SERVICE SECOND TO NONE – Chapter 01: AIR CADETS 1st YEAR
My older sister Kristen, my mother, and I were shopping at the mall for school clothes. I got jeans with rips, patches, and even lace on it, anything unusual was exciting to me and I liked being different. On the other hand Kristen went for the understated fashions, solid colors, plain jeans, nothing unique. I had talked my mother into letting me get my ears pierced in the mall and true to form Kristen wasn’t interested. It hurt like hell but I thought it was worth it. The mall was packed with other families doing last minute shopping like we were. We were near the end of the ordeal when through the crowd I managed to get a glimpse of a young blonde boy in a uniform giving out pamphlets and I purposely maneuvered toward him. When our mother noticed too she pushed us to approach the three boys and see what they were distributing and although I was embarrassed by my mother’s loud persistence I did talk to him. The cute blonde explained that they were trying to recruit new teens between the ages of thirteen to eighteen into their air cadet squadron. I hardly heard a word he said but I giggled, took his pamphlet and bounced away a promising we’d go and check it out. The boys used their charm and good looks catching us hook, line, and sinker. Whoever said females were the only ones that could play that game were wrong.
I just started at high school in Grade 9 and Kristen Grade 10 when we joined air cadets thanks in large part to the cute boys we saw in the mall but also my dad Frank was in the Air Force in June 1944 he was a Wireless Operator trained in Calgary, Alberta and then an Air Gunner trained in Mossbank, Saskatchewan at the Bombing and Gunnery School. His Flying Log Book for Aircrew other than Pilot first entry was June 9, 1944 and his last entry was June 6, 1945 being in the air cadets not army or navy felt right. Cadets started the same time school did and on the first Monday night at six p.m. Kristen and I took the bus downtown to an old military “H” hut barracks. Nervously we entered the old building and straggled along the hallway until someone directed us into a long thin room that was occupied by a handful of people. No one said a word so I finally broke the ice and went up to a small group of girls to introduce Kristen and myself. There was Hope a very pretty blonde, two sisters Keisha and Kaitlin who looked like Laurel and Hardy, Violet a slim shy blonde and of course Kristen and I. There were four new boys one was Violets brother.
Suddenly a steady stream of uniformed cadets began to fill the room making us shuffle quickly towards the back. The uniformed males whispered and stared at us like we were a rarity. No wonder! Out of the whole squadron there was only one female and she was at the front yelling at them to form up. She brought them to attention as another cadet marched into the room and they saluted each other. The two leaders smartly began pacing up and down the rows of cadets commenting on their mirror shiny boots or railroad tracks, double creases, in the uniform which seemed to be a definite no. The male leader welcomed us commenting that the number of female recruits was the largest ever had. I vaguely thought I didn’t say I would join yet, it was an assumption on their part, not that I really minded I was willing to give it a try.
The female cadet approached us and led us to the closest classroom for a briefing. There she wasn’t as formal, she was really friendly. She stressed that while in uniform everyone in the military addressed each other by rank and last name before explaining the details about the squadron. Selena went over the rank structure: Cadet, Leading Air Cadet, Corporal, Flight Corporal, Sergeant, Flight Sergeant, Warrant Officer 2nd Class, and Warrant Officer 1st Class. Selena was a Sergeant and she told us that she had three brothers in cadets, Quentin the oldest was a Flight Sergeant who we saw heading the dress inspection, Stewart was a Flight Corporal and Rodney was a Corporal. I wondered why brothers and sister joined together and guest for the same reason Kristen and I did, we were chicken. We learned that Monday nights were mandatory and included inspection parades, drill practice\instruction, as well as classroom instruction on general cadet knowledge, citizenship, community service, leadership, effective speaking, Canadian Forces Familiarization, Canadian Aviation (i.e. airframe structures, aircrew survival, aircraft identification), Aerospace and Aerodrome Operations Familiarization, Radio Communication, Aviation Activities, Aerospace Activities, and Aerodrome Operations Activities. It sounded hard not fun and well it was not nice to say but the classes sounded boring. Wednesday nights the cadets went to a local school gym for sports. That sounded more like it. Sunday nights we were encouraged to join the drill team that practiced in a large hangar at the Ottawa International Airport to compete against other squadrons. During canteen break I learned the cute blonde boy I saw in the mall was a Swedish named Sven and his best friend was Joseph.
