Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson reflected on Civil Air Patrol’s seven-decade history as the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force along with her personal connection to the organization when she addressed CAP members Aug. 25 during her keynote speech at the National Conference in Anaheim, California.
Lt. Col. Crystal Housman
Civil Air Patrol Public Affairs
Photos by Lt. Col. Robert Bowden
An audience of 700 members and guests listened as Wilson told the story of her grandfather, George C. “Scotty” Wilson, who flew in Britain’s Royal Air Force and barnstormed around America before his love of aviation and desire to serve led him to CAP during World War II.
“He joined a group of volunteers,” Wilson said.
”He towed targets and chased submarines off the coast in various parts around New England.”
Wilson’s grandfather was one of 125,000 CAP subchasers during the war. They found 173 German subs off America’s coast and attacked 57.
The organization was founded Dec. 1, 1941, predating the creation of the Air Force in September 1947. CAP became the service’s official auxiliary on May 26, 1948, with President Harry S. Truman’s signing of Public Law 80-557.
It was the same year George Wilson, who logged more than 1,000 flying hours with CAP, took the helm as commander of CAP’s New Hampshire Wing. He served in the role from 1948 -1954.
The aviator passed his love of flying down to his granddaughter, who grew up spending Saturdays in an airplane hangar. “I saw joy in that hangar,” Wilson said, drawing a corollary between her youth in aviation and the experiences CAP cadets encounter today. Addressing the organization’s adult members, she continued, “and all of you here are responsible for what the next generation sees.”
She recalled meeting a nervous CAP cadet at the 2017 EAA Oshkosh AirVenture air show in Wisconsin.
“The young people you work with are learning skills, but they are also way out of their comfort zone … in a safe place,” Wilson said. “It’s when you’re out of your comfort zone growing up that you’re learning what it means to be a responsible member of the community. It causes young people to grow into better versions of themselves.”
Two of those young people have grown to become pilots on this year’s U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 aerial demonstration team, she said.
“That’s not too shabby for kids who grew up flying Cessnas,” Wilson said, referring to CAP’s fleet of general aviation single-engine planes.
From inspiring the next generation of F-16 pilots to training those of today, Civil Air Patrol has a direct impact on the Air Force, she said. The auxiliary flies an average of 200 air defense missions every year throughout the country.
Federal Aviation Administration rules require remotely piloted aircraft to have an escort when they fly outside military airspace. Last year, CAP logged more than 600 flight hours escorting the New York Air National Guard’s MQ-9 Reapers from their home in Syracuse, New York, to nearby military airspace for training.
Turning to CAP’s long-standing work with the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Wilson credited the auxiliary with handling 90-95 percent of the center’s inland search and rescue missions.
“Henry David Thoreau was fond of saying, ‘the only people who ever get any place interesting are the people who get lost.’ That goes double for the people who find them,” she said.
The auxiliary has saved 146 lives since the fiscal year began in October.
“That’s 146 people who got to make that phone call home to say, ‘I’m all right. Civil Air Patrol found me,’” Wilson said.
She spoke of the organization’s work with other state and federal agencies, including support missions for the Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Shortly before her speech, CAP’s Texas Wing was lauded by AFNORTH for its work to provide aerial imagery for FEMA during Hurricane Harvey a year earlier.
As Wilson ended her remarks, she defined what the Air Force expects of its Auxiliary Airmen.
“We expect proficiency at your skills: flying, geolocation, emergency management [and] search and rescue,” she said. “We expect you to be good at what you do. We expect you to be safe in your operation.”
“I also expect you to engage the next generation in a way that is positive and meaningful,” Wilson said, turning her focus back to the 25,000 young people currently serving in CAP’s cadet program.
Before her speech, Wilson engaged one of them herself.
“Actually meeting the Secretary of the Air Force and sitting down and talking with her about our program was such an honor,” said Cadet Staff Sgt. Chloe Hirohata of Billie L. LeClair Cadet Squadron 31 in Riverside, California. “It warmed my heart, really, knowing that someone in such a high position of power … understands where we come from, understands our program and understands what we’re all about.”