Captain Tyler Willis believes the Air Cadet program is one of Canada’s best kept secrets.
Willis himself was a cadet for five years. While attending the program’s summer camps he studied music and received his Transport Canada Glider Pilot licence and his private pilot licence.
“It’s the only way that I know of that you’ll be able to get a pilot licence and not spend a dime and get paid to go and do it,” Willis said.
The Air Cadet program is funded by the Department of National Defence in partnership with the Air Cadet League of Canada.
They provide officers and staff to implement training, provide uniforms and supply summer camps in July and August.
A local sponsoring committee has the job of fundraising for extracurricular activities and recruiting new cadets.
“It’s their job to bring them in the door and it’s our job to retain them,” Willis said.
There are three objectives that the program works to achieve and they are, to provide good citizenship and leadership training, to provide physical fitness training and to stimulate interest in the aerospace and aviation industries.
It is also designed to develop interest in the air force so that cadets may potentially join the Canadian Forces one day if they so choose.
“Cadets are civilians in a youth program. They are not members of the military, nor is there any obligation for them to join the military,” said Willis. “They can leave the program whenever they like and when they do we hope that we have taught them something useful and valuable.”
Willis also stressed the value of the life skills the cadets learn while in the program. He said they are taught to manage themselves, how to meet deadlines and how to dress for and go to a job interview.
“After four or five years in the program it is amazing what they can accomplish when they get out. Whatever they tackle in life, they have way more tools in their tool kit to be successful,” he said.
Willis also explained there are multiple different career paths that youths can take within the cadet program, whether that might be music, construction, teaching or leadership. Survival skills are also taught.
“The program has something for everyone,” he said. “We can tailor the local training program to meet our cadets’ needs.”
The summer camps are also fantastic, Willis said.
“They get to go away to summer camp. They get free clothing, free food, free accommodations and they get paid $60 per week to go as a training bonus. That’s amazing.”
Although Willis has been an officer for nearly 10 years, this is his first time as a commanding officer of a squadron. He said the numbers were down in the 902 Summerland squadron last year but they have had nine new recruits and now have a total of 16 cadets.
“It would be nice to have over 20 and 30 is my goal,” he said.
As commanding officer he tries to motivate and give the cadets ideas on how to recruit friends, family and acquaintances to join. There is currently a recruiting competition going on where the cadet that brings in the most new recruits will be taken on a 20-minute helicopter tour.
To any potential new recruits he says, “If you’re even slightly interested, come and give it a try. If it’s not for you, there is no obligation to stay. If you decide it is for you and you stick with it you will benefit from the program.”
Although Willis receives a small amount of pay to command the squadron, he volunteers much of his own free time to spend with the cadets in community service and program activities. He feels it is worth his time to give back.
“I got so much out of the program myself and I see what it does for the youth and the community. I just know it is worthwhile,” he said.
The contact number for the 902 Summerland Royal Canadian Air Cadets is 250-494-7988.
If you know a positive story about someone in our community, contact Carla McLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Summerland Review newsroom at 250-494-5406.