Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska –
The Alaska Wing of the Civil Air Patrol became officially aligned underneath the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs this month, opening the door for closer state-wide cooperation and partnership between the two organizations.
According to the Alaska CAP Wing commander, Col. Kevin McClure, the new alignment is a welcome change. “I’ve always thought we belonged under DMVA,” he said. “We’re here to support the state in anything they need.”
The new administrative alignment is made possible through a $250,000 grant which will be awarded through the DMVA’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the division director Bryan Fisher. He said the Alaska legislature made the FY23 allocation for the Alaska Wing with the intent on having DHS&EM award the annual grant by the beginning of each fiscal year.
The CAP is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and operates as a federally charted nonprofit organization, receiving most of its funding from the Department of the Air Force. According to McClure, the grant will help CAP offset the essential operational and maintenance costs of their 16 detachments which support more than 500 members and 200 cadets across Alaska.
The Alaska Wing has several missions in common with the Alaska National Guard, said McClure. Specifically, CAP units are charged through their federal charter with aiding in search and rescue, disaster relief and mitigation, as well as homeland security. He said his units also have unique aerial photographic capabilities most recently showcased after the 2018 earthquake. He said the Alaska Wing launched an aircraft within an hour after the earthquake and provided aerial photos to DHS&EM that were used by the State Emergency Operations Center to conduct damage assessments across Southcentral Alaska.
In a recent mission, two CAP aircraft and crews teamed up with the Alaska Army National Guard in Bethel to support the U.S. Coast Guard’s Operation Arctic Shield in remote communities across Western Alaska. Civil Air Patrol and ARNG air crews flew USCG Marine Safety Task Force members to a combined total of 20 communities to inspect approximately 50 bulk fuel storage facilities, Aug. 22-30.
But according to McClure, the most prominent mission CAP shares with the National Guard is statewide, overland search and rescue. His wing works closely with the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, a mission staffed by Alaska Air National Guardsmen of the 176th Wing and supported by Alaska Air and Army Guard rescue and aviation units along with other state and volunteer organizations. McClure said CAP regularly accepts mission requests from the RCC to assist in the search for activated emergency locator beacons, lost or injured citizens in remote Alaska and even downed aircraft.
Most recently, the RCC requested CAP support to locate two activated 121.5 emergency beacons in the Mat-Su Valley, one on Sept. 4 and another on Sept. 6. In both cases, CAP launched a Cessna 206 and quickly located the non-distress beacons in Big Lake and Wasilla respectively, according to RCC mission summary reports.
The Alaska Wing also provides mentorship, training and education to more than 200 cadets at across the state. McClure said the organization’s focus for cadets, 12 and older, is character development, STEM education, and familiarization with various aspects of aviation. Although not a specified focus, McClure said, CAP cadets frequently continue their pursuit of leadership and character development by joining in the military after high school, particularly the Air Force and Air National Guard.
Fisher said that the mission-related alignment between CAP, DHS&EM and DMVA is not without precedent. The two agencies have shared a memorandum of understanding which outlines guidance and procedures through which, according to the MOU, the state may request and “utilize services of CAP and its volunteers for the public good.”
Fisher said the timing of the grant is conveniently aligned with upcoming renewal of the MOU, which will continue to solidify how CAP, DMVA and the Alaska National Guard work together during emergencies.
The commissioner of the DMVA and adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, said the new alignment is a natural fit. “Having been a member of the Civil Air Patrol, I understand the value they bring to the state. Their skills and capabilities complement the DMVA and National Guard in many ways and serve as a great force multiplier,” said Saxe.