[Editor’s Note: We received this from a Florida Wing member. Thank you for your contribution. This mock terrorist exercise was originally authorized and approved by the Florida Wing Commander, Col Matt Sharkey. He was suspended for two weeks and given a free pass by his friend Tony Pineda for his ill conceived action. 1st Lt Chuck Harrison was made the escape goat and later terminated.]
CORAL SPRINGS — The longtime leader of a popular teen Civil Air Patrol group has been removed from his position after parents complained about a mock terrorist demonstration he helped arrange.
Chuck Harrison, the group’s squadron commander for the past seven years, will be transferred to another unit composed solely of adults and is forbidden to participate in any cadet activities for a year, according to Col Antonio Pineda, the organization’s regional commander, who investigated the complaints.
Harrison arranged a mock terrorist demonstration, which involved fake gunmen shooting blanks, on Jan 8 for his teenage cadets and allowed them to participate in the event, Pineda said. The group meets on Thursday nights at the Coral Springs Charter School, 3205 N. University Drive.
The patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, with about 27,000 cadets nationwide.
“Some of the parents complained and some thought it was great,” Pineda said on Thursday. “But if you put one kid at risk, it becomes a problem.”
Harrison, a letter carrier who parents say is beloved by his cadets, said he was devastated by the news.
“It’s way too extreme,” Harrison said. “It is really a travesty that the organization is upholding the complaints of a few rather than considering my record.”
A second leader, Wing Commander Col Matt Sharkey, was suspended after the incident but reinstated two weeks later after he told investigators he was unaware weapons would be used in the demonstration, Pineda said.
The squadron, known as SER-FL-016, is one of the most decorated in the state. In 2002, the group earned a Florida Wing Squadron of Merit award, and was named a Florida Wing Squadron of Distinction in 2000 and a National Squadron of Distinction in 1997. The group has also been named the Florida Wing Outstanding Squadron of the Year three times since 1992.
CIVIL AIR PATROL LEADER IS SUSPENDED (31 January 2004)
A leader of a popular Civil Air Patrol teen group has been suspended after helping arrange a mock terrorist attack in which sham gunmen fired blanks and set off a smoke bomb, according to Civil Air Patrol officials and a witness.
During the presentation, a fake gunman with pretend dynamite strapped to his body exchanged “shots” with another pretend gunman in a terrorist scenario, according to a Civil Air Patrol member who attended the January 8 event in the cafeteria of the Coral Springs Charter School. The cadets had been told ahead of time the scenario was a demonstration.
“The kids thought it was cool,” said parent Chris Murray of Tamarac, whose 12-year-old son was at the event. “I can’t say I have a big problem with it but there were a few parents who were really [upset].”
Principal Estelle Strader declined comment, saying the Charter School only provides a site for the group to meet.
Suspended is 1st Lt Chuck Harrison, a nine-year volunteer, pending completion of the investigation, said Civil Air Patrol spokeswoman Mary Nell Crowe, at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. A second leader, Wing Commander Col Matt Sharkey, was suspended after the incident, but reinstated last week.
Regional Commander Tony Pineda, who is investigating the incident, gave no explanation this week for Sharkey’s reinstatement, and both Sharkey and Harrison said they could not discuss the incident until the investigation is over.
Murray, who attended a special Jan 15 meeting for parents, said many parents and cadets were upset with the suspensions.
A chaplain and therapist were also present at that meeting, he said.
According to a Civil Air press release on the group’s official Web site, the demonstration did not meet the organization’s commitment to providing a “positive learning environment” for its participants, in middle and high school.
In Coral Springs, the camouflage-clad members of SER-FL-016 are visible at large city events like the annual Our Town festival and the Haunted Boardwalk, where they assist with parking.
The group meets on Thursday nights at the Coral Springs Charter School, 3205 N. University Drive.