December 1st is CIVIL AIR PATROL Day
Monday, 01 December 2008, at 0104 hours
Central Time -- Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Six days before the Japanese Empire conducted the surprise attack upon the American military bases around Pearl Harbor, civilian and military leaders culminated three years of pioneering discussions by creating the Civil Air Patrol.
Sadly, that is the reaction of most Americans. During the post-Vietnam days, many young Americans learned to look down upon military service. (Sadly, many of them were taught that outlook by their parents — many of whom were alive to raise families because they had dodged the draft a few years earlier.) And, if people looked down upon professional military service, imagine how much more the "Me" Generation looked down upon unpaid, volunteer, para-military service. Yet, even during the darkest days of the Jimmy Carter administration, teenage Americans became CAP cadets.
Those that joined the Civil Air Patrol during those anti-military years of the late 1970s became part of a rich history of patriotism and service. In the mid-1930s, during the early days of the aviation industry, forward-thinking leaders of government, business, and industry conceived of a way that civic-minded aviators could serve their country and advance aviation safety. The concept took the best aspects of the Army (remember, at that time there was no separate Air Force) and volunteer organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and put those aspects together in an aviation framework. Although the Civil Air Patrol is the volunteer civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force, the CAP is actually older than the Air Force that it serves. (The CAP was founded in December of 1941. The USAF, evolved from the Army Air Corps, became a separate Armed Service in September of 1947.)
From the very beginning, the primary mission of Civil Air Patrol has been air search leading to ground rescue. But, even as that important mission was being organized, our country was suddenly plunged into World War Two by the attack upon Pearl Harbor. So, simultaneous with all the other war-related activities in America at that time (Victory Gardens, food rationing, gasoline rationing, young men leaving family farms to join the military, women going into factory work to replace the men that went to war, etc.), the volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol managed to create the first nationwide search-and-rescue network and create war-specific missions such as the Coastal Patrol. And, keep in mind that these volunteers did this with their own money — buying their own uniforms, their own field gear, and — yes — even their own airplanes.
During World War Two, the Coastal Patrol missions of the Civil Air Patrol spotted 143 Nazi submarines off the United States coastline. The CAP Coastal Patrol observers were credited with "assists" in the Navy's sinking of dozens of those enemy submarines. Eventually, these volunteer, civilian pilots (nicknamed the "Flying Minutemen") were allowed to carry bombs aboard their aircraft. Aircrews of the CAP Coastal Patrol actually sank two Nazi submarines without assistance! They also used their bombs to damage other submarines that were later destroyed by the US Navy.
Other wartime missions of the Civil Air Patrol included courier flights of documents, material, and medicine. The CAP also provided aerial towing of gunnery targets. (Keep in mind that the artillery crews on the ground were students!) And, during that time, the CAP also grew and improved their search-and-rescue (SAR) capabilities. Those capabilities included developing the CAP Ranger Teams that conducted the ground rescues of lost people spotted by the aircrews. Information gathered from various CAP SAR activities nationwide was consolidated into the development of the Hawk Mountain Ranger School. (In the past, I've received angry e-mails from some former members of USAF Pararescue, who have tried to belittle the pioneering role of the CAP Rangers. I've replied to several former PJs by telling them to research their own history, and write me back if they could prove me wrong. Not one has ever written back.) The original CAP SAR teams were developed in the early 1940s — building upon techniques by pioneering aviators before CAP was officially founded. The Air Rescue Service, the parent organization of modern Pararescue, was founded in 1946 (although they trace their roots to a 1943 mission on the China-Burma border).
Both organizations serve vital functions, and many PJs were CAP Ranger cadets before they joined the Air Force. The Air Force also conducts Pararescue Jumpers Orientation Course (PJOC) for selected CAP cadets. (Keep in mind that the active-duty PJ instructors get paid to be there, but the CAP cadet students in this PJOC video pay to be there, and buy their own uniforms and basic gear. One of my goals if ever elected to Congress is to provide funding for CAP members' uniforms and equipment, as the Canadians do for their Air Cadets.) Just as the Hawk Mountain Ranger School was created to standardarze SAR procedures within CAP, the PJOC helps recruit and motivate those cadets that can become qualified as instructors at their various Wing-level schools in their home states. The PJOC is one of the most sought-after cadet activities, and the selection process is designed to ensure the continued high quality of the course. The Air Force also sees the value of the PJOC as a recruiting tool for the next generation of Pararescuemen. Both organizations work together Stateside; only Pararescue operates overseas or in combat. Because of the expense of operating Pararescue helicopters, CAP light aircraft are often used to fly grid searches. The CAP aircrews will then radio their findings to mission headquarters, which might dispatch a Pararescue helicopter crew to the area. Pararescuemen are trained to a much higher degree than CAP Rangers, but the CAP has also saved thousands of lives throughout its history.
