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“The Civil Air Patrol has always been a well-kept secret,” Bob Corriveau said. Major Corriveau is the commanding officer of the United States Air Force Auxiliary’s Civil Air Patrol Marco Island Senior Squadron 376, and he wants to get the word out.

Squadron 376 – the “Black Sheep Squadron,” named after the famed fighter plane unit from the South Pacific Theater in World War II – held an open house on Saturday in its headquarters at the Marco Island Executive Airport to help "get the word out."

“We want to let people know, to tell the public who we are, what we do and why it’s important,” Corriveau said.

CAP’s primary missions include aerial search and rescue, reconnaissance, disaster relief and civil defense, and coordinating with law enforcement agencies and emergency responders.

Any boater who has ever broken down or been stranded in the waters south of Marco Island is the potential beneficiary of CAP’s work; the squadron searches for missing boaters and flies routine patrols to spot those in need of assistance.

Many years ago, Corriveau said, CAP's Sundown Patrol flew every afternoon, but with rising costs and no government funds to pay for fuel or other expenses, the Sundown Patrol now only goes out on weekends, and some holidays, with the Naples and Marco Island squadrons sharing the duty.

“The entire coastal patrol is funded by donations. It’s not funded by the Air Force,” he said.

CAP, a military operation run by civilian volunteers, is the closest thing to the military in the area, and on Saturday it opened its (hangar) doors to let the public see what it's all about.

Marco Island CAP pilots showed off their new Cessna 182 airplane, with upgraded electronics and the G-1000 computerized cockpit, sitting outside the hangar next to the Cessna 172 from the Naples squadron, which flew in to participate in the open house. Major Dave Walsh pointed out the dashboard which has dual systems to provide failsafe capability for key components.

“These are backup instruments. If everything goes out on one system, it’s all double redundant,” he said.

But perhaps the most important instruments on board are the eyes of the aircrew – the observer next to the pilot and usually an additional scanner in the back seat – who watch the ground and water below for signs of anything wrong, an emergency or a boat in trouble.

Lt. Col. Richard Niess, former public affairs officer for the squadron, said, “if you see the CAP plane, they are looking at you." If you are in a vessel in distress, "get on the radio – we monitor channel 16. Don’t have a radio? Shoot off a flare. No flare? Wave an orange life jacket.” Waving a life preserver, Walsh agreed, is a sure way to attract the attention of the CAP fliers.

Each mission requires more than pilots, Corriveau said. Additional CAP personnel provide communications, coordination with other agencies such as law enforcement and the Coast Guard and logistical support for the operation. Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino and Sgt. Mark Haueter, along with Doug Bartlett of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, were on hand at the CAP open house to lend their support.

During the winter season, Marco’s CAP squadron has about 60 members, but “about half of that” during the summer months. The squadron trains on a regular basis to be prepared for real life missions when they arise. The Marco Island operation is a “senior squadron,” meaning it does not have young cadets in training; that education component was consolidated at the Naples squadron.

The pride of the Marco CAP is the communications room, a setup that is “the envy of the entire Florida wing,” Corriveau said. They have multiple laptops, VHF marine radios with a repeater tower transmitting from atop the Progressive Auto building on Marco Island to extend the range, UHF radio to communicate with military aircraft, and single sideband shortwave radio for long range communication.

Altogether, about 100 showed up Saturday for the CAP open house, enjoying a lunch that included hot dogs and bratwurst cooked by squadron members and Evie Odland’s Texas sheet cake.

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