Special to The Chief
I have just spent the Easter weekend "in the bush" with 54 young men and women from the Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps. As a first-timer on such an exercise, I really didn't know what to expect.
I arrived at the Evans Lake base camp at 1900 hours (7 p.m.) Thursday evening (April 8), then watched in awe as the Cadets and officers from Lillooet, North Vancouver, Squamish, and Vancouver completed the long, uphill march into camp.
Once all their kit was stored in their assigned barracks, the Cadets were paraded in the square and divided into six troops. Each troop consisted of members from all four corps. They were then formed into their troops, and the standing orders were read. Troop bedtime was at 2200 hours (10 p.m.), and as someone who has travelled with numerous sports teams over the years, I was amazed at how quickly and quietly they settled down for the night.
Friday and Saturday were full days, beginning with PT (Physical Training) at 0600 hours, followed by breakfast at 0700, where I was introduced to fine dining cadet style, in the form of IMPs (Individual Meal Packs). It is no wonder the army is referred to as "Mean and Green." After breakfast and clean up, the troops went off on the first of their exercises, which consisted of 12 activities spread over 16 classes.
The organization and planning required to put an exercise like this together is overwhelming to the untrained mind. For example, class 1 on Friday had Troop 1 canoeing, Troop 2 was doing first aid, Troops 3 and 5 were on admin (cleaning the camp), Troop 4 was off on a reconnaissance exercise, and Troop 6 was learning communications. Later classes added tents, map and compass, bridging (my personal favourite), and abseiling (rappelling).
All of these activities, with the exception of abseiling, were held at the Evans Lake base camp. Abseiling was held at the Smoke Bluffs, a 30-minute drive from base. Judging by the looks on the faces of the cadets as they returned from rappelling down the 80-foot cliff, this activity was clearly the hit of the weekend. Unfortunately I was unable to visit the site and observe it firsthand, but the sense of accomplishment (and the swagger in the walk) of the cadets as they returned to camp was testament to the success of this program. The commitment of the officers who ran this exercise, leaving camp before daylight and returning well after dark each day, was greatly appreciated by all.
It is a toss-up as to the next most popular activity, but my vote goes to bridging, if for no other reason than that the canoeing instructor never went in the lake. The cadets really appreciated the bridging instructor demonstrating the correct way to fall off the rope into the lake. The rope bridge was incorporated into an obstacle course, which made it even more of a challenge. Having learned from their instructor's demonstration, no cadet who came off the rope was damaged. Since most of the cadets were not wet, they were led to the dock and given the opportunity to jump in the lake. Virtually every cadet went into the (cold) lake at least once. The same cannot be said for the officers.
Canoeing was a cold experience for the cadets, since instruction included the correct way to effect a rescue. This required the canoeists to deliberately capsize their canoes, then work together to get them empty, turn them upright, and get back in. This was hardest on Troop 4, who had the 0800 class, well before the sun made its way over the trees. Thank you to the (dry) officers who had a large fire burning on the edge of the lake. The RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) and CSM (Company Sergeant Major) put a lot of time and effort into planning a Recce (reconnaissance) exercise that put the "Army" back into Army Cadets. This exercise certainly held a fair number of surprises for the participants, and was a lot of fun.
Shortly after midnight on Friday, the RSM was roused from his bunk and tasked with getting together a squad of six identified cadets. This squad was brought sleepily to Headquarters and briefed on a missing officer. They were then sent into the night to locate, treat if necessary, and recover this officer. Within 15 minutes of leaving they had located the missing officer, had stabilized his broken leg, and returned him to camp on a stretcher. Very impressive - especially when you consider that they had gone to bed after having been told there were no Night Ops scheduled for Friday.
After a second long day of exercises on Saturday, including an all-Troops night operation, it was a very tired but proud company that showed up for the final "mug up" of hot chocolate, homemade banana bread and cookies.
Sunday morning brought one last round of PT, breakfast and general cleanup, followed by one last class, in Skill at Arms. Company photos were then finally followed by "bug out" (departure).As a first-time attendee at a weekend exercise, my overall impression is very favourable. These cadets learned a lot about teamwork and some new skills, and had a lot of fun doing it. To be honest, it all made me wish I were 12 years old again.