Growing up in Yorkton, Audra Harrison was a dedicated Air Cadet for seven years. When she moved to Brandon to attend university, she took a year off from Cadets to focus on her schoolwork. But she found she missed it so much, she volunteered her services as adult staff to 82 Brandon Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron (RCACS). Now, at age 24, she’s a Captain in the Cadet Instructor Cadre and Commanding Officer of the 82 Brandon RCACS. (COLIN CORNEAU)
Do you have to go through a training program to do what you do at the level at which you do it? Or is it an honourary thing?
You do go through training, yes. You’re screened the same way any other military member would be — they pretty much want your whole life on paper for your past five years. And you go through the same process — the medical, an interview, a big long screening process. And if you do well, then they accept you as part of the Cadet Instructor Cadre (CIC), and usually they hope that you would be attached to a squadron or corps, depending on which element you’re going for. But that’s the process. You start out as an Officer Cadet, and then to gain your next level of promotion, you have to take certain amounts of training courses. I made it all the way through to Captain this past summer.
Do you have to be a Captain to be appointed a Commanding Officer?
No, you don’t, although it is very uncommon not to be. Usually they prefer captains in that position, because you’re in charge of the whole show — you’re in charge of management of all the adult staff and the squadron as well.
You came here to study at Brandon University. What are you taking?
Well, I started at BU, but my interest was always in aviation — Air Cadets played a big part in that so I switched out of university and I’m training at the Brandon Flying Club now. I already have one pilot’s licence — I’m just working on my second one.
So let’s go back to the beginning. What was it that got you involved, interested, in Air Cadets to begin with? How does somebody choose which area of cadets they’re going to join? And do you, as Air Cadets, have activities, as you suggested, that are tied in with aviation?
Yes. All areas learn the same things, except that each element will have different elemental training. Like our side, we do a lot of aviation training, whereas the army side will do a lot more extensive survival training, more marksmanship. And then of course the sea side would do a lot more naval training, sailing. So it depends what your interests are.
Like myself, at age eight, I had my first flight on a jet to California. And ever since then, I just have this amazing rush whenever I’m up in the air. It was such a wonderful experience that that was it. At eight years old, it was ‘I want to fly.’
And when I was age 12, other friends of mine said they’d joined this program and got me interested and I learned about it, found out about all the aviation opportunities within it, and decided it was something for me. So I tried it and loved it, so I stuck it out the whole way.
In the early days of Air Cadets, I would presume there’s some fairly regimented military training that goes hand in hand with the aviation stuff that you learn, right?
Yes. You are a squadron and you do learn marching and drill and discipline and deportment. All the cadets who are a part of the program are expected to upkeep the uniform. But it’s not as it used to be — it’s just more trying to teach them responsibility and some level of discipline that’s appropriate to their age level. So it’s not like an intense military organization. It’s more like getting them to learn to stand on their own two feet without mom and dad there.
Do you find most kids join because THEY want to, or because mom and dad want them to?
The majority of parents who bring their kids in are there just to find out what we’re about. But usually it’s the children who are gung ho to join and want to do all we have to offer, which is quite a bit. It’s a big program.
Our main aim here is to promote an interest in the Canadian Forces Air Force, and physical fitness, as well as Canadian citizenship. They learn such a wide array of material from everything there is to know about aviation to survival skills, marksmanship, effective speaking, leadership, time management, and stress management. They just learn a lot of life skills I’ve heard parents say they don’t learn in school anymore. So a lot of parents love the program for developing their children to be strong, independent Canadian citizens.
So it was the flight that turned you on to cadets in the first place, but once you got into the organization, what was it that you liked about it? I would hazard a guess — and perhaps that’s wrong — that not a lot of kids would seek out discipline or measured and controlled activities as opposed to the freedom to do other things.
I think what it was for me, mainly, was that I just liked the changes it was bringing out in me. When I started cadets, I was pretty shy and introverted. And then as I went through cadets, I just became such a strong, independent person, and I knew where I was going and I was motivated and I loved the camaraderie that we had. We had such a strong group of friends and we all worked together. And that feeling of being in charge of something, when you got to the senior level, was just such a rush. And teaching a lesson and knowing you did well and having the younger cadets enjoy it — I mean, you can’t get much better than that. It was just so much fun.
But you still want to be a pilot. Is your goal to be a commercial pilot or a military one?
I’m still trying to figure that out. I’ve played with the military idea, and that’s also a misconception about our cadet program. A lot of parents fear that if their kids join cadets, then they’re expected to join the Forces once completing the program here. And that’s not the case. Some do go on to the Forces, but it’s not an obligation by any means. And a lot go on to very promising careers in aviation or engineering.
What is it about flying that speaks to you?
There’s nothing like it. It’s just that feeling — it’s hard to explain. I’m just so passionate about it. When you’re flying up there solo, you’re just so free. No one can touch you. I do my best thinking when I’m up in the air. You just feel so alive — it’s a wonderful experience to fly.
Being involved in cadets, especially to the degree you are, has to be a huge time commitment. What is it that you love about it?
It’s watching those little 12-year-olds come in and stand pretty much where I know I used to be and then staying here until they develop into that strong senior cadet, willing to stand in front of a squadron and lead them through marches — it’s just so impressive. And watching them do an excellent job instructing a class with no qualms or fears — it’s just amazing to see kids blossom into strong leaders.
They get that level of responsibility whether they’re the shy cadet or the outspoken cadet. They’re expected to run their own cadet careers, essentially. And a lot of them feel so proud being part of something that they have control of, because sometimes they can do better here than they can at school — they feel more confident here for some reason. It’s just a different world. It’s hard to explain.
If someone is interested in cadets, does he or she have to start at age 12?
Oh no. They could start at 15. We can accelerate them through the program so they can be with their same age group. Anytime a kid wants to join between the ages of 12 and 19, we would welcome them.
It’s a non-profit organization — there are no fees to become involved. They get their uniforms at no cost. The only thing is the time commitment.
General parade nights are Friday nights, 6:30 to 9:30 — that’s when they’re going to do their mandatory training. And sometimes there are weekend activities as well, and optional summer camps.
Another thing about this squadron that maybe a lot of people wouldn’t know is that our squadron sponsor is the Rotary Club of Brandon. They’ve been supporting us for years. And we’re so grateful. We could not be a squadron without them.
Cadets and flying are your passions, but what do you do otherwise?
I’m an emergency medical technician. I work for emergency dispatch. Our main title is the Manitoba Transportation Co-ordination Centre, so we are ambulance dispatch for the entire province, with the exception of Winnipeg. And we handle all the emergency calls that come in — all the patient transfers, Lifeflight and the Star 7 helicopter and all the basic air ambulances.
That must be very rewarding work.
It is VERY rewarding! Not many people can say they go to work every day and are able to help people across the entire province. So it’s a job I love.
You’re a busy lady! What do you do in your off-hours?
I teach ground school for the Brandon Flying Club. And I love playing squash as well.
Do you ever have any down time? Like do you ever just curl up and watch TV?
Absolutely! I am very busy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I definitely do get some down time — I’m not a complete workaholic. I like hanging out with friends, and I love going to movies, especially on cheap Tuesdays. Going out for coffee, I like. And I like to shoot pool on occasion. I’m pretty competitive.
Anyone wishing to find out more about cadets can stop by the Brandon Armoury at 1116 Victoria Ave. on Friday nights between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., or call 204-725-4703.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 5, 2013