CAP Missions

Civil Air Patrol’s cadet program transforms youth into dynamic Americans and aerospace leaders through a curriculum that focuses on leadership, aerospace, fitness and character.

Members of the Civil Air Patrol perform emergency services for state and local agencies as well as the federal government as the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.

Civil Air Patrol’s awarding-winning aerospace education program promotes aerospace, aviation and STEM-related careers with engaging, standards-based, hands-on curriculum and activities.

CIVIL AIR PATROL'S THREE PRIMARY MISSIONS

Civil Air Patrol is America’s premier public service organization for carrying out emergency services and disaster relief missions nationwide.  As the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, CAP’s vigilant citizen volunteers are there to search for and find the lost, provide comfort in times of disaster and work to keep the homeland safe.  Its 60,000 members selflessly devote their time, energy and expertise toward the well-being of their communities, while also promoting aviation and related fields through aerospace education and helping shape future leaders through CAP’s cadet program.

“Supporting America’s communities with emergency response, diverse aviation and ground services, youth development, and promotion of air, space and cyber power.”

Civil Air Patrol’s cadet program transforms youth into dynamic Americans and aerospace leaders through a curriculum that focuses on leadership, aerospace, fitness and character.  As cadets participate in these four elements, they advance through a series of achievements, earning honors and increased responsibilities along the way.  Many of the nation’s astronauts, pilots, engineers and scientists first explored their careers through CAP. 

While there are many youth oriented programs in America today, CAP’s cadet program is unique in that it uses aviation as a cornerstone.  Thousands of young people from 12 years through age 21 are introduced to aviation through CAP’s cadet program.  The program allows young people to progress at their own pace through a 16-step program including aerospace education, leadership training, physical fitness and moral leadership.  Cadets compete for academic scholarships to further their studies in fields such as engineering, science, aircraft mechanics, aerospace medicine, meteorology, as well as many others. Those cadets who earn cadet officer status may enter the Air Force as an E3 (airman first class) rather than an E1 (airman basic).

Whatever your interests-survival training, flight training, photography, astronomy – there’s a place for you in CAP’s cadet program.  Each year, cadets have the opportunity  to participate in special activities at the local, state, regional or national level.  Many cadets will have the opportunity to solo fly an airplane for the first time through a flight encampment or academy.  Others will enjoy traveling abroad through the International Air Cadet Exchange Program. Still others assist at major air shows throughout the nation.

How effective is our cadet program?

Every year approximately 10 percent of all new cadets that receive appointments to the United States Air Force Academy were Civil Air Patrol cadets.

Many of our cadets join college ROTC programs and become commissioned officers in the Military.

Many of our cadets who do not wish to go to college but still wish to serve in the Military often enlist and go on to become Non Commissioned Officers. 

Always prepared, both in the air and on the ground, members of the Civil Air Patrol perform emergency services for state and local agencies as well as the federal government as the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and for states/local communities as a nonprofit organization.  Ever vigilant, these true patriots make a difference in their communities, not only to assist in times of disaster but also to search for the lost and protect the homeland. 

Growing from its World War II experience, the Civil Air Patrol has continued to save lives and alleviate human suffering through a myriad of emergency-services and operational missions.

Search and Rescue                               
Perhaps best known for its search-and-rescue efforts, CAP flies more than 85 percent of all federal inland search-and-rescue missions directed by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fl.  Outside the continental United States, CAP supports the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.  Just how effective are the CAP missions?  Nearly 100 people are saved each year by CAP members.

Disaster Relief                               
Another important service CAP performs is disaster-relief operations.  CAP provides air and ground transportation and an extensive communications network.  Volunteer members fly disaster-relief officials to remote locations and provide manpower and leadership to local, state and national disaster-relief organizations.  CAP has formal agreements with many government and humanitarian relief agencies including the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Humanitarian Services                           
CAP flies humanitarian missions, usually in support of the Red Cross-transporting time-sensitive medical materials including blood and human tissue, in situations where other means of transportation are not available.

Air Force Support                           
It’s hardly surprising that CAP performs several missions in direct support of the U.S. Air Force.  Specifically, CAP conducts light transport, communications support, and low-altitude route surveys.  CAP also provides orientation flights for AFROTC cadets.  Joint U.S. Air Force and CAP search-and-rescue exercises provide realistic training for missions. 

Counterdrug
CAP joined the “war on drugs” in 1986 when, pursuant to congressional authorization, CAP signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Customs Service offering CAP resources to help stem the flow of drugs into and within the United States.

