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Viewpoint: CAP provides vital role

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- December 1, 2010 marked the 69th anniversay of the founding of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), the official Auxiliary of the Air Force. It was formed, in part, to be the air arm of the Office of Civil Defense. During World War II CAP performed many missions for Civil Defense and the War Department, notably coastal patrol for enemy submarines. While CAP reportedly sank a couple of subs (the planes were armed, unlike today), there is no doubt that CAP's actions were instrumental in reducing the threat of enemy submarines along the coasts.

Today, CAP continues a similar role in Homeland Security. While CAP doesn't chase subs anymore, it does patrol US borders. The Civil Air Patrol has an active flying role in the war on drugs. Aerial patrols are flown over critical infrastructure and national security events. CAP's single engine propeller aircraft serve as targets for practice intercepts by Air National Guard and USAF jets. These can be quite exciting for both the intercepted and intercepting crews.

Just as they did in 1941, Civil Air Patrol members perform these missions as volunteers. When asked why they volunteer, the common answer from volunteers is "To give back to my community." When a CAP volunteer is asked, the answer is more likely "To serve my country."

While many CAP members are former military, and others currently serve, most have never been in the military for a myriad of reasons. Volunteering in CAP is a way for people to feel the pride and sense of service that being a member of its parent organization, the US Air Force, brings.

Are there CAP members who take this a bit far and think they are in the Air Force? Do some CAP members act in a manner that that is not in the best interests of the USAF? Absolutely, in answer to both questions. But the organization does a pretty good job of policing itself. We have to, because when we don't, our parent takes us out behind the woodshed. There have been several times in CAP's history when the USAF, and Congress, have taken CAP to task.

One of the best self-policing mechanisms CAP has is its Cadet Program, for youth 12 to 18 years old. Unlike the adult members, who receive a cursory class in military customs and courtesies, the entire cadet program is modeled after the USAF. This includes C&C, drill, physical fitness, inspections, Air Force grade structure, wear of the uniform, etc. Although trained to respect the adult members as senior officers, one of the best ways to get the adults to show military bearing is to have the cadets give them some remedial training. I know, as I've been on the receiving end of that training.

Overall, the Air Force is pleased to have its Auxiliary. In addition to its Homeland Security missions and Cadet Program, CAP volunteers continue to perform search and rescue and disaster relief missions in the air and on the ground. Its aerospace education program for teachers promotes the value of air power. Several years ago, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs called Civil Air Patrol the fourth component of the Total Force - along with the Guard, Reserve and Active Duty.

As the organization moves into its seventh decade of service, the volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol want to continue to earn the respect of Airmen and the Country.
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