Cadets Corps leaders are defending the youth development programme, after photos published in the Caymanian Compass last week, showing cadets carrying ceremonial firearms, sparked controversy on talk-back radio.
Colonel Phillip Hyre, Commandant of the Cayman Islands Cadets Corps said it was a pity that the controversy had taken attention away from the impressive results the Corps is achieving with Caymanian youth.
‘It was unfortunate that the photos came across that way to the public. I want to make it clear that cadetting is not about training kids how to use firearms, it’s about a lot of other things; that’s just a small portion of what we do, but it’s not the emphasis.’
In fact, the ‘Skill at Arms and Competition Shooting’ part of the Cadet programme is just one of 13 areas of focus, Mr. Hyre explained. These include map and compass, first aid, citizenship, physical training and sports, community assistance, practical leadership training, signal and technology, music and bands and camping.
‘These are skills that can be used in all walks of life; we just teach them to the youth in a military way of discipline,’ he said.
‘Taking charge and being the leaders of tomorrow; that’s what we’re aiming for.’
Created in 2001, the Cadet Corps now has more than 200 girls and boys aged 11 to 19 enrolled in its programme, including about 100 from Cayman Brac.
Sister Islands MLA and long-time supporter of the Cadet Corps, Julianna O’Connor-Connonlly said the Corps serves an important function on the Brac, where access to after-school care and extracurricular programmes is limited. Apart from cultivating increased level of respect, both in the children and toward elders, their training in disaster preparedness and response will be an invaluable asset in the event of a natural disaster, she said.
With only six full-time staff members, the Corps relies heavily on volunteers like Regiment Sergeant Derek Larner, a former UK Army Sergeant. He is so impressed with the Corps that he has taken annual leave from his parking management job to be at the camp.
In September, the Corps will add its first Maritime Detachment, to be led by Captain Robert Sutherland. He hopes the maritime detachment will help keep today’s generation of youth in touch with their forefather’s rich seafaring tradition.
‘We tend to only see the older people that have passed through the Caymanian seafaring tradition; we don’t see the younger people who are in it any longer. This is an opportunity to get the young people back into it.’
Mr. Sutherland hopes the addition of a maritime detachment will give young Caymanian the skills they need to pursue careers in areas such as maritime engineering and water sports and recreation.
Over the past two weeks, about 115 cadets, including a handful from Australia, the USA, Canada and the UK, have been taking part in the corps’ annual camp at Stacy Watler Agricultural Pavilion.
While radio presenters and callers pontificated over the photos, cadets taking part in the camp seemed oblivious to the fuss.
But when asked about the cadet programme by the Caymanian Compass, one after the other came forward to explain the effect cadetting is having on their lives.
Arthur Isaacs, 15, said he is learning to be more independent in the Cadet Corps. ‘Believe it or not, when I came to the cadets, it was the first time I had washed my own clothes, ironed, all of that stuff.’
‘I’m more disciplined now. I know that I can do better work, cope better with people and follow instructions.’
Claudia Brown, 16, from Cayman Brac, said the cadets’ programme had taught her discipline and self-belief. ‘It teaches you a lot about how to make things of yourself,’ she explained. ‘It has built my self-confidence way up high. I couldn’t talk in front of crowds-now, it’s kind of second nature.’
The programme is also helping many students achieve big improvements at school, said Christina Ulett, 14, from West Bay.
‘I believe it has helped me a lot with school. My grades have improved a lot. Generally, it is just a good programme. When I started I was very, very shy. Now I have broken out of my self.
‘This is a very nice programme. It helps the youth and it keeps them out of trouble.’
Shilo Scott, 14, from Cayman Brac, concedes there are times when she struggles to muster herself out of bed in the early morning to face tough training exercises. But, she never regrets having made the effort. ‘You realise how much fun you had, how many friends you made and the new people you met; it’s cool.
‘My parents just love me being in the Cadets,’ she explains. ‘It actually helped me bring up my school grades and taught me not to be shy with other people and have better manners.’
Mr. Hyre, who has been involved in the Corps since its inception, said these types of comments are not uncommon.
‘Their demeanour changes. When cadets first come into the programme, you will see them walk in, slouching, leaning; now they are upright, they look you straight in the face, they make good eye contact-they are not shy or bashful, they can look you directly in the eye.
‘There is a certain confidence about them-a pride in being in the Cadet Corps, but, more importantly, pride in their own self, as an individual.
‘That’s what we are trying to instil; that message, ‘whoever you are, you are important’.’