The Florence Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) has for decades met at Florence Regional Airport. The CAP, an auxiliary of the US Air Force, was formed on Dec. 1, 1941, to provide citizens an opportunity to support our national defense by using privately owned small aircraft to patrol the coasts. 

Today the purpose of Civil Air Patrol has evolved into three missions: Aerospace Education, to maintain America's superiority in aerospace technology; Cadet Programs, to cultivate the development of strong values and character in our nation's youth; and Emergency Services, to protect the homeland through search and rescue, disaster relief, and counterdrug missions.

The Florence Composite Squadron, supported by United Way of Florence County, is active in all three missions. The Cadet Program allows Florence-area youth age 12 to 18 to join and learn about aviation, including flying in orientation rides aboard single-engine Cessna aircraft. Cadets take at least five flights in these aircraft, each time learning more about how the plane works and how to operate it.

Under the direction of Deputy Commander for Cadets First Lt. Jane Proell and Aerospace Education officer senior member Anne Milligan, cadets also pursue varied and extensive aerospace projects. Florence cadets recently completed a Rocketry project; building and launching a series of rockets of increasing complexity. The cadets are just starting a new project. Under the guidance of logistics officer First Lt. Brad Galloway, they are building a computer with flight simulation software.

The Cadet Program also involves leadership training, including military customs and courtesies. Cadets often name drill practice as one of their favorite parts of squadron meetings. Among the many optional training programs and events available to members in Honor Guard Academy, where advanced honor guard and color guard skills are trained.

Most cadets and many senior members (adult volunteer leaders) participate in the annual Summer Encampment, typically at McGrady Training Center on the grounds of Fort Jackson. The eight-day event consists of drill, physical fitness, tours of nearby military facilities, a flight aboard a C-17 aircraft, a military-style banquet and many other activities.

The Core Values of CAP (Respect, Integrity, Volunteer Service and Excellence) are an important aspect of the Cadet Program. Leadership and character training are essential elements of the program, and Chaplain (Maj.) David Wike does a monthly in-depth character development lesson with cadets, in addition to supporting their healthy lifestyle choices and problem-solving skills.

There are a few of the ways that the CAP Cadet Programs, made possible by financial support from United Way of Florence County, are not only improving the lives of the youth who participate but are developing more engaged and responsible citizens for our future.

When natural disasters strike, CAP goes into action with air crews taking thousands of photographs to be uploaded by cadets to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for planning and allocating resources. Maj. Bob Brown and Maj. David Tilley, pilots with the Florence Composite Squadron, fly missions with trained mission scanners and mission observers. Communication officers First Lt. Chris Hawley and First Lt. Donald Proell man the radio system at the Florence squadron in support of air crews across the state. Senior members and cadets assemble at Wing Headquarters in Columbia to work in communications and to classify and upload photos.

Air crews, as well as trained ground teams made up of cadets and senior members, get the call when there is a missing person or a missing aircraft report. It takes training to be effective in search-and-rescue missions, and Florence Squadron's Lt. Donald Proell heads up the training program preparing teams to be ready for the call.

Nationally, Civil Air Patrol is recognized for an average of 70 saved lives yearly. In 2018, that total was 158 lives saved through Civil Air Patrol Emergency Services missions across the country.

With support of the community through United Way of Florence County, the Florence Composite Squadron is training and preparing to continue these essential and potentially life-saving services.

The cadets who learn and grown in Civil Air Patrol come away with a greater degree of self-discipline and respect for the values of our country and the appreciation for the service of those who have made this great nation what is it today. Many of them will go on to military service, but all will be better citizens for having been a part of CAP.

The Florence Composite Squadron of Civil Air Patrol meets from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. most Thursdays at the squadron building on McCall Boulevard, on the grounds of the Florence Regional Airport. Visitors are always welcome and can call 843-732-0227 for more information. Visit gocivilairpatrol.com for more information about the Civil Air Patrol.