FORT POLK, LA. — The Leesville, Louisiana Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol held a change of command ceremony June 22 at the Leesville Municipal Airport. Outgoing commander, retired Air Force Lt. Col. C. Ronald Kariker, passed the guidon and leadership to incoming commander Capt. William Bryant.
Bryant holds the rank of captain within CAP, but is also a Chief Warrant Officer 3 with Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group.
CAP is a Congressionally chartered organization — Congress passed a law on May 26, 1948, designating CAP as an official Air Force Auxiliary — and it operates as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit corporation. CAP performs services for the federal government, states and local communities.
The organization is made up of eight geographic regions consisting of 52 wings (the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia). It is a strategic partner of the Air Force, serving as a member of its total force. CAP has three primary missions — emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education. Cadet programs educate youth in leadership, aerospace, fitness and character development and offer opportunities for community involvement, orientation flights and more.
Though focused on cadets, CAP also requires pilots to make the organization’s structure work.
CAP owns the largest fleet of single-engine piston aircraft in the nation, according to gocivilairpatrol.com. The aircraft are primarily Cessna 172s and 182s. CAP pilots are able to fly those planes to perform CAP missions in service to their local communities. Missions can include reconnaissance for homeland security, search and rescue, disaster relief and more. When they aren’t flying missions, qualified pilots fly orientation rides for CAP cadets, as well as mentor them.
Kariker was the driving force in the establishment of the Leesville squadron in August 2019. Kariker said the unit is a composite squadron made up of young cadets and senior pilots that was growing quickly before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We had 19 cadets before COVID-19 shut everything down. We were down to nine cadets, but now that things are getting better, we are back up to 14 and have a goal to recruit more this year,” he said.
As the outgoing commander, Kariker said he had been looking for someone to guide CAP to the next level and Bryant has the energy and passion he was looking for.
“Will is intelligent, has amazing skills, pilots his own plane and has been an outstanding addition to our CAP organization. This is just the next step and I think he will help us grow and expand into the future,” said Kariker.
Bryant said being a private pilot and with his experience in Army aviation as a mechanic early in his career, not to mention his love of flying, were just a few of the reasons he was curious about the Civil Air Patrol.
Add into that mix an ingrained sense of community service, thanks to a youth spent in the Scouts that carried over into adulthood, Bryant said joining CAP seemed as if it were meant to be.
After doing some research and realizing there was a new squadron in Leesville, he reached out to Kariker.
“I liked everything that I read about the organization. I met Ron (Kariker) and at tended a few meetings and soon became a member,” he said.
CAP has a weekly meeting every Tuesday at the Leesville Municipal Airport and they try to do at least one Saturday or weekend event each month.
Bryant said he has held a variety of positions since joining the organization and was groomed by CAP leadership to take over as commander.
Apart from volunteering, serving the community and mentoring the cadets, Bryant said he wanted to join to be a CAP pilot.
“I’m almost done with my certification to become a CAP pilot. It’s an area the Leesville squadron is trying to increase through recruitment,” he said. “We are lacking in our emergency services aspect. It requires a lot of certifications and training for the squadron at the wing level. I would encourage people who have any interest at all in CAP as a qualified pilot or serving the community, to stop by and talk to us about membership.”
Bryant said he loves his Army career and enjoys the job he has as a planner within Operations Group, but he said CAP offers an additional way to use his talents and skills by leading an organization and helping it grow.
“I looked at it as a challenging but rewarding opportunity. Based on the work of the previous leadership, CAP has a plan moving forward for the next six to 12 months in our three mission areas, as well as recruiting and retention,” he said.
The current goal is to grow the cadet portion of the squadron to 35 members by the end of 2021.
“Motivating and listening to the input of senior members and cadets as they cooperate as a team helps CAP become a stronger, better organization while working to reach goals like this, said Bryant.
Bryant said he and other active duty and retired military volunteers mentor the cadets in achieving their personal goals, whether that means joining the military or supporting them as they pursue another career path.
Bryant said he understands, coming from a small town himself, that CAP offers cadets opportunities that may not be available otherwise.
“I understand where they are coming from and that the organization broadens their horizons beyond the local level,” he said. “The aviation experience alone is a huge advantage if they have any desire to be a part of the aviation or aerospace field.”
Strengthening the cadet program is Bryant’s focus.
“We want to keep the cadets we have and the ones we gain by involving them in activities and further development in CAP to help them achieve whatever they want to do after high school, whether that means going to college or joining the military,” he said.
Bryant said becoming commander was a special moment, but it’s not really about him. “It’s about the members, family members and volunteers that support CAP and where we go from here,” he said.