CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, NM, UNITED STATES
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. - The Eastern New Mexico squadron of the Civil Air Patrol hosted a change of command ceremony at the Army National Guard Armory in Clovis, N.M., May 28.
During the ceremony, Col. Mark Smith, New Mexico Wing CAP commander, relieved 1st Lt. David O'Leary of command of the Clovis High Plains Composite Squadron, passing the title to CAP Capt. Armando Carrion, an active duty Air Force master sergeant.
To Air Commandos at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Carrion is the operations superintendent of one of the flying squadrons on base; to CAP members, he is the newly-minted squadron commander, a responsibility the lifelong CAP participant shoulders with pride.
According to the CAP website, in the late 1930s, more than 150,000 civilian aviation enthusiasts lobbied for an organization that enabled them to put their skills and resources to use in defense of their country. After years of determination, the CAP program was officially established in 1941, just one week before the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
After making invaluable contributions during World War II, including logging more than 500,000 flying hours, sinking two enemy submarines and saving hundreds of crash victims, President Harry Truman signed Public Law 476, incorporating CAP as a benevolent, nonprofit organization. Just two years later, Congress passed Public Law 557, permanently establishing CAP as the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
At the time of its inception, CAP was charged with three primary mission areas: aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.
"Aerospace education involves partnering with local schools and after school clubs to advertise and teach youth about all things aerospace, whether we're teaching them about space, rockets, airplanes, or meteorology," Carrion said. "The cadet program is very similar to Air Force JROTC, and emergency services pertain to search and rescue, disaster relief, homeland security and counternarcotic missions."
Members of CAP are divided into two groups: cadets and seniors. Cadets are adolescents ages 12 to 20; seniors are participants ages 21 and older. Both cadets and seniors have unique goals and responsibilities within the CAP organization, and are crucial to its future.
For the first several years of their involvement, CAP cadets function primarily in a learning capacity.
"Cadet training is very similar to what airmen learn during Basic Military Training," Carrion said. "Cadets wear the Air Force uniform, learn drill and ceremonies, and memorize military rank and structure. Their curriculum instills good values and teaches them to be moral, productive citizens. Cadets are also introduced to the emergency services program through field exercises, SAR exercises and physical fitness."
After completing the cadet phase, CAP members may transition to senior status, taking on more responsibility, mastering a craft and facilitating cadet training. Members who join when they are over the age of 18 enter the program at the senior level.
"Our seniors continue to support CAP's three mission objectives," Carrion continued. "Each individual selects a specialty track and begins training in their discipline of choice. Some seniors become educators in the cadet program; some teach aerospace education; and some become actively involved in our emergency services program."
Having proved their worth during World War II, CAP has continued to save lives and provide relief through its emergency services program. Unlike many similar agencies, CAP participants possess Federal Emergency Management Agency certifications and are qualified nationwide, making them the go-to organization for law enforcement entities such as the New Mexico State Police, the Border Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The CAP program also dominates SAR efforts, flying more than 85 percent of all federal inland SAR missions, and supporting the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Members of CAP also have a hand in disaster relief and humanitarian services. In addition to providing air and ground transportation and a vast communication network, CAP has formal agreements with many government and humanitarian relief agencies, facilitating effective operations.
In addition to performing missions in direct support of the Air Force by conducting light transport, communication support and low-altitude route surveys, CAP joined the war on drugs in 1986, offering their resources to halt the trafficking of drugs into, and within the United States.
With a team of high-speed volunteers at his command, Carrion has set goals to advance operations and support capabilities within his squadron.
"My goals as a commander are very simple," he said. "I would like to train one full-up aircrew consisting of a mission pilot, scanner and observer, so that any time the community calls on us, we'll have a crew ready to go. I would also like to have two ground teams to support SAR efforts in the Eastern New Mexico area. Finally, I hope to develop our cadet program - a squadron of 50 active cadets in one year is the goal."
Though cadets are not required to enlist in the military at any time, roughly 10 percent of participants go on to become service members. CAP members who transition to active duty, guard, or reserve military positions are uniquely prepared for the crossover.
"Having been a member of CAP for most of my teenage years, I had already mastered almost everything Air Force trainees are taught during BMT," Carrion said. "Because of their experience, CAP members are often prepared to take on leadership roles and assist their peers as they try to assimilate to the military lifestyle."
Individuals who participate in CAP are also afforded the opportunity to become valued members of their local community and provide aid during times of need.
"CAP certainly provides a chance to get involved in the community," Carrion said. "It's a good, honest program that supports the community, and is supported by the community. It's a little different than most volunteer opportunities because you're doing something that's directly benefiting the community in a time of crisis while simultaneously furthering career goals. Our training goes hand-in-hand with both civilian and military career goals."
The CAP program is scheduled to host an open house June 22, 2013, at the Clovis Airport. Parents and service members alike are encouraged to attend. According to Carrion, the future of the CAP squadron lies with potential recruits and cadets.
"I truly believe in CAP and cadet programs," he said. "This is an excellent program for pre-teens and young adults to get involved with. Recruiting and developing a team of strong, capable cadets today, translates to a great, innovative squadron tomorrow."
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This work, CAP holds change of command, seeks new recruits, by SSgt Whitney Amstutz, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.