CAP Congressman Pays It Forward Through Flying
It's a Complex Life for La. Member: Farmer, Aviator, Warrior, Healer, Leglislator, Volunteer
By Kristi Carr
Even to know how to address him can be a challenge. In Civil Air Patrol, he’s Maj. Ralph Abraham. On the Hill in Washington, D.C., he is Congressman Abraham. And back home in Louisiana, he is Dr. Abraham.
Across his complicated life lies a steadfast thread of service and patriotism.
At the start
Growing up on a Louisiana farm, Abraham didn’t so much choose to go into veterinary medicine as veterinary medicine chose him, he said. “Becoming a veterinarian just seemed like a natural progression for me.”
But that choice may have been one of the last he let just happen. Instead, he graduated to aggressively pursuing anything that held interest for him.
To serve his community and country, he joined the Mississippi National Guard, attending airborne school and training at Fort Benning, Georgia, as an infantryman. He particularly remembers an intense training exercise when a group of Guardsmen parachuted into the Rocky Mountains, requiring them to develop a two-week survival plan to navigate out of the wilderness.
“There was ample snow on the ground and the temperature was zero degrees, so it was challenging, yet fun,” he said.
When Abraham left the Guard, he didn’t give up on service. He belongs to both CAP, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, and the auxiliary for the U.S. Coast Guard. Both conduct search and rescue missions, reconnaissance and transport for active-duty military personnel.
In full swing
“I believe if you don’t challenge yourself, you miss so many of life’s opportunities,” Abraham said. “We only get one bite of the apple, so it better be a good bite.”
That attitude is what led him to start taking flying lessons at north Louisiana’s Monroe Regional Airport shortly after graduating veterinary school, his new practice giving him the means to pursue a pilot’s certificate.
“I like the freedom of flying and of being in control of your destiny,” he said.
Today, he owns both a Cirrus SR22 and a Eurocopter 120B. The skills and uses for these two different types of flying machines are quite varied, he said.
“It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” he said, but then admitted he thinks the helicopter is more fun.
After successfully practicing veterinary medicine for 10 years, Abraham took another leap. This time, prompted by his frustration with the lack of quality medical care in the rural area where he lived and farmed, he returned to Louisiana State University to study at its School of Medicine.
“It was challenging to go back to school,” he said. “I was leaving a successful veterinary practice, and my wife Dianne and I were raising three small children. But we made it work.”
He has practiced general medicine for 22 years now, thought he may visit the clinic only once a month these days. And that’s because he took up yet another role — congressman.
On the Hill
Abraham, 62, first won election to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican in December 2014. He was re-elected last year to a second term with 82 percent of the vote.
He is particularly proud of his work as a former member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. His bill to give cost-of-living increases to disabled veterans became law last year. His current House assignments include the committees on Agriculture, Armed Services, and Science, Space and Technology.
A farmer himself — he raises cattle, horses, cotton, soybeans and corn — Abraham empathizes with farmers today, faced with high production costs and low commodity prices, issues he is working on with other members of the Committee on Agriculture.
A major in the Louisiana Wing’s Green Flag East Flight, Abraham finds satisfaction in combining his dedication to the military, aviation and volunteerism.
The Green Flag East Flight is tasked, as is its West counterpart in the Nevada Wing, with helping to train military personnel. With an attached sensor ball, a manned CAP aircraft replicates the Air Force’s unmanned MQ-9 Reaper, demonstrating to military trainees the Reaper’s capabilities and providing them with practice on how best to use it.
“We help prepare our soldiers who are going overseas to fight, and this is just my way of helping ready the men and women who are putting themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe here at home,” Abraham said.
His CAP squadron commander, Lt. Col. Steve Wood, said Abraham is “very active and does a good job for us, both as a qualified pilot and mission coordinator. He is a gentleman and a genuinely good person who always has a smile for those he meets.”
In addition, Abraham is an aviation medical examiner and performs physicals for pilots, often on a pro bono basis.
What he has learned from his multiple roles
How has he done so many varied jobs? Abraham credits a supportive family and the efficient and knowledgeable people with whom he surrounds himself. And it probably helps that he gets up early, skips lunch and goes to bed late.
And what are some of the lessons he has learned along the way?
Farming taught him that decisions are rather quickly deemed successes or failures and that hard work is crucial.
As a pilot, he learned no mistakes are acceptable, because your life can depend on correct choices.
As a warrior, he admires the skills and dedication of the military.
As a healer, “my patients taught me to observe first, think second and act last.”
And as a legislator, he’s grappled with the frustrations of the slow pace to effect change while still remaining optimistic change is possible.
Finally, as a volunteer, he knows the lasting value of simply reaching out to help others.