08:24 AM

From Cadet Programs to Corporate Executive

Sheila Pursglove
Contributing Writer

As a boy in Puerto Rico, Henry Irizarry was intrigued with the military — and in middle school, when he saw Civil Air Patrol cadets in uniform at a school function, he immediately looked into it. “I went home and told my parents I wanted to join and was hooked to CAP from then on,” he said.

It was the start of a long and distinguished career with CAP, as a cadet and as a senior officer. Serving as a cadet with the Puerto Rico Wing’s Mayagüez Cadet Squadron from 1985 to 1991, Irizarry participated in numerous encampments, emergency services exercises and events and achieved the rank of cadet lieutenant colonel.

Highlights of his many fond memories include participation in summer encampment at the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station (since closed), flying in a C-130 from Puerto Rico to Tennessee to participate in the Southeast Region Search and Rescue Competition, and completing Level IV, known as the Gen. Ira C. Eaker Award. “I was very fortunate to have amazing mentors who facilitated my development in the cadet program,” he said.

Irizarry capped his cadet career by participating in the International Air Cadet Exchange to Sweden in 1991, his first time overseas. “That alone was a unique experience,” he said. “IACE gave me the opportunity to learn about other cultures and make lifelong friends from around the world. Thanks to social media, I still remain friends with many of the persons I participated with.

“My IACE participation as a cadet also sparked my interest for travel, cultures and foreign affairs, which has directly contributed to my success in my military and current career.”

As a senior officer, in 2013 Irizarry had the opportunity to participate in IACE as an escort to Australia — an experience he found just as interesting as the trip to Sweden. “Learning about the Australian Air Cadet program was the most enjoyable portion for me, as I was able to capture and bring back with me some ideas we could use and incorporate in our own program,” he said.

Irizarry noted that his CAP cadet experience contributed and helped shape him into the person he is today.

“It helped me immensely when I first joined the military, as I already had a foundation and understanding of what teamwork and leadership really is,” he said. “It prepared me to deal with challenging situations that otherwise would have been much more difficult to work through.”

A graduate of Excelsior College, and holding a Master of Arts degree from American Military University, Irizarry has also completed graduate executive leadership programs at Harvard University and Cornell University.

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years and retired from the U.S. Coast Guard as a commissioned officer with over 20 years of active military service. After retirement he served in the federal civil service with the Department of the Army before joining the private sector, where he was recently promoted to vice president of international business development for Metal Shark Boats.

Irizarry is responsible for the organization and development of the company’s international market position and achievement of financial growth and sales. He defines long-term organizational international strategic goals, builds key customer relationships, identifies business opportunities and negotiates multimillion-dollar business deals. He works closely with senior U.S. government officials and international customers, including ministers of defense and security, chiefs of services and foreign corporate decision-makers.

His military service has fully prepared him for the corporate post. “My Marine Corps and Coast Guard career and assignments helped develop my international strategic focus and expertise with political, cultural, economic and geographic awareness,” he said.

Irizarry has also resumed his service with Civil Air Patrol, rejoining in 2004. “I always wanted to rejoin CAP as an adult and was in the military,” he said. “My first 10 years in the military were mostly overseas. So my assignments didn’t allow me the time to participate.

“When I was stationed to Florida in 2004, I drove by an airport and saw a CAP airplane, so I went to the next squadron meeting. When I arrived, and met the unit commander, we immediately recognized each other, as we had both coincidentally participated in IACE as cadets the same year. At that moment I rejoined CAP and never looked back.”

He became wing commander in March 2014 after serving in leadership positions with Florida Wing Group 7 and the Tamiami Composite Squadron. Under his leadership, the wing achieved a “Highly Successful” rating in the compliance inspection and an “Outstanding” rating on its most recent biannual operational evaluation by the U.S. Air Force. In addition, a Florida Emergency Services Academy was established and a record-sized wing summer encampment was held in 2016.

One major mission came in response to Hurricane Matthew last year, when the wing generated more than 18,000 aerial damage assessment photos for federal and state emergency agencies.

“As the wing commander, I had the opportunity to travel throughout the state and nation, which allowed me to meet our great volunteers and see the amazing things they do for our organization, communities and country,” said Irizarry, who completed three years as wing commander earlier this year.

Irizarry has served on CAP National Headquarters’ Homeland Security Staff and at the group and unit levels as a commander, deputy commander, professional development officer and aircraft maintenance officer.

He has completed all five levels of the CAP senior member professional development program and is an active incident commander, mission pilot and CAP cadet/Air Force ROTC orientation pilot with over 750 hours of flight time. He holds Master ratings in command and professional development, two Senior ratings in cadet programs and flight operations and a Technician rating in safety.

Among his many contributions, he co-authored the CAP Officer Basic Course and has served as an instructor at National Cadet Officer School. “The most enjoyable experience in CAP for me is being able to give back to the organization which helped shape me into the person I am today,” he said.

Irizarry, whose children are both in CAP — his daughter as an adult member and his son as a cadet officer — enjoys sharing his experiences with youngsters. “The most enjoyable experience about mentoring cadets is enlightening them with all the opportunities that exist in our great country and how any goal is reachable with dedication and hard work,” he said.

“It’s astonishing to see young men and women join CAP at the age of 12 and watch them grow into productive, responsible and professional adults. There is nothing more rewarding than running into them years later and they simply say, ‘thank you for what you did for me.’ Nothing beats that feeling!”Iri

Irizarry's accomplishments are highlighted in the new issue of Civil Air Patrol Volunteer, which celebrates Cadet Programs’ 75th anniversary by focusing on how former cadets’ experiences have helped shape their lives and careers in and out of CAP.

To support Civil Air Patrol cadets and their academic and flight goals, consider donating to Cadet Scholarships. 

If you are interested in setting up a designated CAP cadet scholarship in your state or region, contact CAP's Development Office.