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Cadet captain forced to step down

Grand Forks Air Cadet Squadron Captain Jim Lewall is stepping down after many years.
Captain Jim Lewall watches over as cadets Mark and Lawson prepare the squadron for inspection during practice at the Legion on April 29.

The enthusiasm that long-time Grand Forks air cadet captain Jim Lewall has for the squadron is obvious. Unfortunately, after having turned 65, Lewall is being asked to step down and away from the program he helped build up.“I’m now a civilian instructor. I was the captain, the commanding officer, and then I got attacked by old age,” said Lewall.Rather than talk about himself or lament his forced retirement, Lewall immediately talks about the program with little prompting.“The air cadet program is a program for Canadian youth from the ages of 12 to 18,” he said. “It’s open to both male and female cadets. The object within the program are to develop leadership skills, to give chance for personal growth, and as a sideshow, to make them aware of the Canadian Forces services within like the Coast Guard.”Lewall does say that less than five per cent of cadets end up joining the military but an large amount end up as responsible citizens in their community.Lewall has been involved with the local cadet squadron (841 Boundary Squadron, Grand Forks) for eight years.“I was recruited out of the high school—I was a teacher,” he said. “The squadron had reformed in 2004. There had been an air cadets in Midway and they died out around 1988.”Lewall had no military experience when he joined the cadets; however, he was a licensed pilot. “I have an airplane,” he said. “I have an interest in aviation. So I was a natural fit.”He said that a squadron cannot operate without a commanding officer which is why it’s so important for people to step up and volunteer.“If a community cannot provide an officer candidate, the squadron folds,” he said. “What we’d like to see in this squadron are more officers. We’d also like to see female officers. We can’t take the female cadets on an overnight trip unless we have a female officer.”Lewall said the program is about teaching youth leadership and teamwork. He has plenty of great memories of working with the program.“We took them to Fairchild Airforce Base (in Spokane) and our cadets were complimented on their teamwork by a staff sergeant running a program that all U.S. Air Force personnel have to go through,” said Lewall. He also fondly recalls the time when the Gazette ran a photo of a young girl who was hooking up a tow rope to a glider by herself.“She was 12 years old,” he said. “That is a critical activity because if you don’t hook it up properly and close that lock on it, that glider could end up in the weeds somewhere and someone could be killed. The program gives youth the opportunity to assume responsibility and rewards those who are willing to do it.”Lewall jokes that if he has done his job well prior to cadet training, he can sit back and enjoy a cup of tea and watch television.“Basic training is run largely by senior cadets under the supervision of officers,” he said.  Lewall leaves the Boundary Squadron in good shape with officer cadet Randy Frank taking over as commanding officer. Lewall will stay on as a civilian instructor for a year to help with the transition.Lewall said it’s been very rewarding working with the squadron and watching the individual cadets grow through the years.“I enjoy it,” he said. When you see a cadet at the start and they’re nervous and stuttering and at the end of a couple of years of training you see the confidence and maturity they develop, said Lewall.“A lot of that is the opportunities for personal development and growth that the cadet program has to offer,” he added. Lewall also likes how the bars and ranks of each cadet changes over time to reflect their growth. “When they come in they have no insignia on their sleeves and then the first one they get is a propeller,” he said. “After they’ve spend time and been a good member of the squadron and the team they get a promotion. We get to recognize the personal growth of these cadets.”