LIHUE — Serious problems nearly shut down the Civil Air Patrol’s Hawaii Wing.
Civil Air Patrol Regional Commander Col. Brian Bishop met with CAP members on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii Island and Kauai last week to listen to concerns regarding the squadrons that have experienced unease recently.
“Right now the Hawaii Wing needs my attention; it is not healthy,” Bishop said.
But Bishop went on to say things in Hawaii have improved. However, some members of the Kauai Composite Squadron said team spirit was lost in the process of regaining a good compliance score.
“I agree with what Col. Bishop is trying to accomplish,” said Capt. Guy Croydon, commander of aerospace education for the Kauai squadron. “I pray that it works because CAP is vital to the community.”
The regional command includes 52 wings in six states.
CAP is an Air Force auxiliary, and as a nonprofit corporation it is audited annually and has a joint compliance inspection every four years. It did very poorly in 2013, Bishop said.
There were 86 deficiencies discovered across the board in the 2013 inspection, and 33 of them involved safety or mission critical areas that required immediate action. How many were at the Kauai squadron wasn’t specified.
But things have improved recently, Bishop said. Overall discrepancies were reduced to 10 in just six months, and all discrepancies were resolved as of two weeks ago.
“Right now we are operating with zero discrepancies and that is highly efficient,” said Hawaii Wing Inspector Gen. Charley Rodriguez.
But the process of regaining a good standing came at a price: low morale.
After Bishop and Regional Vice Commander-Pacific Col. Virginia Nelson offered a guarantee of no retaliation to those who wanted to speak their minds, they heard from around 25 members Tuesday about issues concerning the Kauai squadron and the state commander.
Concerns ranged from a sense of mistreatment, indignation and feeling maligned by the state wing. Others said the state wing labeled them as cronies or troublemakers. Some stayed on and others left, saying the atmosphere affected their work and personal life.
Since 2013, the number of Kauai volunteers has fallen from 120 to 40, and the number of mission-ready pilots has fallen from 18 to three, according to members who have either left or moved to inactive or patron status.
“This type of intimidation is understandable at Strategic Air Command, but not for a volunteer organization,” one member said.
The inspection covered five mission and operations areas that include professional development, public affairs, command, safety, aerospace education and the cadet mission. There were safety issues with wing maintenance and contracting and cadet programs were closed when excluded by regulation.
“CAP does not exist so that we can pass compliance inspections,” Bishop said. “We exist to perform the three missions: cadet programs, aerospace education programs and emergency services.”
There was never a doubt that the Kauai squadron could perform emergency services, including search and rescue support, tsunami watch and other response work, Bishop said. This was about a bad audit that resulted in immediate changes that ruffled some feathers when people took it personally.
“There is no denying this,” Bishop said. “The people that went through that know it was difficult, but I can say that it is the past and we can talk about the mission now.”
Moving forward, Bishop said the three missions and the support for them is the priority. CAP is the nation’s second-largest nonprofit organization behind the Red Cross, and to run effectively, the wings and squadrons need to be on the same page, he said.
“Hawaii had a reputation of doing whatever the heck it wanted to do,” Bishop added.
The new CAP is a different program, he said. They want to welcome members back but with an understanding that the new CAP may not be right for everyone.
“It is not my intention to ask anyone to stay or to go, but to understand,” he said. “Just don’t expect it to go back to old CAP.”
Nelson said that every wing has its own challenges and issues. The patron status is designed to allow members to take time off to deal with personal matters without resigning, and he was sad to see people going on patron status because of disagreements over how things were run.
“We hope that everyone is watching what is going on and observing that CAP is better now than it was before,” Nelson said. “Our hope is that many of these members will come back.”
Bishop installed Hawaii state Wing Commander Lt. Col. Jeff Wong in March 2013. Just three months later, the results of the compliance inspection brought pressure on Bishop, who in turn directed Wong to take quick action to rectify the situation.
“It was all I could do to keep them from shutting the Hawaii Wing down,” Bishop said. “But it rolls downhill and we had to get into compliance as soon as possible. How we did what we did was not always the right way for some members, and some members will not forget that and we have to understand that.”
The compliance inspection was a spot check on crew qualifications, maintenance, inventory, control, finance and accounting, and that goes toward being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, Bishop said. Compliance is not the mission but it was neglected for too long, he added.
For example, when pilots perform maintenance, no matter how qualified they are, it is against CAP regulations, Bishop said. Regulations also say that both front seat crew members must be current in their certification for night operations over water.
The consequences were swift. Kauai Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Ron Victorino was relieved by Wong in November 2013. He was replaced by Ron Meretillo, who resigned amid a storm of complaints and a loss of half the membership in December 2014.
“Getting into compliance was a difficult path and a direct path,” Bishop said. “It was hard on some of our members when we were saying, ‘We need you to move now, now, now!’”
Another member said he experienced camaraderie in the worst of circumstances during war, but found that lacking in CAP throughout the past year. Another veteran said the past 14 months at CAP have been insufferable, and that he joined CAP to serve but not in a high-stress environment.
The current Kauai Squadron Commander, 1st Lt. Charmine Reyes, also runs the cadet program. It involves community outreach and programs to inspire kids to become engineers, pilots, scientists, air traffic controllers and other aviation-related careers.
“My cadet programs are flourishing,” Reyes said.
Bishop said the common theme from the meetings is a lack of trust. He added that this process must be squadron driven.
Addressing the Kauai squadron, Hawaii Wing Chaplain Maj. James Merritt said relationships are the glue that holds an organization together.
“Keep strong and be the glue that keeps this organization together and meet the challenges with team spirit,” Merritt said.