Cadets prepare for 25th anniversary

Andrew Wagstaff
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Commanding officers look back at beginnings of squadron

Cadets prepare for 25th anniversary

Parrsboro -

For 25 years, local youth have benefited from the air cadets program, and the organization will take the time to celebrate its milestone next month.
The 689 Handley Page Squadron will mark the 25th anniversary of its charter on April 1, and a celebratory dinner is being planned for April 17.
"I felt it was auspicious for our 25th to have a proper dinner celebration that could be open to the public that have been interested in cadets and supported cadets over the years," said Keith Odlin, the squadron's commanding officer. "The only way to do it is with a dinner like this, and I think it's an absolutely honourable way of recognizing 25 years of service."
It was actually 26 years ago when the squadron had its beginnings, stemming from a call from the local legion branch. Several members saw the potential benefits of having some form of cadets in the community.
Conrad Byers, who had belonged to sea cadets as a youth and went on to put in several years of experience with the organization, was asked to help the effort.
"Everyone had an opinion on whether the cadets should be navy, army or air force of course, as the legionnaires and veterans each had their preference," said Conrad Byers. "I think the general consensus was that it should be sea cadets because we had sea cadets before, and there were many who wanted to renew that. But it was decided the fair thing to do was go to the schools and do a survey."
Students responded overwhelmingly in favour for air cadets, and well over 100 youths showed up at the legion for an initial orientation meeting. Representatives from the 154 Anson squadron in Amherst, and the Air Cadet League of Nova Scotia were on hand to answer questions and provide some direction.
Byers, who had only intended to help as a volunteer from the sidelines, soon found himself as the squadron's first commanding officer. But everyone involved soon found out that starting a squadron and keeping it going was not an easy process.
"I was in there with very little training, and all our officers were civilian volunteers," he said. "It took a long time to build, because we had over 100 cadets, and, by the time we were three or four years into it, it was down to 20-25 cadets. We could get young people in who were keen on helping, but we had very little discipline or control. Eventually, it improved."
Byers recalled many of the faithful volunteers who committed to the cadets, such as Lamont Anderson, a retired airman and aircraft mechanic who never missed a night of teaching the cadets about the aircraft.
"If you look at the community as a whole, this is an area of intense military activity," said Odlin. "Conrad and other COs have drawn on that expertise of ex-service members who came back here to retire, and came into the program to teach. I would like to do that too, but a lot of the senior guys are too busy, and it's a regular commitment."
Hundreds of Parrsboro-area youths have gone through the cadet program, participated in countless summer camps, flew glider and power planes in Debert, and went on to careers either in the military or civilian life benefiting from the leadership skills they picked up in the cadet program, according to Byers and Odlin.
"There's quite a large alumni out there of cadets with stories," said Byers. "Hopefully something like this will get a lot turning out."
With 150 seats available, Odlin said he expects a packed house for the celebration.
The dinner will not be the squadron's only activity to celebrate its anniversary. A special coin has already been issued, and anniversary shirts have also been made. The squadron's annual review ceremony, scheduled for May 22, will also include celebrations of the milestone.
The squadron is now parading 32 cadets, which is more than 10 per cent of the local school population, in a small community where it has to compete against other activities like minor hockey and basketball. And the benefits are evident, according to Odlin.
"We're here to give opportunities, and they are opportunities you'll never find anywhere else," he said.

Organizations: Air Cadet League of Nova Scotia

Geographic location: Parrsboro, Amherst, Debert

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