Modern Cadet Corps Offers Teamwork, Skills, Leadership
.....and a Credit Course
by Jim McGillivray

As the #142 Highland Cadet Corps turns 100 years old this spring, the focus has evolved from the drill, deportment and even weapons training of the early days to a modern program that teaches skills, teamwork and a level of leadership that can serve the boys well into their professional careers. Helping to bring it all together is an important new incentive adopted in 2003: Cadets can now earn a credit in Grade 11 with a mark that gets factored into their average.

Commanding Officer Major Brian McCue oversees a sophisticated program that teaches boys about themselves, about others, and about how to pull a team together to accomplish just about anything. “We offer over five years what I like to call a ‘leadership journey’ that our boys can’t get anywhere else – not at any other school or organization in the country.”

“As early as Grade 8 and 9 we help young cadets learn about and understand themselves, and by Grade 11 and 12 we have them leading platoons and companies through projects that require creativity, thought, planning and co-operation.” Most of this is accomplished through the National Cadet Star Program, a four-tiered incentive system that instructs, tests and awards cadets as they grow through a ranking system ranging from ‘Cadet’ to ‘Sergeant’ and right up to ‘Platoon Commander’ ‘Regimental Sergeant Major’ or ‘Cadet Commanding Officer.’

“We offer over five years what I like to call a ‘leadership journey’ that our boys can’t get anywhere else – not at any other school or organization in the country.”

Training starts in Grade 8 with Green Star, an introduction into the Cadet program for Middle School boys. The skills are basic: how cadet ranks are structured, how to wear the green uniform and how to participate in basic drill. There is basic first aid, outdoor survival training and some citizenship training that even includes learning how to sing the National Anthem! As with all cadet training, the program takes places on Thursdays from 3:45 to 5:30 – time dedicated solely to those activities. Courses are taught by Grade 12 officers under the supervision of adult co-coordinators.

At the end of the year the boys receive a small green star that they can pin on their lapel. They are now ready to plunge into the first year of the cadet credit course in Grade 9.

Red Star in Grade 9 is a more introspective program,” explains Major McCue. “It is based on the simple premise that in order to be a leader you need to know people, and in order to know people you need to know yourself. We want the Cadets to maximize their strengths and chip away at their weaknesses over the next four years so that by Grade 12 they can truly earn respect in leadership positions.”

“Frankly, it’s a formidable weekend for young men just out of Middle School. For the boys who find it difficult, it’s a great wake-up call, and for the boys who do well it’s a tremendous confidence builder.”

Called Leadership and Discovery, much of Red Star is conducted outdoors. For example, the 2004-05 program included a fall expedition to Rattlesnake Point near Hamilton which concluded with a 25 km. hike. “This trip challenged the boys’ stamina, patience and ability to work together,” says the Major. “Frankly, it’s a formidable weekend for young men just out of Middle School. For the boys who find it difficult it’s a great wake-up call, and for the boys who do well it’s a tremendous confidence builder.” Red Star also includes six weeks of classroom work in which students study leadership, the qualities of leaders and followers, and what kinds of leaders they might become themselves. Additional outdoor work conducted during the fall and winter includes advance orienteering and team-oriented exercises on low ropes using a state-of-the-art ropes course built on the upper fields in 2003.

RIGHT Weekend expeditions are often a career highlight for boys in Red Star cadets or the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award.

Importantly, Red Star also offers all elements of the Duke of Edinburgh Program’s Bronze Level (see accompanying article), so that by the end of Grade 9 all boys marching in kilts and scarlets in the Annual Inspection can display both awards on their uniforms.

The focus on leadership and being a team player increases dramatically as the boys enter Silver Star in Grade 10, a program aptly titled Leadership and Challenge.

Here the cadets study the principles of leadership with in-depth looks at great leaders of the past. They learn what is involved in being a team player and in leading a team. They study group dynamics. They are drilled in effective communication skills. Activities once again are paramount, with one of the most unique being a military obstacle course and high ropes program designed so the boys have to work in teams, build on one another’s strengths and rely heavily on each other to achieve team goals. They are sometimes put into awkward situations that make them decide their own priorities and that build character and self-confidence. They attend exercises at Canadian Forces Base Borden where they learn rappelling and how to use small-bore rifles.

If it sounds like a baptism by fire, it is. But Silver Star readies cadets to take on important leadership roles in Grades 11 and 12.

LEFT Even born leaders require training, and officers in the Cadet Corps spend a great deal of time learning how to lead effectively.

Gold Star in Grade 11 – Leadership in Action – is the final year of the Star program, a grooming year in which boys prove themselves ready for major leadership positions in the Corps in their final year. Gold Star cadets learn how to teach and address serious leadership issues. They may focus on discipline, harassment, abuse, dealing with very young people and dealing with problem people. They are expected to plan, carry out and assess a major community service project involving a team of three or more people. “Four boys getting together to rake leaves doesn’t cut it,” explains Brian. “Last year, for example, we had a Gold Star Cadet who organized a two-day event with a local community pool. He and his team organized all the logistics for the club to host two days of activities for a group of disabled athletes. It was a very impressive project, and confirmed the value of the leadership program and what the boys get out of it.”

RIGHT Ceremonial activities come to the fore in May, particularly for officers. The cream of the Cadet crop have achieved Gold Stars and worked hard to earn the right to wear the scarlet uniforms. Photo shows the officers in the spring of 2004.

It is at the point where the boys earn their Gold Star and move into Grade 12 that the St. Andrew’s cadet program actually outstrips the National Cadet program by offering a Platinum Star. This level is unique to S.A.C. Now the cream of the crop take on their leadership roles, earning positions as instructors and leaders of activities for younger Cadets. These are not nominal positions: they may entail supervising high ropes programs and marksmanship sessions in the range.  “The boys have worked for four years to earn these positions and the rank that goes with them,” explains the Major. “They take their responsibilities very seriously.”

“It’s the boys themselves who run the program. Adults are present to help as required and to provide guidelines, but the boys pass on to other boys what they have learned. They teach the courses and they command the platoons. They are the leaders. Without that commitment in the final year, the program would be an empty promise.”

As they work their way up the ladder of the Star programs, cadets also have opportunities to immerse themselves in some very appealing activities that contribute to their cadets courses of study. More than 130 boys each year take special courses in one or more of scuba diving, first aid, life saving, driver training, rock climbing, marksmanship and biathlon. These are usually run by local agencies outside of regular Cadet program hours, and there is no shortage of applicants. “The Cadets are really attracted to these programs, so we try to vary them over time,” says Brian. “In the past we’ve had cooking courses and flight training. In the next year or so we expect to offer a life skills course that will help young men deal with the realities of leaving the relatively protected S.A.C. environment and moving out on their own into other towns and cities to attend university. This is an area where we’ve learned that some graduates need training.”

And so the modern cadet program continues to move forward, well away from the war years and into the world which values leadership, teamwork and getting involved. “If there is one thing we try to do above all others,” says Major Brian McCue, “it is to be relevant, to offer our cadets skills that are traditional, but applicable to the world they are about to face. We don’t simply want the program to earn them a credit or to be simply about marching around the quad on the first weekend in May. We want to help make these boys better people.”