Cadet Haley Tharp

BLUEFIELD — A local cadet who is preparing to head for college and a possible career in aeronautical engineering recently received one of the Civil Air Patrol’s highest awards.

Cadet Haley Tharp of the Mercer County Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol, has met all the qualifications and passed the examination for the General Ira C. Eaker Award.

Tharp, who was born in Bluefield, lives in Richlands, Va. now 18, received her award during the Mercer County Composite Squadron’s weekly meeting on Aug. 17 at the Mercer County Airport. Staff from the Mercer County Composite Squadron, the West Virginia Wing and the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Civil Air Patrol attended.

Tharp was preparing to leave for Emory Riddle Aeronautical University in Dayton, Fla.

“I’m trying to become an aeronautical engineer, and hopefully work for either NASA or Space-X,” she said before the ceremony.

The curriculum would include computer work and software design for rockets and related systems.

“I’m quite excited about it,” Tharp said.

Earning the Eaker Award requires meeting a variety of criteria.

“Well, this rank is the second to the highest we have in the Civil Air Patrol, and I’ve been in the program for three years now,” she said.

Tharp said that she originally joined the Civil Air Patrol because she “was looking for something for college.”

“I came to a meeting and I fell in love with the program,” she recalled. “I don’t know. It’s something about the atmosphere. It’s such a family environment. I felt right at home, and we are definitely a tight knit family unit here.”

Including senior members and cadets, the squadron has about 30 members, Tharp stated.

Tharp urged other young people to join the Civil Air Patrol.

“Oh, definitely,” she said. “Our age requirement is to be at least 12 years old for cadets, and 12 to 18 can come in at any time. This is a wonderful program. It’s a volunteer organization, so we’re constantly out in the community helping and training for emergency services and stuff like that.”

The squadron trains to help search for missing people.

“Unfortunately – and fortunately – we’ve never been called out for a mission,” Tharp said. “It’s good to have training, but we don’t want to have to use it. But in training we are able to be with our squadrons and that really brings us together. The West Virginia Wing is one of the smaller wings in the Civil Air Patrol, so the whole West Virginia Wing is a pretty big family unit.”

The General Ira C. Eaker Award, named for General Ira C. Eaker, is achieved when a cadet completes the fourth and final phase of their training in the Civil Air Patrol. Cadets earning this award are promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Only 3,864 Eaker Awards have been presented to cadets across the country since its inception in 1998.

Eaker was one of the forefathers of an independent Air Force. In 1929, Eaker and General (then Major) Carl Spaatz, remained aloft aboard "The Question Mark," a modified Atlantic-Fokker C-2A airplane, for almost a week to demonstrate a newfound capability for aerial refueling. During World War II, Eaker rose to the rank of lieutenant general and commanded the Eighth Air Force, “The Mighty Force,” of strategic bombers. Even as a general, Eaker preferred to lead from the front, personally flying B-17 precision bombing missions over occupied France and Germany.

The Civil Air Patrol is the longtime auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and as such is a valued member of its Total Force. In its auxiliary role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 single-engine aircraft and more than 2,000 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). It performs about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 82 lives annually, CAP officials said.

CAP’s 54,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. Operating as a nonprofit organization, CAP also plays a leading role in STEM/aerospace education, and its members serve as mentors to more than 20,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.

— Contact Greg Jordan at

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