“Anything a kid would ever wish for”: A week inside Ontario’s Cadet Training Centre summer camps
It’s the best kept secret in Canada, but you have to be between 12 and 18-years-old to get in on the action. Beginning this month, we introduce Cadet Corner to take a closer look at Canada’s cadet program.
By Evelyn Brotherston
To kick off the inaugural edition of Esprit de Corps’ newest section, Cadet Corner, we went on a whirlwind tour of Cadet Training Centres in Ontario to take stock of what the summer camp season had to offer. With everything from introductory trades training to advanced wilderness survival courses, we’ve pulled together some of the highlights from the trip.
CFB Kingston: Sea Cadets
If you have the sea in your blood, Kingston is the place for you. On what was once the location of the British Royal Naval Dockyard, this year more than 500 cadets will learn, among other things: sailing, seamanship, marksmanship and ceremonial drill.
Like their counterparts in the Army and Air Cadets, young Sea Cadets spend their first year at summer camp doing a two-week-long General Training (GT) course. For many, it’s their first time away from home. It’s also their opportunity to try out a selection of different activities that provide a foundation for future training.
“I basically learned all the basics of each program I could take when I come back here next year,” said Ethan Adams, whom we spoke to as he was about to graduate from the program.
His favourite subject? Seamanship. “We did a lot with naval terminology and we learned about transportation that they use with ships,” he said. “We stuck to a tight schedule, so we did a lot of activities. In the end it was really exhausting, but it’s worth it, because you learn a lot.”
Adams, who is 13, is from Sarnia, ON, where he’d learned about sailing but hadn’t done any himself. The summer training camp offered that opportunity, along with many others. “I’ve never been away from home for more than a few days in a different city than my own. So the first couple of days I was nervous what it would be like and how strict it would be.”
What was his verdict? “I gave it my best shot and participated in everything I could. I found it really fun and I learned a lot from General Training.”
He also echoed the sentiments of just about every other cadet we spoke with, praising the friendships he’d made along the way: “There are people here that I consider brothers.”
Given the scope of the opportunities provided by the cadet program, it’s entirely unique in one way in particular, as Adams pointed out, “It’s all for free.” He added that he’d never get that kind of opportunity without the Sea Cadets. “It would all cost money — lots of money. And you get to do everything! Anything a kid would ever wish for.” Not only that, he says, but “when you go to just General Training alone, it teaches you so many life skills that you’ll be able to hold onto for your entire life.”
One thing’s for sure, GT is the starting block for some pretty impressive advanced training. Kingston is home to the Advanced Sail Course, the only one of its kind in Canada and the highest sailing qualification offered by the Sea Cadet program.
While the GT program at Kingston brings together cadets exclusively from Ontario, Advanced Sail is a national program. This year, 20 of the nation’s top cadet sailors have been chosen to participate in an intense, six-week-long training course. Cadets who make it to Advanced Sail have gone through previous summer training in everything from first aid and powerboating, to intermediate and senior sailing courses and rescue swimming.
“We’re all very high-level sailors from across Canada,” said Kate Langhorne, who’s 17 and came from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to participate in the program.
Fresh off the water after a day’s hard work, Langhorne was on hand to describe the program: “It’s pretty cool, you meet a lot of new people and then we go on the water every day and we train really, really hard,” she said. “We’re going to a few regattas this summer … so we train really hard for those.”
For her, the joy of the sport is simply being out on the water and in a boat — preferably going fast. “It’s just a really fantastic feeling … and the bond you make with the person you’re sailing with is incredible too.”
“There are lots of skills I'm going to gain from this camp, on the water and off the water. And the friendships are going to last forever.” Even though it’s sport-based training, it has also opened up career opportunities for her. “I’m probably going to come back as a staff cadet, which is a summer job. Also I can coach back home. If I really want to I can always go the racing route and see where that takes me.” As far as the opportunities in the cadet organization go, “I always have something to come back to.”
CFB Trenton: Air and Army Cadets
Like Kingston, the Cadet Training Centre at CFB Trenton offers a remarkable array of skills-training to equip the next generation of leaders in both the civilian and military worlds. One of the stand-out qualities of the program is its ability to offer a sampling of careers through technical instruction.
