Published on September 03, 2014
Connor Beckstead, a 17-year old high school student from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is the first Labradorian to ever complete the Canadian Forces basic parachutists course at CFB Trenton, Ont.
Photo by Bonnie Learning/The Labradorian
Published on September 03, 2014
Connor at the mock tower in CFB Trenton during the pre-para during selection course in March 2014. Connor had to successfully complete two weeks of training before being able to compete for a position at the Canadian Forces Basic Parachutists course.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay teen first Labradorian to complete Canadian Forces parachutist training
While most high school students spent this summer working or travelling with family, 17-year old Connor Beckstead literally spent it staring death in the face.
Over the summer, the Happy Valley-Goose Bay man became the first Labradorian — and only the second person in the province — to complete the Canadian Forces basic parachutists course at CFB Trenton, Ont.
“Each jump was conducted at 1,250 feet above ground level, from a C-130 Hercules,” explained Connor.
“We had four day jumps and one night jump; the night jump was crazy because … you’re standing at the door thinking about your family — you jump, you can’t see anything and you’re just waiting to splat on the ground. You’re terrified for your life.”
So how did a 17-year old from Labrador manage such a huge accomplishment?
It certainly wasn’t easy.
It took Connor two years of intense physical training to get into good enough shape to even be considered for the parachutists course, a year-long process in and of itself.
“Out of 21,000 cadets from across Canada, about 12,000 applied for the training and just 500 are selected to attend the pre-para training,” explained Connor, who is a warrant officer with 2945 Royal Canadian army cadets in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“After the pre-para training, just 50 are awarded a spot to attend the basic parachutists course at CFB Trenton.”
Connor spent seven days week at the gym combining running, push-ups, sit-ups and chin-ups to prepare for the selection process.
“I have to thank my principal at Mealy Mountain, Tina White, who really helped me in this process,” said Connor, who said White opened up the school gym for him early every morning so he could make it to class on time.
While Connor worked hard to secure a spot for the training — placing in the top four — he certainly wasn’t on easy street.
The course started July 7 and it was tough. Connor describes a typical day of training at the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre (CAAWC) at CFB Trenton:
“We wake up at 4:30 a.m. to screaming. We get in our PT (physical training) gear, and run 10 kilometres, and we have to keep running until at least two people give up.
“Then, we have to do sets of 25 push-ups just to make your morning horrible, and get five minutes to shower and shave before running to breakfast in our combats.
“We have about 20 minutes to eat before we run to the CAAWC where, as soon as you enter the building you have to do five chin-ups, and again when you exit the building.”
Connor said it was then a day of classes, including landing class — “You have to learn to land properly, as you hit the ground at 30 km/h — aircraft drills, and equipment drills.
“You have 40 minutes to rig your equipment, which adds up to 200 pounds, then you have to run with it,” said Connor.
“We have to do all this every morning for a month.”
Connor said on the days when they actually did the jumps, they would also have to pack up their gear once they hit the ground.
“You might land 30 kilometres away from your drop zone, or 100 feet away,” he said.
“You’d have to pack up your gear and run to wherever you needed to go.”
Of the 50 cadets who started the training, 37 of them graduated on Aug. 2.
Connor said taking part in the training really opened his eyes to the “brotherhood” in the Canadian Forces.
“You can’t do it as an individual,” he said.
“If you don’t look out for each other, you die.”
He said it also taught him how little things are taken for granted in the civilian world.
“One day, you might be five minutes late or early for something, which doesn’t seem like a big deal.
“But out there, when you’re jumping, everything has to be exact, on the second, on time — you have exactly six seconds to notice a malfunction in your chute; if you don’t notice it, you’re dead.
“One second can be death.”
Connor credits his cadet instructors, his family, and his parachutist instructors at CFB Trenton for helping him get his wings.
His father, Stacey, served for 26 years with the Canadian Forces.
It’s not hard to tell he is proud of his son’s amazing accomplishment.
“Since Connor has been able to walk he’s been around the military lifestyle,” he said, noting his posts in Kingston, Borden, Ottawa and finally, 5 Wing Goose Bay.
“I am very proud, and I was a little bit nervous about him doing the training, but I know the training and safety measures in place. It was a very long road for him.”
“The military is in my blood,” Connor said, noting his stepmother, Cpl. Bernadette Beckstead, and grandfather Walter J. Anderson, MMM, CD, as well as many other family members have also served over the years.
“It means a lot to me; I don’t know any other life.”
Connor said he plans on joining the Canadian Forces after he completes high school next spring as a full-time parachutist.
“Civilians would pay upwards of $4,000 to jump out of an airplane; I get paid to jump,” he grins.