Seventy five years ago, the world was at war. While thousands traveled overseas to fight, there were many who volunteered to protect America’s coasts – and Civil Air Patrol was born.
Although its mission has changed over the years and new technology has been added, the core of civil duty and volunteerism remains strong among its members.
Acting as the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base, more than 60,000 CAP volunteers assist in hundreds of inland search and rescue missions, homeland security and disaster relief missions annually. Recently included into the U.S. Air Force’s Total Force, CAP in 2014 also received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest honor, for its heroic efforts in World War II.
CAP has come a long way from the initial vision Jill Paulson’s grandfather, Gill Robb Wilson, had for a volunteer fleet.
It has grown to include cadet and STEM programs and now aids 90 percent of the nation’s natural disasters and search and rescue missions, including the Gulf Coast oil spill and the 2011 tornadoes that ravaged Tuscaloosa. This year marks CAP’s 75th anniversary and will be celebrated in December in Washington, D.C.
Paulson, 57, who will attend the D.C. event, currently serves as a proud member of CAP and spends a lot of time traveling the nation, talking with young cadets and keeping the legacy of CAP alive.
“It truly began with just one man,” he said. “When I talk to young people, I tell them that one person can make a difference. One person with a dream, perseverance and a vision can do anything.
“We have the spirit of patriots, and we just want to fly.”
75 years of civic duty
Although CAP will not officially turn 75 years old until Dec. 1, the organization will celebrate its milestone anniversary in July and September at various events. The anniversary, themed, “Civil Air Patrol—Always Vigilant for America, 1941-2016,” provides an opportunity to bring public awareness to CAP, its heritage, programs and missions, said Col Frank Blazich, CAP’s chief historian.
“When it was initially established in late 1941, it is doubtful that many envisioned CAP surviving the exigencies of World War II,” Blazich said.
It was the only program of the Office of Civilian Defense to survive postwar, and Blazich credits that to the “special aura around CAP” that is still present today.
Alabama’s rich history
Every day, Don Rowland, the chief operating officer at CAP Headquarters in Alabama, hears stories of CAP members making a difference in their communities both “then and now.”
“We’re not sitting back,” Rowland said. “We’re being relevant today. We kept pace with technology, not only in the ways we communicate with our members, but how we train our members and accomplish the mission.”
They are usually the first ones “up flying” right after a natural disaster including the tornado that hit Prattville in 2008 and man-made disasters like the Gulf Coast oil spill. They worked 119 days, Rowland said.