A young, starry-eyed Ryan Goertzen started off in the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps at the age of 12.
“I saw them going around town and thought it was pretty cool,” recalled Goertzen, now chief petty officer (2nd class) for the Fort Frances Sea Cadets.
“I gave it a chance and realized I liked it, and stuck with it,” he noted.
“It taught me a great deal of discipline, how to approach different situations, and leadership qualities.”
Now one year away from reaching the 19-year-old age limit, Goertzen, who also is with the army reserve in Kenora, hopes it will not be the end of his time with the Canadian military.
He is working on continuing with the army reserves, possibly as a career.
“It was something I have always been interested [in] and always wanted to pursue,” he remarked.
Goertzen may have found someone to model his life after in his reviewing officer at the cadets’ annual ceremonial review on Saturday at the Emo Legion.
Retired captain Gordon Woollard of Emo spent more than 30 years in the Canadian military, joining the army at the age of 17 after lying about his age and later fighting in Holland in the dying days of World War II.
He spent a few years after the war in civilian life but decided to head back to the armed forces, touring with NATO in Germany in the 1950s, among other duties, before retiring to Emo in 1978 with his wife, Margaret, where he’s resided ever since.
“It was a real honour,” Goertzen said of having Woollard as his reviewing officer. “It felt really good having someone who went up in the ranks, went into the wars.
“He worked really hard, put his country before himself, and he has gone really far and everyone respects him to the utmost extent,” Goertzen added.
Woollard’s duty as reviewing officer was to inspect the troops, offer a few words of encouragement, and comment on the cadets’ appearance.
“They are doing very well,” he noted.
Woollard also offered this piece of advice to any people interested in the armed forces.
“If any of [the cadets] decide to go into the armed forces, that’s good,” he said. “It’s not for everyone, but I think they find out very early in the cadet routine about whether they are able to take orders or not.
“If they can’t take orders at this age, I don’t know how well they can take orders at a later age,” he reasoned.
Lt. Terry Newman, commanding officer of the Fort Frances Sea Cadets, said he asked Woollard to participate last year but he was forced to back out last-minute due to illness.
Newman noted Woollard is a supporter of the sea cadets, and has donated naval and sailing books to the group.
“I wanted to get him involved [because] let’s face it, pretty soon there aren’t going to be any veterans left,” Newman said.
As for the actual inspection, Newman thought his cadets did a “wonderful job.”
“In practice, we had a few missing so it’s hard to get it all together when not everyone is there, but overall, I think it went well and the cadets enjoyed themselves,” added Dawn Gray, training officer for the cadets.
“We did pretty good,” Goertzen agreed. “There were a couple little mishaps but no one saw them, only I did.”
The cadets are facing a shortage of participants. Gray noted the average is around 20 kids, but only 12 participated in the review.
“This year, it’s a low one but it’s not just us, it’s all across the districts and regions,” she stressed.
Gray believes there are a few different reasons for the decreased enrolment.
“I feel it has lots to do with the extra activities at school,” she reasoned. “When kids turn 16, they get jobs so it’s hard to do everything.
“Truthfully, I think peer pressure doesn’t help,” Gray acknowledged. “I think a lot of the kids that don’t know what the program is about, they see the uniform and they go, ‘Wow, that’s sea cadets. I’m not joining [because] of the uniform.’
“And they really are missing out on a lot.”
Anyone aged 12-18 is allowed to join.
The cadets cover the entire Rainy River District, with participants hailing from Fort Frances, Emo, Devlin, Nestor Falls, and Stratton.
They meet every Monday in Emo to receive instruction on seamanship, sailing, and leadership and instructional technique, among other things.
As well, they get together once a month on the weekend.
In the second half of the review, awards and presentations were handed out to the cadets.
The top new male and female Recruit of the Year went to ordinary seaman Chris Low and ordinary seaman Chelsea Barron, respectively.
The pair also received an award for perfect attendance.
The Esprit de Corps Award, handed out to the “cadet that exemplifies the common spirit that exists within the members of this corps,” was given to Goertzen, who also took home Cadet of the Year honours.
Petty officer (1st class) Daniel Cunningham also left with two awards—Top Fitness Award and Teamwork, Leadership and Attitude Award.
The Gordon Matheson Seamanship award was presented to leading seaman Matthew Gray.