Civil Air Patrol

Two Cadets Honored as Spaatz Award Recipients

Cadet Colonel Weiss O’Connor (left) and Cadet Colonel Viet Zaengle were honored as Spaatz Award recipients during a ceremony at Arizona National Guard Headquarters on June 17, 2021.

Two Arizona Wing cadets were honored during a ceremony at Arizona National Guard headquarters on June 17. Cadet Col. Weiss O’Connor, Deer Valley Composite Squadron, and Cadet Col. Viet Zaengle, Willie Composite Squadron, received their Spaatz Award certificates from Maj. Gen. Kerry Muehlenbeck, Adjutant General of Arizona and director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. The Spaatz Award is Civil Air Patrol’s highest cadet honor and recipients are promoted to the grade of cadet colonel.

Muehlenbeck spoke about Civil Air Patrol as part of the Total Force, a designation that came six years ago. “The National Guard is ‘always ready, always there’ and then I look at the Civil Air Patrol’s mission, which is ‘always vigilant,’ and we see you and we use your resources and we partner with you in the context of civil support during emergencies,” Muehlenbeck said. “I think we take for granted that you are always vigilant, you’re always prepared, you’re always there.”

Maj. Gen. Kerry Muehlenbeck, Adjutant General of Arizona and director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs presented Spaatz Award certificates to two Arizona Wing cadets during the ceremony

She described some of the missions the Arizona Wing has undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as flying National Guard members across the state to scout areas for vaccination and testing sites, transporting personal protective equipment, and volunteering at mass vaccination sites.

“It always amazes me when organizations continue to do their mission, and at the same time, they pivot and they give more,” Muehlenbeck said. “In the time of this pandemic, Civil Air Patrol did exactly what we needed them to do in the context of supporting the community – its regular mission, but then, of course, pivoting to take on this new mission as well.”

O’Connor is a 2021 graduate of Boulder Creek High School in Anthem. He is a member of Deer Valley Composite Squadron in Phoenix. He joined CAP in 2016 and became the cadet commander at Deer Valley in February 2020. He has served on the Cadet Advisory Council at the squadron, wing, regional, and national levels. In 2020, he was selected to attend the Civic Leadership Academy in Washington, DC. At Boulder Creek High School, O’Connor played in the concert and marching bands and was co-captain of the soccer team. Earlier this year, he was named the 2020 Arizona Wing Cadet of the Year. On June 23, he will report to Colorado Springs as a member of the class of 2025 at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Zaengle joined CAP in 2016 and currently serves as the cadet commander for his squadron. He just completed his junior year at Hamilton High School in Chandler, where he also holds the grade of major in the Junior ROTC and is a member of the choir and cross-country team. He also is an Eagle Scout. A recipient of the 2021 Air Force Chief of Staff Private Pilot scholarship program, Zaengle currently is attending a flight academy at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott where he will earn his private pilot certificate and six college credits.

“Working with cadets, watching them develop their leadership skills, seeing them choose to continue to serve as CAP volunteers as Colonels O’Connor and Zaengle are doing – it just doesn’t get much better than that,” said Arizona Wing Commander Col. Rob Pinckard. “CAP cadets like these two give me hope for the future of our country.”

On average, only 0.5% of CAP cadets earn the Spaatz Award. It is presented to cadets who have demonstrated excellence in leadership, character, fitness, and aerospace education. Cadets qualify for this prestigious award after devoting an average of five years to progress through 16 achievements in the CAP Cadet Program.  Along the way, they develop self-discipline, a strong sense of personal responsibility, the ability to lead and persuade, and the foundations necessary for pursuing a career in aviation, space, or technology.

The final step a cadet must complete to earn the Spaatz Award is a rigorous four-part exam consisting of a challenging physical fitness test, an essay exam testing their moral reasoning, a comprehensive written exam on leadership, and a comprehensive written exam on aerospace education. Upon passing the Spaatz Award exams, the cadet is promoted to the grade of cadet colonel.

AZ Wing Enters Phase III of COVID-19 Remobilization

Arizona Wing entered phase III of COVID-19 remobilization on June 7, 2021.

In an email to unit commanders, Arizona Wing Commander Col. Rob Pinckard said, “even now, remember that COVID-19 remains lethal” and reinforced the need to continue complying with current guidelines.

