From Daniel Couroux’s perspective, “Cadets Canada is Canada’s best-kept secret.”
Couroux, a lieutenant in the 809 Newark Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is a leader with the program, which focuses on developing good citizens through leadership training, fitness, teamwork and teaching life skills to help prepare young adults for the future.
The first week of October officially marks Cadet Week in Ontario and the NOTL sqaudron is celebrating – and looking for new recruits with an open house planned for Oct. 12.
Flight Sgt. Shay Vidal is 17 and just received his pilot’s licence.
Since he was young, he knew he wanted to be a pilot. When he heard about air cadets and the opportunity to get his licence for free, he didn’t hesitate to join.
The last six years have been some of the best experiences of his life.
“The one thing I always like telling new cadets is, if you want to be a pilot, this is the place to be,” he said.
And it’s a place to have fun, he said.
“Yes, your goal is to learn and to advance. But sometimes that can take a backseat and just have fun,” he said with a smile.
There is no obligation to become a pilot. Many cadets go through the program just enjoying other aspects of the program like the survival skills they learn.
Squadron Warrant Officer Emily Abt has been in cadets since she was 12 and is now the highest-ranked cadet in the squadron.
While flying isn’t her top interest, she loved learning survival and leadership skills.
“The best part about it, in my position, is seeing the cadets have fun,” she said.
Becoming a cadet opens many doors for young adults that they otherwise may not have had.
“I have learned how to be more confident, especially when talking to new people,” said Abt.
Now that she’s in charge, she knows how to be around people and how to teach people. Not only that, but she knows how to be a follower, too, she said.
She’s learned how to successfully complete an interview and how to effectively speak in front of large crowds, skills many young adults struggle with.
“There’s a lot of things going through life that you don’t realize cadets taught you. I can go into many situations and feel much more confident,” she said.
“I could go into any job interview now,” said Vidal.
The higher-ranked cadets, like Abt and Vidal, are the ones teaching the younger cadets.
Couroux is there to help and guide them and make sure things run smoothly, but for the most part it’s cadets teaching cadets.
From day one, the cadets are trained to eventually be the leaders.
Couroux hopes to see more young adults join the program, which is open to anyone aged 12 to 18.
“We have 17 cadets registered, which is a little lighter than what we would like,” he said.
About 30 is the goal. And the more cadets who join, the more the program can offer them. It also helps the current cadets work on their leadership and teaching skills.
During COVID, cadets had to do a lot of virtual training, which was hard especially for such a hands-on, physical program.
“But, all in all, we didn’t have a high turnover in our unit,” though many units did, Couroux said.
“And I think I can attest that to the leadership of the older cadets and guiding the younger cadets through because that was a really hard phase,” he added.
The program is free to all cadets. That includes summer camps as well and if cadets are at the camp for a certain amount of time, they get paid.
“There’s a bit of adventure in there that a typical teenager doesn’t get to see,” he said.
For instance, some cadets go off to become range marksmanship instructors, he said.
And air cadets have the chance to obtain their pilot’s licence, like Vidal did.
Anyone who decides to join army cadets has the chance to go on a paratrooper course, which teaches cadets how to parachute from an airplane. Or those enrolled in sea cadets have the chance to get their CANSail qualifications.
“There’s a lot of things that you can do as a cadet that just screams adventure,” said Couroux.
Recently, as a pilot project, all of the air, sea and army units in the Niagara Region got together to experience each other’s training exercises for a weekend.
“Honestly, it was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Abt said with a laugh.
Air cadets participated in activities like canoeing and wearing face camouflage, while the other units got to try things like survival tactics.
It was a great way for the cadets to meet people from other units and experience different training exercises all while having fun.
Cadet Week is meant to recognize the program and the cadets who make it happen.
Couroux hopes to host something next year in honour of Cadet Week.
Any parents whose children are interested in air cadets are encouraged to attend an open house on Oct. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Croatian National Centre on Line 3 Road.
There, parents and kids will get to learn what the program is all about. There will also be a commanding officer parade that night.
“We really want to see more participation from the youth in the area,” said Couroux.
“There’s a lot that we can offer to them that I think they’ll get out of this,” he added.