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Still flying high: Worthington Civil Air Patrol squadron marks 75 years this week

WORTHINGTON -- While the nation's Civil Air Patrol was established one week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, it wasn't until months later -- in fact 75 years ago this week -- that the first Civil Air Patrol squadron fo...

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JR Arnt was the latest CAP cadet from the Worthington Composite Squadron to earn his pilot's license. (Special to the Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - While the nation’s Civil Air Patrol was established one week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, it wasn’t until months later - in fact 75 years ago this week - that the first Civil Air Patrol squadron formed in Worthington.

The group formed from an existing civilian volunteer flying squadron, organized within the department of civil defense, according to Maj. Joe Bradfield, public affairs officer for the local squadron. Worthington’s CAP squadron was one of 18 established in the state after Minnesota joined Civil Air Patrol in January 1942.

Of those original squadrons, 10 remain - including Worthington. The squadron is part of Group 4 of the Minnesota Wing, joining Pipestone, Mankato, Owatonna, Lakeville, Rochester and Red Wing.

Worthington’s squadron has always been smaller compared to some of the others across the state. The squadron currently has 15 members, but Bradfield noted there were years when the membership boasted up to 30 or 40.

At least twice in its history, the squadron’s charter was in danger of being pulled due to low membership.

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“I think in rural areas, all volunteer organizations go through that,” Bradfield said. “You get comfortable with your membership … and then you’re not recruiting.”

Carl Hallum of Adrian is a glider instructor with CAP and, according to Bradfield, is critical to the success of the local squadron.

“Carl’s the one that held it together when numbers were low,” Bradfield said. “He keeps the records straight, he took care of the plan and managed it well, he took care of all the pilots.

“We still have a squadron because of him,” he added. “If there wasn’t a Carl Hallum, that squadron wouldn’t be a go.”

The Civil Air Patrol is open to youths and young adults ages 12 through 21. Unlike Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H, all of which cater to many areas of interest, the CAP is focused strictly on aviation and military. Bradfield said the organization is for youths interested in flying - maybe they like rockets or flying drones or have an interest in the military.

Through CAP, members can train to be a pilot for free, paying for aircraft maintenance and fuel.

“They work on physical fitness, customs and courtesy, parade and going to encampment in the summer (at Camp Ripley),” Bradfield said.

The camp may offer unique experiences like riding in a Blackhawk helicopter or shooting an M-4 or M-16.

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“It’s a unique civil service organization,” Bradfield said. “We can do emergency service, but we also have aircraft support. We can do search and rescue, and we can also do air rescue. Our ground teams prepare areas for medical helicopters to land and point out areas for them to be safe.”

Bill Reum, who currently serves as Cadet Deputy Commander, has been involved with the Worthington CAP squadron off and on since 1979.

“I like flying and dealing with kids,” said Reum, of Worthington, who hopes more cadets will join the program. “Our search and rescue ground crew are training regularly. We don’t often get called out on actual missions - our last one was about 18 months ago.”

Over the years, Reum has been on 15 to 20 missions, often searching for aircraft with activated emergency locator transmitters.

“Technology has now come to the point where we’re pretty much efficient in getting things located,” he added.

With GPS, Bradfield squadron members can usually find a downed plane within a few feet of its signal.

Though technology has changed the work of the Civil Air Patrol, it still plays an important role in the U.S. military.

“The first planes in the air after 9-11 was Civil Air Patrol,” Bradfield noted. “We do land surveying to counter drug activity. We don’t do police work, but we support them when they need help with a search.”

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The Civil Air Patrol is continually looking for ways to serve. The organization has provided everything from search and rescue to border patrol, been on look-out for forest fires and transported organs for transplant patients.

“(CAP) flew thousands of hours during Hurricane Katrina,” Bradfield said. “They help the military in a time of need.”

The Worthington Composite Squadron kicked off its 75th anniversary year with a celebration in late January, and will mark the actual anniversary with a cake at its 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting inside the CAP’s headquarters at the Worthington Municipal Airport.

“Guests are welcome to come and help us celebrate with cake and meet the squadron,” Bradfield said. “We’re looking for both youths and seniors who would like to be part of a service-oriented program with a military affiliation.”

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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