Denver, Colorado –
DENVER – A Colorado Civil Air Patrol member for over 35 years, Celeste Gamache is now at the helm of the organization as the commander.
Starting in September 2015, Gamache, a Colorado native and die-hard Broncos fan, is the first female CAP commander to lead the organization in Colorado. She says her most enjoyable experience is working with the people who are so dedicated to helping others and watching the CAP and its dedicated members improve all the time.
She said the mission of the CAP falls under three basic areas: the Cadet Program, which Gamache compares to a combination of Reserve Officers' Training Corps and the Boy Scouts. Young cadets participate in drill and ceremony, have ranks assigned to them, and do orienteering and training as ground crew for search-and-rescue missions, she said.
The second mission involves search and rescue missions when requested by local authorities to assist in finding downed aircraft or lost people. Rescue and recovery missions tend to be shorter than in the past due to advancements in technology, mainly planes today currently have ELTs – emergency locator transmitters – that will send out a signal of the planes location.
"We're really good at finding those – we can do it better and faster due to our experience and training," Gamache said.
Due to their experience, volunteer status, and close relationships established with local officials, Gamache said the CAP members are a valuable and often cost-saving asset to Coloradans.
The third mission is an exciting one, Gamache said. CAP members will pretend to be hostile forces in their aircraft so that F-16 pilots can practice tracking smaller, much slower aircraft that can often fly below radar. This training, called air interdiction, started after 9/11 with the Air Force seeing the need to train for an unconventional threat.
"They need to practice finding the smaller air craft such as the Cessna 182 and 172s that could be used as a weapon. In order to allow the Air Force to practice, we'll play the bad guys," Gamache said.
The biggest challenge is how slowly the small planes can go, and the difficulty a fighter pilot can come across tracking the planes, she said.
"We did some interdiction training September with the Colorado National Guard out at Buckley Air Force Base, that went very well," Gamache said.
Gamache joined the CAP as a cadet in high school when she was 15 years old and served with the Freemont Starfire Cadet Squadron in Canyon City, Colorado, then transferred to Colorado Springs Cadet Squadron. Gamache continued as a senior member while attending University of Denver undergraduate and law school, and served in the Air Force in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. She remained a CAP member during her 20 years in the Air Force – overseas deployments being the only exception for gaps in participation.
For the last 10 years, Gamache was the Rocky Mountain Region legal officer for the Colorado Wing of the CAP, and was on the region staff when she became the commander.