We stopped in to visit a group of second-year camp-goers — including 13-year-old Amina Hashim — in the Basic Aviation Technology and Aerospace Course (BATA). The course is a balance of academic and hands-on instruction, which offers a leg up to kids interested in pursuing careers in an array of different mechanical and engineering fields.
“I love the more hands-on activities because you actually get to work with tools and you get to know their function and that can be useful later on,” says Hashim, who hopes to be able to tinker with tools once she returns home, equipped with the skills she’s learned at camp. “I’d like to become a mechanic, working on planes — engines mostly.”
The BATA group builds model planes made out of aluminum cans that are reshaped into all the necessary parts to mimic a real aircraft. “It’s just assembling simple parts together and we use a bunch of drills and screwdrivers,” said Hashim. “I think the challenge is just using the tools properly because once you mess up or make a mistake it’s hard to fix it.”
At the end of the course she’ll get to take her plane home with her to Caledon, ON.
Unlike her, there’s no way 16-year-old Divroop Panfer of Brampton, ON, will get to take his plane home. Of the hundreds of cadets that applied, he was one of 80 to be accepted to the highly-sought-after glider program at the Mountain View airfield, just outside of Trenton. The same program is offered in each geographic region of Canada, including British Columbia, the Prairies and the North, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
Riding in a glider is the quintessential Air Cadet experience — something that most cadets get to do at least once per year. Getting to fly a glider, however, requires advanced training.
When we spoke to Panfer he was one and a half weeks into the intensive six-week-long course and had already flown nine times accompanied by an instructor. In the civilian world it can take pilots up to a year to achieve their glider pilot’s licence, but thanks to the Air Cadet Gliding Program Panfer is well on his way to achieving his licence in a short space of time.
“During my first time up in a glider, that’s when I decided that gliding was for me, that I really wanted to pursue this,” he explained, waiting for his turn to head back up for another flight. “That’s what drove me to go on this course.”
The cadets at Mountain View are broken into two training groups that alternate between time on the airstrip and time in the classroom. Those that are on the airstrip work as a team to ensure the runway and landing area (in the grass next to the runway) are clear. They also tow the gliders back into position so they are ready to be hooked up quickly for the next flight.
Speaking above a particularly stiff breeze, Panfer explained what makes gliding so appealing: “It’s like you have a relationship with the plane, because you really have to communicate with the plane, if that makes sense.” He explained further: “You really have to listen to it. If you’re applying too much control you have to ease up. It’s really about the feel of it and you have to adjust accordingly.”
After a couple of weeks accompanied by an instructor, the cadets will eventually progress to doing solo flights. Panfer is already looking even further down the road. “I’m going to apply for the Power Aircraft Course next year,” he said. “I’m going to do the exams for Power, which is the next course after this. So this is a really good starting point for me.”
Elsewhere at Trenton we encountered other cadets who were similarly ambitious. Eighteen-year-old Erik Flanders, of Sussex, NB, was one of the Army Cadets staying on base, where he is currently participating in the Parachute Course (or Para Course).
The Para Course offers a completely unique opportunity for cadets; they get to train alongside Regular Force soldiers working towards exactly the same qualification — their ‘jump wings.’ In fact, except for a slightly different uniform, the cadets in the program are indiscernible from their Regular Force classmates.
Like many advanced cadet courses, the Para Course is a challenge to get into and challenging to keep up with. “I’ve been training ever since I was 10-years-old,” said Flanders, “because the physical element is key in it. I also started prepping myself mentally for the course.” His training involves daily three-hour-long workouts to build muscle strength, in addition to running and other cardio training.
Although the minimum fitness requirements are very stringent, there are so many strong applicants that those who are successful achieve test scores well above the minimum. The need for peak fitness is readily apparent; course members do seven chin-ups every day upon entry to the training facility. While doing drills throughout the day, they do everything at a run — including going to get a drink of water.
Before they make their first jump out of a real airplane, course participants have to spend extensive time practising how to rig their equipment, disembark from a plane, what to do while in the air, and how to land safely. The skills are repeated over and over again until they become second nature.
What makes all the hard work worthwhile? “It’s something I’ve always wanted ever since I was little,” said Flanders. “It was my main reason for joining the cadet program.” After cadets, Flanders said he plans to put the course to good use. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to enlist,” he said. Luckily for him, the Para Course offers the only qualification that can be carried over from Cadets to the Regular Forces.
