Johanne Jeffries

Air cadets’ limits tested at Albert Head

Survival camp in Metchosin teaches outdoors, life skills

Johanne Jeffries went back for a second helping of grasshopper.

The first one was too small, so the 15-year-old air cadet pulled the legs and wings off a larger, juicier one and bit into the insect’s torso to get a better sense of the flavour.

“It didn’t taste like anything really, it was more the texture … kind of chewy,” she said. “A lot of it is just mental, the idea that it’s a bug bothers some people. For me personally, it’s not that big of a deal.”

The Oliver, B.C. resident is in training mode, halfway through a three-week basic survival course at Albert Head Cadet Summer Training Centre in Metchosin, a federally-sponsored program for youth 12 to 18. Fifty-two air cadets from around the province, including two from the West Shore, are getting hands-on exposure to seemingly primitive living conditions that challenge them mentally and physically.

Langford resident Thomas Anderson-Roffey, 14, said the course has given him confidence and made him realize how good he has it.

“It is different being away from home, I live a short distance away and I still get homesick,” he said. “Overall, there are quite a few different challenges.”

Those challenges also include living with others in crowded spaces, being woken up in the middle of the night and dropped out in the wilderness in controlled but pitch black situations and living without the comforts of home. The camp culminates in a survival exercise where cadets are given only a handful of rations and supplies and expected to survive for three days in the outdoors.

“This course is really focused on fostering independence,” said reserve 2nd Lt. Sarah Lumley of Nanaimo.

“Really the objective at the end of the day is that these guys come here, learn the skills and learn the ability to survive on their own for days.”

Survival tactics include bagging leafy tree limbs in plastic to collect the condensation for drinking water, building snares to catch food, making rope from grass, erecting shelters and catching fish without a rod.

“I definitely think it’s about learning (your) own strengths and weaknesses. For a lot of them, it’s their first camp or first time away from home – away from parents,” Lumley said.

“This course is most applicable outside the cadet program, in real life. A lot of those skills, the improvisation, leadership, working as a team, those things can be used outside of this environment. It’s all about being aware and being prepared. You can find yourself in an emergency situation anywhere. We are due for a giant earthquake.”

Lumley, 21, took the course at 14. She counts the camaraderie and skills developed during her time as a cadet, and at the survival course, as big reasons why she chose to join the summer camp staff. She said it provides an amazing opportunity for teenagers like Jeffries.

“Once you get past the idea that it’s really not a bad situation, you just have to push yourself to overcome your fear, if it’s eating a bug or if it’s heights, if it’s being alone,” Jeffries said.

“I would definitely recommend it. It’s a lot of fun… It is challenging, but I am definitely sure when I go back to my home I will be bringing a lot back.”

alim@vicnews.com

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