The most recent (June 1, 2021) CAP guidelines concerning masking and other public health measures are as follows:

a. Fully vaccinated members will no longer be required to wear masks indoors or outdoors while at CAP activities, assuming there are no more restrictive state/local/tribal/territorial guidelines for the locality.

b. Unvaccinated members, including all cadets who have not yet been fully vaccinated, will be required to wear masks, practice social distancing, and continue all other public health measures recommended by the CDC or state/local/tribal/territorial public health entity for the locality.

c. Health services officers, safety officers, or a commander’s designee will continue regular health screenings. CAP meetings should include a briefing of the wing’s current remobilization phase and associated guidance/restrictions, as well as any applicable state/local/tribal/territorial guidelines and facility-specific rules.

Additionally, members attending in-person activities will be informed of these guidelines that apply to vaccinated members. Rather than inquiring about individuals’ vaccination status, unit leaders will emphasize that members should abide by CAP’s core values by acting with integrity and following the guidance appropriate to their status.

AZ Wing Seeks Recruiting & Retention Officer

Phelka Named National Commander/CEO

Brig. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, Civil Air Patrol’s national vice commander since 2017, is getting yet another promotion — the biggest of his 34 years of service in the U.S. Air Force auxiliary.

On Friday, CAP’s Board of Governors selected Phelka to be Civil Air Patrol’s next national commander and CEO. He will assume command Aug. 26 in a ceremony with Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, current national commander/CEO.

Phelka will serve as CAP’s top senior leader for the next three years. He will lead CAP’s 54,000 members across the U.S. in fulfilling the organization’s three primary missions — emergency services, cadet programs, and aerospace education.

“I am very pleased that the Board of Governors selected Gen. Phelka as CAP’s next CEO and national commander,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin, the board’s chair. “Gen. Phelka brings a vast amount of practical knowledge of all aspects of CAP since he has served as both a cadet and senior member, plus he has proven leadership experience at all levels. He is an inspirational leader, trusted and respected by CAP members, and has all the talents necessary to successfully lead CAP into the future.”

As national vice commander, Phelka serves as a member of the CAP Command Council, which also consists of the national commander, eight region commanders and 52 wing commanders, plus the national executive officer, chief operating officer and the commander of CAP-USAF. He has advised Smith as well as the Board of Governors on operational and policy issues, which over the past year included taking a leadership role in the organization’s COVID-19 practices and remobilization efforts.

“I have found Gen. Phelka to be an extraordinarily talented servant leader, one who is humble and truly focused on our people as well as our great organization,” Smith said. “Under his capable leadership he will take CAP to new heights of excellence.”

After being notified of his latest promotion, Phelka said, “As a former cadet, I have experienced the full range of opportunities Civil Air Patrol has to offer. It is a true privilege to be selected to serve in the role of national commander/CEO. “I look forward to working together with the Board of Governors, the dedicated staff, our Air Force partners and our incredible volunteers to lead Civil Air Patrol into the future.” 

Read the full announcement regarding Phelka’s selection on

Arizona Wing Members Honored as Lifesaving Heroes

(L-R) Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, Destiny Bain, 1st Lt. Kelli Hammit, and Maj. Randy Hammit speak after the Silver Medal of Valor ceremony.

The Civil Air Patrol honored two Arizona Wing members on May 20, the one-year anniversary of an active shooter incident at Westgate Entertainment District in Glendale, Arizona. Maj. Randy Hammit and 1st Lt. Kelli Hammit provided lifesaving first aid to two teenagers who were wounded during the incident. National Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Smith presented the Silver Medal of Valor to the Hammits, members of the 388th Composite Squadron in Glendale, during an evening ceremony at the Gila River Arena.

The guest of honor at the ceremony was Destiny Bain, one of the teenagers who the Hammits cared for after she was shot. Paramedics were not allowed on the scene until it was secured by police so the Hammits administered first aid to Bain and her friend, Armando Jaime, for about 20 minutes until EMTs took over. Bain was shot in her lower leg and Jaime was shot in the chest.

Lt. Hammit, a registered nurse for more than 30 years, has stayed in touch with Bain and her mother, Kathie, since the incident. Seeing each other before the ceremony for the first time in a year was an emotional moment for the survivor and her rescuers.

