With Ontario marking its first-ever Cadet Week, Warrant Officer First Class Vaishnave Raina is encouraging other youth to get involved with the organization.
“Give it a go – you have nothing to lose. It’s not scary and you should always be trying new things, so give it a go. It’s not your thing, that’s fine, but you will definitely find lifelong friends and lifelong skills,” she said.
Raina has been a part of the 80 KW Spitfire Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron for the last six years and is the highest ranking officer in her squad. Her experience has provide her with skills that are transferable to everyday life, she said.
“I was really shy. I didn’t really talk to many people. I kept to myself. And one thing… that program has taught me is how to be confident in myself and also how to be a leader in any aspect of my life. Confidence and leadership are two things I really value in life and I think everyone should be exposed to that and be able to work well with others,” Raina said.
Being a cadet offers many perks, she added.
“This summer I attended a power pilot course where I got to fly for seven weeks and I got to get a lot of hours of flying in to get my license,” she explained.
Raina is “99 per cent” finished the requirements to get her pilot’s license.
There are 238 cadet squadrons across Ontario with around 15,000 youth participating each year. Offered by the Canadian Armed Forces, Cadets offer programming across Canada for the three military branches. According to Tom McNeil, executive director of the Ontario Provincial Committee of Air Cadet League of Canada, the program provides a development opportunity to youth, without any obligation to the armed forces.
Waterloo Region is also home to other Cadet groups, including 822 Tutor Squadron Royal Canadian Air Cadets based at the airport in Breslau and 530 “HAVOC” Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron.
“It really is about developing, helping them make a successful transition to adulthood and helping them be successful in whatever endeavour they might choose to take on in the future, ” McNeil said.
As a visible minority, Raina said the cadet program is one place she “can feel good in her skin.”
“My officers understand everything that I’ve gone through and they’ve helped me out. So I just wanted to let everyone know that because it’s something that a lot of youth struggle with, and cadets is a safe space. I’ve definitely been able to be more than just my skin colour, be more than just my gender in the cadet program,” she said.
McNeil also highlighted the responsibilities that the older cadets are given in the program.
“Our 16-, 17- and 18-year-old cadets are really delivering the program under adult supervision to the younger cadets….So cadets learn to instruct others they certainly learn public speaking [and] they learn leadership skills,” he said.
To kick off Cadet Week, Raina attended a celebration at Queen’s Park last Saturday where she got to escort the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
“That is something that you get to experience only in the cadet program,” Raina said.
For Raina, Cadet week is “finally getting the word out there” about the program.
“I think that I’ve had the opportunity of being able to be in cadets, so I think every young person should know about it so that they can give it a try,” she said.
As there has been a dip in recruitment during the pandemic, this week is an opportunity to attract more young people to the program, McNeil said.
“We kept most of our cadets that were participating with us prior to the pandemic, but it was difficult to attract new cadets in the pandemic period, but that seems to be changing now.”