Civil Air Patrol back to grass roots

Civil Air Patrol back to grass roots With more than 64,000 members nationwide, CAP, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force is getting back to its roots as a new defense in the war on terrorism.

The Air Force recently moved CAP from its operations directorate to its new homeland security directorate under Brig. Gen. David E. Clary. The new Department of Homeland Security will give the patrol additional duties in national emergencies.

"South Dakota Wing has been in contact with the state homeland security director and has been doing training while at local and regional training events photographing high probability areas," said Major Daryl Hayes, director of emergency services.

CAP has successfully completed a number of homeland security missions since 9/11, including high-profile reconnaissance over the World Trade Center, the 2002 Olympics and the launch of space shuttle Columbia.

The South Dakota wing eventually sees themselves patrolling Mount Rushmore, all of the South Dakota Missouri River dams, communication centers, transmission power lines that run through South Dakota and power substations in numerous locations throughout the state. City water supplies and water distribution pipelines may also be patrolled. Additionally, CAP aircraft could transport antidote medications to hospitals for the Center for Disease Control.

Major Leo Becht, South Dakota wing's director of homeland security, said, "It costs about $90 per hour to keep one of our Cessna aircraft airborne, compared with anywhere from $350 to $4,100 an hour for a military jet, helicopter or transport plane."

Nationally, the patrol owns and operates 550 planes in all 50 states, flying about one official mission daily, with many more practice sessions every week.

"Our wing uses Cessna 172 and 182 aircraft that are high wing and slow flying," said Hayes. "Because they are high wing, it allows personnel on board to clearly see what is on the ground below. They fly slow and are highly maneuverable which means we can quickly return to an area to observe suspicious activity."

CAP has grown to include more than 63,000 volunteer members, including more than 10,000 volunteer pilots. Four thousand members joined after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Because of CAP's increased homeland security work, Congress in February 2003 amended the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to make members of the Civil Air Patrol eligible for Public Safety Officer death benefits.

"The government is recognizing CAP as a valuable asset," said Colonel Mary F. Donley, wing commander. "Under the current turbulent times, there should be something in place for our families in case we don't return from a mission."

Under this bill, Civil Air Patrol members who lose their lives in the line of duty will become eligible for the same federal death benefit provided to other public safety personnel. The bill, titled the Civil Air Patrol Homeland Security Benefits Act (H.R. 3681) applies to the members of CAP who lose their lives or become permanently disabled while engaged in active service in support of operational missions of the U.S. Air Force.

CAP also assists the U.S. Customs Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Forest Service in helping to combat illegal drugs in the U.S. During the past six years, 15 CAP members have given their lives while performing official duties.

Following its inception and original mission in 1941, CAP pilots helped spot 157 subs, sinking two and rescuing hundreds of crash survivors.

In May 1948, Congress made the Civil Air Patrol an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and gave it three missions: aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.

CAP has undergone many changes since its original mission back in the 1940s. CAP has upgraded its surveillance equipment to include slow-scan television technology and night-vision goggles. Its new motto is "The Eyes of the Home Skies," which was also used during WWII.

"I do this because I believe in this great nation of the United States of America and what it stands for and it's my way of contributing," said Hayes. "I believe that I can make an impact and a difference in someone's life."

According to public affairs and information officer Lt. Michael Odle, the wing is scheduled to conduct a type of homeland security reconnaissance mission at Mount Rushmore Saturday morning, June 21. Two Cessna aircraft � a 172 and 185 � are scheduled to take off between 8:45 and 9 a.m. from Rapid City Regional Airport.

There are more than 350 members based in 12 squadron across South Dakota: Aberdeen, Brookings, Custer, Onida, Pierre, Philip, Rapid City/Ellsworth AFB, Sioux Falls (2), Spearfish, Watertown/Milbank, and Yankton.

Today, CAP performs 95 percent of the inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in the continental United States. CAP strives to save lives and alleviate human suffering through a myriad of emergency services missions � search and rescue, disaster relief, humanitarian services and the recent call to homeland security.

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