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Whether it was hurricanes, fires, or, in March and April, twisters, Civil Air Patrol members once again were in the eye of recovery efforts.
The two turbulent months sent members out in ground teams and aloft in Cessnas to search for missing residents, take damage assessment photographs and clean up the wreckage left by tornadoes that struck Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee.
Members also ferried local, state and government officials to show them the full extent of the damage.
The Iowa Wing also combined a ground and air response, taking aerial damage assessment photographs, ferrying two top state officials and assisting the American Red Cross after the wing was activated by the Iowa National Guard.
Launching at sunrise a day after tornadoes struck in Iowa City in Johnson County and surrounding areas, an air crew took hundreds of photographs of the damage. The crew sent the photos to the state Emergency Operations Center through a radio link in the aircraft.
As air crew members landed, they also uploaded photos for other members preparing a presentation at the state Emergency Operations Center briefing, said Maj. Doug Jansen, Iowa Wing director of public affairs.
“The CAP Photo Interpretation presentation was the highlight of the meeting. All of the state’s agency liaisons saw the devastation in detail with explanations of just what had happened,” Jansen said.
Meanwhile, Capt. Kim Kirschman, an Iowa Wing pilot, flew Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson and David L. Miller, administrator of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, on flights between Ankeny and Iowa City.
As air crews combed the skies above Iowa, ground teams aided relief efforts.
Both the East Iowa Cadet Squadron, based in Cedar Rapids, and the Fort Zumwalt Falcon Cadet Squadron of Missouri, which is associated with the North Central Region, staffed shelters when the American Red Cross sought assistance.
The Missouri cadets ran a shelter for tornado evacuees established at the University of Iowa. They worked an entire overnight shift at the school.
A state away, other Missouri Wing members found themselves in the middle of ground relief efforts that, while tragic, exemplified an outstanding grass roots effort.
Missouri squadron earns victim’s appreciation
As the dust and debris began to settle, more than a half-dozen CAP volunteers sifted through wreckage to help residents whose homes were left in heaps of splinters.
Cadets and senior members wearing green military fatigues and carrying huge, bright yellow garbage bags worked among trash, clothing, downed trees and power poles.
Their efforts did not go unnoticed, especially by residents in the area, said Cass County Composite Squadron Commander Capt. Tony Belto.
“We are thankful for the help of friends and the Cass County Civil Air Patrol members,” Belto said, recalling the words of a victim who had lost his home but was thankful to be alive.
Tornadoes also slammed CAP facilities.
In fact, Missouri Wing Commander Col. Sean Fagan said the entire roof of the Wing Headquarters at Whiteman Air Force Base was blown off by storms.
In addition, winds completely destroyed the building that the Gateway Squadron at Spirit of St. Louis Airport was using as a temporary headquarters.
Luckily, the building was mostly empty, as files and furniture had already been moved to another building at the airport.
Illinois residents weren’t so lucky when twisters shook their inhabited and furnished homes. But CAP members there also put their personal lives on hold to help.
Illinois ground crews reach out in community
When two tornadoes swept through Springfield in March, the American Red Cross asked CAP’s National Operations Center for volunteers to assess the damage to homes.
Members of the Springfield, Jacksonville, Champaign and Peoria composite squadrons took on a two-day mission led by Mission Commander Lt. Col. J. Fred Herschelman, who also commands the Illinois State Legislative Squadron.
The CAP volunteers entered neighborhoods and compiled information on types of homes, their addresses and the damage each incurred.
The Red Cross used the information to determine which families needed additional assistance.
Three weeks later, when another tornado hit Springfield, the Red Cross again requested CAP’s assistance.
Cadet Jim Godar of the Springfield Composite Squadron worked among the rubble in his hometown to inspect about 400 homes, along with 2nd Lt. John Grimsley.
A senior airman in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Godar found it difficult to see much of the town obliterated, but he knew the job had to be done.
“It felt good to at least do something to help out,” he said.
