ENID, Okla. — Civil Air Patrol, the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, is growing its Enid Composite Squadron and seeking both adults and youth to join the organization.

Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was founded six days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 1, 1941, to "mobilize the nation's civilian aviation resources for national defense service," according to the CAP website, and has since "evolved into a premier public service organization that still carries out emergency service missions when needed — in the air and on the ground."

About 60,000 people nationwide volunteer their time in CAP, training to conduct search and rescue (SAR) missions for missing persons and downed aircraft, to provide disaster response, to promote aerospace and STEM education and teach leadership skills to youth.

CAP 2nd Lt. Eric Holtzclaw, emergency services officer with the Enid Composite Squadron, said the squadron is rebuilding its membership, currently with 16 cadets and 22 senior members.

Membership in CAP can span a wide range of ages and experience, including: cadets, ages 12-18; flight officers, ages 18-21; and senior members, older than 21. Senior members do not have to have any prior military or aviation experience, but do need to pass a background check.

For adults with previous military experience, Holtzclaw said CAP can be a good way to stay in touch with the culture of military service, and to pass its values on to a younger generation.

"It fosters a lot of the same esprit de corps you find in the Air Force," Holtzclaw said, "and it gives the cadets a lot of real-world opportunities to deploy with adults to help with search and rescue, damage assessment and emergency response operations."

CAP 1st Lt. Jeffrey Grant, commander of the Enid Composite Squadron, said the youth program offers cadets a lot of activities that are both fun and educational, including encampments, airplane and glider flights, SAR exercises and STEM-related projects.

"We want to provide them education, leadership and character development — all the tools they need to be successful later in life," Grant said.

CAP 1st Lt. Brooke Erikson, Enid Composite Squadron public affairs officer, said CAP prepares young people for a successful life, whether or not they pursue a career in the military.

"We help prepare them to be leaders when they age out," Erikson said, "whether that's to be leaders in the Marines, Air Force, Army or Navy, or if they want to go to college or pursue a civilian career — either way, it helps them be prepared for later in life."

Erikson, who is a senior member of CAP, said she was drawn to the organization in part because of her desire to become an aerial photographer. She currently helps coordinate SAR operations, and communications between CAP aircraft and ground search crews.

Grant, a technical sergeant in the Air Force and aerospace physiology technician at Vance Air Force Base, said he joined to share the leadership lessons he's learned in the service.

"The Air Force has invested a lot of skills and a lot of knowledge into my development," Grant said, "and I wanted to share that with the kids."

Grant stressed CAP gives youth an opportunity to begin learning some of those lessons, and the discipline that comes with them, early in life.

"I think the biggest message I can convey is, the more you invest up-front in your future, the more it pays dividends later in life," Grant said. "If I had known about CAP when I was younger, I would have joined."

CAP Capt. Tom Jacobs, who also is an Air Force first lieutenant and T-6 instructor pilot at Vance Air Force Base, said he was lucky enough to be introduced to CAP, and to greater levels of responsibility than most of his peers, at a young age.

"As a kid of 12 or 13, I was on real SAR operations, searching for real missing people and real downed aircraft," Jacobs said. He also went on to earn his private pilot's license.

He credits his CAP experience with helping him earn an ROTC scholarship to Rochester Institute of Technology, and his commission in the Air Force.

Jacobs said, while he chose the path into the Air Force, CAP is not intended to be a pipeline into military service. It is designed to produce "dynamic Americans and aerospace leaders," he said.

"We're focused on growing a strong program that is engaged in actual operations, and employs all the technology available," Jacobs said, "to provide a service to Oklahoma, to our community and the Air Force, for disaster relief and SAR response."

CAP Maj. Rick Fox, senior program commander for the Enid Composite Squadron, said senior members are helping grow Enid's contingent into an important part of CAP's statewide emergency response capability, particularly in the use of drones, or small unmanned aerial systems.

"We are excited about joining the Oklahoma Wing in a new area of emergency services," Fox wrote. "This use of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) will be a critical part of our search and recovery, damage assessment and mapping that the Oklahoma Wing plans on becoming mission ready with."

The Enid Composite Squadron currently has two drone operators, Holtzclaw and senior member Frank Hooper, who have passed the FAA-mandated certification course to operate drones in SAR and emergency response operations.

Hooper said it took about two weeks to prepare for the FAA certification exam.

The Enid squadron currently has two drones, and once its drone capability is fully operational, it will be the second drone-certified squadron in the state.

Enid CAP cadets and senior members went in December to a drone training exercise in Stroud. Six Oklahoma CAP units were involved, using drones in scenarios involving a dam collapse and a missing hiker in dense forest.

Holtzclaw said anyone with experience operating drones, even if just for fun, could add their skills to this growing emergency response capability.

"We would like to solicit to hobbyists who would like to get involved," he said, "to use those skills to support the community and help provide emergency response services."

Fox said the Enid squadron is "always looking for more pilots and technicians to fill our goals."

"You do not have to be a fixed wing aircraft pilot, and need little or no experience," he said. "We will teach you. For those who would like to learn to fly drones and work in a community volunteer service in that aspect, this is an excellent opportunity to get involved. We provide the training materials and instruction to get you qualified to fly for the Civil Air Patrol."

There are many other ways adults can get involved in CAP, Fox said, whether or not they have kids in the program.

"We value and welcome the involvement of parents in their children's progress and development," Fox said. "They can certainly join as senior members, and start their own professional development track, but if they want less involvement, they can participate as chaperones, drivers and helpers."

Whatever role people choose to take, Fox said he just hopes more people will explore and share the opportunities in CAP.

"I want to ensure the community knows we have a growing cadet program," Fox said, "where 12- to 18-year-olds can learn valuable life skills in character development, Air Force and civilian history, integrity, professional goal-setting and organizational structure."

The CAP Enid Composite Squadron meets at Emerson Middle School, 700 W. Elm. Cadets meet at 6:30 p.m. each Monday, and senior members meet at 6:30 p.m. the first and third Monday of each Month.

For more information, visit https://www.gocivilairpatrol.com, or contact CAP 1st Lt. Brooke Erikson at brooke.a.erikson@okwgcap.org.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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