Three camouflage-clad soldiers are huddled together on the ground, their elbows digging into the grass. With smiles on their faces, they pat each other’s shoulders, laughing and rolling from side to side. “These men are my brothers,” one of them says and, from the look of things, it couldn’t be truer.
As stated on the website, Forces.ca, the mission of the Canadian Forces is to:
- Protect Canada
- Defend North America in co-operation with the United States and
- Contribute to international peace and security
In order to accomplish this mission, the Canadian Forces need an army of dedicated, competent, and highly skilled soldiers. And the only way to create a soldier out of a citizen is through basic training.
So what does it take to get through basic training in order to be in the Canadian Forces? Some would argue that all it takes is focus of mind and determination of will. Only a certain type of person can get through basic training however, and the courses and tests are designed for weeding out those who would be a liability to their comrades in the field. A person who goes into basic training has to be capable of withstanding the grueling physical tests that recruits undergo. They must be willing to learn new things, and willing to take on new challenges. Most importantly, recruits must have determination; they must maintain the same drive throughout their training. Only then can an average, everyday citizen of Canada defend this country and fight for us.
Basic Training: What’s it like?
When most Canadian citizens think of training in the army, they think about getting up early, doing lots of push-ups, sit-ups, and running for long periods of time. While this idea is (almost) correct, there is a little more to basic training. Basic training for the Canadian Forces takes place in Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School, located in the town of St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. It is here that new recruits are tested to their limits in everything from weapons drill, to First-Aid, and living in rough conditions. In an interview with my godfather Dave Keeley, I was able to get an accurate perspective on what Basic Training is like for new recruits.
Keeley is a chemical engineer who works in Mississauga, near the city of Toronto. When he was younger he applied for basic training in the Canadian Forces, but unfortunately was unable to finish. I met with Dave during an outdoor birthday party in the summer, where he took me through what it was like for him during basic training.
“Basic training makes you so exhausted, that you can’t even think anymore, and you forget that you’re tired.” Dave says as we sit under a tree in my grandmother’s yard. He tells me of a particular time, when he went on a Forced March, a fast-paced exercise in full gear, for a distance that can be up to 13 kilometres.
Marching for several kilometers in full military gear is extremely exhausting, especially in dense heat. Dave told me that on this particular march, his group passed a house. After looking at the house for only a moment, Dave returned his gaze to the front to continue marching, but found that the image of the house was imprinted in his vision.
“I was so tired that my eyes still saw the house in front me, and I said wow, this is pretty cool.” Dave emphasizes with a smile, and I can almost see the house for myself.
Often extreme fatigue can cause these sorts of vision problems, but it does not necessarily hinder you from completing the march. Dave explains that the human body is incredibly capable, and that a person can do incredible things if they are determined enough.
“During World War Two, when the German soldiers were retreating from the Russian soldiers, they had little time for sleep.” Dave says.
“One German soldier would grab onto the back of a slow moving truck, and another soldier would grab onto his shoulders, then another and another, until they were all in a row. They would march one behind the other, each grabbing each other’s shoulders, and they would sleep like that.” Dave gets up and lifts me to my feet, giving me an impromptu demonstration of what he means. As we walk across the yard, his hands on my shoulders, I begin to realize what he means. I am surprised that anyone could sleep like that, let alone sleep while on the move.
Dave was able to help me understand what Basic Training would really be like for a new recruit in the Canadian Forces. Physical strength or shape does play a part, but not as much as focus of mind and determination of will. If recruits put their mind to a task and approach the challenge with continual drive and determination, they can succeed in just about anything. Basic Training teaches recruits this, and even when recruits have given up on themselves, instructors will continually push them, demanding one more push-up or one more mile. This strength of character in the face of tough challenges helps to form strong bonds between recruits, and camaraderie is a quality often associated with the soldier. The friendship that develops between soldiers is said to be much stronger than friendships within the civilian world, because of the level of trust developed between recruits.
The Basic Training for Regular Forces is a 10-week course, which takes recruits through every aspect of a soldier’s life and teaches them the skills needed to be in the Canadian Forces. The course is aimed to develop the attitudes and skills that will transform a citizen into a soldier.
A typical day in Basic Training has you waking up at 5:00 am every morning, bright and early. First thing is physical training, which is the jogging, sit-ups and push-ups most commonly heard about. Breakfast comes next, as well as morning inspection, wherein the drill sergeant will come to each recruits sleeping quarters to ensure that everything is army regulation.
Then come more diverse subjects you will be schooled in every day. From 8:20 am to 12:00 pm, you will be in Instruction, which contains the vast majority of things that you will learn in Basic Training. All recruits are taught the high standards of ethical conduct, as well as the values of maintaining personal appearance. Recruits are taught how to keep their uniforms and equipment well cleaned and orderly, follow military protocol and respect the rights of others. Recruits are taught general safety when using equipment and First Aid should accidents occur or casualties arise. Recruits also go through numerous military drills which are meant to develop individual pride, mental alertness and precision.
Recruits are trained in the use of small arms so that they are able to protect themselves and their comrades in hostile environments. Recruits are taught how to use and maintain the standard infantry rifle and other weapons they might encounter. As well as being able to use weaponry, recruits will learn to recognize Canadian Forces policies including military law, regulations and the Geneva Convention. Basic survival skills are also taught in Instruction, such as topography, the ability to navigate and pinpoint using terrain features and compass. This is one of the Canadian Forces most intensive fields, teaching recruits how to use camouflage, build temporary shelters, and even purify water.
After lunch which starts at 12:00 and ends at 1:00 comes more Instruction. Dinner is served at 4:30 pm, and afterwards there is a free period from 6:00 pm until 11:00 pm. This period is used mainly for doing homework, preparing for the next day’s personal inspection, and personal time. At 11:00 pm it’s lights out until tomorrow, when the process is repeated. This is the average day of the recruit in basic training, and will go on for three months until the recruit has passed all the tests, and finished the course.
The Graduation Ceremony
The graduation ceremony signals the end of Basic Training and the start of your new career in the Canadian Forces. No longer are you a simple recruit, but a soldier in the Canadian Forces. For the graduation ceremony, the soldiers who have completed their training march in a parade usually held in front of an audience of the soldiers friends and families. The parade is a visual representation of the effort and teamwork soldiers needed to get through the intensive training and difficult tasks. Basic Training is over, and the soldiers go on into the world of the Canadian Forces, perhaps to do peace-keeping, defend the homeland, or do a tour of duty in a country of interest.
Basic Training is the molding process that all new recruits go through. It is one of the most challenging experiences that our country has to offer, and it takes a certain type of person to fight through the Basic Training needed to join the Canadian Forces. It seems pretty obvious to me, those who do succeed in Basic Training have a reason to be proud of themselves, and a reason to fight.