Images of fierce-eyed drill sergeants marching poor homesick teenagers until they faint from heat exhaustion is what many may imagine life in the cadets to be like.
Instead the summer camp at Albert Head Cadet Summer Training Centre puts safety first and considers each and every youth there on loan from their parents, to be returned in pristine condition and hopefully with some great experiences and a bunch of new friends.
Whatever the cadets are doing, the emphasis is always on having fun.
“I guess I wouldn’t really be enjoying it if I didn’t have fun,” said Jaden Powell, a cadet from Dawson Creek. “My favourite thing to do right now is rifle drill. I really enjoy the challenge of it.”
Every year more than a thousand air force cadets gather at the Metchosin base to work their way through various levels of the program.
Cadets from all over the province attend the camp for two, three or six weeks depending on what year they are in and what course they’re participating in. They have a choice on what areas to specialize in, such as drill, survival, band or numerous other options.
For some of the new recruits, typically 12 or 13 years old, the camp is their first time away from home, which can be a trying experience.
Cpt. Amélie Leduc can relate.
“I remember crying to my mom ‘come and pick me up,’” she said. “I was 13 and I was crying on the phone. … The year after I did a three week course and I didn’t call her the whole time.”
Leduc went on to get her pilots licence through the air cadets and is now employed by National Defence as a public affairs officer for the program.
“It gave me confidence, it gave me effective speaking. (It helps you to) get out of your shell and take charge.”
Cadets can also leave the camp early if they choose.
Older cadets, typically 17 or 18, have worked their way up to become instructors who teach the younger cadets. They are paid a modest daily wage and gain experience, which looks great on a resume.
Warrant officer second class Alistair White, 18, joined the cadets as a youth living in Midway, a town of about 600 people. He has attended cadet summer camps, first as a participant and now as an instructor, for seven years and had the opportunity to travel to Ontario and Quebec as a part of the program.
“I wasn’t a very popular kid in high school or anything like that. It gave me that community to go to,” White said. “You build this self-confidence in people. They put you in positions where you have to take charge of a situation and relay orders to people, and you’re learning, ‘hey, I can actually do those things.’ …
“If you told 12-year-old me I could do this I would not believe you.”
White plans to join the Canadian Forces, although he is the odd man out, with less than 10 per cent of cadets grads going on to join the armed forces.
Flight Sgt. Kayleigh Smith, 18, is a member of the 848 Royal Roads squadron based out of Langford spending her second year on staff at Albert Head. She joined because her brother had joined (he subsequently quit), and discovered she enjoyed making new friends and new experiences.
“I found there was actually way more than just a uniform,” Smith said.
Cadets must leave the program at age 19. Smith hopes to join the Cadet Instructors Cadre, the command component of cadets, as she goes to university for studies in social work.
“I don’t want to leave. I feel like my time has come too soon.”
Some of the instruction in classroom based, with these air cadets learning about such things as propulsion or aerodynamics by making paper helicopters and miniature rockets, and part of it is outside, with drilling, an obstacle course (called the confidence course), biathlon (using air rifles) and other activities.
The cadets also help out in the community, most recently with a group heading to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites to help get rid of invasive species of plants.
Programs run at Albert Head until Aug. 16. For more information on cadets visit cadets.ca.