Getting a Troop out camping every month requires dedication. Most of your active adult leaders have jobs, wives, homes, and personal lives. As Scoutmaster, part of your role is to get them to forsake sleeping in their own bed, cutting the lawn, spending time with their wife, or any of the other activities that a weekend might promise. In return you offer them the opportunity to sleep on the ground in a tent full of snoring fat men, eat camp cooking, work with a group of Boy Scouts, and participate in the life of the Troop.
Lots of people refuse. They are known as “sane”. They drop Johnny off with his pack and equipment on Friday afternoon and pick him up Sunday around 2:30 PM after all the gear has been stowed. They have obligations and things that “just came up”. Vague promises to make some undetermined future camp out are made, and forgotten like old campaign speeches.
Some people will help when asked. They will drive so the Troop can get to an event. They will take a Patrol Leader and another Scout to the grocery store midweek so they can buy food for the weekend. Sometimes they’ll serve on the Troop Committee, or teach a merit badge they have some expertise in.
In that second group are your potential recruits. You look for signs. Someone who enjoys a camp out, a military veteran who coolly appraises the the way the Scouts handle a flag ceremony, a new dad who asks how he can get involved.
When you get one, you sink the hook deep. As Scouters, we usually cooked and camped as an adult Patrol. We got competitive with our cooking. I would make Belgian waffles and bacon on Saturday morning. One of the other long time Scouters specialized in cast iron cooking. Big stews, biscuits, dutch oven desserts. You make it look effortless, and you don’t have to fake how much fun you’re having.
You get him uniformed, “Just get one”, you say, “a summer uniform”. We’ll give you the patches. Here’s a couple of Troop T shirts. You don’t tell him you have 3 full uniforms, two summer and one winter, and 6 pairs of green socks, four of them the old knee high ones. And a red Scout jak-shirt so you can look Scouty in the fall.
“Get a pack”, you tell him, sitting by the campfire one night, so you’ll be ready for the fall hikes. Later he’ll figure out that you don’t pack your pack every month. You leave it loaded. You have bought duplicates of anything you used to take in and out, and you know where everything is. The pack sits in the corner of the bedroom behind your wife’s rocking chair. The bottom compartment is unzipped because that’s where the food gets put just before you leave.
Once he’s coming along regularly, send him to Scoutmaster Fundamentals. Tell him it’s part of what every Scouter should do. It is, but training breeds confidence. By now, you know he’s on the way. He’s not self-conscious wearing the uniform. He whittled himself a walking stick. He’s gaining a Scout persona, his own place in the Troop.
Allow yourself a little pride the first time he turns to his own son and says, “I dunno, Billy, better go ask the Senior.”
Enjoy the time you ask him why he’s doing something a new way and he shrugs and says, “It seemed like a more Scouty way to do it” , and you just nod and tell him he’s right and it looks great, because you know the tests are coming.
Test like the camp out where it starts raining Friday night and is still raining when you slop over to your cars after hanging out all the troop tents to dry on Sunday afternoon.
Or the week at summer camp where every day is over 100 degrees, and the younger Scouts are struggling with the heat, the program, and the homesickness.
Or the weekend where everything went fine on the Scout trip, but his wife spent the weekend dealing with a plumber because a pipe burst and flooded the upstairs bathroom.
When he passes them, and he stills shows up, with his pack slung over his shoulder, a hour early for a weekend camp out, smiling and saying, “I got off early so I could come help load.”, he’s a Scouter.
And later that year, on the coldest camp out you can remember taking Scouts on, where the two of you set up the big old army tent and filled it with hay for the whole Troop to use, and you make a huge pot of chili to feed them all, and you see him getting a third bowl, and he grins, “I’m only eating this so I don’t hurt your feelings, ya’ know.”
When a Life Scout goes to him and asks him to be his advisor for his Eagle project, and he accepts, and he easily handles the job of guiding that Scout over the last hurdle on the trail, he’s a Scouter. Three months later, it’s when he’s standing next to that newly minted Eagle Scout at his Eagle Court of Honor with tears in his eyes that you’ll know that the Spirit of Scouting has been passed on.
I have Scouted with men like this. If you walked up and thanked him for his work with the Troop, he’d wave you off, in a self depreciating way, saying, “I’m doing for the fun of it, just like you. What did you tell me back at the beginning, an hour and a half a week, and a weekend a month?”
A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a boy.
–Forest E. Witcraft, writing in Scouting Magazine, October 1950