The Vietnam War was "drawing down" in June of 1974, when I became a cadet. My best friend in high school recruited me. He was the "cadet commander" of the local CAP cadet squadron. (Cadet squadrons have a two-tiered command structure. Adult officers supervise all operations, but cadets have their own internal rank structure. Both follow the Air Force model.) In August of that year, my friend was also the cadet commander of the NY Wing Ranger School, which was located at a remote site known as Thunderbird Land-Rescue Training Center. The "T-Bird" school followed the Hawk Mountain model, and used the Pennsylvania Wing Ranger Manual for curricula. Hundreds of cadets passed through T-Bird in the 20-year history of that school. Subjects included physical conditioning, obstacles, land navigation, survival, field sanitation, basic and advanced first-aid, various forms of communication (hand signals, radio, signal panels, mirrors, etc.), marksmanship, basic climbing, basic rappelling, etc. Training was provided by people with SAR experience, and culminated in three-day "survival hikes" with minimal food or gear. The survival hikes included timed cross-country navigation objectives, coupled with realistic SAR exercise scenarios. The PJOC was developed after the Thunderbird School was shut down, due to NYC-area parental complaints that the school was "too tough" on their children. (I was a staff instructor at the time, and heard some of those complaints -- from parents who claimed that they were only "sending their boy to camp". But, those parents had signed about a half-dozen forms that stated the intense nature of the school, which had a fifty-percent washout rate every year of its existence.)
The CAP cadet program has been the foundation for many successful military careers, and successes in civilian life. During the 20-year history of the T-Bird school, only six cadets ever earned the rating of Expert Ranger. The first was Dick Cole, who went on to become a civilian Emergency Medical Technician. The second was Don Carter, who became a CAP cadet squadron commander, an instructor at the T-Bird school, and an IBM engineer. The third was Ted LaPlante, who went on to become a B-52 wing commander and later a senior staff member at The Pentagon. (He was once part of a Time magazine cover story.) The fourth was Charlie Hayes, who went on to become a reactor officer on a nuclear submarine, and later an instructor at a nuclear power plant. The fifth was Dick Van Patten, who went on to become a C-130 navigator. I was number six.
I spent 17 years in Civil Air Patrol, and 16-plus years in an Air Force uniform. At my first "permanent" Air Force base, three former cadets met and we founded a CAP cadet squadron. From that base, I also went "permissive TDY" back to T-Bird as an instructor. Later, I became a deputy commander of my original cadet squadron. At my last base, I became commander of a cadet squadron that was in the group commanded by my old high-school friend Charlie Hayes. One of my cadets from that squadron went on to become a medic during Operation Desert Storm.
During my Air Force career, I tried to join Pararescue, but did not make the grade. (Their school is nicknamed "Superman University" for good reason!) I was able to do most of the things that they do -- including freefalls from ten thousand feet, sometimes on chopper loads that included PJs -- but I could not handle extreme Nap-of-the-Earth flights without vomiting from somewhere deep within my boots. Watch a passenger go weightless inside a helicopter, not far from the ground, halfway through this NOE flight video. At one point, the helicopter also does a complete barrel roll. That is the sort of gut-wrenching flying that gets PJs into, and out of, battlefield hot spots. They really are "a breed apart".
The Civil Air Patrol has a rich history of volunteerism and patriotism. The CAP still provides important functions. Those include air transport of human blood and organs, radiological monitoring (this was critical in the response to the Three-Mile Island nuclear incident), earthquake damage assessment, and the ever-present SAR missions that made CAP famous.
Speaking of famous, one of the many famous former CAP cadets is Nashville music superstar Aaron Tippin, whom I've interviewed a couple of times. He was a commercial charter pilot before he was discovered as a musical talent. He told me that his strong voice comes from singing over the sound of the tractor engine while working on his father's farm as a teenager. (Aaron's father retired from the Air Force as a colonel.)
Sadly, the lamestream news media has chosen to focus annual attention on another anniversary that has been allowed to overshadow CAP Day. Modern civilians are only told that the 1st of December is "World AIDS Day". In the past 20 years since the inception of a day to commemorate political lobbying in favor of a disease, less and less news coverage has been given to Civil Air Patrol Day. As a result, many Americans — especially high school students — do not even know that the CAP exists. Civil Air Patrol Day was a legally-recognized anniversary in America for 42 years before "World AIDS Day" was even conceived. So, the next time someone gets in your face about AIDS activism, simply remind them that the 1st of December has been, and will remain, Civil Air Patrol Day.