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Sky-high cadets take memorable trip

Cadets in the Air Force Junior ROTC program at Park High School flew to Duluth and back on a military transport aircraft.

Some had never been on an airplane before, much less a C-130 flown by the Minnesota Air National Guard's 133rd Airlift Wing.

The familiarization flight is one of several offered to high school cadets by the 133rd Airlift Wing from year to year.

This flight, which took place in late October, was special, however. Cadets observed a training exercise for the 109th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron - a team of two nurses and three emergency medical technicians that keeps wounded soldiers alive and comfortable as they are transported from war zones to hospitals.

It was the second C-130 flight for Cadet First Lt. Rebekkah Lennartson, a junior at Park who has been in the JROTC program for three years.

"Actually seeing how the air evac team and the flight crew work was better than reading about it," Lennartson said. "I'm amazed at how much is involved."

Lennartson plans to join the Air Force ROTC program at college where she will major in physics or airport management and eventually join the U.S. Air Force.

A ninth-grader in his first year of JROTC, Cadet Austin Finch plans to continue in the program for the next three years. "It's one of the best classes I have," Finch said. "The teachers are good and I enjoy it." Finch said he may join the Air Force but is "pushing more for the Marines."

Cadet Tyler Cheslog said he will follow in his father's footsteps and join the Air Force. He plans to be a radio operator.

A fourth cadet, Ryan Demars, is more interested in becoming a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. He was amazed that the "Guard was doing this for us."

According to Chief Master Sgt. Steve Campos of Cottage Grove and a 35-year veteran of the Air National Guard, the goal of the JROTC program is not so much to encourage students to join the Air Force, but to train them to become better citizens and get involved in community service. Campos flew along with cadets to explain the various jobs of the aircrew during the training exercise.

"I think they saw that the teams work together almost like family," Campos said later. "Being part of something bigger, doing something important in the world--I try to instill that feeling in the cadets.

"What the cadets saw was what the air evac teams and flight crews do many, many times. They saw the training that allows us to be one of the best in the business when it comes to air evac and C-130 flying in real world scenarios.

"I hope the crew and I were able to inspire and teach the cadets something that night about teamwork and to show that hard work is involved if they want to be something," Campos said.

Before the flight, cadets were given a safety briefing and a pair of earplugs, which they wore throughout the trip. Once on board, they were seated and watched as the air evac team re-organized the interior of the aircraft to hold patients and medical equipment. Stanchions, or upright bars equipped with hooks to hold patient litters, were installed and all the medical equipment of an emergency-style clinic strapped in place. A litter is a medical stretcher.

During the training exercise, the air evac team was faced with a variety of emergency scenarios such as an obstructed airway in one patient, an out-of- control crew member, an on-board fire, an emergency landing over water and one over land. "In the case of each emergency, the team must deal with the immediate danger and continue to care for all the patients," Campos said.

Once training was completed, Park cadets were invited to relax on the litters, which are stacked five deep with about 18 inches of space between each.

"They were so comfortable I almost fell asleep," Lennartson said.

Was the flight worth it? "Yes, if I hadn't been in JROTC, I wouldn't have done so much," she said.