Fresh off a grueling, month-long training course with the Canadian Armed Forces in Ontario, Justin Powder is flying high.
The young Yellowknifer has just earned his wings – quite literally – by jumping out of a plane.
The hair-raising feat was the final leap in a four-week-long basic parachutist course with the Canadian Forces Advanced Land Warfare Centre at Canadian Forces Base Trenton.
It’s a demanding, arduous and highly competitive program – meant to mirror standard training for any adult military members.
Powder is 16-years-old.
“I really didn’t have any clue what to expect,” recalled Powder, a member of the 2837 Yellowknife Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corp in Yellowknife. “I just knew I’d be doing a lot of physical training."
Powder, a Metis Grade 12 student at Sir John Franklin, was right.
The only cadet from the North to be selected for the program – only 49 army cadets are chosen across the country – Powder was welcomed with 5 a.m. runs, exhausting drills and chinups – lots of chinups.
During one particularly vigorous exercise, where cadets – aged 16 to 18 – were made to hold an intermittent “plank” position as they gradually snaked along the training grounds, Powder asked what he'd “got himself into,” he recalled with a laugh.
But Powder is no stranger to the demands of a military lifestyle.
After all, he was born into that world.
Cpt. Sharon Low, Powder’s commanding officer of the 2837 Army Cadets in Yellowknife, also happens to be his mother. Powder’s Metis father served as a “pathfinder” – a classification reserved for elite paratroopers within the Canadian Armed Forces.
“He was always just kind of the military guy,” Powder said of his father. “He instilled it into me.”
After weeks of preparation – jumping from “mock towers” while slugging hundreds of pounds of equipment – Powder’s father, along with his mother Sharon, travelled to Trenton, Ontario, to see the young cadet’s hard work pay off.
“Seeing him come out and watching that parachute come open … there’s no better feeling both as his commanding officer and his mom to see a kid who has worked so hard to achieve his goals,” said Low.
“There is no bigger goal than achieving your parachutist course in cadets and he did it,” continued Low, reflected on years of early morning wake up calls and trips to the gym.
For Powder, the moment was one to remember.
“It felt really good. After you jump out of the airplane and your parachute opens up, it’s just a great feeling. You just know that you’re finally done,” said Powder.
To make a special day even more special, Powder lined up during a parade following the jump – wearing his Metis sash, a garment he routinely wears during cadet ceremonies – and had his newly-earned “jump wings” pinned to his chest by his father.
Representing the North and the territory meant a lot to the young cadet.
“Being the only kid from the North – everyone just kind of looked at me differently because they think we’re all living in igloos and stuff. So, it was cool being from up here,” he said.
Powder isn’t the only young cadet from Yellowknife making a name for themselves south of 60.
Sixteen-year-old Isabel Levesque, a member of the National Rifle Team – an elite squad made up of just 18 cadets – recently went head-to-head with some of the world’s best shooters in Bisley, England.
Picking up her C-12 target rifle and putting her nerves aside, Levesque braved hot weather and heavy layers of clothing during the highly competitive outing, which also saw her train and compete in Kanata Ontario, where she won medals. Levesque picked up prizes in England, too – the result of years of hard work and dedication. She competed in Alberta and all three territories before making her mark internationally.
Also in her graduating year at Sir John Franklin, Levesque is taking aim at a new post-secondary challenge.
“I want to study education at university. My leadership has definitely improved since I joined cadets and if I do become a teacher it will definitely help,” Levesque told Yellowknifer.
As for Powder, he’s mulling his options as he explores a future with the military, but regardless of what he pursues, he plans on giving it his all.