Latvia plans doubling military cadet number by 2024

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More than 7,000 young people are partaking in the 'Jaunsardze' or 'Youth Guard', effectively the nation's military cadet body. By 2024 the number should reach 16,000 according to Defense Ministry guidelines, reported Latvian Radio Thursday.

" ease. Hello, youth guards! - Hello! - Rest."

That's how Juris Lelis, the head of the 2nd district unit of the Youth Guard, greets youth guards from Alūksne, Ērgļi and Rēzekne.

Fifty promising cadets have come to a four-day bootcamp preparing them for Latvia's Independence Day parade in Rīga on November 18. The thirty best youth guard from each region are selected for the parade each year. 

"Yes, this is important to me. I want for my parents to be proud of me, to be glad, to support me. I want youth guard trainers to be proud of all of us who make it to Rīga..." said Marta Simona Štila from the Youth Guard unit in Ērgļi.

While Lelis said that the Youth Guard now have at least a single unit in each of Latvia's municipalities and have plans to expand further.

Municipalities support the movement

While Youth Guard is a state-funded movement, in some places municipalities fund the cadet body on their own accord. For example, schools in Rēzekne and Murmastiene treat participating in Youth Guard as vocational education.

"The children expressed initiative, they had a desire to enter this movement. They found it interesting and attractive.

That's why we created this opportunity," said Murmastiene school director Ingūna Pelša.

Municipal funding was required to support this move as the school is small and local Youth Guard instructors were already too busy.

More money and more youth guard to come

More than 7,000 young people aged 10 to 21 have entered the Youth Guard. However the number is set to grow.

A Defense Ministry plan projects the force to grow to 9,500 by 2018 and 16,000 by 2024, said Youth Guard department director Ansis Strazdiņš.

Funding for the military cadet body is to grow €5m in three years, increasing the number of instructors as well as the youth guard and providing them with more equipment and uniforms.

Why do young people join the Youth Guard?

Young people are highly motivated to become cadets.

They say they're attracted by the things they can learn - including alpine climbing, tourism, first aid, military knowledge. They can partake in survival games, hike, and learn history by going to memorials.

The young people Latvian Radio spoke to don't object to the discipline and order enforced upon them.

"I applied to join the Youth Guard as I'm a patriot, and it's very important to me what happens to Latvia and in what country we're living and will be living in the future [..] it improves society," said Rainers Baldiņš from Alūksne.

"My motivation is disciplining my self and increasing physical strength. I am planning to join the National Guard or Border Guard in the future," said Roberts Cakuls from Rēzekne.

"I came to the Youth Guard as it develops me physically and emotionally. I become more resilient. Thinking about the future - perhaps I'll go to [work at the] customs [service]. I am gaining knowledge both about medicine and weapons assembly. I am learning to cooperate in a team with others," said Linda Klešnika from Rēzekne.

"A friend took me here. It's interesting here. I've gained new knowledge, improved my Latvian, started doing sports actively.

I've wanted to tie my life to the army since childhood. After grade 12 I think I'll go serving in the military," said Iļja Vinogradovs from Rēzekne.

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