Stories of longevity abound here at Hawk Mountain Ranger school! Today I had the privilege of spending time with Charles Peters at the base exchange. I have learned the true meaning of “paying it forward” from someone who attended the first Ranger school right here at Hawk Mountain!
Peters recalls when Pennsylvania search and rescue teams formerly trained at Westover Air Force Base. Westover students did not come from all over the nation, they could only come from the state of Pennsylvania, as we were the first state to have an organized ground search team.
Peters reminiscences about the year 1956 when he cut back the dense vegetation to be able to make an area large enough for the students to fall in formation here on the mountain. Their command center and tents were located where our flagpole is now and they camped where the base exchange is. The school was a week long and ended on a Friday. Then, during the weekend, there would be a wing SAREX where they would put what they learned into action at different airports.
Back then, the school was harder and Peters attributes this to the Ranger attendees being World War II veterans and veterans of the Korean War. Another major difference is how the instruction has evolved. Peters believes that a cadet receives more instruction today than when he went through the training. The tools used when he attended only included a lensatic compass and a scale. Now Peters admits he is not sure he would be able to navigate all the tools that are currently utilized for training.
Three years after attending the first school, Peters became a senior member. He was just 18 years old and was anxious to take the Rangers out into the field. Charles cannot tell you how many missions he has attended because there are so many. Among his most memorable was Cove Mountain, where he was sent to locate a downed plane from Canada. The search took over three days with dark and dangerous conditions. Peters guided his team home only to find out that the search area was only a rock that was initially suspected to be part of a plane.
Among his favorite missions was searching for tail pieces and the right horizontal elevator of a Lockheed JetStar that disassembled during turn maneuvers. His team found 90% of the dismantled tail. Peters, without a doubt, credits his search and rescue success to his Hawk Mountain training.
Charles Peters has accepted many roles in his journey with HMRS. He was a Squadron Commander for 7 years, a Deputy School Commander for cadets for 17 years and a School Commander for 3 years. He has a wealth knowledge and most importantly he would like to be remembered for teaching someone something new.
Through the years and life occurrences, Peters took time off from Civil Air Patrol, but was always drawn back to the place where he carved so many memories and friendships. Peters has seen firsthand how this school can make a difference in the lives of our youth. Peters says cadets leave with the thought, “I got through this, I can do anything!” He is so impressed how our Ranger cadets can accomplish so much at such a young age. He mentioned being awe-struck by a 15-year-old cadet holding the position of cadet commander of a squadron and thinks that one day that cadet could go on to be the school commander!
Peters best man at his wedding was fellow Ranger Fred Young, and in turn, Peters returned the favor and was his best man as well. His Ranger friends in life and death are his family and they have supported him and encouraged him throughout the years. It has been a year and a half now since he has returned to the mountain and it is evident that this is where his home and heart is!
When asked where to take a picture of Peters, he fondly said he would like a picture beside his friends, referring to the memorial located by the chapel. Peters pointed out each name and could recall a story to go along with each one. I did not know until today that Ron Rosepink flew a hot air balloon north over the entrance to Hawk and let the south winds bring it back, skillfully navigated to the place he took off from. Did you?
The next time you walk by Charles Peters, please take a moment to thank him for his many years of teaching, his loyalty, and devotion to the Mountain. And to think, it all began that very first class in the year 1956.