The moon was out, but the tall grass around me prevented its light from helping as I navigated my way through the darkness. I ran around the corner of a path in the tall snake grass and ducked into the reeds as the beam of a flashlight passed over my head. It was hard enough to be quiet in the rattling weed without having to duck, crawl, and otherwise avoid the lights of the other team’s sentries. I was deep in enemy territory, without any support, but I knew I was close to the target. It was lying in a clear area about five feet ahead, wrapped in a white trash bag to hide its glow from sight. I smiled; it was amusing that they thought a Safeway bag was enough to hide it from me.
The single guard turned to investigate a sound from the other side of the clearing. I took my chance and dashed from my hiding spot, snatched up the flag, and dove back into the wall of grass before he could catch me. I crawled for a few feet and then took off running in a different direction entirely, hoping to confuse my pursuer. I grinned as I neared the boundary between our territories and looked over my shoulder to make sure I was still safe. There was no one behind me. I wanted to shout with joy that I had scored, but as I turned forward I ran straight into a brick wall. One of the older scouts on the other team was standing in front of me and grabbed me a short two feet from the home stretch. He eagerly took his flag back from me and escorted me off to spend another night waiting for my teammates in the opponents’ jail.
We had been playing ‘Capture the Flag’ for two nights straight now, but I was new and was not likely to be missed. I had spent two hours in ‘jail’ the night before when I finally gave up and went back to my campsite. Tonight was probably not going to end much differently, and there was no reason to sit in the box when I could go back to my tent and play cards.
Nearly all of my early memories of Boy Scouts are of playing games with other boys, as it rightly should be. I joined my troop after I turned eleven and ‘crossed over’ from Cub Scouting. The first camping trip I remember was the district-wide Camporee at Milo McIver State Park. I had crossed over with one of my friends and we spent time bonding with the other young scouts while playing games like capture the flag at night with other troops. The unfortunate thing for me at the time was that Camporee was built around scout skills activities on Saturday, not around playing capture the flag at night in the tall grass. The Saturday afternoon scout skills games were not nearly as interesting to me as wasting time with other people my own age because I was new and possessed next to no actual scouting skills. Rather than reminiscing about finding my way by map and compass, I think back to the hours I wasted playing capture the flag and hunter-stalker in the woods with fondness.
As I spent more time with my troop, I began to learn new skills and grew up quite a bit. Growing up in the Boy Scouts, however, was no easy task. There was a four-year age gap between the ‘new scouts’ and the so-called ‘older scouts’ in my troop that created several issues. As a new scout, I idolized the ‘cool’ older scouts and spent as much time around them as possible. I tried to act like them on camping trips and even tried to talk like them with my friends. Since my parents did not accompany me on my first week-long summer camp, I was forced to bond even more with the older scouts. I naively believed them to be appropriate role models at the time, a distinction I learned quickly upon returning home after camp.
All of my friends were in the Boy Scouts, and Scouting became an integral part of both how my character developed and how I lived my life. I learned how to talk to people in the Scouts, I learned how to teach in the Scouts, and I even learned how to cook in the Scouts. I can trace almost every aspect of my character today back to the specific individual or event in Boy Scouts that shaped it. By my fourteenth birthday, I was mature and experienced enough to be considered one of the older scouts and began filling my own role of indoctrinating a new generation of scouts into the ways of Scouting, both those written in the handbook and those verbally passed along from one generation of scouts to the next.
When they passed out the Order of the Arrow ballots, Jordan and I shook hands again to renew our pact. We both wanted to know what happened in the secretive organization, and swore that whoever was tapped out first would tell the other everything about the ceremonies. I checked the box next to my name and looked for Jordan’s, but it wasn’t there. I pointed it out to our Scoutmaster, and he announced to everyone that they could write Jordan’s name in. I sat down again with Jordan. We both knew he wasn’t going to be elected this time around, but I promised I’d tell him everything if I did. Camporee was only a few weeks away and we’d find out if I was elected then.
The tapping-out ceremony took place during campfire at Camporee. Because the Order of the Arrow is so secretive, we walked for what seemed like miles around the park before we reached the ceremonies’ site. The Order of the Arrow is steeped in Native American traditions and all of their ceremonies look authentic. I was so impressed by the tapping out ceremony that I immediately signed up to continue in the organization and become an Ordeal member. I told Jordan everything about the ceremony, and we looked forward to the day when we’d be able to participate in ceremonies together.
