Civil Air Patrol celebrates 66th anniversary

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2007

Saturday marked an anniversary that passed by most people. The Civil Air Patrol marked its 66 years of existence.

Most people hear about the Civil Air Patrol when an air search is needed such as when an airplane goes down.

Chesapeake Composite Squadron formed seven years ago, although there has been a Tri-state organization for decades.

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“It’s one of the best kept secrets,” Squadron Commander Lt. Col. James A. Pierce said of the group. The Civil Air Patrol was formed six days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

“The Civil Air Patrol has done search and rescue for pilots and aircraft since that time,” Pierce said. “We don’t look for credit in newspaper and TV. The CAP just doesn’t have a big splash.”

And although it is officially an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, it is an all-volunteer group that raises its own funds to help out.

The local squadron has 11 members, including five cadets.

Over the last few years, the group has been on several operations, which generally includes when an airplane’s emergency locater goes off. That can occur when a plane crashes or

just because of a mechanical error.

Pierce said being in the CAP is a good mix for him.

He began flying 20 years ago for fun, but he has also been a volunteer fireman in Chesapeake for a decade as well as being a Red Cross instructor for more than 30 years.

“We provide something for the community, particularly with the cadet program,” Pierce said.

The cadet program is similar to a school ROTC program but doesn’t have a military obligation.

“It’s open to kids who are interested in flying or airplanes even if mild curiosity,” he said.

Pierce said they teach the cadets about leadership and making ethical choices. They also get to take some interesting trips. For example, they have seen the NORAD command center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., and even got to go on a refueling aircraft tanker.

“They refueled the Blue Angels,” Pierce said.

The Blue Angels are a flight demonstration group that performs all over the country.

“We had lots of young faces smashed up against window glass, going ‘Oooh,’ and getting their cameras out to take photos,” Pierce said.

The CAP is an all-volunteer group that has to raise its own funds.

“We get no funding from local agencies,” Pierce said.

When asked why people are in the CAP since they don’t get the glory and they don’t get funds from the Air Force, Pierce said it wasn’t about either of those things.

“The overwhelming thing is public safety,” he said. “Why does a volunteer fireman get up to fight a fire at 3 a.m. There are a lot of people who do a lot of lot of things and aren’t paid.”

Pierce said it is about giving back to the community.

“There isn’t a pilot out there who doesn’t appreciate the CAP if something goes wrong,” he said.

And when it came to marking their anniversary, you wouldn’t have found the CAP squadron at the Lawrence County Airport on Saturday.

“We were out helping the Salvation Army by ringing bells, that was our project for the day,” Pierce said. “I think that’s important in a community like ours, to pool resources.”