October Commander’s Commentary
It is hard to believe that September is done, it seems like we just celebrated the Labor Day weekend and the unofficial start of fall but the September equinox is in our rearview mirror as the days get shorter and the temperature lower. September also is the end of our fiscal year for 2016, which brought an uptick in our operations tempo as we sprinted across the finish line. Most importantly, September brought us several momentous events in the life of the Civil Air Patrol. More about that later.
Maryland Squadron Visit and honoring World War II Veterans
I started out my month with a visit to the Glenn L. Martin Squadron in Maryland Wing to stand in and present the Amelia Earhart Award to C/Capt. Thomas Burke. It was great visiting one of the state’s largest squadrons and visiting with some old friends. The next day I had the honor of representing CAP at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. to celebrate VJ Day – the end of the war. It was a moving ceremony that included wreaths being presented by 12 WWII veterans. Both my Father and Teri’s Father fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII, my Dad in the U.S. Navy and Teri’s in the Army Air Force. This made the event extra special for me as I thought about the sacrifices they and their fellow service members made 70 years ago to keep the world safe for democracy. I took the opportunity to thank each of the veterans. As I walked along shaking hands, one of the gentleman, a WWII/Korea/Vietnam War veteran greeted me with the words, “Civil Air Patrol?” As we talked, he told me he started his military career as a CAP cadet in Philadelphia. He enlisted in the Army and joined the fight in 1945. There was a lot more to his story, which I hope will be shared in the not too distant future, but as we exchanged contact information I discovered he was U.S. Army retired Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton, Jr. Google his name and see what a onetime cadet achieved. Wow!
Honoring Virginia Cadets
I took a drive to the mountains of Virginia to present the Ira C. Eaker award to C/Lt. Col. Alvin Sanders at the Minuteman Composite Squadron in Culpeper. A number of other cadets also received promotions. C/2nd Lt. Jared Adkins received his Mitchell Award from Lt. Col. Jeff Van Etten - Vice Group Commander, cadets Issaiah Chauhan and Freya Slocumb were promoted to C/MSgt., and cadet Conall Slocumb was promoted to C/SSgt. Rounding out the evening, cadet Ethan Cole was promoted to C/Senior Airman. Congratulations to these hard working cadets and to the leadership of the Minuteman Composite Squadron, especially 1st Lt. Ronald Nicholas, the squadron commander. Thanks for the invitation!
Wreaths Across America Preparations
We started the planning meetings for the 2017 Wreaths Across America event which will be held on December 17, 2016. Our team from last year, led by Col. Ziggy Bernfeld, will be looking for your help at Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol as we get closer to December. We need a lot of help, especially qualified communicators, to help bring in over 100,000 wreaths to honor our veterans. CAP’s national commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Vazquez and I will be there. How about you?
U.S. Air Force Honors Civil Air Patrol
The big event of the month was the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference at the Gaylord Convention Center. During the conference, Civil Air Patrol was honored for 75 years of service to the U.S. Air Force and to our country. Members from across the region attended the event. NatCap Wing coordinated CAP’s participation with Col. Bruce Heinlein and Lt. Col. Janon Ellis manning the CAP information booth. Our national history team, led by Col. Frank Blazich, provided a number of amazing historical artifacts for the booth as well.
Mr. Rick Broome, the famous aviation artist, was on hand to present his original picture “Total Force Partners,” depicting one of our region’s aircraft flying a Fertile Keynote mission over Washington, D.C. Mr. Broome likes to include special symbolism in his paintings. The “N number” on the aircraft includes the figures “75,” celebrating our founding on December 1, 1941, and it is from an aircraft that has flown in the airspace over our nation’s capital. I was delighted to meet Rick in person at the AFA event. He is a former CAP cadet who is best known for his paintings presented from each graduating class to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Watch the presentation of the painting here.
C/Capt. Austin Dillow of the St. Mary’s Composite Squadron in Maryland Wing was presented with the the AFA’s Aerospace Outstanding Cadet of the Year at the conference. A National Cadet Special Activity Glider Academy ended up pointing him in the right direction when he was 14 when he soloed a sailplane over an Illinois countryside. Dillow soloed in a single-engine land airplane two years later, on his sixteenth birthday, and earned his private pilot certificate when he turned 17.
Your Civil Air Patrol was recognized by Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein with the U.S. Air Force Organization Excellence Award. View the presentation here. The award recognizes the achievements and accomplishments of various Air Force activities and organizations. It is awarded to internal Air Force organizations that are entities of larger organizations. These are unique unnumbered organizations or activities that perform functions typically fulfilled by numbered wings, groups, or squadrons. The citation read:
The Civil Air Patrol distinguished itself by exceptionally meritorious service from 1 October 2012 to 31 August 2016. During this period, Civil Air Patrol emerged as a true total force partner flying 36,367 operational sorties as the Air Force Auxiliary.
