By Capt. Alison Carlisi
Thunderbird Cadet Squadron
We need your support in time, money and effort. You have received mailings, heard about work out in Wendover, and seen pictures of efforts on facebook, and maybe you are asking yourself…..why Wendover? Why should I help with the effort to restore this decades old Air Force compound? Why should I give time or money to this project? What does this mean to me, or to Utah Wing, or to Civil Air Patrol? Many of you reading this article may never have even been out to Desert Hawk Encampment.
Let me describe….why Wendover.
At the edge of the flat white sand, the hour before dawn gradually illuminates a gray landscape butting up against rocky outcroppings. Sage brush and scrubby trees dot the ground, twisted survivors of a wind that only dies down as the sun approaches the morning horizon. In the distance, the whine of truck tires on I-80, and the neon of casino lights, are a reminder of the sleepless commerce and rush of the world. On the outskirts of the little community, though, progress crumbles away like stepping back in time. Small huts, worn colorless by weather and time, dot a compound in orderly rows, surrounded by buildings in various states of repair, and dwarfed by an enormous aircraft hangar.
At 5:30 am, a few figures quietly make their way around the little huts, talking in muffled voices, wearing sweat shirts to ward off the chill of a high desert morning. They station themselves by the door of each hut, looking at their watches, and waiting quietly for the appointed moment. As the hands of the clock strike 6:00 am, the quiet is shattered by yelling voices, whistles, and banging doors…” Get up, get up, Get up!!! Get on your clothes, you are already late…GO, GO, GO!!!” The same message emanates from dozens of the huts, and soon the compound is full of the sounds of running feet, directions, commands, salutes, “yes, Ma’ams” and “No sirs”.
The sergeants yell, and the flights of Cadets respond in unison. The chaos quickly becomes order and groups of young people line up in neat rows and begin to march to the hanger. As they move, sing, song chants called jodies drift on the air, and echo in the plane hangar, increasing in volume as the sun first rays spread out at the horizon. The quiet compound is transformed into a noisy open-air classroom of challenges, both physical and mental, that will stretch a young person’s abilities, and teach them to overcome.
For sixteen years, Utah Wing Civil Air Patrol (CAP) has put on an Annual Encampment called Desert Hawk. Encampment teaches CAP Cadets many of the skills they need to know to succeed in the program, and how to be a leader. Basic Cadets are placed in a group called a flight, where they live, learn, and work for seven days of training. They are lead by a flight Sergeant and a Flight Commander, who get real life leadership experience, while guiding their basic cadets through the learning process. Flights do morning PT and work hard all day long at lessons like drill, customs and courtesies, chain of command, and STEM. The learning is often hands-on, flying in planes, shooting, climbing, swimming, and team work activities.
It is NOT EASY. Wendover is heat, and wind, and bright sun, and the Sergeants demand excellence and effort. It is an environment that breaks down individuals and builds them back up as a team. At the end, there is a great sense of achievement, a belief in one’s ability to overcome, and a sense of relief of making it to graduation. The camaraderie, memories, and lifelong friendships created, follow a person for the rest of their lives. Desert Hawk Encampment is unique in comparison to other Wing Encampments…harder, hotter, and in some cases longer. A true test of a young persons Grit. When comforts and distractions are stripped away, a person can concentrate on the goals in front of them.
For several years, Desert Hawk Encampment was held at Camp Williams, with dormitories and fields of green grass. It was a great place to hold encampment, with many unique activities, but it was never a place that was just ours, without the distraction of other groups, rules, and facilities with limited use. No early morning wakeups, jodies, or living with just your flight. Increased competition for time at Camp Williams has meant not being able to schedule dates until as late as March, and then sometimes having Encampment dates canceled just weeks prior to the activity. This does not work well with an activity that takes almost a year of planning in advance.
Utah Wing began holding Encampments in Wendover, which at first glance gives pause. Yet it became the place that is most beloved by our Cadets. It is the place full of their best memories, and the most fun activities, and the place where they made the best friends. Canned activities were replaced by the best our imaginations could create. A repelling wall at Camp Williams was replaced by the National Guard Climbing Wall. Quiet wake ups at Camp Williams were replaced by the raucous calls of Command Chief and his bevy of Sergeants. The little dining hut at Camp Williams was replaced by the Large DFAC at Wendover, sporting the painted patches of CAP Squadrons and the rousing chorus of the Air Force Song and “Thank You” pushups. The change of place, was a change of soul for our Encampment, making it our very own Utah Wing Tradition.
As the years have passed, the old Wendover Historic Air Base has aged, and repair needs have mounted. Little known, and rarely used by the military, the site had languished at the end of priorities for repairs. The demolition of housing on Hill Air Force Base, the increasing number of civilian and military groups requesting time at Camp Williams, and the high cost of college dorm style encampments has created a question of where Desert Hawk goes from here.
Facing hard choices about whether Utah Wing could continue to host an annual summer encampment, a Restoration Committee was created to explore the potential for rehabilitating the Wendover Compound. Months of hard work have been put into the project from establishing an agreement with the USAF for long term use, to fundraising, to actual boots on the ground hard work. The USAF has come to inspect the site, and evaluate its needs, and they have repaired water, electricity, hauled away trash, and even put in stadium lighting on the parade field. What a difference that made!
The repairs will be done in stages, starting with the most urgent needs, such as roof repairs, and will progress to things like painting, repairs to the kitchen, and one day possibly even a Leadership Reaction Course. Businesses have begun to donate to the cause, and we are finding support in unexpected places. We hope to now really begin to build the excitement of our members and ask them to give to the cause. Squadrons that donate $1000 as a unit will be able to name one of the Sea Huts, as approved by the USAF. Blackhawk Squadron wants to name their hut for MSGT Bob Ross, famous painter, and once a dedicated member of the USAF. What distinguished Air Force member would your squadron name a Sea Hut after? I challenge your squadron to raise $1000, through your individual donations, or through fundraising, by March 1st, 2019. If every cadet squadron did this more than half of the huts could be restored.
Wendover has been the site of MANY activities. We have held several rocketry events, leadership trainings, Air Shows, Color Guard training, ES training, winter FTX’s, in addition to Desert Hawk Encampment. The potential for the use of the Wendover Compound is much greater than just one annual activity. Our terrific ES team has been working toward making Desert Scorpion a National Special Cadet Activity.
What we can do is only limited to our imaginations. Thank you for giving to this campaign, for volunteering in Cadet Programs, and for your time working on the Wendover facility.