Lead on, lead on, Clear the path, So our bright future May come to pass.

— Tracy Chapman

More and more lately, I’ve heard the same lament: These young people today are a lost cause. The millennials, Generation Z and all those other designations they’re calling the younger generations these days will lead our country to ruin.

Of course, that’s the same thing people have been saying since, oh, forever. I think it’s somewhere in Deuteronomy where Eve complained to Adam about how the kids weren’t helping out around the garden. There are even ancient drawings showing young cave boys and girls hanging out around the forbidden tar pits, throwing rocks at the dodo birds.

If you’ve heard such anti-young people comments or had similar thoughts, I have three words for you.

Civil. Air. Patrol.

In fact, for all of you who are worrying about who’s going to take care of you and run things after you’ve been put out to pasture, I’ve a suggestion. Go to one of the Albany Civil Air Patrol squadron’s meetings. I guarantee you’ll come away feeling better about the future.

Monday’s meeting of the local CAP squadron, which, by the way, is the state’s oldest, was a historic one for the unit and a particularly special one for the Frich family of Lee County. Lillian Frich, 18, was promoted to the rank of 2nd lieutenant and completed requirements that made her a recipient of the prestigious Billy Mitchell Award, named for the man who is considered the father of the modern air force.

In earning the promotion and Mitchell Award, along with fellow 2nd Lt. Kyle Speigle, Lillian Frich became the first female in the Albany squadron’s history to claim the honor. MCing the awards ceremony Monday was squadron Commander Greg Frich, a retired Marine colonel and former Lee County commissioner. And joining state Sen. Greg Kirk in pinning on Lillian Frich’s new insignia was her sister, 16-year-old Emma, who is expected to become the second female to earn the honor before this year is out.

Also at Monday’s meeting, 2nd Lt.Kyle Speigle’s older brother, Caleb Speigle, was promoted to cadet captain level 2, and Cadet Jerry Martin was promoted to cadet airman first class.

Watching the ceremony, and having the opportunity to talk briefly with some of the young cadets, I couldn’t help but feel a vicarious swelling of pride in an organization that has obviously had a positive impact on the lives of many young people in this region.

Cadet Commander Caleb Broome, who has been a part of the local Civil Air Patrol squadron for the past seven years and is now a sophomore at Albany State University, is perhaps as perfect a representative of the program as organizers would ever hope to find.

“As I move into my adult life, I guess the main thing that I’ve taken from the Civil Air Patrol is its core values,” Broome, who plans to become an electrical engineer, said. “Integrity, voluntary service, excellence in all I do and respect are values that I now apply to my everyday life. And, Lord willing, I will continue to adhere to those values for the rest of my life.

“I think it’s important in every aspect of my life to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. That — integrity — is the main value of being a part of the Civil Air Patrol.”

So the next time you see some slacker kids engrossed in their cellphones or some dude walking around with his pants well below his butt and you start to swell up with righteous indignation, remember a couple of things. First of all, we’ve all been slackers of some level at some point in our lives. It’s what being young and bulletproof is all about.

Second, and most important, remember that there are young people in this community who are preparing for their futures as parts of organizations like the Civil Air Patrol. And if those kids are anything like the Frich, the Speigle, the Martin and the Broome kids, allow yourself to ease off on the concern. With young people like these coming along, the future of our community and our country are going to be just fine.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com. Follow him on Twitter @ABH_Fletcher.

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