more than deserving, he was still shocked when he found out the news.
We would have said just making the state level that was already an outstanding achievement because there are a lot of quality cadets in the state who you could say are solid and deserving, Minato says. When you compare us to units in California, theyre probably 10 times the size of Oregon in terms of membership, so its pretty incredible when you think about it from that standpoint.
Chuang, now a senior at Riverdale High, received a second bout of good news when he was presented with the Amelia Earhart award Oct. 25 by U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader. Only 5 percent of cadets nationwide earn the promotion, making Chuang a cadet captain. Cadets are required to pass an aerospace education exam, participate in a number of prescribed activities, achieve a long list of physical fitness thresholds as well as demonstrate elite leadership skills to earn the promotion.
I think that one was a lot of recognition for a lot of the work Ive put in, Chuang says. It was nice that Congressman Schrader was able to come out and present that to me. It feels good to have that under my belt, because it was something I was working toward for quite a while.
Now that the excitement from the past few months has simmered, Chuang says hes excited to finish his final year with Civil Air Patrol and enjoy the last few months of high school. In addition to his CAP obligations Chuang is also the captain of the Riverdale boys soccer team as well as the president of the National Honor Society. He says hes also looking forward to next year, where he expects to start his freshman year at the United States Naval Academy.
About a month ago I was given a letter of issuance to the Naval Academy, and so thats saying theyll accept me if I get a congressional nomination, but its basically an early acceptance with a few conditions, Chuang says. It was really exciting having that out of the way, especially because a lot of my friends are still worrying about college applications. Im still applying to a couple other schools but just knowing that I have that as my top choice makes me feel pretty secure.
He says hes still undecided as to what career path he wants to pursue once he gets to the Naval Academy, but that hes thought a lot about flying recently. Alongside a trained pilot, all Civil Air Patrol cadets get five free rides in CAP planes, giving them the opportunity to fly the plane themselves once the aircraft is airborne. Chuang has used four of his five flights, and says its an undeniable thrill he wants more of.
Ive been thinking about that and about what I would want to do in the Navy. I think because of the experiences Ive had with flying a plane, its a lot of fun and something I probably want to try and do if I can, Chuang says.
Regardless of what career path he settles on, however, Chuang says hes looking forward to a new challenge. Ultimately he hopes that challenge comes in the form of some type of leadership role.
I would say Ive grown most in my leadership skills, and also my confidence, my public speaking ability, and Im not really sure how to put it in words but my understanding of not just leadership but also following, and the combination of the two, he says. When I first joined CAP I was the one being told what to do, so I understand what its like from that side of things, as well as what its
like to be on the leadership side. I think thats really valuable, and Im grateful Civil Air Patrol has provided that for me.