When a little airplane flies around the island late many afternoons it may well be ignored; but it’s up there as one of Marco Island’s chain of protectors. Marco Island is served by two outstanding first responders –the Police Department, and the Fire-Rescue Department. There’s more. That little airplane is probably the Marco Island’s Civil Air Patrol Squadron operating its daily Coastal Patrol. The Squadron has been looking after boaters and others who may be in difficulty for many years, and has compiled an extraordinary record of “saves” of people in peril. There’s a lot more to the story, especially since September 11, 2001.
That story, and the Squadron’s roots go back to World War II. As it became apparent that our shores were threatened, a legendary New Jersey aviation advocate Gill Robb Wilson, foresaw aviation’s role in war and the need to support America’s military operations. He dreamed up the idea of using small aircraft and private pilots to patrol the shores. With the help of New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, the Civil Air Patrol was established on December 1, 1941, just days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. CAP initially planned only on liaison and reconnaissance flying, but the mission expanded when German submarines began to sink American ships off the coast, and CAP planes began carrying bombs and depth charges. The CAP’s veteran pilots and observers flew 24 million miles, found 173 submarines, attacked 57, hit 10 and sank two. In all, CAP flew a half-million hours during the war, and 64 CAP aviators lost their lives.
The Civil Air Patrol became an auxiliary of the United States Air Force in 1947, and when Marco Island was developed a bunch of older pilots and others got together to form a local Squadron. Thus, the Marco Island Senior Squadron was chartered in September 1981, as part of the Civil Air Patrol Florida Wing.
Since very modest beginnings the Squadron grew, and themission changed. Squadron membership has grown to almost 70 dedicated women and men. The Senior Squadron was also expanded into a Composite Squadron in November 2005, when cadets were included.
In earlier years two of the Squadron’s primary missions included search-and-rescue and assisting other government agencies and departments in drug interdiction. Over the years the Squadron has participated in many “finds” that saved the lives of boaters in distress in Ten Thousand Island area waters. Many of those actions were perilous. In 1991, two of Marco’s dedicated members, Majors Clay Reid and Jim Mathews lost their lives during a search and rescue mission. It was several weeks after they disappeared before the wreckage was found deep in the mangroves south of Everglades.
In those earlier days equipment was not nearly the quality that exists today. Pilots and observers navigated their routes by using standard procedures that required numerous computations prior to take-off and during the mission. There was no computerized navigational system. Today’s aircraft have more sophisticated computer-driven instruments that are simpler and far more effective.
The saved lives, and a number of other less publicized ones, helped the Marco Senior Squadron earn Florida Wing’s coveted “Squadron of the Year Award” for three years in a row in the 1990’s. The award is bestowed upon the squadron which excels in the number of air search and rescue missions flown, coastal patrols flown, membership growth, hours of ground and air training, safety performance, promotions and earned awards. Although tucked away in a quiet section of southwest Florida, the Marco Island Squadron is one of the top Squadrons in the State of Florida, and indeed the United States. Lt. Col. Ray Rosenberg, former Commander of the Marco Island Squadron, and now Commander of Group 5 of the Florida Wing, recently said this about the Squadron, “Considering today’s standards for CAP flying squadrons, the Marco Squadron ranks above the rest with highly qualified Mission Pilots and Mission Crew Members for the currentHomeland Security and Drug Enforcement missions being conducted by Florida Wing.”
When the Squadron was first organized, its regular meetings were held on the second floor of a bank building on Elkcam Circle. Later, when old wooden buildings at the Marco Island Executive Airport were vacated, the Squadron arranged to use the buildings for meetings and mission planning. The buildings that had been intended for use in Korea were shipped to Florida for use by Marco Island Airways. They were ramshackle; bug infested, and later demolished to make way for T-hangars at the airport.
Former Squadron Commander Monte Lazarus recalls earlier times: “In those days we’d meet in a hot room with a leaky roof to do our mission planning. Our old Cessna 172 had been handed down from Florida Wing and, thanks to our own maintenance people, we were able to keep it flying even as we tried to get a more modern airplane. In retrospect it’s really quite remarkable that the Squadron fulfilled its mission and made so many life-saving ‘finds’. It’s all a tribute to the members who dedicated themselves to serving their country and their community.”
