Homeschooler Captures Civil Air Patrol's Top Cadet Award
On May 11, 2006, homeschooled 9th-grader Katrina Litchford received the Civil Air Patrol’s General Carl A. Spaatz Award in a private ceremony at the Pentagon. The award is the highest honor a Civil Air Patrol cadet can receive, and is earned by only about .05% of all cadets.
On May 11, 2006, Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley presented the Civil Air Patrol’s highest cadet award to Katrina Litchford.
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is a non-profit, volunteer auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. Its cadet program provides young people with aerospace and leadership training.
Katrina learned about the Spaatz award at a CAP wing encampment, where an officer explained that very few CAP cadets successfully fulfill the award’s rigorous requirements. “When he said that, it was a challenge to me,” says Katrina. “I just decided then that I was going to make my Spaatz.” Not only did Katrina earn her Spaatz, she did so in the minimum length of time allowed (38 months). Her father, James Litchford, had become an Eagle Scout at 15, so Katrina aimed to achieve her Spaatz goal at the same age. “I took the [Spaatz award] exam on March 8 and passed,” she says. “Then on the 16th I had my birthday.”
To earn this prestigious award, Katrina had to progress through 16 achievements that included attending at least one Virginia wing encampment, participating in a national cadet special activity, writing essays, giving speeches, and holding a leadership position in her unit. She then had to take a comprehensive exam that included 200 questions on leadership and aerospace as well as a physical training test.
In recognition of this incredible accomplishment, Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley presented Katrina’s award.
The Pentagon award ceremony was part of an entire weekend of events scheduled for Katrina, her parents, her sister, and her grandfather. After traveling to Washington, D.C., by train, the family visited their Virginia senators, George Allen and John Warner. In Warner’s office, Katrina's sister Dominique happened to strike up a conversation with Lockheed Martin CEO Robert J. Stevens, who invited the Litchfords to the corporation’s nearby Arlington location for a tour. “They were all very, very kind people,” says Katrina, who was given four hours to try out Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter flight simulators.
The family also toured the U.S. Capitol, the Senate Russell Office Building, and the Pentagon. At the Pentagon, Katrina and her family met with Chief of Staff Moseley, who gave Katrina’s grandfather (a top turret gunner on B-17s during World War II) an Air Force Challenge Coin and presented an autographed book to Katrina. The ceremony took place a few minutes later. “It was a very wonderful experience,” says Katrina.
Katrina and her younger sister, Dominique, joined the CAP in 2002 because the program allows cadets to participate in search and rescue missions. For years, the girls had been helping their parents train German shepherds for participation in Commonwealth Search and Rescue (an affiliate of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management), but agency rules did not allow children under 16 to go on missions. The CAP gave them the opportunity to go on missions at a younger age. “Another reason [for joining] is, through CAP, you can also get your private pilot’s license,” adds Katrina. “All cadets are allowed five free lessons.” This past summer, she earned her solo wings at the National Flight Encampment in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The CAP has allowed Katrina to experience the U.S. military world. “I’m really interested in the military and I think I’m probably going to join some branch of the service,” says the cadet, who is considering attending the Air Force Academy, the Virginia Military Institute, or the Coast Guard Academy.
The 10th-grader has been homeschooled since kindergarten, with one year spent at a private school. “I think when you homeschool it frees your schedule,” points out Katrina’s mother, Leonetta Litchford. “You can add activities that are demanding and academic, so it worked so that we could work in some of the CAP academic studying that they had to do—quite a bit of reading, studying, answering questions, writing assignments, oral report assignments.”
“After you make officer there’s a lot involved,” adds Katrina. As commander of the Roanoke Composite Squadron, her duties include organizing training and activities, overseeing paperwork, and sending out weekly emails. In her off-time, she enjoys hanging out with her sister and her cousin Bryce, who is homeschooled with the siblings. She is also working toward her black belt in American freestyle karate.
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Find out more about the Civil Air Patrol’s cadet programs.