Civil Air Patrol’s awarding-winning aerospace education program promotes aerospace, aviation and STEM-related careers with engaging, standards-based, hands-on curriculum and activities.  It shapes the experiences and aspirations of youth both in and outside of CAP’s cadet program.

CAP’s aerospace education efforts focus on two different audiences: volunteer CAP members and the general public.  The programs ensure that all CAP members (seniors and cadets) have an appreciation for and knowledge of aerospace issues.  To advance within the organization, members are required to participate in the educational program.  Aerospace educators at CAP’s National Headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., provide current materials that reflect the highest standards of educational excellence.  Aerospace education is divided into two parts: internal and external.         

The internal aerospace education program has two parts as well: cadet and senior.  Cadets complete aerospace education as one of the requirements to progress through the  achievement levels of the cadet program.  Senior members have a responsibility to become knowledgeable of aerospace issues and the AE program that CAP provides.  They are further encouraged to share the information obtained with their local communities and school systems.                                

CAP’s external aerospace programs are conducted through our nation’s educational system.  Each year, CAP sponsors many workshops in states across the nation, reaching hundreds of educators and thereby thousands of young people.  These workshops highlight basic aerospace knowledge and focus on advances in aerospace technology.  CAP’s aerospace education members receive more than 20 free aerospace education classroom materials. 

Since Civil Air Patrol’s formation during the earliest days of World War II, this vigilant organization of citizen Airmen has been committed to service to America.  Founded on Dec. 1, 1941, to mobilize the nation’s civilian aviation resources for national defense service, CAP has evolved into a premier public service organization that still carries out emergency service missions when needed — in the air and on the ground.

As a Total Force partner and Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, Civil Air Patrol is there to search for and find the lost, provide comfort in times of disaster and work to keep the homeland safe.  Its 60,000 members selflessly devote their time, energy and expertise toward the well-being of their communities, while also promoting aviation and related fields through aerospace/STEM education and helping shape future leaders through CAP’s cadet program.
 
Civil Air Patrol’s missions for America are many, and today’s adults and cadets perform their duties with the same vigilance as its founding members — preserving CAP’s 75-year legacy of service while maintaining its commitment to nearly 1,500 communities nationwide.

Supporting America’s communities with emergency response, diverse aviation and ground services, youth development and promotion of air, space and cyber power. 

Civil Air Patrol, America’s Air Force auxiliary, building the nation’s finest force of citizen volunteers serving America.

Integrity, Volunteer Service, Excellence and Respect.

Origins/1936-1941
The origins of Civil Air Patrol date to 1936, when Gill Robb Wilson, World War I aviator and New Jersey director of aeronautics, returned from Germany convinced of impending war.  Wilson envisioned mobilizing America’s civilian aviators for national defense, an idea shared by others.

In Ohio, Milton Knight, a pilot and businessman, organized and incorporated the Civilian Air Reserve (CAR) in 1938.  Other military-styled civilian aviation units emerged nationwide, training for homeland defense.

 In 1941, Wilson launched his perfected program: the Civil Air Defense Services (CADS).  That summer, tasked by Fiorello H. LaGuardia (New York mayor and director of the federal Office of Civilian Defense and also a World War I aviator), Wilson, publisher Thomas H. Beck and newspaperman Guy P. Gannett proposed Wilson’s CADS program as a model for organizing the nation’s civilian aviation resources.

Their proposal for a Civil Air Patrol was approved by the Commerce, Navy, and War departments in November, and CAP national headquarters opened its doors on Dec. 1, under the direction of national commander Maj. Gen. John F. Curry.  Existing CADS, CAR and other flying units soon merged under the CAP banner. Public announcement of CAP and national recruiting commenced on December 8.

World War II and Postwar/1941-1948
In January 1942, German submarines began attacking merchant vessels along the East Coast.  With the military unable to respond in force, CAP established coastal patrol flights to deter, report and prevent enemy operations.

From March 1942 through August 1943, armed CAP aircraft at 21 coastal patrol bases extending from Maine to the Mexican border patrolled the waters off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.  Their success in thwarting submarine attacks and safeguarding shipping lanes led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 9339 on April 29, 1943, transferring CAP from the Office of Civilian Defense to the Department of War.