We met the reserve squadron captain who welcomed us to the squadron and gave us a speech about how our membership in it would be an asset. He was a very soft-spoken slender man, quite different than what I had expected. Before the night was over Selena took us to the squadrons clothing outlet to get our kit. “One size fits all” the stores man joked loudly. It wasn’t quite that bad they did have different sizes but of course the same blue uniform. Each recruit received two pairs of pants, jackets, shirts, one beret, and one pair of boots. These boots weren’t shiny at all and I immediately knew there was a lot of work ahead of us to get our uniforms up to par with the rest of the squadron. With very little time left we hurried back to the classroom to receive instructions on how to prepare our uniforms for the next meeting. Selena showed us different ways to shine the boots. You could use spit and polish which the guys liked but I cringed at or you could use a lighter to melt the polish and a little cold water to rub it into the leather which I preferred. The beret was the worst having to soak it, put it on your head, and pulling it over to one side with a crease in front with the cap badge. As far as ironing the jackets, shirts, and pants it was left up to us to figure out at home but she showed us hers as a guideline.
Wednesday night was our first gym night what a farce. We played volleyball but there was more flirting going on than anything else. The guys tripped over themselves to get our attention. It was the first and only time I was ever popular and I felt weird. There was such a divide between school and cadets I felt like I was at odds with myself because I was introverted at school but out-going and confident at cadets. It was amazing but I learned over time that many of the people that joined cadets were outcasts at their school too maybe that was a big part of the organizations attraction. Friday night was a special initiation that all the new recruits had to go through. We were warned to bring a towel and a change of clothes. We crawled under a row of metal chairs while cadets cracked eggs on our head, sprayed whipped cream at us, and at the end of the line threw a cloud of flour at us. I was thinking that I’m sure it was nothing in comparison to a college or the military Army initiation. The whole thing was over before we knew it and in the end there was food to eat not to wear. On Saturday we had a welcome dance at the barracks. It was so juvenile, absolutely terrible the boys stayed on one side of the room and the girls stayed on the other no one dance.
Sunday afternoon we met the girls at the airport hangar to join the drill team. What really made me want to go is that I learned that Sven was one of the drill instructors. The other girls giggled and whispered to me that they had the same reason for coming, the boys. For two hours we learned and practiced how to come to attention and dress off, left and right turns, about turns, and finally how to march together as one. I loved it, I don’t know what I like about it but the organized sharp movements were cool. Even though it took two buses and a two hour marathon to get there I felt the trip was worth it. Violet and I loved drill so much that we practiced on Saturdays in the parking lot of her family’s apartment complex and sometimes her brother Geoff joined us.
Monday night the inspection parade went off with most of the new recruits passing with flying colors. Keisha was told to work on her boots more and a guy had double creases in his pants but other than that the instructors were happily surprised with the turnout. My boots already shined like glass and my uniform creases were sharp which I got good comments about so I took time during a break to help Keisha with her boots. That night we began to learn the military rank structure for cadets and regular military, we had to have them memorized by the following Monday.
At the end of the night Sven and Joseph his best friend asked Kristen and me on a double date. Sven explained that he didn’t have a car but Joseph did so they asked us to a movie. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of going on my first date with my sister there and I’m sure she wasn’t either but we said yes.
Friendships in cadets were fickle because we all went to different schools and lived in different neighborhoods but we girls met in a mall several times to hang out and talked on the phone. Unfortunately the two sisters Keisha and Kaitlin had extremely strict Jewish parents they couldn’t wear makeup, stay out past 7:00 p.m., or talk on the phone just to chat. Because of those limitations we didn’t get as close to them as we would have liked. Hope talked about her mother’s drinking habit, infidelity, and her parents’ divorce. When her mother got drunk she hit Hope. I was really angry and told her that there were groups out there that could help her, like maybe social services but as soon as I mentioned social services she turned pale and stopped talking. Violet and Geoff also had a bad home life. They never quite told me the whole story just that their mother was attracted to losers. The last jerk beat up their mother and Geoff and when the three of them took off for a few years he stalked them and now that he found them he forced himself into their lives again. I asked her if her mom tried going to women shelters or calling the police and Violet said they did but nothing helped.
Kristen and my home life wasn’t perfect neither. Kristen was born in Halifax, I was born in Toronto, and our brother was born in Caesarea, Ontario. My father was my mother’s second husband so we had a half-sister and brother. We met our half-sister once for supper. When she married for the second time our mother abandon us for nine months when we were around five she took off with a guy had a baby and came back. After having another affair with her boss and getting pregnant she got a divorce and my sister and I were adopted by our step-father, husband number three. Then she had many lovers over the years even bringing them home for supper. One night our mother took us out of bed and went to one of her lover’s home but luckily dad talked her into returning. I always considered our dad the knight in shining armor protecting us from our mother and her men.
