Take Flight: Civil Air Patrol is Taking Public Service to New Heights

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By Samantha Gamez

The first Tuesday of every month is an exciting day at Coulter Airfield in Bryan. Starting at 18:00 hours, boys and girls ages 12 to 17 arrive dressed in Air Force uniforms ready for their weekly drills that begin precisely at 18:30 hours. Some are dressed in their ABUs: camouflage combat uniforms complete with combat boots. Others are dressed in their blues: dark blue slacks with a light blue button up decorated with military ribbons and cords. With excitement in their eyes, they complete their drills ready for the clock to strike 19:00 hours. It’s promotion day for the George H.W. Bush Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, and these cadets are ready to celebrate their new achievements.

Officially established in 1948, the Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary to the United States Air Force. “It’s a standard of personal discipline, respect for other people, and respect for myself,” says Cadet Capt. Rebekah Baker of the Civil Air Patrol. CAP has three missions: aerospace education, cadet programs, and emergency services. The three missions include opportunities for search and rescue training, disaster relief, STEM education, and robotics.

The not-for-profit organization currently has more than 56,000 members worldwide according to the CAP 2017 Fact Sheet. Military enrollment is not required. Should they decide to enlist, cadets have the option of enlisting as an E-3 (Airman First Class) in the Air Force if they reach or pass the cadet grade of second lieutenant in the CAP.

Led by Maj. Wendi Lamphear of the Civil Air Patrol, the George H.W. Bush Composite Squadron of the Texas Wing, located in Bryan, has a combination of senior and cadet members. Currently, the local charter has members from ages 12 to ages 74. It was established on March 31, 2008, and named in honor of President George H.W. Bush.

The squadron is large compared to other squadrons in similarly sized cities. According to Maj. Lamphear, the squadron is twice the expected size given the population of Bryan, but has room to grow.

CAP has two types of membership: cadet and senior. Cadets can join CAP at age 12 and can continue through the program until they are 18. At this point, they can continue their cadet membership until age 21, change to senior membership, or move on to college or the work force. As a cadet, members participate in programs from senior members and community leaders focusing on physical training, character development, leadership, and aerospace.

Senior membership is open to adults age 18 or older. The seniors are extensively trained in one or more specialized fields to help in special missions such as aerial reconnaissance in disaster situations and search and rescue. In the squadron, seniors hold positions of leadership and act as mentors to the younger cadets, according to 1st Lt. Mark Koenig.

Both memberships are voluntary, but senior members are subject to fingerprint and a background check before being accepted. They can be turned away if this process produces a record that would not fit the Air Force criteria, according to Maj. Lamphear.

While CAP does not provide flight training, members have many opportunities to learn about aviation and other technical training areas. “I’ve never seen an organization with so many opportunities,” says Lt. Koenig. As members complete outside opportunities, they can attain higher grades, or ranks.

On a national level, CAP takes on more than 95 percent of all federal in-land search and rescue missions, according to a CAP pamphlet. The George H.W. Bush Composite Squadron has its own plane that one of the three licensed pilots can use to aid in local and regional disasters.

The squadron hosts weekly meetings every Tuesday at Coulter Airfield. The cadet training begins at 18:30, and the official meeting begins at 19:00 hours. New members are always welcome. For more information, visit tx041cap.org. Coulter Air Field is located at 6120 State Hwy 21 E. in Bryan.