Wisconsin Civil Air Patrol: 75 Years of Vigilance

By State Senator Julie Lassa

Recently, we’ve recalled the anniversaries of many of the events of the Second World War.  One such anniversary will commemorate the birth of the Wisconsin Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, which has been flying Wisconsin’s skies and providing vital services to those on the ground for nearly 75 years.

As war clouds gathered in the 1930s, civilian aviators advocated for a volunteer organization to aid in the national defense.   As luck would have it, the Civil Air Patrol was created a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  Assigned to the Army Air Corps, thousands of CAP volunteers conducted vital missions to support the war effort, including spotting enemy ships and submarines and rescuing crash victims.

Franklin Roosevelt declared the CAP a non-profit benevolent organization, and after the war it was designated by Congress as the official auxiliary of the Air Force. Since then, the CAP has focused on three key missions: providing search and rescue and other emergency services,  training cadets, and providing education in the history and science of aeronautics and aviation.

The Wisconsin Wing has hundreds of volunteer members who operate through 36 squadron locations statewide.  Its volunteer pilots and cadets logged more than 2,400 hours of flying time last year alone.  That includes 9 search and rescue missions that resulted in 26 finds.   The CAP’s network of interoperable radio transmitters is a vital part of emergency response in Wisconsin.   And when thousands of aircraft descend on the annual EAA Fly-in, wing members provide vital support services.

Even though they are volunteers, wing members play an integral role in our nation’s military preparedness.  For example, last year wing members helped to train the Wisconsin Air National Guard by flying single-engine planes to simulate unauthorized aircraft in U.S. airspace.  That gave National Guard pilots a chance to practice scrambling and intercepting their targets, and to test the early warning and intercept system. 

The aerospace education mission of the CAP is to educate and inspire young people regarding the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) of aerospace.  These programs help to prepare young people for the sophisticated STEM demands of aerospace, especially as it pertains to national security. A big part of that mission is its cadet training program that prepares the nation’s future aerospace leaders. The wing has 360 cadet members, who are young people between 12 and 19 who get the chance to fly, develop leadership skills, hike and camp, and learn about all aspects of flying and aircraft.  Civil Air Patrol cadets also participate in community service projects, like the annual Wreaths Across America that honors our fallen military heroes.  Most importantly, cadets learn the CAP’s core values of integrity, excellence, volunteerism, and respect.

To commemorate its 75-year history of meritorious service to the nation and to Wisconsin, I will introduce a resolution to declare December 2016 as Wisconsin Wing Civil Air Patrol Month.   It will be a fitting way to honor and learn more about the continuing critical role it and its members play in providing emergency services, aerospace education and leadership training throughout the state.

To learn how to join or support the Wisconsin Wing Civil Air Patrol, visit their website at wicap.us.  You don’t have to be a pilot to join – there are roles for doctors, nurses, paramedics, or other medical professionals. Others are educators, clergy, lawyers, paralegals, accountants, computer programmers, and other business professionals and executives.  It’s an exciting and educational way to play a role in Wisconsin’s emergency and military preparedness.