JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Fifty-eight Royal Canadian Air Cadets from the 62 Phantom Squadron in Grimsby, Ontario, spent their spring break on a 10-day trip to Texas, getting a firsthand look at the U.S. military in action March 13.
After a 32-hour bus ride, the 12- to 18-year-old boys and girls stopped at Galveston, then Houston to see the Johnson Space Center and Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, and finally San Antonio to visit all three Joint Base San Antonio locations.
"It's important that we try to do a North American or European citizenship tour every year," Maj. David Leonard, 62 Phantom Squadron commanding officer, said. "This was their first time in Texas, which gave them an appreciation of what their neighbors in the south do. They were pumped the whole way."
When the young Canadians saw helicopters and other army-related operations at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, it was day six. On day seven, they dropped by JBSA-Randolph to learn the mission of the fire department and the Aerospace Physiology Flight, as well as to experience flight simulators. The last day before returning home, they witnessed a basic military training graduation at JBSA-Lackland.
Exploring popular San Antonio attractions like the Alamo and the Natural Bridge Caverns was included, Leonard said, which added "cultural, educational and recreational" significance to the trip.
Some of the cadets' first impressions of Texas echoed what is commonly said about the Lone Star State.
"Everything's big," Thomas Henley, 17-year-old warrant officer 1st class, said. "From what I've seen back at home, Randolph is huge."
Madison Poirier, a 15-year-old sergeant, was impressed because "there was lots of food, a diverse crowd and everybody was really nice," she said.
The cadets were also impressed by the array of land, sea and air operations they were exposed to, which can help inspire their future careers.
"I want to become a cardiologist, but anything in the medical field interests me," Henley said.
The air cadets are not members of the military and are not obliged to join the Canadian Forces, but their organization focuses on "citizenship, leadership, physical fitness, general aviation and stimulating interest in the activities of the Canadian Forces," Leonard said.
The air cadets and their counterparts, the Royal Canadian Army and Sea Cadets, are federally funded youth programs whose training and uniform costs are paid for by Canada's Department of National Defence.
Of all air cadets, "about 80 percent of them succeed as (commercial, military or private) pilots in whichever venue they study if that's what they decide to do," Leonard said.
While they go to school and have homework like every other child, they yearn to be in something bigger than themselves.
"I love the feeling I get when I put on my uniform," Poirier said. "It's happiness; it's being part of another family."