The 1990sWESS was started as the "FTX Cycle" by then Captain (now Lt Col and CAP Director of Operations) John Desmarais in 1997 while serving as the ES Plans Officer, HQ CAP. In that capacity he helped develop a national strategy for member operational specialty qualifications, known as the Emergency Services Curriculum Project (ESCP). At the same time, Captain Desmarais created the NGSAR program at the Miller School in Virginia as a National Special Activity for cadet and senior members.
Test squadrons were identified all over the country to test the curriculum the ESCP working group developed; the Maxwell Composite Squadron (AL-032) was a very active test unit because of its proximity to the national headquarters. Captain Desmarais and (then) Lt. Michael Long (AL-032 ES Officer, now Lt Col and Activity Director), developed the WESS as an activity that would serve NHQ's need for a test site and provide the wing with a valuable resource at the same time. Capt. Desmarais was the first WESS Director and Lt. Long served as the Operations Officer.
The WESS was originally designed to supplement the unit's traditional Emergency Services training and to allow Captain Desmarais to test programmatic changes that would be used at NGSAR the following year. Over the years, the WESS has changed significantly. Originally, the program focused on only training ground team members, and supplemented the wing exercise schedule. Members would be expected to come out to several training weekends starting with a December "Winter FTX” to get the varied topics covered over several months. This grew and changed over the years to better fit into the schedules for the wing personnel, and to allow for more options for personnel to "catch up” on training they may have missed. Formal training exercises were eventually integrated into the program so that members could qualify for their ground team specialties by completing the program without having to go anywhere else.
The New Millennium
In 2000, then Captain Joe Curry (Iowa Wing, now Lt Col and Operations Officer 2002-2012) became the NGSAR commandant and it was there he met (then) Captain Long. That year, the WESS was opened to the entire Alabama Wing. The following year, Captain Long would be elevated to Lead Training Advisor at NGSAR, working with then Major Curry. Curry and Long would continue in those roles at NESA until 2002, the year Captain Long took over as the WESS Director as then Major Desmarais continued to advance at CAP HQ.
2001-2002 71 members from 6 squadrons in Alabama participated; 21 participants graduated, a rate of 29.6.
In 2002, immediately prior to NGSAR, Major Curry accepted a job at CAP HQ. It would be his last year as a Commandant but upon moving to Alabama he joined AL-032, and was introduced to the WESS. In a role reversal, Major Curry became the WESS Operations Officer and Captain Long became the NGSAR Commandant for the 2003 and 2004 schools.
2002-2003 Part of the cycle was lost due to logistical and funding challenges but the program has grown each year since then.
2003-2004 32 members from 7 squadrons in Alabama participated; 9 participants graduated, a rate of 28.1.
2005-2006 Advanced and Team Leader schools were added for the academic year beginning October 2005.
38 members from 8 units in Alabama participated in this cycle.
2006-2007 the program incorporated scenario-based training to provide more realistic real-time training.
2007-2008, then Major Long and Lt (now Major) Gary Ernest developed an automated system for task tracking and tested this PDA-based capability during the cycle before moving it to NGSAR where Major Long is once again the Commandant. Additionally, the FTX cycle was run more along ICS lines and work done by members was tied to an operational specialty. This was primarily a benefit to staff members who had not been advancing their skills while they helped to make the WESS successful. 86 members from 12 units in 2 wings participated; 54 graduated, a rate of 63.9.
2008-2009 was special for a number of reasons. We partnered with Air Force Officer Training School (OTS) and relocated from CAP facilities to Gilbert Hall and the OTS campus. The expanded facilities saw record participation and featured basic first aid for the first time; a support staff; ICS training; and introduction of the "Alpha Lead”, "Bravo Lead”, and "Tango Lead” that have been used at NESA the past several years. Those staff members directed their individual schools rather than moving as a single activity and we also expanded to a second member-owned property.
93 members from 17 squadrons in 5 wings participated in the cycle; 2,384 tasks were completed accident free; 61 participants graduated, a rate of 65.6.
2009-2010 featured "mirror training” to allow concurrent training at both of our training areas. Participation for this year exceeded even the record breaking numbers for the 2008-2009 programs but was not without several staff and logistical challenges.
114 members from 17 squadrons in 4 wings participated in the cycle; 2,643 tasks were completed accident free; 57 participants graduated, a rate of 50.0.
2010-2011 For this cycle, OTS allowed WESS to move to the Vigilant Warrior Expeditionary Training Site in Wetumpka Alabama. There, all of our training needs could be met in one place. This was an exciting development but it was also the first time in our history that we did not use member-owned training areas in Tallassee. 118 members from 22 squadrons in 6 wings participated; 3,421 tasks were completed accident free; 76 participants graduated, a rate of 64.4.
2011-2012 This cycle was held entirely at Vigilant Warrior and set new records for participation both in and out of Alabama Wing. WESS also partnered with a new air ambulance service, Life Team 64! This was also to be Lt Col Curry's last WESS cycle as he separated from CAP headquarters to pursue a career in emergency medicine and improve on his running.
2012-2013 cycle again saw record participation, due to the addition of the first Mission Aircrew School and a Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) Course. The MAS school, consisting of a Scanner and Mission Observer/Pilot track, was the first comprehensive task based aircrew training program in Alabama. The WAFA school followed the the National Emergency Services Academy by using the Emergency Care and Safety Institute WAFA course.
2013-2014 The Mission Aircrew School expanded to include Aerial Photography.
2014-2015 WESS welcomed key staff members from outside Alabama Wing for the first time, specifically.
2015-2016 WESS expanded again with the introduction of the Mission Management School. This was also the first year of a partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, who graciously allowed us to use.
2016-2017 was a celebration of WESS' 20th academic and operational year. The program continues to thrive and is once again based at Blue Thunder on Maxwell Air Force Base. We are monitoring the progress of the renovations taking place at Vigilant Warrior and hope relocate there for future WESS cycles.
While the WESS has become a valuable and rewarding activity, its primary function has always been, and will remain, to train and qualify CAP members in operational specialties based on the national standard. The purpose of the national standard is to assure our customers that CAP can meet mission requirements anywhere in the country with a trained volunteer force that have a common standard for mission performance. With an increased homeland security posture and disaster operations caused by increased weather events in the southeast, the Alabama Wing is committed to training as many members as possible to provide mutual aid and community support in times of need.