The Greatest Journey.

You might be wondering what that picture is. If you are, I suppose that means the mystery is only now unfolding. All of those vague hints towards some wildly different post I was going to make in June, and that one post on Instagram that highlighted the blog’s new category: Life.

Today, it is time for those shackles to come loose, and for a special story to come out. Not one written by a writer behind the keyboard, typing away at ideas and introspects as they relate to stories and their meanings. This is a story that is true, and with whatever meaning you want it to have. This the story of one side to a life, over the course of five grand years. This is my story.

I apologize for the dramatization! You probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but this post will not be about creative writing. Instead, I want to narrate the story of my Cadet career! This is the first time I have done something like this, but this is a story I want to cement here and now as a memento. While this post will come out a bit later than when I started writing it, (right now it is currently 8:58 pm on a Monday evening) I want to capture the thoughts I have before I leave the Cadet program as a whole.

Without further ado, this is my story!

Before we begin, I should probably describe what the Royal Canadian Air Cadet program really is. You can skip below if you want to get to the meat and potatoes, but it is a youth program for ages 12-19. It is not the military for kids, but instead an extensive leadership program, although that is a very limited description of it. We do everything from flying (yes, ACTUALLY flying actual planes and getting an ACTUAL licence) to field exercises (basically ‘camping’ with capture the flag and formally smoke grenades) to military drill to band to first aid to effective speaking to volunteering to parades to biathlon to sports and fitness to shooting! It is a program that is the most of what you make it and does not require any interest in the military. As you will find out from my story, you will make plenty of friends and accomplish many things to build yourself up to what you might see as a model citizen.

There is plenty more, but that is the gist of it.

Year 1

Where did it start for me? Well, back in September 2012! When I first walked onto my squadron, I had no idea what the Air Cadet program was or what my place in my squadron would eventually be. Their drill looked amazing to me at the time, and I was somehow under the impression that the Flag Party routine looked easier than the rest of the squadron’s drill. Despite this, having a clear image of what Air Cadets actually was made me very excited to join the following week! I was under the (other) false impression that it would it would be much alike to Scouts due to my complete ignorance as an eighth grader, with a focus on building yourself up more so individualistically.

I still remember standing in a group of other new recruits on that first day. I was extremely shy and quiet (which I still am tbh) and I could not remember their names, even combing two of them by accident. Despite this, I was not swayed away from the program from what I remember. On the second night, I made a decision that while minor, changed everything. Our Squadron Commander came over to us Level 1’s, handed us a clipboard for something called ‘Drill Team,’ and as a naive child, I joined because I did not see the option of saying no.

If you are in Cadets, you know what bear-marching is. Over half of the first of the first Drill Team practice, I went back and forth between that and marching normally, and I felt like an insult to the rest of the squadron. Despite being a Level 1, I wanted to look amazing, acting constantly ‘professional’ which was really me being immensely quiet. Back when I was in Level 1, we had a thing called ‘Level Senior’ where one exemplary Cadet would get the chance to watch after their level following opening parade. After not getting it the first time, I knew I had to try harder. I had a craving to be the best of the best, and next month I achieved what I desired.

Our Level 1 year was quite small, and we were a moderately tight(?) knit group. On our first FTX, I still remember what this one girl told me (and again and again later in the training year). You see, I am a quiet person, but I am usually just accepted for that and not pressured into speaking/out of my comfort zone. She told me to talk more, which was extremely odd to young me. Talk to a crowd of scary people, and become friends with them? I valued my life, but this is the one regret I have of this story. I wish I listened to her then, but I suppose I learned the lesson later on in this tale.

One tragic event happened during right after: the death of my grandfather. I got this news while on a vacation in Hawaii, and it certainly was not the most pleasant way to wake up in the morning. Despite that, I learned one thing: he saw me marching as a Cadet. An AC in blue, daunting through a cloudy morning representing a lifestyle that my family has dedicated themselves to for so long. Knowing that he smiled was one thing that kept me pushing on: Air Cadets had an impact on not only myself, but for those around me. I could make others proud of not who I was, but for something I stood in and believed in. And although I most likely did not realize it then, I could and would do it as a member of a team, as a teacher, and as a leader.

