When I went to my first Civil Air Patrol meeting last August, I didn’t know what to expect. Having read a few forum threads in which people outlined their encounters with some cringeworthy toolishness from members of the organization, I feared that I would find a passel of wannabes more excited about dressing up in an Air Force-style uniform and marching around collecting salutes and bling than in contributing something to the community. The stories were out there, and I don’t doubt that the unprofessional/disrespectful/downright WTF?-inspiring moments described happened. I just had no idea whether they were the exception — as I sincerely hoped — rather than the rule when it came to the United States Air Force Auxiliary.
I needn’t have worried. My fears were put to rest immediately upon meeting the squadron commander and a few other key members. They exuded professionalism, good humor, enthusiasm, and a distinct absence of any uniform bling-hound tendencies. I was, therefore, not at all surprised to learn that most of them were retired Navy, with Naval Aviators and NFOs strongly represented. No wonder I felt so instantly at home! I wound up turning in my membership paperwork shortly thereafter, and I’ve been volunteering ever since.
Of CAP’s three congressionally mandated missions of Cadet Programs, Aerospace Education, and Emergency Services, my primary interest lies with ES. CAP is responsible for about 90% of all inland search and rescue in the United States; if you are in an airplane that goes down, nine times out of ten, CAP volunteers will be the folks looking for the wreckage. I started on the path to train as aircrew for search and rescue missions, finally earning my Mission Observer (aircraft right-seater who assists the pilot with the GPS, radios, direction finding equipment, and anything else that will allow the pilot to focus on flying the plane safely while the rest of the aircrew focuses on the mission at hand) wings at the beginning of this month.
While I was having a grand old time training in ES specialties and flying with former Tomcat backseaters and learning all about the sweet Garmin G1000 in the Cessna 182, my husband was enduring a massive slowdown in his Navy flying. Ridiculously enough, I was actually getting more flight hours with CAP than my winged Naval Aviator husband was getting with the Navy. After deciding that the squadron was populated by some pretty cool folks and hearing how much fun I was having with a group of dedicated volunteers, the wheels started to turn in my husband’s poor flight-hour-deprived brain. He turned in his own membership packet and jumped right into knocking out his on ES quals.
…which brings me to my present situation, which is that I am sitting at home waiting for my husband to return from his first Mission Observer training flight. He’ll ultimately pursue his Mission Pilot qual, but he needs to pick up some 172 time before he starts that process in earnest. I look forward to when he gets qualified in the left seat, when together we’ll make up the better part of a mission aircrew. I think we’ll coordinate well in the cockpit. For now, though, I’m trying to suppress a twinge of jealousy that he’s flying and I’m not; I’m trying to remind myself of all the other times our positions were reversed, but it ain’t easy.
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