Commander's Commentary

Our History
Happy 75th birthday, Middle East Region!  On December 1, 1941, Civil Air Patrol was established under the federal Office of Civil Defense per Presidential Administration Order 9.  This evening I will be privileged to attend the 75th Gala representing the region as your commander.  Looking back, it is humbling to know that the first CAP coastal patrol flight took off from Base No. 2 at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on March 5, 1942.  By the end of September 1942, 21 CAP coastal patrol bases extended across 13 states from Maine to the Texas-Mexico border. These included Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North and South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — with four in the Middle East Region. 

Service and Sacrifice
Over 200,000 men and women, 15 and older, served in CAP — organized into 48 wings, one per state — during World War II. Overall, CAP flew about 750,000 hours during the war. Sadly, a total of 65 volunteers died in active CAP service during the war — 62 men, two cadets and one woman. CAP also lost 150 aircraft.  

The wartime support provided to the nation demonstrated that a group of unpaid professionals could make a significant contribution serving their nation, and on July 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 79-476, incorporating CAP as a congressionally-charted non-profit organization. A short time later he signed Public Law 80-557 on May 26, 1948, establishing CAP as the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.  We’ve been serving our communities, states and the nation since. 

Historical MER Contributions
Most of us are familiar with our region’s responses to modern day events including Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Sandy and the “1000 Year” storms in West Virginia and South Carolina but over the last 75 years we have done so much more.  Highlighting one mission from each wing in the region:

Delaware Wing – Hurricane Floyd, a Category 4 storm, slammed into the Middle Atlantic States in September 1999 causing 57 fatalities and billions of dollars in damage. CAP was there to transport state officials, photograph damage, observe flood stages and monitor evacuation routes.

Maryland Wing – Operating out of Cumberland Airport, the wing coordinated all search efforts in the 1964, five-day search for five Air Force crewmen after a B-52 bomber crashed on Big Savage Mountain. A wing observer in a Cessna 179-B helped locate one of two survivors.  The aircraft was ferrying two nuclear bombs.

National Capital Wing – After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the airspace and airports across the entire National Capital Region were shut down for an extended period of time. Subsequently, aircraft and pilots from CAP’s National Capital Wing were granted a waiver to fly in the newly restricted airspace around Washington. At least once per month, the wing participated with NORAD as targets flying into the restricted airspace under both operations Falcon Virgo and Noble Eagle. These monthly missions continue today. As a result, the wing maintains the highest flying hours per aircraft of all CAP wings.

Virginia Wing – The Virginia Wing undertook its largest ever mission in 2008, helping fight the Great Dismal Swamp Fire in southeastern Virginia. The 26-day mission, involving 4,000 acres and requiring 440 flight hours, eight planes, 174 sorties, and 75 CAP pilots and command center volunteers, was completed without a single injury, accident or incident. Pilots flew at 100 mph for three hours at a time at an altitude of a few thousand feet to maintain optimal communications repeater function.

West Virginia Wing – In February 2010, a U.S. Navy MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter flying from Fort Pickett to Camp Dawson crashed into an icy, wooded mountainside. CAP members traveled many miles in a snowstorm to help rescue all 17 aboard. Three wing members received the Bronze Medal of Valor and one received CAP’s Meritorious Service Award.

North Carolina Wing – During Hurricane Irene in 2011, the Winston-Salem Composite Squadron and 11 other North Carolina Wing units helped distribute food and supplies to hard hit areas around the state. The CAP units managed four distribution points and a central distribution point in Beaufort County. More than 140 members participated in the various missions.  This was one of the first uses of Civil Air Patrol members working at a POD (Points of Distribution) center in the U.S.

South Carolina Wing – Hurricane Donna’s 192 mile-per-hour winds caused widespread damage in 1960, but that didn’t deter the South Carolina Wing from responding with 30 mobile relief units, 32 vehicles and 800 flight hours.

The Middle East Region’s history, starting with the first flight of the WWII Coastal Patrol and continuing to today, validates our members’ core value of Volunteer Service.  Every day you serve our nation by volunteering in our missions: Emergency Service, Cadet Programs and Aerospace Education.   I am excited about the future and wonder what amazing things we will see when we celebrate our 100th anniversary in 25 years.

