Starting in April and flowing through July, each of the wings in the Middle East Region works through their Annual Training Plan (ATP). This is the process where each wing develops a plan that is then funded through the Air Force following their approval. The last several years has seen a significant change in how this process is done. National headquarters publishes their overall strategic plan and at the region level we are taking that plan and creating goals, objectives and tasks. Each wing uses these to create their own goals, objectives and tasks to help the regions achieve the national goals. We do this in eServices under the operations section. Each year we get a little better at the process and we learn from reviewing how we did the previous year.
During the Middle East Region SAR College (MERSAR) I had a conversation with one of the wing commanders. He told me the story of one of his mission pilots who has decided not to renew his MP rating because he doesn't get to fly a lot of missions. It is no secret that our bread and butter SAR mission has been on the decline. Not that long ago most wings flew at least one a week, today it may be one every two or three months. This is due to the shift to the 406 MHz distress beacons and their ability to provide detailed information right down to the owner. In the past the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) would have to call out CAP to chase down a distress signal, often to the local airport. Today, they can look up the name of the owner, call them on the phone and ask them if their aircraft is crashed or did they make a hard landing or leave it in test mode. This is a lot faster and cheaper than rolling out an aircraft, ground teams and an incident commander.
So why do we keep training for this mission? The bottom line is the USAF still owns the inland SAR mission in the US and we still perform close to 90% of it for them. When the call goes out for a missing aircraft we have to have mission pilots, observers and scanners ready to go. We have to have the ground teams and the mission support personnel trained and ready as well. Of course in today's CAP our emergency services personnel do more SAR. To borrow a slogan from our early days, they are the eyes of the homeland skies. This includes air defense missions, border patrol, disaster assessment, counter drug and a number of other local missions including bay patrol. CAP flies between 60-80 percent of all missions on the daily air tasking order for 1st Air Force. We are such a significant force multiplier for them that our organization is in the evaluation phase of potentially moving from Air Education and Training Command to the Air Combat Command home of 1st AF.
Want more reasons? This past month the Virginia Wing was tasked with a missing aircraft mission in the far southwest part of the state. Following the motto of the MER, "No boundaries-No limits," working with the AFRCC, Virginia reached out to West Virginia and North Carolina wings for help. These wings began mobilizing, with WVWG having resources closest to the area. Mission base staff from WVWG mobilized to drive to the incident command post and two aircrews stood ready to fly waiting for a break in the weather. As the VAWG incident commander drove towards the area he coordinated with the MER and WVWG and NCWG. We also reached out to the South East Region and Tennessee Wing to alert them to the possibility that we may need some help. During any mission the IC has to not only focus on the operations at hand but using his planning section chief lean forward into the next two, or more, operational periods to be prepared to continue to execute the mission. By mid-day aircrews began searching the area and working with the Virginia State Police aviation section to locate the downed aircraft. Some amazing teamwork from members across four wings, all focused on helping others. As the region commander, what tells me that our leaders “get” it, is that no one mentioned anything about it being "my mission”. It was all about getting the closest resources there as fast as possible. As I write this, NCWG is working a missing person search with the state. Six ground teams are working with local law enforcement and other search agencies.
To try and add some perspective to this "I haven't flown any missions lately so you don't need me" view, let me share some thoughts. The US military's mission is to provide national defense. There is a medal awarded to active members called the National Defense Service Medal. The criteria for this award is for service between June 27, 1950, and July 27, 1954, (Korean War), between Jan. 1, 1961, and Aug. 14, 1974, (Vietnam War), between Aug. 2, 1990, to Nov. 30, 1995 (operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm), and currently from Sept. 11, 2001, to a date to be determined. In simpler terms, over a period of 51 years there were only 22 years that a member of the military service could earn this award. However, during the almost 30 years that we were not at war, our military trained and prepared for it. In CAP we do the same thing. We can't be prepared to fly that disaster relief mission or take a ground team out looking for a lost person if we are not fully trained when the mission presents itself. I have been a member of CAP for over 40 years and there were long periods when all I did was train. I am certain that the four lives I was directly involved in saving on three different CAP missions appreciated my perseverance in training.
This past month, 354 members from all seven wings in the region as well as some folks from TNWG attended the MERSAR College at Ft Pickett, Virginia. A number of staff from CAP-USAF were there as well, assisting in the training and providing oversight, including the Detachment Two commander Lt Col Kevin "Mother" Hubbard, USAF. This dedicated staff led by Lt Col Jay Langley and Col Dave Crawford started planning last year for this amazing event. I am still waiting on the final statistics but we had everything from FEMA ICS 300 and 400 courses, to mission aircrew, to mission aerial photographer to ground team member and leader training. We had a senior group of section chiefs and incident commanders working toward their next mission staff level. Just about every type of emergency service training was there for the taking. These members took the leap from being one of the people in the stands to getting on the playing field and being ready to serve.
Our national commander held a retreat for the region commanders, the national command team and some selected staff from NHQ the first weekend in May. His comment to us is that there are a lot of irons in the fire with regards to new missions, organizational changes, and less red tape. He emphasized that all of the "irons" are good things. We worked though a number of issues including a formula for aircraft distribution by region. We got a lot of work done in a short period of time.
Let me close by giving a special shout out to the members who participated in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., on the 25th. The parade's Grand Marshall was the USAF Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh. Since the senior uniformed leader of the Air Force had the lead, it only made sense that his Auxiliary would play a big role. This note was sent to the participants following the parade:
Team what an event, I am so proud of each of you, I was honored to wear the same uniform as each of you today. Job extremely well done on all fronts, the boss was very pleased with everything he saw. From my standpoint I believe all DVs (distinguished Visitors) were very pleased with the event holistically, that is because your professionalism, dedication and commitment to something higher than yourself took place today. Take pride in all your work today, you deserve it.
The CAP Team members on the flag, I need to do a shout out to you. The big American Flag wanted to fly and it took all to hold it down; the very heavy special American flag you guys put up a great fight. Well done guys.
In the DV tent there was a TV that was showing what the world was seeing, CAP Team members you all looked great on national TV. Your peers are filled with envy and they should be, you all had the best job in the nation--well done.
SCOTT D. STEWART, Lt Col, USAF
AIR FORCE PROTOCOL OFFICE
Although in this case the professionals came mostly from DC, MD and VA due to the location, I know that every one of our wings would have done just as well. Thank you for all that you do!
JOHN M. KNOWLES, Colonel, CAP
Commander, Middle East Region