Crazy for cadets
Old Perlican sea cadets 83-strong
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.”