When they once again lay wreaths in their community this year to mark Remembrance Day, two teenage girls will be reflecting on what they’ve learned about what it means to serve one’s country, and to die for it.
Flight Cpl. Shelby Ralph, 14, and Sgt. Leah Cournoyer, 14, are two members of the 125 Silver Wings Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron in Eastport.
For the past few years, the two girls have been active in their squadron, learning leadership skills, participating in drill training and learning about Canadian’s armed forces and the role they play both in this country and around the world.
And as people across this country prepare to honour the men and women who have served Canada, and given their lives in that service, Shelby and Leah will be remembering what they have come to understand about that ultimate sacrifice.
“To me, Remembrance Day is a time when we all come together to remember those people who fought for our country, and died,” said Shelby. “It’s important to remember them. It’s important to give them that respect, and honour them for what they did for us.”
Members of the squadron are active in Remembrance Day activities around the Eastport Peninsula each year.
They lay wreaths during the official ceremony on Nov. 11, participate in a march through town, and help members of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion with their annual poppy drive.
“It’s important for them to understand the significance of the day, and why we need to remember,” said Capt. Joseph Collier, the squadron’s commanding officer. “That’s one of the things involvement in a cadet corps gives young people — an understanding of what life was, and continues to be, for the men and women who serve in our country’s armed forces.”
Capt. Collier, who spent nearly two decades serving in the military himself, knows first-hand the value of understanding the sacrifices made by those who choose to serve their country for a living.
“For many young people, they can’t even begin to imagine what it might have been like for these soldiers who, during wars, travelled to countries completely unknown to them,” he said. “They were truly foreign lands.”
These days, Capt. Collier said, it’s a little different. Technology has provided opportunities for people, young and old, to learn about what life is like in countries on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and on the other side of the world.
That’s also one of the things young people learn through their involvement with air cadets that might be unique to other youth organizations.
“For some young people, if they are committed to it completely, and they stay in cadets long enough, they may find themselves travelling overseas for weeks at a time, spending time in a foreign country, and learning about how the people in those countries live every day,” said Capt. Collier, who explained the cadet program is open to young people aged 12 to 19. “And even after they age out of the program, there are still opportunities for them to remain involved on a number of different levels, so they can continue to learn more and more things about the world around them.”
Although it is not a primary focus of the cadet corps to promote the military as a possible career path for the young members, many do choose to follow in the footsteps of Canada’s servicemen and servicewomen.
Although neither of the girls know for certain what their futures hold in terms of post-secondary education, Leah is considering entering the military once she graduates high school.
“I was born late in the year, so technically, I will be 17 when I graduate high school, so I could stay in cadets two more years after that if I wanted to,” she said. “At this point, I’m not sure if I want to go to Memorial University and study marine biology right after I graduate and continue to be involved in cadets, or if I want to wait a couple of years, finish air cadets, and then join the military and study marine biology while I’m with them. I’ll have to wait and see.”
In the meantime, the girls are enjoying their regular activities within their corps, and are looking forward to marking an important occasion in their community.
“Remembrance Day is something everyone should participate in,” said Shelby. “So many people gave their lives so we could live better ones. It’s important we all remember that.”