Skeetz Guilbeau of Basin City has attained the highest rank possible -- cadet colonel -- with the Civil Air Patrol, an achievement retired astronaut Bonnie Dunbar called "a role model we want to instill in generations to come."
Dunbar, who praised Guilbeau for his persistence as a teenager in achieving his goal, was the guest speaker at the award ceremony Saturday at the Richland First Baptist Church.
Guilbeau said he knew from the first day he joined the Tri-Cities Composite Squadron almost six years ago that he wanted to win the Gen. Spaatz Award, which recognizes cadets who achieve the rank of cadet colonel.
Guilbeau is the sixth cadet from the Tri-Cities since the early 1970s to become a cadet colonel. Less than 30 cadets from Washington have achieved that rank, said Deborah Kawaguchi, commander of the Tri-City squadron.
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"Less than one half of one percent of cadets in the Civil Air Patrol receive the Spaatz Award," Kawaguchi said.
Dunbar, who completed five missions on NASA's space shuttle program and who grew up on a small farm in Outlook near Sunnyside, called for more youth to pursue careers in science and engineering. She noted that her childhood interest in space led to a lifetime goal of being an astronaut.
Dunbar said Guilbeau is a role model for young people emulate in working hard to achieve their personal goals.
The U.S. has fallen behind in producing engineers, with China and India turning out far more each year, Dunbar said.
Dunbar, who studied ceramics engineering, worked on building the space shuttle Columbia when she was 28.
"How lucky I was a few years later when I got to fly on it," she said to approximately 120 people who attended the award presentation.
Dunbar noted that The New York Times in 1920 ridiculed Robert Goddard's speech about a rocket some day reaching the moon.
But the newspaper apologized to Goddard, who became known as the father of rocketry, four decades later when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon.
The lesson, Dunbar said, is to work hard and not give up.
In accepting the Spaatz Award, Guilbeau commented that perseverance was a family value growing up. "My father said even in the darkest days keep pressing ahead," he said.
Guilbeau recalled that as a cadet he didn't run the fastest or have the highest test scores. But he persisted: pressing on to finish the challenge, the 30 tests about aerospace and leadership, and training to meet the physical fitness requirements.
"I had to miss a few parties and social events" as a teenager, he said.
Fellow Tri-Cities Composite Squadron cadet, now Army Capt. Gedaliah Scharold of Ft. Riley, Kan., advised Guilbeau to work hard and be ready to make sacrifices.
"Understand you have to go through the fire to get the gold. Go for the gold. Apply yourself and see how far you can go," Scharold said.
Guilbeau, who as a home-schooled student will graduate in May, also expects to receive an Associate of Applied Science degree in June from Columbia Basin College in Pasco, where he is a Running Start student.
He is the son of Jodii and Mark Guilbeau of Basin City.
Other Tri-Cities cadets who have earned rank of cadet colonel through the years are Tim Hankins, Josh McIntyre, Zach Miller, Paul Kawaguchi and Lisa Deibler. Each of them sent a congratulatory note to Guilbeau.
Gen. Carl A. Spaatz was the first Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He commanded the Allied air campaign against the Nazis during World War II and was in command in the Pacific Theater during the atomic bombing of Japan. He also served as first chairman of the Civil Air Patrol National Board.