Always Be Prepared. My Time as a Boy Scout

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When I was a young boy, my dad used to take the family on camping trips. I’ve since learned that people who didn’t grow up camping tend to not enjoy it. But for those of us who did, it’s frequently viewed as a wonderful adventure. There’s a certain mystique to being immersed in nature and its unique sights and sounds.

Feb. 8 is National Boy Scout Day, and it got me thinking about my brief time in the organization. I joined the Boy Scouts in the sixth grade after a couple of my friends told me it was fun. You get to go on camping trips, they said. That was all I needed to hear — I was in.

Unfortunately, after joining, I learned that you actually have to do something when you’re in the Scouts. You’re supposed to earn merit badges and advance in rank. At the time, and continuing to today, Tenderfoot was the lowest rank, and you progressed through Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and, finally, Eagle. But I didn’t care about any of that — I just wanted to go on camping trips. I planned to stay a Tenderfoot forever.

My Scoutmaster didn’t like that, and he insisted that I had to advance. Frankly, I think he was a little embarrassed for me, but I didn’t care, so long as I was having fun. In the end, he basically dragged me through the requirements for advancement.

Once, we went on an 18-mile hike through Gettysburg, and there were sections of the trail where you had to use a map and follow compass readings. The Scoutmaster singled me out and told me to use the map and the compass to lead the group. I did this for about 5 miles, at which point he said, “Give me your sign-off card,” which tracks your advancement requirements. He marked off map and compass reading as “completed.” Through this type of maneuvering, I eventually made it to Second Class.

I remember another time we went camping in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Near the camping site, there were underground bunkers left over from the late 1800s, built to protect the New York Harbor from an invasion by sea. They were even used as late as World War II. They were made of cement and covered in grass as camouflage, and we had a great time exploring them.

But where we were camping outside, it was rough. The weather was wet, windy, and cold. The Scoutmaster came up with a challenge to see if we could light a fire in one try. The restrictions stipulated that you could use anything you found or had in your possession to build your fire, but you only got one match.

Well, I happened to have brought a small can of lighter fluid. Everybody else went before me. It was hard to find dry kindling, and it was so windy that it blew out most matches immediately. The boys tried everything they could to protect that little flame with their hands, but it was hopeless.

When it was my turn, I’d already doused a teepee of kindling with lighter fluid. I struck the match, flicked it, and watched my fire light up like a torch. All the other boys declared me a cheater, but my Scoutmaster couldn’t stop laughing. It may not have been within the spirit of the challenge, but technically, I’d followed the rules.

There’s a saying that boys tend to quit the Scouts when they get their first whiff of fumes — that is, car fumes or girls’ perfumes. In the end, neither of these fumes killed it for me. One day, a friend of mine walked up to me at school and made it clear that being in the Boy Scouts was totally uncool. Up to that point, I’d had no idea, and at that age, being cool was very important. So, I dropped out and didn’t get to experience all of the different levels Scouts had to offer. Thank goodness I was not susceptible to peer pressure.

My wife and I are extremely pleased to have our children experience Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and St. George Pathfinders. Even though our children are now in their 20s, they still remain active in Scouting.

Getting away from modern comforts and electronics helps center you and foster respect for the joys of nature.

I may not have advanced or earned many merit badges in my childhood time as a Scout, but in the end, I think I gained something much greater — a love of being outdoors and roughing it!


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