Two Lacombe cadets are happy to share their experiences in the Royal Canadian Air Cadet Program.
Sgt. Mitchel Pierce and Sgt. Joel Paquet of Lacombe are members of 65 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron in Ponoka who are grateful for the opportunities the program has granted them.
Pierce and Paquet both joined the Air Cadets because of their interest in both military and also aviation.
Both of them joined the program in 2012 at the age of 14.
Now 16, these young men are entering level four of the Royal Canadian Air Cadet Program and recently returned from a summer training camp in Gimli, Manitoba.
Paquet said the cadet program can be intimidating for new cadets, but it usually doesn’t take long for them to get hooked.
“There’s something about the program that just makes you want to come back for more,” said Paquet.
He added that once you get over the intimidation of the initial phase the cadets are quite open and friendly.
Pierce agreed, saying the camaraderie within the cadets is second to none.
“It’s a great way to make friends. I have made so many friends in that group,” said Pierce. He added there are incredible opportunities for cadets only available through the program, like the glider pilot training he undertook while in Gimli.
At summer training camps, there are a number of training programs cadets can partake in, said Pierce.
Some of them only require cadets to show interest and sign up.
Others, like the glider pilot training that Pierce did, are scholarship programs with a more in-depth application process that includes writing an essay and completing an interview with the review board.
Pierce was initially told he did not qualify for the glider pilot training, but then was told he would be allowed to take the training shortly after arriving in Gimli.
He said that receiving his license was a long-time goal.
“I’ve always loved the idea of flying. I love planes,” said Pierce. “I thought there was no better way to spend the summer.
“It’s something that I have always wanted.”
Paquet also qualified late to complete the training and obtain his glider pilot’s license.
However, he was unable to undergo the training because of technical issues – fairly tall for a 16-year-old, Paquet surpassed the 200 lb. weight limit for gliders by about two or three pounds.
Instead, Paquet completed the Advanced Aviation Training.
Paquet said the program takes cadets through what is called ‘ground school’ – training that teaches prospective pilots the technical side of flying, such as air law, engines and aerodynamics.
Paquet added the program differs little from what non-cadets would go through to become licensed.
He said the difference would be that in the cadet program, the Advanced Aviation Training program also shows cadets how to teach such classes and they are expected to be able to teach a class by the end of the training.
However, Paquet and Pierce said the true value in summer camp training is the experience itself.
The stories and friends they make through the summer are just as valuable, if not more, than the actual training.
Summer training is not the only opportunity through cadets that has been a memorable experience for Pierce and Paquet.
In June, both of them were able to travel to Europe where they participated in celebrations for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, spending most of their time in Normandy.
Paquet and Pierce said they were surprised by the contrast in how European nations treat D-Day as opposed to Canadians.
For Canadians, they said, D-Day is a somber remembrance of those who gave their lives in the invasion of Normandy.
For the French, it is the celebration of the day the liberation of their country began.
“That ceremony, it was amazing,” said Pierce. “There were people hanging out their windows and clapping and waving Canadian flags at us as we walked by and they cheered.”
“These people, to this day are very, very thankful,” he said. “As we walked past the French police force, they stopped and stood in columns and saluted us as we came by. These people are very grateful for what (Canadians) have done.
“It’s a very happy day for the French.”
Standing on Juno Beach, where the Canadian soldiers who were part of D-Day fought, was something of a surreal experience for the young cadets, they said.
“It’s a very hard feeling to describe,” said Paquet as he recounted trying to imagine what it had been like for Canadian soldiers, scrambling without cover to secure the beach.
“It was amazing to be there,” said Pierce. “It really gave me a brilliant understanding of why (D-Day) needed to happen.”