CONCORD -- The U.S. Air Force calls upon its Civil Air Patrol volunteer auxiliary to photograph disaster damage, rescue plane crash victims and even search for marijuana fields.
They're like unpaid professionals who take on heavy tasks, which is why the Air Force has them undergo simulated missions every year.
At Concord's Buchanan Field, about 50 volunteers with the California Wing from across the state demonstrated their proficiency on Saturday on the second and final day of training.
On Friday, aircrews, ground teams and base support collaborated on three tasks. Pilots flew four-seater Cessna 182s to Hollister to practice for a search involving the disappearance in San Benito County of a plane carrying five people from San Diego to Oregon.
Others flew to Stinson Beach and Santa Cruz to photograph the shoreline as if a tsunami were rolling in after an magnitude-8.7 earthquake in Fiji. Other crews flew out to photograph Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the Antioch Bridge as if an earthquake around Mono Lake had triggered other faults.
"These are all the types of emergencies that we could be called (for)," said Juan Tinnirello, a spokesman and lieutenant colonel with the Civil Air Patrol. "The Air Force keeps throwing different scenarios at us to see how we react. They're like real missions."
At the end of the training, the Air Force will assess the unit's performance, discussing strengths and areas of improvement. Next year, officials will grade the volunteer team.
"They give us like an A, B, C letter grade. The Air Force wants to know that their resources are managed well, that the CAP is staying trained. It's an inspection," Incident Cmdr. Dana McLaughlin said. "They're really trying to throw the kitchen sink at us and stress our skills."
McLaughlin's day job is at Apple. But she has been with the Civil Air Patrol since her first mission when she was 16 -- working the radios to help search for two rescuers whose plane went down.
Apart from emergency services, the Civil Air Patrol trains cadets and has an aerospace program. Twelve-year-old Alex Gallad, of Tracy, helped his 15-year-old brother, Anthony, and other cadets keep the base secure, verifying authorized personnel.
"I loved planes when I was little, and after watching my brother doing CAP, I decided to join," Alex said.
The cadet program feeds into the Air Force Academy. Although Anthony is still debating whether he would rather join the Air Force or the Marines, 15-year-old Bryce Udd, of Walnut Creek, says he hopes his volunteer work will help him gain admission.
"We learn a lot of lifelong skills like leadership and how to fly," Bryce said.
The California team is one of the best, said Air Force Maj. Dave Reichert.
"We're just making sure they're doing the job they say they're doing," he said. "It just validates what we already know about the California Wing: They're outstanding."