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Great Start Basics

II. Great Start Basics

Great Start Vision

Transforming Youth into Cadet Airmen, providing a strong foundation in all aspects of cadet life, leading to a successful first year as a cadet.

Program Goal

Enable youth to succeed as CAP cadets by providing a comprehensive and fun introduction to all facets of cadet life 

Program Objectives

  1. Motivate prospective cadets to join CAP 

  2. Introduce cadets to all 4 elements of the Cadet Program 

  3. Develop positive attitudes and teamwork 

  4. Increase retention through structured activities 

  5. Increase training effectiveness through a detailed curriculum guide 

Program Format

This course is primarily designed for use at the squadron level, with most of the activities taking place during weekly squadron meetings over an eight-week period. The syllabus also calls for the unit to host a “Field Day” (e.g., on a Saturday), where cadets will complete a full day of intensive training.

Alternate schedules are available which may work for different units, depending on their needs.  The unit may omit the Saturday Field Day and complete the full course over an 10-week period or focus on only the core promotion objectives over 8 weeks.  Alternatively, the unit may choose to host the course over a weekend for an accelerated orientation.  Note that for this option, new cadets must complete their memberships before the training weekend.  

Curriculum Design

Methods of Instruction. To generate excitement among the prospective and new cadets, approximately 70% of the course uses hands-on learning such as team leadership problems, drill and ceremonies, STEM experiments, fitness activities, field exercises, and more, augmented by a minimal amount of informal lectures and classroom discussions.

Field Day.  Field Day serves three purposes. First, it shortens the course’s duration, enabling cadets to complete Achievement 1 quickly; cadets who succeed early on are more apt to remain active in CAP. If Great Start is conducted without Field Day, the course is 2 weeks longer. Second, Field Day is a motivator for new cadets. Working together for a full day builds team spirit and underscores the idea that the whole unit supports the new cadets. Plus, Field Day makes it possible for new cadets to participate in intensive hands-on activities such as a compass course and a fitness activity – events that would be impractical to do during a weekly squadron meeting.   Thirdly, it establishes the regular expectation that cadets will participate in about one “Saturday” activity each month, as described in the “Expectations for New Cadets” from CAPP 60-20, New Cadet Guide. Have cadets bring a bag lunch or order pizza and eat-in to save time on Field Day.

Personalizing Lesson Plans.  The course materials include detailed lesson plans to make it easy for squadrons to offer Great Start, and to enable sharp but inexperienced cadet NCOs and officers to succeed as instructors. The lesson plans are simply guides; instructors may personalize them by substituting different activities, or approaching the subject matter in a slightly different manner. What is most important is that the students fulfill the Great Start learning objectives.

Cadet Cadre

Cadet NCOs and officers are essential to the success of this course. Ranking cadets, working under senior member supervision, should execute a majority of the lessons and activities.  This allows the new cadets to learn from their peers and gives the cadre members a chance to practice and demonstrate their leadership skills.  Specific training on instructional techniques and mentoring is included for the cadre and should be offered to the cadre 2-4 weeks before the Great Start course begins.

Training Environment

Fun & Challenging. Great Start is meant to be fun, yet challenging. When working with prospective and new cadets who are not yet invested in CAP, it is crucial that their first experiences be positive. At the same time, cadets are attracted to the challenge represented by the uniform and the opportunity to develop self-discipline. Creating such a training environment requires maturity on the part of the cadet cadre, and the wisdom to understand how to challenge cadets in a positive way.

Inspire or Require?  Great Start leaders should INSPIRE cadets to live up to CAP standards in professionalism and bearing.  Webster explains that inspire means to “influence, move, and guide… to have an enlivening effect on someone.” By inspiring cadets, a leader lays a foundation for the cadets to become self-directed, an important step in their development as leaders.

On the other hand, suppose that italicized sentence was changed to read, “leaders should require cadets to live up to CAP standards.” Is there a difference? Webster explains that require means “to insist upon… to make a demand based on one’s authority.” Such a heavy-handed, authoritarian, “do this now because I said so” approach might succeed (albeit, not pleasantly) with students who are already self- motivated. But again, in working with prospective and new cadets, the leader’s job is to convince the young people that CAP matches their interests and that they should take advantage of CAP opportunities and live up to CAP standards.

In other words, new cadets need a leader who inspires more than they need a boss who requires.  (For a fuller perspective on these leadership principles, see the block of instruction on cadet cadre training.)

Membership. CAP is a great organization, but it is not for everyone. CAP recognizes this by requiring that all prospective cadets attend three meetings before they apply for membership. The Great Start schedule calls for prospective cadets to complete their online membership applications during weeks 3 or 4 so they’re in eServices and able to fully participate in the Field Day.

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