(by Audrey Hudson, WashingtonTimes.com) – The Civil Air Patrol guarded the U.S. shoreline from Maine to Texas against German U-boats during World War II, and now the all-volunteer force is playing a vital role in the war against terrorism.
The 56,000-member-strong organization is participating in a growing number of homeland security missions, conducting aerial reconnaissance of military ships and other offshore activity, protecting sensitive and critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks, and assisting the U.S. Border Patrol.
“We were the eyes of the home skies when we started 65 years ago to spot German submarines and rescue downed pilots, and now we are going back to our roots as the eyes of the home skies,” said Col. Kay Joslin Walling, commander of the Middle East Region of the Civil Air Patrol, which includes the District, Maryland and Virginia.
The volunteers of the Air Force auxiliary in Washington protect the country by acting as the enemy during monthly “Falcon Virgo” exercises over the nation’s capital, where they perform a high-tech game of hide-and-seek with armed Air Force jets.
“As the National Capital Wing’s planes closed in on restricted areas, ground forces tracked them with radar, and surface-to-air missile operators locked them in their radar sights,” the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) reported to Congress on its 65 years of operations.
“Air Force F-16 fighter jets intercepted the mock enemies and escorted them out of the restricted airspace,” the report said.
The organization will celebrate its 65th anniversary this week with Capitol Hill lawmakers.
When World War II ended, CAP focused on search-and-rescue missions, and disaster relief in cases of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms and fires. The patrol also fights the illegal drug trade and last year netted $1 billion in seizures. In their new role in the war on terrorism, pilots use state-of-the-art equipment and a fleet of airplanes to participate in regular patrols and terrorist-event exercises.
Since the inception of the Homeland Security Department, CAP has provided surveillance for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Kentucky Derby and other major events.
Using satellite digital imaging systems, Cessna airplanes relay reconnaissance photographs in real time to emergency or disaster centers. They were crucial in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
The New York Wing was the first aircraft in the air over ground zero after September 11, shooting aerial images of the damage the next day to determine how rescue workers could traverse the scene.
White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend presided over an exercise last weekend to test the government’s response to bombing scenarios. Capt. Dan Proffen used his day off to patrol critical infrastructure along the Chesapeake Bay.
“Nothing should be able to slip past me,” Capt. Proffen said as he piloted a Cessna Skylane equipped with a Garmin G-1000 glass cockpit and computerized controls.
“This plane will fly itself,” said Col. Jerry Weiss, commander of the Maryland Wing.
“It wows the people sitting in the emergency operations center, when the pictures appear in real time. We can watch as evacuations unfold,” Col. Weiss said. “It’s situational awareness for people sitting in a room with no windows.”
CAP officials call the effort a bargain for the government: less than $400 to fly a Cessna 182 for four hours, compared with $1,800 for one hour to operate a Black Hawk helicopter.
“All of us have real jobs; we don’t get paid for this, which is why we are so financially cost-efficient,” Col. Walling said.
Capt. Proffen joined the CAP-operated cadet program at age 17. Eight years later, he continues to volunteer his time flying weekly patrols and uses his vacation time from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, where he works as an engineer, to serve as a flight instructor for new cadets.
After takeoff from the Bay Bridge Airport on the Eastern Shore, Capt. Proffen headed north toward a plume of black smoke, which upon closer inspection appeared to be a field-clearing effort on a stretch of land surrounded by the frozen Bay waters.
Flying a loop around a Susquehanna River dam to check the structure’s integrity, Capt. Proffen made his way back down the Bay for a final survey of the Bay Bridge yet avoided Aberdeen Proving Ground.
“We don’t fly through there,” Col. Walling later explained. “They shoot off some big guns over there.”
Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com
1. What is the Civil Air Patrol (CAP)?
2. When and for what purpose was CAP first created?
3. What role did CAP play after WWII?
4. a) How many members does CAP currently have?
b) What is CAP’s main focus today?
5. How did CAP assist in fighting the illegal drug trade last year?
6. How do you think CAP benefits our country?
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