Chances are you’ve heard of the U.S. Air Force, but did you know it has a branch that’s entirely volunteers?
It’s called the Civil Air Patrol and it boasts 56,000 members nationwide. Vermont claims between 10 and 50 of them, depending on the year. Captain Bryan Holland has been flying with the East Squadron since 2003.
“The Civil Air Patrol started in 1941 and primarily was founded to help the war effort by looking for u-boats off the coast of America and since that time, it’s evolved into what it is today which is mostly 3 missions: emergency services, aerospace education, and cadet program,” Capt. Holland said.
As the official auxiliary for the U.S. Air Force, CAP has bases in Barre/Montpelier, Rutland, Bennington, South Burlington, and Springfield.
“With our volunteer pilots and our low cost aircrafts, we can supplement the Air Force missions by operating cheaply and freeing up military assets to do other jobs,” says Holland.
Holland says he couldn’t imagine his life any other way.
“I personally have flown a number of teenage cadets and we go up in the plane and show them the basics of how airplanes work and a lot of them are now flying in the commercial world or are in the military,” Holland says. “That’s one of the amazing things about the Air Patrol is we have members 12 years old to 90 years old.”
Captain Holland says he has witnessed some of our nation’s and our region’s most devastating natural disasters. He remembers Hurricane Irene like it happened yesterday.
“There’s a lot going on at once and with our planes, we can get airborne and take pictures and surveillance of damaged bridges, damaged roadways, and coordinate that info with FEMA and State Police so they can move ground support where they need to,” says Holland.
His crew also located the missing Stowe Soaring Glider back in late August.
“We had some general aviation aircraft in the area that had coordinates they suggested and we were able to find the aircraft within 10 or 15 minutes,” Holland recalls.
As Local 22 and Local 44 has reported, both passengers and the pilot did not survive that crash.
“A lot of general aviation aircraft such a gliders they don’t carry emergency locator beacons and they don’t have cell phones or radios on them and sometimes those systems fail and that’s when we’re going out with eyeballs and that’s when we have volunteers who get in the back of the planes and go look for them,” says Holland.
Despite outcomes that aren’t always good, Holland says it’s the successful missions and the service to his community that keeps this pilot coming back each day.
“Giving back to the community, teaching younger cadets, helping out when we do have a disaster,” says Holland.
Holland says to volunteer with CAP, you don’t need to be a pilot, or even need to go up in a plane. To learn more about membership opportunities, click here.