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Artillery gunner fondly recalls time with cadets (3 photos)

Curtis Wheeldon hopes other youth will give the local air cadet squadron a try

For Curtis Wheeldon, the glider ride seemingly sealed the deal.

While the then-teenager had always felt a strong affinity for aviation and the military, the chance to ride in a glider near the start of his time with the Midland Lions 724 Air Cadets years ago paved part of the way towards his current life as an artillery gunner with the Canadian Forces.

“They (squadron leaders) tell you that you’re going gliding and you don’t know what to expect,” said Wheeldon, who noted that initial experience was both amazing and kind of surreal.

“That’s kind of what got me hooked. It was this perfectly quiet flight.”

Wheeldon said the local troupe ranks high amongst air cadet squadrons when it comes to cadets eventually obtaining their gliding and power pilots’ licences.

“There are some very excellent teachers for those courses to help kids get their licences,” said Wheeldon, who grew up in Victoria Harbour and attended St. Theresa’s Catholic High School.

After high school, Wheeldon considered going to university, but found the pull of joining the military just too hard to resist.

“I’ve always been interested in the military so when I got the chance I was quite excited,” said Wheeldon, who completed his basic training last summer at CFB Gagetown after being accepted before being sent to Petawawa as a member of the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.

“I was selected for that and that’s what I went with.”

Wheeldon, who’s also completed training as a weapons technician and an ammunition technician, said the military offers a fun and rewarding experience.

“There’s a very close team environment and it can be really exhilitaring,”  he said, noting he owes a great deal of gratitude to the local air cadet program where he once served as squadron leader as warrant officer (first class) and hopes other youth will check it out when the troupe meets at the North Simcoe Sports & Recreation Centre on Wednesdays.

“Absolutely, go in on one of their training nights, talk to the staff. It doesn’t always look very exciting because you might see a bunch of kids sitting at a table, but find out a little bit more about the program.”

Wheeldon said cadets learn and gain expertise in a lot of neat skills and techniques related to things like aviation or ground-crew survival that they likely wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

“You also do camping trips in all different types of the year. There are so many different things you can do.”

And Wheeldon still remembers that first glider experience vividly since it not only fulfilled a personal dream, but also continued to help forge a strong familial bond.

He added: “My great-grandfather Wilfred Newbel was a pilot so it’s always held quite a bit of interest for me.”