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Feb. 23rd, 2010

At Cold Lake Air Base, the airbase that defends all of Western Canada and Northern Canada, they have a massive, massive flight line. It's an expanse of concrete, cut into big squares and can hold dozens of planes at a time. The land around is quite flat, and the trees are not close; your view is quite good. A couple runways are less than a hundred meters away; the CF-18s and Tutors and other planes take off frequently.

It's also practically sacred for the cadets that are on course. One flight sergeant shouted at us that thousands of cadets had graduated off of that flight line; like all parade squares, it must have seen its own fair share of sweat and blood. If you've ever seen people in uniform standing without moving, even to move their eyes, for hours on end under the sun, it is inevitable that some will fall.

It's not pretty, and it never will be. Because it's drill, looking around is not allowed, so the first indication that someone's fainted--heat stroke, exhaustion, dehydration, locked knees--is the sickening sound of flesh on concrete. The next is a sensation of staff running, dropping clipboards, water bottles, everything, to reach the cadet. The parade doesn't stop, the reviewing officer doesn't just go away. At that point, my heart is thundering, and there's adrenaline running through me; I sneak glances to check. When the parade's outside, there is often a wind, and people sway. I'm always alarmed at the swaying, because there's no telling when that ends in a faint.

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