A Canal Flats teen is having the summer of her life at the Cadets’ Expedition Leadership Course in the Okanagan.

Tyonna Tench is currently part way through the six-week course in Vernon, which involves activities such as mountain biking, canoeing and multiple five-day leadership camping trips into the backcountry.

“It’s a great fitness program. They’re (the cadets) on the move all day every day. But a large part of the program is about personal development, and increasing their confidence, often through doing things they might not normally do,” said Vernon Cadet Training Centre unit public affairs representative Wayne Emde. “I’ve been here a long time and I’ve seen cadets develop through coming back to the centre for several summers, from timid 12 years olds to mature 18 year olds with poise and authority. It’s really great to see. And they (the cadets) have a lot of fun on top of it. It’s a great way to spend your summer. A lot of people would pay good money to come to the Okanagan and do all this.”

Emde added not only is it fun to watch the cadets mature as individuals, but also it’s interesting to see their physical skills increase by leaps and bounds.

“A surprising number of cadets arrive here having never even been on a bike of any sort. So we begin just riding around the main square in the centre and it’s amazing how quickly many of the cadets jump from that to pumping down some of the awesome mountain bike trails in the area,” he said.

Each summer, the Vernon Training Centre hosts more than 1,500 army, navy and air cadets aged 12 to 18 from across Western Canada (although no more than 800 are at the centre at any given time). The younger cadets start with shorter introductory courses, progressing on to three-week courses and finally to the six-week Expedition Leadership Course.

Tyonna was unavailable for comment on her experiences in the course, but the 16 year old has been involved with the cadets for three years, as part of the 1813 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in Cranbrook and now holds the rank of sergeant. Emde said Tyonna makes the drive to Cranbroook from Canal Flats several times per week because she gets so much out of the program.

As part of the leadership course, Tyonna is teaching younger cadets a variety of outdoor skills, developing her leadership and mentoring abilities.

The Vernon Cadet Training Centre, which was built as a base for troops in the 1940s, is part of what makes the cadet programs popular, according to Emde.  “It truly is an ideal spot for a training site,” he said. “All the old buildings have been completely refurbished and the climate here is great, it’s one of the warmest places in Western Canada.”

Kids and teens participating in the cadet programs — both the home Corps and the leadership programs in Vernon — do so at no cost.