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Watchful eyes in the sky
New Civil Air Patrol squadron takes off in Gainesville
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Capt. Chris Auger talks with a group of cadets about airplanes as he leads the group around Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport as part of a training day for the newly formed Gainesville squadron of the Civil Air Patrol.

Civil Air Patrol

For anyone age 12 and older interested in the Civil Air Patrol's programs, visit www.ga160.org/Join.htm. Cadets meet 7-9 p.m. every Tuesday and senior members first and third Tuesdays at the American Legion Post 7 at 2343 Riverside Drive. For more information, contact Ross Statham, 770-329-5400.

With members already flying out of Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport and an ever-growing surrounding community, Gainesville-Hall County seemed like an ideal spot for a new Civil Air Patrol squadron.

But it wasn't until the past year, when some CAP members took notice and sought to fill the need, and to go beyond with a cadet program with participants between ages 12 and 18.

"For us, it was virtually a no-brainer to put a squadron in Gainesville," said squadron commander Capt. Ross Statham. "We felt we should have had (one) several years ago ... but we wanted to produce a squadron that would very quickly be mission-ready."

He got his wish. The squadron was formed in October and, within weeks, was ready to roll up its sleeves.

The Gainesville Composite Squadron has since formed a cadet group, participated in a training session at Lee Gilmer — its base — and is planning for Operation Frostbite, a simulated interagency exercise set for Feb. 17-19 and based in Dahlonega.

In addition, the squadron has established relationships with Georgia and Hall County emergency management agencies, as well as area law enforcement and fire departments, Statham said.

The Civil Air Patrol, which is all-volunteer, except at the highest levels, serves as the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and perhaps is best known for its emergency missions, including disaster and humanitarian relief, as well as helping stem the flow of drugs into and within the U.S.

Statham flew in three missions when deadly Southeastern tornadoes struck Georgia last April.

"We were tasked by (federal emergency officials) to take high-resolution photographs from the air and upload them ... so that (state and federal officials) could respond quickly," said Statham, who flew once as a pilot and twice as an airborne photographer in those missions.

But the agency, which was founded one week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, also sponsors aerospace education and cadet programs.

Most of the CAP's members serve on the ground.

"Only about a fifth of them ... has a pilot's license," Statham said.

He also noted that "while many of us in the CAP are former military, we are not the military."

Many also join up for various reasons.

Chip Pearson, a former state senator from Dawsonville, has served in the CAP for about five years.

"I'm a pilot and love airplanes, but it's also a volunteer service," said Pearson, a spokesman for the Georgia Wing's Group 1, an area that covers much of North Georgia, including Hall County.

Sam Levie, spokesman for the Georgia Wing, who was training at Lee Gilmer on Jan. 28, said he participates because "I like giving back."

Born in Holland in 1943, he was rescued by Americans during the Nazi occupation of that country.

"Fast forward when we came to the United States in 1956, I went on to join the Air Force," Levie said. "When I retired, I wanted to give back for everything I got. And one way to give back is ... work with our young cadets, who are our future."

Cadet Staff Sgt. Bailey J. Hitt serves in the Statesboro squadron when he's back home and not attending Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville.

He grew up surrounded by aviation influences.

"My dad was in Civil Air Patrol; he was also in the Air Force," said Hitt, who aspires to join the U.S. Air Force Academy. "My dad also was an aircraft salesman."

Despite an interest in all things aircraft-related, "I like how you get to do ground training," he said. "You get to go out in the field and stuff."

Statham said he is, overall, "pleased with the progress of the squadron."

"Our growth and interest has been tremendous," he said.

The squadron has 20 adults and 13 cadets and "we are getting new membership inquiries weekly," Statham said. "Because of what we do, we are always looking for new members, both adults and cadets."

He said he expects the squadron will have 50 to 60 members by the end of the year.

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