ALBANY — Lillian Frich made history at the Monday-night meeting of the Albany Civil Air Patrol squadron, receiving her cadet second lieutenant insignia and becoming the first female cadet in the unit to earn the national Billy Mitchell Award.
Named for the man credited as the father of the modern air force, the Mitchell Award comes with certain expectations, Albany squadron Commander Greg Frich, Lillian Frich’s father and a retired Marine Corps colonel, said.
“The rank of second lieutenant is where wisdom, experience and courage transition into officership,” Greg Frich said. “And the Mitchell Award signifies the top tier of leaders. With this award comes the responsibility of carrying the ethos (of leadership) to the next generation. With this award comes the moral duty to speak truth to power.”
Lillian Frich and fellow Cadet 2nd Lt. Kyle Speigle received the insignia of their new rank and certificates recognizing them as Mitchell Award winners during the the Civil Air Patrol squadron’s meeting at the Pecan Grove Industrial Park. The certificates and insignia were presented by state Sen. Greg Kirk.
“The (Mitchell Award) is something that will lift you up,” Kirk said. “The discipline that is required for this kind of honor is very important, it’s something that will apply throughout your lives.”
Jerry Smith and Tim McClelland of the local Marine Corps League presented League Certificates of Accomplishment to Lillian Frich and Speigle.
“To achieve this award and this rank, you have to have some Billy Mitchell in you,” Smith said.
The Albany CAP squadron, Greg Frich noted before Monday’s ceremony, is the state’s oldest, dating back to 1942.
“The Civil Air Patrol was actually involved in the air defense of the nation during its inception, and it’s evolved now to focus on search-and-rescue and community service missions,” the retired Marine said. “As a father, and as a squadron commander, I’m proud of Lillian. We have some more female cadets who are moving in that direction, including Lillian’s sister, Emma, who is a couple of months behind her (in completing award requirements).
“Accomplishments like this are the result of strong senior membership with this squadron.”
Also at Monday’s awards ceremony, Caleb Speigle — Kyle’s older brother — was promoted to Cadet Captain (level 2), and Jerry Martin was promoted to Cadet Airman First Class.
Cadet Commander Caleb Broome, an Albany State University sophomore who has been a part of the Albany CAP program for seven years, said the lessons of the program have followed him into adulthood.
“I’ve taken the core values — integrity, voluntary service to the community, excellence in all we do, and respect — of the Civil Air Patrol with me as I’ve transitioned into this part of my life,” Broome said. “Lord willing, I’ll carry them with me the rest of my life. I think it’s vital to do the right thing in life, even when no one’s looking.”
In addition to Kirk, McClelland and Smith, other special guests at Monday’s meeting were members of the Valdosta component of the local squadron. U.S. Air Force Sgt. Jon Wirkkala, who is active-duty at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta and commander of the Valdosta unit, said he’s proud to be connected to the Albany squadron. He hosted several members of the Albany squadron at Moody recently.
“We’ve had a recent influx of about 20 cadets,” Wirkkala said. “I know from experience that the values of the Civil Air Patrol carry over into these young people’s adult lives. It has a positive impact on them individually and on their communities.”
Former Albany squadron commander Fred Broome, who still works with the local CAP program, told Lillian Frich and Kyle Speigle the Mitchell Award puts them among the top 10 percent of cadets in the nation.