Kalashnikov Kids

Kaskad – The Children’s Bootcamp

Bootcamp for Kids - Photographer Dima Beliakov

Morning reveille sounds and the cadets come tumbling out of their tents for morning exercises. The drill instructor yells commands and the trainees drop to the ground for push ups. A scene typical of any normal military. Looking around however, one will see that some of these “cadets” are just 8 years old. And this isn’t the military, but a summer camp for Russian youth.

What started over twenty years ago as a way for Soviet Commanders in Afghanistan to replenish losses is still going on today. Although the Soviet experience in Afghanistan is long over, the training camp Kaskad is still preparing Russian youth for the dangers of the battlefield and a life in the service. The camp itself is a completely voluntary experience and kids usually jump at the chance to play soldier and learn military skills.

According to a story done by BBC the camp organizers stress that the summer camp provides a safe place for kids with poor backgrounds to socialize, but it is hard to ignore the fact that most of these cadets go on to serve in various special forces throughout the Russian military.

“There’s already a tradition that kids from our unit will go on to serve in various spetznaz units,” says Andrei Samotoin, a former Spetznaz operator turned Kaskad instructor. “Some of them go on to serve in Chechnya. They have a good reputation among officers and men.” BBC story

There’s a video on Youtube but embedding is disabled. Here’s the link Russian Children’s Military Summer Camp

The Army is happy to have them.  The cadets come well-prepared for the daily life in the Army with a high degree of motivation. The notoriously brutal tradition of the Russian army called Dedovschina, where the older conscripts haze the newer ones, makes military service something to be avoided for the average young Russian male. With the quality of Russia’s conscripts dropping and the stigma of military service turning away the higher end candidates, these kids stand out.

“We used to have the Komsomol and the pioneers. Now the kids do what they want. But we make patriots out of the kids who come here,” says Vadim Volkov, one of the instructors. BBC story

The Swamp March - Photographer Dima Beliakov

The training men receive as a typical conscript in the Russian army is lacking at best. One of the goals of the camp is to make sure that these cadets, should they choose to pursue a military career, don’t become casualties in their first fight.

Dima Beliakov, a Russian photo-journalist was kind enough to share his pictures with our blog. He has posted a web album on his site featuring the training endured by these boys. See his photos here. The intensity and the realism emphasized in the training is clearly evident in the various maneuvers the instructors have the boys navigate.

From 1982 to 2001, more than 8,000 cadets have gone through the camp and served in the various border conflicts that have flared up in Russia and its border regions. However, the camp instructors boast that not one of their cadets has been killed. With the high death toll in Chechnya and other wars, that is definitely something to be proud of.

Although many people might be horrified at the thought of young children and teenagers being taught military skills, including how to kill, the fact these summer camps are gaining popularity throughout Russia shows that children are always going to be willing to spend their summers playing soldier and crawling through the mud.  At least here, it’s done in a safe environment, administered by professional veterans and active duty Officers, with the end result being a higher quality citizen willing to preform his military obligation for the Motherland. Even though it sounds like something out of Orwellian literature, Russia could use a better image for their military, and these kids could be the answer.

2 thoughts on “Kalashnikov Kids

  1. Very interesting subject. Does not matter if we like it or not, armed forces will exist, recruit new people and send them to the war. Voluntary camps for kids like that are all over the world. I believe that kids there do receive a good start to grow and become a real man, even they may not start to serve in the military. I think the same as Derek – kids after camp will have basic skills everyone should have.

  2. I particularly like the fact that the boys are given a choice to serve and not being made to serve after this training. The marines have a similar program that puts kids through stuff like this. I think learning to protect yourself and those around you is a basic skill everyone should have.

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