Col. Virginia M. Nelson will continue her service as Civil Air Patrol’s Pacific Region commander, officially accepting the appointment made last week by Maj. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, CAP’s national commander and CEO.Nelson will be sworn in March 26 at the joint Pacific Region-Washington Wing Conference in Olympia.
The region’s former chief of staff, she has served as interim commander since Jan. 5 after the death of Col. George Ishikata.
“Col. Nelson is a highly accomplished volunteer with a history of success at all levels of Civil Air Patrol,” Phelka said.
Nelson has been an active member for 48 years with a history of effective leadership of CAP teams, programs, and projects that includes command of the California Wing and now the Pacific Region.
“Pacific Region members have shown how resilient and dedicated they are throughout the pandemic,” Nelson said. “We served our local communities and added new customers while continuing to mentor our cadets and foster interest in aviation.
“I am excited to be able to lead this region and expect to cheer our members on as they continue to excel in all our mission areas.”
Nelson becomes the fourth woman among CAP’s eight region commanders, following the Southeast Region’s Col. Andrea Van Buren, the Southwest Region’s Col. Martha Morris, and the Great Lakes Region’s Col. Rose Hunt.
Two other women —Brig. Gen. Regena Aye, national vice commander, and Col. Linda Pugsley, chief of chaplains — are also serving at the national level.
“Civil Air Patrol has been very good to me, providing me with experiences and opportunities I could never have had otherwise,” Nelson said.
From her start with the California Wing’s Fullerton Composite Squadron 56 in 1974, then commanded by Maj. Mary Knorr, Nelson said she has had positive female role models.
“From the beginning I was always treated as a valued member of the team,” she said. “Being female was never a hinderance as I assumed various leadership roles. I had both male and female mentors and sincerely believe that CAP creates a level playing field and that we should all work together to help mentor those, male and female, who follow us.”
In addition to Knorr, Nelson cited role models like Lt. Col. Betty Decker, former California Wing director of operations; Lt. Col. Shirley Timm, a CAP charter member recognized in 2014 with a replica of CAP’s Congressional Gold Medal; and Col. Shelia Waldorf, former North Central Region commander. Outside CAP, she cited retired NASA astronaut Col. Eileen Collins and former Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) Nancy Harkness Love and Violet Cowden for their influence
Nelson has excelled at CAP’s wing, region, and national levels. She directed National Staff College in 2013, 2014, and 201) and still serves on its staff. She most recently served as region chief of staff in 2021 following five years as region aerospace education officer and four years as region director of cadet programs.
For the past three years, she also has served as field services coordinator, a national duty position with CAP’s Cadet Programs. Her duties have included working with new wing directors of cadet programs. During that time, she wrote a guidebook for new cadet programs directors and taught Advanced Training Leaders of Cadets classes.
Nelson has also commanded at the squadron, group, and wing levels, including leading the Fullerton squadron where she served as a cadet. She served as California Wing commander from 2004-2007.
A private pilot with nearly 400 flying hours, Nelson has completed CAP training in emergency services and is qualified to serve as a mission staff assistant and radio operator. She attended the 2006 Air Force Rescue Coordination Center Mission Management School at March Air Reserve Base in California, and the 2009 Air Force Rescue Coordination Center Inland Search and Rescue School in San Luis Obispo.
Nelson holds master ratings in command, aerospace education, cadet programs, professional development, and public affairs. She completed the CAP Inspector General College in 2016 and graduated from National Aerospace Education School in 2011.
She has instructed and/or directed over 200 professional development classes at all levels, including eight Pacific Region Staff Colleges, six Chaplain Corps Staff Colleges, and four Pacific Region Aerospace Education Schools.
Nelson has also been involved in the International Air Cadet Exchange, starting when she visited Great Britain in 1977 as a cadet. She was an IACE escort for cadet visits to Israel in 2013 and Great Britain in 2019. From 1990-1992, she was the California Wing project officer for visiting foreign IACE cadets.
She also has attended 30 CAP encampments — four as a cadet and 26 as an adult staff member, once as commander.
Nelson’s CAP awards include four Exceptional Service Awards and numerous Meritorious Service Awards and Commander’s Commendation Awards. She is a recipient of the A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Education and Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager Aerospace Education Achievement awards.
She is a 2016 inductee into the California Wing Hall of Honor for “a lifetime of work for California Wing and the highest level of dedication to its members.”