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Semper Vigilans

The Civil Air Patrol's missions are emergency services, aerospace education and cadet programs.

Saving Lives and Mentoring the Next Generation With the Civil Air Patrol

By Harry Sax, MD, MHCM
Professor and Vice Chair, Administration, Department of Surgery

Ever look up when you're out and see a low-flying plane with red, white and blue markings? Do you wonder who might be looking for you if you're lost, or trapped on your rooftop after a flood? Are your kids interested in aerospace, yet you don't want to spend thousands of dollars on flying lessons?

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) may be the answer.

CAP was formed early in the Second World War, so that civilian pilots could patrol the coasts for German warships and submarines, freeing up military pilots and planes for the war effort in Europe and the Pacific. After the war, and with the formation of the Air Force, it became an auxiliary, with governmental funding and specific missions. Today, CAP has 52 wings, 550 aircraft and three missions: emergency services, aerospace education and cadet programs. Its motto is "semper vigilans," Latin for "always vigilant."

I have been a general aviation pilot since 1985, and I joined CAP in 2006, while in Rhode Island. I was drawn by both the opportunity to fly differently than my normal cross-country trips, as well as the chance to work with cadets to share my knowledge and enthusiasm, just as I did with residents. As a physician, I also was able to serve the squadron as a medical officer.

Since relocating to Los Angeles, I have been active with Squadron 51, based at Santa Monica Airport. We have a Cessna 182 on the field, and I have had the opportunity to fly both in a training environment as well as on missions in the mountains north of Los Angeles. In addition, our squadron has cadets, aged 12 to 21, who participate in aerospace and military education, including flights with orientation pilots such as myself. The enthusiasm I witness as they take the controls (at altitude, of course), and watching their growth with subsequent flights, is as rewarding as helping a resident through a case.

I'm not paid for my time during flights or missions, but the costs of fuel and the plane are reimbursed in many cases. The squadron has both adult and senior members, many of whom have a background in aviation but are not pilots. Their breadth of experience in the government and military is fascinating.

If you're interested in expanding your horizons, both metaphorically and literally, I would urge you to check out the CAP website —

Happy New Year and travel safely. And if you are venturing out, take a 406 personal locator beacon. If something happens, we'll find you.

Harry Sax, MD, MHCM, with a group of cadets from Squadron 51