Kendall Barrows, a rising junior, has achieved the rank of second lieutenant in two years.
Olympia High School is the only school in Central Florida to offer Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary cadet program of the U.S. Air Force. Nearly all other high schools offer a U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
This program is unique, too, because many of the squadrons are based in the community; Olympia offers it as an after-school club, and any student in the community — whether in public or private school or homeschooled — can participate.
One Olympia student has been consistent in her rise through the ranks. Kendall Barrows, 16, was recently promoted to second lieutenant just weeks before completing her sophomore year.
This is a feat accomplished only with determination and drive.
Furthermore, she has earned the Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell Award, which puts her in the top 15% of all cadets nationwide. The award is named for William Lendrum Mitchell, a U.S. Army general who is regarded as the father of the U.S. Air Force.
Eligibility requirements are strict for this promotion. Mitchell Award recipients are eligible to attend Cadet Officer School and the Civic Leadership Academy and, if they choose to enlist in the Air Force, they may enter at the grade of E-3.
Barrows’ promotion was made official at a ceremony at the school Monday, May 21. Her parents, Greg and Jennifer Barrows, and her grandparents, Dave and Mary Barrows, were in attendance, and she asked her grandparents to participate in the ceremony.
“I wanted my grandparents to pin (the epaulets) on because my family believed in me before I believed in myself,” Kendall Barrows said.
“Having my parents and grandparents there to put on my officer bars meant everything to me but, most importantly, everything to them,” she said. “Dave Barrows, my grandpa, is a military veteran, and ever since I joined CAP he has been so proud to watch me advance.”
She joined for the challenge and the opportunity to grow and advance.
“Going into the military has been a consideration for my future, and I thought CAP could help me decide,” Barrows said.
Capt. Brian A. Collins, squadron commander for Olympia Cadet Squadron FL-465, also was present for the promotion ceremony at Olympia, in which several other students advanced.
Collins initially joined CAP as a sponsor member when his oldest son was one of Olympia’s first members; he became a senior member when his second son joined. He got more involved in the program, earning his aircrew wings as a mission scanner and aerial photographer. By this time, a third sibling joined the squadron.
“All three kids have held leadership positions, and it's been amazing to see how CAP helped build their confidence and leadership skills over the years,” Collins said.
In March, he assumed command of the squadron.
The Civil Air Patrol, led by advisors from the school and the community, teaches discipline, leadership and aviation. Participants are given opportunities to fly an aircraft alongside an instructor, see the latest in military simulation and perform Color Guard duties at school and community events.
“Civil Air Patrol has given me the best leadership training a teenager could get,” Barrows said. “Starting as a basic airman, I learned drill and the core values; then (I) was placed into leadership roles, (such as) flight sergeant and first sergeant. This allowed me to gain confidence in my abilities.
“Now as the 2018-19 cadet commander I will bring what I have learned to help my squadron grow,” she said. “Because of Civil Air Patrol, I will use the leadership skills at school and other activities.”
Barrows has flown a small airplane with a pilot’s guidance. In 2017, she attended the weeklong Encampment at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, where she participated in obstacle courses, aerospace classes, daily physical fitness tests and challenging leadership courses.
“Grit and perseverance helped me get through the week,” she said.
She is still deciding between the United States Air Force Academy or a Florida university after she graduates from Olympia in 2020. She wants to travel the world and make it a better place, she said.
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,’” Barrows said. “It reminds me to be better than I was the day before and to constantly do things that may seem intimidating.”