During the ceremony, Bain thanked the Hammits for their help. “When I was on the ground begging and pleading for help, they were the only people that came to help me,” a tearful Bain told the gathering. “Nobody else did anything but stop and stare at me or get out their phones to record.

During an emotional reunion before the medal presentation ceremony, 1st Lt. Kelli Hammit (right) hugs Destiny Bain, the victim in a live shooter incident who received lifesaving first aid from Hammit and her husband, Maj. Randy Hammit.

“To know that the shooter was still out there, but all they could think about was to stop the bleeding in my leg, that meant a lot to me. To have you there and to know that I wasn’t alone, fighting by myself … and that you stayed there until the ambulance took me away, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.

“We shared a traumatic moment together … one that we’ll never forget. It’s imprinted on our lives and we’ll always have that memory.”

CAP National Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Smith first met the Hammits when they joined New Mexico Wing where he served as wing commander.

“The Hammits are good people and they do what needs to be done,” Smith said. “Randy and Kelli ran into harm’s way knowing that they were placing their lives at risk, and they did what needed to be done.

“And you did it in a manner that makes all of us proud,” he told them. “I’m very proud of you and pleased to consider you as friends.”

CAP National Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Smith described the evening’s honorees as good people who did what needed to done despite putting their own lives at risk.

Arizona Wing Commander Col. Rob Pinckard told the audience that he wanted them to understand that the Silver Medal of Valor is “a big deal. This is the highest decoration a Civil Air Patrol member can receive.

“In my 20 years in the service of the Civil Air Patrol, this is the first time I’ve seen a Silver Medal of Valor presented,” Pinckard said, “and tonight I get to see it twice.”

The Silver Medal of Valor recognizes “distinguished and conspicuous heroic action, at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of normal duty.” The honor has been awarded fewer than 150 times since it was established in 1960.

The recording of the YouTube livestream of the ceremony is available here.

New NHQ Guidance Aligns CAP with Recent CDC Recommendations

Civil Air Patrol’s National Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Smith issued a memo on May 18, 2021, with updated guidance for CAP members regarding COVID-19 precautions. Essentially, it allows fully vaccinated CAP members to participate in in-person activities without social distancing or the need to wear a mask. Members must continue to abide by any more restrictive state/local/tribal/territorial guidelines that remain in place.

The full text of the memo follows:

18 May 2021 


SUBJECT: Policy on Vaccinated Members and Public Health Measures 

1. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made a significant change in the U.S. mask and public health policy in relationship to vaccination and the pandemic. This change is based on scientific, data-supported evidence that vaccinated individuals are both at low risk of becoming infected and of developing severe illness if infected. In addition, recent studies have indicated that infected but previously vaccinated individuals are unlikely to represent a significant risk of contagion for other, non-vaccinated individuals. 

2. Assuming there are no more restrictive state/local/tribal/territorial guidelines for the locality, CAP is changing its policy to align with the evolving CDC policy regarding members who have been fully vaccinated (which is, by CDC definition, at least two weeks after completing the full course of vaccination with one of the currently approved vaccines). Where more restrictive guidelines exist, CAP policy will defer to local guidelines. 

3. The new CAP guidelines concerning masking and other public health measures are as follows: 

a. Fully vaccinated members will no longer be required to wear masks indoors or outdoors while at CAP activities, assuming there are no more restrictive state/local/tribal/territorial guidelines for the locality. 

b. Unvaccinated members, including all cadets who have not yet been fully vaccinated, will be required to wear masks, practice social distancing, and continue all other public health measures recommended by the CDC or state/local/tribal/territorial public health entity for the locality. 

c. HSOs, Safety Officers, or a Commander’s/Director’s designee will continue regular health screenings. If a member voluntarily discloses that they are not vaccinated the member will be expected to wear a face mask and continue to socially distance. 

4. If the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to remain low, embracing the CDC guidance will allow CAP the opportunity to safely retain and recruit members due to the increased opportunity for summer activities, as well as incentivize members to get vaccinated, which supports the national strategy to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. 

