By Major Doug Keirstead, National Cadet, and Junior Canadian Rangers Support Group

In looking to the future, it is important to consider from where we came. The Cadet Program traces its roots to the late 1800s, when Army Cadets first came into existence through a school program mandated to train boys over the age of 12 in military skills and drill. During the First World War, Army Cadets thrived, with more than 64,000 cadets enrolled, thousands of whom volunteered to serve Canada overseas once they became of age. Interest in Army Cadets diminished between the two wars only to be significantly revived during the Second World War as Canadians looked, once again, to instil leadership and military attributes in youth.

Well aware of the benefits, both the Navy and the Air Force also took an interest in developing cadet programs. In 1917, the Navy League of Canada established the Boy’s Naval Brigade to encourage young men toward a seafaring career and to provide basic training in citizenship and seamanship. In 1941, the Air Cadet League of Canada was incorporated to work in partnership with the Royal Canadian Air Force to sponsor and educate young men in leadership and aircrew familiarization.

National Defence Headquarters began playing a more prominent role in coordinating the Cadet Program across Canada with unification of the Canadian Armed Forces in the 1960s. The focus also changed from training future military members to developing community leaders and good citizens.

The Army Cadet League of Canada was officially formed in 1971 to work with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces in support of Army Cadets. That same year, the Cadet Instructors List (now the Cadet Instructors Cadre) was established, replacing its predecessor organizations within each of the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force. Young women were officially introduced to the program in 1975.

There have been many changes throughout the Cadet Program’s vibrant history, but what hasn’t changed are the program’s fundamental principles and positive impact on participants long after their experience in Cadets. Today’s program remains open and welcoming to all Canadian youth, instils military values, develops leadership, citizenship and promotes a healthy lifestyle in its participants, all in an environment that balances safety with challenging training and strives to leave a positive lifelong impact.

While the Cadet Program has evolved well beyond its wartime roots, the poignant words said during a 1933 provisional school lecture for qualifying cadet instructors in Ottawa are still relevant:

“The time may come when we can do without armies, but it is not thought that the time will ever come when we shall be able to do without the military virtues of courage, loyalty, qualities of leadership, and the spirit of sacrifice and fair play. Those qualities are best taught through experience of discipline, cooperation, and the habit of obedience, all of which are taught to cadets.”

These values have continued to form the basis of the cadet experience and you don’t need to look very far to see the impact on Canadian society. One of Canada’s newest astronauts, Lieutenant-Colonel Jeremy Hansen, Manitoba Telecom Services senior executive Heather Tulk, and even our own Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, are just a few of those who credit the Cadet Program with helping to shape them into the people they are today. Today’s cadets eagerly follow in their footsteps, and they will without a doubt be the next Canadians to walk in space, lead institutions, or perhaps even lead our nation through the next few decades and beyond.

And so, in 2016, change is yet again upon us. We are in the midst of a five-year Renewal of the Cadet Program, a complete overhaul if you will, that will ensure the program’s relevance and value to Canadians for years to come. In every respect, we are being deliberate and meticulous in everything we do to deliver the best possible program for today’s youth, while ensuring that it continues to evolve in meeting the needs of future generations.

The goal of Renewal is to find innovative ways to take advantage of every opportunity to ensure the programs remain relevant and sustainable, now and well into the future. And so far, it looks like it’s going well, according to Brigadier-General Kelly Woiden, Commander of the National Cadet and Junior Canadian Rangers Support Group.

“We have been making and continue to make progress,” says BGen Woiden, who leads the cadet organization from the national headquarters in Ottawa. “We have built a solid foundation that will set us up for future success, ultimately leading to a program that appeals to more cadets, is more easily administered by staff, and reaches more youth and communities.”

One example of Renewal’s early success is a new governance model that now gives Cadet Leagues, local sponsors, cadets and Corps and Squadron staff a greater voice in the management of the program. Renewal has also streamlined the leadership and management of the cadet organization, with one national commander now responsible for the delivery of the Cadet Program across Canada, and is now in the early stages of reorganizing the program’s support structure — creating a stronger network of service and support for local Cadet Corps and Squadrons.

“We are now in the early stages of implementing a new structure that will fundamentally change the way we support the delivery of the Cadet Program,” explains BGen Woiden. “These positive changes mean a more service support-oriented approach that will ensure we remain focused on what matters most — the experience of cadets training in their local communities.”

One of the most significant aims of Renewal is to ensure that at least 50 per cent of the funding available to the Cadet Program is focused on the community level. This means that there will be more resources available to deliver an exciting, engaging and high-quality program at every Corps and Squadron.

So far, Renewal has managed to identify and reinvest over $15 million to support the delivery of the program at the community level. Examples include the new Field Training Uniforms, which have been issued to all army cadets, and the $30 per cadet that is now allocated yearly to give Corps and Squadrons more sports and fitness opportunities.

“We’re still exploring and identifying opportunities for more reinvestments,” says BGen Woiden. “We will continue to rely on our program stakeholders to help identify these opportunities and other innovative ways to grow the program.”

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The majority of Renewal efforts and those that are yet to come are particularly relevant for everyone out there working and training at Corps and Squadrons. One team is looking for ways to improve rewards and recognition for cadets, while others are working to reduce administration, increase opportunities to learn more about the role of the Canadian Armed Forces, modernize cadet uniforms and make suggestions to create a more flexible program that will fit more easily with cadets’ busy lives, and ensure a more modern and streamlined flow of information across the organization.

Along with Renewal, BGen Woiden is emphasizing that everyone involved in the Cadet Program must recognize the incredible responsibility we hold in protecting the youth in our care. “To be absolutely clear, the protection, safety and welfare of cadets is my highest priority — I will not tolerate harmful or inappropriate sexual behaviour involving cadets, their instructors or anyone involved in the Cadet Program,” says BGen Woiden. “There is no grace period — it is absolutely critical that we maintain a safe and positive environment for our cadets and their leaders.”

Indeed, the table is being set for a strong Cadet Program for generations to come. “I’m looking forward to seeing the end result of our efforts,” says BGen Woiden. “Young Canadians are our future, and cadets clearly demonstrate that our future is in great hands. There can be no greater honour for all of us than having played even a small part in their success.”