April 26, 2007

Next of Kin

About a week ago I went home and toured the local Rescue Squad. I went for two reasons: First was to observe their apparatus and see how CAP could do something similar with our new FEMA donated Trailers. The other was more personal. My college offers an EMT-B Certification Course which I am enrolled in, so I was interested in volunteering for them this summer. When I made my CAP affiliation known, they looked thrilled to have someone with some ES Training and experience already. As I listened to the tour guide (a friend of my brother's) I was reminded of CAP in many ways. (I should say that I was not there in any official CAP capacity)

Since then, in between school work, I have often thought about who the Civil Air Patrol can relate the most to. Most tend to identify us with the greater Military establishment, which is natural given our association with the Air Force. Yet, as I examine our missions, and the restrictions and privileges we're endowed, the nearest branch of the service that relates to us is the Coast Guard. We both perform Search and Rescue, Disaster Relief and Homeland Security. However, the Coast Guard also has a Law Enforcement mission, and the authorization to use deadly force in certain situations. CAP members can't even have BB Guns while on duty.

Rather, I found a more common kinship with the Rescue Squad than with the military. There I found dedicated volunteers, men and women with families and jobs that went outside their lives as EMTs, Paramedics and Rescuemen. Like the members of a CAP Squadron, they had other things to do with their time, yet gave 12-hour shifts to saving lives.

The similarities didn't end there either. Although my tour was given by a high schooler who probably didn't have a problem finding a date to the prom, people were there from all walks of life. Some were overweight, others were a little awkward. Some were older, some younger. Men and Women alike were members (although predominately male). The group could easily have been transplanted from their EMT uniforms to Flightsuits and BDUs, with nothing additional, and look and behave like a CAP Squadron. Furthermore, the way we're deployed is similar. They go out at a moments notice responding to a car crash or some other emergency. We do the same, having a response time of less than 2 hours from notification to mission-ready, responding to plane crashes and ELT signals. Not even the National Guard works this way, needing to Stage prior to deployment.

Even on the funding side, the Squad felt like a CAP Squadron. Most of their money came from private donations, however some of it did come from the county. Similar to CAP, Squadrons rely mostly on fundraising and what little they get from the Wings and National.

There are differences, of course. The CAP is nationally organized, with a clear command structure, ranks, rates and appointed positions. The Rescue Squad resembled a militia from the late 1700's, with elected officers and leaders, with local organization. However, there seem to be more similarities between the two than differences.

Finally, let's not forget there is a similar mission: Saving Lives. They do it on the ground and on highways, we do so in the air and the wilderness. Overall, I felt more at home visiting the Rescue Squad as a member of CAP than the Military Bases that I have been to in a similar capacity. There I get funny looks, here I felt like part of the overall team that is Emergency Services. Being what CAP is, I felt this kinship, at least on the local level, should be fostered and maintained.

(I would like to say "Thank You" to the men and women of the Clinton Rescue Squad, Hunterdon County, NJ.)


tribal elder said...

Yes, we have a lot in common with the local volunteer fire department or rescue squad. And, while we have a national structure, the squadron is pretty much self-governing (and self-funding).

One of our mixed blessings as an organization is that you can visit six different units and think you are in six different organizations, but they're all doing 'the program', or at least the parts of it they have the senior member 'horsepower' to perform.

Our biggest strength is our diverse professional backgrounds. Unlike most of the players in public safety, we did not all go the the same school. As a result, we come to problems with a wider range of 'tools'.

One of our drawbacks, sometimes, is that we are a 'gateway' organization. Our cadets graduate -- to colleges, active duty, their professional lives. Of the people who were long term cadets with me in the mid-60's-early 70's (Mitchell award or beyond), probably half went on to an aviation, military or public safety career.

For seniors, too, we are sometimes a gateway. Our seniors, at least some, go from CAP to more 'hard-core' E/S volunteering -- medical response taskforces, sheriff's reserve, or even full-time public safety. I ran into a guy I hadn't seen since 1968 a year or two ago -he's a banker now -- and deputy chief of the local VFD.

What's a Flight Officer? said...

You do bring up a great point about the diverse backgrounds in CAP. Unlike the Rescue Squad, we as wings can come together and people bring in their diverse backgrounds and experience. Ideally, this is great. Practically, it works in some places better than others.

The other point that I was subconsciously aware of is our "gateway" status. Although not bad, I think that we should allow those of us who would like to continue in this program an opportunity to really do some good, like the Rescue Squad does.

I must also say that after my visit I no longer tolerate the excuse "We're just volunteers" anymore. These guys are volunteers too, and they put in 12 hour shifts, and maintian high professional standards. Not only that, but they are in a constant state of re-education to keep up with all the current trends. And again, they are "just volunteers".