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High-Flying Holiday Break Cap Cadets Spend Their Vacation Enduring The Rigors Of Boot Camp

This is Christmas vacation for 14-year-old Rick Tomich:

The day starts at 5:45 a.m. as Rocky the flying squirrel announces, “Now, for something I think you’ll really like,” over a stereo system cranked to full volume.

Vaulting from his bed, the Coeur d’Alene teen falls into formation with 30 other members of the Civil Air Patrol, a high-school version of ROTC.

Downstairs, other boys are stumbling into identical lines, as are girls in another barracks. The cadets - 90 of them from throughout the Northwest - arrived Tuesday at Fairchild Air Force Base and will stay at “winter encampment” until Monday.

They’re learning about G-forces and wilderness survival. They’re riding in planes and helicopters. They’re getting a taste of boot camp.

Still in their briefs and long johns, cadets slump against the wall as a 17-year-old lieutenant screams, “MOVE IT, MOVE IT, MOVE IT. You guys look like slugs this morning.”

One boy who looks ready to collapse is excused to go back to bed.

“Yesterday, a friend of mine passed out. He locked his knees,” Tomich says later. “I puked today.”

The cadets have three minutes to dress in camouflage and lace their boots. Then, they give their beds hospital corners and measure the 24 inches of sheet that must show at the head.

If the beds aren’t right, officers will rip them apart and order them remade.

“I don’t make my bed at home,” says Kristin Jone, 14, of Adna. “I fold my clothes, when I get around to it.”

At encampment, cadets iron their underwear.

The pre-dawn air fills with the fog of 180 lungs as the cadets do calisthenics. It is 23 degrees and the power lines are coated with frost.

They pile into blue Air Force buses for the shuttle to mess hall. En route, they shout chants to affirm their loyalty to the military training program:

“Heeeyy, Boy Scout,

“Bed-wettin’ Boy Scout,

“Grab your sheets and follow me,

“Come and join the C-A-P.

“Heeeyy, Girl Scout,

“Cookie-sellin’ Girl Scout,

“Grab your cookies and follow me,

“Come and join the C-A-P.”

Eventually, the chant takes on the Army, Navy and “dumb, dumb Marine Corps,” of which Jeremy Barker, 17, soon will be a member. Next week, he’ll leave his home in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., for Marine boot camp.

“It’s going to be real hard,” Barker says. “Six months ago, I would have thought it was impossible. But I think I can do it after doing this.”

Other cadets join the Civil Air Patrol to earn their pilot’s licenses or to face the challenge of search-and-rescue missions. The CAP sent searchers to Mount Spokane two weeks ago to help find a crashed airplane.

“I wanted something to give me a challenge, something to give me discipline, something I could give my all,” says Eden Robles, 16, whose father is a master sergeant at Fairchild.

Like many other cadets, Robles plans a military career. Civil Air Patrol gives them a head start in ROTC or officer school.

Every cadet at encampment knows that Capt. Scott O’Grady - a local boy who became a national hero by surviving behind enemy lines in Bosnia - started his military training in the patrol.

Afternoons are calm compared with the jolt of morning. Some days, the cadets tour base museums or learn what happens to an airman’s body when a plane flies at high altitude or faster than the speed of sound.

They fly flight simulators and ride in helicopters and KC-135s, the jets that form the backbone of Fairchild’s fleet.

Colin Pavlak, 13, spent eight hours in a KC-135 on Wednesday, flying a mission that took him to Nevada and back. Thursday morning, he pokes at his dry Fruit Loops and nods sullenly when a friend asks if he’s feeling OK.

“I think I just got a little airsick yesterday,” he says.

The cadets pay $75 apiece to attend encampment. There are plenty of other expenses, too, from buying uniforms to arranging their own transportation to Spokane.

Are their friends having more fun, sleeping in late, cruising the malls and watching Robin Williams in “Jumanji”?

“No,” says Robles. “We’re having a little more stress but a lot more fun.”

“No,” says Chris Marquiss, 13, of Olympia. “It’s never boring here, at least.”

“No,” says Pavlak. “Well, my cousin might be. He got a Play-Station (video game system) for Christmas.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photo