Civil Air Patrol

Civil Air Patrol

It’s amazing how many times while researching one topic that I come across interesting facts about something totally different. The topic of the next few weeks is one of those times. Today, however, a little background on the subject…

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP for short) was established on Dec. 1, 1941, as a civilian auxiliary of the United States military. With American involvement in World War II fast approaching, the United States government decided to use the numerous general aviators and aircraft in the war effort instead of grounding them. A week later, the United States entered the war after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. The newly-created CAP jumped into action to serve the country. During World War II, CAP helped to patrol the American coast and even attacked German submarines they encountered. By war’s end, some 68 squadron members had died in the line of duty.

Eric Musgrove

Eric Musgrove

After the end of the Second World War in 1945, it was decided that CAP would never again be used for direct combat activities. Since that time, CAP has become a congressionally chartered, federally supported non-profit corporation that is the official auxiliary of the United States Air Force (which was established in 1947). Using aircraft provided by the government and operating within a military-inspired hierarchy, CAP provides search and rescue missions, disaster relief, humanitarian services, homeland security and anti-drug trafficking operations, among other duties. CAP also supports aerospace education, and children as young as 12 can join and have the chance to receive their pilot’s license before they are old enough to vote. There are three types of CAP squadrons: senior (consisting of adults only); cadet (consisting of youth only); and composite (consisting of both adults and youth). Today, the approximately 58,000 members and 550 aircraft of CAP save an average of 100 lives per year (however, as of the middle of July 2019, they had already saved 102 lives since January), not including the numerous other humanitarian services they provide. In fact, Civil Air Patrol provides 85% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions. On Sept. 12, 2001, the first aerial photographs of the remnants of the World Trade Center in New York City were taken from a CAP aircraft, since all commercial aircraft in the United States had been grounded by the terrorist attack the day before. In 2014, the Civil Air Patrol received the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of its members who had served during WWII.

In 2018, my son joined the Gainesville Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, and I have learned much more about the program as a whole than I had ever known. To be honest, my initial thought upon first hearing the name “Civil Air Patrol” around 2000 was that it was some outdated holdover from the Civil Defense programs of the Cold War, meant to observe nuclear fallout or other related horrific post-apocalyptic jobs. I am happy to learn that I was wrong, as it is so much more.

Many folks compare CAP with the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program found in schools around the country, but there are major differences between the programs: JROTC is school-based (and counts as a school course) and uses paid school faculty for leaders, while CAP is community-based and all-voluntary; JROTC’s grades are assigned by school class (freshman, sophomore, etc.), while CAP grades are earned and permanent (regardless of age); JROTC’s activities, uniforms and insignia are paid for through their specific military branch, while CAP members pay for their own; JROTC is more drills, competitions and schooling, while CAP has more hands-on training (while still having some schooling and drilling thrown in) through multiple aircraft orientation flights and “real-world” missions such as search and rescue that are regularly performed by its members. It was that last aspect, to actually perform real-world missions to help fellow citizens (plus the possibility of getting his pilot’s license at an early age), that drew my son to CAP.

We will continue our look at the Civil Air Patrol next week.

Eric Musgrove can be reached at ericm@suwgov.org or 386-362-0564.

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