Before she was even old enough to join, Raeanne Stafford decided she wanted to be a cadet. Just 11 years old, she had met a young woman at a school activity who was part of a Canadian Cadet Organization, which is funded by the Department of National Defense and open to kids ages 12 to 18.
Raeanne was intrigued about the various cadet activities, such as marksmanship, drills, sports and games. Being someone who enjoys outdoor activities such as whitewater canoeing, camping and downhill skiing, Raeanne was eager to take on new challenges while having the chance to make new friends. Also, she was impressed with the organization’s focus on community service — cadets attend Canada Day parades, host a haunted house at Halloween and volunteer with veterans on Father’s Day.
But Raeanne’s mother, Tracey Stafford, didn’t share her daughter’s enthusiasm. She viewed the cadets as a military activity. “I had a very strict, military-type upbringing,” says Stafford, whose father was a Major in the Governor General’s Foot Guards. “I wasn’t sure that I wanted my daughter to be part of an organization that I thought would have very rigid rules and regulations.”
However, since Raeanne wasn’t old enough to sign up, Stafford simply didn’t talk any more about the topic. But on her 12th birthday, Raeanne pulled out the cadet pamphlet she had been saving for the past year and begged to join.
Seeing it was something she was serious about, her parents agreed and have since come to respect and admire the organization for the benefits and opportunities it provides young people. “They are really dedicated to producing well-rounded citizens,” Stafford says. Cadets can learn a musical instrument and join a band. They participate in team sports, do volunteer work and learn how to respect themselves and others. They also learn the value and reward of hard work, how to apply for promotions and conduct themselves in interviews — all necessary lessons for their transition to adulthood.
The Cadets does not charge its participants (costs are picked up by the Department of National Defense). Despite the government funding, there is no pressure for cadets to join the military. Participants may join one of three different programs: Royal Canadian Air Cadets, Royal Canadian Sea Cadets or Royal Canadian Army Cadets. There are currently about 56,000 cadets across Canada. Participants have weekly training during the school year as well as the option of attending summer camp. Depending on the program, cadets might learn adventure or survival skills, participate in flying or gliding exercises or do activities to develop teamwork and leadership skills.
At 16, Raeanne is now a Flight Corporal at the 690 Lakeshore Squadron in Beaconsfield. She has worked her way up the ranks from a recruit at age 12 to her present position. Doing so involved learning drills, rules and regulations as well as taking classes and writing some exams. Classes are held during the mandatory Monday night meetings held from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Beaconsfield High School. During these classes, the cadets learn about Canada’s laws, citizenship, history, flag as well as how to be a good citizen and an effective public speaker.
Through quizzes and tests, cadets get to show how much they’ve learned — and they get to move up in rank. With each promotion, a cadet is given more duties within the squadron as well as the chance to take more advanced courses at summer training camps.
Raeanne says some of her favourite experiences as a cadet include learning to shoot on a range, gliding, participating in the games club and having the opportunity to go to summer camp each year. On the range, she gets to shoot an air rifle (a gun that propels a projectile by compressed air). In the games room, she enjoys playing on the flight simulator or facing off with her friends in a round of Risk, Boggle or chess.
For Stafford, watching how her daughter has benefitted from the cadets has been rewarding. “Over the past four years, we have watched Raeanne grow into a responsible and respectful person,” she says. “We’ve seen a dramatic improvement in her ability to study and manage her time effectively, and work toward her future goal of becoming a police officer. She has learned that what you put into life, you get back and that if you are true to yourself you can achieve anything. We believe these things are a direct result of her time with the Cadets.”
To learn more about the Cadets, go to www.cadets.ca.