After a few years of dwindling numbers, the 209 Great Eastern sea cadet corps in Dildo is gaining strength.
Twenty-seven cadets were on deck during the organization's annual ceremonial review at Woodland Elementary on May 26. It was a big improvement from last year when only 18 cadets made up the corps.
Commanding officer Michael Pinsent, who took over leadership of 209 Great Eastern last year, attributes the growth in attendance to a joint effort by officers, parents, cadets and members of the Upper Trinity South Navy League to promote the corps.
"Increasing our membership was our No. 1 priority, a goal we all worked towards," said Pinsent. "Over the past year we really focused on advertising and publicizing our activities and promoting the benefits of the cadet program as much as we could. We want to rebuild this corps to what it used to be."
To get the message out the corps accessed every form of media available.
"Just about everything we did was posted on Facebook," said Pinsent. "Videos of our training drills and upcoming events were all on there. It was a great way to spread the word and get people interested. In fact, three of our newest members joined after reading on Facebook that we were going scuba diving because it was something they really wanted to try."
For males and females between the ages of 12 and 18, the sea cadet program follows the same training outlines as army and air cadets, but with a little more focus on seafaring skills such as sailing and knot tying.
The aim of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets is to develop in youth the attributes of good citizenship and leadership; promote physical fitness; and stimulate the interest of youth in the sea, land, and air activities of the Canadian Forces. There are no registration fees and uniforms are loaned at no charge. The organization and rank system is similar to that of the Canadian Navy. Cadets are appointed to non-commissioned member rank.
Pinsent, who came up through the 209 sea cadet movement, said there are many benefits to joining the organization.
"The opportunities are endless. Leadership programs, summer camps and exchange trips are just a few of the experiences available to cadets," he said. "The program helps develop strong leadership skills and a good work ethic. Cadets are committed to attending each week, keeping their uniforms in tip-top shape and participating in drills and training, all of this is important to personal growth. I am very proud of how our cadets conduct themselves and their dedication to the program. I think their performance during our annual review shows we are well on our way to rebuilding this corps."
And what a performance it was. The ceremonial review included a number of dynamic and static displays. Demonstrations included band, guard, drill team, Sheers legs and Ship's Company.
This year's reviewing officer, Lt.-Cmdr. Don Reid, praised the cadets for their hard work.
"I congratulate you for your participation in this tremendous cadet corps," said Reid. "The values you learn in this program will go with you as you journey through life. The cadet program provides youth with skills such as teamwork and the ability to problem solve and get along with others. It also helps you understand the importance of discipline. It isn't just about taking orders or giving orders, and there may be times when you will not appreciate the training, but it will instill in you strong leadership skills, a sense of teamwork, camaraderie, tenacity and other attributes that you will use as you develop as a person."
It was a big day for Petty Officer I Matthew Higdon of Dildo, who was named cadet of the year. The 17-year-old, who is the corps coxswain, also took home the Lord Strathcona Trust Fund Medal. The medal is the highest award that can be bestowed upon a Canadian cadet in recognition of exemplary performance in physical and military training.
Higdon has been a member of 209 Great Eastern for the past five years. He said the awards caught him off guard.
"I was really surprised," he said. "I've gotten other awards in the past and I always try to do my best, but there are many others in the program doing the same as well. I really appreciate the award though. It's a great honour."
Once school closes, Higdon heads off to HMCS Acadia in Nova Scotia, a cadet summer training centre, to work as a staff cadet. After he graduates high school he plans to join the military.
"The cadet program has not just given me a lot of confidence, but because I have stayed in it so long all the training I have will be really beneficial when I enter the military. In fact, it could cut my military training in half. It's good for my future career goals," he said.
Higdon hopes even more young people will join 209 Great Eastern when it starts up again in the fall.
"It's not just about marching and training. It's a lot of fun as well," he said. "Plus, you get to go to summer camps and travel to places you would not otherwise get to visit. I've travelled a fair bit, spent a bit of time in British Columbia aboard a Tall Ship, been to camp every year and have friends from all over the world."
The other big award of the day, the Legion Medal of Excellence, went to Petty Officer II Amelia Cranford. Cranford also took home the award for top drill.