His efforts and those of his peers did not go unnoticed.
“The Red Cross was pleased with our response, and I expect them to call on us a lot more, and not just locally,” Herschelman said.
Tennessee right on time with twister response
In Tennessee, where CAP Commander Col. Jim Rushing said the wing already had dozens of members assembled for a homeland security exercise, the timing was perfect.
“In fact, I was standing there beside our agency liaison in the metro Nashville EOC (Emergency Operations Center) when we received notification we were moving from the exercise into an actual emergency,” he said.
The wing responded in a plethora of ways.
Air crews took SDIS (satellite-transmitted digital imaging) photographs approved by Air Force National Security Emergency Preparedness. They also ferried a television station cameraman on a media flight. Meanwhile, ground teams searched for three missing people in Gallatin at the request of the state of Tennessee and drove victims to Red Cross shelters for aid.
Rushing said although it was difficult to see members of the state suffer, he was extremely proud of the diversity of CAP’s response and the professionalism of wing members.
“Not only were the members prepared to play a vital role in the homeland security exercise, but they showed their flexibility and ability to quickly switch gears to assist state residents following the tornado strikes,” he said.
Arkansas Wing Public Affairs Officer Maj. Blake Sasse, Illinois State Legislative Squadron Commander Fred Herschelman, Cass County Composite Squadron Commander Capt. Tony Belto (Missouri), and Iowa Wing Public Affairs Officer Doug Jansen contributed to this story.
Arkansas Wing members with the 115th Composite Squadron pause for a photograph following an ELT mission precipitated by tornadoes. From left, back row, are ground team members 2nd Lt. Stuart Allen, 1st Lt. Holly Jones, Cadet 2nd Lt. Ian Hassett, Maj. Jeff Smith and pilot Lt. Col. Dave Winslow. Front row, Cadet 2nd Lt. Jacob Allen, left, and Cadet Airman 1st Class Joseph Allen.
Photo by Maj. Marina Scott, Arkansas Wing
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Cutline: Emily Taylor of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management took this photograph of a school a tornado ripped apart while aloft in a CAP aircraft.
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Iowa Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson prepares to take off in a CAP Cessna 182 on an aerial survey of the tornado damage in Johnson County. Pilot Capt. Kim Kirschman sits to the left of Pederson.
Photo by Lt. Col. Nick Critelli, Iowa Wing
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Photography from an Iowa CAP Cessna 182 illustrates the force of the tornado that hit Iowa City. Here, a car dealership service department's roof was torn off.
Photo by Col. Gene Kellogg, Iowa Wing
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Missouri Wing Cadets Lucas Eggenberger and Zachery Bartlett sort through debris during cleanup of a home in Bates County, Mo., that was completely destroyed by a tornado.
Photo by Capt. Tony Belto, Missouri Wing
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Missouri Wing members Capt. Tony Belto, left, Cass County Composite Squadron commander; cadets Lucas Eggenberger, Zachery Bartlett, Kyle Cass, Brendon Anderson, and Jared Eggenberger; and Capt. Melinda Berry helped residents clean up tornado damage in Bates County, Mo.
Photo by Cadet Chester Nicholson, Missouri Wing
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Cadet Jim Godar of the Springfield Composite Squadron surveys homes in the aftermath of two tornadoes that recently swept through Springfield.
Photo by 1st Lt. John Hamm, Illinois Wing
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The Tennessee Wing was tasked by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (to take aerial photographs, like the one above showing homes destroyed by tornadoes in Gallatin. 1st Lt. Scott Moore, Tennessee Wing
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“When you are in the air, you get to see the entire picture. You get to see the destruction as a whole. It was extremely beneficial.”
– Emily Taylor, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management
"The CAP Photo Interpretation presentation was the highlight of the meeting. All of the state’s agency liaisons saw the devastation in detail with explanations of just what had happened.”
– Maj. Doug Jansen, Iowa Wing Director of Public Affairs