The Order of the Arrow brought a new dimension to the value I found in the Boy Scouts by adding ‘cheerful service’ and a sense of ‘brotherhood’ to the list of items I loved about the organization. I worked hard so I would believe myself worthy to become a Brotherhood member, a part of the organization for life, almost two years later.
I was elected into many different leadership positions throughout my career in the Boy Scouts, the highest of which was Senior Patrol Leader. The SPL is the principle officer of a troop and is responsible for organizing meetings, planning camping trips, and helping guide the troop as older members ‘age out’ and newer members cross over. Elections in our troop were held every six months to allow everyone the chance to serve in any position; I was elected Senior Patrol Leader on four separate occasions, one of which I declined due to a lack of time.
To organize the lives, activities, and, in a way, education of twenty of your peers is a daunting task for any one, and I was only a teenager. Once again, our troop had evolved to the point where there was a significant age gap between the older and new scouts, so my job was even harder. I fell back on close friends in both my troop and the Order of the Arrow for support when I ran out of ideas, but still I found the position to be exhausting. Tiring as it was, though, I learned a great deal and grew in my abilities to manage people and plan events.
I took the opportunity to work at a Cub Scout summer camp when I was fifteen and enjoyed helping even younger scouts learn about both themselves and the world as they considered the transition into Boy Scouts. I worked at Camp Ireland for two summers, and enjoyed every second of it. Long days in the hot sun and lengthy commutes to and from the camp were rewarded with expressions of accomplishment whenever a scout finally grasped a skill. I taught everything from Native American sand painting to forest conservation and made friends on the staff that I still keep in contact with now, almost a decade later.
One of those friends helped me get even more involved with the Order of the Arrow. Travis enjoyed the Native American ceremonies as much as I did and together we organized our own ceremonies’ team. With two other scouts and a host of adults we built our own Native American regalia and practiced several different ceremonies. Our most experienced advisor was Bill Gilmore. He was a model Scouter who had also grown up in the Boy Scouts. Up to the day he died, he helped countless other scouts enjoy the things Boy Scouts and the Order of the Arrow had to offer.
Travis invited me to work on Camporee one year and I jumped at the chance to be more involved with one of the largest and most important events of the Scouting year. He wanted me to help with the security and parking aspects of the program. I was more than excited to ride my bike around for hours, helping scouts and Scouters find events, and helping to put cars in the right parking spots in safe parking lots. I was working with two of my best friends, Taylor and Rick, and even though it was only a weekend event, Camporee was exciting enough to have covered a whole month.
I went to watch the Order of the Arrow tap out ceremony, and it was just as impressive for the new inductees as it had been for me when I was younger. The high point, though, was showing off my scout skills in front of my troop during the Saturday activities. I showed how to properly make a one-match fire, how to navigate a compass course without getting lost, and even how to properly perform an opening and closing flag ceremony.
After everyone checked out, Rick and I sat down for lunch to talk about what our plans would be when we aged-out of Boy Scouts. We still had plenty of time, but both of us were close to earning the rank of Eagle and were unsure of what would come next. I wanted to start my own club for people who had aged out of Boy Scouts to continue camping and enjoying the outdoors. Rick wanted to start an adventure-themed Boy Scout troop and integrate the adults into older scout patrols so he could stay active.
Taylor joined us while we were talking and caught up on the conversation quickly. He suggested we start a Venturing Crew because, while Venturing was still a relatively new concept, we would be able to start early and stay in the program until we turned twenty-one. The idea sounded great and within a few weeks, the three of us started recruiting other members to join our brand new Venturing Crew.
I was one of the many scouts who had parents that cared more about earning my Eagle badge than I did. They pitted my younger brother against me in a race to see who could earn the rank first. The unfair aspect was that he was three years younger than me and would have had more time to work on his project. I fought several times with my parents about what my project would be and when I would put it together. We argued so long that before I even realized it had happened, my younger brother had his project completed and signed off!
I finally took the time to put together a large brush clearing project for the city, learning from challenges my brother had faced along the path to finishing his own project. By meeting with store managers individually, lunch and other refreshments were provided at no cost. I was perseverant enough if my efforts that I was able to get a drop box for the project for free after calling the waste management company three times a day, every day, for two weeks. In just over a month, I organized an incredible project with several volunteers from my Boy Scout troop, my new Venturing Crew, and even a neighbor from the area.
