By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When considering the future, Private Aidan Davidson and Private Ethan Savard are clear eyed and steady.
The two Chatham Grade 12 students both 17 – are in the midst of a co-operative education semester with the Canadian Armed Forces. Completing the course is a step each are taking towards the goal of making the army their full-time careers.
When the two successfully complete the course in June, both automatically qualify to take the CAF’s regular infantry training in the summer and if they pass, the two are eligible to become full-fledged soldiers by next fall.
So, by the ripe age of 18, both young men will have their high school diplomas and be well on the way to rewarding careers serving their country and getting paid for it.
The army’s co-operative education piece, which went by the wayside during the COVID-19 pandemic is back on track. According to Lieutenant (Navy) Andrew McLaughlin, there are currently 30 high school students enrolled in the CAF co-operative experience across Southwestern Ontario.
McLaughlin, public affairs officer for 31 Canadian Brigade Group, says the course is an excellent way for young people to learn about the armed forces, even if they have no prior affiliation.
“It’s a very good opportunity for young people to get a taste of the army,” McLaughlin explained, adding participants can choose to serve in the reserves, while working in another career, or join the army full-time.
In Chatham-Kent that means joining the Essex and Kent Scottish reserve regiment – a group with a long and storied military history.
Students for the CAF co-op program don’t just sign up. They are interviewed and undergo aptitude, medical and reliability testing and screening before being admitted.
Every afternoon Davidson and Savard head to the Col. E.M. Ansell Armoury on Bloomfield Road in Chatham. There, they take part in classroom sessions covering a wide range of subjects with a focus on discipline, as well as hands-on training that includes the proper handling of the C7A2 automatic rifle – the weapon used by Canadian soldiers across the world.
The reasons behind the choices Davidson and Savard have made to join the army are identical. Both are proud Canadians and say they want to do something to make their families – and Canada – proud.
Davidson, a student at Chatham-Kent Secondary School, comes from a military family with a history of serving as full-time soldiers and reserve officers.
He said he knew he wanted to join the army since he was four and has been focused on the goal ever since, playing army as a child, becoming a hunter, signing on with the air cadets and now the Essex and Kent Scottish.
“I knew as soon as I joined the air cadet program, I wanted to join the reserves, Davidson told The Voice.
“I’m just really grateful that I passed and that grateful for the opportunity that’s been provided to me,” he said. “It’s bigger and better than I thought.”
Eventually, Davidson hopes to become a member of the CAF regular forces and once he achieves that he plans to push forward to “continuing to learn to see how far I can go in my career.”
Savard, a student at John McGregor Secondary School, had no family connections to the military before taking the co-op course, but despite having no prior association, he likes what he’s found.
“I wanted something to be proud of and that’s my biggest reason for joining,” Savard explained. “I’m loving it so far. It’s a lot more hands on that I was expecting.”
Savard’s end goal is to become a pathfinder, which is an infanteer who specializes in controlling a specific area in combat. There are plenty of prerequisite courses he must pass, but he believes the sky’s the limit.
“The army has a lot of opportunities and programs so if I want to do something else, there is the option to do it,” Savard said.
McLaughlin agrees the opportunities are many.
“I know people that came into the co-op program at 17 and now they are captains and majors in the reserves,” he said. “They’ve been in for 20 years and they’ve done it part-time serving Canada for their whole lives, going on active duty when they are asked to do it.
“Once you get in, the doors are wide open to you.”
McLaughlin said the standards are high and this commands respect.
“The CAF is built on a foundation of trust and that’s why the Canadian public respects us, because they do trust us, because they know we have those high standards.
“Canadian soldiers are respected, they’re known as some of the best professional soldiers in the world.”
Anyone interested in finding out more about joining the Canadian Armed Forces can find the information on social media. The CAF currently has 68,000 active personnel and 27,000 reservists.