High schoolers go commando at military co-op placement

Military co-op student Annabelle Farley stands at attention during a drill at the Confederation Street Armoury. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

Anyone who think today’s youth are lazy and undisciplined hasn’t seen this year’s intake at a high school co-op placement run by the Canadian Forces Army Reserve.

Nine students were thrust headfirst into basic training at the semester-long program, which takes place daily at the 1st Hussars Sarnia Troop headquarters.

In fact, a curious visitor hears the program before seeing it.

While officers are supposed to “ease” new recruits into military life, before long any student who lags behind or overlooks a detail faces the wrath of a screaming drill sergeant.

Military co-op student Tom McEachran rushes to get his equipment organized before an inspection at the Sarnia Armoury on Confederation Street.
Troy Shantz

“It’s pretty intense right off the hop and it just builds from there,” said Master Corporal Keegan Lester, who oversees the program.

“It’s intense, it’s stressful. It’s meant to build them and sort of show them where their weakness are and how to improve.”

On the first day, students are assigned a kit that includes a uniform, backpack, helmet, sleeping bag and rifle. Each must be meticulously maintained.

The opportunity to handle an assault rifle was a major draw for Tom McEachran, a Great Lakes Secondary student who has already set his sights on becoming a weapons technician.

“It’s a lot like the M16 that America uses, but there are some differences,” he says, demonstrating his standard issue Colt Canada C7. Unlike its U.S. counterpart, the Canadian rifle has a cold-forged barrel that’s more effective in Arctic use, he explains.

Annabelle Farley is one of two females in the co-op. The Saint-François-Xavier student is an athlete who was drawn to the physical element of the placement.

She admits drill sergeant yelling takes a bit of an adjustment.

“I’ve never had someone beside me saying, ‘Go, go, go, go,’” she said with a smile. “That was something that was hard for me to get use to at the beginning.”

The young recruits are shown how to navigate, use equipment and basically survive in hostile environments. They’re also taught to watch each other’s back.

“You’re always with your fire team, you always take care of your fire team, and you never leave your fire team behind,” said Farley.

Unlike most high school co-op placements, these students get paid. They also have access to full-time summer employment while attending college or university.

When the training is complete, the graduates are bona fide Class A reservists in the Canadian military. To maintain reservist status, members must commit to train Thursday night at the Confederation Street Armoury as well as one weekend a month.

Farley said she isn’t sure if her future includes a military career. But the experience is a valuable one, she said.

“The life skills that I’m learning… they’re going to help me throughout any job I want to apply to.”

McEachran’s time at the Armoury is also having a positive impact on his home life, said his mother, Melissa Snider.

“I’m noticing a maturity change for sure,” she said. “This has affected his entire life.”