Civil Air Patrol: Supporting Our Communities

By 1st Lt Deborah Leighton,
Sugar Valley Composite Squadron

Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is the longtime auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and as such is a valued member of its Total Force. In its auxiliary role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 single-engine aircraft and more than 2,000 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). It performs about 90% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 82 lives annually. CAP’s 54,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief, and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state, and local agencies. Operating as a nonprofit organization, CAP also plays a leading role in STEM/aerospace education, and its members serve as mentors to more than 20,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.

Civil Air Patrol squadrons are active in communities across the United States, training youth, ages 12-18, and adults in a variety of skills based on the core values of excellence, integrity, respect, and volunteer service. There are three Civil Air Patrol squadrons in the Triad area: the Winston-Salem Composite Squadron in Winston-Salem, the Guilford Composite Squadron in Greensboro, and the Sugar Valley Composite Squadron in Mocksville.

The Cadet Program offers opportunities for 12 to 18-year-old boys and girls to explore aerospace education, train in search and rescue skills, develop leadership skills, learn to work as a team, and train in physical fitness. In addition, CAP offers numerous National Cadet Special Activities programs, which are designed to explore civilian and military aerospace careers, provide flight training, and enhance emergency services skills.

CAP is America’s best opportunity for youth interested in aviation. Through CAP adult volunteers, cadets experience many aspects of aviation: up to 10 powered and glider orientation flights, classroom activities, flight simulators, model rocketry, drones, and even opportunities for formal flight training. The cadet Orientation Flight program offers every cadet under age 18 five hour-long flights in a powered aircraft and five flights in a glider aircraft, and all these flights are free.

The North Carolina Wing is home to one of the most active Emergency Services programs in CAP and has established a close relationship with North Carolina Emergency Management, being ready to serve the needs of the communities of our state with trained, professional volunteers. In 2020, the NC Wing was credited with 18 search and rescue calls with 7 finds and 2 lives saved. Senior members and cadets learn search and rescue techniques, operating on the ground and in the air, and participate in CAP sponsored missions offering support to local and federal agencies in search and rescue efforts, disaster relief, and humanitarian services. A part of Emergency Services training is learning First Aid and CPR skills: how to stay safe and manage situations and injuries. Members also learn how to be well prepared for search and rescue missions with basic survival skills.

In addition to ground team search and rescue missions, senior members can train and participate in air crew missions as pilots, observers, scanners, and airborne photographers. CAP air crews with airborne photographers have been invaluable to FEMA in providing aerial documentation of damage to areas affected by natural disasters. Air crews also assist in locating missing aircraft as well as missing persons.

Civil Air Patrol has seen the effectiveness of drones or sUAS (small unmanned aerial systems) as a tool in search and rescue missions. Many states are adding sUAS mission pilots and technicians to their search and rescue teams. The NC Wing trains senior members and cadets aged 16 and older that have an FAA commercial drone license to be sUAS mission pilots and plans to have an sUAS Search and Rescue Team in the near future.

During the past year of the pandemic, CAP has expanded mission tasking to include more opportunities to serve. In North Carolina, CAP members from squadrons across the state served at warehouses helping with inventory and distribution of needed supplies throughout the state. Members continue to volunteer at several vaccination sites across the state.

The squadrons in the Triad area and surrounding counties offer leadership and service opportunities for adults and youth. This is how we enrich our communities and build them stronger and better, with leaders that practice the core values of excellence, integrity, respect, and volunteer service. From Christopher Herman Jr., a former cadet at the Sugar Valley Composite Squadron, who has been accepted to join the Air Force Academy class of 2025: “My accomplishment is an embodiment of the tireless effort that the squadron leadership puts into the cadet program at Sugar Valley Composite Squadron. I owe much to them, as I have no doubt that my skills and success are rooted in the training and experience I received while in Civil Air Patrol. I would personally like to thank all of the senior members and leadership at the Sugar Valley Composite Squadron, and the North Carolina Wing, for giving me the tools to be successful.”

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