As the sun beamed down on the gray paved runway at the Sac City Municipal Airport on a hot, muggy afternoon, a group of camouflaged cadets emerged from a white brick building, ready to take part in an operations exercise that would test their abilities in flying and observation in the northwest Iowa countryside.
The young cadets, part of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), the official United States Air Force Auxiliary, looked eager to participate in the afternoon session of the two-day training mission, which would help refine their skills in search-and-rescue and disaster relief operations. One of many weekend training exercises held by the CAP from April to November, the endeavor included volunteers from squadrons in Ames and Cedar Rapids, and some from the newest CAP unit in Iowa: the Storm Lake Composite Flight.
The Storm Lake division of the CAP, created last October by former KKIA station manager Kern Kemp, is currently led by Lieutenant Gary Colvin, 46, who took over after Kemp left to pursue a job in Colorado. Colvin, whose son, Justin, is a cadet in the organization, teaches the students about aerospace training, emergency service skills and military drills for two hours every Monday night, which prepares them for weekend outings like the one in Sac City.
A volunteer officer, Colvin, who manages a meat-protein packing plant in Lytton, has been instrumental in helping to keep the Storm Lake Composite unit afloat, and said he feels the Storm Lake students are learning valuable life and leadership skills with the outdoor activities of the CAP.
"These are great things to have," Colvin, whose wife, Ann, also helps with the CAP, said. "I think these are things that really help these cadets become leaders, because they're able to learn a lot in real-world situations, and they learn things like budgeting their time and skills that they'll need when they get out on their own. It's nice to be able to have weekends like this one available for them."
"Exercises like this are valuable, because they really help all of the volunteers here, including the cadets, by giving them time to interact with each other and learn how situations like this would be handled," Area Incident Commander Colonel Gene Kellogg said. "These are all task-based, so we are able to get our objectives accomplished here, but they're also about helping people get to know one another, which is just as important when an actual emergency does come up."
The Civil Air Patrol, an all-volunteer organization founded by private citizens one week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was instituted to help defend America's coastlines. It recorded its first successful missions in World War II, as CAP pilots flew over 500,000 hours and rescued hundreds of crash survivors during the war.
On July 1, 1946, President Truman established the CAP as a federally chartered benevolent civilian corporation, and the organization was named an auxiliary unit of the United States Air Force by Congress in 1948. Today, it is still under the jurisdiction of the Air Force, and has three primary missions: cadet programs, aerospace education and emergency services.
The Saturday mission in Sac County was aimed primarily at improving CAP emergency services within the northwest part of Iowa, which Kellogg said was very important, as the CAP is responsible for handling a large percentage of the inland search-and-rescue emergency operations across the nation every year.
"Luckily in Iowa there aren't that many rescue operations that we have to conduct, because there aren't as many missing aircraft in this state," Kellogg, a CAP veteran since 1973, said. "We get probably about 11 to 13 calls every year, and it ends up most of them are emergency locator transmitters going off accidentally in planes in a hangar. But, we have to treat all of them as a real emergency."
The Storm Lake unit has been sponsored since its inception by the Central Iowa Composite Squadron of Ames, which has helped provide training materials, volunteer assistance and transportation equipment to Storm Lake, which is the only CAP unit in between Sioux Center and the home of Iowa State University.
Colvin said the coordination between Ames and Storm Lake has been especially important.
"Students in this part of northwest Iowa really didn't have something like this around before the Storm Lake unit started up, so we needed help from Ames in order for us to get our feet off the ground, so to speak," Colvin said. "They've really been great for us, and we're hoping to take that support they've given us and use it to help keep this program growing every single year that we're up here."
Colvin said much of his determination to keep the organization alive in Storm Lake has come from watching his son, who his father says has become a better person and a better citizen from being involved in Civil Air Patrol.
"He's learned so much," Colvin said. "He's grown quite a bit in terms of leadership and owning life skills since he started this, and he's been able to learn a lot from the other people that he's met too. It's something that can really make a difference in the lives of the students."
For more information on the Storm Lake Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, contact Colvin at 712-662-3523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.