Sunday, December 29, 2013

Civil Air Patrol cadets train for disasters

Civil Air Patrol Communication Officer Dave Augustine uses a transmitter and receiver Saturday during basic and advance ground team member school, for Civil Air Patrol members training.

About 20 cadets took part in ground school training through the Lonestar Emergency Services Academy Saturday as part of their inclusion in the Civil Air Patrol.

Cadets from across the southwestern portion of Texas worked to learn or improve skills ranging from locating crashed aircraft using satellites and constructing radio towers — all tasks members of the Civil Air Patrol are routinely asked to perform as part of their duties during times of need.

A national organization, the Civil Air Patrol is the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, a non-governmental nonprofit organization that assists with search-and-rescue missions, documenting areas before and after natural disasters and offering services in emergencies.

Lt. Col. Sean Crandall is commander of the Brownsville wing group of the CAP, and he said his unit was called on to assist in the aftermath of the Moore, Okla. tornado, which struck there in May.

Photographing homes there with a geosynched camera allowed homeowners and officials in that area to provide the Federal Emergency Management Agency with evidence of the destruction for the government entity to take into account when determining how much aid was needed.

When the Air Force asks for assistance, Crandall said, the CAP is sitting on go.

“We’re the only ones that do what we do,” he said.

And that’s what makes it so important to properly train cadets to prepare them for senior status when they reach age 21. Cadets can join the CAP at 12 and immediately begin training through learning about leadership, aerospace science and emergency services.

Gilbert Saldivar, 15, of Brownsville has been involved with CAP for about a year, beginning when a cadet who he attended school with told him about the program.

His interest in aerospace technologies roped him in, he said, noting he always keeps his eyes on the skies.

“I’ve always enjoyed watching planes,” he said.

But his first time training in ground school exposed him to search-and-rescue tactics along with using communication systems, and he said he gained an appreciation for the worth of that type of knowledge as well.

“The training is being able to go out there and save someone’s life if they’re in danger,” he said, adding that the skills he picked up aren’t limited in use only with CAP. “I can use (that training) the rest of my life.”

The ground school began the day after Christmas and involves 140 hours of training that combines classroom education and hands-on training into an opportunity for cadets to be tested as if they were assisting with real-life rescues.

Building shelters, setting up radio towers and locating downed planes were all practical applications the cadets sought to master during the training, which will finish up Tuesday.

Brandon Bridgewater, 19, attends Texas A&M, but the Brownsville native is still active in the local CAP group.

A member of the Texas Army National Guard, he said the military discipline within the program interested him in CAP when he heard about it from his 7th grade history teacher. He knew he was destined to join the military, so getting the CAP training was a natural fit.

Bridgewater, one of the more experienced cadets, now assists with the CAP tests, he said, noting that one of the more exciting practical challenges for cadets is to assist in a mock search-and-rescue mission.

Cadets are expected to locate and backboard — under stress — an instructor who portrays an airplane crash victim.

And while much of the knowledge cadets gain is specific to CAP missions, Evan Lopez, 17, of Harlingen explained that the knowledge about basic safety is useful for everyday life.

Lopez has his eye on the Naval Academy, but was quick to note the experience he’s gained while helping the local group to fix up its facilities, which were donated by Texas State Technical College.
Building a deck over the muddy part of the land, which was donated by the City of Brownsville, not only made it safer, he said, but taught him a bit of carpentry.

The group is still looking to spruce up its facilities, Crandall said, in an effort to grow the program and increase the capabilities of the Southwest Regional Training Center.

For now, though, focusing on educating the cadets in search and rescue is the focus, as the center aims to prepare the next generation of the Civil Air Patrol.

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