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New CAP commander started as a cadet

Phelka, who has served as the CAP’s vice national commander since 2017, will take over the top post from Maj. Gen. Mark Smith on August 26, and will guide the 60,000-member organization that serves as the U.S. Air Force’s civilian auxiliary for three years, according to a May 24 announcement.

“I am very pleased that the Board of Governors selected Gen. Phelka as CAP’s next CEO and national commander,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin, chair of the CAP’s Board of Governors. “Gen. Phelka brings a vast amount of practical knowledge of all aspects of CAP since he has served as both a cadet and senior member, plus he has proven leadership experience at all levels.”

As the Air Force’s auxiliary, the CAP fulfills public-service roles including search and rescue; disaster relief support; and security assistance; promoting aviation and science, technology, engineering, and math education; and developing youth leadership skills though cadet programs.

“I have found Gen. Phelka to be an extraordinarily talented servant leader, one who is humble and truly focused on our people as well as our great organization,” said Smith, noting that Phelka “will take CAP to new heights of excellence.”

In his current role, Phelka serves on the CAP Command Council—a panel that includes among its membership the national commander, eight region commanders, and 52 wing commanders. He played a leading role in shaping the CAP’s COVID-19 practices and remobilization efforts, as AOPA reported in March.

A former cadet in the CAP’s Michigan Wing in 1987, and a 1993 recipient of the CAP’s top cadet’s honor, the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award, Phelka said he has now “experienced the full range of opportunities Civil Air Patrol has to offer.”

Those opportunities have included three years leading the Michigan Wing’s Livonia Thunderbolt Cadet Squadron; two years commanding the Southeast Michigan Group; and service as director of the Michigan and Colorado wings’ cadet programs, chief of staff for the Colorado Wing, and Colorado Wing commander. He has led the six wings of the Great Lakes Region, and has been the principal adviser to the national commander and CAP Senior Advisory Group on logistics and financial accountability as the CAP’s national controller.

Phelka became a private pilot in 1998 and is now a 2,100-hour commercial, multiengine, and instrument-rated pilot, certificated flight instructor, CAP cadet orientation pilot, and CAP pilot examiner.

Among his many CAP aviation credentials, Phelka is a mission and transport pilot, observer, scanner, and glider tow pilot.

Outside the CAP, Phelka works as a flight instructor and professional pilot. He also has experience as a senior customer service and operations manager at Northwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines.

“I look forward to working together with the Board of Governors, the dedicated staff, our Air Force partners and our incredible volunteers to lead Civil Air Patrol into the future,” he said.

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