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Civil Air Patrol celebrates 60 years of volunteer service

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Cmdr. Rick Shoemaker of Civil Air Patrol Squadron 601 shows cadets Alex Zavala, 14, Brittany Harris, 16, and Ian Thomas, 17, from left, how to use a field locating device. The three are to be presented Dec. 6 with the Mitchell Award, the first major milestone for cadets, many of whom go on to careers in the Air Force.

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A small plane circled the debris of New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 12, a day after terrorists had struck the financial center's 110-story twin towers.

Thousands of people, including many employed by national media outlets, wondered what it was doing up there before learning it was a plane operated by a group called the Civil Air Patrol, taking aerial photographs for New York's state emergency management office. The plane, whose mission was authorized by New York Gov. George Pataki, was one of the few nonfighter planes allowed into the sky for days.

The Civil Air Patrol is a venerable group of volunteers celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

The patrol, a civilian auxiliary unit of the Air Force, was formed just before Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Cmdr. Rick Shoemaker of local Squadron 601 said the group has a threefold purpose: to provide extra manpower for search-and-rescue missions, promote aerospace education, and teach youths leadership skills through a cadet program that can be a springboard for an Air Force career.

Squadron 601 is the largest of two Civil Air Patrol units in the Toledo area. It meets weekly at the Ohio National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing at Toledo Express Airport. Toledo has another unit, Squadron 602.

Other northwest Ohio squadrons include units in the Napoleon, Findlay, and Wauseon areas, Commander Shoemaker said.

Nationally, the Civil Air Patrol has 53,000 members.

Some are retired pilots, some have had a career in law enforcement, and others are teachers. The organization owns 535 light aircraft, mostly Cessnas. It has access to 4,700 other aircraft, largely a result of what its members own, according to the group's headquarters.

Squadron 601 has no planes, but it has volunteers who are trained pilots capable of assisting authorities on search-and-rescue missions. Others are trained to help with duties on the ground, such as traffic control and security, Commander Shoemaker said.

Squadron 601 will end the year on a high note by honoring three cadets - Ian Thomas, 17, Brittany Harris, 16, and Alex Zavala, 14 - with the coveted Mitchell Award, named for the late Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, an aviation pioneer.

The award, to be presented Dec. 6, is the first major milestone for cadets and enables them to pursue an Air Force career at a higher rank and salary than those who do not achieve it.

Recipients are required to earn eight levels of achievement and pass tests that demonstrate leadership skills, physical fitness, and knowledge of aerospace topics.

“A squadron will normally have one or two in a year. We're having three at the same time,” said 2nd Lt. Dawn Zavala, Alex's mother.

The recipients emerged from a field of 26,000 cadets nationwide, 12 to 20 years in age.

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