Flying with wings and ‘heart’
La PORTE — La Porte residents can look out – or up – for some distinct red, white and blue aircraft that will be soaring above the area this weekend.
Pilots, radio techs and other aviation personnel from across Indiana assembled at the La Porte Municipal Airport on Friday to kick off a series of Civil Air Patrol search and rescue training exercises. The exercises, which simulate the actual missions volunteers with the Air Force Auxiliary tackle, will continue Saturday and Sunday.
The exercises – known as SAREX among CAP members – gives the organization’s volunteers a chance to sharpen the skills they would need when called upon in emergencies, such as searching for missing people or aircraft, or performing rescue missions during natural disasters.
The CAP Indiana Wing typically stages four of these exercises every year at airfields across the state, according to Maj. Bill Vendramin, public affairs officer for the organization.
During the SAREX, trained CAP volunteers run through different scenarios, such as trying to locate stranded people during a flood. While one team takes to the skies in a CAP Cessna aircraft, another group acts as ground support, relaying important information to the flight crew to ensure the mission’s success, Vendramin said.
“We try to piece everything together at these exercises, so that, when a real emergency happens, we are prepared,” he said.
The official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, a group of more than 150,000 citizens founded the Civil Air Patrol in December 1941 – just a week before the Pearl Harbor attack – to safeguard America’s coastline. During World War II, CAP pilots participated in direct combat missions, including searching and attacking German U-Boats patrolling American waters.
After the conflict, though, President Harry Truman established CAP as a federally chartered nonprofit organization, with Congress later redefining its purpose altogether.
“In today’s age, everything the Civil Air Patrol does is some sort of humanitarian mission,” Vendramin said.
Among those are 90 percent of the inland search and rescue operations for the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, based out of Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. The AFRCC calls upon CAP volunteers to locate missing aircraft, with ground crews feeding tips and information to flight crews to help them track down a lost vehicle.
CAP also often assists in emergency response during disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes and floods. The nonprofit even helps out with smaller tasks, such as transporting organs to hospitals or airlifting animals for veterinary treatment, Vendramin said.
Currently, CAP has more than 61,000 adult and youth volunteers among its ranks. The Indiana Wing has approximately 1,150 members across 34 squadrons, including the La Porte Senior Squadron, which has about two dozen volunteers.
Vendramin, who assists with CAP squads across Indiana, has been a member of the air patrol for the past five years, he said. A lifelong lover of aviation – he received his pilot’s license at 18 – the La Porte resident sees CAP as a great way to serve his community, he said.
“I love to fly, and I love flying for an organization that has heart, one that is trying to do good things for people who need it,” he said.
Another aspect of CAP that Vendramin particularly enjoys is working with the next generation of aviation lovers through the cadet program, which offers leadership, fitness, aerospace and character development training to children and teenagers.
While an excellent organization for pilots looking to apply their knowledge and skills for a good cause, CAP offers something for people from a variety of backgrounds, including electronics, communications or finance, Vendramin said.
“We could double our current amount of volunteers and still be in need of people,” he said.
Those interested in learning more about the CAP Indiana Wing can visit inwg.cap.gov.