Cadets is about more than pre-military training, says award winner

Danette Dooley
Published on December 3, 2011
Stephen Connors holds the 2011 Sir Leonard C. Outerbridge Award. - Submitted photo

Sixteen-year-old Stephen Connors of Goulds has been named winner of the 2011 Sir Leonard C. Outerbridge Award as the top air cadet in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Level II French immersion student at St. Kevin's High School in the Goulds joined air cadets at age 12 after leaders came to his school to talk about the benefits of the program.

Capt. Ken Holden, commanding officer of 514 Kinsmen Air Cadets, was one of the speakers during that visit. That's the squadron Stephen ended up joining.

Last summer, Stephen earned his glider pilot's licence during a seven-week course in Debert, N,S. He ranks his first solo plane ride flying a Schweizer 2-33 as one of the highlights of his cadet training.

"After so many practice flights, you're in the plane by yourself and no one is looking over your shoulder critiquing everything you do. The feeling of that freedom is absolutely amazing," Stephen said during an interview at his school on Thursday.

A flight sergeant with the air cadets, Stephen hopes to be accepted into the cadet power pilot scholarship program in 2012. Graduates of the program earn their private pilot's licence and can fly single engine aircraft.

Other highlights of his time in cadets include attending a six-week survival course in Greenwood, N.S., in 2010 and representing Newfoundland and Labrador at the national air cadet effective speaking competition in New Brunswick earlier this year.

During the speak-off, Stephen talked about how social networking affects relationships.

"What made that trip so amazing was how quickly we all bonded. We became good friends quickly," he said.

During his time in cadets, Stephen has attended four summer camps outside the province.

His accolades include the Lord Strathcona Medal - the highest award given a cadet.

An honour's student in his school, Stephen was named Student of the Year in Level I and is currently president of his school's student council.

The communication and leadership skills he's learned through cadets helped him win the confidence of his peers who elected him as student council president, he said.

"It's an honour that my fellow students thought that I'd be the right one for this."

Stephen participates in his squadron's Cadet Acting and Performing Program. An initiative that started about a decade ago, members of the squadron perform a play at the end of each year.

"There's a music performance part of it, too," he said.

Stephen plays saxophone in his school band as well as in the Eastern School District band.

The cadet program - Air, Army and Navy - is for youth ages 12-18, regardless of their ability to pay.

When asked what he'd tell youth about the program, Stephen said he'd first debunk some myths about the organization.

"A lot of people seem to think that cadets is pre-military training, which is a misconception. It's a youth organization," he said.

Over the years, Stephen has watched young pre-teens join cadets and mature into confident teenagers. As an older member of his squadron, he mentors younger cadets.

"There's no better feeling than knowing you've touched somebody's life. Cadets gives me an opportunity to do that. And I would not be the person I am today if it wasn't for the time I've been with 514. It really does change you for the better."

Holden said the skills Stephen has learned through the cadet program will bode well for him in future.

He knew early on that Stephen would do well in the cadet program, he said.

"Stephen is outgoing; he gets along with people. If you brought him into an auditorium today and gave him a microphone, he'd have no trouble delivering a speech to 200-300 people just like he's talking to you or me," Holden said.

Air Cadet League of Canada eastern vice-chair for Newfoundland and Labrador, Norm Macfie says each year the commanding officers of the 21 air cadet squadrons in this province are invited to submit an application, from their top cadet, for the Sir Leonard C. Outerbridge Award.

The submissions are reviewed by the provincial league honours and awards committee to determine the top air cadet, he said.

"This is the second year in a row for a cadet from the 514 squadron to receive this honour and reflects the high standard and dedication of both the squadron staff and the cadets in the unit," Macfie said.

Justin Fitzgerald won the award in 2010.