Skip to main content
Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters
Main Content

Cadet Merit List

Posted on August 31, 2022 at 9:42 AM by Joanna Lee

Modeled upon USAF Academy program, proposed award would honor academic & fitness excellence

Leadership and aerospace are arguably the two thematic areas of cadet life that receive the greatest attention. How might we motivate cadets to excel in the other two areas, fitness and character? At the Air Force Academy, an award program called the Cadet Merit List recognizes high-achievers in academics and fitness. We’re proposing a Cadet Merit List for CAP that would encompass two awards, the Cadet Academic Award and the Cadet Physical Fitness Award. Every cadet would be eligible, and competition should cause the higher Merit List standards to become the new de facto standard — nobody wants to be left behind.

Academic Excellence

A person of character practices the discipline of prioritizing higher obligations. For cadets, academic excellence at school is one such high obligation.

We envision a voluntary program where cadets who desire the Cadet Academic Award would need to show a school report card with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 (4.0 scale). This criteria mirrors National Honor Society standards.

The award would expire after 6 months. To continue with the award, the cadet would need to sustain that cumulative 3.0 GPA.

The idea here is for the award to provide cadets yet another reason to excel at school.

Physical Fitness Excellence

To encourage excellence in physical fitness, we envision recognizing cadets who attain the Healthy Fitness Zone standard that’s set for one year above their age (e.g., cadets aged 13 would aim for age 14 standards) in all 5 CPFT events, unless medically restricted, in which case that event would be waived.

As with academics, the Cadet Fitness Award would expire after 6 months. Thereafter, cadets would need to re-earn the award or remove it from their uniform.

Applying for encampment cadre? Going for a scholarship? You’ll want to be on the Cadet Merit List to be competitive.Possible Merit List Modular Shoulder Cord Example

Easy Administration

We know that this program needs to be easy for squadrons to administer. We envision using eServices to record the Merit List honorees, with cadet personnel records showing all the instances where the cadet achieved the academic and fitness standards as well as the date that the next 6-month cycle ends.

The award takes the form of a shoulder cord, which is easily modular, allowing the cadet to add or subtract honor designations, depending on their performance on the Merit List. Cadets included on the current Merit List would earn the basic braided cord. If they earn the academic honor, they qualify for the aiguilette with silver tip. If they earn the fitness honor, they qualify for the single rope without tip. Cadets who earn both awards wear both additions to the basic cord. Cadets who do not qualify for the Merit List earn nothing, not even the basic cord.


The National Cadet Team welcomes feedback on the larger concept of the merit list, as well as the proposed finer details such as the form of the award, cord vs. badge, and the specific levels and time periods for earning these recognitions.  

