Kyle Clement has been interested in aviation almost his entire life. The South Dakota State University student was recently honored as the cadet of the year for the South Dakota Civil Air Patrol.
It’s no surprise Clement is majoring in aviation and is a member of the U.S. Air Force ROTC Detachment 780 on campus.
At 13, the Sioux Falls native joined the Civil Air Patrol after attending several meetings.
“I think it came down to the fact you're actually doing something for the community and actually training for something valuable,” Clement said, talking about the patrol’s search and rescue and emergency services missions. “They also exposed me to aviation education—learning about the various aircraft and history.”
That learning also paid off for Clement, who also earned the Eaker Award, the second-highest scholastic achievement in the cadet program.
“He has been very active in our emergency services program training in search and rescue. He has done an outstanding job mentoring those around him. 1st Lt. Clement is someone the cadets look up to,” said Col. Nick Gengler ’14, South Dakota wing commander for the Civil Air Patrol. “I’ve known 1st Lt. Clement for some time. When he joined, I was on the senior level of things but aware of him. He seemed like he’d be an up-and-coming cadet. He’s developed into one who has learned, taken that knowledge and transferred that knowledge to teach others.
“Every time we have a training exercise, Kyle jumps in as he loves to better himself and train others,” Gengler continued. “His drive and passion helped create a new squadron in Tea and made it a huge success.”
The Civil Air Patrol has over 400 members in South Dakota with active units in Brookings, Custer, Miller/Faulkton, Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Spearfish and Tea. The wing can deploy its six aircraft, ground teams and small search drones to assist in emergency response and other support to local, state, tribal and federal agencies.
That drive to help and protect others has Clement, now the assistant deputy commander of cadets for the Tea squadron, thinking about his career plans and staying with the Civil Air Patrol.
“I’d like to continue with the Civil Air Patrol forever. One of our oldest members, Lois Schmidt, was a cadet back after World War II. I’m thinking I can follow in her footsteps,” he said. “After I graduate, I want to try to be a fighter pilot for the Air Force. It's been a dream of mine since I was young. If for some reason the Air Force doesn't work out, there are other branches that have aviation careers.”
Despite his commitment, Clement did not expect to be the cadet of the year.
“I always thought of myself as one of those unsung heroes. I do a lot, but a lot of it is seen in the shadows, so the ones in command don’t always get to see that,” he said. “I take pride in having the services qualifications and being that person who is ready to go deployed at a moment’s notice. I’ve received a personal phone call at four in the morning from the wing commander saying we have a mission, are you going to be able to get up at 6 a.m.?”
Because of his experience in the patrol, Clement wants to pay it forward. But first he wants to try one more thing.
“I actually just talked to an F-16 pilot from Utah, and he was explaining to me how I could get a free flight in an F-16 … that would be pretty neat,” Clement said. “The Civil Air Patrol has been great because it’s allowed me to talk to professionals who are also Air Force pilots about what's the best route for this or that. They’re willing to help you figure it out.
“I’ve learned it’s not about what you know but who you know. I talk to the Air Force or commercial pilots about how I want to get to point C and ask how did they get there? There's all sorts of little loopholes or advice that people will talk about. It’s great, and I want to have others have the same experiences I have.”