Volunteer: “a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.” These people are all around us offering their time every day; sometimes a few hours a week or the equivalent of a full-time job. They could be that elderly lady at the hospital who greets you, someone at your church, or a mentor to a young adult. Many of us stand on the shoulders of volunteers and for many of us in aviation, it was those volunteers who inspired us to train, work hard, and not give up. I’d like to feature one of my favorite volunteer organizations, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Auxiliary – the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). In 2007, I have the privilege to become a member of CAP and it paid off in more ways than I could have ever imagined.
CAP was started just one week before the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War 2. Volunteers in the early CAP had a passion for aviation that was used to fly wartime missions critical to the safety of the country. Coastal patrol was one such mission members of CAP participated in. Years later, CAP has grown into a far-reaching organization promoting three different missions: Aerospace Education, Emergency Services, and Cadet Programs.
Aerospace Education – Where Future Aviators Are Born…
Aerospace Education (AE) was borne from the earliest members’ passion for all things flying. AE reaches not just to members, but also to the general community. Anyone that is a member of CAP is required to study Aerospace as part of their advancement through the program and many activities are offered such as free powered aircraft rides for the Cadets (12-21 years old). Many units in each state reach out to the community providing workshops, aerospace education, and other aviation related activities. Activities such as aircraft rides for educators and model rocket programs are just a few – AE member/educators can also obtain free AE materials to use in their classrooms. In addition, many members train in the aircraft owned by CAP and the USAF; the Cessna 172. Crews are trained in aerial photography, Search & Rescue techniques, and many Senior members (+21 years old) who are qualified Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs) offer free instruction to Cadets to obtain their Private Pilot’s License.
There are many activities within the program for qualifying Seniors and Cadets such as Blue Beret which focuses on Emergency Services & Training during the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Air Venture held in Oshkosh, WI every summer. Other activities focus on drones, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and aerospace programs in other countries. These are just a few as there are over 50 National Cadet Special Activities that are organized every year.
Because of volunteers, I was able to obtain my Private Pilot’s License through CAP at a low cost and my instructor taught me for free! Still think volunteering isn’t rewarding, no matter what side you’re on?
Cadet Programs – More Than Just a Uniform…
At first blush, 12-21 year olds in uniforms may seem like they’re playing “solider”. However CAP’s Cadet Program is far from that. The Cadet Program is designed to following the Air Force rank system where new Cadets are started at the grade of Airman Basic. Eventually, with time and a lot of hard work, Cadets can earn awards as high as Cadet Colonel though the overall percentage of those that do is less than 5% of the entire program. However, they just don’t take tests and promote.
Cadets in every unit (squadron) participate in weekly activities which varies from learning how to properly wear the uniform, AF Customs & Courtesies, proper drill and ceremonies, AE, Emergency Services Skills, and life-long skills such as leadership. Many Cadets hold positions in the Cadet staff: common positions are Flight Sergeant, Flight Commander, different Support Staff Positions, and Cadet Executive Staff positions. You might find that your Cadet goes from the person who never made their beds to having the neatest hospital corners you ever saw. Every summer, many Cadet participate in a state (Wing) Encampment which is an 8-day training event designed to teach all the basics of the CAP program. Your Cadet rises at 6am, heads out for physical training, and spends the day in classes, out on the obstacle course or preparing for bunk and uniform inspections. In the middle of the summer, too!
CAP’s Cadet Program was a great benefit to me as I learned a lot of about writing, photography, videography, leadership, planning, organization, teamwork, and much more. There’s a saying that you get out of CAP what you put into it – I would definitely have to agree. CAP was the sole reason I got involved in aviation. One of the members of Viking Squadron (MN Wing) was willing to donate his time to teach me to fly and the rest is history. I also had a lot of support in aviation from the members of Viking Squadron – they definitely became my CAP family. It didn’t matter if you a doctor, a lawyer, or a pilot; they all had a passion for volunteering and mentoring. Now if CAP isn’t a good example of a great volunteer organization, I don’t know what is.
This part of the program was probably some of the most valuable training I did. First Aid, Ground Search & Rescue, Flight Line Marshalling, Survival, and radio operations are just a few of the skills learned. Many activities are offered during the summer (like Blue Beret mentioned previously) that focus specifically on Emergency Services. Many Cadets attend rigorous activities run by current USAF members that train in rural survival skills.
Oftentimes CAP has been called in all over the country to assist local and federal governments. CAP has participated in missing aircraft and person searches, disaster relief, humanitarian services, USAF support, and counter drug operations. Events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are just a few of the high visibility events that CAP aided in. In North Dakota, it isn’t uncommon for the Red River to flood in the spring, and CAP is often called in to help towns sandbag. As CAP has evolved over the years, they are constantly reevaluating ways to serve the community, the most recent being used as a third party to document and photograph natural disaster damage in the local communities.
Is It Worth Volunteering???
In a word: YES!!! I wouldn’t trade my 7 years of being a member of Viking Squadron for anything. You do really “grow up” in the program, becoming only a former shadow of that person you were when you first joined. The skills, lessons, and real-life experience are invaluable and I’m still using them today. The people you meet in every profession have so much to teach and pass on. You make friends for life, are exposed to many career fields, and emerge an enriched individual. Looking back, I realized just how much CAP was an impact on my life and can’t wait to return.
While CAP may not be your speed, there are many organizations that are focused on aviation and mentoring those who will one day take our place. Without those volunteers in CAP and the program itself, I wouldn’t find myself where I am today. I never really stopped representing CAP, so don’t be surprised if you get earful about the program when you ask how I got into aviation. I hope that CAP continues to be a part of my professional life as one day I hope to be involved again teaching Cadets how to fly.
As aviators, we must remember that we stand on the shoulders that come before us – let’s make sure the next generation have a future in aviation to enjoy!
Special thanks to the volunteers of Viking Composite Squadron, Minnesota Wing for being my CAP “Family”:
Brent Halweg, Bill Hienz, Dan Jorgenson, Colleen McArthur, Jason Suby, Al Matson, and countless other Senior and Cadet Members in the Minnesota Wing, CAP
“Afram Vikingar!” – “Forward Vikings!”