My final summer camp as a Boy Scout was at Camp Cooper, located high in the Oregon coast range. I participated in the C.O.P.E. program and sported my brand new Eagle badge on my uniform as I proudly represented my troop for one final summer as Senior Patrol Leader. Cooper had always been my favorite camp because of its climate, the intimate feel of the smaller property size, and the energy of the staff that worked there. Who knew that working so hard during my week as a camper would eventually lead to a phone call and job offer from the Camp Director?
I had just finished putting up a very thin resume on Monster.com after I struck out in a third fast-food job interview. I was desperate for a summer job, but had no idea where I would be able to find work. All of my friends had planned ahead and started looking in April for their jobs, but now, in June, no one was hiring. I closed my eyes and prayed silently for a moment that something would come up so I wouldn’t have to rely on lawn mowing to pay for college.
Then the phone rang.
I answered the phone because it was right in front of me and everyone else was outside in the swimming pool. To my surprise, the man on the other end asked for me. He then asked if I would be interested in working at a Boy Scout summer camp as the archery instructor. I was thrilled and took the time to both talk my parents in to supporting the idea and talking the Camp Director into offering me more money. We ended up agreeing that I would start that Friday at what would be about minimum wage for a part time job, which would probably have been the best deal I could get anywhere else.
Working at Camp Cooper was probably the most important part of my career in Scouting. I was forced in a matter of days to change from a timid, self-doubting teenager into a charismatic, energetic, ‘faultless’ camp staffer. I was trained to work my hardest in any situation, answer any question, assist with any problem, and do everything without appearing unsure of myself. Over the period of that year I grew from a kid who couldn’t make phone calls unless the conversation had been rehearsed several times to a man who could make impromptu speeches in person to several hundred people.
I worked at Cooper for three more years, right up to when the council closed the camp as a summer resident camp (it became financially impossible to keep four summer camps open with the current level of scout registration in the council, but I have no doubt Cooper will reopen in the future). I worked my final three summers as the Scoutcraft Director – a position with higher status, more duties, and the responsibility of training a four-person staff of my own. I learned how to make managerial decisions, how to teach people to teach, and how to create MacGyver-worthy solutions to any problem at a moment’s notice.
Working for such a long time in a high-paced outdoors environment helped me finally discover what I wanted to do for a living, too. I was asked once by a company recruiter what my passion was, and I stood there in front of him with a blank expression on my face; I really had no idea. Cooper helped me discover that my passion lies in enjoying the outdoors and everything it offers. Because of my experiences in the Boy Scouts, I am now studying business and will be starting my professional career in marketing this fall. I will focus on marketing sports, the outdoors, and everything that helps people enjoy both. Without my life in Scouting, though, I would still be fumbling around with that recruiter’s question.
I was sitting with the rest of the adults in the parade grounds waiting for the campfire program to start. We had folding chairs so we could see over the scouts in front of us, but it was more to keep ourselves comfortable than anything else. This year’s Camporee had some of the most beautiful weather of any I had seen and I was taking care not to let my uniform rub on my fresh sunburn. Our new Senior Patrol Leader had convinced the entire troop to sing a customized rendition of the song “YMCA” that he had rewritten for our troop. I thought it was exciting to have the adults on stage for the song, too, and did not shy away from singing in front of the almost 800-strong crowd of scouts.
Now it was another troop’s turn on stage with their skit. They were performing a skit called “poke-faint,” a heavily watered down version of the infamous “stab-die” I had seen as a first year scout. I watched the crowd erupt in laughter at the familiar punch lines, but they no longer hit me the same way. These were the same jokes I had laughed at all my life, but they sounded different now, like something was missing. Scouting had been a major part of my life, one of the aspects that had shaped me into the man I am today. Unfortunately, it had also become another generation’s organization. While I was still welcome, I felt out of place trying to fit in with this familiar yet distantly foreign group.
I watched the scouts enjoy their campfire, the final one of this year’s Camporee, and though back on my own experiences in Boy Scouts. I had grown up in the organization and had stayed as active as I possibly could throughout high school and even my transition into adulthood. As the fire died down, though, I realized that it was time for me to move on with my life and open it to new experiences and other exciting chapters. Boy Scouts defined a vast era in my life, but it was time to turn those experiences over to a new generation and face new challenges in my life.
I walked back to my tent with a huge grin on my face, not because I knew I was leaving the Boy Scouts, but because I knew the Boy Scouts were the only reason I was prepared for what might come next in my life.