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Piedmont High student soars to new heights

Cadet Lt. Col. Kaden Hill's fascination with aviation took off as he mastered the virtual skies in video games. Now, he's poised to turn that passion into reality as he prepares for flight training at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, all thanks to his involvement in Piedmont High's Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (AFJROTC).

Following diligent study and passing the necessary tests, Kaden secured a $20,000 scholarship for the AFJROTC Flight Academy Chief of Staff Private Pilot program. This intensive eight-week summer aviation training, hosted at partnering universities nationwide, leads to a private pilot's certification for successful participants. 

"It feels great to get this scholarship because it is a challenging and time-consuming scholarship to get. It's all aviation-based, so you have to know about planes and how they operate," said Kaden. "There are also physical fitness and leadership components."

Kaden flew for a couple of hours with a program from the ROTC that allowed them to go up in the air with the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. 

"I've learned a lot from simulation games, reading, studying and watching videos," said Kaden.

Kaden is enthusiastic about joining the prestigious program, where he will be among high-ranking, top-performing cadets. He looks forward to building relationships with everyone and completing the program. He's excited about attending Embry-Riddle, which he says is known as the Harvard of the skies. 

"The end goal of the scholarship is to get my private pilot's license, and I'll only be 17, which is the earliest you can get it. Typically, it can take about three years, but this course is accelerated. I'll be flying almost every day," said Kaden. "This will also help me reach my dream of becoming an Air Force pilot."

Kaden, an eleventh grader, plans to attend the Air Force Academy upon graduation, and obtaining this licensure through the scholarship will significantly boost his chances of acceptance. 

Kaden is the highest-ranking cadet and is the team's Corps Commander. Serving as a leader in the AFJROTC has been pivotal for him, building growth in critical areas like discipline, teamwork and strategic thinking. It has offered him many chances to mentor his peers, organize events and oversee projects, all of which have refined his leadership abilities and instilled in him confidence and integrity. 

"Students who join JROTC do not have to join the military. It gives you a lot of honor and reputation among your peers. You get a lot of training in respect and discipline. You also get a lot of community service hours, which is helpful for colleges," said Kaden. "Other benefits are tutoring time and afterschool opportunities like Leadership Development Requirements. We just started an e-sports one."

Major Chadrick Richardson is Piedmont's senior aerospace science instructor. He teaches Aviation History, Science of Flight, Exploration of Space, Survival, Management of the Cadet Corps, Drill and Ceremonies and Physical Fitness. He is proud of all Kaden has accomplished in his three years. 

"I'm proud of him and couldn't be happier for him. He's a great cadet and put in a lot of work for this," said Major Richardson. "I hope other students, whether in or outside our program, realize they can do it, too."

Kaden leaves in June for the program and returns in August. He is already bursting with anticipation, eager to return and share all the incredible stories and experiences gathered along the way.