Cadets celebrate 80 years of youth program


For 80 years the Air Cadet League of Canada has been passing on critical skills and honouring the sacrifices of war.

It’s an exciting time with the Brandon Air Cadets unit to be celebrating the landmark anniversary, said Capt. Sam van Huizen. He appreciates how the youth organization has had a lasting impact on the community and its young people.

“The cadet program itself is, I think, a staple and a model program for youth of all ages, genders and demographics. We have such a wide variety of kids who are interested in the variety of different subjects,” he said. “We’re still a healthy, strong unit, and we’re going to continue on for hopefully another 80 years in making good model citizens.”

January marked the official commencement of the unit and it has been a rousing, if bittersweet, year celebrating the momentous occasion.

Van Huizen said that while it has proved challenging to keep youth engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has overcome the adversity with the move to online training.

They now have the opportunity to meet in-person, but must follow all provincial public health measures. Cadet training is limited to 25 people for anything indoors, even though the organization boasts more than 50 members.

“We’re looking for creative ways to try and meet in-person, but we still deliver the training each and every week on a virtual setting,” van Huizen said.

Typically cadets participate in the Remembrance Day ceremony in Brandon, but this will not be possible in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Unfortunately our crew did not receive permission from our command. We were trying to participate and we were making it an optional activity for those Cadets who are vaccinated … but, our command was looking at the risk of the large gathering size and said that we shouldn’t participate to make sure the Cadet program does not become one of those variants for spreading of the illness,” van Huizen said.

It is an unfortunate scenario, he added, because cadets were looking forward to participating in the in-person ceremony.

Remembrance Day ceremonies remain a critical aspect for the youth organization because they offer young people a chance to engage and learn about Canadian military history and the sacrifices of veterans.

“As we move further and further away from those significant events in our history that impacted us and brought us to where we are with the freedoms and privileges that we have, I feel like it’s very important to pay homage at least once a year to understand exactly where, why, how and what we can do to remember the great sacrifice that several generations made so that we can be where we are today,” van Huizen said.

He added the message of remembrance is of growing importance because stories are lost to time and the slow aging of Canada’s veteran community.

There is a duty to engage and listen to their stories, he said, so their tales can live on through younger generations. He enjoys honouring Remembrance Day each year because of the insights and wisdom presentations can pass on to cadets. These teachings impart why the cadets are involved with Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada.

Van Huizen hosted a Remembrance Day presentation Friday during a training meeting with the cadets.

During the presentation, he spoke to the importance of the poppy, why it is used as a symbol and the significant place it has in Canadian history.

Van Huizen said he focused on the sacrifice symbolized by the flower and the individual Canadian’s who gave up their lives and freedoms to ensure future generations could have their rights and freedoms safe and secure against tyranny.

He could see the impact this message had on youth, and the significance of the talk was boosted because the poppy is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a symbol of Remembrance Day this year.

Van Huizen praised the Canadian Legion for keeping the memory and meaning of the poppy alive to serve as a symbol for future generations.

A critical relationship has been fostered between the cadets and legion members, he said, creating the opportunity for generations to connect and learn about military service.

“It’s building a story-telling relationship as we go forward. In some years we would invite Legion members to our ceremonial parades and have them talk in person,” Van Huizen said.

Typically, cadet members help with the annual Poppy Fund campaign, but this has not been possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He hopes they will be able to resume location when public health measures allow.

Cadets engage youth through a variety of different elements. Van Huizen works with the Air Cadets, but the Sea and Army Cadets are also available for young people in the Brandon area.

The cadet program offers a variety of different activities and interests for youth based on the goal of “creating model citizens for Canada.”

The Air Cadets have three objectives when it comes to membership: to promote an interest in the Canadian Forces; promote physical fitness; and impart leadership skills, instructional techniques and the importance of community service.

For anyone looking for additional information or interested in joining the cadets, contact van Huizen at [email protected] The free program is available for youth between the ages of 12 and 18. Recruiting typically takes place in the fall and members are encouraged to join by December.

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