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Harford squadron of Civil Air Patrol backs up first responders, trains youth and supports community

Civil Air Patrol dates back to World War II

One of the fondest memories Capt. Scott Wise has from his seven-and-a-half-year tenure in the Harford Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol is working with nine other cadets and senior members of CAP squadrons from around the region to secure the site of an aircraft crash near Ft. Meade during a cold and wet night about two years ago.

"We went out and performed crash site surveillance, and we were cold and sometimes wet," said Wise, who lives in Joppa.

Wise was one of two senior, or adult, CAP members, and they led eight cadets as they kept the crash site secure from any outsiders trying to get close to the crashed civilian aircraft. The CAP members came from Harford County, as well as from the Glenn L Martin Composite Squadron in Middle River and the Annapolis Composite Squadron.

Wise described the night's weather as "really cold, windy, sleet coming down."

Members of the Civil Air Patrol, which is an auxiliary of the Air Force, are civilian volunteers. While they do not have law enforcement or military powers, they do assist both in a variety of ways.

"We secure the crash site, and if anyone approaches who wants to go into the crash site, we respectfully inform them that law enforcement has said they are not allowed in there," Wise said.

He said the CAP can inform law enforcement officers if anyone tries to violate the security of the crash site.

"I never saw the crashed aircraft," Wise recalled. "We never got that close, and in the morning we turned over the crash site to other agencies, and we went home and got a nap and then went to work."

Wise said that incident is memorable because, despite the cold and wet weather, "the cadets were great company, everybody did what they were supposed to do – multiple squadrons pulled together to get out there very quickly."

"It was just great teamwork in adverse weather, and we all came through it fine," he said.

Wise is deputy commander of the Harford Composite Squadron, which is part of the Maryland Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.

The Harford County squadron is called a composite squadron because it has a senior program, for adults 18 and older, and a cadet program for youths between ages 12 and 18. The squadron has 18 active senior members and 22 active cadet members, according to unit leaders.

The Harford squadron is one of 26 CAP squadrons in Maryland, according to the Maryland Wing's website.

Dates to World War II

The Civil Air Patrol was founded in late 1941, one week before the Dec. 7 Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to a history posted on the CAP website, www.gocivilairpatrol.com. The attack brought the United States into World War II.

The auxiliary was created as a result of the efforts of more than 150,000 people who had "a love for aviation," and they argued for "an organization to put their planes and flying skills to use in defense of their country," according to the website.

The CAP was put under the jurisdiction of the Army Air Forces, the forerunner of the Air Force, and volunteers spent the war patrolling the U.S. skies. The auxiliary is credited with sinking two submarines and rescuing "hundreds" of people involved in air crashes, according to the website.

"During World War II CAP actually went out and patrolled the Atlantic and at least on one occasion dropped a bomb on a German submarine, but we don't do anything like that today," Wise said.

President Harry Truman designated CAP as a nonprofit organization in 1946. Congress made it the permanent Air Force auxiliary in 1948, according to the website.

The organization's three main missions, which remain today, are aerospace education, emergency services and cadet programs.

Emergency services missions, which can be conducted in the air and on the ground, include search and rescue, disaster relief, transporting humanitarian aid, supporting the Air Force and supporting drug interdiction efforts.

The CAP squadrons conduct missions at the request of local, state or federal law enforcement and emergency services agencies.

The Harford County squadron was placed on standby in July when the Harford County Sheriff's Office and volunteer fire companies responded to a report of a suspected helicopter crash.

Lt. Col. James Schmidt, the squadron commander, said at the time that, if needed, the CAP would have searched for the downed aircraft and pilot in the squadron's fixed-wing Cessna 182 Skylane airplane.

The CAP was not called into action, however, because the incident was the result of a pilot of a crop-dusting helicopter making a "harder-than-usual" landing, which set off the helicopter's emergency transponder, according to a Sheriff's Office spokesperson.

'A second job'

Wise is a quality assurance specialist for the Department of Defense. His main office is in Baltimore, but he works with DOD contractors throughout the state.

He learned about the Civil Air Patrol when he was helping to lead a Boy Scout Venture crew that specialized in search and rescue.

"I was interested in search and rescue and I joined CAP, fell in love with it and actually now it's my main focus," Wise said.

He has served as deputy commander of the senior member unit and deputy commander of the cadet unit at the same time.