They were the cornerstone of Air Force rescue operations executing 2,943 search and rescue missions for the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, flying 5,040 hours and saving 272 lives. Civil Air Patrol was an integral part of our homeland defense flying 1,950 air defense sorties, providing target support for intercept aircraft. In response to multiple disasters, they valiantly aided relief efforts flying 3,334 hours in support of federal and state disaster response authorities. This included operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy involving an amazing twenty-one wings, using seventy-three aircraft, flying 696 sorties and 1,380 hours, capturing 158,000 images used by emergency responders while ground crews manned shelters and delivered life-saving supplies. When historic flooding threatened South Carolina, Civil Air Patrol volunteers flew 180 search and rescue and imagery sorties capturing 4,480 images.
They supported 959 Air Force and joint exercises including critical training missions simulating unmanned aircraft systems by using sensor modified aircraft to prepare Air Force, Army, and Navy joint terminal attack controllers for their worldwide combat missions. Additionally, aircrews flew 29,395 hours helping law enforcement agencies seize 2.9 billion dollars in illegal drugs and currency leading to 1,530 arrests.
In the classroom, the Civil Air Patrol-sponsored Aerospace Connections in Education program has reached twenty-thousand elementary school children, elevating academics and fitness with an engaging science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-themed curriculum. An annual powerhouse at the Air Force Association’s Cyber Patriot National Youth Competition, Civil Air Patrol bested over three thousand other teams by finishing second in 2015 and third in 2016. Finally, through their Cadet Encampment Assistance Program, Civil Air Patrol has sponsored over 3,700 hundred cadets nationwide, increasing Air Force reach while embracing diversity and growing camp attendance by twenty percent. Civil Air Patrol members provided an incredible 165 million dollars annually in volunteer service hours.
Watch the entire presentation from the U.S. Air Force to Civil Air Patrol
Honoring Cadets in Delaware
I closed out the month with a visit to the Middletown Cadet Squadron in Delaware Wing to present the Eaker award to C/Lt. Col. Justin Desrosiers. He is a five-year member of CAP who, as you can imagine, has a very impressive resume. He is a high school senior who hopes to attend one of the service academies next year. Also on hand for the ceremony was Col. Mike Moyer, the wing Commander, and Lt. Col. Elmer Boyer, the wing’s vice Commander. As I usually do, I took questions from members of the squadron and did my best to answer them. Congratulations Cadet Desroisiers on completing all phases of the cadet program and good luck on your service academy applications.
Suicide Prevention by Supporting Our Fellow Airmen
I want to close out this month’s commentary on a more serious note. Last weekend I got together with a number of my former squadron members to say goodbye to a former cadet and senior member. I saw some people I have not seen in almost thirty years. Other’s that attended were people who I don’t see very often but have seen recently due to the 50th anniversary of my old unit. We lamented about only getting together when someone dies and promised to work on changing that. I bring this up because I want to “foot stomp” two other events that recently occurred. At the CAP national conference, the National Cadet Advisory Council briefed the CAP Senior Advisory Group on an initiative to support cadets through suicide prevention and awareness.
September was National Suicide Prevention Month. Numerous public service announcements and an article from the Secretary of the Air Force reminded us of everyone's 24/7, 365-day responsibility to be a true Wingman. That means knowing our fellow Airmen, family members, coworkers and what is happening in their lives, as well as being willing and able to support them when they are facing challenges that test their resilience. There is a stigma that often keeps us from talking about suicide or sharing a story because it is uncomfortable or may be perceived to reflect badly on the person or their friends or family that couldn’t prevent it. We all have to get past these “things we don’t talk about” and reach out to those in need. Depression is a serious illness. It affects a lot of people, including teenagers. It can’t be fixed alone.
Although I had not seen my friend who committed suicide since a squadron reunion in 2011, there were many people at the celebration of his life who were very close to him. They were angry that he didn’t reach out and that they didn’t stop him. Two people who were there spoke of their own battles with depression and tried to express how people are pushed to taking their own life. The bottom line is we are all wingmen and if you suspect that one of your friends or fellow airmen has issues with depression or thoughts of suicide, reach out to get them help. Many of our squadrons have Chaplains who are a resource for help. Our Wings have CISM teams who can also help. You can also reach out through your chain of command for help as well. I ask each unit commander to work on creating a culture where people feel comfortable discussing their problems and supported in their efforts to seek professional help. Be the Wingman who listens and helps without judgment.
Thank you for all that you do, congratulations to each of you for your contribution to making CAP exceptionally meritorious and outstanding. I look forward to seeing many of you at the West Virginia Wing Conference in Morgantown at the end of the month.