Not every kid is drawn down the path to serve their country, but those who are can find a satisfying trail with the Civil Air Patrol.
CAP provides adults and youth, starting at age 12, opportunity to serve while being an integral cog in search and rescue efforts and other emergency response services throughout Wyoming and the country.
The all-volunteer organization, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is older than the U.S. Air Force, but is now part of its structure.
Wyoming CAP has held encampment for the first 10 days of August at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center nine out of the last ten years. Cadets from Wyoming, and a few from out of state, muster to increase their knowledge of aerospace, practice military discipline and skills, and fly in a few of the Guard’s aircraft, to include UH-60 Black Hawk and C-130H Hercules.
Lt. Col. Beverly Carlson, encampment commander, said this year’s gathering has been particularly enriching because of the opportunity for qualified cadets to also fly one of CAP’s Cessna 182 airplanes.
“It’s the first time we’ve brought some of our aircraft to encampment,” Carlson said. “There are flight academies held around the country where members who are 16 years and older, and that have class 3 medical certification can learn to fly for free.”
Capt. Heather Steed, a training officer with CAP, and a first lieutenant with the 90th Missile Wing’s Security Forces, at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, said Wyoming’s CAP encampment is among the nation’s best. She said about 30 students and 10 cadet staff were in attendance as compared to the U.S. Air Force Academy’s 212 encampment participants this year.
“We’ve become known for having a great encampment. It’s a lot more intimate here,” she said. “There’s lots of one on one instruction. We’re kind of unique.”
There are two primary missions, besides emergency service, for the organization, Steed said. One is to instill military discipline and bearing in its members. Another is providing aerospace education, to its own members and potential members in schools and elsewhere in the community. She said CAP members going to schools provides not only an opportunity to educate students, but a chance to inspire them to join the ranks, an experience she knows first-hand.
“I was 12 when a senior member came to my junior high in Sheridan and asked if I wanted to fly. Then I went to my first encampment,” Steed said. “It was a lot more stringent then—more like basic training, but I really found my niche in leadership. Without CAP, I wouldn’t have decided to do ROTC and commission.”
A similar story came from 19-year-old Justus Nelson, who was a private first class in the Wyoming Army National Guard’s 920th Forward Support Company, and is now a ROTC cadet in that same unit. He joined CAP five years ago, and the Guard 2 1/2 years ago.
“I saw somebody wearing the uniform at school and started asking some questions and got involved,” Nelson, the wing’s cadet of the year, said of his initial experience with CAP. “I wanted to be in a military environment, so I started attending meetings. It was extremely helpful and got me prepared to be high speed and disciplined when I joined the military. “
The Civil Air Patrol falls under the 1st U.S. Air Force Air Combatants Command, and in Wyoming reports directly operationally to the Wyoming Military Department’s Joint Operations Center (JOC) in Cheyenne. With eight aircraft in the state, and about 550 nationwide, Steed added the group conducts 90 percent of search and rescue missions, and provides aerial photography and reconnaissance to various agencies.
That relationship, according to Maj. Aaron Seng, encampment safety officer from the Torrington Squadron is “top notch.” He said not all CAPs are supported by state military departments.
“I’ve been in five wings, and no one has it as good as we do in Wyoming,” he said. “National Guard personnel here seem to have a better understanding of what we do, and their support through ease of access to facilities and armories, and funding is outstanding.”
If you, or someone you know is interested in joining CAP, give the Wing Headquarters a call at (307) 773-4405.