CFB Borden: Army, Air and Sea Cadets
CFB Borden is the hub of training for all three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces. Similarly, it draws Army, Air and Sea Cadets and is the largest Cadet Training Centre in Canada, with close to 2,000 cadets participating in courses there this summer.
With so much activity going on, we were hard-pressed to choose which activities to take a closer look at.
The Expedition Instructor Course for Army Cadets was one stand-out among the field. It builds on the wilderness survival and mountaineering skills of the Basic Expedition Course, with the aim of teaching cadets how to pass on their training to others.
The six-week-long Expedition Instructor Course includes an 18-day wilderness trek, which involves canoeing, white-water rafting, abseiling and mountain biking.
Cristianna Giallo, a 15-year-old from Toronto, was one of the Cadets going on the trip. Before leaving, she explains, “We do a lot of lessons on how to prepare your bike, how to pack your bag, navigation skills, how to plot points on a map and things like that.” The thing she was most looking forward to was white-water rafting. “I hear there are some really fun rapids to go down. I'm so excited!”
The cadets don’t know in advance what their route will be or what kind of challenges it will present. “I know in past years some teams have canoed for 50 to 100 km,” Giallo said. “I really like pushing myself, seeing how far I can go. So I really want to see how much I'm capable of.”
Maintaining a strong mentality is important, she said. “That’s a very difficult part of Expedition: just [staying] strong through it.” It requires being positive, working as a team, “and knowing how to take care of yourself as well,” she explained. “A big part of the instructor courses is learning how to be a leader.”
While they prep for their 18-day trek, members of the course take turns instructing one another in biking, canoeing and other techniques.
A good leader, she said, “Is definitely someone who’s been in a follower position, who understands and is very patient, but also knows how to take control of a situation.” Throughout her summer training, she's already thinking about how she can pass on her knowledge and expertise to younger cadets in her home corps. After all, that’s the beauty of the cadet program — passing on skills from one young person to another.
Of course, Army Cadets aren’t the only ones that learn to rough it in the woods. For Air Cadets interested in learning the finer points of wilderness survival, there are the Basic Survival and Survival Instructor courses.
We stopped in on the Basic Survival Course, which was just about to head out for a three-day-long excursion. Fourteen-year-old Jacob Partello was there to talk us through the course. “So far I’ve learned a lot about shelter building and different survival activities — also different cloud formations and learning how to tell the weather — things I’ve never even heard about,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”
He added that the most interesting thing he’s learned so far is recognizing different cloud formations. “I had no idea how many different cloud formations there were,” he said. “We've been learning about how to predict weather — rain, good weather — for days to come.”
Predicting the weather means being able to make smart judgement calls about when to move camp and when to stay put. “Being able to know ahead of time gives me control and gives me more confidence over the situation,” Partello explained. That control helps boost morale, he said, which is really important in a survival situation.
The upcoming three-day wilderness survival assessment was going to involve rationing supplies. Cadets were also going to be tested on their ability to choose a good camp site, start and maintain a fire and build a shelter.
Partello proudly showed us the practice lean-to structure he'd helped build. “Moving all the logs and applying all the pine-needles was not difficult, but it was time consuming. In an actual survival situation you'd be a little more pressed for time, so you wouldn’t be buildings something so big."
His lean-to was an impressive structure built between two trees a couple meters apart. Using a hefty support beam they scavenged from the forest floor, they built outward with logs and twigs, topped with bark and water-repellent pine needles. The result was a surprisingly-well insulated structure that could comfortably sleep two individuals. “I would sleep in it!” said Partello enthusiastically.
“This is a very unique experience for a lot of kids. Camping with my family isn’t the same, because you have adults and enough food and everything. You don't really learn as much as you do now, because here you have to learn in order to successfully achieve all the goals that are laid out.”
The challenge to do it yourself and test your abilities was a recurring theme in our tour of the Cadet Training Centres. Starting in GT, cadets are encouraged to press beyond what they think they’re capable of. When we stopped in on a batch of Army GT Cadets in Borden it was to see them traversing wires suspended across a ravine close to a hundred feet off the ground and riding ziplines at high speeds down a 200m track. It wasn’t for the faint hearted, that’s for certain.
The goal of the program is to present kids with the opportunity to take up a challenge they’re not sure they can manage — and allow them to be empowered when they choose for themselves to tackle that challenge and complete it.