Too often, the story of teens and guns ends in tragedy.
But for the teens of the 2881 Scarborough Rifles Army Cadet Corps, their Tuesday meetings at Mowat Collegiate are just the opposite.
The program, free to anyone ages 12 to 19, invites youth to learn survival skills, field training, and marksmanship.
Captain John Harris, Public Affairs Coordinator for Ontario Cadets, wants to be clear, though, that the program is “not recruiting for the forces.”
“What we’re trying to impart to them is how to be a productive and respectful citizen for the future,” he says. “Responsibility, loyalty, courage.”
The corps’ chief commanding officer, Captain Calvin Facey, also says the Cadets have nothing to do with the forces.
“When they [the media] ask me what I think about Afghanistan, I say the same as the war of 1812,” he says. “I wasn’t there.”
Some cadets do aspire to eventually join the army.
Shahi Niazi, 13, who has been part of the group since February of last year, says his family’s background in the Pakistani army inspired him to join. And he hopes to attend the Royal Military College, in Kingston, and eventually become an officer.
Others, however, such as Howie Chan, 18, who is 2881’s Regimental Sergeant Major, says for now he is satisfied with just being a cadet. Though he says he has no immediate plans to continue in the military field, he says the skills he’s learned will help him when he starts university this fall.
“[Being a cadet] has taught me how to function as a group and step up as a leader,” Chan says. “Without it, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am now.”
Briena Sheppard, the corp’s Master Corporal, says her grandfather’s participation in the Second World War inspired her to join. But she, like Chan, says she is more interested in applying the skills she’s learned in the cadets to a life outside of the military.
Though each member has different reasons for participating, many echo the same appreciation for the friendships that are made thanks to the program.
Lieutenant Sean Bridge says the Cadets are all about a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Bridge has been part of the Cadets for almost 23 years. As a teenager, he says, the camaraderie of the military cadets in the movie Taps inspired him to join.
And it is these friendships that have kept him so loyal all of these years.
He says it is this dynamic that keeps the kids coming back too.
“They come to us and they’re part of the team, they’re part of the family. They know that we’re here, and if things are going bad, we can be their family,” Bridge says. “That’s not part of the program, it just becomes that.”
Many cadets, including Niazi and Sheppard, agree that the best thing about being a cadet is feeling like you’re part of this family.
“The most rewarding things are the experience you gain, the things you learn, and the friends you make,” Niazi says.
Adds Sheppard: “It’s the people you meet.”