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Drill Team was one part of this mentality. Imagine a perfect machine with fifteen different parts, all working in unison for five minutes to present the perfect display of absolute precision. I still remember looking up to our Drill Team Commander and being intimidated by our Drill Team Officer, (sorry, sir) and especially doubting my ability. However, this was when I began to break out of my shell a slight bit, (but not really) and I still remember competition. Second place to 777 Neptune, and we went off to provincials. To be a part of that was amazing, and when I came back, the training year was nearing its end.

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There was an award for Top Level 1 in terms of Academic Achievement. I was certain that I had a shot at it, but there was one other Cadet in my Level who I was certain would get it instead. This individual had the characteristics I thought were essential in being the model Cadet and I still believe that they did. It came to a surprise that I won the award instead, and it felt like it was the end of a chapter. Little did I know that it was just getting started.

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Before our second training year, I went to General Training, my first summer training course in the Cadet program. Two weeks in a new place with new friends – sounds like the start of this, doesn’t it? However, this was the first time I was truly away from all of my family and friends, but there I learned what Cadets really meant. Teamwork, teamwork, and teamwork. I still remember telling my flight staff that I wanted to become more social, and getting told to ‘never stop’ and that they were ‘proud of me’ once I completed the course. GT was a place where I made lots of new friends, and that second last night was one that sticks out as well. A bunch of friends looking out to a magnificent sunset, with a streak of clouds like a delicate paintbrush on the navy-blue canvas.

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GTC was the first time I cried in my Cadet career, but that was of happiness. Still, I am not going to end the story on this note, will I? A Cadet who was extremely quiet, and had the happy ending?

Year 2

Another September of sunshine, and now I was in high school. Grade 9 was awkward for me: I was expecting to meet a lot of new people just like Cadets the prior year, but I was disappointed. While this eventually came true, I did not like high school at all to start off with (I love education, though). Cadets felt lifting on the other hand, and this time I went into Level 2 headstrong like a wave on the ocean that will hopefully not knock a surfer off of their board. All my friends were back, and I actually talked to them this time around! There were also a bunch of new recruits below me, and some of them even have a role to play later on in this story. Despite this, familiar faces were all around me, and it felt amazing.

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Drill Team was the same, and we even came in second place once again. While we did not move onto provincials due to budget cuts, (sigh…) I also found out I liked writing a lot at around this time! Not to deviate, but I liked to show off a lot in Level 2, and I was even appointed a parade position: Flight Sergeant/2IC. Now, a Cpl/FCpl should NEVER be appointed this position, but at the time this was empowering. I had a lot more responsibility, but I embraced it and stood on whatever pedestal I could. I thought things would continue to go uphill, but that apparently could not happen.

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In late May of 2014, I broke my wrist. Now, I also signed up for Basic Drill and Ceremonial as a summer course, and I made the ultimate decision to not go as the cast came off the day after I would have arrived at camp. I was upset at not going, and getting Top Level 2 felt secondary to the hope of going to camp. While I breezed through this section of my Cadet career, I feel as if there is no greater lesson here. If things are consistently good they will come crashing down at one point or another. Perhaps things will become consistently bad, but it is important to remember that things will also become better eventually.

Level 2 was when I can say I semi-broke out of my shell. I was not adventurous, but I talked a lot more to the peers I had. There were new faces, and I even saw some old ones leaving. This is also a bittersweet part of the Cadet program: knowing everyone around you is only a part of the story. They may only be around for your beginning, with you only being a part of the end of their story. The cycle is one that repeats endlessly and is a reason why I will not be able to revisit my squadron forever. In ten years, it will more than likely be completely unrecognizable.

I remember this point of my life feeling effortless, uplifting, and blissful. However, that is not an ending, and things have to continue.

Year 3

Level 3 was where everything changed. I had been used to a constant uphill routine, but I should have expected complications from the moment I broke my wrist earlier that year. As a tenth grader, I was in my first two Honours classes: English 10 Honours and Social Studies 11 Honours. I was prospective, but I was not expecting to be challenged as much as I did. The C+ I got on my first English write (I don’t want to sound too pessimistic, but let’s just say I was too comfortable with being an A-student at this point) was something I was not too proud of, and I finally saw a part of myself that was afraid and clung on to what I had.

While also not too related to Cadets, I also went on a huge three-week family trip to New Zealand and Fiji, which made things quite worse. I could not talk to my friends, attend school, or be in Cadets for three whole weeks, which was a long time. After this time, I noticed a transformation. I was no longer as invested in classes at Cadets, as it felt like more of the same. I began to slightly flow away from my peers, and I still wonder what would have happened differently if I had not been absent. I was also a normal Cadet in a flight as opposed to having a parade position, which disappointed me back then.

