Old friends picked up like it was only yesterday when they were side-by-side marching, running drills or polishing boots in the barracks.
But for most it has been more than three decades when they were last at Royal Canadian Air Cadet camp in Penhold.
About 200 former cadets, and staff came together to reminisce about the days gone by in several reunion events held at the base and the Black Knight Inn throughout the weekend.
“The only thing we’re missing are the name tags,” laughed Judy Undiks.
Undiks started as a cadet in 1981, returned as staff cadet in 1983 and an officer in 1984.
“The program was a lot different back then,” said Undiks. “I remember when I was in the basic camp, we went to the Calgary Zoo. I can recall some of the people here were my officers back in the day. I can see them clearly in uniform and at the zoo.”
Undiks said the best part of the camp were the bonds of life-long friendships that were made and maintained over the decades through hand-written letters and now with social media. Today Undiks is an officer at the Region Gliding School Gimli, Man.
Linda Lohmaier, of Cold Lake, said she remembers the years where they lived in regular barracks and in row housing during the summers. She worked at the camp in various roles including squadron commander, flight commander and deputy commanding officer on and off from 1981 to 2009.
“People would sit out on the stoops of the row houses and we would call it stooping,” she said. “We would sit out there and watch the sun go down. It’s Penhold so you could watch the rain for miles.”
Lohmaier said she would not be the person she is today if it were not for the program. It allowed her to hone her education, leadership and other skills.
“You’ll hear this standard line from any one of us,” she said. “It’s the greatest unknown youth program in Canada.”
Nika Piatkiwicz, who attended camp in 1983 and 1984 and returned as staff in 1989, 1993 and 1994, said being around the former cadets on the weekend brought up a lot of memories. She said the cadet program gave her the discipline which she thinks children do not have today.
Dennis Quong, who now works out of Hong Kong but is from Port Coquitlam, was a cadet in 1968 and 1969 and a drill instructor in 1971.
Quong said there was not a lot of things for children to do in the suburb of Vancouver when he was younger.
“Cadets was something to do,” said Quong. “It was fun. I learned a lot. It was more than school. It was more fun learning about airplanes and engines. The structure helped. A big part of it was the camaraderie.”
Quong said he will always remember the people he met over the years through the program. He said Penhold and area had a lot to offer the cadets with its oil and gas, farming industries and excellent facilities.
“They get to see what the backbone of Canada is all about,” he said.
The final camp will be held this summer. Starting in 2015, cadets looking for summer camps will be redirected to other camps in western Canada.