By Daniel Thompson
Editor 

Civil Air Patrol making a name in Kimball

 

Image Courtesy of Erin Heidemann

A Civil Air Patrol team conducts a line search for m&m's (people) in the grass at Oliver Reservoir.

When one thinks about the armed forces, their thoughts more often than not go out to the men and women of our country over seas who put their lives on the line every day to insure that our freedoms along with the lives of their fellow service men and women remain intact.

However, it is important to remember the forces that are working for us at home, forces such as the Civil Air Patrol.

"Civil Air Patrol is the Air Force Auxiliary. They're responsible for over 90 percent of all inland search and rescue missions in the U.S. They're also the largest non-commercial fleet of aircraft. During 9/11 they were the only aircraft allowed in the air. They provided the live footage over ground zero," Sergeant Brandon Loy of the Kimball Sheriff's Office said.

According to a statement from the National Commander of the Civil Air Patrol, Major General, Charles L. Carr, on the group's official website, the Civil Air Patrol has also been involved in aiding in the relief and recovery efforts during many of the recent disasters in our history such as Hurricane Katrina, Texas and Oklahoma wildfires, tornadoes in the south and central U.S., and the October 2006 earthquake in Hawaii.

"Our members are generally the first on the scene transmitting satellite digital images of the damage within seconds around the world and providing disaster relief and emergency services following natural and manmade disasters," Carr said.

The Civil Air Patrol was founded one week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and since that time it has been incorporated as a benevolent, nonprofit organization under Public Law 476 on July 1, 1946, and it was permanently established as the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force by Public Law 557 on May 26, 1948.

The Civil Air Patrol focuses on three primary mission areas: aerospace education, cadet programs, and emergency services. Residents of the area have been familiarized with the program over recent years due to the Civil Air Patrol cadets that serve under the leadership of Sheriff Harry Gillway and Sergeant Loy.

"The local Civil Air Patrol is a ground search and rescue team. The airplane we work a lot with is in Chadron. Since we don't have enough pilots, we can't have an airplane here. What it is is the airplane goes up, and they'll guide the ground team in to go down and do the ground part of the search and rescue," Loy said.

The local Civil Air Patrol, which was formed in February of 2012, is a fairly new addition to Kimball County. It was created through the efforts of Loy and Gillway who wanted to resurrect the program which had once been an active and beneficial part of the community.


"We did have, many years ago, a very active Civil Air Patrol squadron here in Kimball, but by mandate you have to keep a certain number of people in the Civil Air Patrol and a certain number of missions and trainings. I don't know what happened back then, but they lost their charter with the Air Force and no longer had a Civil Air Patrol here," Gillway said.

This is not uncommon as the Air Force has full control over the Civil Air Patrol and has strict regulations that apply to its practices and its members.

"The Air Force has all the power over the Civil Air Patrol. It's a voluntary organization, but it's still mandated by Congress and by the Air Force," Gillway said. "If you break the rules, they have an internal investigation such as if you have funding that you can't account for or if you have a radio that's missing, there's an investigation launched immediately. And they take it very seriously."

However, though the Civil Air Patrol is subject to strict regulations, it also offers many benefits to local kids that participate in the program, offering an opportunity for experiences that otherwise would be unavailable.

"The cadets do aerospace education. They actually get into an airplane, and they are allowed five, what we call, 'orientation flights'. They are actually allowed to get into an airplane, with a certified pilot I might add, and actually fly the airplane. It's such a unique experience to see a cadet get out of that airplane after just flying it, and the grin on their faces is from ear to ear that they actually learned how to fly an airplane," Gillway said.

Of course, under these circumstances the cadets would never be allowed to fly solo. However, Gillway states that it can open the door for cadet's looking to obtain their own personal pilot's license.

"Civil Air Patrol does allow for cadets to apply for, in competition, to go to the national flight academy where they go through all the steps, the whole 40-50 hours of flight time, to get their private pilot's license. And that's incredible," Gillway said.

Time spent serving in the Civil Air Patrol, which is not a long-term military commitment, can also serve as a benefit down the line to cadets who choose to serve in the military.

"As a cadet, if they go through the ranks to Cadet 2nd Lieutenant, then, if they do join the service, they're able to go in not as a basic recruit though they still have to go through the academy. They actually go in as an E3, which is quite significant, because most of the time you come out as a recruit, you're only a E2 out of basic," Gillway said.

However, at the heart of the Civil Air Patrol, is a vast and extensive training schedule with local cadets participating in training exercises every month.

