CAP proves worth during Katrina relief

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Duff
  • Air Force Print News
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast a year ago, the nation went into immediate humanitarian mission mode. 

Along with the efforts of countless organizations came help from a 57,000-strong force often overlooked.

While the debris settled and devastation became evident under clear skies, the Air Force called upon the Civil Air Patrol for support.

After Katrina hit, more than 1,800 CAP members from 17 states served more than 50,000 volunteer hours performing air and ground search and rescue, critical aerial photography, transportation and evacuation. CAP pilots flew nearly 1,000 missions.

"Volunteer aircrew members from all over the country, leaving behind their families, careers and even paychecks, flew more than 2,000 hours of flighttime in support of a host of disaster relief aerial missions," said Maj. Gen. Antonio Pineda, CAP national commander.

"From search and rescue flights to damage-assessment flights using satellite-transmitted digital imagery, our aircrews were there serving as an integral part of the local, state and federal relief efforts," General Pineda said.

The CAP, the Air Force's official civilian volunteer auxiliary, has stood ready to augment Air Force resources in non-combat programs and missions for 65 years. The 2005 hurricane season was a historical undertaking for the all-volunteer CAP, both in the air and on the ground.

"Not only was the level of effort by CAP one of the largest in its history, but it also marked the first operational use of CAP by joint and Air Force commanders under new policies for employment of CAP," said James Tynan, public affairs manager at CAP national headquarters.

For the first time in CAP's history, its units were fully integrated into the joint task force structure during a real-world contingency, serving as a vital component of both JTF-Katrina and JTF-Rita, Mr. Tynan said.

Others CAP members provided more than 2,000 time-critical aerial images of affected facilities such as schools and hospitals. Familiarization of the area coupled with the low-flying capability of the CAP's Cessna fleet resulted in teams sending satellite-transmitted, high-resolution aerial images of disaster areas to emergency managers for damage assessment in minutes.

The CAP operates the largest Cessna fleet in the world and is funded by the federal government. The vast majority of its 530 corporation-owned aircraft are Cessna 172s or 182s.

When Hurricane Katrina struck, moral support came from the CAP ground teams, disaster response squads, and the largest volunteer chaplaincy in the United States. Volunteers left behind jobs and families to set up camps near local airports.

Over a two-week period, CAP members joined active-duty military, National Guard and Reserve Airmen distributed 30,000 pounds of relief supplies to people in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi who lost everything.

"More than 200 volunteers from 17 wings, some as far away as Pennsylvania, went house to house amongst the devastation there to check on the welfare of those most affected by this catastrophic hurricane," General Pineda said.

"They delivered food and water, arranged for medical assistance and served as a sign of hope during what was later dubbed America's worst natural disaster in terms of property loss," he said. "In the end, our ground team members visited more than 4,200 homes and made contact with at least 8,500 residents."

The CAP organization, headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., has eight regions with 52 wings -- one for every state, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. They provide emergency services, aerospace education and cadet training.

CAP's emergency services include air and ground search and rescue, disaster relief and counterdrug missions, and an increasing role in homeland security. Its members fly more than 95 percent of the inland search and rescue missions directed by the Air Force Rescue and Coordination Center at Langley AFB, Va.

"We're one of America's premier all-volunteer humanitarian organizations -- nearly 57,000 members from coast to coast committed to CAP's emergency services and disaster relief missions," General Pineda said.

Proving its worth in Katrina's aftermath, the CAP was asked by the Department of Defense to assist before Hurricane Rita hit the Texas shores. In response, the CAP readied nine aircraft for DOD transportation and aerial imagery missions. After Hurricane Rita blew through, CAP's mission-ready response logged 150 more air missions with more than 350 hours of flighttime.

"The Air Force auxiliary continues to stand above the rest in its dedication and compassion for others," said Lt. Gen. Carrol H. Chandler, deputy chief of staff for air, space and information operations in Washington, D.C.

"All of the auxiliary personnel, equipment and supplies provided were in direct support to a grateful nation," he said. "We fly and fight as a team, and in this case, the fight at hand was to save lives."