Hanscom AFB Community
The Civil Air Patrol Key contributor to the total force
Story by Timothy Sandland
Like the Air National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol maintains a mission of assisting in the welfare of the homeland and its citizens. Like the Air National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol has a keen focus on training. Like the Air National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol is a key contributor to the total force.
Accomplished aviator and first director of the Civil Air Patrol, Gill Robb Wilson, first imagined of the organization in the 1930s heavily promoting the idea to the American aviation community. It wasn’t until 1941, at the start of World War II, that his foresight would culminate in what we now know as the Civil Air Patrol.
The organization’s contributions to the war effort were significant. Flying over 24 million miles, the service detected 173 enemy U-boats and dropped nearly 100 bombs and depth charges. By wars end, the CAP had successfully sunk two U-boats; but they had suffered losses 64 CAP Airmen perished in the line of duty.
Following the war years, the CAP shifted to peacetime operations its charter written to ensure it would no longer participate in combat. It was around this time that the CAP also became the civilian auxiliary of the newly created United States Air Force a partnership that continues to this day.
While the official auxiliary of the Air Force for decades, the CAP was not considered part of the total force’ right away. That changed in 2015 when the CAP joined the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and the active duty component upon the Air Force expanding its definition of the term in its updated doctrine, including auxiliary members.
As a federally chartered corporation, the CAP defines its mission by congressional mandate. These can be refined into what the CAP considers its three core missions of aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.
According to Cadet Lt. Col. Luke Pongratz of the Hanscom Composite Squadron, Massachusetts Wing, “The Civil Air Patrol is a non-profit organization that promotes aerospace aviation and youth leadership. We’ve been around for about 75 years and the cadet program has been around for about 55 years.”
The CAP’s emergency services tier in particular, overlaps domestic operations of the Air National Guard. The CAP encourages and aids private citizens in contributing their efforts, services and resources in developing aviation it is these contributions, and the CAP’s example, that allow it to improve to the public safety by assisting citizens in responding local and national emergencies.
“Every time there is some sort of natural disaster, the U.S. Air Force can call upon the Civil Air Patrol to help out” says Pongratz. “We do save the Air Force a lot of money when it comes to humanitarian support and search and rescue it’s one of our biggest missions.”
Take a few key weather events in recent memory all of which saw the CAP team up with its total force teammate the Air National Guard.
In the fall of 2017, destructive winds and rain brought about by Hurricane Harvey devastated the greater-Houston region, flooding the area and displacing residents. Just last month in the Carolinas, Hurricane Florence caused severe and extensive damage bringing large-scale flooding, spilling agricultural waste into rivers already swollen by the storm.
In both regions, the CAP flew countless sorties, scanning the devastated landscape, searching for stranded victims, damaged structures and roads, and impacted utilities and infrastructure. The imagery they captured was distressing but was instrumental in search and recovery efforts.
Early in 2018, brutal winter storms hammered the Northeast, eroding shorelines and damaging property. CAP pilots and crews traced the coastline of Massachusetts for evidence of damage and eroded shores. The high definition aerial photography, provided by the CAP gave local and state government emergency management officials data and imagery that was timely and invaluable.
In Texas, the Carolinas and here in New England, aerial photography and streaming video captured by the CAP was fed directly to imagery analysts of the 101st Intelligence Squadron who, performing in their state mission of Incident Awareness and Assessment support, reviewed the data and performed analysis to determine the state of situations in the affected areas. This partnership between the Civil Air Patrol and the Air National Guard provided key information needed by civil authorities, in those regions, to make critical decisions quickly and effectively.
The impact of this total force partnership ensured that the disaster response in these areas was quick and efficient potentially saving lives, resources and contributing to the public welfare.
Appropriately, the Civil Air Patrol’s slogan is “Citizens Serving Communities”- something the Air National Guard knows a little something about. It’s no surprise the two organizations work so well together with common goals comes successful partnerships.