By Matthew Deming | Photography by Reagan Deming

As a Granbury native I grew up watching planes fly over my parents’ home on Comanche Peak. As I grew older, I saw more and more small aircraft flying through the skies above our small town. I always wondered where they were going and what they were doing. Now I know that at least a few of these aircraft are serving the community with Civil Air Patrol.

If you had asked me a few months ago how much I knew regarding the Civil Air Patrol, about who they were or what the organization was, I wouldn’t have had much of an answer. I’d attempt to give some general assumptions about the group based on what little I had read in books or heard second hand. My thoughts of the group were limited: I believed the group formed around the WWII era to air patrol our country, look out for invading troops, in turn helping the population relax and give them some peace of mind.

Do they still exist and where are they now? I would have told you that if they were still active, I suppose they would be a group of private pilots that follow their own agenda, assisting the city and county when needed; looking for missing persons and such, but mostly flying for leisure and hours.

I was so wrong.

Cadets line up for drill and uniform check.

Photograph by Reagan Deming

My assumptions were correct in one way, the Civil Air Patrol (henceforth referred to as CAP) did start during WWII, beginning as part of the War Department a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was founded by a group of citizens concerned about the nation’s borders and assigned to the jurisdiction of the Army Air Corp. They flew several million miles along our nation’s borders providing important services for the military, including anti-submarine patrol, finding some 170 enemy U-boats, attacking over 50 and sinking two.

Following the War, President Truman established CAP as a federally chartered non-profit organization and a civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force in 1948. Today, this is considered for CAP as part of their “Total Force” and utilizes the organization to complete thousands of missions each year. They execute three primary missions: Emergency Services, Cadet Programs, and Aerospace Education.

My interview with Lt. Col. Floyd Whitehouse, Squadron Commander for Granbury CAP, took place on a sunny Thursday afternoon, with big fluffy clouds in the sky. The smart red, white and blue Cessna was parked just outside of the Granbury Airport offices as I walked inside I met Floyd, who had just finished a mission and was still dressed in his olive flight suit.  After our introductions, which included Toby Blair, Deputy Commander of Cadets, I sat down to learn all about CAP and have my main question answered, “What, exactly, does CAP do”?

“Our local Civil Air Patrol has served Granbury for over 15 years, providing education to local youth and serving the community. They execute three missions: Emergency Services, Cadet Programs and Aerospace Education.”

As part of the Emergency Services mission, Civil Air Patrol squadrons conduct 90 percent of all inland search and rescue missions tasked through the Air Force and other agencies. They provide disaster relief support to local, state and national agencies, such as aerial photographs taken during floods in Houston or along the Trinity River. Our squadron was in Houston at the end of April this year, surveying damage and guiding emergency personnel to areas that needed support. Also, they provided support to Moore Oklahoma in 2013 when it was tragically struck by an EF5 tornado.

These disaster missions support several agencies, including the Texas Division of Emergency Management and FEMA, where CAP’s surveys and photos can provide justification for government assistance and grants. CAP planes and pilots are tasked by Homeland Security to fly along the border, providing surveillance and communication for ground teams. The Air Force provides most missions for CAP, using squadrons to survey flight routes and add new structures that might impede flight paths, such as cell towers. CAP planes are far more cost effective than drones, helicopters or fighter jets, so they are used for intercept training (intercept training is where they mimic a threat to important areas or structures) by NAS Fort Worth JRB and other bases around the country.

They are also used for communication support, as CAP has a nationwide network of VHF radios. If anything goes wrong with traditional means of communication, this network can relay important messages all across the country. The Granbury squadron plays a very important part with local communication, as they have a radio repeater that can be placed in their plane so they can fly above a disaster area in a “high bird” and provide better radio coverage for ground teams. This tool was used by our squadron when they flew over the PK fires in 2011.

Cadet Programs are an important mission of CAP, and one that our local Squadron takes to heart. There are 11 cadets at Granbury Composite Squadron TX-441, The Raptors, ranging in age from 12 to 20, although most of the cadets are age 15 or under. They operate in ROTC fashion, with drills and PT, but this occurs outside of school, on Monday evenings. Cadets become members of a ground team, learn emergency response, search and rescue, communication skills and can be trained to pilot planes and gliders.

The Granbury Squadron also has a Color Guard that is available for community events. They perform flag folding ceremonies for the families of local veterans. Cadets also attend summer camp, summer flight academy, as well as national events. The opportunity to learn these skills and participate in the organization is only part of the reason to join CAP. Cadet Emily Pyle joined to follow in her family’s footsteps and help protect the community. Cadet Pyle and fellow Cadet Brodee Pack received certificates for their first flight on May 16th. Cadet Payton Pruitt wanted to join ROTC, but is homeschooled, so chose to participate in CAP instead.

The squadron gives the cadets not only a place to learn about the military and aeronautics, but is also a sanctuary. Many of the cadets mentioned the friendship they had gained within the group. When asked about the organization, each one mentioned the bond they have with one another and their superiors, that they have learned from one another and those above them, and also how to be someone to look up to.

The leadership aspect of CAP is appealing to many of the members. Cadet Bannon Stump appreciates how CAP is leadership driven:

“CAP teaches you to be a respectable leader. You can enter more air force schools and join the military at a higher rank.” (A Cadet officer can enlist in the Air Force as an E3 and in the Army as an E2.) Cadet William Bledsoe mentioned that “[CAP] has leaders that are people to look up to” and it is “a place to belong, to have a bond… We’re kind of like a little family. The people you meet, you really just hold on to those friendships.”

In a world full of distractions, these young adults have been given something bigger than themselves to focus on. They’ve been shown what they are capable of, believe more in themselves and have a strong respect for the military and their families. CAP provides them with a stepping stone for a stable future.

They have the opportunity to gain knowledge they never would have had without the group, such as engineering, aerospace systems, character development and leadership, as well as fitness (their physical training sounds exhausting, with running, push-ups, sit ups and much more).

Part of CAP’s mission is executed through Aerospace Education. This mission peaked my interest because I work fulltime for an aerospace company and find all things aerospace interesting. CAP is dedicated to educating communities, cadets and students about aerospace. They teach the history of flight, principles of flight and the evolution of aerospace in America. CAP also provides free education programs, products and services to local educators and communities.

A really neat education tool that CAP utilizes is STEM kits. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These educational kits are offered to students of all ages, from kindergarten to college. STEM kits come with lesson plans, books and online materials, as well as a vast support system and cover a variety of aerospace topics including rocketry, UAV, weather stations and robotics. I wish some of this was available when I was in school. I mean, rocketry? Really? What kid doesn’t want to learn about rockets? I was disappointed to find that we currently do not have any STEM kits in use in Granbury, but I encourage our local educators to contact CAP and see what can be done to have a kit for their class.

CAP even advises that the kits be used across grade levels and schools, so a single kit could circulate GISD to educate hundreds of students about aerospace. And, for the teachers out there who might be interested in this program, if you join as an Aerospace Educator, you could get an orientation flight over Granbury! When speaking of STEM kits, Commander Floyd stated, “We have these assets and we really want to help and assist the local educators and community”.  Local educators interested in STEM kits can find contact information at the end of this article. What an amazing opportunity we have as a community, to utilize this organization to better educate our youth.

An astounding fact about Civil Air Patrol is that it’s an all voluntary, non-profit organization. The services they provide: education, emergency services and air missions are all completed without traditional monetary compensation. They operate primarily on donations from local patrons, businesses and groups that wish to provide support. The local VFW chapter is one of the Granbury Composite Squadron’s main patrons, providing yearly donations to support new cadets as well as donating their time, expertise and assistance throughout the year. Their support was mentioned several times by CAP members and it is obvious that is very appreciated.

I was impressed by the local Squadron leaderships’ passion and desire for furthering aerospace education and providing development opportunities to Granbury youth. CAP provides an opportunity to serve our community with honor and integrity. They are in the business of reaching new heights and flying with a greater purpose.

Cadet Emily Pyle receives certificate for her first flight from Lt Col Floyd Whitehouse.

Photograph by Reagan Deming