GUEST COLUMN | Why Scouting matters to me

I have spent two significant portions of my life with the Boy Scouts — as a boy and as a Magnolia father. I have come to believe that Scouting is a remarkably important force for good in a troubled world.

Consider, for example, that the only rules truly necessary in Scouting are the Oath and Law:

“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

These are tall orders for 11-year-old boys — or anyone.

My experience has led me to believe that the two most important lessons learned in Scouting are leadership and persistence. Leadership experience is required to become an Eagle, Scouting’s highest rank. Most Scouts have spent more than half their lives in the program when they become Eagles, and each has persevered over personal challenges: disagreements, disappointments, sports commitments.

If we can teach our kids leadership and persistence, we make a difference in the world.

High ideals
I began as a Cub Scout in Oak Harbor, Wash. I built Pinewood Derby cars to race, learned the Cub Scout promise, collected things, studied flags, did exercises and went to lots of fun meetings.

I earned my Arrow of Light and went on to become a Boy Scout.

I really got into the program: I earned my Life badge — one away from Eagle — very quickly. And then, our family was transferred by the Navy to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. My Scouting career was in jeopardy.

Americans were in short supply in the Persian Gulf in those days. We attended an American school with fewer than a dozen kids in each class — not enough for an American Boy Scout troop, but there was a British troop nearby. So we became American Scouts in a British troop in an Arabian country.

It is difficult to imagine what we were doing camping in 130 humid degrees in the desert. It is even more difficult to understand what our adult leaders were doing. It must have been an incredible sacrifice — for which we had no appreciation.

We would see at least one scorpion on each trip, and the lizards were huge and fast. We had fantastic games of Capture the Flag spread out over the desert at night, when it cooled down.

The adult leaders made an enormous difference in our lives by showing us, by example and commitment, high ideals. I don’t remember having deep discussions; in some cases, I can’t remember their names. But I do remember them as great role models, giving enormous amounts of time for a bunch of kids and principles that they believed in. It was subtle, but they changed our lives.

When we returned to the United States, I started high school and joined a troop in Virginia, where I became an Eagle Scout. I enjoyed the program and the experience, but I really wasn’t wild about camping — and backpacking just seemed dumb. It was time to move on.

Being a good role model
Fast-forward about 30 years. It seemed like a good idea to get my son, J.T., involved in Cub Scouts, and he seemed to like the idea, so we joined Pack 80 in Magnolia. We did many of the same things that I had done as a boy. He crossed over to become a Boy Scout in Magnolia’s Troop 80.

Very quickly, we both became enormously engaged. For J.T., it was a chance to be part of a completely different social group in which he could accomplish things impossible elsewhere, to have fun, master challenges and to be part of almost unimaginable adventures. For me, it was something else.

A good Scout troop is run by the boys, not the adults. There was something enormously compelling to me about — not necessarily leading — but helping to guide these young men through a challenging part of their lives. I was thrilled when I was asked to ascend to the high office of assistant Scoutmaster. And when the Scoutmaster role opened, I was eager to give it a try.

I cannot describe how important the next five years were to us. We saw Troop 80 grow from fewer than 20 Scouts when we began to nearly four times that size. It has produced 20 Eagle Scouts, plus another 16 since.

My son and I have backpacked and canoed well more than 300 miles, participated in dozens of service projects and probably spent 150 nights camping.

When my son is my age, it is very likely that his most important teenage memory will be backpacking the mountains of New Mexico — with his dad. And it is difficult to begin to describe the pride of a father of an Eagle Scout.

Pretty good for a guy who didn’t like camping.

A positive impact
Watching Troop 80 Scouts grow from little boys to young men has been incredibly gratifying. It is has been fantastic to be part of their lives.

Scouting is an incredibly strong and important program. I, for one, regret the policy of the past to exclude gays. I supported and worked for the recent changes; I am confident that more are on the way.

But consider this: Large majorities of Scouting’s leaders said before the recent vote that they would continue in Scouting even if the decision was in opposition to their own views. Indeed, I know of no Scouting units that have dropped.

That makes sense: While we all have strong feelings on the topic, we also know the positive impact of Scouting is far too important to abandon.

No organization is perfect. Scouting will always have issues that it will need to address. And like the vast majority of Scouting’s adult leaders, I will remain an enthusiastic supporter.

TOM RANKEN was Scoutmaster of Magnolia’s Boy Scout Troop 80 from 2006 to 2011. He and his son, J.T., are Eagle Scouts. To comment on this story, write to[[In-content Ad]]