“Attention!” shouts the sergeant.
Seven cadet shoes stomp down and send echoes through the Houston Community Hall.
“Open orders, march!”
Two rows of cadets step apart, open a path for their commanding officer.
Tonight, it’s Captain Margaret Murphy who inspects the ranks. She checks the green uniforms and ties (straight, tied in a double Windsor knot), then looks to shoes.
“Technically, I should be able to look down and see my reflection,” she says afterwards.
“You can tell, from week to week, who’s been putting the time in and who’s just buffing up before they get here.”
Shoe shining is a small part of Houston’s Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps. But it was extra important Saturday, when a Brigadier-General flew in from Ottawa to inspect Houston cadets on their 25th anniversary parade.
Still, no one seemed particularly nervous at a second-to-last practice before the big day.
“My CO’s going to be able to see his reflection wearing sunglasses,” one cadet boasted on a 10-minute break between drills.
Another said her secret to shoe-shining is just time and elbow grease—usually in front of the TV.
A third cadet laughed, said something about “Ever-Shine,” and was just fishing out what looked like a tin of super-amazing shoe polish from his backpack when Captain Murphy suddenly reappeared in the doorway with her eyebrows sky-high.
Shoe cheats aside, Murphy said she has a terrific group to command.
“You watch them come in as raw cadets, and then you watch their progress for the next five or six years,” she said. “It’s a wonderful change.”
“They go from these deer-in-the-headlights-looks kids to kids who have leadership and confidence. They know where they’re going, and they develop goals that they learn to see through.”
For many cadets, one goal is to join an expedition. Glacier climbs and parachuting are two choices that rank high.
A few years ago, cadets had a chance to get scuba training in Belize.
And every summer, cadets can go on adventures a little closer to home.
Corporal Stephen Chartier joined two years ago and is now looking forward to his third summer cadets camp in Vernon.
“The barracks are pretty cool—they’re almost 100 years old,” he said.
More than 100 of B.C.’s 7,000 air, land, and sea cadets fill the barracks, he said, which can get fairly loud. They also go out on backpacking trips, packing camp gear, and extra sets of combat boots.
As for the food, Charter says it varies by IMP.
An Instant Meal Packages is just what they sound like, he explains: dehydrated meals and desserts that just need boiling water.
“Sausage and hash browns is the best,” he said, noting that salmon IMPs are also good so long as you have some salt and pepper.
Cadets, who join from age 12 until they graduate high school, generally need a good meal.
Along with showing citizenship at events like Houston’s Remembrance Day ceremony and learning to be leaders while guiding younger cadets up the ranks, cadets also have to keep in shape and pass a series of fitness tests.
At summer camps, cadets climb eight-foot walls, run through tires—”everything except going through barbed wire,” says Chartier.
In winter, several Houston cadets have competed in biathlon.
Two years ago, that training sent Houston cadet Brendan Newgard all the way to Bisley, England, where he came first place among all under-19’s and bested several regular officers in an international shooting competition.
“It’s a whole world of opportunity for these kids,” says Captain Murphy, smiling.
“But they’ve got to earn it.”