The Civil Air Patrol got its start in Cameron County as a coastal air patrol station a few weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and has had a presence here ever since, though relatively few people seem to know about it.
So says Lt. Col. Sean Crandall, commander of Group VII of the CAP’s Texas Wing, which includes Cameron County and the Brownsville Composite Squadron based at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport.
He hopes to shine a light on the organization as part of soliciting support for a new CAP regional training and operations center at the Brownsville airport. Five undeveloped acres donated by the airport and six portable classroom buildings donated by the Texas Science and Technology Center in Harlingen are making the project possible.
The CAP was founded as a civilian auxiliary to the U.S. Army Air Corps (precursor to the U.S. Air Force) a few days prior to the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec 7, 1941. That same month the CAP established Coastal Patrol Base 12, which started in Brownsville and later moved to San Benito. The base’s mission was to patrol the South Texas coast in search of German submarines.
In 1947 Congress designated the CAP the official auxiliary of the Air Force. A decade later the Brownsville Composite Squadron was established at the Brownville South Padre Island International Airport. The Brownsville squadron and Group VII headquarters are located in the 1931 Pan American building at the airport.
Among the all-volunteer CAP’s primary missions is educating future leaders in aviation and the armed services, Crandall said. The new center, once it’s up and running, will accommodate CAP units from across Texas as well as Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma for training in aerospace education, CAP cadet programs and emergency services.
The center available to local educators, non-profit and youth organizations, and will feature flight simulators, a CAP and Texas aviation museum, an active flight ramp, communications center, and emergency services operations center, among other amenities.
The center will also be available to assist with medical evacuations from the Valley following hurricanes, and will serve as a distribution point for water, food and relief supplies in the event of major storms.
In terms of emergency services, the center will serve as one of three CAP disaster communications centers in the state, capable of directing CAP aircraft and ground teams to respond to search and rescue missions, disaster relief missions, and requests for humanitarian assistance.
Another key CAP function — one mandated by Congress — is assisting in downed aircraft searches. Each December the Brownsville unit hosts a 160-hour course for search-and-rescue ground teams from around Texas and the nation.
"We’ve been the number one ground team in the state of Texas for the last five years," Crandall said. "We were the first unit to receive the national ground team award, in 2009, and we’re still the number one ground team in Texas."
Each of the last four years the Brownsville CAP has had cadets accepted to U.S. military academies, a notable achievement considering the relatively small size of the Brownsville’s CAP cadet program, which contains 35 members, Crandall said.
"We’ve had great support from the City of Brownsville and from (airport director) Larry Brown," he said. "Without that support we really wouldn’t be able to achieve not only our local recognition but also our national recognition."
The CAP aims to expand its reach with the new center, thought it needs help — financial or otherwise. The five acres dedicated to the center also lacks utility infrastructure, and Crandall welcomes any aid from contractors in a position to help with paving parking lots, laying sewer line, etc.
All told, he estimates the Brownsville unit will need raise around $65,000 — $25,000 of which will go to repay the CAP Texas Wing headquarters for getting the classroom buildings down here from Harlingen.
To help raise the money to complete the new center, the Brownsville CAP is offering for sale personalized engraved bricks and tiles that will be displayed in an "Honor Courtyard" at the center’s main entrance.
Individuals can have their own names engraved or the names of friends and family. It’s also an opportunity to recognize the service and achievements of past CAP members, Crandall said. The CAP is a nonprofit 501c3 corporation, which means all donations are tax deductible.
While he’s aware money is tight, Crandall is confident enough people will be willing and able to help the CAP realize its goal — especially if they know what the organization is about.
"It’s hard to go out and really hit people up for money when they don’t have a clue about the program," he said. "I’m concerned about creating public awareness about what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. It’s a matter of beating the bushes and going out and doing what we need to do."