Wing Commander Training
This past month two of our wing commanders, Cols. Joe Winter and Jason Bailey, attended the week- long Region and Wing Commander’s course at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.  The course, unofficially known as “Charm School,” provides a foundation of success for our most senior leaders. It also provides one-on-one interaction with the staff at National Headquarters and the opportunity to ask questions.  One of the best features of the program is the informal networking they are able to do with their peers from other wings.  Both of these fine officers did an outstanding job representing their wings and our region.

MER Staff Retreat
The MER staff held a retreat at the 2016 Maryland Wing conference in mid-November.  The staff reviewed Fiscal Year 2016 goals and metrics for the region and finalized the FY 2017 goals.  Maj. Gen. Joseph Vazquez attended the conference and spent some time with the region staff in the afternoon.  He was very impressed with the staff and the plans and goals we’ve established.  Teri and I had a great time celebrating the wing’s achievements in 2016 and recognizing the “Of the Year” award winners.  One of the personally rewarding events, was the “pre-conference” golf tournament.  Team Knowles (my sons Mike and Dan and I) had the best score by two strokes. (They took the day off to hang out with Dad.)  It was a very memorable weekend. 

Lifesaving Award
I finished the month by attending an awards ceremony given by the American Red Cross for NatCap Wing’s Cadet 2nd Lt. Abigail Faber of the Fairfax Composite Squadron, who saved a life by performing CPR.  It’s easy to take for granted how much mental and physical toughness it takes to jump in and provide CPR to a person in need.

The awards event was attended by a number of Red Cross officials and Fairfax County Fire & Rescue personnel, several of whom were among the first responders called to the drowning. Col. Bruce Heinlein, NatCap’s Wing commander, and Lt. Col. J.D. Ellis, his vice commander, were present at the awards event.  Cadet Faber’s father is an active duty Army lieutenant colonel and a number of his fellow officers, including several General Officers also attended. 

I was asked to say a few words about the impact cadets have in the community, encouraging the ones in attendance to be pro-active in their community.  As I reflected on what I thought would be meaningful, the first thing that came to mind was that I was preaching to the choir.  They had already taken a major step by becoming cadets.  Most of the other speakers focused on the benefits of learning first aid and CPR.  As an instructor I agree that learning those skills is one of the smartest things a person can do and is something everyone should accomplish.  I tried to think about all the urgent events I have been involved with and what one factor stood out. 

For me, there has always been a need for people to have clear heads and the self-confidence to take charge.  People panic when bad things are happening and the self-discipline taught by our cadet program gives our members the ability to “come to the rescue” when they are needed.  I encouraged them to follow the example of Cadet Faber, who is not only a ground team member but a graduate of Hawk Mountain and CAP’s Pararescue and Survival Orientation Course, a National Cadet Special Activity.  Learn everything you can and be ready to help when you are needed. 

I know her brother Caleb is happy she learned all that stuff because it was his life that she helped save.

Wreaths Across America
I am looking forward to seeing many of you at Arlington National Cemetery at the Wreaths Across America event on December 17th to honor all those who served.  We are still in need of volunteers to assist in coordinating the unloading of the trucks at the cemetery.  We need everyone who is planning on attending to sign up at  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/civil-air-patrol-wreaths-across-america-anc-tickets-29312449325

If you live within driving distance of Arlington National Cemetery, please set aside the morning of December 17th to come out to assist at this amazing event.  For those who are able to take some time during the day on Friday, December 16th, we also need some help putting out wreaths at the 9/11 Memorial Gardens at the Pentagon starting at 11:45 a.m.  You must contact Lt. Col. Ellis at , no later than December 8th with your name and CAPID. The uniform of the day is BDUs or corporate equivalent.  I hope to see you there.

Best Wishes for a Wonderful Holiday Season
As we finish out the year and celebrate the holiday season, I hope you can enjoy the time with your family and friends.  As CAP volunteers, we answer the calls when they come no matter what time of day or night.  We spend many weeks over the summer and weekends the rest of the year training to be of service to our communities, states and nation.  Most of the time, that means someone at home is carrying your share of the load.  Please make sure you thank them for me. 

If you are traveling please take your time and arrive at your destination safely.  If you are staying home, enjoy time with your family and friends and remember, all things in moderation.   Thank you for your service and your commitment to our great organization.  I hope you and your families have a wonderful holiday season.  Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish members, Merry Christmas to our Christian members and Happy New Year to all!