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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

IACE: Canada 2015 report

 by CWO Karl Verspyck

A place on The International Air Cadet Exchange was my aiming point in cadets for the last 5 years. This was because of the amazing places in the world you could visit and also because of the prestige that goes with representing your country and the corps internationally. I was lucky enough to win a place on this year’s trip to Alberta, Canada and it’s fair to say I was ecstatic when I found out. 

The build up to the trip was exciting as we slowly found more and more people, through the world of Facebook, that were going on the trip with us. Be that UK cadets or international. It soon became apparent that the UK contingent of 24 was going to be the largest on the trip, with countries like New Zealand sending only two cadets. This large allocation was due to the history of IACE and the fact that the first ever exchange was between the UK and Canada so to honour this tradition these two countries exchange the most cadets. I met the UK cadets at Heathrow where we received our ID and name badges and got on our way to Schiphol. Here we met the Dutch contingent who was flying out to Edmonton with us. This was brilliant because we had nearly 10 hours to get to know them!

Whilst in Edmonton we stayed at Edmonton garrison which was an army base just outside the city itself. We stayed here for 3 nights and toured the Alberta legislature building, went to fort Edmonton to learn about the Hudson Bay Company. We spent a day at 4 Wing Cold Lake which was brilliant and very active with it being the largest and busiest air base in Canada! On the Friday we spent the day at West Edmonton Mall which is absolutely huge and included a theme park. I spent the first weekend with a host family and mine was a lovely woman named Helen. She took me and two other cadets, from France and Turkey respectfully, to her cabin on a lake. It was beautiful and we spent the weekend relaxing and out on the water in their boat. Helen couldn't do enough for us and I really felt at home there it was brilliant! On Monday we started with a familiarisation flight in a griffon helicopter over the city of Edmonton and then on the return leg some tactical flying between the trees. It's fair to say it was exhilarating!

We then started our "road trip" down to the south of the province. We stayed in a hotel for two nights in Canmore in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies where we travelled to see the Athabasca glacier which was a surreal experience in the middle of summer. We also went to Lake Louise and we managed to go canoeing on the lake which was absolutely breath-taking. We had some free time in Banff before we headed in the road again to Pincher Creek, south of Calgary. It was here that we were based to go to Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump and learn about how First Nation Canadians used the lie of the land to hunt, you guessed it, buffalo. We also went to Lake Waterton right at the bottom of Alberta and Canada for that matter. This beautiful lake was where we were all lucky enough to see a bear which was on all our lists of things to see in Canada. An evening cruise on the lake took us into the U.S. For about half an hour where we landed on a beach on Montana, the first taste of America for many and much to the delight of the American contingent who could "smell the freedom". The next day we visited Frank Slide, the sight of a massive landslide which buried a whole village in 90 seconds with most of the rock still immovable to this day.

Then it was time to meet our second host families who were based around Calgary. We were all told how different Calgary was to Edmonton and boy were they right. I stayed on a farm with a Turkish girl and two British girls where we were treated to a trip to the rodeo which was incredible and fit all the stereotypes hilariously. Alanna, our host mum, again couldn't do enough for us and we had great fun driving in her truck down disused rail tracks. 

The final two days of the trip were in Calgary touring the bomber command museum which was emotional and also brilliant to see one of the four remaining running Lancaster bombers in the world. We then had a formal farewell dinner at a local legion branch. I must say a massive thank you to the legion for hosting us for dinner in many areas of Alberta. In the final dinner we were made honorary Calgarians and presented with our white Stetson hats. A pizza party back at the hotel followed which gave us chance to exchange polo’s and other gifts we had brought from our home countries. Then it was time to say goodbye to people that we had come so close to over the previous 16 days. It's fair to say that those goodbyes were the hardest I've ever had to say, in particular to the kiwis which occurred through the glass at Calgary airport, mainly due to the huge distances between us all and the fact we may never see each other again. We are all certain that will not be the case though! A muted trip back to London finished the trip off with time for reflection in what was a whirlwind trip full of highs and very little lows. 

As I said IACE was a big aiming point for me and it certainly didn't disappoint. It was by far the best thing I've done in cadets and I'd like to thank the staff at Sqn, wing, region and at corps for allowing me to go on such a monumental trip. I would advise every single cadet to work hard to be able to apply for this trip because it truly was a once in a lifetime journey in which I have shared with amazing people from all around the world.