Sidney flight sergeant cadet Riley Newlove with a laptop with his peers in Langley, flight sergeant cadets Roberta Grimard and Riley Diesner on the other end of the connection. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

Sidney flight sergeant cadet Riley Newlove with a laptop with his peers in Langley, flight sergeant cadets Roberta Grimard and Riley Diesner on the other end of the connection. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

Sidney, Langley air cadets form impressive union through pandemic

676 Kitty Hawk commanding officer calls training merger between programs a national success story

When a pandemic threatened to undo hard-practiced discipline, the cadets of Sidney’s 676 Kitty Hawk and Langley’s 746 Lightning Hawk squadrons proved that it – nor the distance of the Salish Sea – could not keep the Royal Canadian Air Cadets from uniting in uncertain times.

The effect of lockdowns was felt differently in each region of the province and chapter of the cadets. Sidney’s 676 squad briefly returned to in-person training in October after eight months of meeting remotely. When they were yet again ordered out of their field house per public health guidelines in November, the Kitty Hawk squadron was forced to find a way to facilitate training in a new and engaging way.

On the mainland, Langley’s larger air cadet squadron had been tuning in remotely, every week, since the onset of the pandemic in February 2020. The Lightning Hawk squadron developed a system to last throughout Langley’s indefinite lockdown, although they still experienced the difficulty of keeping 150 youth engaged.

The solution to Kitty Hawk’s return to remote training was the same as Lightning Hawk’s solution to preserve urgency after a year of meeting online.

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Other than weeks of competition between squads, “you don’t see this level of interaction and involvement,” said 676 squadron commanding officer (CO) Sean Kelly. “There’s been a number of cadet units, right across Canada, that have tried doing something like what we’re doing right now … but I think that this has been one of the most successful stories in all of Canada for that collaboration.”

Kelly was first to petition the squads’ collaboration, looking to decades of personal history. He volunteered as a military reservist while working as a cadet instructor and was one of the longest-serving members of his alma mater, Langley’s 746 squadron. When talking this year to Langley CO Maj. Groome, Kelly was talking with a longtime friend and former cadet.

“Our two training officers spent countless hours working together to make sure the cadets really had everything they needed for fun training classes,” Kelly said. “Of course the cadets themselves spent a lot of time working and collaborating. The skill-side knowledge they’ve developed with each other – through Zoom, through phone calls, through different ways they’ve been able to connect – they’ve actually grown as a team.”

Riley Newlove, a cadet flight sergeant and Stelly’s Secondary student, is one of the 676’s most senior cadets at 15. His peer cadet at squadron 746 is more than two years older, providing totally new opportunities for peer-to-peer mentorship, Newlove said.

“It’s almost like a big brother relationship,” Kelly noted. “It really had 746 taking us underneath their wing, and from there … it got to show the extreme value that it had by us taking part in everything together.”

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“The cadets of Lightning Hawk also appreciated the presence of their guests,” reads a collaborative article regarding the merger written by Newlove and Langley cadets Roberta Grimard and Riley Diesner. Langley Cadet Sergeant Antonio Hakko said, “with having new people join our squadron, we gather more ideas; you get different perspectives … I certainly found having our two squadrons join was very helpful.”

“A lot of the credit should go to 746 for what they did to help us, but I can say we helped them with morale,” Kelly said.

The squads intend to meet face-to-face for the first time once pandemic restrictions are lifted on both sides of the Strait of Georgia. Until then, collaborative efforts like the joint article will be encouraged to engage cadets and drive recruitment.

A typical year sees 70 cadets in the halls of Kitty Hawk’s field house, while this year saw only 30, said Kelly. The CO intends a recruitment drive to muster around 100 cadets for the new year.

“Anytime that we can get large groups of youth together for a common positive goal, it’s a really good thing,” Kelly said.

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