Civil Air Patrol a fun (and important) service to the community

Civil Air Patrol a fun (and important) service to the community

Attend a meeting and find out how you can be a part of this ‘secret’ organization

Larry Webster served in the Air Force for 22 years, but he had never heard of Civil Air Patrol before.

A girl he was dating at the time, though, back in 1970s was a member and Webster used to drive her to the meetings and sit off in the corner and watch.

After a while of just sitting off to the side, eventually he decided to get involved in CAP.

“Since I was military at the time, they said ‘Why don’t you just join? You could really help out,’” Webster said.

Webster joined CAP in 1979 and worked his way up to earn the rank of Lt. Colonel. He’s currently the commander of the 99th Composite Squadron based in West Memphis where he oversees about 18 cadets. The squadron meet every Monday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the ASU Aviation Technical Center at 409 Taxiway.

Civil Air Patrol will celebrate its 76th anniversary in December.

Webster said not many people though, know what Civil Air Patrol is.

“One of the things we say is it’s the best kept secret,” Webster said.

Civil Air Patrol is a Congressionally chartered, federally supported civilian, volunteer auxiliary of the United States Air Force. It was started on Dec. 1, 1941, only six days before the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. The government was looking for a way to use its civilian aviation assets to aid in the war effort.

Civil Air Patrol flew anti- submarine patrols, border patrols, and provided courier services. CAP pilots flew 24 million miles, found 173 enemy U-boats, attacked 57, hit 18, and sunk two. The 113th Congress (201314) awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to WWII members of CAP.

Today, CAP has 57,331 members in over 1600 local chapters in all 50 states.

Webster said CAP has three missions: emergency services, aerospace education, and the cadet program. CAP supports the Air Force, FEMA, and state and local authorities in times of disaster through air and ground search and rescue and disaster relief efforts.

“We have participated in almost every major disaster across the country,” Webster said. “Civil Air Patrol has been there in the command centers working with FEMA and law enforcement to support whatever is needed in a disaster.’ CAP also provides aerospace education for the youth and public, including workshops for teachers.

“We are trying to introduce aviation to people around the country,” Webster said. “Our cadets in the program get orientation rides to get them interested in flying in the hopes that they go on to become pilots or in careers in aviation or aerospace related industries. We also provide workshops for teachers where they can come in and learn about aerospace. We have had astronauts and other people from NASA come in and speak to teachers.”

CAP’s cadet program is set up like the military and teaches youth ages 12-21 about aerospace and leadership.

“The cadets in our program wear the Air Force style uniforms, they learn customs and courtesies, drill and ceremony, and the progress through the program by taking leadership and aerospace tests. Once they complete all of the requirements for a certain grade, then they are promoted to the next grade in rank.”

Webster said CAP is a great organization for anyone interested in learning about aviation and search and rescue. CAP has been called out locally to assist in searches for downed aircraft in the past.

“Most of the time they are false alarms,” Webster said. “But you never know. We’ve done search and rescue in Crittenden County, Helena-West Helena, and even send a ground team down to Hot Springs. Two or three years ago there was a crash around Mena. There were six of our planes and three or four ground teams. So we have members who have gone out on missions. We practice missions once a quarter to hone our skills.”

CAP cadets also participate in color guard activities, flag raisings, and get to fly in all different kinds of civilian and military aircraft during encampments.

“In Oklahoma we got to fly in a Chinook helicopter,” Webster said. “And next year in the summer at our encampment we are looking at getting C-130 rides.”

Webster said participating in CAP can lead to rewarding careers in aviation and the military, or even just getting your pilot’s license.

“We have a shortage of pilots in this country,” Webster said. “Civil Air Patrol is teaming up with a lot of companies and getting money to help cadets go get their pilot certificates, and also money to help them continue after their pilot certificate in order to advance their pilot skill and rating.”

Webster said he enjoys working with cadets and has had many who have gone on to careers in the military because of their involvement in CAP.

“To see them go off to the military or college and see them use what they learned in CAP is really rewarding,” Webster said. “I’ve had two kids who joined when they were 12 years old from our squadron who got appointed t the Air Force Academy. I had a set of twins and their cousins who went in to the Air Force. They have stayed in and made it a career. I had another young man go in to the Navy. He’s made a career. And I had another set of twins — one went in the Army and the other the Marines. So I enjoy working with the kids and watching them grow.”

For more information about Civil Air Patrol and the local squadron contact Lt. Col. Webster at 870225-6849.

By Mark Randall