While most local teenagers are enjoying a relaxing spring break, Charlie Wolff and Zack Legate are hard at work at the regional airport. Cadet 2nd Lt. Wolff and Cadet Airman Legate are members of the Civil Air Patrol‘s Jackson County Composite Squadron, wrote Kevin Chandler, public affairs officer for the 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
The boys’ squadron, with more than 20 members, conducts search and rescue missions, emergency services, aerospace education and cadet mentoring, Chandler wrote. The unit meets every Monday night at 6 p.m. for classroom instruction in such topics as aerospace education, physical fitness, moral leadership and search and rescue procedures.
Cadet Wolff, whose six years in the squadron make him the most experienced cadet, told Chandler that the academics are important for teaching life lessons as well as the skills needed during search and rescue missions. Such missions are Cadet Wolff’s favorite aspect of life in the Civil Air Patrol, he said.
“I like actually getting a call and going to help,” he explained, “it’s a real adrenaline rush. Right now I’m one of the [few] cadets with that experience.”
According to the unit’s commander, Maj. Doug Winters, that could change. The Civil Air Patrol is playing an increasingly vital role in search and rescue and in homeland security, since Sept. 11. In addition to being the only search and rescue unit southwest of Lawton, Okla., the squadron helps with Drug Enforcement Agency and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations missions.
The squadron’s primary objective, though, is search and rescue. According to Major Winters, aircraft are “required to carry an electronic locator transmitter.” In the event of a crash, the transmitter is activated, sending a signal to an orbiting satellite. The satellite takes about 90 minutes to complete a full orbit of the Earth. If the signal from the ELT is received on three consecutive orbits, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center is alerted and notifications are passed down to appropriate state wing staff, then to the closest squadron, Maj. Winters explained.
Once a squadron is called to assist in search and rescue, an aerial team and a ground team go to the target area. Each aerial team comprises three members, none of whom are cadets. Cadets are authorized only to fill ground team positions. The aerial team has a pilot, a mission scanner to observe the left side of the aircraft and a mission observer to scan the right side and to assist with navigation and radio communication, Maj. Winters said.
The ground team is composed of members with experience ranging from beginner to advanced. Each team also has a leader, who is at least 18 years old and has additional training. The ground team receives guidance and directions to the target area from the aerial team, provides basic emergency services and secures the site until the proper authorities arrive.
Major Winters, who has been in Civil Air Patrol since 1992, believes these assignments help mentor local teens. “Civil Air Patrol gives cadets job satisfaction, teaches the importance of community involvement and makes you a better citizen,” he said.