WINGS FOR LIFE

The Summer Advanced Training Course is gruelling but invaluable

BY: ARMY CADET LEAGUE OF CANADA

Unless you are in the military or Army Cadets, the parachutist wings may not mean much to you. In fact many wonder why some have the desire to jump out of a perfectly functioning aircraft. If you are a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, another military agency, or are an Army Cadet, then you are well aware of the prestige and respect given to those wearing the para wings on their uniforms as it is one of the most physically and mentally challenging courses one might put themselves through in their Canadian Armed Forces careers.

For Army Cadets, the highly coveted Summer Advanced Training Course has the same prestige, challenges and rewards as it does for CAF members. 50 qualifying Senior Army Cadets — 17- and 18-year-olds from across the country — take part in this gruelling four-week course at the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre in Trenton, Ontario each summer. For many of the young men and women enrolled in the Army Cadets program, this is the one course they strive for early on in their cadet training.

While the standards for selection and completion of the Basic Parachute Course are the same for Army Cadets and the CAF, Army Cadets must train harder, sweat more and push their physical and mental limits further. Only 50 of 18,000 Army Cadets are selected per year meaning the bare minimum physical requirements are just not good enough.

As a civilian, who has never been a cadet or member of the CAF, sits behind a desk writing this article, I came to realize that I do not have the experience to clearly convey what this course really means to these young individuals. So, instead of trying to do so, I thought it would simply be best to have you read about it from the cadets themselves.

In a recently published article in On-Target (visit www.armycadetleague.ca), C/CWO Giesbrecht of 2812 RCACC Surrey, a graduate from last summer, sums up quite clearly the desire a young Army Cadet has to reach this personal goal:

“The Basic Military Parachute Course was by far one of the hardest, most rewarding and most life-altering journeys of my cadet career. I call it a journey because it was not just a summer training course, nor just a pair of wings to put on my uniform; it was a goal that was conceived in my 12-year-old mind at the beginning of my cadet career and the series of events, hard work and training that eventually led to me earning my jump wings and, more importantly, proving to myself that I could do it.”

C/MWO Declan Fitzpatrick, from 1596 RCACC Kitchener and C/CSM of this summer’s Basic Para Course 157, shares not only that he had the same desire from the start but where his strong desire and perseverance to succeed got him:

“Completing the Basic Parachute Course had been a goal of mine since I found out about this unique opportunity shortly after joining the cadet program in 2009. At first, it was all about getting to jump, however, the further into the course I got, the more I realized the scale of what I was doing and how much more it actually meant. Completing the course provided me with such a huge sense of pride and accomplishment. It was hard work, both physically and mentally, right from the start. Having not been initially selected, I felt that I had to prove myself worthy of the position off the stand-by list as I worked toward achieving this long-time personal goal. This additional motivation resulted in me being selected as the Top Cadet for my course last summer and the opportunity to return for a second summer as the C/CSM for the 2016 serial. In summary, the Basic Parachute Course is the most prestigious accomplishment I have achieved through the Army Cadet program and is an extremely rewarding experience you can’t find anywhere else.”

Now, although one may have developed the desire to strive for this course from the moment they joined Army Cadets, it is also important to explain that there is a process each candidate must get through before they become one of the 50 Para Course Cadets. C/CWO Giesbrecht shares:

“My first challenge was getting selected for Pre-Para [Course]. That also happened to be the easiest part. I had four years to train physically and mentally as well as keep up a great cadet record. I trained my body by routinely doing push-ups, chin ups, lots of running, core exercises, and more. I trained my mind by constantly pushing myself beyond what I thought I could achieve. I was the only person that could push me hard enough to accomplish my goal, and that I did. Next thing I knew, I was on the bus heading to Vernon, BC. That brought me to my second challenge … making it through the gruelling, infamous Pre-Para, about which one only hears horror stories. Not only did I have to complete the course, but I also had to be selected as one of five from BC to be recommended for the jump course. Now I can’t give away all of the trade secrets (that would ruin the surprise for the upcoming candidates), but what I will say is that week in Vernon was by far the most stressful, physically demanding and rewarding week of my life. Not only was I trying to keep up with the vigorous training, but I also needed to outperform two thirds of the candidates along the way.”

Once selected, the cadets go through the gruelling physical and classroom training, and face another set of challenges. C/CWO Keaton McLean, member of the 318 RCACC Woodstock, recalls “I had to master knowledge of the equipment and how it worked in four weeks as well as the techniques of jumping and landing.” Sherman Ho, from BC, who graduated from the Para Course in 2012 and who has since graduated from the program as well, adds: “After endless days of training and lessons, it was tough to keep a strong mindset and to focus on what really mattered: teamwork and leadership. I’ve learned many things from this course, and teamwork and leadership were on top of my list for things that I really got from taking this course. Trusting your peers and working together was a major factor in having success in this course.”

To complete the course, each candidate must meet every challenging criteria of the course, both on the field and in the classroom in addition to successfully landing five jumps, including one at night. Capt Israël R. Jean, Officer Commanding Basic Para Course 157 (2016), Foxtrot Para Company, explains what he has witnessed from cadets taking on each of these challenges one by one:

“In 2013, I had the profound privilege of becoming the Escort Officer on the Cadet Basic Parachute Course. I witnessed cadets from all over Canada achieve their goals through hard work, dedication, perseverance and — most importantly — through teamwork. As a result, I have a very strong appreciation for the Basic Parachute Course as it provides young men and women with the opportunity to push through personal challenges to find their perceived limits and then to find the courage and strength to push past them in order to reach their intended goal. These are the same kind of challenges that I faced on my personal   journey to becoming a qualified Basic Parachute Jumper and that I frequently reflect on as I tackle other challenges that daily life provides. Now, three years later, I have the unique opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experience, and to mentor some of Canada’s best cadets on the upcoming Basic Parachute Course 157 as the 2016 Officer Commanding Basic Para, and look forward to sharing this unique opportunity with this year’s team. AIRBORNE!

 Throughout the years we have seen several outstanding Army Cadets graduate from this course. The wings represent the heart and soul they put into accomplishing this tremendous challenge. Not only are they proud to graduate from the program with them on their cadet uniform, they have also earned the right to transfer the coveted wings qualification insignia onto their CAF uniforms should they consider a career with the Forces. As C/WO Skyler Richardson of the 2444 RCACC Kentville, a candidate for the upcoming summer course states: “The ability to get your wings before you’re even with the Forces is something I can’t even imagine.”

In closing, past cadet Sherman Ho states best how he felt it changed his life forever: “This course really put the ARMY in Army Cadets. I aged out being a C/MWO in 2012 and having wings on my chest during my last ever Annual Ceremonial Review was the best feeling and possibly the greatest accomplishment of my life. Without this course I don’t think I would have the attitude or the success I have in my life today.” Whether a cadet pursues a military career or not, the wings and what they represent, enhance their lives forever. They are wings for life.