Heather Tritchka and Civil Air Patrol cadets lay wreaths at Fort Custer National Cemetery. Courtesy | Vic­toria Schmidt

Vic­toria Schmidt knows how much it means to a child when an older kid takes an interest in them. As a young cadet in her local Civil Air Patrol, CAP, squadron, she received men­torship from the older members in her program that made a lasting impact on her life. Now, as the founder of the Mil­itary Men­torship GOAL Program, Schmidt hopes to pay it forward to a new gen­er­ation of cadets.

Schmidt grew up watching her older brother go through CAP, the youth aux­iliary of the United States Air Force. Schmidt joined at age 12, which was the soonest she could. As a senior at Hillsdale College, she’s now majoring in biology and plans to pursue mil­itary med­icine after grad­u­ation, with the hope of becoming an Air Force doctor.  

“CAP is what made me who I am,” Schmidt said. “That’s what I spent most of my time in middle school and high school doing. It gave me a chance to develop my lead­ership skills. I met a lot of great people; I made some of my best friends through the program. I was kind of sad when I came to Hillsdale because I was like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s the end of Civil Air Patrol.’”

Or so she thought.

It was during her sophomore year that Jeffery “Chief” Rogers, Hillsdale College’s Assistant Dean of Men, told her about the local CAP squadron meeting at the Hillsdale County Airport. Schmidt decided to drop by and before she knew it, she was vol­un­teering with the group, pro­viding help with drills and uni­forms.

“Then one day, Chief yelled at me from across the dining hall and was like, ‘Hey, you need to set up a meeting with me,’” Schmidt said. “And I was like, ‘Um, ok.’”

From that meeting, the idea of the Mil­itary Men­torship Program was born. 

“I met with him and he says, ‘So I have this idea,’” she recalled. “‘We have a lot of kids in the com­munity who need strong mentors in their life. Can we do some­thing to partner between Hillsdale College and the CAP program so Hillsdale stu­dents can work with these cadets?’” 

Schmidt said it took her about a month to work out logistics and draw up a game plan before she finally sent a program pro­posal to Chief. By the end of April of this year, the program had been offi­cially approved.

“She did all the work,” Rogers said of Schmidt. “She drew up the Standard Oper­ating Pro­ce­dures. I was just the bridge.”

Both Rogers and Schmidt empha­sized that the purpose of the CAP program isn’t nec­es­sarily to get stu­dents into the mil­itary, nor must student vol­un­teers be mil­itary-ori­ented. There’s a place for everyone who wants to be involved, Schmidt said, adding that she’s received a good response from stu­dents and has already filled all six lead­ership posi­tions. 

“You don’t have to have expe­rience in the mil­itary to be involved,” she said. “You just need to have a spe­cialty you’re willing to teach — mil­itary history, physical therapy, physics, aero­dy­namics. There’s room for all kinds. I want these cadets to have a wide range of skills and be good cit­izens no matter where they decide to go.”

Heather Tritchka, the Hillsdale CAP squadron com­mander and mom of a cadet, said their program is “thrilled” about Schmidt’s efforts to build a bridge between CAP and campus.

“What I’m most excited to see come out of the part­nership is the men­torship of the cadets from the college stu­dents,” Tritchka said in an email. “Hillsdale College attracts out­standing stu­dents who strive for excel­lence. I can’t wait to see these amazing college stu­dents, like Vic­toria, come into the program and start directing the cadets.”

Schmidt said the program will be a “win-win for everyone,” offering college stu­dents the chance to build their resumes through hands-on, tan­gible expe­rience in their future career field while giving cadets the men­torship they crave.

“If you’re looking to give these kids a strong role model when they might not have one at home, or an example of strong aca­d­emics when they might not have friends like that,” she said, “this is a great oppor­tunity to influence someone for the rest of their lives.”