MER Commander's Commentary - March 2016
February started out with some very sad news. A very dear friend, Col Bill Parris, the Maryland Wing commander passed away. He had been on leave for a few weeks undergoing some treatments and, ever the stubborn optimist, just a few days before he died he had told us he was feeling better and hoped to be back in command in a week or so. A much beloved commander, at the request of his family, his wing and our region members jumped into action to plan a celebration of his life. It was very appropriately held at his wings headquarters in the buildings he had brought into service as the new wing headquarters. His vice commander, Lt Col Joe Winter, rallied the wing to ensure that Bill had a proper send off. CAP's national commander, Maj Gen Joe Vazquez, and Brig Gen Scott Kelly, the Maryland Assistant Adjutant General for Air, attended the service and presented the family with the CAP Distinguished Service Medal and the Maryland Distinguished Service Cross for his service to our state and nation. Close to 200 people attended the memorial service. MER's own Col Jerry Weiss, one of our vice commanders and a former Maryland Wing commander, along with Maj Brenda Reed and Lt Col Sherry McManus coordinated the event. Lt Col Jett Mayhew and the wing honor guard added a very professional touch to the event. There were many other people who worked tirelessly over the four-day period to honor and remember Col Parris but space does not allow me to list them all separately. Please know how much I and the Parris family appreciated everything you did.
One of Col Parris's passions was building the Operations Center at the wing HQ. Lt Col Winter shared with Mrs. Libby Parris a picture of the plaque that will soon be added to the OPS center naming it in his honor. The family asked, in lieu of flowers that mourners donate to a scholarship fund that will be used to assist wing cadets in pursuing their dreams of flight. Those interested can still donate via the Maryland Wing website: www.mdcap.org
The month ended with CAP's National Legislative Day and the winter Command Council meetings. Every wing commander and government liaison met with their congressional representatives sharing the success of 2015 and asking for their continued support for 2016 and beyond. According to Col John Swain, CAP's national legislative advisor, this was one of the most successful years in history. I had the opportunity to share our message with members from Virginia Wing and Maryland Wing. As always, I was blown away with the professionalism of all of our members, especially the cadets. So were the members of congress and their staff.
CAP started our 75th anniversary with a reception following legislative Day. Mr. Gabe Camarillo, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and Chaplain (Maj) Jill Paulsen, the granddaughter of CAP founder Gil Robb Wilson, shared their inspiring thoughts on the past, present and future of our amazing organization. We also premiered the newest video celebrating our history. The link to that video is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3Q1aK_xuSM.
The Command Council Meeting was jam packed with a lot of information and learning sessions. We started out with a briefing for the CCC at the Pentagon. The briefings provided insight into CAP's role with the Air Force. A briefing on the situation around the world helped provide perspective into our mission as a force multiplier for the Air Force. A look into the Air Force of the future also offered a peek at what we can do to help prepare the Air Force through our Airmen as part of the Total Force. The session was attended by Mr. Daniel R. Sitterly, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. He acts for and assists in executing the responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary in the supervision of manpower, military and civilian personnel, Reserve component affairs, and readiness support for the Department of the Air Force. Also attending was Mr. John A. Fedrigo, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Reserve Affairs and Airman Readiness. His responsibilities include planning, establishing policy for and implementing activities relating to the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and the Civil Air Patrol as well as Total Force Airman Readiness. The Air Force Auxiliary reports to the SECAF through these two men who thanked us for what we do for the nation and promised their continued support to their auxiliary and it's Airmen. Several times during our meetings this past weekend we were all reminded that you, our members, are our greatest asset.
We discussed a number of topics over the two days of meetings. Breakout sessions on cadet programs, IT, operations, logistics, and professional development provided a deeper look into each of these important areas. The wing commander's were briefed on updated training for our leaders, specifically squadron commanders, while the CSAG were given a briefing by the NCAC on the taskings assigned to them by the national commander. These included ideas on unit recruiting and retention competitions and awards; the rollout of a eServices video introducing the promotion process to new cadets; a new training program for new cadets call "Operation Enduring Freedom"; and proposed changes to the term of office for the NCAC to provide some overlap in between NCAC's. The cadets did an amazing job and have some great ideas and programs to make our member's experience better.