"We're mandated that we must train cadets and senior members for emergencies. To do that, there are levels of training. For ground team, and this is where a lot of cadets to the most amount of work, ground teams are critical. You can have as many airplanes in the air, but if you can't talk from that airplane down to the ground to get to the people that need to be rescued, then the aircraft only spots the plane. It's the ground team that actually has to get out there and do the searching, i.e. with an airplane search," Gillway said.

Several of the local cadets traveled to the encampment in Guernsey in August of last year where they were separated from all modern conveniences and trained.

"It's basically a mini boot camp where kids go and do a lot of the activities and learn more about the march and learn more about the discipline. They did a lot of the drills and learned the correct way to do different drill maneuvers. They learned about map and compass and search and rescue. They weren't allowed to have cell phones, watches, money...basically, their normal day to day luxuries are stripped from them so that way they have to focus on what they're doing," Loy said.

This past weekend members of the Civil Air Patrol trained out at Oliver Lake with ground team members practicing triangulating the location of and finding downed aircraft.

"We have ground team member three, two, one and then ground team leader. Both Brandon and I are ground team leader, and we're trained in that. So [March 29] we trained some of the cadets for the first time in ground team three. There are two members that needed to complete ground team two, and it's pretty exhaustive. In ground team two, they used a radio direction finder to look for the radio signal simulating a downed aircraft," Gillway said.

The different level of ground teams depends on the window of time given for each search, according to Gillway.

"A ground team three will be just simply a 24 hour search. So they would go to an area, do a search within a 24 hour period. They don't do 24 hours straight. Ground team level two would be able to go to an area and survive for 48 hours. Ground team one is a 72 hour mission. So they have to have their gear. They have to have all the things that they need to get to an area and to include food for a 72 hour period," Gillway said.

The training held over the past weekend involving the different levels of ground teams entailed tracking Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) in order to track the location of specified items.

"Early ELTs, which most civilian aircraft have, is a non-directional beacon which means that it's an omni directional beacon. It sends out a signal all over the place just like AM or FM radio does. So you have to have the device, make a circle, find out where that signals coming to, point to it, and then travel to that location to find the beacon. Now, with ELTs, you may not know if it's 100 yards ahead of you or 10 miles away. So there are techniques that we train in to determine the proximity of it even before we get started," Gillway said.

Though there is much time spent on training and meetings every week, the local Civil Air Patrol cadets also participate in many activities around the county such as helping out at the fair with the booth, doing cleaning up out at the lake, and participating in various parades throughout the region.

However, what may be most notable about the local cadets is their commitment to public service, especially helping to make sure that trick or treaters remain safe as they go door to door on Halloween.

"We try to be very proactive with making sure that the cadets and senior members are available in a moment's notice such as Halloween. I'm always concerned that a child might be lost or missing. It's very easy for a young child, toddler to wander away. And we want to make sure that we find that person, that child as quickly as possible. So the Civil Air Patrol, we use them extensively for things along that line. Any place that there's a large gathering we try to use them if we have membership available," Gillway said.

For his part, Gillway states that he is always amazed by how professional and mature each cadet is throughout each training exercise and mission, reasoning and acting far above their age.

"I'm very impressed when we do these actual exercises or actual missions. Their game face is on, and they act very professional. They don't act like teenagers. When we have done missions with the Civil Air Patrol, they're rearing to go, but you can see the wheels turning. They know what they need to do, what they need to accomplish. They're gearing up, and they're ready to go," Gillway said.

As Deputy Commander of the Civil Air Patrol, there is a great sense of pride for Loy as he watches the kids and young adults participating in the program develop from individual entities into one cohesive unit.

"It's neat to be able to watch the kids as they start out as a train wreck and as they become more of a team. Watching them go through the activities and different challenges, you just watch them bond and come together. Over time they realize that by working as a team together they can do things real easy. Watching that bond form among them is great," Loy said

Loy also states that it is a point of pride to watch the cadets enter into the program and see how it instills in them a sense of purpose.

"It gives them structure. It gives them guidance. It makes them leaders.In a small town, there's not a lot for kids to do. This gives them something to do. It gives them a job that's important. It helps them serve the community. Kids actually want to help. They want to be involved with activities. With Civil Air Patrol, it gives them a chance to do something and be treated with respect and as an adult instead of being treated as a kid that's just out causing problems," Loy said.

Residents interested in learning more about the Kimball County Cadet Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol can do so by attending the open house being held in the 4-H building on April 5 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. or by contacting Erin Heidemann, Civil Air Patrol Administration Officer, at 308-235-8104.

 

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