The cadet life

Participants get the abilities needed to excel in a potential military career – or just learn confidence and useful life skills



Confidence and leadership abilities may come naturally to some, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t capable of developing similar traits.


According to the people involved with Canada’s Army, Sea and Air Cadet programs, some of the quietest kids who show up on Day 1 wind up being the most impressive leaders in the end.


“It’s interesting to see that 12-year-olds will come into the program… they’re very shy, they don’t really know anyone, but once they’re thrown into a situation where they’re working towards a common goal, you’ll find very quickly that they start to pipe up a little bit more,” says Maria Granados of the Navy League of Canada, which coordinates the Sea Cadets program (for youths 12 to 18) and the Navy League Cadets (for kids 9 to 12).


“They’ll start to become a little more confident in themselves and their abilities, and as they progress through the year, we kind of laugh at the end of it all, because they’re suddenly this outspoken person that doesn’t mind speaking up in a group of individuals.”


Maxime Corneau of the Army Cadet League of Canada has noticed the same thing.


“It really provides them a great opportunity to develop,” she says. “Many children we meet are shy when they start, and by the time they’re done their four to five years and get into senior cadet positions, they’re leading teams.”


Cadet programs, which are free to join, are supported by civilian organizations in partnership with the Canadian Forces. Typically, there’s one mandatory night of programming per week for all types of cadets, with occasional stream-specific activities and excursions at other times.


While participation certainly provides the 55,000 cadets across Canada with the kinds of abilities needed to excel in a potential military career, that isn’t really the point. The goal is to instill confidence and impart useful life skills.


“I think the single most common thread here is structure,” Granados explains. “They understand how hierarchies work, how chains of command work… they learn all about time management, because they have to balance their cadet activities with their personal lives, with school, with homework, with other activities they may be doing as well outside of the program.


“And they also learn a lot about communication skills, because working in a team environment, that’s essential in any kind of capacity, in any kind of background or future career.”


The Air Cadets operate 458 squadrons across Canada, and 67 percent of professional and airline pilots working today started out in the program. It’s estimated that 28 percent of the flying, technical and administrative members serving in the Air Force today had some form of Air Cadet training.


But as the Air Cadets’ Anthony Langlois points out, just as important as developing career-advancing skills and physical fitness is the opportunity for kids to enjoy themselves while learning something cool.


“They develop their confidence, their sense of self-discipline and their leadership skills, but another important part of the program is that you also have a lot of fun, meet new friends, and create long-lasting friendships.”


While the mandatory training nights cover a lot of the same ground across all cadet programs in terms of structure, teamwork, and life skills, it’s in the excursions and other activities that the groups really differentiate themselves.


The Army Cadets, for example, go out on “survival weekends” to learn how to thrive in the wilderness – regardless of the weather or season.


A popular stream for Air Cadets is flying gliders, and that often leads to teens getting their pilots’ licenses before they even get their drivers’ licenses.


“They’re pretty proud when they get their wings,” says Langlois.


For the Sea Cadets, the most exciting activities take place on – you guessed it – water.


“Our cadets actually do a lot of different activities, a lot of them do sailing, deployments – there are many, many deployments available both in Canada but also international exchanges,” says Granados. “In the past couple of months, we’ve had Sea Cadets go to the U.K. on tall ship exchanges.”


No matter what a child’s interests are, there’s probably at least one cadet program that would appeal to him or her.