Despite this, I pushed on forward, losing interest as well as friends. Level 3 was when a lot of my level quit the program one way or another, and even now there are only two left from my original group. Classes were not gaining my interest, and Drill Team did not go as well as it had before. Even worse, I was once again selected for Basic Drill and Ceremonial, but another important family trip was the cause of me not going for the second time in a row. I was quite upset, and dare I say, I even contemplated quitting from time to time.

One new thing I tried was Band, specifically for the purpose of competition. Learning Band drill as well as being in a marching band was something I had never experienced to that point, and as someone who has been playing music since first grade, it was definitely an experience! New opportunities were something that kept me moving forward, as any blip in a usual routine brings a lot more enjoyment. However, nothing was the same. Peers were gone, and Cadets somehow felt a lot more empty at this point. I am still disappointed I did not follow through with joining Flag Party like I initially did, but I digress. Still, things did pick up towards the end, and I remember making new friends and opening horizons within the squadron. Despite this, Level 4 was the year that would either make or break my Cadet career.

Year 4

Grade 11 and Level 4. The penultimate year of my life leading up to that point, and it started off like usual. Very few people left in my level, I was in a flight, and nothing was really changing. However, one specific individual came into our squadron from another, and he was quite the character at that. With that, there was also something I never saw coming that changed everything.

One of my officers asked me if I wanted to be in Level 5. Now, that was not a question I expected to hear. I knew late-joiners (I joined the program a year late) were automatically accelerated a level or two, but I was never given that opportunity until that moment. Knowing all my friends were gone and how mundane lessons were becoming, I graciously accepted the offer, not knowing what would actually happen next. At that moment I was a Level 5 out of the blue.

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A lot of peers I had outranked me, and at that moment I felt like a massive underdog. I was once again in the parade position of Flight Sergeant, but now I had to teach Cadets. I had a mock lesson in Level 3, but now I had to do the real deal. Of course, I messed it up, as I had no idea what I was doing. I taught the new Level 3’s off the EO, (I apologize for that, and this current year I actually taught my lessons properly lol) and one time I did not have anything prepared and almost had a panic attack during opening parade. Cadets was still routine but in a new kind of way that was still mundane in my eyes.

Band and Drill Team were once again elements of my fourth year, but nothing was drastically new. We did much better at Band competition, but we just missed our mark. One event I remember is the Level 5 Workshop, which was awkward as I did not know anyone from any other squadrons. I even embarrassed myself in front of my peers, but it was an important learning experience. One thing I dealt with a lot in tenth grade/Level 3 as well as that year was that you may succeed a lot, but you will fail a lot as well. Despite that, failure is a learning experience and must be looked at as that. If you give up after failing, you are limiting yourself to the future and how ripe it is in opportunity.

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Level 5 was also when I got to know a lot of junior Cadets a lot more, and I realized one reason for why I was there: because of them. The program was about cementing a legacy, and my job was to give mine. Despite what I thought I was building up towards, I had to push on and see it through that I left a positive impact on a program that I once loved immensely. Thankfully, I regained that love later that summer when I finally went to my second and final summer training course, Drill and Ceremonial Instructor Course.

In July 2016, I headed on a plan to head over to that course. I would not be seeing anyone I knew for six weeks this time (as opposed to two) and I had no idea what would happen. It could be the best six weeks of my life or the worst part of my Cadet career. With the way this story has gone so far, which one do you think it is?

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Now, I am not a social person, but that summer I learned something important: I am not shy. Or at least, that’s what someone said to me. I just like to think. A thousand different possibilities can exist, and that is something that fascinates me (hence the existence of this blog). That summer began with me plunging myself into new strangers, realizing that I either talk too much or not at all. I also realized that I will never be the best at everything, despite getting Top Level 1, 2, and 3. However, there is no such thing as the best of the best of the best. Everyone has weaknesses, but a team is how to circumvent them and to build the closest thing to perfection.

