Most of Civil Air Patrol’s aircraft in its Florida Wing were recently relocated from Tallahassee to Punta Gorda and Orlando to be better positioned for Hurricane Irma relief missions.
The Cessna aircraft had been relocated to Tallahassee to prevent damage to them during the Category 5 storm. CAP moved the planes as soon as viable bases were established to best respond to the needs of partner agencies. Eight were moved to Punta Gorda earlier this week and five were moved Wednesday to Orlando.
“There have been numerous challenges to get the base operational and air crews launched to do the job they are trained to do. We have received tremendous support from the airport and local county emergency management,” said Lt. Col Jim Kaletta, the wing’s Group 5 commander.
Meanwhile, Col. Luis Garcia, Florida Wing’s commander, recently joined Lt. Col. George Schaefer, the wing’s deputy chief of staff for operations, at the state’s Emergency Operations Center, to thank him for his work during the emergency.
Schaefer has been working at the center for over a week to facilitate coordination with other agencies in tasking CAP, the volunteer civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, for missions that include aerial photography of affected areas and supplying emergency communications support.
Garcia said Schaefer and others are working to ensure the wing’s response is synchronized with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1st Air Force and other stakeholders.
Afternoon thunderstorms on Thursday hampered aircrews and made working conditions more difficult. “These volunteers work hard in any case and Florida’s afternoon thunderstorms can make for a pretty rough ride,” Kaletta said.
“Each day has brought a unique set of challenges to overcome. I think we have been tested in every manner possible,” he said. “In spite of the obstacles, these volunteer professionals are eager to serve.
“It is truly impressive to think about what each of them has been through personally and yet they are here to serve the local communities.”
Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with 58,000 members nationwide, operating a fleet of 550 aircraft. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs about 85 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 70 lives annually. Its unpaid professionals also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 24,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet programs. Performing missions for America for the past 73 years, CAP received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014 in honor of the heroic efforts of its World War II veterans. CAP also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans.