Cadet squadron could face dissolution
By Phil Ambroziak
The future of Meadow Lake’s long-standing air cadet squadron is being described as cloudy at best.
While membership levels have remained steady for the last several years, air cadet squadron 520 is in need of more uniformed officers to help lead the group in the months and years that lie ahead – if it makes it that long.
“If we don’t find more people and our commanding officer (2nd Lt. Christina Lavallee) decides to leave town, we’re done,” remarked Jackie Toews, the squadron’s sponsoring committee chair. “This squadron was formed on March 2, 1950, so we’re looking at 63 years of history.”
Toews went on to explain the importance of having more uniformed staff members, noting it’s the cadets who sometimes lose out because of a lack of interest by adults.
“It’s important to have a full staff in order for the cadets to properly benefit,” she said. “When it comes to trips and other outlying events, sometimes our cadets miss out because of the shortage of uniformed staff.”
In addition to Lavallee, the squadron does have two civilian instructors. As Toews explained, however, both come from the same family.
“If there’s ever an emergency, they’d likely both be away at the same time,” she said.
Meanwhile, the squadron’s staffing shortcomings haven’t gone unnoticed by superior ranking officers. Capt. Deborah Nahachewsky, area cadet officer, was in Meadow Lake last week to inspect squadron 520.
“This is one of 11 squadrons I look after,” Nahachewsky said. “I visit the different units at least twice a year, but I’ve been coming here a little more than usual because of the ongoing issues they have. I’m hoping to get these guys back on their feet.”
Nahachewsky said the unit can have up to five uniformed staff members at one time.
“The way it is now does not allow for a succession plan,” she said. “Once Tina’s done her term, which is normally after three years, there’s nobody in line to take her place. I’m concerned about the current staff becoming burnt out. I’m also concerned about one of them possibly leaving the community for one reason or another. This squadron is at somewhat of a crisis point.”
The air cadets organization is run through a partnership between the Air Cadet League of Saskatchewan and the Department of National Defence. Squadron 520 currently boasts 17 youth members between the ages of 12 and 19. Opportunities include, but are not limited to, international exchanges, physical education, musical education, social development, an introduction to aviation, scholarships and a chance to earn a glider pilot’s licence.
“We’ve had one cadet from Meadow Lake go on to become a mechanic for the Snowbirds while another, Joey McKay, is learning to fly new planes for the air force,” Toews said. “Cadets gives young people so many great opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily get anywhere else. The numbers could be better – we’d like to see between 20 and 25 cadets. If you look back 20-30 years ago, this squadron had close to 100 members at one time.”
For now, however, the squadron would be pleased to see more adults express an interest in the group. To serve as a uniformed staff member, candidates need only be 18 years of age or older, have a Grade 12 education and be a Canadian citizen.
“There’s no need for prior military or cadet experience,” Nahachewsky said. “We’re also different than the average youth program in that we pay our staff. You’re not going to become rich, but you’re not out of pocket for your participation.”
Nahachewsky concluded with a note of optimism.
“This squadron has been through adversity in the past,” she said. “It’s experienced some ups and downs, but I’m sure we’ll see people from the community step forward. This is a keen group of kids and this would be a great way for someone to benefit both the cadets and themselves.”