Civil Air Patrol: Serving, mentoring the local community

  • Published
  • By Kevin Chandler
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
While most local teenagers are enjoying a relaxing spring break, Charlie Wolff and Zack Legate are hard at work at the regional airport. Cadet 2nd Lt. Wolff and Cadet Airman Legate are members of the Civil Air Patrol's Jackson County Composite Squadron.

The squadron, made up of more than 20 members, conducts search and rescue missions, emergency services, aerospace education and cadet mentoring. The unit meets every Monday night for classroom instruction in such topics as aerospace education, physical fitness, moral leadership and search and rescue procedures.

Cadet Wolff, whose six years in the squadron make him the most experienced cadet, says the academics are important for teaching both life lessons and the skills needed during search and rescue missions. Such missions are Cadet Wolff's favorite aspect of life in the Civil Air Patrol.

"I like actually getting a call and going to help," he explained, "it's a real adrenaline rush. Right now I'm one of the only cadets with that experience."

But according to the unit commander, Maj. Doug Winters, that could change. The Civil Air Patrol is playing a more vital role in both search and rescue and homeland security since Sept. 11. In addition to being the only search and rescue unit southwest of Lawton, Okla., the squadron helps with Drug Enforcement Agency and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations missions.

The squadron's primary objective, though, is search and rescue. According to Major Winters, aircraft are "required to carry an electronic locator transmitter." In the event of a crash, the transmitter is activated, sending a signal to an orbiting satellite. The satellite takes approximately 90 minutes to complete a full orbit of the Earth. If the signal from the transmitter is received on three consecutive orbits, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center is alerted. From there, notifications are passed down to the state wing staff and on to the closest squadron.

Improving technology helps units pinpoint crash sites with increasing accuracy. Major Winters stated the newest transmitters are rated at 406 megahertz and can "locate a site down to within one mile."

Once a squadron is called to assist in search and rescue, an aerial team and a ground team proceed to the target area. Each aerial team consists of three members, none of which are cadets. Cadets are only authorized to fill ground team positions. The aerial team has a pilot, a mission scanner to observe the left side of the aircraft and a mission observer to scan the right side and assist with navigation and radio communication.

The ground team is composed of members with experience ranging from level 3 (beginner) to level 1 (advanced). Each team also has a team leader, who is at least 18 years old and has additional training beyond level 1 experience. The ground team receives guidance and directions to the target area from the aerial team, provides basic emergency services and secures the site until the proper authorities arrive.

Major Winters, who has been in Civil Air Patrol since 1992, believes these assignments help mentor local teens. "Civil Air Patrol gives cadets job satisfaction, teaches the importance of community involvement and makes you a better citizen," he said.
Cadets Wolff and Legate agree. Legate joined the unit a year and half ago, once he met the minimum age requirement of 12. His stepfather, a boom operator with the 54th Air Refueling Squadron, heard about the unit and mentioned it to his stepson. Looking back, Cadet Legate is proud he joined the squadron.

"I like meeting new people and getting the chance to see what the military is like," he said.

The squadron recruits senior members as well as cadets. Senior members must be at least 18 years old and must pass a series of background checks before entering the unit. Major Winters said this is due to the serious nature of the Civil Air Patrol's mission.

The major emphasized each member receives "extensive training" to ensure they are ready when the squadron is called to help. For example, everyone in the squadron has completed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's course on the incident management system. "Our goal is to be able to walk in to a major event and be able to help in any way possible," he explained.