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Graduating sailors

It is a perfect score for the Canadian Navy’s pilot project as it sees all of its Thunder Bay students complete the four months of military schooling.
Matt Nicholas (right) waits to be inspected at the HMCS Griffon Thunder Bay’s Naval Reserve Division graduation ceremony on Saturday. (By Jeff Labine, tbnewswatch)
It is a perfect score for the Canadian Navy’s pilot project as it sees all of its Thunder Bay students complete the four months of military schooling.

There were 14 students who signed up to the HMCS Griffon Thunder Bay’s Naval Reserve Division co-operative education program in September. That number didn’t change as all the candidates graduated receiving two high school equivalent credits and a certificate at a ceremony on Saturday.

The candidates were in full uniform and performed a synchronized parade march in front of family, friends and dignitaries. Matt Nicholas, 18, was one of the candidates who completed the course and was marching with his fellow graduates.

Nicholas was given the Top Candidate award for being top of his class academically.
"It’s an honour to receive this award," Nicholas said. "My name is the first name on the plaque and it’s in the military so I feel that much more honoured."

The military life always interested Nicholas and he decided to take it a step further by signing up when the opportunity arose. From noon till five the candidates were taught military history, weapons handling, first aid, drilling and physical fitness training. Nicholas said they were also paid approximately $42 for a half day.

Being one of the first students, Nicholas said the course was run well. Juggling his morning classes and his military education wasn’t hard because he was used to it when he played football.

"It wasn’t that bad. I actually had to quit my job to join this. I thought I would do well and you make a decent amount of money (anyway)," he said.

Nicholas plans on going to basic training in the summer and would recommend the course to anyone, he said.

Part of the ceremony for the candidates was an inspection by a reviewing officer. Capt. Navy John Gardam was asked to come from Ottawa and inspect the young sailors. He said his approach was to look at their uniform and then strike up a 15-second conversation.

"I prefer to jump into their life and find out a little bit about them," Gardam said. "I find it amazing that we can take someone straight from civilian life and in one school term, part-time, turn them into what looked like a very well tuned military platoon."

Gardam said he was impressed by what he saw. He wanted to find out in those 15-seconds if the program inspired the candidates and if they enjoyed it. He asked each one what was the best part and all of them said it was the trip to Victoria, BC.

"They got to go on board ships, submarines and spent two days at sea. It was just to see how the program was going. From their feed back…it is going very well," he said.
Lt.-Cmdr. John Bell, commanding officer of HMCS Griffon, said this was the first cooperative educational project in the country.

Bell said the candidates did well and those who struggled during the four months rose to the challenge. Each of the students learned the value of teamwork and to help their shipmates, he said.

"It took a lot of work from the students and a lot of dedication from the staff," Bell said. "They had the opportunity to try it and see if they liked it. Given the success of this year and the tremendous support of the two (local) school boards that it will be our intention to carry ahead."

Bell said 15 would be the ideal size for a division but would be prepared to double the number with more resources.

What struck Bell as odd was that none of the candidates who signed up were girls. In his experience women made excellent sailors. He said next year they will focus on showing girls there are career opportunities in the Navy.