Last month, along with other units of Civil Air Patrol (CAP) across the nation, the Martinsburg Composite Squadron celebrated its 76th birthday.

Headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, CAP was founded on December 1, 1941, by a group of aviation enthusiasts and private pilots who wanted to donate their time and aircraft to protect the nation’s coastlines during World War II, and to perform other critical civil defense missions.

The longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, CAP is the newest member of the Air Force’s Total Force. In this role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 aircraft, performs about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 80 lives annually.

CAP’s 58,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief, and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state, and local agencies. Additionally, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace/STEM education, and its members serve as mentors to 25,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.

The Cadet Program of CAP celebrated its 75th birthday last year—having been implemented on October 8, 1942. The Martinsburg Squadron, which was chartered on February 6, 1984, recognized both birthdays. The only CAP unit in the Eastern Panhandle, the Martinsburg group comprises adult/senior members (21 and up) and cadets (12-21). All senior members submit fingerprints for an FBI check.

Members do not have to be a pilot or own an airplane to become a member of Civil Air Patrol. They can find a place within roles that include: ground search and rescue, air crew member, communications specialist, public affairs officer, personnel officer, teacher, and many more possibilities. And though CAP is a private non-profit comprised of volunteers, it is also the Air Force’s official auxiliary. Members wear a USAF-style uniform and rank nomenclature and use USAF terminology in their affairs.

If interested in becoming a member, folks can easily attend a Tuesday (except the fourth Tuesday of the month) meeting—from 7-9pm at the Squadron’s hangar on the civilian side of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport. On the fourth Tuesday, they meet at the 167th Airlift Wing. Senior members meet on the first Tuesday of the month, from 7-8pm, at the hangar (directions can be found here).

A Proud Heritage

“To become a member, we encourage anyone interested to visit a meeting,” said Captain Armando Tirado, Jr., Public Affairs Officer for the Martinsburg Composite Squadron. “If after one or two meetings, there is still interest, we can help fill out the proper forms to join.”

Tirado, Jr. explained that, though the Squadron is part of a non-profit volunteer organization, it operates with the same structure as an Air Force unit. “That means we have a command structure that mirrors the military’s structure. But because we are not operating at all times like a military unit, we conduct various types of training for adults as well as cadets at our meetings, and we prepare all necessary paperwork and disseminate information among our members.”

Completely open to the public, all Squadron meetings are related to CAP’s missions: Aerospace Education, Cadet Programs, and Emergency Services. “We can be tasked by the AFRCC as part of our emergency services duties,” added Tirado, Jr., “but on our day-to-day business, we are a non-profit.”

Community members will likely recall having seen CAP’s influence in local schools, as well. “There are opportunities for students and teachers in CAP in many ways,” Tirado, Jr. explained. “As part of our aerospace education program, teachers can enjoy a special membership in which they can order education material in aerospace fields as well as STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] material at no cost. And many of our cadets are members of their schools’ Junior ROTC programs, so we always strive to have a positive relationship with any local JROTC or college ROTC.”

In regards to missions, either locally or nationally, the Martinsburg Squadron has worked with the West Virginia Wing of CAP in emergency locator transmitter (ELT) searches as well as the search of a downed military aircraft. “Most recently, members were tasked alongside WV Wing to participate in aerial coverage of the Boy Scout Jamboree in July 2017,” noted Tirado, Jr. “Our wing also conducts search and rescue exercises (SAREX) two or three times a year, in which members from our squadron participate. Additionally, some of our members have conducted support mission for DHS, DEA, and FEMA.”

The majority of funding for the Martinsburg Squadron comes from membership dues—though the federal government provides funding for the operation and maintenance of their aircraft through the USAF.

“Here in West Virginia, there is funding allocated in the state budget for CAP, through the state department of military affairs,” said Tirado, Jr. “Keep in mind that we become a money-saving tool for the taxpayer, since our emergency service missions are a fraction of the cost of similar services provided by private companies or state/local governments and the military. Our members do not take a salary, and the cost of maintenance of a single-engine aircraft is much less than larger assets.”

Most of the training and clerical material provided by CAP is accessed online and is usually at no cost. However, any special activities, such as encampments, conferences, and competitions, have additional fees either incurred by the attending member or the Squadron. “We conduct minimal fundraising, such as Wreaths Across America, which we recently wrapped up.”

At the December meeting, in which both CAP and the Cadet Program were recognized, Major Frank Panek, Deputy Commander, reflected on CAP’s 76th anniversary. “Our squadron has a proud heritage of a strong cadet program. We’ve been fortunate to provide the abilities for our cadets to grow and move onto military academies and into other military services.”

Cadet First Lieutenant Trinity Gray, Cadet Commander, also offered remarks. “The people that have come out of the Cadet Program have impacted society in a positive way. They go on to be leaders in many fields, officers in the military—and CAP provided them with that leadership.”

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