It has been more than 30 years since Gen. Walter Natynczyk visited Penhold Air Cadet Summer Training Camp in Springbrook.
The Chief of Defence Staff did so as a 13 and a 14-year-old cadet in 1972 and 1973.
He returned on Friday, this time as the highest ranking officer of the Canadian Forces, as part of a cross-Canada tour to inspire cadets.
“You are the future leaders of Canada,” Natynczyk told the more then 500 air cadets. He said current leaders in the military, business, politics and the air industry started where they were. “Life is about choices. You made the choice to join the air cadets and it was the best choice you ever made.”
He said as a young man being part of the cadets taught him confidence, discipline and teamwork.
“They are teaching you to maintain a standard so even when no one is looking over your shoulder you do the right thing,” Natynczyk said.
During his visit Natynczyk awarded five exceptional cadets with a special Chief of Defence Staff coin of excellence, including: Sgt. Colin Van Es, of Carstairs, Warrant Officer 2nd Class Raphael Mlynarski, of Edmonton, Warrant Officer 2nd Class Dominic Liu, of Vancouver, Sgt. Coralie van Wyk, of Winnipeg, and Sgt. Jaclyn Edwards, of Davidson, Sask.
Van Es was told he would be meeting the Chief of Defence Staff early Friday afternoon.
“It was really exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” said Van Es, who has learned how to fly and gotten his pilot’s licence as an air cadet.
Mlynarski said the best thing about the cadet program is that he hasn’t been limited to one thing.
He said some people want to be leaders, others focus on music or being pilots. “From my perspective there aren’t many places where you can get your pilot’s licence for free and I think that really helps you,” he said.