It was after the Columbine shootings that Charles “Chuck” Sellers decided to do something for Denver’s youth.
Motivated by the shock of the 1999 Colorado high school massacre, Sellers and a friend started a cadet chapter of the Civil Air Patrol.
Just three teenagers showed up for the first meeting in January 2001. In six months, the squadron grew to 70. In no year since has enrollment dropped below 50. “There was definitely a demand there,” Sellers says.
Sellers works for Verizon as a professional-services consulting engineer, with expertise in Internet Protocol version 6 or IPv6.
But on Monday nights he takes a break from his work world of computers, switchers, routers and firewalls. That’s the night for the squadron’s three-hour weekly meetings at a Littleton, Colo., church. It’s when he gets to work with young people from 6th grade up through high school.
“I work with computers all the time, and not with people as much as I’d like to,” says Sellers, who was formerly the squadron’s commander and is now safety officer. With the cadets, “you have to learn to motivate people.”
“You have to figure out, how do you get people to work toward a common goal without a financial motivation? And how do you learn to teach leadership skills to kids?”
The Civil Air Patrol is a civilian arm of the U.S. Air Force. The cadets practice drills, take classes in computers and areospace, and sometimes participate in search and rescue operations. When tornados and floods hit north of Denver, Sellers’ squadron pitched in.
Over the years, several of the squadron’s cadets attained such high rank that, choosing to go into military service, two entered the Air Force Academy and another into West Point Military Academy — an achievement reached by less than 0.1 percent of cadets nationally, Sellers said.
Other cadets, once having achieved the cadet rank of Mitchell Award and awarded the rank Cadet 2nd Lieutenant, have entered Air Force basic training as an E-3, their Civll Air Patrol experience rewarded with a better pay grade and two ranks higher than non-CAP recruits exiting boot camp.
Sellers himself was never in the Air Force. “I wanted to be a pilot when I was younger, but didn’t have the eyes for it,” he says. “My father was in the Army, so I had some exposure to the miitary. He retired as a colonel.”
As a child, Sellers was introverted (“I didn’t like to talk to people”). Now he takes a special interest in helping shy kids develop confidence: A 15-year-old girl who, through the squadron’s cyperpatriot program, discovered a liking for computer security. A 13-year-old, short for his age, who is taking college-level courses in computers thanks to his success in that same program.
“It’s interesting,” Sellers says, “to watch kids like that. After a year in the program, they start coming out. They’re learning. They’re following. And they’re learning how to lead others. It’s great to watch them grow that way.”
Sellers has two children of his own who did well in school, one of them class valedictorian. “I want to see other kids do as well,” he says. That’s rewarding to him. It’s even more rewarding when the youngsters acknowledge the attention.
“Sometimes they come back and personally say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for supporting me,’ ” Sellers says.
“I feel you got to make time for stuff like this.”