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DCIC was where everything turned around in my Cadet career. It is the reason for why I did not quit on the program, as I loved everyone there. I learned rifle and flag drill, and it made me feel elite. One specific story I want to share is the Rifle Drill Team (‘RDT’) tryout that was brutal. Our uniforms had to look amazing, and our drill had to look perfect. It was two hours, and people were taken out of the tryout in phases. Not everyone was happy; some cried, others didn’t talk for days. Some were so close, but in the end, I made it through. Now, the RDT was something I thought I would try out for because the chance was there, and there was nothing to lose from trying out. After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, am I right? You will not get every chance you take, but the only way you will find that out is if you are on a constant move. Do not overthink what you lose, just reflect and move on similar to what I said about failure.

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Back to DCIC, another moment that sticks out is when I was sick. I wrote my entire barracks a sentimental note that was to be passed around, but one of our Sergeants read it aloud as a speech. One Cadet even got up every thirty minutes to replace the wet cloth on my head, and I appreciated the kind gesture so much that I smuggled food out of the mess hall when he was sick later on. I remember a rave we had, but I decided to sit out after things got too sweaty. I sat with a few of my peers, looking at the Okanagan sunset. We only had a week left, and then everything would end. I would never see most of these people again, and as cringeworthy(?) as it is to say, I still love them. I remember sobbing for an entire day when we left and telling one of my peers in an emotional burst that I appreciated being in a place where I could be appreciated for who I was and not immediately shafted. I will always remember the simple response: “Why wouldn’t we?”

Year 5

Now, Level 5 (round two) was where things picked back up for me. I decided to move forward, despite not being at DCIC. This was my final year of Cadets, and like I said I had to make an impact. However, I knew to not get too cocky: you don’t get to choose what kind of impact you make to such a precise extent. It’s ultimately how your subordinates and peers see you, and what you do with that.

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Now, I finally decided to get more involved. I became a WO2, (the second highest rank) and I tried out for Flag Party for the first time and got Commander! I was very excited to work with a smaller group of Cadets and pass on a summer of training to them. I got to spend a lot of time teaching large groups of Cadets the proper way for both Drill and in the classroom. I was once again excited and happy to be in the program, and I can hold that to being true to this very moment.

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I did not pursue Band, but Drill Team was an interesting story. Just as I said earlier, you do not get every opportunity that you seek, and Drill Team Commander was one of those. Despite this, I noticed a shift in the Drill Team that will ensure its success in the upcoming years: more power to the Cadets in it. What that means is that it is built and formulated as a family, like a perfect machine of pieces that care for one another and a Commander that intermixes them self with the team. While we did not succeed as much as I hoped, it was not a failure. Instead, it was the start of a new chapter that I will watch closely, but never be a part of. I’m okay with that.

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Now, I should mention that this was the year that I showed up every week, despite the fact that it is twelfth grade and that I am graduating from high school. Did I drop Chemistry 12 for Cadets? Well, no, but I can say as of this moment that my positivity has been exponentially high when compared to last year and the year before. I finally got a lot more social with my peers, although maybe a bit too much so as you will see below by the ‘pictures’ that I embraced in my final month as a Cadet.

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Now, I failed a bit this year as well. I fumbled as the Flag Party Commander here and there, especially in places where I should have been more competent. However, knowing that I built a family from seven individuals was something I could never be more proud of. If I could have another full year of Cadets to tie up every loose end of Cadets that I have, I would take it in a heartbeat. However, Year 5 is my final year. It summarized my Cadet career and functioned as my swan-song in the program. I would not change a thing about it, as it is my ending. The ending of the best part of the last five years of my life, and one that I will remember forever. It shaped me as an individual, making me go from silent to slightly but not really talkative.

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There are plenty more events in my Cadet career, but this is my story. It is only a fragment of my squadron’s story, and even of my own full story. If you are a Level 1 or 2, do not give up hope. Take every opportunity that you can, as you do not really know what you want until you have it. If you are on my Level, I apologize. I should have been more expressive, but that won’t really be a part of my repertoire. I’ll leave that to further character development.If you aren’t in Cadets, why not join it? I could say that you’re missing out, but you really wouldn’t know until you find the answer yourself. Just remember that tomorrow is just around the corner and that it could either be surprising, more of the same or really shitty. Do not let anything put you down too far, as you will just be limiting yourself.

If you want any more cringeworthy lessons or information about my Cadet career, do not hesitate to ask me! I will still come back from time to time to see how far you guys have come, as University hopefully won’t be like a jail cell. If it is… Well… Whoops. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this read and the pictures. It may lack any anonymity, but let me know what you think of these kinds of blogs!

Of course, Yours Truly,
Alex

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