As I sit and type this, Hurricane Harvey is hovering over southeast Texas bringing high winds and massive flooding. FEMA went to level two on Friday morning, quickly elevating to level one, the highest activation level, by 1030. Minutes after I walked in the door at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC), I was pulled into a meeting with all the Department of Defense representatives.
Our boss, the liaison officer to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, had us introduce ourselves and then quickly jumped into the priorities for the first shift and expectations throughout the mission. He laid out a battle rhythm for us to follow throughout the activation and response. We provided input that morning for the senior leader brief (SLB), a document published twice a day to provide information to the federal government, including the President of the United States.
First SLB issued (excerpt):
“United States Department of Defense
- All DoD facilities and installations within watch/warning areas executing established severe weather preparation plans; personnel and critical assets displaced out of affected area
Northern Command (NORTHCOM):
- Defense Coordinating Officer and related Element (DCO/E) in Region VI activated
- Upon receipt of Mission Assignment Joint Personnel Recovery Center (JPRC) at Tyndall AFB will deploy to assist FEMA Federal Search and Rescue Coordination Group
- Joint Enabling Capabilities (JEC) from North America Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) deployed to assist TX and LA
- Sourcing search and rescue, medium/heavy lift rotary wing, incident awareness and assessment/post storm imagery, remotely operated video enhanced receiver (ROVER) downlink, and strategic air lift capabilities
- Civil Air Patrol (CAP):
- Relocated two aircraft outside of affected areas and opened additional missions to relocate other CAP aircraft in TX and LA
- Prepared to support mission assignments for imagery requirements
Your CAP was leaning forward in TX and LA while the national staff was working with 1st Air Force to lay the foundation for this mission. No doubt a lot will have gone on in between when I wrote this and you read it. I have no doubt that our Airmen will rise to the task and perform their missions in an exemplary fashion. This is why we train.
Col. Bruce Heinlein, MER vice commander-west, sent a note to his wing commanders on Saturday and concluded it with this paragraph – “Finally, please remember: Disaster Relief is a ‘come as you are war.’ I encourage you to continue to prepare. Finally, one more plug. Your members’ lives will be changed forever once they respond to a disaster or are involved in a rescue.” The sense of pride and accomplishment you have in helping others is like nothing else. Want to experience it? Get started on your training!
Middle East Region Staff College
A whole lot of other things happened throughout August. Students descended on Camp Pendleton, VA, for the MER Staff College. Col. Ziggy Bernfeld led an accomplished staff in presenting this week-long leadership and management school to students from four different regions. One student came from Alaska to attend! MER Chief of Staff, Col. Eugene Egry, shared his experience with the students on Thursday, and Col. Jayson Altieri —vice chairman of the CAP Board of Governors — taught a class on strategic communications on Friday.
I had the opportunity to share some thoughts with them Friday and Saturday and spent an hour and a half answering questions along with NatCap Wing’s Col. Jane Davies, Col. Egry and Col. Altieri during the Friday “ask the commander” session. I came home truly refreshed and invigorated. It is inspiring to see such a diverse group of people come together and form into a strong team. I have no doubt that each student created a new bond with their flights that will last a lifetime. Thanks to the students and staff for helping remind me why I love this organization and these Airmen so much.
National Advanced Flight Academy
August started out with a flight up to Dover AFB to attend the graduation of the first National Advanced Flight Academy, an in-residence college-level course at the Delaware State University that graduates each cadet as a FAA-licensed private pilot. Three of the five cadets selected for this prestigious school are from the MER. The five cadets are:
- Cadet Maj. Wyatt Hartman – Maryland Wing
- Cadet Capt. Erin Dundas – Vermont Wing
- Cadet 1st Lt. James D. Kidd – Florida Wing
- Cadet 2nd Lt. Duncan Campbell – Maryland Wing
- Cadet 2nd Lt. Riley D. Campbell – Maryland Wing
The Campbells are brothers serving in the Maryland Wing’s Frederick Composite Squadron. Duncan, 19, is the current cadet commander of the Frederick squadron, while younger brother Riley, who turned 17 in April, is the cadet deputy commander. Hartman, 18, is the highest-ranking cadet among the scholarship recipients. He is a member of the Glenn L. Martin Composite Squadron in Middle River, Maryland, where he most recently served as cadet commander. All three graduated from the wing’s Robert Ayres Memorial Flight Scholarship Program (Solo School) in 2016.
