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USAF Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol:  2021 Year-in-Review

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. William Betts

The 2021 efforts of the official Air Force auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol (CAP), were 80 years in the making.  However, its 80th Birthday preparation and celebration in no way detracted from “business as usual,” including year round operations and various mission assignments in support of First Air Force, U.S. Northern Command, and interagency partners. 

The workload spike from the COVID-19 pandemic largely subsided at the beginning of the year, and focus briefly shifted to homeland defense training support for Super Bowl LV—a  National Special Security Event (NSSE) and one of the largest annual sporting events in the nation.  However, in March, CAP’s COVID-19 operations surpassed 365-days of continuous activation, far surpassing the previous record of 118 days sustained following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  By December, CAP’s COVID-19 operation reached a new milestone, 648 consecutive days…and counting.

Preparation for Super Bowl LV and COVID-19 operations barely scrape the surface of CAP’s 2021 accomplishments.  Powered by the abilities of its approximately 56,000 volunteers, and in support of 1 AF’s Defense Support of Civil Authority (DSCA) missions, momentous events such as Operation Pulse Lift reached goals of collecting first 3,000, then 5,000, and 8,500 units of blood, surging past CAP’s year-end goal of 9,000.  According to the American Red Cross, each unit of donated blood may potentially save three lives, meaning CAP’s contribution to could save as many as 27,000 lives. 

Operation Pulse Lift demonstrated CAP’s ability to rise to the occasion and meet the needs of the nation through the Red Cross.  Simultaneously CAP air crews flew storm surveys to assist the National Weather Service and state emergency management agencies in gauging the official intensities of deadly weather events.  Through crowdsourcing, CAP also supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency during 2021’s largest disaster (Hurricane Ida).

Beyond weather, CAP’s National Radar Analysis Team and National Cell Phone Forensics Team located downed aircraft and aided in numerous ground searches as requested by 1 AF, Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). And, for the first time, CAP’s small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) program participated in a search that resulted in a life saved.

In support of Homeland Defense operations for the continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) region, CAP flew 1,318 sorties simulating aircraft violating restricted air space in order to provide training to NORAD fighter jet aircraft plus additional joint training.

CAP’s work, and the work of its volunteers does not go unrecognized.  The International Association of Emergency Managers Honored CAP leaders for their role directing CAP’s nationwide response to 102 disasters, including the Type I National Incident Management Team that oversaw the response to earthquakes in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Laura, California wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.  The citation also noted CAP’s support to COVID-19 missions employing more than 4,500 volunteers in 50 states, as well as its emergency blood donor centers and COVID-19 test kit and medical site team transportation.

As yet another testament to CAP’s abilities as an interagency partner and force multiplier, in 2021 the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new partnership with CAP’s Chaplain Corps expanding veterans’ families’ access to qualified faith leaders during committal and memorial services held at national cemeteries.

By virtue of its mission, CAP not only inspires externally, but internally.  For 80 years CAP has perpetuated the roles of aviators and other civil servants in support of homeland security through its youth training and education programs.  In 2021, nearly 100 cadets from 35 wings received academic and flight scholarships worth a combined total of $155,500.  Twenty more cadets were recommended for acceptance to the U.S. Air Force Preparatory School in Colorado, with hopes of continuing to the U.S. Air Force Academy. 

This one year glimpse into CAP’s 80-year history, being featured on television networks such as FOX News and the Lifetime Network, and participating in the world’s largest airshow, AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., only serve to underscore CAP’s accomplishments and role as an essential Total Force training partner.  The staff and the volunteers of CAP demonstrates its commitment to live up to their new mission statement – Volunteers serving America’s communities, saving lives, and shaping futures.