The following op-ed was written by Rep. Julie A. Casimiro is a Democrat representing District 31 in North Kingstown and Exeter
During my recent visit to the Quonset Air National Guard Base, I became acquainted with one of America’s best kept secrets: Civil Air Patrol (CAP). If you haven’t heard of CAP before, don’t let that fool you – they are right here in our back yard, providing invaluable services to our local communities. For over 75 years this all-volunteer organization– which just celebrated its 70thanniversary as the official Auxiliary of the United States Air Force– has been performing critical missions for America. There are over 180 CAP volunteers in Rhode Island. As true total force partners, the 143d Airlift Wing serves as the host to the Rhode Island Wing Headquarters in addition to their local units in North Kingstown, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, Warren and West Warwick.
One of the shining stars of Civil Air Patrol is its cadet program, which provides an opportunity for youth aged 12-20 to learn leadership, physical fitness, and be introduced to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. There are over 100 CAP cadets in Rhode Island, and they are all truly impressive young men and women. Cadets attend weekly meetings year-round at one of five units statewide, and have opportunities to participate in additional training on weekends. Each April vacation, cadets participate in a week-long encampment, where they are fully immersed in all aspects of cadet life. In the summer, cadets have the opportunity to participate in special activities throughout the nation, including flight academies, cyber defense academies, and leadership schools. While many cadets go on to bright careers in the military, there is no obligation for cadets to serve. Former cadets have told me that no matter what path they take in life, the skills they learn in CAP have always proven invaluable.
Opportunities in CAP are not limited to cadets; CAP’s adult volunteers form the backbone of the organization’s operational capabilities. From finance to personnel to public affairs, CAP volunteers serve in numerous roles. Civil Air Patrol maintains the largest fleet of single-engine aircraft in the nation, operating over 550 aircraft. Here in Rhode Island, Civil Air Patrol operates two aircraft: one Cessna 172 and one Cessna 182. These aircraft are put to use on a variety of missions, including aerial photography and search and rescue. When Hurricane Sandy struck, CAP aircrews took to the sky, taking high-resolution photos to aid state and federal agencies in assessing the damage. When a man went missing from West Greenwich in April, Civil Air Patrol aircrews assisted in the search efforts. When a gypsy moth outbreak threatened the state’s forestry, CAP provided the Rhode Island DEM with critical mapping flights to assess the affected areas. In addition to performing these critical emergency services missions, CAP pilots also provide orientation flights to CAP cadets, where they are introduced to the thrill of flight. For many cadets, it is their first time in an airplane. Cadets are provided with numerous orientation flight opportunities in single-engine aircraft, gliders, and military aircraft.
While all of CAP’s members are “unpaid professionals,” it is estimated that the work of CAP members here in Rhode Island is worth over $545,547 per year. They provide a tremendous savings of resources to the local, state, and federal agencies who rely upon them. CAP is also always present in the community, whether assisting the RI National Guard at the Air Show and Leap Fest, or marching with the colors in local parades. I am tremendously proud to know that these Rhode Islanders are “Always Vigilant,” and ready to spring into action when duty calls.