Some hear it as a calling, the irresistible, undeniable tug toward a higher purpose. Still others sense “a still, small voice” to make a difference in the world, whether in their neighborhood or across the globe. No matter the term, Civil Air Patrol Maj. Tim Bagnell seems to have always had a finely tuned ear and heart to detect that gentle nudge. It’s taken him from the financial sector as a financial officer to the class- room as teacher in North Carolina, and to war-torn Ukraine to train emergency medical technicians.
His research on STEM-related topics led him to CAP and its aerospace education program.
“As I dug a little further, I found out there was a squadron five minutes from my house,” Bagnell said. “So I decided to go check it out. And the rest is his- tory.” He joined the Orange County Composite Squadron in Hillsborough. Along with his teaching responsibilities at Triad Math and Science, he serves as a volunteer EMT, “a backup to the school nurse,” he said. His EMT calling would eventually take him from ballfield bruises in North Carolina to battlefield bombs in Ukraine.
With the war raging, a calling to take his experience to Ukraine was unmistakable. His description of conditions in that beleaguered country is striking.
Bagnell joined Civil Air Patrol in 2015 and serves as historian for the North Carolina Wing. He also became a volunteer EMT to serve his community. And as he sees it, that community stretches from his North Carolina school to Ukraine, where he trained EMTs to serve in that country’s ongoing war with Russia.
The driving force for Bagnell?
Service to others. In fact, his CAP journey began as a result of an assignment to the faculty at a Durham charter school. The administration urged its teachers to take on service in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-related organization to bring more STEM-associated ideas into the classroom. For Bagnell, a history teacher, that was no cupcake assignment.
American media accounts of the war of Russian aggression don’t paint a truly accurate picture of what’s happening in Ukraine, Bagnell said.
“West to east, it goes from calm to hell,” he said.
“In the western parts of the country when I first arrived … the only signs that there was some sort of conflict going on was that people, even in the westernmost parts of the country, had set up improvised barricades, with large concrete blocks, sandbags, hedgehogs, and steel barricades to throw out in front of tanks,” Bagnell said.
“The war never got anywhere near that part of the country, but people were ready for it to,” he added. “In the east, that’s where things get very real, very quickly.”
While Bagnell wasn’t on the front lines, fellow EMTs who served near the war zone say missile and mortar fire and shelling are constant. In addition to the constant attacks, another toll is being taken on the people of Ukraine — scarcity and fear.
“The lack of supplies and the psychological pressure of knowing just, at any time, that could be it,” he said. “You’re not going to hear it, and then all of a sudden, everything’s gone. And the people know that.”
His core motivation to go to Ukraine to volunteer, Bagnell said, is something he’s still trying to pinpoint.
“What specifically motivated me, I still can’t answer,” he said. ”It was, for lack of a better term, a calling. Looking at the war … I think part of it goes back to my training as a historian. It’s not often you see a conflict break out where the side that’s in the right and the side that’s in the wrong — and that’s as neutral as I can put it — is so clear, is so painfully obvious to anyone watching.
“What ultimately drove me is I have a set of skills, being an EMT and I’m also trained as a BLS (basic lifesaving instructor), not to mention my experience in North Carolina with search and rescue and disaster relief. I thought, ‘I can actually do something.’”
And while he went to Ukraine as an individual, not as part of Civil Air Patrol, his CAP experience and education played a role. His years in CAP also led him to become an EMT.
“Because we are a volunteer organization, you see a lot of members who have their day job, or who are working in some capacity in their communities, and in their free time they’ve decided to put on the uniform, so to speak, and do their part when and where they are needed. That’s been true from CAP’s inception to the present. Tim is a good example of that,” said Bagnell’s fellow CAP historian, Col. Frank Blazich Jr., head of the Col. Louisa S. Morse Center for Civil Air Patrol History.
Nor was Bagnell insulated from the fighting. Consider the events of June 26. Over the previous 30 days, the capital city of Kyiv had experienced relative quiet. On the 26th, things changed. Russia launched four cruise missiles at Kyiv. “I was awakened by the first wave of those cruise missiles,” Bagnell said. “One impacted just about a kilometer away from where we were based. That was unlike anything I have literally physically felt. The closest thing I can equate it to is a sonic boom; but it came out of the ground. It was a physical shockwave that traveled through anything solid around me.”
After leaving the area and his adrenaline receded, Bagnell pondered what he had experienced. For the bulk of his time in Ukraine, he was out of the com- bat area. On a quiet Sunday, that changed in an instant. And for a cruise missile, a single kilometer is nothing.
The slightest change in trajectory could have cost Bagnell his life. The missiles hit a shopping mall and a school. “That was the most harrowing part — getting up. Figuring out what to do and getting out of the city safely,” he said. Emotions bubble to the surface as Bagnell recalls his Ukrainian experience. What would he say to officials in the American government about the U.S. response to the conflict?
“For all the rational, logical, political reasons that we have held back from getting involved, if they cannot find the way or the will to help the Ukrainian people, then find ways to help the American people help them,” he said. “If they won’t act, then help us act. Help facilitate us to make a difference.” Bagwell is raising money and support for Ukraine.
“One of the historical veins of the United States is volunteerism,” he said. “There’s a reason it’s one of the core values of CAP. It is part of the American spirit. I don’t care who you are, what political alignment you are, it’s there.
This profile of Maj. Tim Bagnell. Ally Davis, originally featured in the Fall 2022 Civil Air Patrol Volunteer, is ninth in a regular series of articles showcasing how CAP and its members make an impact throughout the nation.