Jennifer S. Kornegay
NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS â€“ In the wake of a national economic recession and on the uphill climb out of that slump, service organizations across the country are struggling to simply maintain membership numbers and carry out the basics of their mission statements.
Yet Civil Air Patrol is once again proving itself to be one of Americaâ€™s strongest and most committed nonprofit service organizations.
Today, CAP boasts a force of close to 61,500 volunteers.
â€œItâ€™s an honor to have so many people willing to serve their nation through membership in CAP,â€ said Maj. Gen. Amy S. Courter, CAPâ€™s national commander. â€œIâ€™m very pleased to see us regain the 60,000-member milestone.â€
Hitting 60,176 in July marked the first time membership had surpassed 60,000 since immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the figure shot up to nearly 65,000.
Current membership includes 35,048 senior members and 26,335 cadets â€“ 61,383 at the end of October.
Consistently increasing volunteer numbers is crucial to CAPâ€™s success, Courter said, particularly in its ongoing role as the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
â€œSince the Air Force relies upon us to assist them with performing a significant number of Air Force missions in the continental United States, our membership strength is important to fulfill our service to the nation,â€ Courter said. â€œWe are citizens serving communities â€“ and every one of our members is important to our service.â€
â€œThis achievement means a great deal,â€ said Col. Skip Guimond, national senior adviser for support. â€œIt means we are accomplishing our mission, demonstrating not only to our members, but also to the public at large, that we are serving the country and our local communities.
â€œIt shows our efforts are worthwhile and worth participating in.â€
Julia Long, age 12, joined CAPâ€™s Baranof Composite Squadron in Sitka, Alaska, as a cadet airman basic in August. Her great-grandfatherâ€™s and fatherâ€™s military service sparked her interested in CAP, and her uncle was a CAP cadet. She joined because she knows how beneficial the cadet program will be as she strives to reach her career goal.
â€œI mainly joined so I can learn about discipline and what it is going to take to be able to serve in the Air Force once I am of age,â€ Julia said. â€œI hope to fly aircraft and see the world,â€
So far, CAP is providing exactly what she hoped to find, and sheâ€™s enjoying the entire experience.
â€œI have learned discipline, structure and what it takes to maintain my physical fitness so I can be effective as a cadet. I also have been able to experience flying small aircraft,â€ Julia said.
â€œI like the physical training that comes with being a member in CAP. I like to be a part of the team and to work with other members of CAP.â€
CAPâ€™s reach is multifaceted, ranging from emergency services missions like search and rescue to playing a leading role in aerospace education and serving as mentors for Americaâ€™s youth. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of the Air Force and other federal, state and local agencies.
Last year, CAP was called on to perform a larger number of missions, many related to homeland security, and Guimond believes this has contributed to CAPâ€™s membership growth.
â€œCertainly the extra activity is important, and it draws people,â€ he said.
But itâ€™s not all about these missions.
â€œThat activity is a key part of what we do, but reaching our overall goals in all three areas â€“ cadets, emergency services and aerospace education â€“Â is who we are,â€ Guimond said. â€œSo, in addition to more missions, our outreach to youth, drug demand reduction programs and school programs are also critical to growth.â€
Another new cadet member, Kolbe Compton, is proving how effectively CAP molds the leaders of tomorrow through its cadet program. The 12-year-old joined the Kentucky Wingâ€™s Boone County Composite Squadron in September and said heâ€™s already learned some valuable lessons.
â€œIâ€™m learning responsibility and how to truly be respectful to others,â€ Kolbe said.
There is no doubt that his maturity, along with other skills CAP instills, will be noticed by those around him.
And it seems the more people know about CAP, the more they like it.
â€œThe broader exposure of all of CAPâ€™s activities has helped drive membership, too,â€ Guimond said. â€œWeâ€™ve gotten much better at getting the word out, and once people know who we are and what we do, they want to be a part of it.â€
Courter said current CAP members are helping spread the message about everything CAP offers.
â€œWe would have to reach back more than a decade to witness the sustained growth we have had in CAP over the last three years,â€ she said. â€œThis vote of confidence shown by members recruiting their friends and colleagues to join CAP tells us CAP is on the right track.â€
Both Guimond and Courter are proud of CAPâ€™s accomplishments, but the national commander stressed thereâ€™s no reason to rest on those laurels.
â€œCAP has matured as an organization. While we have more distance to cover, we are well on our way down the right path,â€ Courter said. â€œPeople join CAP for many reasons; we need to look at all of those reasons to help keep them interested in CAP.â€
And that path will soon be even easier to travel, Guimond said. â€œWe are about to establish a new section of our staff devoted primarily to recruiting,â€ he said.
â€œI believe this will aid us in keeping those membership numbers rising.â€