The Cadets Corps: Changing Lives and Making Friends for Life

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The Cadet Corps on parade. Roxanne Maynard

When you think about young adults, what comes to mind? Do you embrace the cliché that teenagers are self-centred, lazy, and oblivious to the struggles of the real world?

“They all think they’re special,” you might find yourself saying. “They think the world owes them something.”

If you do think that way, you might have gained a new perspective while sitting around a grey foldout table on a recent late winter’s night in St. Pierre-Jolys. There you would have met four young members of the 3234 Manitoba Horse Army Cadet Corps, also known as the Morris Cadets, and if you are generally unimpressed by today’s teenagers, these guys are here to challenge your assumptions.

Like many cadets, Ryley Froelich has always wanted to join the military when he turns 18. When he was 12, he found a little pamphlet for the Cadet Corps. He bugged his mom to let him join. Then bugged her some more. Finally, she relented and Ryley was all signed up.

That was four years ago. Today, Ryley is one of the leaders of the local corps.

“It’s made me the person I am today,” says Froelich, whose other passion is sled dog racing. “It’s like a second family to me. It’s been such a big deal in my life.”

It’s clear the other cadets in the room agree. Reanne Fontaine is a senior cadet in her sixth year in the Morris program. Like others, she says the main thing she’s gained from the cadets is confidence.

“I was extremely shy. Until Cadets, it was hard to talk to people and make friends. Now I’m just less afraid of seeing people and helping others,” says Fontaine. “You become more organized mentally. You learn more how to organize yourself and present yourself. It’s just confidence.”

Cadets Canada states that the aim of the program is to develop in youth the attributes of good citizenship and leadership, promote physical fitness, and stimulate youth interest in the sea, land, and air activities of the Canadian Forces. The organization traces its roots back to the 1860s. They run a set training program delivered by the cadets themselves, with older cadets leading the younger ones.

Roxanne Maynard is the commanding officer and heartbeat of the organization. Like all who hold her position, Maynard is an Army reservist. She has been with the Morris group from the beginning, through the organization’s growth, and she plans to help see it into the future.

“Ten years ago if you told me I would be an officer in the Reserves, I would have laughed in your face,” says Maynard. “This program reflects a lot my personality. What I find important. Respect. Leadership. Being a good person. I’ve grown a lot personally. It’s changed my life as well.”

In Morris, the local corps was born in 2011 with a whopping three cadets. From those first three cadets, the group grew to a high of 55 youths at the time of a trip they took to France for the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, one of the most famous military battles in our nation’s history.

Janelle Poirier was on that trip with her mother Yvette, who is the corps’ secretary. Janelle is in her third year as a cadet and she calls the voyage “life-changing.” Poirier says she was nervous when she first joined the corps, but the trip to France and the friends she’s made have made her glad she overcame her reluctance.

“At school you see less of people,” she explains. “You don’t get the chance at a lot of places to get to know people better. Here, you see the same people every week.”

Maynard reports that the group currently sits at 32 cadets, the typical size for a cadet corps in Canada.

But some ongoing changes bring about the promise of more growth. All cadet corps must have a sponsor. Since its beginning, the corps has been sponsored by the Morris Legion. Every Thursday night, cadets would parade at the Legion Hall. However, in recent years it has become more challenging for the legion to continue their sponsorship and the cadets began to think about a new location.

Gaetan Fontaine is the Vice-Chair of the Cadet Corps.

“Eighty percent of the kids came from the St. Pierre region,” Fontaine says. “So the Town of St-Pierre stepped in. They provide the hall at no cost.”

With that, the weekly parade moved to the larger St. Pierre rec centre, which had more space for more cadets.

Twelve-year-old Jacques Roy just completed his first year as a cadet. He’s learning from the older cadets like Froelich, Fontaine, and Poirier. And he is loving the experience.

“It just sounded really fun,” he says when pressed to explain why he joined the corps. “It’s been everything I’ve hoped for and more.”

Jacques’s mother Evelyn chimes in. “He likes to meet new people and new friends. He’s always wanted to join.”

It’s a decision his dad Brian, who’s now the corps’ fundraising chair, thinks has worked out great.

“I’m glad Jacques joined,” says the elder Roy. “You can see the change. He’s a totally different kid.”

In addition to the set program, the corps runs optional training. They have a band, a marksmanship team, and a drill team. And Maynard points out that the cadets do a lot of volunteer work to help build a better community.

“They do Remembrance Day in Morris, St. Pierre, and Niverville,” she begins. “We volunteer as part of the Crow Wing Trail Partnership, the St. Pierre Museum, the Actif Epica bike race, [a local] quilt show, the Morris food bank, and the Village Connection thrift store. It’s about building great leaders and citizens.”

What all the young people in the room will tell you, while their parents nod in agreement, is that the Cadet Corps has brought them a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.

“Right away the highest-ranking cadets are like, ‘Let’s hang out.’ You’re instantly comfortable,” says Froelich. “Nobody gets bullied here. Nobody. It just doesn’t happen. The officers play such a big role. I’m super close with a lot of the officers.”

One of those officers is Lieutenant Clarissa Harder, a former cadet herself. She has some advice for new cadets: “Don’t quit. Stick with it. Promise yourself two years and you will never regret it.”

Froelich echoes the sentiment. “You get past two months. Then four months. Then six months, and a year. And soon you can’t wait for it every week. It becomes the high point of your life.”

Finally he encapsulates what he, Fontaine, and Poirier have been trying to explain all night: “In high school you might have nothing in common with your classmates except a geographical area. Here, you are all cadets. You know when push comes to shove that these are friends for life.”

Slothful, entitled teenagers? You won’t find any of those around this table.

For more information

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the Cadets, call or text Roxanne Maynard at 204-324-4034 or show up at the St. Pierre Rec centre on Thursdays from 6:30–9:30 p.m. The program is open to all youth between the ages of 12–18 and it runs from September through the first week of June.

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