The Pacific Ocean is about 1,200 kilometres west of Airdrie by road, but that hasn’t discouraged the Airdrie Sea Cadets from learning the skills necessary to ply the deep blue sea.
“I’ve always liked the water,” says Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Ben McIntosh (Chief McIntosh), one of more than 30 cadets, ages 12-18, who meet weekly at Cooper’s Crossing School for ceremonial review and training.
“There’s a bunch of really great kids here who come to be themselves, and to express themselves in a really positive way”
“My parents, my uncles, my aunts – a lot of my family have been in Sea Cadets,” he explains.
Chief McIntosh moved here five years ago from Red Deer with his family, and, until 2016, was a member of the Calgary corps.
Where do cadets receive nautical training?
“Ghost Lake, near Cochrane,” laughs Chief McIntosh. “That’s as big as it gets around here.”
This will be his last year with the Cadets.
When he turns 19, he’ll be decommissioned from the corps.
He’s not sad about that, though.
“I like the whole cadet program in general. It’s structured and it’s given me lots of opportunities.”
Some of these have included training at camps such as the Rocky Mountain Cadet Training Centre northwest of Cochrane, and summer seamanship programs on the HMCS Quadra in Comox, B.C.
“I’ve got friends from Nova Scotia to B.C.,” Chief McIntosh says.
Cadets receive training in drills, leadership and nautical skills, and radio communications, and are encouraged to move into specialized fields like marksmanship and boating.
Chief McIntosh plans to join the Naval Reservists as a cook.
Stories like Chief McIntosh’s inspire his commanding officer, Lieutenant Navy Jessica Tedford (LTN Tedford).
“I do this because of the kids. You see what it does for them,” says LTN Tedford, who has been involved in Sea Cadets since 2009.
Sea Cadets have been in Canada for 100 years, but only in Airdrie for two, and she was also involved in getting the corps started.
“We’ve been working hard to grow our little corps in this community, and to provide another youth organization.”
The program is free, including uniforms and nearly everything else.
The Department of National Defence funds the corps, with the Cadets’ local Rocky View organization fundraising for facility rental and other non-essentials.
“It’s so amazing to see a shy cadet – not sure where they fit in – grow into a confident leader,” she says. “You see that you’ve made a difference.”
One of those cadets is 14-year-old Leading Seaman Carter Ellwand (LS Ellwand), who joined less than two years ago.
“When I came on, I was really shy. I couldn’t talk to anyone,” says LS Ellwand. “Now, I’m more of a leader. I can talk to people. Cadets did that for me.”
He’s also reached the top level in marksmanship – Expert Class – and he’d never shot a rifle before Cadets.
Expert Class means hitting a 1.5 centimetre target from 10 metres with a Daisy 853C air rifle.
Ellwand plans to stay in Sea Cadets until he graduates because, he says, “It’s like a family here.”
Chief McIntosh’s sister, Petty Officer 2nd Class Rebecca McIntosh (PO2 McIntosh), is clear about why she joined the cadets.
“I was a bit of a problem child. It sounds super clichéd, but when I joined, I grew as a person.”
PO2 McIntosh, 16, says she’s learned responsibility and to lead other people, and that has helped her.
“There’s a bunch of really great kids here who come to be themselves, and to express themselves in a really positive way. They get a lot out of it.”
Her brother agrees: “The longer you’re in it, and the more you give to it, the more it gives back to you.”