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No life like it in Ft. Smith

Canadian Armed Forces looks for aboriginal recruits

Dave Sullivan
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Dec 10/01) - Fort Smith has been picked as an Canadian Armed Forces pre-recruiting centre for aboriginal candidates.

It will be the second screening course in Canada and the only one aimed at Northern residents. The other centre is in Quebec.

It is hoped the Fort Smith centre will help boost the proportion of aboriginal forces members from 1.5 to three per cent, reflecting the percentage of aboriginal Canadians, says Warrant Officer-recruiter Floyd Powder.

As an introduction to the military, the course will show what basic training, sometimes called boot camp, is like. But candidates won't have to do push-ups for not having spit-shined shoes.

"The days of the sergeant-major screaming are out the door," says Powder, who is aboriginal and from Fort Smith.

They will, however, learn what it's like waking up very early in the morning for an inspection.

Rae-Edzo was also being considered for the centre. The course will be a big boost to Fort Smith's economy, with 12 forces personnel setting up in the town from July 10-22. They will work with 60 potential recruits being flown in from as far as Labrador. The candidates will be paid $800 just for listening to what recruiters have to say. Everyone will be housed at Aurora College.

Powder and his boss, Capt. Elisha Sloan, emphasize there will be no obligation to sign up.

They say bringing the pre-recruit training course to the North is a renewed effort to reduce the number of aboriginal candidates who sign on at first, but end up not choosing a military career.

"When people with aboriginal backgrounds did join they weren't finishing basic recruit training. And even if they did complete it they weren't staying in for a long time afterwards, a year, but the minimum contract is three years," Sloan said.

Powder said initiatives like the pre-recruit training course have been tried since 1971, but with limited success.

One of the biggest changes this time around is having the Forces move North rather than flying candidates south.

Qualified candidates who like what they hear next summer can attend part two - a follow-up orientation on a southern base. Powder said it looks like the Armed Forces will reach its goal of recruiting 7,400 new military personnel this year.