By Alexis Faire
When Lt. Col. James Weiland was in high school, he belonged to the amateur radio club. A fellow member who was also a member of Civil Air Patrol suggested he join. Soon after, in April 1956, Weiland attended his first encampment.
And he’s been going ever since.
“It teaches teamwork,” said Weiland, who’s attending the Illinois Wing Summer Encampment — his 70th CAP encampment — this week at the Marseilles Training Center in LaSalle County.
“You’re getting the basics of leadership (at encampment), because you can’t lead until you can follow,” he said. “You get the opportunity to work with other cadets that are not in your local unit. That proves very helpful when you get into a working situation after you graduate from college or high school where you do need to work with other people.”
Wing encampments are the most heavily attended cadet activity in CAP. Participation correlates with cadet retention — those who go to encampment are more likely to renew than those who don’t.
The Illinois Wing hosts encampments during both the spring and summer, but Weiland has mainly attended the summer versions, during which he focuses on technology and finance for the program. He not only participates in encampment but also serves as the licensing officer for the wing’s net control station.
Some changes have occurred in summer encampment since Weiland first started attending more than 60 years ago. Eighty hours of class time have been halved to 40. Over the span of a week, cadets receive lessons in leadership, aerospace, fitness and character.
Weiland’s participation in encampment hasn’t been limited to Illinois. He has also traveled to Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Volk Field in Wisconsin; and Phelps-Collins Air National Guard Base in Michigan.
The specifics vary to some extent in each of CAP’s 52 wings, but basically an encampment resembles basic training for cadets ages 12-20, teaching them core values along the way.
“They learn how to march, they learn how to make beds,” Weiland said. “They learn how to work as a team, how to clean the barracks. A lot of squadrons are just way too small to have a marching unit, and in encampment you learn how to march in a unit, which is bigger.”
Lt. Col. Robert Becker serves as the Illinois Wing’s director of communications and is Weiland’s direct report supervisor. He said Weiland was honored as Illinois Wing Communicator of the Year on two separate occasions and has received numerous other awards.
“In addition to Jim’s involvement in encampment, he is also an incredibly dedicated communicator,” Becker said. “Jim was an electrical engineer for Zenith in the old days and brings an incredible wealth of technical experience to the communications program in the wing and shares it willingly with anyone who is interested.
“That old expression, ‘he’s forgotten stuff I’ll never know,’ describes him perfectly,” Becker said.
Lt. Col. Paul Hertel is a former summer encampment commander for the Illinois Wing and has worked with Weiland for about 20 years. He said he met Weiland at a communications conference and admired his leadership.
“Throughout my time in the Air Force and throughout my time in Civil Air Patrol, I’ve run into leaders that will sometimes give you a command policy or a command philosophy,” Hertel said. “Other times, they’ll just demonstrate it. In his demonstrating of it, he has always been kind to others.”
Weiland’s dedication to CAP and the Illinois Wing has not gone unnoticed.
“It’s pretty phenomenal; we’re really excited that he’s done this,” said 2nd Lt. Dawn Iselin, Illinois Wing director of public affairs.
Although Weiland has now achieved a record of 70 encampments, he said he knows others might have attended many more. The lessons and experiences he’s gained from participating are what makes him want to continue, he said.
“It’s something that gets into your bloodstream, and you keep coming back for it,” he said.