What’s the Matter with Civil Air Patrol Today?

Civil Air Patrol

By W. Murray

What’s the matter with CAP today?

Well, it is blisteringly obvious: lack of “mission creep.”

CAP picked up a lot of new members after Sept 11 for various reasons. They all wanted to do something to help the nation. And many have done so selflessly and honorably. In a few years — when they are senior enough — they will transform the organization. But until then, there are a number of factors that are hurting CAP’s member retention and recruiting.

Lack of a defined mission. This is right on the Air Force’s door step. CAP is a tremendous asset and force multiplier, if it is used as such. Currently, it is not. It’s long past time for the Air Force to bring CAP in from cold. CAP members have been waiting FIVE YEARS for a defined mission. Oh, it would also help if, when you see us, you didn’t cross the street and pretend you don’t know us.

The Cindy Sheehan Syndrome. The drumbeat of anti-Iraq and anti-war news in the media, often repeated in the nations classrooms, is hurting CAP in the same way it did in the 1960s and early 1970’s.

Organizational Age. All you have to do is look at the ranks of the senior members at any CAP activity. There are so many Lieutenant Colonels that a newcomer would think that Major is entry-level rank. As an organization ages, more people retire or quit. With top-heavy rank distribution, there is no where for new members to go.

Economics. It is expensive to be a CAP member. Members have to provide their own uniforms and equipment, radios, etc. Increasingly, members are being driven out by the sheer cost of being in. The Air Force could solve this problem easily, but has chosen not to. The Air Force doesn’t expect its members to buy their own F-16’s for a mission, why do they expect CAP members to buy their own?

Protections. CAP members are expected to risk their employment and suffer economic (wage) loss to participate in missions like the ones CAP conducted during Hurricane Katrina. Yet, there were billions spent and are yet to be spent by the federal government on the Gulf Coast. If the Air Force went to Congress and got CAP the same job protections as reservists and Guardsmen have during such times, it would really help.

Not many people can afford to walk away from their jobs to participate in a mission for a couple of weeks without pay. It is amazing as many CAP members participated in Katrina as did. During WWII, CAP members on such missions (and others) were paid as E-3’s for the duration of the mission. It worked then, and it will work now. You cannot expect people to travel cross-country, pay for their room and board, and do a dangerous job on their own nickel — especially when they were just about the only ones not getting some sort of material or financial reimbursement.

Address these issues and CAP will grow again. Ignore them, and the CAP becomes a footnote.

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