Brig. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, Civil Air Patrol’s national vice commander since 2017, is getting yet another promotion — the biggest of his 34 years of service in the U.S. Air Force auxiliary.
On May 21, CAP’s Board of Governors selected Phelka to be the volunteer organization’s next national commander and CEO. He will assume command Aug. 26 in a ceremony with Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, current national commander/CEO.
Phelka will serve as the organization’s top senior leader for the next three years. He will lead CAP’s 54,000 members across the U.S. in fulfilling the organization’s three primary missions — emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education. In its role as the Air Force auxiliary, CAP is a member of the Total Force, filling a critical role in Defense Support of Civil Authorities that includes preserving life, relieving suffering and providing training support.
“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, the board’s chair. “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. He is an inspirational leader, trusted and respected by CAP members, and has all the talents necessary to successfully lead CAP into the future.”
As national vice commander, Phelka serves as a member of the CAP Command Council, which also consists of the national commander, eight region commanders and 52 wing commanders, plus the national executive officer, chief operating officer and the commander of CAP-USAF. He has advised Smith as well as the Board of Governors on operational and policy issues, which over the past year included taking a leadership role in the organization’s COVID-19 practices and remobilization efforts.
“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,” Smith said. “Under his capable leadership he will take CAP to new heights of excellence.”
After being notified of his latest promotion, Phelka said, “As a former cadet, I have experienced the full range of opportunities Civil Air Patrol has to offer. It is a true privilege to be selected to serve in the role of national commander/CEO.
“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.”
Phelka’s CAP career began as a Michigan Wing cadet in 1987. As a cadet, he completed all then-15 achievements of the cadet program, culminating with the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award — the organization’s top cadet achievement — in 1993.
Following the transition to senior membership, Phelka’s assignments included three years as commander of the Michigan Wing’s Livonia Thunderbolt Cadet Squadron and two years as commander of the Southeast Michigan Group, director of cadet programs for both the Michigan and Colorado wings, chief of staff for the Colorado Wing and Colorado Wing commander from 2007-2011.
Phelka was selected to lead the six wings of the Great Lakes Region in March 2015 after serving as national controller — the principal adviser to the national commander and CAP Senior Advisory Group on logistics and financial accountability — from August 2011-January 2015.
Phelka has also commanded region-level encampments and Cadet Leadership Schools, soloed CAP cadet students at the Johnson Flight Academy in Mattoon, Illinois, served as a seminar adviser for both Cadet Officer School and National Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and worked as a staff member for the International Air Cadet Exchange in Washington, D.C. In 2006 he created a new National Cadet Special Activity, Airline Careers Exploration, directing that event for two years at Denver International Airport.
Phelka earned his private pilot certificate in 1998 and is a commercial, multi-engine and instrument-rated certified flight instructor, CAP cadet orientation pilot and check pilot examiner with more than 2,100 flying hours. He holds CAP Master ratings in the Command, Logistics and Cadet Programs specialty tracks as well as Senior ratings in Flight Operations, Standardization/Evaluation and Plans and Programs. In addition, Phelka is a Mission and Transport Pilot, Observer, Scanner, and glider tow pilot.
Outside Civil Air Patrol, Phelka works as a certified flight instructor and professional pilot. In the past, he was employed as an interpreter, supervisor, manager and senior manager in both customer service and operations departments at Northwest Airlines in Detroit and Frontier Airlines in Denver from 1995-2007. He was also employed at an aviation safety software company in Boulder, Colorado, as director of international sales from 2008-2010.
Phelka holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor with major fields of study in economics and the German language.
He and his wife, Dr. Amanda Phelka, have two children, Daniel and Katherine.