 At its establishment, CAP made no provision for the participation of youth. On Oct. 1, 1942, CAP leaders issued a memorandum creating the CAP Cadet Program for boys and girls ages 15 to 18.  The cadet program proved to be a powerful force for imparting practical skills and preparing teenagers for the military and other wartime service agencies.

CAP’s male and female volunteers engaged in an array of wartime missions.  These included aircraft warning, southern liaison patrol duty along the Mexican border, courier service, missing aircraft searches, disaster relief, tow target and tracking operations, forest patrols and many others.

CAP’s wartime record ensured its postwar future. On July 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 79-476, incorporating the organization.  Following the creation of the U.S. Air Force as a separate branch of the armed services, Truman signed Public Law 80-557, establishing CAP as the Air Force’s civilian auxiliary on May 26, 1948.

Cold War/1950-1975
Post-World War II, CAP focused its efforts on three core missions – Cadet Program, Emergency Services and Aerospace Education.  In 1948, CAP began participating in the International Air Cadet Exchange, and in 1949 it introduced its first aerospace education literature for use by CAP units or school teachers.

When the first cadets entered the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1955, 10 percent were former CAP members.  As the Cold War crystallized in the 1950s, CAP closely aligned with the Air Force and civil defense organizations.  CAP search and rescue missions became routine, and civil defense officials used CAP radio networks to coordinate relief efforts during natural disasters.

CAP assisted in training the Air Force’s Ground Observer Corps, conducted aerial radiological monitoring of nuclear fallout and participated in Operation MOONWATCH by optically tracking artificial satellites.  The 1973 law making Emergency Locator Transmitters mandatory in aircraft vastly expanded CAP’s search and rescue capabilities.

In 1975, for the first time, a civilian volunteer became CAP’s national commander, signaling a shift in the CAP-Air Force relationship.

Evolving Missions/1976-2000
The latter half of the Cold War witnessed the further expansion of CAP roles and capabilities.  In 1979, CAP began flying Military Training Route surveys for the Strategic Air Command and the Tactical Air Command.  A 1985 agreement with the U.S. Customs Service saw CAP conducting counterdrug reconnaissance missions for law enforcement.

CAP once again began delivering parts for the Air Force and flew human tissue and organ transplant missions with the American Red Cross.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency worked with CAP during and after a slew of disasters: the Exxon Valdez oil spill; hurricanes Hugo, Andrew, and Floyd; and the Oklahoma City bombing.

Modernized equipment, including GPS navigation, internet-based communications and handheld two-way radios improved coordination with federal authorities and search and rescue performance.

The final decades of the 20th century brought key changes to CAP, including a corporate-owned fleet of aircraft and vehicles.

New Millennium/2001-Now
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, ushered CAP into a new era of homeland defense.  The following day, a CAP Cessna 172, the only nonmilitary aircraft allowed in the nation’s airspace, provided emergency management officials the first high-resolution images of the World Trade Center site.  Nationwide, CAP volunteers transported blood and medical supplies, provided communication and transportation support and assisted state and federal officials.

With increased federal funding and creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CAP received new technologies for its emergency services, including hyperspectral imaging, improved airborne communication, forward-looking infrared systems, GPS-equipped glass cockpit avionics and geospatial information interoperability.  CAP aircrews train alongside government officials and military personnel in air defense intercept missions, communication exercises and cybersecurity and even simulate unmanned aircraft to provide imagery training support for deploying forces.

On May 30, 2014, President Barack H. Obama signed legislation into law awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the approximately 200,000 World War II members of CAP.  The medal is the country’s highest expression of appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.  On Dec. 10, 2014, Speaker of the House John Boehner presented the medal to CAP National Commander Maj. Gen. Joseph R. Vazquez and former U.S. Rep. Lester L. Wolff, himself a wartime member of the New York Wing.

This medal commemorates the organization’s unusual contributions in World War II.  On its obverse, Stinson Voyager 10A aircraft armed with demolition bombs escort an oil tanker.  The aircraft in the foreground has the coastal patrol roundel and the number “65,” representing the CAP members killed during the war.  To the left, two civilian volunteers, a male coastal patrol observer and a female pilot, both vigilantly scan the sky.

On Aug. 28, 2015, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff, announced CAP officially a member of the U.S. Air Force’s Total Force, joining the regular, guard and reserve forces as American airmen.  CAP’s work in response to hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and other emergencies has continued to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness and potential of dedicated volunteers who embody the CAP motto: Semper Vigilans . . . Always Vigilant.

 

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