MER Commander's Commentary - February 2016
Like many of you, I got to spend the end of January shoveling snow. We had 32" in the backyard, front yard,...well, all around the house and street. With a lot of effort we got dug out and we were back on the road by Sunday afternoon. On Thursday the MER/A3 (Operations) working with the A5/8 (Plans and Strategic Plans) issued an operations order (OPORD) to the wings to secure aircraft and vehicles and to have a plan for digging them out after the storm. Some of you are asking, "Why did we do this, anyone with common sense would have this on their to do list.” We can't assume that everyone is as well gifted with the same level of common sense as you. We send out OPORDs to remind everyone what we need them to look after in order to be mission capable. Now some of you are asking, "What mission, it's snowing like crazy?" Many of our wings have memorandums of understanding (MOU) with the state emergency management agencies that are frequent users of our imagery capabilities and who like having real time pictures of their state. A major snowstorm is like any other natural disaster -- CAP is there to serve. Even if we don't fly a single mission we need to be ready to do so and if necessary to have a plan to reach out to the next door neighbor for help (no borders, no boundaries).
This month your wing commanders and government liaison officers will be meeting with your representatives and senators at the nation's capital. T his event is a chance for us to provide our annual, congressionally mandated update briefing to members of congress to ensure that CAP is fully funded for its missions and programs in the FY17 Appropriations Bill and to help ensure those missions and programs are included in the FY17 Authorization Bill. They will tell them about CAP’s 75th Anniversary, including having each wing commander ask each Member of Congress to attend their wing’s planned events. They will work to recruit Members of Congress to be members of the Congressional Squadron. They will inform them about any local and statewide CAP activities, missions and programs unique to their wings. I share this with all of you to ask for your support. There is a saying that all politics are local. Your wing commander and our national leaders can brief them and their staff but each of you, the local voter, carry more weight than you think you do. Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents. When you are planning your next open house or awards ceremony reach out to their local office and invite them. They may not be able to come but often they send someone from their office to represent them and you are CAP's best salesman.
The MER is heavily involved with the Civic Leadership Academy (CLA), the National Cadet Special Activity (NCSA) that provides insight into how the three branches of government work. In total, nine members of the region are participating, with four of five staff officers from the MER! For the first couple of years of the CLA I also served as a staff officer for this premier NCSA. The cadets will be joining with their wing commanders on Legislative Day during their visit to Congress.
Along with Legislative Day we will hold the winter CAP Command Council meeting. We will be reviewing a number of issues and receive briefings from the staff on all the moving parts that make us the great organization that we are. If you have any burning issues, pass them up through your chain of command. If you happen to be near Crystal City, VA, check the schedule and come on by for any open meetings. The CCC meeting concludes with many of the command council attending the annual Spaatz Association Dinner. You can go to their website spaatz.org for more information about the dinner. While you're on the Spaatz website, check the tab labeled "Programs" for grants and scholarships. Many of our members are not familiar with the generosity of the Spaatz Association. Check it out!
Last month I spent some time talking about one of our core values, respect. This month I would like to touch base on another core value, integrity. If you recall, I defined it as "doing the right thing even when no one is looking.” For me, integrity also speaks to how each of us honors our past and is a guiding light to where we should be going in the future. As members of a large organization we should all follow our core values and demand that our fellow members do the same. As an optimist, I always start out any interaction with the foundation that each of you live the core values and follow them. Sadly, sometimes I am proven wrong. In some cases, people make accusations about the actions of others based on third party information, in other words rumors and gossip. As commanders we want to know when there are problems so we can fix them. Sometimes it requires training, sometime it requires some words whispered to a member about a problem, sometimes it requires a firm reprimand and sometimes there is simply a misunderstanding on a member’s perception of how we do things. It is always better to be a part of the solution than to create problems. Continue to work together to make the MER the shining example of the best region in CAP.
Speaking of the best, our A/6 (Communications) shared with me that the MER came in First place in the NTN standings. This is the national high frequency (HF) net that tests our communications systems across the country. Some of you are probably familiar with the local VHF net that occurs once or twice a week in your wing. The HF net tests our HF/ALE networks that support us all over the country. This is vital to remaining vigilant and mission ready. Our communications network not only supports CAP's radio network but also stands by as a backup for the U.S. Air Force if needed. Thanks to everyone who serves as a net control station and to those who take the time to check into the net. Waiting until a real world emergency and finding out the radio or the repeaters are not functioning is not the way we want to operate.
I received word from NHQ that the region will be receiving four brand new C-182 aircraft. They told us that "You have the best UTE rates in the country, by far." I reported our totals last month, proudly bragging that every wing in the region hit or exceeded the 200 hour per aircraft target. I received compliments from the maintenance folks on a regular basis about how professional our people are and how well we take care of our aircraft. Our own A/3 said, "We are Rock Stars. We take EXCELLENT care of the birds, and we fly the wings off our assets. " I know I can't top that, but I do want to say thank you to all of our pilots, aircrews, and maintainers who care for our aircraft as if they owned them. You make us look good.
I had the opportunity this past month to visit the Wicomico Composite Squadron of the Maryland Wing to present the Ira C. Eaker Award to C/Lt Col Joshua Caldwell. I enjoyed meeting the members of the squadron and even had a chance to see some old friends who used to be members of the unit and came back for this very special event. We also had two cadets in the MER achieve the highest award in the cadet program, the Gen Carl A Spaatz Award. C/Col Leah Schweigert-Opas of the Burke Composite squadron, Virginia Wing #2020 and C/Col Sean Oeting of the Winston-Salem Composite Squadron, North Carolina Wing #2025. Please join me in congratulating these outstanding cadets.
The recruiting contest has moved into high gear this month with a new stand alone leader, Maj Jacob Gerstein, DC-051, with 15 new recruits. Cadet Caleb Mize, NC-150, still holds the lead in the cadet category at adding two more to his total of 8. There is one member at 12 and two members at 10. The contest runs until 1 April 2016 so there is still plenty of time for you to get into the race. During this time frame 290 of our members have recruited 424 new members. Keep up the good work!
There are three major region events coming up for you to add to your calendars. They are MER Search and Rescue College (MERSAR), where you can improve your skills and pick up some new ones. Put 22-24 April 2016 on your calendar. You can find out more at http://mersar.com/. The MER Conference will be held on 20-22 May 2016 at the Virginia Crossings Hotel & Conference Center, 1000 Virginia Center Parkway, Glen Allen, VA 23059 http://www.wyndhamvirginiacrossings.com/. The MER Staff College will be held on 9-16 Jul 2016 at the Edgewood Arsenal at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. This school is for members at the mid-level staff and manager level. It is required for promotion to Lt Col and for the Paul E Garber Award. Information on all of these events is available on the MER website at https://mer.cap.gov
Let me close with safety. The MER Safety Blitz begins on 14 Feb and runs through 26 Mar. This emphasis on safety provides the opportunity for all of us to pause and reflect on one of the most important aspects of everything we do, ensuring that our members go home following a mission without any injury or accidents. The CAP safety program is built on four pillars of the safety management system: Promotion, Risk Management, Assurance and Policy. The extended period provides flexibility to each unit and member to better understand safety and what it means to them. Please work with your units and your safety officers to ensure that we meet the national commander's goal of "nobody gets hurt" and that each of us does our part.
Thank you for all that you do.
JOHN M. KNOWLES, Colonel, CAP
Middle East Region