Civil Air Patrol member reflects on how the organization has changed
Eau Claire, Wis. – In 1955, with World War II a decade in America’s rear view mirror, John Case, an Eau Claire youth joined the Eau Claire Civil Air Patrol squadron. Attracted by the thrill of aviation and the idea of giving back to his community, Case at the age of 15 walked down to the old Madison Street Firehouse. There he met fellow-minded youth and a cadre of adults all focused on helping their neighbors and serving their country in their own unique way.
Fast forward to today and you will find Captain Jon Case still serving his community, state, and nation through his service in Civil Air Patrol. Today he serves as one of the cadre of adult members, overseeing the squadron’s radio communications.
Captain Case has seen many changes over the years. Today the squadron meets at the National Guard Armory, which offers a different experience than the old city firehouse he first attended as a Civil Air Patrol cadet. Of course today’s Civil Air Patrol fields a much more technologically advanced force than Case remembers as a cadet.
In 1955 there certainly were not computers or cell phones and only a few radios. Today he sees an organization that uses a nationwide computerized personnel management system to service its 60,000 members; watches aircrews takeoff and conduct missions where the photos and data are relayed to disaster command centers anywhere in the country and where Civil Air Patrol radio operators can conduct nationwide operations from stations dotted throughout the United States.
However, while so much has changed, much has also remained the same. Case joined as a CAP cadet, attracted to the thrill of aviation. Today the organization still attracts more than 25,000 youth each year who participate in its Cadet Program. Like in Case’s cadet experience, today’s cadets experience aviation first-hand, earn leadership promotions through performance and help carry out the organization’s search and rescue mission.
As a CAP cadet, Case had the opportunity to help out in the aftermath of a tornado that struck Colfax in 1958 and helped secure a crash site for an aircraft that crashed in 1959. Today’s CAP cadets do much the same missions. As evidenced recently in Oklahoma, both cadet and senior members form a rapid response force that responds quickly to help local communities affected by man-made and natural disasters and events.
Captain Case has noticed other changes as well. Some are cosmetic such as the change from the wool Air Force dress uniforms and the olive drab fatigue uniform to today’s cotton-based Air Force dress uniform and woodland patterned Battle Dress Uniform. But just as they did in 1955, today’s uniforms celebrate and honor the connection between the United States Air Force and its civilian auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol.
Today’s Civil Air Patrol also has a higher emphasis on safety and inclusion than Case remembers the organization having in 1955. In 1955, Civil Air Patrol was only 14 years old.
Last year CAP celebrated its 70th year of providing service to America. Perhaps the memory that best shows the growth of CAP over the years is Case’s memory of having to go out and start the squadron plane by turning the propeller by hand. Today’s CAP still has aircraft carrying out missions for local communities, but it has come a long way from the days of hand-propping its aircraft.