Civil Air Patrol’s Fate Debated this Week

F. Whitten Peters
F. Whitten Peters

By Malcomb Daniels | USA Today

The future of the Civil Air Patrol — the Air Force’s civilian volunteer auxiliary — is up for debate this week, and battle lines are rapidly taking shape.

Air Force officials say the service wants more control over the 57-year-old civilian organization. But they stressed that the proposals would not change the role of CAP’s 60,000 unpaid volunteer members, who fly 85 percent of the nation’s air search and rescue missions.

“The Air Force has no desire to change the basic mission of Civil Air Patrol,” said Lt Col Jimmy Farris, vice commander of CAP-USAF, the Air Force’s liaison command with the auxiliary.

But Civil Air Patrol headquarters, based at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, issued a statement Friday, saying the proposed changes represent an Air Force effort to seize control of the CAP.

The statement also said that the changes, if endorsed by the Air Force’s top leadership and approved by Congress, “would silence the voices of our unpaid volunteers and abolish their historic authority for self-determination within their organization.”

The Air Force is proposing a major restructuring of the CAP that would include replacing civilian control of the auxiliary and placing it in the hands of a 92-member command headed by a two-star general.

Information on the Air Force’s plan obtained by the Advertiser called for several civilian jobs to be replaced by active-duty military. Lt Col Farris said, however, “the restructuring would likely affect 20 of 103 civilian positions at CAP headquarters operating at Maxwell.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Michael Ryan and acting Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters are scheduled to meet Tuesday with CAP National Commander Brig Gen James C. Bobick to discuss the Air Force’s plan, Lt Col Farris said.

He declined to confirm whether the Air Force proposal would include replacing the civilian directors and national commander of CAP with active-duty officers.

Lt Col Farris said, however, that the restructuring plan would give the Air Force more control in areas such as how CAP spends it money.

“The money they spend, we see that after the fact,” Farris said.

Lt Col Farris stressed, however, there been no problems with the way CAP has handled the money appropriated by the Air Force — more than $25 million in the 1998 fiscal year. And Bobick told the Advertiser Thursday that Air Force money is spent on missions approved by the service.

The Air Force now has 27-member staff at CAP headquarters in Montgomery and about 50 others serving in support roles throughout the nation.

The CAP, founded in 1941, was incorporated by Congress in 1946 as a benevolent, non-profit organization and, two years later, was named the Air Force’s auxiliary by federal law. It receives the bulk of its money from the Air Force but is governed by a civilian board of directors. CAP has units — known as squadrons — in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

CAP members are volunteers who wear Air Force uniforms and rank. They pay dues, buy their own uniforms and assume most costs. They receive no salaries or benefits from the Air Force.

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