RICHMOND, Va. — It was a double celebration June 29, 2020, for Carolyn Guertin. She was celebrating her 92nd birthday, as well as her promotion to colonel in the Civil Air Patrol, where she has been a volunteer for 78 years.
The celebration included cards and letters from CAP members across the nation, a photo album, a proclamation from Virginia’s governor, and virtual greetings from each member of her chain of command.
When she was just 13 in December 1941, Guertin was the first female to join CAP in Virginia. As she tells the story, she was initially the first in line, but she was made to wait on the side until 10 men signed up. That made her the 11th member.
She has not stopped her voluntary service since. She has held numerous duty assignments over the decades and still holds many current qualifications.
In 1952, she formed Richmond Cadet Squadron Two and served as its commander for more than 10 years. The unit, still in existence today, was renamed the Carolyn A. Guertin Cadet Squadron in recognition of her commitment to the program, the squadron and the cadets she has mentored.
Since then Guertin has danced with famous test pilot Chuck Yeager. She has spent time with former U.S. Air Force Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, commander of the famed World War II raids on Tokyo. She met Igor Sikorsky and flew on a prototype helicopter. She has a treasured book full of signatures of many of the noteworthy people she has met during her CAP career — pilots, astronauts, presidents, congressmen.
It all adds up to a fitting testimony to a life of service. And another chapter was added June 29.
CAP’s national commander, Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, opened the celebration online, telling Guertin, “When I open up the book on mentorship, your picture is there. It is due to your impact on the number of people you have mentored in the Civil Air Patrol over the years.”
Smith then noted that the CAP Senior Advisory Group had approved her promotion to colonel.
“I never thought I’d make it to colonel,” she said. “I always wanted to work with the cadets and not sit in an office.”
In short order a proclamation from Gov. Ralph Northam was read designating June 29 as Carolyn A. Guertin Day in Virginia. A special book of photographs of Guertin in action was printed for the occasion, featuring images provided by members across the Virginia Wing.
“This is a birthday to go down in history,” Guertin said. “This is the most wonderful birthday I’ve ever had.”
“Civil Air Patrol’s Virginia Wing is fortunate to have such a valued member in our ranks,” said Col. Dean Gould, wing commander. “I’m particularly pleased that we were able to promote her to colonel, recognizing her significant contribution to the success of our wing.”
Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, operates a fleet of 560 aircraft, performs about 90% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited with saving an average of 82 lives annually.
CAP’s 66,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. In addition, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace/STEM education, and its members serve as mentors to over 28,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.