They may be few in number locally but their importance can’t be emphasized too much.
Members of the Civil Air Patrol perform 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions assigned by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base and are credited with saving about 55 lives per year during times of catastrophes.
Additionally, members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 26,000 young people currently participating in the cadet programs.
And today, it celebrates its 75th anniversary.
The CAP is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. It’s a non-profit organization with about 57,000 volunteer members nationwide.
CAP volunteers perform homeland security, disaster relief and counter-drug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. It is a non-profit organization with about 61,000 volunteer members nationwide.
There are two active squadrons in Polk County: South Lakeland and the Polk County CAP Composite Squadron, which meets in Winter Haven. Groups are now forming in Bartow and Lake Wales. Membership is open to anyone over 12 years old.
In figures provided by Lakeland Squadron 2nd Lt. James Chamberland, public affairs and recruitment and retention officer, more than 24,000 young people currently participate in CAP cadet programs nationally. National CAP headquarters are at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Ala., and there are about 150 paid staff members who help administer the program.
In the U.S., there are more than 400 CAP airplanes for search-and-rescue use. In the Tampa Bay area, the organization has two Cessna general-aviation planes for use.
Chamberland, 51, is a Lakeland CAP cadet along with his son James Chamberland Jr., 13. He said with Polk County’s long aviation history — dating back to 1940s at Lakeland Army Airfield — to the annual Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In air festival, he’d like to see more interest in the CAP and its activities.
Among events and activities in which the Lakeland squadron has been participating are involvement by Lakeland’s Aviation High School Central Florida Aerospace Academy and the aviation middle schools — Lakeland Highlands and Sleepy Hills.
Chamberland said since many of Lakeland CAP members are still fairly new, the squadron is working to increase members’ certifications and training around emergency services and providing additional manpower to the city, county and state first-response organizations.
“In the near-future, goals we have are to be located at Lakeland Linder Airport to provide additional resources to our aviation community,” he said. “We’d like to join forces with our Florida Wing offices currently located at Sun ‘n Fun facilities. CAP volunteers play valuable parts during Sun ‘n Fun; our cadets serve a number of roles, including ramp marshals and communications.”
The Lakeland Composite Squadron held its October Promotion Ceremony Oct. 27 at St. Paul Lutheran Church. There, cadets who passed their requirements were promoted.
“I am very impressed by the hard work of our newest members, their drive and motivation is exceptional,” said Squadron Commander 2nd Lt. Paul Jilbert.
Lakeland CAP Cadet Commander 2nd Lt. Justin Dal Colletto, 16, a junior at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, said he joined the CAP for a step-up into enlisting in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He’s been a cadet for four years and has completed three of five CAP orientation flights.
One of the main points of relevance of the CAP, Colletto said, is providing assistance to the Air Force in saving lives and protecting property in times of disasters. Some members of the Maryland Wing went to North Carolina, which saw some of the worst flooding from Hurricane Matthew in early October. In South Carolina, the CAP flew along rivers and followed a set of grids to map entire counties, to take pictures for federal and state officials for analysis.
“We help with 90 percent of USAF (search and relief) missions,” he said. “I think what the general public needs to know is the CAP has been providing services since 1941 and we haven’t stopped since.”
Squadron Chaplain Lt. Col. Robert Atchley, a retired Methodist minister and
former chaplain at Florida Southern College, said the CAP offered him a way to serve his country, since there were no openings for chaplains at the end of the Vietnam War. He spent three days in 2005 near Fort Myers and Everglades City assisting CAP with ground surveys, photography, GPS scanning and damage-assessment in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma as well as being a counselor.
Atchley said the most important reason people should be aware of the aviation program and its function is its ability to supplement and help coordinate life-saving missions.
“Everything we do, it is in a spirit of giving and we provide a really important service to our community, state and nation,” he said. “We’re like the original Minutemen; they call, we go.”
According to the CAP website, in December 1941, a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, CAP was founded by more than 150,000 citizens concerned about the defense of America’s coastline. Under the jurisdiction of the Army Air Forces, CAP pilots flew more than 500,000 hours performing a wide variety of duties.
Locally, the 75th anniversary recognition culminates at 12:30 p.m., Dec. 10, at the entrance to the Bartow Municipal Airport. The event will be held at by the CAP Polk County Composite Squadron FL-274 and will include a color guard ceremony to put sign up commemorating the 75th anniversary of the CAP. The Polk Country squadron re-landscaped and took over the beautification of the USAF Cessna T-37 at the entrance, a retired traininer stationed at bartow air base early 1960s, and plan to install their squadron sign there.
— Paul Catala can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7533. He can be reached at Twitter @pcat0226.