A poll was taken at the direction of the National Commander on the proposal to further explore some uniform changes. Following discussions it was the overwhelming opinion of the council to move ahead with requesting that CAP be allowed to wear the ABU as the Air Force authorized uniform for our members. This includes a new dark blue with silver thread change in the name tape and CAP tape which will be used on all utility uniforms. We will continue to wear black combat style boots with the ABU. The dark blue corporate uniform will continue to be the corporate utility uniform. The ABU proposal still needs to be reviewed and approved by the Air Force so do not go out and start purchasing the uniform. This may take as long as a year and there is no guarantee it will be approved.
The recruiting contest, with only one month left, hit the 500 new recruits mark! Maj Jacob Gerstein, DC-051, continued to pull ahead of the pack with 17 new members. Cadet Caleb Mize, NC-150, still holds the lead in the cadet category at eight. The contest runs from 1 July 2015 to 1 April 2016 and the winners will be my guests at the MER Conference at the Wyndham Virginia Crossings Conference Center on May 20-22, 2016. The conference will be full of educational sessions, including an entire set of sessions specifically for cadets run the MER Cadet Advisory Council and the MER Cadet Programs staff. We will also be awarding the region "of the year" awards to those nominated by their wings and selected the region's nomination to the national "of the year" awards program. For details on the session and to sign up for the conference please go to the region webpage MER.CAP.GOV and follow the link at the top of the page.
As with most organizationswe have turnover in our staff positions. I am pleased to announce some of these changes. The first is a new assignment, with Lt Col John Lierenz taking on the assignment as the region Recruiting and Retention Officer. He will be working with each of the wing's R&R officers in this area. The MER/A1, Maj James Brogan, who has been living in Nebraska for almost a year will be stepping down and taking on the assignment as the NEWG Chief of Staff. He is being replaced by Lt Col Ted Lybrand, former SCWG and SER/A1. Lt Col Dan Brodsky, the DCS for Cadet Programs, is being replaced by his assistant, Lt Col William Ryan. Maj Jim Holcomb will be taking the lead role as the MER A6I, replacing Capt Aaron Newman as the region IT officer. Capt Newman has assumed command of MER-DC-026. Please join me in thanking all the outgoing staff officers and welcoming their replacements as we strive to make the MER the best region in the Civil Air Patrol!
There are five 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/.
- This same weekend the MER/CAC will be sponsoring the inaugural Middle East Region Warrior Challenge, an "Amazing Race" style competitive event for cadets that will test their physical and mental strength through a series of exercises. This event will feature up to 21 teams of 4 cadets (they don't need to be from the same squadron). Contact for details.
- The MER Chaplain Corps Region Staff College will be held at Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina from May 9th to the 13th. This college is for Chaplains and Character Development Officers. Contact the MER/HC for more information and to sign up.
- As previously mentioned, 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
- 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.
Encampment season is just around the corner and we received some great news from the cadet programs staff at the council meeting. The US Air Force has extended funding for the CEAP - Cadet Encampment Assistance Program - for 2016 and beyond. This year, 2nd and 3rd year cadets who need financial assistance will be allowed to apply for help. We have $500,000 in funding for this effort so there is on financial reason for any cadet to not attend encampment. An announcement from NHQ will be coming out this week with links to apply for the program.
Over the last two months I wrote about two of our core values, integrity and respect. This was not meant to be critical of any specific members. I am a very strong believer in the leadership school "praise in public and criticize in private" and I would never use my "pulpit" to call out a member. I view the role of a leader to also be that of a teacher and I have always believed that the best way to teach core concepts is through examples. When I served on the staff of the region staff college I used case studies to help our future leaders develop strategies for dealing with problems that may arise in their future. It is through real world examples and by making mistakes that we all learn.
We are in the middle of the MER Safety Blitz. I ask each of you to review your safety training and to assist your fellow members. This past month at the CCC meeting Mr. George Vogt, the head of our safety team, asked us all to try and make a mindset change as we go about all of our activities. Instead of thinking "I am going to drive over to the squadron building" try and make the adjustment of thinking "I am safely going to drive to the building.” This small step in keeping safety in the forefront of everything you do can make a significant impact. Besides, who would not want to perform every action every day safely?
Thank you for all that you do and I look forward to seeing a lot of you at NATCAP's conference and awards banquet on March 19th at Fort McNair.
JOHN M. KNOWLES, Colonel, CAP
Middle East Region Commander