HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa., February 2, 2016 —
Michael Leone, the Aerospace Education Officer for Civil Air Patrol Squadron 801 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said he held back tears while writing an email to thank Air Force Tech. Sgt. Danielle Heidrick.
"I am absolutely speechless," Leone wrote in the email. "I don't even have the words to express my appreciation."
On Jan. 9, Leone and a handful of cadet CAP honor guard members visited 111th Attack Wing Honor Guard here to practice and talk to the Guardsmen. It was during this innocuous event that Leone mentioned troubling news to Heidrick, one of the wing's honor guard members.
"Mr. Leone told us that their unit was being moved to another location, and that location wouldn't be ready for at least six months or more," said Heidrick, who's primary duty is noncommissioned officer in charge of the 111th Force Support Squadron’s fitness assessment cell. "In the meantime, the unit would have to disband and find new ones to train with or not train at all. And I felt that was such a shame for a group of kids who were so passionate about what they do."
Leone expressed similar sentiments about disassembling his honor guard.
"This is personal to me," said Leone, a Navy veteran. "Keeping these kids together is like keeping a family together. And the thought of sending them to separate units or not training at all is heartbreaking."
A Unit in Distress
The CAP Squadron 801 Honor Guard practiced on the second floor of the Liberty Bell Museum located in Zion's United Church of Christ in Allentown. They also utilized local parking lots and open spaces to accommodate larger scale drill maneuvers.
Recently, Leone said, they learned their usual space was no longer available. When they identified an alternate place to practice, he said they were soon informed that it wouldn't be guaranteed for at least six to eight months.
"A few months is a long time for an honor guard to not practice," Leone said. "And that amount of time apart affects morale [and] esprit de corps. These kids worked too hard for us to stand by and let their honor guard be taken away from them."
"These cadets are the future of our military and I don't want us to fail them," he said. "So, I've been desperate to find someone to help us."
Answering the Call
While revealing the plight of his flight to Heidrick, Leone didn't realize that he was speaking to someone who would step up and answer his plea for help.
"My first thought while Mr. Leone was talking was that we have buildings on this base that are not being actively used," Heidrick said. "And we're here -- we're here for drill. So, why not open up a building to them and have them be in this environment with us."
Heidrick explaining that hosting the CAP cadets’ honor guard would not only give them the space they needed to perform their maneuvers, but also lend itself to interaction between Air National Guardsmen and the cadets. She stated that one available building has a classroom attached to provide the setting for the formal education CAP cadets also receive as part of the program.
According to Air Force Instruction 10-2701, Organization and Function of the Civil Air Patrol, the cadet program with the CAP is aimed at supporting the Air Force -- it states that Air Force installations and units are authorized to provide support for aerospace education of cadet members. The instruction also mentions supporting the CAP by introducing American youth to opportunities and careers in the Air Force.
Backed by the AFI, Heidrick said she also feels that she has a personal responsibility to assist the cadets.
"It became very apparent to me early on in my [military] career that what I'm supposed to do here in the Air Force is take care of people in one way or another," said Heidrick, a mother of four. "And I've always done that."
In the Works
In the past, Horsham AGS has hosted CAP members, both cadets and senior leaders, for various training events. Support agreements have been generated to forge a bond between Air National Guardsmen and the volunteer auxiliary of the Air Force.
Currently, Heidrick is drafting up a proposal to allow the CAP Squadron 801 Honor Guard to use the installation during regularly scheduled drills and work alongside their military counterparts. A cursory query into this allocation of assets gained enough positive support from 111th ATKW senior leadership for Heidrick to start the administrative process to make it official.
Leone expressed elation upon receiving news that Heidrick was drafting the paperwork to get his cadets what they needed to continue their mission.
"You have made an old sailor quite happy," Leone said about Heidrick in an email.
And again his emotion was shared by Heidrick, but on happier terms this time.
Upon reading his response, Heidrick smiled and stated, "Doesn't that make [helping someone in need] all worthwhile?"