Spread your wings in the Civil Air Patrol

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Pamela Smith

Retired United States Air Force Veteran pilot and aviation enthusiast Tim Carey always knew he wanted to fly.

“Like many boys of my generation, I was fascinated with airplanes and aviation. My father worked for North American Aviation in the L.A. area while I was growing up, and we always had airplane models and photos around the house,” said Lt. Col. Carey, who is now 62 and lives in Northern Virginia.

“I also grew up hearing his stories about being aboard the Coast Guard cutter Itasca and on Howland Island as an AP reporter, listening to Amelia Earhart on the radio as she and Fred Noonan were trying to find the island near the end of her around-the-world flight,” he said.

Carey spent 30 years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, first as a cadet and then in commissioned service as a pilot and fighter staff officer. After pilot training, he wanted combat experience, and volunteered for duty as a Forward Air Controller in Vietnam.

“My most memorable missions in Vietnam centered around breaking the North Vietnamese siege of An Loc, a provincial capital just 55 miles north of Saigon,” he recalled.

He flew 240 combat missions, and was presented with numerous medals.

After he retired from a career at defense contractor Northrop Grumman and 13 years out of the cockpit, Carey wanted to get back to his aviation roots and do something useful. He became a civilian flight instructor at Manassas Regional Airport.

Emergency action

He also joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a congressionally chartered, federally supported, non-profit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary to the United States Air Force.

CAP volunteer members play a leading role in both air and ground search-and-rescue operations, disaster relief, aerospace education, and serve as mentors to more than 22,000 young people currently participating in CAP’s cadet program.

Volunteers do not have to be pilots. They can help from the ground with emergency services and education programs.

When Carey is not training student pilots or doing aerobatics in his experimental plane, he volunteers as a CAP operations officer for the Prince William Composite Squadron in Manassas. In this role, he plans and conducts training, in addition to participating in a range of CAP missions.

Carey especially enjoys helping train U.S. Air Force pilots responsible for Homeland Security missions in the National Capitol region. Volunteering has added to Carey’s personal life by allowing him to reconnect with former military personnel and pilots from all backgrounds who share the same joy of flying.

In 2008, when U.S. Forest Service fire fighters in Suffolk, Va., were battling the Dismal Swamp fires, Carey, along with other CAP crew members, was there to help maintain communications. In this mission, CAP installed communication equipment in aircraft that allowed fire fighters in the field to maintain continuous radio contact with their Forest Service headquarters.

In another memorable mission, Carey helped provide communication-relay assistance to Virginia rescue teams in a successful effort to locate a missing hiker in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In this case, Carey maintained direct radio contact with eight separate teams on a six-hour mission while they searched in pitch-black darkness.

When asked what advice he could give to older adults who are looking to get involved in community service, he replied, “Find satisfying volunteer work that links together your experience, skills and personal passions. It’s a time in our lives when we can contribute, while doing what we want to do, not what we have to do.”

Specialized training provided

CAP senior membership is open to adults at least 18 years old. To prepare adult members for CAP’s special missions, extensive training and education are provided in more than 20 different specialized fields.

In addition, technical training is offered in related areas, such as flight operations, emergency services and communications. Management and executive leadership training are also offered, as members progress through CAP’s professional development curriculum.

All CAP members can take advantage of aerospace education, as well as Air Force correspondence courses. Special training is conducted for those participating in search-and-rescue as mission pilots, observers or ground team members.

Local squadron units exist around the Washington D.C. metro area — in Arlington,  Bethesda, Burke, College Park, Fairfax, Ft. Belvoir, Gaithersburg, Leesburg, Manassas and Rockville, as well as at Andrews and Bolling Air Force Bases.

For more information on Civil Air Patrol activities and how you can get involved in your area, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com.  For information on the Prince William Composite Squadron, contact Al Bergeron at alberic_bergeron@yahoo.com.

Pamela Smith is the deputy public affairs officer for the Civil Air Patrol in Prince William County, Va.