"I love the cadet program and the youth we attract and what we offer them," Wise said.

Maj. Bryan Potts, of Bel Air, has since become deputy commander for the cadets, and Wise has moved up to be deputy commander of the squadron.

"I don't get paid for this, but I consider it a second job," Wise said. "What keeps me coming back are the cadets."

Although the members of the CAP are civilians, squadrons are structured like military units with a chain of command and rank structures for cadets and seniors. There are also opportunities for promotions.

Cadet program

Potts, who is retired from the Army, said the cadets are schooled in four main areas: aerospace education, character development, leadership and physical fitness.

The cadet program is open to anyone between the ages of 12 and 18.

"We're looking for the cadets that have a bit more drive and determination and want to take control of their lives and gain more responsibility," Potts stressed.

A different area is covered during each of squadron's Monday meetings, held at the STEM Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Potts said the first Monday is devoted to character development and leadership training, and sometimes the cadets perform drill and ceremonies. A ceremony is also held for any cadets who were promoted during the past 30 days.

The second Monday meeting involves aerospace education. Potts said cadets put together presentations on various aerospace topics, which they give to their fellow cadets.

The third meeting of the month is all about physical fitness testing.

Potts said the fourth Monday is dedicated to safety training and squadron leaders have started to incorporate emergency services as well.

"The idea behind it is for them to have some basic understanding of the other missions within the Civil Air Patrol," he said.

Potts said the cadets also go through a one-week "encampment" each year, which is open to cadets from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., plus neighboring states. They learn more about aerospace, drills and leadership, and senior cadets train junior cadets.

"The senior cadets are giving the training and learning how it is to have additional responsibility," he said.

The cadets can also take part in orientation flights during encampment. They go up with a pilot and learn all aspects of the pre-flight duties, taking off, landing and post-flight checks.

Cadets can participate in community parades and ceremonies, such as this year's Memorial Day observance in Havre de Grace.

The cadets have a "plethora" of national events, training and classes they can participate in during the summer, as well, Potts said.

Potts noted he was inspired to join CAP after his daughter became a cadet during the fall of 2014. His wife followed them after he joined that December.

"Even though I wasn't retired form the Air Force, both of the military structures are very similar, so I'm able to associate my military background with what we're doing within CAP very well," Potts said.

Aircraft education

The CAP does not provide pilot training, and the pilot ranks are filled by members who have a private pilot's certification and at least 200 hours as pilot in command of an aircraft, Schmidt said.

The squadron commander said "CAP has a lot of resources to help you" if members want to obtain their pilot's certification.

Wise said people who are not pilots can learn skills by serving on an aircraft crew as either observers or scanners by operating the radio, helping with navigation or looking for a downed aircraft.

"The pilot needs somebody else up there, looking around and helping do things," said Wise, who has served as an observer.

Wise said cadets learn about aerospace subjects such as aircraft, rocketry and weather.

Senior members also learn about aerospace and are "further encouraged to share the information obtained with their local communities and school systems," according to the national CAP website.

The CAP provides community workshops about aerospace and advancing technology in the field, as well.

The unit also has access to two other airplanes, a Cessna 172 Skyhawk and Gippsland GA8 Airvan, which are based at other airports in the Baltimore region.

Joining the CAP

Meetings, which start at 7 p.m. Mondays, are open to prospective members, and Wise said "we strongly encourage somebody to come to at least three meetings before the really decide to join us."

Send an email to jqschmidt@yahoo.com for more information.

Anyone interested in joining must fill out an application, pay a $60 application fee, get fingerprinted and then go through a background investigation conducted through the CAP national headquarters.

Wise said CAP attracts members through word of mouth, Internet searches or by being visible at community events.

Senior members and cadets traditionally help with parking at the annual Harford County Farm Fair, and they were at this year's fair greeting motorists and taking their fair passes as they entered the fairgrounds at the Harford County Equestrian Center in Bel Air.

He said cadets learn about the program through friends, or they see cadets in the community.

"We're attempting to do a more formalized recruitment campaign for both seniors and cadets," Wise said.

Wise said there was not enough space at the Harford airport, where the group formerly met, to have all active members in the same room for meetings, which made it difficult to grow the squadron. That problem was solved with the move to APG.

"Now that we have adequate room for growth, we want to really start growing," he said.

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