The instructors expressed their surprise at how well prepared the five cadets were. But I had no doubt they would excel. Congratulations to them and thanks to Lt. Col. Leslie Vazquez who has nurtured this idea along over the last three years.
I am thinking that the newest suggestion I could offer to cadets who ask “what can I do to prepare to earn the Spaatz Award?” is to move to Virginia. So far this year, VAWG has produced eight cadets who have earned this prestigious award. The latest are: C/Col. Jared F. Harrison of the Langley Composite #2127, C/Col. Alvin P. Sanders of Minuteman Composite Squadron #2124, C/Col. Mici M. Cummings of Leesburg Composite Squadron #2118 and C/Col. Josiah P. Day of Prince William Composite Squadron, #2117.
Of course, VAWG is not the only wing in the MER to produce Spaatz cadets this summer. NATCAP’s very own C/Col. Joshua B. Li earned his award # 2119 on 03 Aug 2017, Maryland Wing’s C/Col Natalie A. Brace of the College Park Composite Squadron earned her award # 2121 on 07 Aug 2017 and C/Col Jessica Strauss #2126 of the Col Mary S Feik Composite Squadron also recently earned her award.
These awards represent years of hard work by the cadets and by their leaders who have taken the time to mentor and teach them how to succeed. Please join me in congratulating these outstanding future leaders of our country.
Search and Rescue
The U.S. Air Force Pararescue creed includes the phrase “these things we do, so others may live.” This motto is shared by many other search and rescue (SAR) organizations including the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) and several CAP SAR groups. This past month, CAP surpassed the century mark for SAR saves in FY 2017. This is an amazing feat. Think about all the families who are impacted by having a loved one rescued due to the efforts of one of your fellow Airmen.
If you aren’t mission qualified, you should be. We need your help. Emergency services is one of our three congressionally assigned missions. There is a place for you in supporting it — ground teams, aircrews, communications or mission staff (finance, logistics, public affairs, directing emergency crews, etc.). There is a perfect spot for you to support your fellow man.
The thing is, you have to get started. Most squadrons have an active ES program but if yours doesn’t, the group or wing staff can help you. Each year, the MER holds a SAR College to teach new skills and sharpen old ones. CAP runs several activities at the national level where you can take a week of your time and come back a hero waiting to happen. Saving a life is an experience that is beyond words. CAP gave me the skills to do it several times over my CAP career. Come join me.
Final Push and New Record Membership
Fiscal Year 2017 ends on September 30th. Over the last several years, we have gotten so much better at closing out the year strong, tying up the loose ends and closing out the budget. FY 18 is a month away but there is no federal budget in place, and we may start the year on a continuing resolution as we wait for Congress to approve a funding bill. The Air Force and CAP have had their budget requests built for many months. So, like the rest of the government we wait for Congress to approve the budget. If you are a mission pilot who needs their CAPF 5 or 91, don’t put it off, do it now. Plan on finishing the year out on a high note.
You have heard me talk about CAP’s push for recruiting and retention. You have seen efforts in your home wings to hold on to members through mentoring and getting members involved in activities outside the normal meeting night. Some wings are holding recruiting contests; the region has done this as well. We have made a strong push from the top down to focus on quality programs and great leadership. All of our wings have a published an annual training plan that includes all the missions of CAP, not just the operations ones funded by the Air Force. We have set the standard for CAP and our efforts are showing results.
Like many of your leaders, I use the commander’s dashboard and the front page unit statistics app in eServices. I am proud to report that the MER truly does lead the way. The unit statistics app allows you to look at a chart of membership numbers going back to 1 Jan 2000. While my responsibility didn’t start as your commander until Oct 2014, August 25th was a record setting day when the MER hit 4,068 senior members and 3,470 cadets. This is the most members we have had during this 17-year period! In case you are interested:
- 1 Jan 2000 – Seniors 2,952; Cadets 2,277.
- 1 Oct 2014 – Seniors 3,987; Cadets 3,212
- 25 Aug 2017 – Seniors 4,068; Cadets 3,470
CAP overall is trending up, a great thing for all of us, and the MER leads the way as the only region that is currently at its highest membership number since the turn of the century.
Let’s keep up the great work and continue to new heights! Thank you to each and every one of you that makes a difference through your professionalism and support and if you are at the conference in San Antonio make sure you come up to me and say “hi” and shake my hand.