Sooke resident Hannah Berger took her first step toward her dream of becoming a cook in the Canadian Armed Forces after taking part in a unique Aboriginal program this summer at CFB Esquimalt.
The Raven Indigenous Youth Program is a transformative six weeks where recruits aged 16 and up learn basic military skills, teamwork and leadership and share elements from their respective First Nations and Metis cultures.
Program participants earn their ordinary seaman rank upon graduation.
There are two other programs like Raven in Canada, all are intended to introduce indigenous youth to their heritage, allow them to interact with people from across the nation, and show different job opportunities within the military.
The first few days of the course are spent at Culture Camp, learning about indigenous culture. Later, the group began training which included inspections, fitness training, first aid, weapon handling, drills which gave them a taste of what military life would be like.
“It was cool to see the aspects of the military, and to see how different military life is from civilian life. There’s a whole different set of rules, for example, girls weren’t allowed to wear makeup or jewelry,” Berger said.
Berger said her favourite part of the course was “range day” where she got to practice shooting at targets, and the “field phase” day, where the students were divided into groups, given coordinates, and had to find their way back to a specific location.
“I also loved meeting people from all over Canada,” added Berger.
Chief Petty Officer Carl Dixon, leadership school chief, said Berger stood out in the course from the beginning.
“On the first day of the program, all the kids were kind of hanging their heads afraid to talk to each other. Then Hannah started kicking a pine cone around and tossing it back and forth amongst the others. She kind of started the whole social network,” Dixon said.
“I was so impressed because I knew she was only 16, one of the youngest in the program. That took a lot of courage.”
From then on, Dixon said Berger continuously impressed the instructors with her hard work and dedication.
“Hannah has a strong personality and great social skills. I think she learned a lot about herself and gained more confidence in the program,” Dixon said. “She matured right in front of our eyes, it was fantastic to see.”
At the end of the program, Berger received her basic military qualification, which is the first step into the military and means that she can continue on in the regular or reserve force.
“I wanted to do the program because I want to join the military as a cook when I’m done high school,” said Berger, who is entering Grade 12 this year. “It’s a great way to support my country, see the world, and the military is in need of cooks.”
Berger first found her love of cooking while taking a culinary course in school. Next January, Berger hopes to go and take a four-month course in Ontario to receive the training she needs to start her career.
“The RAVEN program was really challenging, and at times exhausting, but it was such a great experience,” Berger said. “I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in joining the military.”