5. The risk of COVID-19 variants remains a very real possibility due to the lower-than-expected number of people who elected for vaccination. As our policy is changing, we are mindful that it is possible a future COVID-19 variant may escape vaccination protection, which would require the reapplication of masking for all members. For reference, please see the Frequently Asked Questions document found on the Remobilization web page. 

6. Finally, for those members who have been performing essential missions during these challenging times, you have done exceptional work while observing precautions and public health requirements. I am enormously proud of all of you! Keep up the great work! 

MARK E. SMITH Major General, CAP 

It Was 15 Years Ago Today – Cell Phone Forensics Team’s Ogden Recalls Mission’s Beginnings

Fifteen years ago, on April 26, 2006, a search and rescue mission for a missing airplane in Pennsylvania became the spark that later led to the establishment of Civil Air Patrol’s National Cell Phone Forensics Team.

At the time, then-1st Lt. Justin Ogden was a member of the Penn State Composite Squadron in University Park, Pennsylvania. Multiple wings and squadrons were involved in the search for a Maryland Wing member on a non-CAP flight.

Maj. Justin Ogden’s handwritten notes about cell phone data were used to direct the ground teams searching for a missing airplane.

The search lasted six days before the crash site was found in an area known locally as “The Punchbowl” – just north of the Pennsylvania border, about 45 nautical miles northwest of Frederick, Maryland, the plane’s last known location.

Ogden, an electrical engineer who’s now a CAP major, recalls providing communications support during the mission.

“I deployed a portable repeater and then ran radios at the mission base in St. Thomas, Pennsylvania,” Ogden said. “Doing something with the cellphone wasn’t on my radar when going to the search.

“My involvement with the cellphone came about because others called the (cellular) carrier, and we (the ground planning section) wanted to review the data to confirm its accuracy. It was the reason our ground operations base was established where it was and the basis for our search planning

“I was handed the cell company’s phone number and told to ‘have at it.’ Upon digging into the clue further, we learned that some information was misinterpreted and was directing the search to the wrong area,” Ogden said.

The cellphone data pointed searchers in the right direction, though Ogden cited “some hesitancy in that first search in trying to gauge ‘how much faith do we put into this clue?’”

That concern proved unfounded. The missing pilot’s son, in a call to Ogden afterward, told him, “Through your work, my father was found within 300 yards of the location you plotted.”

As the mission counts ramped up over the years, Ogden saw the need for and developed the software and techniques now used almost daily by the team’s analysts. For the mission in 2006, all analysis was done by hand.

“The momentous event in 2006 was figuring out that this new technology could be applied to search and rescue and understanding how it could scale to support other missions,” Ogden said. “I never expected to get another call from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center after that first search was over.”

But that wasn’t the case. Ogden used cellphone data analysis in three more missions in 2006 and six the following year. In 2008, cellphone forensics analysis was used in 27 missions, with seven finds and seven saves credited by the AFRCC.

Ogden was joined by Col. Brian Ready and Maj. Jerad Hoff, and the three became the core of the National Cell Phone Forensics Team, designated a national CAP asset in 2009. Since then, Maj. John Schofield joined the team as an analyst, and Lt. Col. Vic LaSala is an analyst trainee. Everyone on the team is a member of the Arizona Wing. In 2020, the team was assigned 338 missions by the AFRCC and credited with 201 finds and 96 saves.

“This (2020) was a top-five-of-all-time save year for us,” says John Desmarais, CAP’s director of operations. “Technology has really changed how we operate. What once took days of laborious searching is now done remotely.”

Operation Pulse Lift Reaches 3,000-Unit Goal Before Mission’s One-Year Anniversary

Civil Air Patrol’s pandemic-prompted Operation Pulse Lift blood collection mission recorded its 3,000th donated unit for the American Red Cross on April 3, 12 days ahead of the one-year target date for the milestone. By day’s end, the overall total had reached 3,012.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Cairns prepares to donate the 3,000th unit of blood in Operation Pulse Lift as (from left) Chaplain (Maj.) Tom Tostenson, Maj. Dave Roden, Capt. John Bryant – all members of the Arizona Wing’s Falcon Field Composite Squadron 305 – and Red Cross clinician Jennifer Cardinale stand by.

Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Cairns donated the 3,000th unit at the Arizona Wing’s Falcon Composite Squadron 305 building at Falcon Field Airport in Mesa. The mission is on track to reach its new goal of 3,333 units — chosen because it equates to 10,000 potential lives saved — by the one-year anniversary, April 16.

The collection campaign began last year with the Arizona Wing opening its squadron facilities to serve as emergency Red Cross blood donation centers after the COVID-19 pandemic affected staffing levels and forced numerous donation centers across the country to close.

The mission expanded in the fall to include collection centers in other wings and blood donations by Civil Air Patrol members throughout the organization. Members in all 52 CAP wings have donated blood to be added to the total for Operation Pulse Lift. The New York, Oklahoma and Virginia wings are now replicating the mission and hosting local blood drives. The Arizona Wing accounted for 1,702 of the 3,012 units collected as of April 3.

Sky Harbor Squadron’s Maj. (Dr.) Sian Proctor Heading to Space

Maj. (Dr.) Sian Proctor, Sky Harbor Composite Squadron, will be a crew member on a privately funded SpaceX flight later this year. A member of the Arizona Wing Aerospace Education team, Proctor is a professor at South Mountain Community College, a geoscientist, and STEM educator. She was recently selected as part of the Explorers Club 50: Fifty People Changing the World the World Needs to Know About.

The crew of Inspiration4 is shown in this SpaceX photo taken at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on March 29, (left-right) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski.

The commander of the Inspiration4 flight is Jared Isaacman, a pilot and billionaire businessman, who is paying an undisclosed amount for the mission aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. Proctor won a spot on the crew in a competition for small businesses that are customers of Isaacman’s company, with her space art website, Space2Inspire. The other crew members are Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at St. Jude Medical Center, and Chris Sembroski, a former Air Force missileman and data scientist.

The mission will last three days while the Inspiration4 crew orbits the Earth at 335 miles, about 75 miles higher than the International Space Station. The launch will occur no earlier than mid-September.

When notified of her selection, Proctor told the Associated Press, “It was like when Harry Potter found out he was a wizard, a little bit of shock and awe.”

Proctor applied three times to NASA’s astronaut corps and came close to selection in 2009. As an analog astronaut, she has participated in four simulated, Earth-based missions, pursuing space-related exploration in Alaska, Hawaii, and Antarctica.

CAP members in Arizona Wing have benefited from presentations in which Proctor shares her passion for science, space, and exploration.

Operation Pulse Lift Reaches New Heights: 2,500 Units

On March 19, 2021, Civil Air Patrol achieved another COVID-19 emergency response goal with the collection of the 2,500th unit of blood during Operation Pulse Lift. The honors went to donor Lt. Col. Mike McCoy, operations officer for the 388th Composite Squadron in Glendale, Arizona.  The blood drive at the 388th Composite Squadron hangar was part of the 58th  blood donor center operation in 11 months during the COVID-19 pandemic. The squadron also was the location of the first COVID-19  blood donor center on April 15, 2020.

Lt. Col. Mike McCoy, 388th Composite Squadron, Glendale, Arizona, is the 2500th donor in Arizona Wing’s Operation Pulse Lift COVID-19 mission.

McCoy was preceded (number 2,499) by Eric Christensen, father of Cadet Airman Aiden Christensen, from Gloucester, Massachusetts, who donated a unit of blood at the Brookwood School in Manchester, Massachusetts.

“Congratulations to the ‘Top Dogs’ of the 388th, Leading with Honor at Glendale, and to all from coast to coast (including members in Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico) who have donated blood and supported the blood donation operation over the past year,” said Incident Commander Lt. Col. Bob Ditch.

Operation Pulse Lift is Arizona Wing’s largest and longest-running COVID-19 relief mission. Additional blood drives in Arizona Wing are scheduled:

  • March 23 – Tucson
  • March 24 – Glendale
  • March 26 and 27 – Mesa
  • March 30 – Sierra Vista
  • April 3 – Mesa
  • April 15 – Glendale
  • April 16 and 17 – Show Low
  • April 28 – Glendale
  • May 6 – Glendale

Visit and use sponsor code CAP to make an appointment to donate at a CAP-sponsored blood drive. If you donate blood at a non-CAP blood drive, your donation still counts toward the Operation Pulse Lift total. Send an email with information about your donation to

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