BOYDEN—Austin, Keon and Ethan den Hoed of Boyden are self-described aviation nuts.
The brothers, ages 19, 15 and 13, also are high-ranking members of the Civil Air Patrol’s cadet program.
CAP, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a volunteer organization providing disaster relief and search-and-rescue aid from squadrons based all over the country.
Youth between 12 and 19 can join the CAP cadet program where they learn engineering, aviation and leadership skills through mentoring.
In just two years, the boys have rocketed through CAP’s ranks.
On July 30, Keon, 15, was made a second lieutenant and recipient of the Mitchell Award for leadership. Only 15 percent of CAP cadets nationwide achieve the award.
Keon also is cadet commander of the squadron based in Sioux Falls, SD. It is the largest CAP squadron in the state, with more than 30 cadets.
As cadet commander, Keon supervises weekly cadet-led meetings and activities, as well as mentoring and supporting lower ranking cadets.
Austin, 19, and Ethan, 13 are a few ranks below Keon. Both are technical sergeants.
Austin’s leadership role is as a support officer, helping with the squadron’s logistical needs and organizing. Ethan, 13, oversees a few of the younger cadets.
All three have adult mentors within the program.
“The leadership and mentorship we are involved with in CAP is one of the other things I really liked about it,” Austin said.
Another aspect the den Hoeds really like about CAP is the opportunity to pilot an airplane.
CAP offers orientation flights where cadets take the controls of an airplane under the supervision of a licensed pilot.
Austin did his first orientation flight at 16. Keon was 13. Ethan was just 12, which is the minimum age requirement for these flights.
“I had to sit on a book,” Ethan said of his turn behind the controls.
After that first taste, all three wanted to earn private pilot’s licenses.
Austin got his student pilot’s license last spring. He completed ground school training last winter and is waiting to earn his flight hours, a prerequisite for testing for his private pilot’s license.
“I’m just getting it because I love to fly,” Austin said.
Keon and Ethan have to wait until they turn 16, the minimum age to apply for a student license.
“I really enjoy flying, even with instructors sitting there,” Keon said. “I’ve been thinking about it and in the future I might apply to fly a crop duster because that looks like a lot of fun.”
Teresa den Hoed, the boys’ mom and an adult member of CAP, describes learning about the program as a lucky accident.
“We always say it was totally a God thing,” Teresa said.
She spotted a CAP booklet on her way out of a home-school convention in 2018. What caught her eye and made her turn back was the airplanes on the cover.
After a little research and attending meetings with the Sioux Falls CAP squadron, Teresa and her two oldest sons, Austin and Keon, signed up.
“They wanted to join the first time we went,” Teresa said.
Ethan joined a few months later when he turned 12. Triston, the youngest of the family at 10, also intends to join as soon as he is old enough.
The family interest in airplanes started with Teresa. She caught the aviation bug as a teen when she rode a pontoon plane while on vacation in Canada.
She passed on her fascination to all her sons.
Allen, Teresa’s husband, is the only member of the family who is not high in the sky about airplanes, although he stays involved with their CAP activities.
The couple credit CAP for helping their sons mature and learn communication and leadership.
“It’s been a very positive influence on each of these guys. We’ve watched their self-confidence and their ability to speak and communicate grow,” Teresa said.
Teresa said she especially values the way CAP equipped her sons with important life skills.
“Whether they never even touch an aircraft again, so many of these skills of communication and organization are going to be sought after in whatever field they end up in,” she said.