I would like to take a moment to talk about an organization I happen to be a PROUD member of, the 83rd Composite Squadron, Arkansas Wing, Civil Air Patrol.
What is the Civil Air Patrol?
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is a Congressionally chartered, federally supported, non-profit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force (USAF). CAP is a volunteer organization with an aviation-minded membership that includes people from all backgrounds, lifestyles, and occupations. It performs three congressionally assigned key missions: emergency services, which includes search and rescue (by air and ground) and disaster relief operations; aerospace education for youth and the general public; and cadet programs for teenage youth. In addition, CAP has recently been tasked with homeland security and courier service missions. CAP also performs non-auxiliary missions for various governmental and private agencies, such as local law enforcement and the American Red Cross.
The 83rd Composite Squadron is based at the Fort Smith Regional Airport. It is very active in all three missions. Emergency Services, Cadet Programs and Aerospace education. Each of these is explained below.
The principal categories of Emergency Services include search and rescue missions, disaster relief, humanitarian services, and Air Force support. Other services, such as homeland security and actions against drug-trafficking operations, are becoming increasingly important. Nationally, CAP performs over 90% of the inland search and rescue (SAR) missions handled by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). As the United States' inland search and rescue coordinator, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center serves as the single agency responsible for coordinating on-land federal SAR activities in the 48 contiguous United States, Mexico and Canada. Members from Fort Smith have been involved in everything from searches for missing persons, searching for downed airplanes, CERT teams, international rescue missions, hurricane relief, aerial damage assesment, tornado relief, flood relief, homeland security training missions with the Air Force, support of local law enforcement agencies in the eradication of drugs, aerial surveys for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and support of local SAR agencies. Members are certified not only in aerial search, but also in ground search and rescue techniques.
The squadron operates a Cessna 182 fixed wing aircraft equipped with a Satellite Digital Imaging System that allows for the transmission of digital images in real time from an aircraft to controllers on the ground, radio direction finding equiment used to locate downed aircraft equipped with an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) that activates in the event of a crash, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB)used by boaters and ships at sea when in distress and the new Personal Locator Beacons used by hikers and campers to call for help in an emergency. The squadron also has a thermal imaging camera that allows members to "see" in total darkness by using infared technology to form a picture using the heat given off by an object and it's surroundings. The squadron also has the ability to employ airborne protable radio reapeaters in the event of a communication system faliure such as seen on the Gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This allows public safety personnel to be able to communicate when their radio system is not working because of power failure or damage.
The squadron also operates various motor vehicles similarly equipped to tranport ground team personnel and equipment. In addition to these resources, the squadron has an extensive communcations capability including radios that can transmit on the High Frequency band allowing for global communications, VHF radios that offer both short range and regional coverage through an extensive repeater network and radios on the statewide Arkansas Wireless Information System that allows all public safety agencies in the state to talk to one another.
Similar to an ROTC program, Civil Air Patrol's first cadet program was started during World War II as a way to provide training for future pilots. Since then, the program has flourished, combining Aerospace Education with Leadership and Career training. Today, CAP cadets are those members who join between their 12th and 18th birthday. Cadets who turn 18 may either become a Senior Member or remain a cadet until 21 at their own discretion. Like ROTC and JROTC programs, cadets study military history, leadership and management. They participate in drill and ceremonies, practice military customs and courtesies, take part in an extensive Aerospace Education curriculum and hold command positions within the squadron leading and supervising other cadets.
The thing that sets the CAP cadet program apart from ROTC and JROTC programs is Emergency Services. CAP cadets, under direct adult supervision and control, are allowed to particpate in all aspects of Emergency Services. The are trained in Communications, Search and Rescue, First Aid, Disaster Relief and various other tasks. The cadets actually particapate in SAR operations as ground team members and, once they turn 18, as members of aircrews. Though they are young, they are held to the same exacting standards and certification requirements that senior members are held to.
The Aerospace Education Program provides aviation related education and educational activities for members, including formal, graded courses about all aspects of aviation including flight physics, dynamics, history, and application. Courses covering the space program, and new technologies and advances in aviation and space exploration, are also available. There are several programs for CAP pilots to improve their flying skills and earn Federal Aviation Administration ratings. The Cadet Program has a mandatory aerospace education program; in order to progress, a cadet must take a number of courses and tests relating to aviation.
The Aerospace Education Program also offers a bit of excitement for the cadets. Through a series of orientation flights, cadets are given the opportunity to actually pilot an airplane. Many go on to earn their pilots license. CAP has several opportunities for cadets to learn to fly by attending nationally organized flight academies conducted by CAP. The squadron also works with other groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of the USA and 4-H to fulfill the education goal set down in the organizations congressional charter - to "encourage and foster civil aviation in local communities.
Even though many folks have never heard of the Civil Air Patrol, for over 60 years they have been serving their community, state and nation. The 83rd Composite Squadron is a dedicated group of volunteers who complete their missions with the utmost professionalism. They are there to serve.
For more information on the Civil Air Patrol click on http://www.gocivilarpatrol.com
For more information on the Arkansas Wing click on http://www.arwingcap.org