Categories: New Ideas

I have always believed that CAP should invest more in the cadets doing well in school or in their homeschool. This is especially important for those wanting to continue into a military academy. We have lots of cadets who do well in school but aren't quite as articulate or successful in other venues of CAP. I know that cadets seek the shoulder cords, and love wearing them. I would suggest a combination of the ribbon and Shoulder cord. The shoulder cord for the 6 month period, like cadets can wear when they are active CAC members, and the ribbon that stays with them even into senior membership. Most systems have a translation to a "B" standard which could be uploaded into eservices similar to some other ribbon or award platforms. The fitness already has an area to do that, and the only application would need to have the system do the calculations of age vs fitness standard. My concern here would be how to address cadets who are under a waiver, especially if it is permanent. Do we allow these cadets the fitness ribbon and cord for the time they are waivered? I guess that would also include cadets who are not going to college after graduation. Another question is how far back will this be retroactive (for the ribbons). I know it is another program to monitor, but I think it would definitely encourage many cadets, many of whom are far ahead of their normal grade level in doing their school work. I have a 17 year old C/Capt who graduated early and is heading to Naval Nuclear School before he turns 18. He finished early, is smart as a whip. This program draws these cadets, a little extra motivation won't hurt.
Kayla Powers | 10/1/23 at 2:26 PM
I think this is an excellent idea. I am an Instructor at a military school and our promotions are tied in with Cadet’s grades. CAP already believes good grades are important; CAPR 35-3 states that a Cadet membership could be terminated due to “Failure to maintain satisfactory academic school record.” So as an educator and retired Marine, I believe that Academic Excellence and Physical Fitness Excellence is the direction that we should guide our Cadets. This is a much better “carrot” then the “stick” of terminating membership. I, like several other commenters, believe that we should not issue a cord but ribbons. The Cadets already have numerous cords through both National, Regional and Wing. Yes, they also have a stack of ribbons but as Napoleon Bonaparte said, “A solider will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Most of the Cadets ribbons are for getting promoted, so any ribbon that distinguishes them from the rest of the Cadets is going to be sought after. For Academic Excellence award there should be three different ribbons: middle school (6-9) ribbon, a high school ribbon (9-12 grades), and College/University ribbon. For each ribbon, the Cadet will add a star for each addition award. I am kind of thinking of it in the same manner as the Marine Corps Good Conduct medal. Once you earn it, it not is taken away if your conduct is not so good and you can continue to earn stars (theoretically) even after a period of not so good conduct. So a Cadet could earn the ribbon as a 9th grade student, not do so well in 10th grade but earn their 1st star in 11th grade. Then go on to college and earn an additional ribbon. If for some reason, ribbons is a no go; then I would chose a badge. Something similar to the Marine Corps Expert Marksmanship Badges, in that it has addition awards represented by a bar that hangs below that denote 2nd award or higher. If they do not qualify for that year, they no longer wear the badge until they qualify again. Cost wise ribbons and stars are the cheaper route. The criteria for earning the award should be clearly outlined and whether it is based on a GPA or having only “A”s and “B”s or no “F”s and “D”s it does not matter because the certifying official is going to be whoever is in charge of the Cadets education. So if it is a homeschool Cadet, his parents/guardian will certify that the Cadet has met the criteria. Any other school official can look over the criteria and determine if the Cadet has met the criteria; regardless of the schools grading system. It would be done in the same manner that we certify Community Service hours. Create an example letter and criteria examples and have the Cadet get the letter from whoever is in charge of their education. Part of the letter will include the certifying official’s point of contact information. Then the CAP senior Member can contact the certifying official to confirm all information is correct: if they so desire. This will also give the CAP squadron a point of contact at their Cadet’s school and your squadron can then develop ties with their educators. That could lead to additional recruiting opportunities through Red Ribbon Leadership Academy, Color Guards or ACE Adopt a Classroom. Additionally, some schools and homeschool programs do not have an Honors Society, consequently when these Cadets fill out college applications and such they can’t put anything down. If we have an Academic Excellence program, they would be able to reference that. For the Physical Fitness Excellence Ribbon the qualification should be the same as for the HFZ Fitness Standards: either a one mile run or pacer, then Pushups, Curl-ups, and Sit and Reach for the next age level. That way there is no issue of weather, or lack of facilities. Physical Fitness Excellence Award should be similar to the Academic Excellence Award in that it is a ribbon and it is given on an annual basis; two successful C/PFT with 180 days between them, at a higher age level equals a Physical Fitness Excellence Ribbon, successive ones equal silver stars and then gold stars represents five awards. Neither of these programs would cause any significant burden on squadron staff as long as they are implemented by adding a module under Cadet Program’s in eservices for Academic Excellence and include an option to verify under the HFZ module Physical Fitness Excellence. Please do not make it an additional item that requires a CAPF 2a. Speaking of CAPF 2a, this should be a simple module under Cadet Programs in eservices so that Senior Members can electronically submit Cadets for Cadet Community Service Ribbon, Cadet Recruiter Ribbon, Rocketry Badges, STEM Badges, Marksmanship Badges, Cyber Badges etc. Then it gets approved at the appropriate level.
Charles Davis | 5/25/23 at 3:44 PM
I personally don't believe this is a good idea. I don't like the idea of 1000s of cadets going around with shoulder cords. It's something that should be earned. Whilst this is earned, it's not really a challenge...
Zackery Leath | 2/1/23 at 1:17 PM
