Four members of Eden Prairie’s Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Viking Composite Squadron recently trained with local municipal, county, and state emergency personnel in a search and rescue exercise (SAREX) near Mankato.
On July 16, 1st Lt. Michael Ireland, Cadet Airman Marie-Eva Ndeye Damiba, Cadet Senior Airman Devon Wyatt, and Senior Member Julie Wyatt joined 67 members from 15 other Minnesota Wing CAP squadrons to carry out the exercise.
The day began with a reported Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) signal being detected in south-central Minnesota. “The scenario was that a light aircraft had gone down in the area and there were three people on board,” says Ireland.
Three CAP aircrews and four CAP ground teams were dispatched to locate the downed aircraft and rescue the occupants. Tracker and cadaver dogs were sent into the woods and successfully located the victims.
The team then waded through thick brush to reach the victims. A Minnesota State Patrol helicopter airlifted them to Rush River County Park in Henderson. CAP cadets could inspect the helicopter and rescue equipment and talk with the pilot and EMS crew members.
Damiba and Devon Wyatt, both CAP cadets and rising 9th graders, served on a ground team during the SAREX.
“It was great — I learned a ton,” Damiba said. “I worked on different skills of being on a ground team. I learned how to use a cheese box to find an ELT, do line searches, and work as a team.”
Ireland served as Viking Composite Squadron’s mission support chaplain for the SAREX. “It can be stressful and distressing,” he said. “I talk to the family and offer them counsel and spiritual support.”
“This has been a great opportunity to train with local and state groups before we actually have to work with them in a real mission,” Minnesota Wing’s Major Tom Fitzhenry said in a press release. “It also helps build relationships with community groups and informs them of CAP capabilities.”
About Civil Air Patrol
CAP is a non-profit civilian volunteer organization and the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. As such, it is a member of its Total Force, according to the CAP website. Established in New Jersey in December 1941, the week before Pearl Harbor was bombed, CAP operates a fleet of 555 single-engine aircraft and 2,250 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
CAP performs about 90% of all search and rescue operations within the contiguous United States as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, and is credited with saving 108 lives last year.
“It’s a volunteer service organization,” Ireland said. “There’s great training. We serve our communities. We serve our country. For instance, if someone gets lost in the Boundary Waters, they might send us out.
“Last year in Wright County an elderly man on a bike was lost in a cornfield. Civil Air Patrol found him.”
CAP says its 56,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. CAP also focuses on aerospace education.
The cadet experience
Viking Composite Squadron is one of the Minnesota Wing’s 16 squadrons. Based in Eden Prairie, members are also drawn from the surrounding area.
The squadron currently has roughly 50 cadets and 50 senior members. Cadets are welcomed into CAP from ages 12-21. Senior members are also welcomed in various roles.
Minnetonka residents Julie Wyatt and her son Devon joined CAP a year ago when Devon was in 8th grade. “This has been such a wonderful program and more people need to know about it,” said Julie.
Every four weeks, cadets rotate through a program of four pillars: aerospace education; character development based on CAP’s core values of integrity, volunteer service, excellence and respect; emergency services; and physical training and professional development.
Not all CAP cadets are interested in military careers.
“Five to 10% of our cadets go on to have military careers, often attending the Air Force Academy or Naval Academy,” Ireland said. “We are preparing young people to go into business, commerce, and industry, because we train them how to do things well.”
Aviation, of course, is a major focus. “Each cadet gets five free orientation flights in our Cessna 182, which is based at Flying Cloud Airport,” Ireland said. “If they want to learn to fly, they can.
“Often these cadets will get their pilot’s license before their driving license.”
However, he said, there are also spotter and observer qualifications which involve substantial training.
“I’ve already done one of my [orientation]flights,” Devon said. “You actually get to fly the aircraft. You don’t get to take off or land, because that’s very difficult to do. But they tell you a lot about how flying works, what each control does, and it’s very informative.”
Devon is interested in being a naval aviator.
Before flying, Devon practiced on the squadron’s two flight simulators, one of which is a virtual reality simulator. “Cadets can use them as much as they want to prepare for flying,” he said.
After five orientation, or “O” flights, Devon said, cadets can transfer to a flight academy.
“CAP is not just about flight training,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things you can do. Cybersecurity, communications, marshaling, drill training if you want to be in the military, and aerospace training.”
Damiba, who is interested in attending the Air Force Academy, agrees. “You learn so much not just about military and aviation, but also about leadership skills, teamwork, and building amazing friendships,” she said.
CAP also gets involved in the local community. Viking Composite Squadron’s color guard team did a posting of the colors at Eden Prairie’s Veterans Park on Memorial Day. Last weekend, cadets were marshaling and controlling crowds at the Wings of the North Air Expo exhibition at Flying Cloud Airport.
How to get involved
Anyone interested in joining the Viking Composite Squadron is encouraged to visit their website and email them at email@example.com.
Meetings are every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Grace Church in Eden Prairie. Visitors are asked to attend three meetings, and then they are invited to sign up.
CAP is a volunteer organization, and there are some fees, both to the national organization and to help support the cost of Viking Composite Squadron’s hangar and plane. Members also need to purchase uniforms.
Ireland encourages anyone who might be interested in stopping by for a meeting.
“Civil Air Patrol is America’s best-kept secret,” he said.
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