08:30 AM

Congressional Squadron Turns 50 This Year

Civil Air Patrol’s Congressional Squadron is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and the birthday bash has already begun.

CAP leaders gathered this week in Washington, D.C., for Legislative Day and the Winter Command Council took time to honor the squadron, which gives active and retired members of Congress and congressional staff the opportunity to participate in CAP.

“It truly is one of Civil Air Patrol’s most unique and unusual units,” said Col. John Swain, CAP’s legislative liaison in Washington and a former deputy commander of the squadron.

Based at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, the squadron is the only quasi-military unit on Capitol Hill. Its origin dates back to 1968, when U.S. Reps. Lester Wolff of New York and Jerry Pettis of California started the squadron as a way to support CAP and serve others.

“The majority of our members have joined to show support for CAP, especially in their home states,” said Swain. “Others, however, have become active participants in the CAP program over the years, some even becoming rated mission aircrew.”

Today, the squadron has 574 members, with over 200 currently serving in Congress.

A few of the squadron’s most notable members have President Gerald Ford; Vice Presidents Joe Biden, Dick Cheney and Al Gore; Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Sens. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

Wolff and Harkin are former commanders of the unit, which has only had three commanders (including Rep. Nick Rahall, also of West Virginia) in its 50 years of service.

Squadron members expect to name a new commander soon to replace Harkin, who retired in 2015 after leading the charge to recognize Civil Air Patrol’s earliest members with the Congressional Gold Medal for their volunteer World War II service. Before that, CAP’s total World War II contribution had never been appropriately recognized by the government.

“In addition to the recognition CAP received from the Congressional Gold Medal, all three Congressional Squadron commanders have been critical to building the case for funding and for new missions for CAP,” Swain said.

Since its inception, the squadron has participated in a number of vital CAP missions, including homeland security, search and rescue, disaster relief, air defense training and photo reconnaissance. Flight operations began in 1976 with an ex-Air Force trainer; today, the unit is home to two of CAP’s state-of-the-art Cessna 182s.

“Some of our missions have been in support of other CAP units,” Swain said, “and we have, on occasion, provided practice targets for the U.S. Air Force F-16s that defend our nation’s capital as part of Fertile Keynote missions.

”Flights also have been flown with members of Congress and staff, Air Force generals and FBI special agents, among others,” he said.