After the wooden buildings were razed the Squadron managed to have a trailer donated for use as headquarters. During the 1990’s the Squadron upgraded the trailer by adding communications equipment and redoing both the interior and exterior. At the side of the trailer a T-hangar housed the aircraft used for Coastal Patrols, assigned missions and for training Search-and-Rescue and Counter Drug surveillance aircrews.
Meanwhile, the search for a permanent facility went on. In 1999 two events had changed everything for the Marco Island CAP Squadron.
1. The Collier County Airport Authority decided to build permanent hangars on the land, which took away their meeting place and airport location;
2. Three benefactors donated significant sums of money to the Squadron. One was Gordon Lozier who left a bequest to the Squadron.
As Commander of the Marco Island CAP Squadron, Lt. Col. Monte Lazarus spearheadedraising the rest of the funds needed to get the hangar started and, with other key players, developed the plan to build the Squadron’s own facility on land leased from Collier County at the Marco Island executive Airport. It took about eight years to raise the funds, locate a site at the airport, design the structure, and progress through the building stage. The result was a new gleaming white home of the Squadron at the northern end of the airport.
In November 2000, Lt. Col. Jean Tremblay assumed command of the Squadron and guided the Squadron during construction. Senior member Joe Wilkins acted as “general contractor” and was at the site virtually every day. CAP members did much of the work themselves including laying tile and pulling cable for phones and computers. They bought and installed the door hardware and designed the flagpole which Marco Welding donated. Numerous members and other friends donated equipment, material, and time to the effort.
The dedication ceremony was held on April 10, 2003. CAP Southeast Region Commander Col. Tony Pineda and Florida Wing Commander Col. Matt Sharkey, County Commissioner Donna Fiala, and several representatives of the Coast Guard and other prominent organizations also attended.
By the turn of the century things were changing. After September 11th the Squadron was tasked far more to concentrate heavily on homeland security matters, and photographic assignments, while still carrying out its search-and-rescue function. The Squadron now has a Cessna 182, single engine, four-passenger airplane, with the latest Garmin navigation system. The Squadron also has access to a Cessna 172, single engine, 4-passenger, and a Gippsland single engine, six passenger aircraft. All are equipped for aerial photography.
In addition to numerous continuing search-and rescue missions in which a number of additional lives have been saved and missing boaters or flyers located, the Squadron has more recently operated several special missions. One was a multi-day mission in support of the US Coast Guard and various facets of homeland security.
In May2011, Gulf Coast CAP Wings were notified by the Emergency Operations Center of the Emergency Response Bureau, a Division of the Environmental Protection Department that a BP Gulf Oil Spill Mission (named “Deepwater Horizon”) was imminent.
The Florida Wing Headquarters, in turn, notified their CAP Squadrons to stand by, with aircrews of three, ready for assignments. Each crew consisted of Pilot, Observer, and Cameraman/Scanner. When releases came, aircraft were instructed to proceed to mission headquarters in Tallahassee. Marco’s Capt. Bob MacNeill and Capt. Richard Farmer participated with a cameraman from the Destin Squadron.
The individual Gulf Oil Spill missions of the Marco Island aircrew were to take pictures of a specified area of the Florida coast, the barrier islands and bays from southeast of Tallahassee to the Alabama border; one picture every three seconds.
The aerial images gave the overall mission review team a starting point for accurate damage assessment in the event the oil leaking from the Gulf Oil Spill accident reached the Florida shore. The photographic mission provided invaluable information used to determine the extent of the leak and the progression of the spill. Some 4,000 images were taken each day, processed and turned over to the state.
ln 2011, and 2012, the Squadron participated over 30 times in intercept exercises called “Fertile Keynote” missions supporting the Florida Air National Guard. Such intercepts became common after September 11th. They usually turn up well- intentioned but “navigationally challenged” general aviation pilots who represent no threat to national security. However, the intercepts also prepare for the possibility that a terrorist in a small airplane might present a real threat.
