When officer Simon Ford isn’t patrolling the streets for the Haines Borough Police Department, he’s the commander for the new Civil Air Patrol Chilkat Valley flight that draws more than half its membership from his own family.
The nationwide organization, founded in 1941 less than a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
Ford, a former grocery store butcher with eight children, said his police work repeatedly shows idleness leads to delinquency among young people. That helped prompt Ford and his wife, Jennifer, to promote the Civil Air Patrol as an option in Haines.
"It’s an opportunity to serve their country without having to commit to six years," he said.
Four Fords in the Civil Air Patrol - Michael, 17; Jack, 15; Amber, 13; and Dawson, 11 – joined Dakota Strong, 15; and Troy Clark, 13, to march in Monday’s Fourth of July parade, decked out in camouflage uniforms. Shantel Lockhart, 13, also is in the group.
"Basically, great leaders are not born, they’re made," Michael Ford said. "Civil Air Patrol is one of the training grounds to produce some of those characteristics that will help (us) to be able to take the lead later on in life, in the military and civilian world, alike."
He attended the Galena Interior Learning Academy for two spring semesters and participated in a flight-training program in partnership with the Civil Air Patrol there. Michael ended up receiving his driver’s license and pilot’s license on the same day.
"I got acquainted with the Civil Air Patrol and I came back and said, ‘Hey, we should start a squadron here, to give all the kids in Haines something productive to do,’" Michael said.
According to the Civil Air Patrol website at www.gocivilairpatrol.com, the organization started under the jurisdiction of the Army Air Corps and early achievements included "logging more than 500,000 flying hours, sinking two enemy submarines, and saving hundreds of crash victims during World War II."
Now the Civil Air Patrol focuses on aerospace education, cadet programs for children age 12 and up, and emergency services, with members advancing in rank. Alaska cadets pay $28 in annual membership dues.
"We usually meet once a week," Michael said. "Lately, we’ve been cramming in lots of drill, so we look sharp for the parade."
The group in May handled color guard responsibilities for a dinner at the Haines Elks Club that recognized Keith Stigen’s service in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War during a more than 20-year military career. Stigen joined the Army Air Corps with parental permission at age 16 and later reached the rank of master sergeant in the Air Force.
American Legion commander Bob Lix, a fellow Air Force veteran, spoke at the event and said the Civil Air Patrol’s involvement was "wonderful."
"Anything that we can do to promote education in general among the youth and, particularly, to encourage Americanism and respect for the flag and our country, we want to do, with any of the groups, starting at the Cub Scout level and going on up," Lix said.
He said the American Legion offers the Civil Air Patrol training and financial support. Lix said the youngsters learn the proper way to fold and unfold the flag and understand the flag never touches the ground.
For flag displays, Lix said, "No flag is ever higher than the U.S. flag, and the U.S. flag is always on the right, if there are two flags involved, which means that as the viewer is looking at it, he always sees the American flag on the left as it’s coming towards him."
For Michael, who has one year of high school remaining and is interested in a career as a pilot, another big draw of the Civil Air Patrol is it "actually flies 90 percent of the search and rescue missions that the Air Force is overseeing." Civil Air Patrol pilots assisted with recovery efforts following the 9/11 attacks in New York City.
"Up in Alaska, the Coast Guard does the lion’s share of the searching, but down in the Lower 48, if somebody’s out looking for you, it’s the Civil Air Patrol," he said. "We’ve got search and rescue pilots where they just take ordinary pilots and the Civil Air Patrol provides all the training to teach them how to fly search patterns and communicate with other search and rescue agencies."
Michael said he trained for his pilot’s license for free with the support of the Civil Air Patrol in Galena.
Michael enjoys having his father as the flight commander in Haines, but said the police schedule can be a bit grueling.
"The only problem is he’s always busy doing other things," Michael said. "It is kind of nice, when we’re trying to organize things, to be able to sit down at the coffee table together."
Simon said the group is "a self-motivated bunch" looking for more cadets and adult senior members, plus pilots to help with training.
Michael said he expects to continue with the Civil Air Patrol as a senior member.
On the Fourth of July, he said the group was attracting a lot of attention, "especially when you get to wear full camouflage uniforms. I mean, you’ve got kids lined up around the block."