Cadets a top priority for CAF leaders

Capt Bonnie-Jo Clark is Zone Training Officer for Cold Lake area. Photo: Cliff Kenyon

Cliff Kenyon

If you meet Captain Bonnie-Jo Clark you will soon learn what she’s passionate about.

She won’t hide that Cadets are important to her and have been for most of her life.

It’s not surprising she has made them her vocation, currently working with Regional Cadet Support Unit (Northwest) – RCSU (NW), J3 Zone Training Officer – Cold Lake Area.

Her love for the military came early in life. She’s an armed forces brat and as a child she spent time in Germany while her father was stationed there three times and then in Cold Lake.

“I’m so proud of my dad,” she says.

She loves Cold Lake, which she calls home, and the fact she is able to turn her passion for the Cadets into a career as a reservist and Cadet leader.

She joined the Air Cadets when she was 15 and: “I haven’t stopped. We are here building on our future.”

It is not only Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members who appreciate the efforts of Cadets Canada. There’s more than 300 cadets, aged 12 to 18, in the Cold Lake area. Cadets come from different backgrounds. At 664 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron (RCACS), by example, 30% of cadets come from military families but this is not the case in every unit.

Captain Clark said the goal of the Canadian Cadet Organization, with about 52,000 Cadets and 200 Corps across Canada, is clear: Developing in youth the attributes of good citizenship and leadership, promote physical fitness and to stimulate the interest of youth in the sea, land and air activities of the CAF. And it’s fun.

The Cadet roster has included astronauts Chris Hadfield, Marc Garneau and Jeremy Hansen and Olympic Biathlete Jean-Phillippe Le Guellec.

As Zone Training Officer Captain Clark oversees 12 units including those in Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Lloydminster, St. Paul and Meadow Lake. They aren’t all Air Cadets. Cadet units all encourage the same principles of confidence and leadership but vary in their activities. For example, Air Cadets may pursue gliding while learning about air crew survival, aerospace activities and marksmanship. Army Cadets learn about survival, expedition and orienteering skills. Sea Cadets learn about sailing and have access to training vessels. All cadets can attend summer camps plus opportunities for national and international travel.

Based at 4 Wing is 664 RC Air Cadet Squadron. They meet weekly on Tuesday evenings at Art Smith Aviation Academy. During the weekly parades they learn a variety of skills including citizenship, teamwork, leadership with older Cadets helping to teach younger Cadets. Through the year there is a variety of weekend activities such as outdoor survival training, drill and range competitions.

All Cadet groups are also involved in fund raising to pay for activities. The Cadet program is funded by the Department of National Defence in partnership with army, navy and sea cadet leagues, plus local community support.

“We can’t charge cadets, this was made very clear this year that no unit could charge cadet fees,” For some activities, like planned trips for example, we do ask parents to help in regards to fundraising.

She said she gains satisfaction seeing a child who join’s Cadet’s at 12 years of age, grows their independence, team work, leadership and becomes a senior cadet, who leaves the program as a confident adult. She said some people believe cadets must join the armed forces, but that is untrue and Cadet training is valuable in any occupation.

“Your future is your choice. You decide. Being a Cadet can help give you the background to succeed.”

“It builds your confidence and leadership skills. It’s Cadets leading Cadets.”

She said as a Cadet instructor she learned that most children need and want discipline and rules to follow.

“A lot of children want some discipline. In the Cadets, they have a uniform to wear and boots to polish.”

While always recruiting Cadets, Captain Clark is also busy recruiting instructors for the classes held at each unit. She said being approved to be a Cadet instructor can take several months and can be as rigorous as joining the armed forces.