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Maj. Ron Marks, Arizona DAE, enjoys leading TOP Flights, working with AEMs

Posted on August 13, 2020 at 9:19 AM by Virginia Smith

Maj. Ron Marks poses with TOP Flight teachers in front of the CAP plane
Maj. Ron Marks, Arizona Wing DAE and a pilot, enjoys taking teachers on TOP Flights.

August 13, 2020

In this month's AEO and AEM stories, we are highlighting an AEO and an AEM who have worked together to show how teamwork between an AEO and AEM helps Civil Air Patrol's Aerospace Education Mission. Meet Maj. Ron Marks -- a FedEx pilot and the Director of Aerospace Education (DAE) for the Arizona Wing -- who has been a member for 30 years. He received his private pilot's license in the 1980s, and on the suggestion of his father, a former CAP cadet, became a member of the Civil Air Patrol. Within the past year, he has worked with AEM Lisa Love, a kindergarten teacher from Yuma, Arizona, and her school. For instance, he (along with 2nd Lt. Brett Russo of the Sky Harbor Composite Squadron) participated in a Zoom call with Love and her students for the launch of NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 in May. We asked him some questions about his CAP career. His answers follow. Read Love's story HERE.

Current duty position:

Director of Aerospace Education, Arizona Wing

How many years have you been in Civil Air Patrol? Tell  us about your CAP career path that led to your current role.

This is my 30th year as a CAP member. As a pilot, the majority of my CAP career has been involved in the flight operations side of CAP. Several years ago, however, I was living in Australia for a work assignment and volunteered as an Aerospace Education instructor for the Australian Air Force Cadets. I did this for nearly three years while my wife and I were living over there. This experience really got me excited about working with cadets and specifically Aerospace Education. When I returned to the Arizona Wing last year, I began working toward the Aerospace Education Specialty Track.

How did you get involved in Civil Air Patrol?

I received my private pilot's license in the late 1980s, and I was looking for a place to fly for a purpose. My dad was a CAP cadet in the 50s and suggested I might find some interesting opportunities there. I joined the Scottsdale, Arizona Squadron and worked hard to qualify as a Mission Pilot and took advantage of all of the opportunities to fly the various missions of CAP.

Tell us about your aerospace education background and career.

I am a second-career airline pilot flying freight for FedEx. (My first career was in sales management and training). I enjoy being able to transfer my love for aviation to cadets and school students. I am also a docent (guide) at the Commemorative Air Force at Airbase Arizona and enjoy talking to aviation enthusiasts and giving school tours.

Why do you work in the Aerospace Education mission area? Why do you encourage youth in the Aerospace Education area?

I have always had a huge interest in aviation, specifically military aviation. I believe aviation is a great career, and I am excited to be part of the industry. I hope to inspire younger people to pursue aviation as a career.

Tell us about which Civil Air Patrol aerospace education programs you use within your squadron or wing and externally.

I find the simplest works best. We have found the “glider from a paper plate” (the AMA FPG-9 Glider from CAP's MARC booklet) is one of the easiest, quickest activities that gets kids involved and excited to learn more. (Find that lesson here.)

We had built some great momentum with the Teacher Orientation Program (TOP Flights) prior to the COVID-19 suspension of TOP Flights with teachers. We found if we could get one teacher up for a flight, we could enroll several AEMs who also wanted to go up on a flight. Prior to the COVID shutdown, it was the fastest way to get new members. As far as retention goes, AEMs need to be aware that their membership payment was a one-time fee but that they do need to renew annually. I and my AE Wing staff pull the eServices report for AEMs that are due to expire in 90 days and email them to make sure they are aware of the renewal process. Within 30 days, the staff reaches out with a call to remind any who have still not renewed.

We also have to continue to provide more value to AEMs. This has probably never been more important than it is right now. We provide guest speakers for virtual classes, offer specific lesson plans and virtual tours. One tour we have created using available online public domain resources is a virtual tour of the International Space Station. We have had a tremendous response from both squadrons using it for AEX activities and teachers with their students.

What is the best advice you have for a new AE Officer working with cadets?

Leave the PowerPoints at home and focus on hands-on activities. Keep them involved. Of course, that is all pre-COVID. Now, we need to create hands-on virtual exercises. I mentioned the ISS virtual tour. Giving the cadets assignments to complete while on the tour engages them. An example: Ask them to show where the kitchen (galley) is.

Do you have any suggestions for how to conduct outreach in schools and communities (working with students and recruiting AEMs)? 

  • Provide guest instructors or speakers for virtual classes. This is much easier in current times because there are no travel issues/expenses.
  • Provide lesson plans that can be easily adapted to virtual (Zoom) environments.

Tell us how you are working, in CAP outreach with an AEM in your community, kindergarten teacher Lisa Love.

Lisa joined as an AEM at the recommendation of a colleague. She made a request to my office to have a TOP Flight for her and her principal. I visit Yuma for work on occasion; so I offered to come out to the school and meet her. I had just been appointed DAE and was new to the program and wanted to learn more about it. I figured the best way was to be hands-on for these first few flights. I also flew some teachers in December from the Buckeye, Arizona, school district my second week on the job. 

We understand you worked with AEM Lisa Love to conduct a Zoom meeting with her students to watch the SpaceX launch. Can you tell us more about that?

Lisa contacted me to see if we had any “experts” from CAP that could join the Zoom class as they watched the launch virtually and answer questions and discuss what was happening. One of our AEOs from the Scottsdale squadron, Lt. Brett Russo, is a bit of a space expert, and he joined us for the class. While the launch ended up being postponed, we still had a great class talking about what led up to the launch and following the checklists on the shutdown.

What benefits might such collaboration between AEO and AEM give CAP as well as the teacher and his/her students?

Well, some benefits are obvious like recruiting cadets, public awareness of CAP and general goodwill in the community. Some benefits are not so obvious. The Wing AE staff has consulted her for guidance and input on how we can run a better AEM and ACE program in Arizona.

Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience working in Civil Air Patrol, with senior members, cadets and/or students or teachers.

My favorite moments always seem to center around introducing someone to flight. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a cadet or a teacher take the controls (at altitude) of one of our CAP aircraft and realizing they are actually controlling the flight. Taking selfies at the end of the flight is a real treat, and you just cannot wipe the grin off of their faces!

Maj. Marks and 2nd Lt. Brett Russo of the Arizona Wing sat in on AEM Lisa Love's kindergarten class Zoom call for the attempted NASA's SpaceX launch in May.


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