"My life will not be the same as it was before I arrived. I don't want it to be."
Those are the words of a student who completed the RCMP's week-long youth academy last spring.
The goal of the Depot Youth Camp is to provide students who are interested in a career in policing the chance to learn more about the RCMP and experience life as a cadet.
What began in Alberta as a pilot project in 2011 has expanded to include 32 high school students from across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut who attend the camp at Depot, the RCMP's training academy in Saskatchewan.
This accredited course provides students with the opportunity to dip their toes into the pool before they take the plunge into policing as a career.
RCMP recruiters from each of the provinces and territories solicit and collect referrals from teachers and counsellors, and then interview interested students. Successful candidates are selected based on their expressed interest in law enforcement as a future career, academic standing, extra-curricular activities and leadership skills and traits.
"Troop Vader" experience
Last spring, RCMP in St. Albert partnered with Morinville and Stony Plain detachments in Alberta to offer the youth academy experience to Grade 11 and Grade 12 students in that region. Instead of going to Depot, 20 recruits from schools in Edmonton, St. Albert, Stony Plain and Sturgeon County attended the camp at Bellerose High School.
After picking up their uniforms and duty belts, the troop — known as "Troop Vader" — lined up their cots, stowed their personal items then attended a lecture about dress and deportment with Sgt. Major Gene Maeda.
Maeda followed up with a hands-on drill exercise during which the students learned how to sort by height and make a straight line. They also learned the vital importance of physical fitness.
Supervising officers hid smiles, remembering their own training, while students ran across the gym and counted out push-ups. Adversity builds character and teamwork, and those traits were emphasized during the training.
Learning about the law, meeting a police dog and watching a forensic identification demonstration were only the beginning. Throughout the week, the troop's attention was engaged in their training topics and they embraced the hands-on privileges accorded to them while participating in the program.
During the course, the troop visited the RCMP headquarters in Alberta and met the commanding officer, D/Commr. Marianne Ryan.
The troop then toured through the Northern Alberta Operational Communications Centre and learned about the challenges of managing emergencies and people, and then visited the gun range to learn how to fire a weapon.
They also challenged themselves by running a couple of laps of the RCMP's physical abilities requirements evaluation, known as the PARE, to boost their physical fitness and understand the reasons for the stringent physical demands of the job.
Troop Vader looked on as an RCMP helicopter landed at Bellerose High School during the week. The students bombarded the pilot and instructors with questions about RCMP Air Services and situations in which helicopters are used for law enforcement.
The final night was an opportunity for the team to get a glimpse into the culture and history of the RCMP. They participated in a regimental "dining-in," complete with a member of the force's Pipes and Drums band piping in the head table.
Their drill classes paid off on graduation day as the troop successfully performed a drill presentation under the direction of the sergeant major. They paraded to the sounds of Darth Vader theme music from Star Wars.
Like at Depot — although only one week rather than six months — the close physical proximity and shared experiences forged friendships that will last years.
Cpl. Laurel Kading of the St. Albert Municipal Detachment said the youth academy students experience the same emotional roller coaster as recruits at Depot.
"There's a distinct emotional journey through a troop's six month tenure at Depot," said Kading. "And the students go through the same journey even in this abbreviated version of training."
Some students will take their credits and move on. But a percentage might use their experience at the St. Albert RCMP Youth Camp as a jumping off point to build a career in policing within the next few years.