As the end of fall was approaching the cadets arranged a picnic at Vincent Massey Park located in Ottawa’s west end. The park had huge sports fields, grassy picnic areas with barbecues, and an outdoor amphitheater. We played soccer and baseball and at lunch time the guys puffed up their chest and strutted as they cooked the hot-dogs and hamburgers. We had to do girly things like set out the salad. With full bellies we sat around under a large maple tree unmotivated to move until an explosion of ice-cold water splashed around us. The water fight lasted for two hours drenching every last one of us. All of the girls were flirting with the boys in a game of cat and mouse. We dried off in the sun and walked along the park’s winding pathways through brush to a scenic view called Hogs Back Falls. Many kids used to jump into the falls, and get propelled at great speed from pool to pool levels and finally spat out at the bottom. If they made it without a broken limb, they did it again. It was so romantic and although I didn’t hold Sven’s hand he was quietly walking right beside me. We returned to the picnic area and started a roaring fire. I stared at the flames and fought the heaviness of my eyes. Before I knew it I drifted off for a minute. Sven woke me with a nudge and a smile. It was the end to a perfect day.
Sven and I talked more and more at cadet meetings, the gym, and at drill practice as did. It wasn’t long before Sven asked me to go steady with him. The same night Quentin the lead cadet asked Kristen to go steady and Emile asked Hope. Did they do it together on purpose for moral support? It seemed a little immature to me. As the weeks passed Sven never called me at home and I suddenly realized that I didn’t even have his phone number and wondered if he had mine. It didn’t feel like we were boyfriend girlfriend. We couldn’t cuddle, hold hands, or kiss at cadets because of the rules of conduct while in uniform and we went to different schools which didn’t leave our relationship much time, if you could call it a relationship. Finally Sven asked me to meet him at the mall near his home to talk and for hot chocolate. I learned that he didn’t have the perfect home life either. His mother was addicted to alcohol and gambling and couldn’t pay the bills so creditors kept calling. He had to find money in her purse to buy groceries. I told him bits and pieces about my mom but kept it short. That was only the second time that I saw Sven outside of cadets he didn’t hold hands or try to kiss me and I still didn’t get his phone number even though I gave him mine. Maybe he was worried his mom would find out that he had a girlfriend and give him a hard time or maybe he was embarrassed by his mother’s drinking and didn’t want her to cause a fuss on the phone. It wasn’t that I didn’t empathize with Sven but I felt frustrated because we really didn’t have a relationship at all and I decided that after Christmas I was breaking up with him. After the holidays Sven missed a few weeks of cadets and school I heard, due to pneumonia. The first time I saw him again was during a Wednesday gym night and he looked terrible. I told him that I wanted to breakup and he begged me not to but after he left Hope told me that Joseph asked two sluts from their school over to his house when his mom was out; Sven joined them and they all got drunk and had sex. Angered and embarrassed I tried for weeks to breakup with him but he didn’t go to gym or drill practice and he avoided me on Monday nights. Finally one night he walked up to me in the parking lot and said it’d be better if we went our separate ways. I told him it was fine by me since I knew what he did at Christmas and that we didn’t have a real relationship anyways the look of shock on his face was marginally satisfying. That same night Quentin broke up with Kristen and Emile with Hope, how childish. They didn’t have the guts to do it by themselves. I really lost respect for them all because they were eighteen and nineteen they should have handled things better. Kristen was very upset because her friendship with Quentin’s sister Selena stopped because of the breakup. After I wasn’t going out with Sven anymore many of the guys asked me out. I thought about it but realized being in different schools, far apart in the city, and having a hugely busy schedule between cadets and school there wasn’t really any time to date much less handle a relationship. I had learned my lesson with Sven. Besides Sven was two years older than me and he wasn’t mature enough to have a proper relationship so I didn’t trust guys my own age to fare any better.
I thought Hope was better off without Emile because they fought like cats and dogs but she was heart-broken. One night she really got him mad when she called him crying and asking to stay at his house because her mother hit her giving her a black eye. Maybe he felt she was too much trouble so that was why he broke up with her. But he hadn’t seen the last of her because Hope needed rescuing once again when her drunken mother beat her even worse and she herself was smashed; that was twice now. This time Emile and his mother called Children’s Aid and Hope was taken from her home and sent to live with her aunt in Toronto. Kristen and I were devastated because we didn’t even have time to say good bye. We could only hope she was in a safer happier home.
The first year of cadets was almost over and it was nearly summer, cadets closed down for the season because many people went on vacations including the instructors. We were busy with the final exams, our promotion to leading air cadet level one; and our participation in the drill contest which we won. We got a certificate “Completed Elementary Cadet Training”. Emile was presented with a retirement plaque because you couldn’t stay a cadet when you turned nineteen. I won the Best Female Cadet of the Year Award which was presented to me at the parade. It was a four-tier trophy that was kept in the display case in the barracks but I did get a miniature one. My father took pictures and my mother fawned all over me making me feel uncomfortable and concerned about Kristen’s feelings.
MY CADET UNIFORM CREST
AIR CADET CAP BADGE