With over 450 squadrons across Canada, the Air Cadets program is one of the largest and most comprehensive youth organizations in the country.
The Peace River Air Cadets program celebrates 81 years in the community.
Today, it has a staff team of five volunteers and an average of 25-30 cadets between the ages of 12 and 19. The program is entirely free for young people, including uniforms and trips.
Captain Kaitlyn Rieger is the Commanding Officer of 124 Peace River Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, Canadian Armed Forces. She has seen the program’s evolution firsthand as she’s been involved with Air Cadets for over 20 years, starting as a cadet in Peace River.
For the past six years, Captain Rieger has been the commanding officer of the local Peace River unit.
How long has the Air Cadets program been in Peace River?
Rieger: The Air Cadets program has been a fundamental part of youth development in Peace River for over 80 years.
The 124th unit of Peace River celebrated its 81st anniversary on April 14, making it one of the longest-standing youth organizations in the community.
How did the Air Cadets program start?
The program started as a way to train young people for military service during World War II. The program originally focused on drills and marksmanship. However, since then, the program has evolved to focus on leadership, community and citizenship. The goal is to create better citizens for the future.
How has the program changed over the years?
The program has expanded to include classes in aviation, leadership and instructional techniques. Today, the program offers a wide range of activities, including biathlon, field training exercises, survival skills, leadership development and more.
One of the key benefits of the Air Cadets program is its emphasis on leadership development.
Cadets are encouraged to take on leadership roles within their squadron and are given opportunities to attend leadership courses and training programs at the regional and national levels. Through these experiences, Cadets develop confidence, teamwork skills and a sense of responsibility that will serve them well throughout their lives.
How does the program continue to evolve?
The program undergoes periodic reviews and updates to align with the changing interests of youth while preserving its fundamental values. The program strives to keep youth engaged and relevant through ongoing efforts to modernize.
Who has helped you develop as a leader?
Rob and Peggy Blachford were instrumental in shaping and influencing my experience in the program. They played a crucial role in providing guidance and support throughout my journey.
I also had the opportunity to work closely with Second Lieutenant Lynn Page-Scott. She was my biathlon and marksmanship coach. She provided me with invaluable knowledge and expertise that allowed me to excel in these areas.
Can you tell us about a memorable moment with the Air Cadets?
One moment that comes to mind was being a cadet with Sergeant Michael Reyda, who went on to become an aircraft mechanic in the military.
I firmly believe that with hard work and dedication, combined with the program’s valuable assets, youth can be guided toward achieving their goals.
What challenges has the program had to overcome?
When COVID-19 hit, the program faced significant challenges. We had recently rented a new building to provide a dedicated space for the cadets. However, due to the lockdowns and restrictions that followed, we were forced to move our activities online. This sudden shift disrupted our regular routines and posed a challenge to our ability to connect with each other and the instructors.
Despite these obstacles, we adapted quickly and embraced virtual tools to provide online training. Virtual gatherings provided us with new opportunities for learning and growth.
What does the future hold for the Peace River Air Cadets?
I hope that the program will continue to grow and attract new cadets. With our program’s Main Street location, I believe we can draw in new participants and continue the legacy of the Air Cadets in Peace River.
Is there anything you would like to add?
The Peace River Museum is currently showcasing an exhibit on aviation in the community, including the history of Air Cadets in the area.
If you are interested in joining the Air Cadets program, you are welcome to participate in our training evenings on Wednesdays from 6:30pm to 9:30pm.
We are located on Main Street in Peace River and would love to have you join us.
Our program provides valuable experiences and opportunities for growth and development for future leaders. I am confident you will find it rewarding to be a part of our community.
Article and Photography by Chelsey and Nathan Friedt, Lemon Social