Winter exercise a chance to hone skills, urge volunteering for Civil Air Patrol
February 21, 2016 12:00 AM
Civil Air Patrol Cadet Lt. Col. Ceara Berry, 17, of Butler, leads cadets back to base after a search and rescue mission Saturday during the annual Winter Weekend West, a cold-weather training exercise for CAP units throughout Pennsylvania in coordination with local emergency personnel.
By Daniel Moore / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BERLIN, Pa. — When a patient was reported missing Saturday morning from the Meadow View Nursing Center in this rural town of 2,000 people, roughly six dozen search and rescue cadets launched a sweeping response.
They filled backpacks for a 72-hour mission and began combing the half of a square mile surrounding the nursing home, knocking on doors, combing through woods and taking cues from a canine unit.
In about two hours, the “missing” person — a brother of one of the cadets who was sitting in a Subway restaurant — was found and returned to safety. By 12:30 p.m., the stone-faced cadets, ranging in age from 13 to 21, returned wearily to the Berlin Fire Hall for debriefing and a much-earned lunch.
Thus ended the first part of the Civilian Air Patrol’s winter training exercise, a two-day series of simulated missions this weekend that bring together about 70 cadet members, 43 adult members, volunteer firefighters, emergency management officials and the Pennsylvania State Police.
“Two hours?” said Cadet Capt. Ceara Berry, 17, of Butler, with a tinge of disappointment. “I thought we were faster than that.”
The annual exercise is intended to hone the response skills of the patrol’s Pennsylvania Wing, the official auxiliary of the Air Force.
With more than 60,000 members nationwide, its volunteers are tasked to assist with missing-persons cases, homeland security, disaster relief and counter-drug operations.
The patrol says it participates in nine of 10 Air Force search and rescue missions.
On a broader level, the weekend underscores the importance of maintaining the auxiliary by bringing in a new generation of volunteers, said Lt. Col. Ed Flick, senior incident commander for the patrol.
The patrol, like other volunteer organizations, is experiencing a slowdown in enrollment, he said.
“We’re sowing the seeds for the next generation of volunteerism and giving back to one’s community,” Lt. Col. Flick said, noting the average age of a rural firefighter is about 55.
A frequent speaker at junior high and high schools, he acknowledged the patrol is competing with a raft of extracurricular activities available to students.
“We’re just one voice in a crowd, trying to get their attention,” he said.
The exercise, though advertised as cold-weather training, unfolded Saturday morning under a clear blue sky at 57 degrees, some 20 miles from where Flight 93 crashed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The patrol was among the only authorized flights that day, taking aerial photos of the crash site and Ground Zero in New York City.
The cadets receive training in leadership, survival, ground searches, aviation history, map reading and public speaking.
Brittany Clegg, 18, of Berlin, said she was a shy 12-year-old when she started tagging along with her older brother and sister on Civil Air Patrol training.
Her first mission, during a winter exercise five years ago, entailed trudging through 4 feet of snow with a pack almost as big as she was, she recalled.
Though it was tough at times, she stuck with the program.
It led her to join ROTC at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is studying psychology and accounting.
“It helped me grow my leadership abilities, which is something you don’t get to do every day,” she said.
Daniel Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.
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