Civil Air Patrol: A foundation for leadership, education

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Paul R. Evans
  • 421st Combat Training Squadron
Finishing my duty one recent August day, I could hear the echo of enthusiastic chants from the cadets of the New Jersey Civil Air Patrol encampment hosted by the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center. 

Their chants recalled my own memories as a CAP cadet and senior member from years past.  It also got me thinking about how important CAP is to not only those young cadets, but the U.S. Air Force and military as well. 

I started in the Civil Air Patrol as a freshman in high school in the Waukegan Composite Squadron of the Illinois Wing. There, I received my indoctrination in aerospace history and technology, military customs and courtesies, flying powered aircraft, radio communications and search and rescue missions. 

Having taken advantage of this program as a high school student, I was able to enter the Air Force as an E-3. After entering the Air Force, I learned that there is a significant lack of knowledge about this excellent alternative to the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. 

As a 100 percent volunteer, nonprofit auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, it boasts 57,000-plus volunteers nationwide, according to the CAP Web site,   

Its primary missions are to develop its cadets, educate Americans on the importance of aviation and space, and perform life-saving humanitarian missions. To develop its cadets, the Civil Air Patrol teaches leadership, followership, physical fitness and character building. 

The cadet program is for children ages 12 to 18. Cadets wear uniforms that are similar to the Air Force, but with distinct differences. They advance in rank by taking tests that measure their leadership and aerospace knowledge. The enlisted rank structure is similar to the Air Force; including first sergeant and command chief. 

From my own experience, I can tell you cadets also have the opportunity to advance into officer ranks as well. The first of these is Cadet Flight Officer. When a cadet earns this rank, he or she receives the General Billy Mitchell Award that acknowledges the cadet's achievements in the cadet enlisted ranks. 

Currently, the Air Force awards these recipients the pay grade of E-3 upon enlistment into the Air Force and after completion of basic military training. Sister services offer E-2 to the recruit. 

Cadets receive orientation flights in powered aircraft and are given the opportunity to learn how to fly and solo in both glider and powered aircraft. 

If the cadet is interested in foreign exchange program, the Civil Air Patrol offers its International Air Cadet Exchange Program. The aerospace education program teaches the cadet aerospace history, concepts and technology in an attempt to stimulate the cadet's creativity and interest in aviation and space. 

Thus, many cadets aspire to be accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy. In fact, approximately 10 percent of each freshman class compromises former Civil Air Patrol cadets. 

The Civil Air Patrol has a rich history dating back to World War II. New Jersey aviation advocate, Gill Robb Wilson, conceived the idea of a civil air defense in the late 1930s. On Dec. 1, 1941, just days before Pearl Harbor, the Civil Air Patrol was established with the help of New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. 

Armed with bombs and depth charges, the CAP flew more than 24 million miles during World War II. Finding 173 German U-boats, they attacked 57, hit 10, and sunk two. This paved the way for a Presidential Executive Order making the CAP an auxiliary of the Army Air Force. After the war, a German commander confirmed that U-boat operations were withdrawn against the U.S. coast was because of "those damn little red and yellow airplanes." 

A year after the creation of the U.S. Air Force, the Civil Air Patrol became the official auxiliary. 

Since World War II, the mission of Civil Air Patrol has evolved to meet today's challenges. They fly 90 percent of all federal inland search and rescue missions as directed by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Logging more than 100,000 flying hours, they save approximately 75 lives each year.
Missions also include disaster relief, communications, counter-drug, homeland security, and emergency medical supply transport. 

When you see the Civil Air Patrol, don't laugh or poke fun. They aren't around to "play G.I. Joe." They actually have a mission, a mission far greater than most realize, and one I've personally experienced. 

You may think CAP cadets aren't "real Airmen," but they are dedicated, smart and keen in learning and promoting aerospace education. 

They could also use your help as a mentor and leader. These cadets are the future leaders of the Air Force and other sister services. They are always vigilant. 

For more information or how to join go to