Where the Civil Air Patrol “Power” Really Comes From, and Why

CAP Insights

By Ray Hayden | CAP Insights

We have been saying it for a very long time around CAP Insights, that the “power” of the Commanders in the Civil Air Patrol comes from the General Membership, unlike the “real” military and Big Brother Blue, the U.S. Air Force. What we ought to do is make it very clear as to why it is that way, and why it will never change. We will also discuss additional information that a lot of folks might not even consider, and in a perfect organization, they wouldn’t have to either.

In the U.S. Air Force, the Authority comes from above, all the way down to the lowest enlisted ranked person. The Authority is based on law, and Authority can be delegated, again, to the extent necessary, all the way down to the lowest qualified person to carry out what ever must be accomplished.

What can never be delegated, however, is the responsibility for the outcome of delegating that authority. The U.S. Air Force members have a rather clear chain of command that is backed up by federal law, rules and regulations. If a person who outranks you gives you a “lawful order”, you are expected to carry out what is being “requested”. The key in that is that the order must be lawful.

If an idiot gives you a an order that, by carrying it out, you know for a fact, will be detrimental to the personnel and property that are under your responsibility – you are actually supposed to follow certain protocol in not following that order. The shit is going to hit the fan, and there is no way around it, so if you must decide to not follow what someone might claim to be a “lawful order”, because in fact, it is not, you must also be prepared for the laundry list of crap you are about to eat. You had also better be right.

For the CAP, the organization is established and governed by law, but we will not go into the legal aspects of it all, as, to some extent, we all learned about it somewhere and have the basic understanding that Title 10 covers it in some way.

Where the CAP is radically different than the U.S. Air Force, is in that there are “Corporate Officers”, and the rest is the General Membership.

A Corporate Officer is not an officer in the realm of a Captain or a Major, a Corporate Officer is a totally civilian term referring to those who have the legal authority to place Corporate Assets into play, or to sign a legal document that puts the Corporation’s responsibility on the line. A legal agreement with a business, such as renting office space for a Wing Headquarters office, is such
an example. There are certain things that only the Wing Commander, or higher, can approve, or sign for.

There are reasons for that. But this is not about what a Corporate Officer does, or what legalities are involved, it is about how “power” flows and where it comes from.

For the U.S. Air Force, the power comes from law, and it is from the Federal Government down through the Department of the Air Force.

The service has folks who get paid to do jobs, the CAP has volunteers.

In the military as in the CAP, without the lowest levels of folks willingly doing what those above them ask of them, nothing would get done. The military has the UCMJ to back up any “corrective” actions which must be taken when folks decide to no longer follow the direction of those above.

The CAP’s volunteers willingly participate as long as they feel that what they are doing is worthwhile, and as long as it is not too much of a drain on them – the “not being paid” aspect is important.

If the volunteers of the CAP feel that the “leadership” is chock full of idiots, they will vote with their feet and walk away. How many units have shut down over the years due to incompetent “commanders” who had their heads planted firmly up their own asses? Poor leadership destroys Units, and it damn near destroyed the CAP.

If all the volunteers of a Unit walk away, the unit fails, and loses it’s charter. If all the Units in a Wing walk away, the Wing would fail and if any one Wing failed, the entire organization would have to be looked at very carefully, it would not be pretty.

The CAP has it’s Corporate Officers (Wing Commanders and above), and it has it’s Groups (for Wings that have them) and all Wings have Units. The quality of “leadership” can immediately be seen at the Unit level. If all the members are participating, and the group is enjoying a worthwhile experience, the leadership is considered to be OK. But there is more to it than that.

What is the Unit Commander? This is a volunteer organization, and while all the paperwork goes through it’s Real Military textual descriptions, the fact is that if the Unit Commander is an idiot, the Unit is in trouble. The real goal of the Unit Commander is to facilitate the workings of the Unit and it’s membership, to do things, and to direct things in such a way that the requirements of the organization are being met, and so that the membership can be the most productive that they can be.