When I read this proposal, it sparked a bunch of ideas and reactions in my head. This is a really tough project, dealing with grades especially. If it were my vote to go forward with this project, I would vote no. The reasoning behind this has to do with the example that was used in the justification, the USAF Academy. The academy is a very controlled and consistent program. Their merit program is build to work inside the rules and grading scale that the academy uses in a closed system. However, if you look at school programs across the country, there are a many different grading systems, scales, grading period lengths, full and part year academic years, etc. How are you going to make a merit system that takes into account all of them and provides a fair and equal reward system? Also, what about Cadets who have to leave school to support their family during high school, or those who don’t choose to do to college? I just see this as a huge difficulty. Why not encourage good grades through our texts and material more, and give further examples of how challenging yourself in better grades will reward you in life? With this being said, I also thought of many solutions to bring to the table, if this program was approved and moved forward. The overhead manpower cost to administer this program could be managed by an e-services module at little time cost to the Senior Member administer. Cadets could input their grades into a system like ops quals, where supporting documentation has to be uploaded. That way if the Cadet wants to be on the merit list, they have to “fill out the paperwork” virtually on their time to be considered. The senior would only have to take the time to approve and validate that the grades meet the criteria set forth (again to my above point this may get complex) in the program. Cadet PT scores are also low time cost to seniors, as a correctly designed e-services module could pull the Cadet PT scores that are already being entered into the promotions module. So, as long as the back end IT work was done correctly in e-services, this project could be made with little time cost to senior member volunteers. But of course, this will be an additional task that must be done every cycle (6 months or what ever is decided), there is no getting around that. One option that may be a good alternative or build on to shoulder cords is having a Merit Ribbon. Those folks earning merit credit would earn a ribbon, and devices could be added to the ribbon to show repeated completion and or what criteria was earned (grades vs PT). Having a ribbon would allow people that earn the merit status to carry that accomplishment with them for the long term, even if they loose grade during one merit evaluation period, have to get a job, or don’t choose to be in school their entire Cadet career up to age 21. Additionally, the merit program that is being proposed could be integrated into the honor credit given for Leadership tests. During a promotion period, if you qualify for merit credit, you could receive a different color star. For example, bronze, silver, gold. One level for each of the honor and merit goals. This would remove the need for the 6 month merit evaluation cycle’s additional work load to seniors. All of the verification for these additional awards could be integrated into the promotions module, Cadets could upload supporting docs to be verified, and earning the star costs almost nothing to either the Cadet or the squadron (60 cents per star). Another unique thing about using devices on promotion ribbon or a merit ribbon is it allows the Cadet to be awarded for longevity of earning the status by having multiple devices and ribbons, rather than just the current status shoulder cord. Of course, with that being said, you could also choose to shoot for the moon and have the shoulder cord represent the current status, and ribbons and devices represent historical performance. Next, additional thought needs to be given if a shoulder cord is chosen to be the accoutrement to identify the merit status. Since we have other shoulder cords, there needs to be ability for CAC cords to have the two merit cord devices added. That way someone in CAC who is also qualifies for merit, can represent both programs. Color Guard and Honor Guard cords should specifically not have the merit program pieces added, since you are showing uniformity and respect to the flag when performing those duties. Lastly, Cadets that are medically restricted when there don’t have to do any tests for promotion should have to do something in their capability to earn the PT merit credit. Rather than that person being waived through, there needs to be some effort or equivalency task done to earn this merit credit.
Kale LeBlanc | 11/6/22 at 10:37 AM
This sounds like a great idea on the surface, but after further consideration several questions arise. How would Homeschoolers qualify for the academic cord? Because we don’t have GPA’s. Would someone who graduated Highschool but didn’t go to college be able to keep their cord based on their final GPA? How much would these cords cost?
C/SMSgt Cassada | 9/28/22 at 5:49 PM
First glance, I think it is a great idea. I don't think it would difficult to administer, that info is on their school records. Then my mind went to another problem. Homseschool. In the past, one of my own kids were home schooled. Tested great when he was ready for 10th grade public. But, we did not have much of a grading system. In our squadron, we have many homeschoolers and public, even some mix. I don't know how you can level the playing field. But I do like the concept.
2nd Lt Mol | 9/19/22 at 12:18 PM
I think the idea is amazing! It seems any way that we can boost self esteem and confidence by giving them things to accomplish is a great idea! I do agree that the costs would be a big burden, especially for smaller squadrons like ours. s
Stacy Condie | 9/13/22 at 9:44 AM
This is not a great idea as is. I echo other comments that this is an incredible administrative burden for volunteers. This is not a full-time job and NHQ continues to grow in this direction. Wanting to recognize academic and fitness achievement is laudable, but this is not the way to do it. Scrap this proposal and start over.
Mary Albright | 9/11/22 at 8:07 AM
I think this is an outstanding idea, and should promote a friendly competition among the cadets to earn the awards.
Kelly Howard | 9/9/22 at 12:56 PM
Not only is this an administrative burden, but also comes at great cost to either the cadet or unit. Typical cords cost $22-30 from Vanguard. Is NHQ going to provide the cords?
Sara D | 9/8/22 at 1:28 PM
Add Comment

* Indicates a required field

© 2024 Civil Air Patrol. All rights reserved.