The reasons I’m leaving CAP

I post this because of frustration, sure, but also because the reasons I’m letting my Civil Air Patrol membership expire could be addressed and resolved if there were interest in doing so. I’ve raised these issues through the chain of command with no result. And I’m not in the military: CAP is a volunteer organization, run mostly by its members, and participation is a costly, time-intensive endeavor. We’re not paid for it nor for our public silence on problems like this one.

I gave it a little over a year of effort. Shortly after moving to Washington from Illinois, I drove myself to a wing-level exercise — no one else from the local squadron was interested. I wore one uniform and brought two others, packing ground-team and aircrew gear so I could be assigned anywhere I was qualified or a trainee. Ended up on an air crew that found a beacon. A few months later, I got a ride from PT’s airport with a crew inbound for an airborne photography exercise. Brought my camera and did one sortie before getting a ride home. Both times, it was great to get in the air, but neither translated into mission callouts.

I emailed and called up the chain about the lack of callouts. I am admittedly isolated out here, with none of the operations-oriented comradery we had in Chicago, so I had to go up the chain. Where was the callout email and text system that notified ES-qualified personnel of actuals? Was I missing something? These were the simple questions I repeated until I was sick of it. Eventually, the DO put me on the pilots email list so I could see some of the mission opportunities.

When our squadron commander left, I took the job, though I was not really qualified. That got me all sorts of emails: lots of reports and demands for reports, an incredible number of carefully prepared personnel actions in PDF and Word docs attached to blank emails (I eventually ceased bothering to open attachments), and some training opportunities. It seems the level of administrative bullshit in a SAR organization is inversely proportional to the organization’s ops tempo.

Not a single mission callout did I receive. A couple informal warning orders came through the pilots email list, though I received no responses when I said I was qualified and available.

Yet, in the most recent issue of the wing’s own magazine (low ops tempo apparently yields time for such things), the CC writes of recent missions, and the officer of the monthly ground training school talks of getting a callout for missing hikers by text. I learn of more actuals though Google News. Missions apparently do happen in Washington wing, though you wouldn’t know it by my experience. I saw those occasional notifications to the pilots list, but pilots in the air means mission-base staff, at minimum. Where are the calls for radio operators, staff assistants, logistics officers, etc.?

As squadron commander, I made a final attempt to get something going, bringing wing ops staff over here to meet with the county’s emergency manager. While the county was most accommodating and agreed to register our squadron members as state volunteer emergency workers so we could play, the wing staff showed up less than impressive or inspiring, verbally pessimistic about the chance to use CAP members on anything other than airborne photo missions. It was demoralizing showing added to everything else I’d experienced.

At that point, I decided to resign my commander post. I’m not in CAP to do cadet programs. Administrative bullshit is necessary, and it’s even tolerable, but I won’t keep up my ground, base and air quals (none of which have expired yet since I moved from a wing that made use of them regularly — I’m still fully qualified) by traveling the long distance to training on busy weekends unless those quals would be used on actuals.

After resigning, I really wanted to stay involved to support the new commander, but there’s no excitement in it for me, no chance to give back in the way that I’ve trained and equipped myself to do. So my membership expires in a couple of months, and I wish it were sooner. Having put countless hours into training and missions and countless dollars into equipment, I’m more than a little bitter about a transfer to this wing making those investments irrelevant.

At least I have had an opportunity locally to do more. I’ve been learning mountain SAR and responding to a fair number of missions, though I miss having friends in the air with their eyes and radios providing support. And I miss the people who were in CAP to get their boots dirty, who dropped everything to get in a Cessna and fly to the east coast when the balloon went up, who trained (and trained me) because they knew the call would come, who worked hard and bonded hard, who treated this as more than scouts with planes or some sort of exclusive club I was unable to crack.

One thought on “The reasons I’m leaving CAP

  1. Hi Matt, I am so sorry that it hasn’t worked out with WA Wing. Your enthusiasm for the mission is infectious and they do not know what they are missing in failing to put you to work. Our 10 days deployed post Sandy was a perfect example of the best that CAP can do and your results were nothing short of spectacular. I know that the mountain rescue team will be the winners in this and wish you every success in your new venture. Be sure to look me up when you come to the other side of the country. Cheers!

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