Socorro squad soars
What’s CAP? Who makes up the Socorro Composite Squadron? And what’s the connection for Socorro residents?
These are questions some people may ask, and the questions can be answered by people known in the community — but may not be known for their affiliation with CAP, which stands for the Civil Air Patrol.
Socorro School Board Secretary Dawn Weaver is also 1st Lt. Dawn Weaver, Deputy Commander for Cadets. Dave Finley, National Radio Observatory Array Operations Center’s public information officer, serves as Capt. Dave Finley.
CAP was founded during World War II to provide logistical support to the war effort. From that time on, CAP has provided a wealth of services to peace-time America, among them: search and rescue missions, disaster relief, humanitarian aid, and most recently, support to the Department of Homeland Security, and non-combat technical support to the United States Air Force — flying reconnaissance, for example. Following the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, all general aviation was grounded. A Civil Air Patrol plane was one of the first aircraft to fly over the destroyed World Trade Center on a photographic mission to document the damage.
Socorro’s youth are well represented in CAP, with such cadets as Sarracino Middle School student Ian Hayhurst. He and other squadron members participated in a Search and Rescue Exercise, or SAREX, held in Las Cruces on March 31. It was an exercise that helped prepare them to be contributing members in their communities when they become adults — and even now as young adults.
The first CAP squadron in Socorro was formed during World War II, according to Ted Spitzmiller’s book, “Enchanted Wings, the New Mexico Wing history.” The book features newspaper coverage of cadets from Socorro in 1944, attending a camp training. Despite Socorro’s size, the squad also had its own aircraft, according to Spitzmiller.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, the local squadron was active, including both cadets and senior members. The squad’s aircraft served a dual purpose training and rescue. After the war effort, at least one former cadet earned a private pilot certificate through training with the squadron’s aircraft. It was an active squad until the 1970s, but then fell dormant.
A generation later, in 2006, several Socorro-area residents gathered to plan the formation of a new squadron. The Socorro Composite Squadron was chartered on Jan. 11, 2007, through the work of Finley and Lauradona Youngman, with a ceremony at Socorro Municipal Airport on Feb. 20, 2007.
“I always had a love of flying, but real life meant getting a job, and my interest had to go on the back burner,” said Finley. “My son had always loved the idea of flying, even as a child. After he became a flight instructor, I got my training from him. And when the opportunity arose in 2007 to join CAP in my own backyard it was an easy decision.”
Finley can’t say enough about the benefits of squadron involvement.
“For the adult or senior members, it’s aerospace education,” he said. “For the cadets, pilot instructors train them on power airplanes and gliders. There is preflight inspection training beforehand, with cadets learning each incremental step necessary for successful flight.”
CAP and the Socorro squadron provide volunteers with the opportunity to make a life or death difference, Finley said.
“When our flyers conduct search and rescue missions, we save lives. We’re the backbone in many cases, for emergency services in times of disaster,” he said. “With our cadet program, young people learn our rescue protocols, and also leadership skills. Through our rank structure, they learn discipline along with the ability to mentor newer cadets as they join us. We also help them public speaking skills, writing skills and provide exposure to the potential of civilian and military aerospace careers, and the importance of service missions.”
Those missions often operate under the banner of the Red Cross. CAP aircrews transport medical materials, including blood and human tissue, when other means of transportation are not available.
Commander and mom
Weaver manages to find time for her cadet commander duties, along with tending to her own family and being secretary of the Socorro School Board. It’s just one more labor of love for her. Her interest in flying started with her children.
“I didn’t have any flight experience,” she laughed. “But my son was crazy about planes. He built a model my himself at age 4.”
Weaver became involved with the squadron shortly after it was reconstituted in 2007.
“I’m in charge of all the cadets; I oversee their education,” she said. “Most importantly, I help them develop as leaders and get ready to train the younger, newer cadets. My real job is to get them to take charge.”
Weaver sees the squad as not only giving to the community, but an excellent way for volunteer young people to reap a wealth of benefits.
“Instead of playing a video game where you pretend to fly a plane, you get out there and fly one in real life,” she said. “Cadets become leaders over time and learn the importance of respect, and sticking to reaching a goal.”
Weaver said she hopes the program will attract more adult volunteers.
“There’s plenty to be done, believe me, and you don’t need a flight background to join,” she said.
Weaver made mention that a potential Sarracino Middle School squadron is being discussed, and she hopes it will someday “take flight.”
Local cadets soar
Today, the Socorro Composite Squadron follows the national CAP model, with a team of flight veterans training and mentoring cadets. Those cadets learn flying skills under strict supervision, as well as how to conduct those all-important search and rescue missions, a part of a comprehensive, step-by-step process. Elder cadets then share their skills with new recruits.
Squad members are regular participants in New Mexico Wing training exercises, with other flyers from throughout the state. One such cadet in training is Ian Hayhurst, a seventh grader from Sarracino Middle School.
Hayhurst has been a cadet for a little under a year. What sparked his interest was the chance to learn flying.
“I want to do the best I can,” he said.
At the recent SAREX event, Hayhurst was airborne — in a Cessna 172, no less. Hayhurst said the mixed group of about a dozen young men and women all try to bring their best to the table.
“It’s a really good educational experience,” he said. “I get the chance to learn about aviation history and aeronautics. We learn things from the ground up — all the parts of a plane, how to prepare for a flight, safety, you name it.”
When asked about a future career, Hayhurst said he’s leaning toward becoming a robotics engineer.
“But I can be a member of CAP, no matter what,” he said.
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