In a perfect Unit, after eleven years, it will be full of Lt Col’s, and it should be. Not only should any eleven year old Unit be full of Lt Col’s, any Group, or any Wing – dare we say it, the CAP itself – being more than eleven years old, should be over flowing with Lt Col’s, why?

Because it takes ten full years to make Lt Col if the newest member started from scratch with nothing to advance their grade higher. Six months as a Senior Member, twelve months as a 2Lt, 18 months as a 1Lt, three years as a Capt and four years as a Maj to hit Lt Col. Ten short years, and their service is transferable all over the country. In the worst case scenario, they should be about to make Lt Col and have been a Maj for a while.

The point is that the program has not been perfect.

There are not a boatload of Lt Col’s walking around in the CAP. And there are a plethora of reasons why not, but if they are still in the program, they should be progressing! The problem comes from above.

Poor, or inadequate “leadership” leads to unhappy campers who pack up and leave, or hang out and rot.

The bottom line is that without quality Membership, there is simply no “need” for any “leadership” – who are they there to lead?

The POWER, therefore, comes from below. In the CAP, the General Membership is what best explains how well, or not, the “leadership” is doing at working for the General Membership – in helping them to achieve goals, progress in the program and add overall quality to everything that the CAP does.

So, while the text explains that the “Great, Grand Almighty Commander” at any level might be ruler of their domain, what their real duty is, is to you, the General Member – if not for you, they are useless. So, the greatest power in the CAP emanates directly from the Units! It starts at the smallest Unit and grows from there.

A Unit Commander is specifically responsible for the health and well being of the quality of the General Membership within their Unit.

A Group Commander, for Wings that have them, is specifically responsible for making sure that the Units within that Group have whatever resources they need to accomplish their goals and needs, in order to progress and be a vital asset to the Wing.

A Wing Commander is the lowest level of Corporate Officer, but their responsibility is specifically to help out all the Units (and Groups) and make sure that they have whatever they need, so that each Unit is indeed able to fully participate in the programs offered and sponsored by the CAP and their partners.

Region Commanders do the same thing for the Wings and the National Commander does the same thing for the Regions.

By the way, the STAFF OFFICERS of every level are there SPECIFICALLY to ASSIST you in HELPING you to get the job done – ANY Staff Officer that is DETRIMENTAL to your getting the job done is a BIG problem and must be looked at, re-educated, and most likely replaced – you simply cannot have idiots not helping out the General Membership, that’s just crazy thinking.

Being that you, as a member of the CAP, are like the “power cell” that runs the entire organization, you have responsibilities too. You must take responsibility to learn what is available for you to do, how you can participate, how you can best serve the Unit and the Wing – and by default, the Nation! You should look for things that enhance your abilities and capabilities in all aspects of your life – make the program worthwhile for you even more so than simply “being a member”. Look for ways to learn new things, apply that to your personal life and your business experiences.

The CAP gives you a tremendous amount of options to help you succeed in all areas of your life, but you have to know where to look. The 200 Series Pamphlets are a great asset, browse the Website, read those awful regulations – they are great for insomniacs! But truthfully, you will learn so much from reading over the regulations and pamphlets – they cross reference other data and materials, and in becoming good at learning all about them, you can help new folks get up to speed faster.

Help your Unit and nearby Units to meet goals, and always – always, remember, the CAP is not a win – lose game, everyone can become a Lt Col, everyone can attend the SLS, most folks can attend Wing or Region Meetings or Conferences along the way. Learn, participate and make the program better for all.

You’ve succeeded when there are more Lt Col’s in the CAP than there are 2Lt’s and Senior Members without grade!

You, as the individual General Member are the Power Cell that drives the CAP. Remember that the Leadership works FOR you. Be thankful that your New Leadership knows that fact, continue to monitor your Leadership to make sure that they never forget it again.

If one of the great things in the CAP is to serve your country, another great thing would be to know that when your time comes, and you’re in the “Commander” position or higher Staff Level, that you’re serving your nation, and your fellow members, and to do the best job you can do for them. It is not only the right thing to do, but it is where the “Power” in the CAP has always been.

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