By Darren Lum
If you’re a local youth and want to make friends and be the best you can be by developing outdoor and life skills then the 1129 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corp in Haliburton is just the ticket to a life journey of discovery and growth.
Contrary to public perception the cadets have more to do with producing citizens than it does soldiers says former commanding officer Cameron McKenzie.
The 65-year-old Cardiff resident and chairman of the cadets support committee who was with the Haliburton cadets for 18 years said cadets learn how to be leaders through instructing and receive training on outdoor survival skills such as orienteering.
“Those things are all self-confidence builders” he said.
This is important for life and provides opportunities.
“It opens a career opportunity for some teenagers. By the time they get done high school it’s a big decision in your life. What are you going to do?” he said.
The cadets three core teachings are citizenship and being good community members; physical fitness and stimulating an interest in Canadian Forces.
Current commanding officer and a former Haliburton cadet for seven years Karin Aschenbrenner said in cadets the youth participate in regular exercise and are encouraged to be community minded through volunteer efforts in the area.
Being a cadet community service hours are required to advance within the program McKenzie said.
“Just being a cadet doesn’t qualify for high school community service hours but a lot of what they do does count” he said.
He said this includes selling poppies before Remembrance Day helping at Legion functions and instructing cadets.
Most cadets will receive their required 40 community service hours to graduate high school within a year he said.
Also cadets learn about the importance of the military and its role to our country said Aschenbrenner.
“We’re Canadian citizens and our forces are always there to provide for us and to help us out. These people fought for us and our freedom so we have to show our honour to them as well and just have the knowledge of what these people are doing” she said.
The cadets is open to boys and girls from 12 to 18. When a cadet turns 19 they must leave the program.
The cadets meet once a week every Tuesday at 6:30 until 9 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion in Haliburton. The schedule adheres to the school year schedule.
The cadets measures progress through star levels starting with green which includes skill training such as putting up a tent starting a fire and shooting air rifles. The skills are added to one another like Lego building blocks.
As the cadets progress their capability in a variety of areas grows.
She cannot imagine her life without the corps.
Aschenbrenner joined the cadets at 12 because of her older brother who was in the cadets.
“Once I got into it you just built those lasting friendships. There was such a big group of us at the time we were all friends in school. It was another social aspect for us to get out and go and do these cool things whether it be normal training night or going to one of the military bases for summer camp or just things we learnt hanging out and meeting people” she said.
She completed all seven years with the cadets and finished as the regimental sergeant major.
Since 2013 she has served as the Haliburton cadets commanding officer and sees another side of it.
Aschenbrenner takes great satisfaction in leading the cadets and most particularly when they fully understand and enjoy something in the program.
“I really enjoy seeing that light come on with the cadets and them going ‘Oh this is really cool’” she said.
The progress she has seen is amazing in the cadets.
“The cadets who are new to the program are given some information on what they do and what we are about. They tend to be very timid when they first join but as the friend base grows and their knowledge grows they begin to step out of the box. They are more confident and outgoing. Taking on tasks they normally wouldn’t have done” she said referring to teaching and public speaking.
Cadets learn to accept responsibility for their action which is an important life skill.
“Being responsible for your own actions in the long run ends up helping them out in the future even after they leave the program. I find a lot of the cadets end up being very successful in life because they’ve learned those core values. They can bring that to their employer. They can bring that to their family. They can bring that to their friends. It’s just rounds people out” she said.
She adds cadets don’t face harsh penalties like in the army such as push ups.
Although service with the cadets was mandatory for McKenzie when he was growing up he chose to join the Haliburton location because of his son Peter who served with the local group for six years. His son has now served with the Canadian army for close to nine years.
McKenzie points out being part of cadets is free to parents but ultimately it is paid for by either the area Legion Department of National Defence or the sponsoring committee.
It’s a worthwhile investment for the young participants to the communities they live in he said.
Cadets have a variety of experiences and gain skills through training whether during the year or in the summer. Cadets are eligible for summer camp training at a Canadian Forces Base like the one in Borden which provides a unique experience for cadets where hands-on training is done more intensely. Once cadets have completed their first year they are eligible.
McKenzie said Haliburton’s best success story regarding former cadets is Keith Burley who earned a spot with the Canadian Forces parachute course as a cadet the only in Haliburton’s history.
Also he was the senior cadet at Canadian Forces Base Borden for Cadet Training Centre Blackdown where he led close to 1200 cadets on parade.
“That’s the best example of going from a 12-year-old to very very mature 18-year-old and very successful” he said.
Burley a third-year Carleton University student spent the full seven years in the Haliburton cadet program and finished as a sergeant-major.
He said cadets was instrumental towards shaping who he is now.
“Many of the values I learned are instilled into my daily regime. These include time management professionalism organizational skills patience leadership public speaking team work and cooperation respect goal setting and the list goes on and on. They have helped me land amazing job opportunities positions on campus talk to and understand people from all walks of life make connections and most importantly make life long friendships with people I still keep in touch with today” he wrote in an email. “For me the cadet program was more than just wearing a uniform marching around a parade square and shooting air rifles. It was an experience that I will hold near and dear to me for a life time. I highly recommend to any individual looking to better themselves which I believe everyone should be doing to join the cadet program and put all of the effort you can into it because you will exponentially receive life skills back.”
Anyone interested Aschenbrenner said can just stop by the Legion in Haliburton on Tuesday between 6:30 and 9 p.m.
“The doors are always open for people to come and check it out” she said.