The U.S. military regularly practices intercepts in aircraft ranging from helicopters to supersonic fighters. Typically the CAP pilot flies along a triangular route at 3,500 feet at the base of a restricted area. F-16s seek to find the unauthorized aircraft, intercept, and force it to land at a designated airport. With their transponders on, the F-16s show up as fast-moving white blipson the multi-function display before they could be seen out the window. When they show up, the F-16 flight leader simulates broadcasting on the guard radio frequency. If there is no radio reply, he then rocks his wings and turns gently away signaling for the intercepted plane to follow. If it doesn’t, he repeats the process. A second CAP plane serves as the “high bird” to provide a continual radio communication relay for these low-level operations.
In 2011, and 2012, the Marco Island CAP Squadron also participated in several classified missions.
At a formal banquet in 2012, the Florida Wing Commander presented awards for outstanding performance of Florida Wing and Squadron members. This year Marco Island Squadron members received a significant number of major Wing and National Awards:
• Lt. Col. Ray Rosenberg received the Gill Robb Wilson National award.
• Capt. Richard Farmer received the Wing Mission Pilot of the Year Award.
• Maj. Cindy Dohm received the Wing Personnel Officer of the Year.
• Maj. Joe Wilkins was awarded the Wing Professional Development Officer of the Year Award.
• Lt.Col. Frank Damico and Maj Cindy Dohm were also presented with a Wing Commander’s Commendation Award for their contributions to the Florida Inspector General.
In November, 2005, the Marco Island Senior Squadron added a Cadet Squadron for young people, age 12 to 20. They must complete tasks in each program area to earn promotions and awards. In a self-paced program, cadets must study, pass Aerospace and Leadership tests, exercise regularly and meet physical fitness standards for their age and achievement level, and demonstrate their commitment to the Core Values as part of CAP Cadet Character Development. This program nationally includes more than 27,000 members and educates youth in four main program areas:
Cadets are offered orientation flights in powered and glider aircraft, and can compete for flight training scholarships. Orientation flights for those cadets who choose are conducted several Saturday afternoons each month.
Some other features of the Cadet Program include:
• Activities and competitions forcadets at the local, state, regional and national levels.
• An International Air Cadet Exchange Program.
• College scholarships in several disciplines.
• Opportunities for community involvement through color guard/drill team presentations and an active role in emergency service missions.
• Opportunities to test-fly careers in aviation, space and technology through dozens of CAP summer activities.
• Challenges youth to be ambassadors for a drug-free lifestyle.
Although CAP is the auxiliary of the Air Force, there is no requirement to join the military. CAP cadets do however provide about 10 percent of each year’s new classes entering U.S. Air Force Academy. It also provides some enlistment benefits for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Navy and U.S. Coast Guard.
The CAP Aerospace Education Program educates adult and cadet members and the community on the importance of aerospace; provides support for educational conferences and workshops nationwide.
For educators who enroll, it develops, publishes and distributes national academic standards-based aerospace education curricula for kindergarten through college classrooms. It provides educators with free educational programs, products and services, including orientation airplane flights. It also offers grant, award, college credit and scholarship opportunities for adult, cadet and teacher members and provides comprehensive aerospace education resources online.
Squadron members, supported by generous donations from individuals in the community, work together to help finance all the Squadron’s operations.
While the Air Force assigns an aircraft to the Squadron, it only pays the fuel used in flying specific Air Force-assigned missions. All other fuel, operating and maintenance expenses for the aircraft, for the CAP hangar, as well as general expenses, are funded locally.
Operating funds for the Squadron come from donations by the citizens of the community and other charitable individuals and organizations. There are no paid employees and no monetary benefits
• 1981-82, Edward Day.
• 1982-83, William Leonard.
• 1983-86, James Shields.
• 1986-87, William Fries.
• 1987-88, Raymond Kokesh.
• 1988-90, Gus Ehrman.
• 1990-91, Dudley Smith.
• 1991-92, David Mikkelson.
• 1992-93, Monte Lazarus.
• 1993-95, Fritz Schaller.
• 1995-96, Donn May.
• 1996-99, Monte Lazarus.
• 2000-03, E. Jean Tremblay.
• 2004-06, Lee Frank.
• 2006-10, Lee Henderson.
• 2010-12, Ray Rosenberg.
• 2012, Lee Henderson.