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Get to know today’s Civil Air Patrol

(December 7, 2016) The missions of today’s Civil Air Patrol are very different from its origins: Searching for German submarines during World War II. But the Hillsborough One Senior Squadron, the Civil Air Patrol based at Tampa Executive Airport, still performs critical missions that save lives and taxpayer dollars. 

The Squadron stands ready to respond 24/7 when the U.S. Air Force (USAF) calls on them to fly search-and-rescue missions, find missing aircraft, provide disaster relief assistance or take aerial photography after natural disasters. 

Although CAP is also known as the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, the organization actually predates the founding of the USAF, which wasn’t created until 1947. It’s made up of 60,000 volunteers nationwide, including about 60 at Tampa Executive. CAP operates the largest fleet of Cessna aircraft in the world, but the majority of the members are not pilots, but serve in very important support roles.

“Most people are surprised to learn that we are not all pilots or ex-military. In fact, few of us are,” said Squadron Commander Maj. Sam Chiodo, a retired firefighter from Tampa Fire Rescue who joined the CAP in 2011 and began piloting missions soon afterwards.

The Civil Air Patrol is perhaps best known for its search-and-rescue efforts. In fact, CAP personnel fliy more than 85 percent of all the federal inland search-and-rescue missions nationwide assigned by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, located near Panama City, FL.  CAP members flew over the Deepwater Horizon accident to provide surveillance and updates. They also assist FEMA following a natural disaster such as a hurricane or flood to assess damage and the need for resources, most recently to support FEMA following Tropical Storm Hermine and Hurricane Matthew.

“One of our most frequent missions is to track down an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), which are beacons that indicate a plane may have gone down,” said Chiodo. “Most beacons are activated by accident, but we have to locate and clear every single one.”

With its cost-efficient general aviation aircraft and team of volunteers, CAP saves the U.S. Air Force millions of dollars every year by taking on that task.

Those missions involve a three-person air team that consists of a pilot; the Observer who sits next to the pilot and monitors equipment and looks out the ride side of the plane; and a Scanner in the back seat looking out the pilot’s side.  On the ground, more volunteers handle communications at the squadron Incident Command Post, while others prepare the ground effort. Once the beacon is located, the ground team is alerted to the location and begins the process of silencing it.

And they’re found it in some pretty unusual places. Often times, the ELT is located in a junk yard or in the possession of an unsuspecting scrap collector.

“We show up, and they’re usually pretty surprised to discover what they have – and the chain of events that have taken place since it was damaged and activated,” said Chiodo.

The CAP also has a cadet program for children and young adults ages 12 to 21. Cadets involved with the organization can be found helping out at the annual Sun n’ Fun Fly-in and the MacDill Air Fest marshalling the aircraft and attending the static displays. In addition, the cadets gain valuable aerospace knowledge and experience.  Many go on to pursue military careers or academy appointments.

The Hillsborough One Senior Squadron is always open to accepting new members who are willing to volunteer and train for their missions. New members should attend a meeting to learn more. There are no prerequisites and Chiodo said that everybody who wants to participate can find a role that suits them in the Civil Air Patrol. And, he said, members find plenty of benefits as well.

“It’s a good organization where you get to know and work with many people from all different backgrounds and you feel like you’re contributing,” Chiodo said.

The squadron at Tampa Executive Airport meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. for both classroom-style training and hands on activities to continually prepare for future missions.

For more information on the Hillsborough One Senior Squadron at Tampa Executive Airport, call (813) 748-4139 or email Maj Chiodo at schiodo@flwg.us.  Maj Chiodo will direct you to the CAP squadron nearest your home, and that will best fit your needs.