Saturday, 16 October 2010

Mongolian Tree Sloths et al

Today my cadets marched in the the Kingsville Migration Festival Parade. For the first time marching in a town parade they did a great job. There was only 22 of them on parade, but most were new cadets and really had no clue what they were doing. Prior to the start we gave them the speech about following the pipes and drums. Just listen to the bass drum, and the rest will fall into place. The CO arranged for us to march immediately behind the pipes, so that part was easy. Within a half hour, we were done, and preparing to meander back to the legion hall for pizza and an afternoon of shooting.

While the relays were ongoing I took advantage of the captive audience to teach some classes and tell some stories. Of course, I then opened the floor for the cadets to respond in kind. We had a good afternoon sitting on the grass on a beautiful day - we won't have many more 70 degree days in October, so we took the opportunity to enjoy it.

The theme of the tales was that the memories you cherish most in this organization. Stories of rained out camping trips or when the equipment shows up completely non-serviceable, or maybe the time when some schmuck caused some weird accident that messed up the rest of the trip; years later these are what you remember. These are the weekends that make you come back. Part of you wants to relive the activity, while the other part wants it erased from recent memory. But of course, you tell the story, thus perpetuating the legend. I especially like telling horror stories to new recruits. One half of their faces cringe in horror, the other half beams with excitement. You can tell when you've left them wanting more. It's my sincere wish to give these kids their own memories, so that one day they sit on the grass telling stories of their own, just like I did today.

So in the spirit of great memories, here's one from my "Best Weekends Ever" Collection. (I haven't actually started a collection yet, consider this the first).

1992 - Gesstwood Church Camp, Gesto, Ontario.

I was the Training Officer for a Corps in Windsor. My job for this particular weekend exercise was simple - plan it and execute it. I had support from my Commanding Officer and other staff, but for the most part the Ops Order and all supplemental planning was my fault. If anything went wrong it would be on my head. Great. Nothing like holding the lives of 40 kids in your hands and being told not to screw anything up. At the time I was a young officer, 3 years in, and full of ideas, however unique. At times, I was also full of alcohol - not a good combination when working with youth. Yeah, I know, stupid. But hey, it was almost 20 years ago, move along.

While on a bender one night I decided to complete my leadership exercises for the weekend. I had the cadets move through a series of team building and leadership exercises culminating with a night exercise that evening. Some were simple - cross this obstacle as a team with the obvious difficulties imposed, or shoot a bearing on certain locations correctly. But I wanted to have some fun with a particular person in my charge for the weekend. Each exercise we had support from our affiliated unit - The Windsor Regiment. They provided vehicle support and a driver who was at our disposal for the duration. This weekend, I got a young cocky corporal who had no time in his life for our organization. He was vocal in his belief that we were all wannabees, and except for being paid, he shouldn't be wasting his time. Several times I asked him to keep his comments to himself, and each time he reminded me that I was 'just' a CIC officer - one not to be taken seriously. He was pissing me off.

The cadets were coming to the last of the stations I had set up. I used the mouthy corporal to my advantage. If he really wanted to see what we were doing there with a bunch of kids, I'd be happy to show him. My instructions to him were simple - go ten feet up the tree and wait. The cadet's job was to get him down, safely, in teams. He wasn't allowed to help them unless he felt his life was in danger. He was my Mongolian Tree Sloth. A creature too stupid to climb down out of the tree he climbed into.

He took a moment to absorb that.

He finally said "Are you serious??"

Yup. I'm serious. Climb that tree, and wait. The cadets would do the rest. Upon arrival to the tree I gave the cadets an overview of the situation. They grinned as they looked up at the corporal. I could see the wheels turning in their evil little minds. I was however, very clear that I was not going to be responsible for anyone getting hurt. I reminded them that if at any time the corporal had to help them, they failed. And the games began.

The first couple of teams struggled to find a way to do the tasking, but managed the task. Then the next team, then the next. With each group, the young corporal began to get the swing of things. By mid-day, he was acting like a Mongolian Tree Sloth - whatever that would be - being a fictitious animal, he pretty much had carte blanche to make it up as he went along. He began groaning, making weird noises, most of which would pass for really stupid groans, and tried to chew on the tree branches. When cadets tried to help him he acted more. He chewed on their berets, reached into their pockets for food, and more. He was really good, and really having fun. He made my day, and that of the cadets.

By the end of the day I had an apology from him and a request to help the Corps out in the future. We took this militia know-it-all with a single track mind and opened his eyes to what a bunch of teenagers are capable of when they need to be. I also reminded him that if he asked around his regiment he would find that the majority of his peers were cadets once. We feed the regiments. He was converted to our little world.

Years later I still tell the story of the Mongolian Tree Sloth. The cadets that were there that weekend so many years ago also tell the tales. A simple funny story about a great day. The sort of memory that makes us keep coming back. We want more of these, and we want the younger generation to create they're own memories.

One day, I will be camping with them again, and someone will send someone up a tree and try this exercise again. I just want to be there when they do. I will grin ear to ear and think back to 1992 and my kids. I will think back to the reason I do this.


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