Crazy for cadets

Old Per­li­can sea cadets 83-strong

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON

Swing by Bac­calieu Col­le­giate in Old Per­li­can on any given Wed­nes­day night, and you’re bound to find a lot of busy kids.

In one room, youths are prac­tic­ing on their band in­stru­ments, beat­ing out old march­ing songs and even the odd con­tem­po­rary tune, like Michael Jack­son’s “ Thriller.” Else­where, there’s a group of kids learn­ing to tie knots with thick rope, while oth­ers con­cen­trate on marks­man­ship skills with a pel­let gun.

At its busiest, there will be 83 young peo­ple from com­mu­ni­ties like West­ern Bay, Bay de Verde, Win­ter­ton, and all oth­ers in be­tween (17 in all) de­scend­ing on the school. They are mem­bers of the 295 Bac­calieu Royal Cana­dian Sea Cadets, one of the strong­est cadet corps in the prov­ince, ac­cord­ing to its com­mand­ing of­fi­cer, Lt.-Comm. Clif­ford Mor­gan.

“Our kids are in­volved at the lo­cal level, the re­gional level, the pro­vin­cial level, the At­lanticre­gion level, and the na­tional level,” he says. “ What­ever we get in­volved with, whether we have to go through com­pe­ti­tions to get there, we don’t shy away from it.”

For ex­am­ple, one can look at a re­cent zone drill competition 295 Bac­calieu took part in. While other teams con­sisted of 12 mem­bers, the Old Per­li­can crops had 23 par­tic­i­pants, plus its com­man­der.

“ We were pe­nal­ized for hav­ing a blank space, but like I say, my phi­los­o­phy is par­tic­i­pate. If you win, fine. If you lose, fine.”

Mor­gan at­tributes the suc­cess of the corps to the ded­i­ca­tion of both the cadets and their par­ents, who make sure they are able to at­tend train­ing and events.

“ We’ve got par­ents that will drive their kids here on a Wed­nes­day night for a pa­rade, then they’ll some­times bring them back on the week­ends for some pick-up train­ing we might want to do, and never ques­tion it.”

Par­ents are also gen­er­ous when it comes to rais­ing funds for the lo­cal cadet corps. The Bay de Verde branch of the Navy League, 295 Bac­calieu’s spon­sor­ing group, raised over $20,000 last year to sup­port cadet ac­tiv­i­ties. It has been the top spon­sor­ing com­mit­tee provin­cially two years in a row for cadets.

Those funds can prove use­ful for the var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties the sea cadets take on, from lo­cal com­pe­ti­tions to in­ter­na­tional de­ploy­ments. Cadets from 295 Bac­calieu have trav­elled to France, the United King­dom, the Nether­lands, Swe­den, Ber­muda, the United States, Ja­pan, and South Korea.

Lo­cally, the group takes part in half-a-dozen Santa Claus pa­rades and at­tends Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies at schools and war memo­ri­als. They also have taken part in food drives for Lower Is­land Cove and West­ern Bay.

Matthew Noo­nan is in his sixth and fi­nal year with 295 Bac­calieu. He serves as its chief petty of­fi­cer, and also holds a newly-cre­ated pro­vin­cial ti­tle as the se­nior el­e­men­tal cadet for the sea cadets. He was in­spired to join cadets af­ter watch­ing his friends get in­volved. Noo­nan also has a cousin who serves with the Cana­dian Navy as an of­fi­cer on HMCS St. John’s, fur­ther ce­ment­ing his in­ter­est in stick­ing with it.

“ This is as close as a 12-year-old can come to be­ing in the navy,” says Noo­nan, who hopes to at­tend mil­i­tary col­lege in Kingston, Ont. this fall.

His cur­rent lead­er­ship role with the lo­cal cadet corps is some­thing he al­ways as­pired to.

“I like to push my­self. I al­ways want to be the per­fec­tion­ist ... it’s not an easy thing to get to this po­si­tion. When you’re 12 years old and you’re look­ing at it, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, can I be that per­son up there in the front?’ Step by step, I got there, and I’m very glad to be there at this mo­ment.”

There have been a num­ber of high­lights in his cadet ca­reer, and while he loves do­ing lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties with the corps, he has been es­pe­cially ap­pre­cia­tive of the time he has spent at sum­mer camp in Corn­wal­lis, N. S. In 2009, he re­ceived the ANAVETS Cadet Medal of Merit. The medal is pre­sented each year to 16 cadets across Canada.

“ When they said my name, I went up in front of the 1,000 peo­ple on HMCS Aca­dia, and be­ing the per­fec­tion­ist I am, it didn’t even phase me. I to­tally blanked out. I got up over the steps, turned, and ev­ery­thing was just gone. It’s just one goal you’ve been work­ing so hard for, for so many years, and you’ve fi­nally ac­com­plished it. That’s the best thing about cadets for me. You ac­com­plish these goals and feel pride in your­self.”

A sig­nif­i­cant strength of the lo­cal cadet corps, as Noo­nan sees it, comes with the num­ber of se­nior cadets in place.

“A lot of corps in the prov­ince are lack­ing in se­nior cadets,” he says. “ They have maybe two or three cadets, peo­ple my age. We have 18 petty of­fi­cers and chiefs. That makes a huge dif­fer­ence. It makes my life a lot eas­ier.”

Chief Petty Of­fi­cer 2nd Class Vic­to­ria Leshane is one of those fel­low se­nior cadets Noo­nan speaks of. The Grade 12 stu­dent from Lower Is­land Cove is also in her sixth and fi­nal year, and is look­ing to study nautical science in the fall.

Like Noo­nan, she saw friends older than her join up, and once the op­por­tu­nity came for her to be­come a cadet, she did so.

“I like that we’re teenagers, but we can have this re­spect from the younger cadets to­wards us, who will lis­ten to us as if we’re teach­ers. That’s kind of a cool thing you don’t see very of­ten. I also like the dis­ci­pline of it, the struc­ture, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Her own per­sonal cadet high­light came last fall while trav­el­ling on the HMCS St. John’s as part of a fish­eries pa­trol. The ship’s in­tended use was set aside when Hur­ri­cane Igor hit, forc­ing all crew mem­bers, in­clud­ing Leshane, to be­come a part of re­lief ef­forts by trans­port­ing goods to Burin Penin­sula com­mu­ni­ties iso­lated by dam­age to the roads. “ That was re­ally cool.” While its mem­ber­ship is strong, 295 Bac­calieu has wit­nessed a de­cline in en­rol­ment, but Mor­gan says that is un­avoid­able due to the re­gion’s de­cline in pop­u­la­tion. Mor­gan, who’s also the vice-prin­ci­pal at Bac­calieu Col­le­giate, notes that there are only 206 stu­dents at­tend­ing the school, whereas there were 350 stu­dents at the school a few years ago when 295 Bac­calieu had 117 mem­bers.

“Even though the num­bers are go­ing down, the per­cent­age of peo­ple get­ting in­volved is go­ing up,” he says.

“ There’s al­ways been a ca­ma­raderie in get­ting the ju­nior cadets to join,” adds Leshane. “ When you get into Grade 7, the big thing is to join cadets. That’s our main thing around here — ev­ery­one looks for­ward to see­ing the cadets come out.”

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