Building Strong Patrols

Patrols by any other name, work just as well. Teamwork, loyalty, bonding, shared experiences, fulfilling responsibility to the others in your group all help build young men into initiators instead of passive couch potatoes.

Trail Life Troop 113

When it comes to building a strong unit with lively, engaged patrols, it’s important to remember that William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt got it right when he said “…a Troop is not divided into Patrols. A Troop is the sum total of its Patrols” Put another way, a troop doesn’t really exist to build patrols (although logistically it may appear that way at times), but instead, the groups of boys who form patrols make up a troop.

IMGP5238As adults we can guide, instruct, demonstrate and enable, but patrol spirit isn’t something built from a set of directions or poured out of a can. To be certain, our job as adults is to provide opportunities for the boys in patrols to bond over fair competitions, nominal awards, healthy recognition and surviving shared circumstances (both good and bad).

The consistent use of patrol leadership gives boys an experience in group living and…

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Paradoxical MB Development?

A recent article titled “Boy Scout Merit Badges and the Paradoxical Digital Future of Being Prepared” appeared online which made the bold statement;

So, for all the talk about getting kids away from computers, BSA isn’t committed to making digital detox its core mission. Fundamentally, the organization craves relevance.

The article takes a blunt look at the apparent paradox of an outdoor adventure program that is pouring much of it’s time and effort into being relevant in a modern world by developing new curriculum that brings the boys inside to work with technology.

Where the organization got it’s start over 100 years ago by stating;

There was once a boy who…wanted to learn to camp out, to live again the life of his hunter grandfather who knew all the tricks of winning comfort from the relentless wilderness the foster-mother so rude to those who fear her, so kind to the stout of heart. (1911 BSA Handbook)

It is now proffering “Animation,” “Digital Technology,” “Programming,” “Robotics,” “Game Design” and soon to be released “Advanced Computing,” “Biometrics,” “Computer Aided Design (CAD),” and “Multi Media” merit badge unit studies to captivate its youth members imaginations.

new desk

There is nothing wrong with enabling boys to learn relevant skills to explore potential hobbies or occupations — in fact, that’s a great aspect to most youth leadership programs.  However, is the continued development of tech-oriented curriculum a way to popularize the program at the expense of the underlying mission

…to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law?

Perhaps this is nothing more than a tempest in a teacup – the addition of popular badges doesn’t change underlying requirements for personal growth and advancement.  It merely adds options, choices and customization to the program.

On the other hand, why not add some glamor to wilderness survival, pioneering, and backpacking the way Bear Grylls does in his TV show “Man Vs. Wild”?

132One of the troop’s most favored camporee events was the “Buckskin Games” where everything was a throwback to the most basic and fun scouting skills.  Most boys were completely fascinated by the blacksmith demonstration — beating the living daylights out of glowing iron rod to fashion a coat hook had them lined up for hours waiting their turn.

We still need to know how to survive following a hurricane, tornado, or other natural disaster.  These skills are far from outdated — just lose power for more than a day and most people start to go crazy.

Let us hope that the powers to be won’t merely take the easy way, but instead reinvigorate the core of the scouting movement to build character, wisdom and true scout-craft.

Go, go, go!


Can I learn more about other youth program’s advancement criteria?

Trail Life USA

Royal Rangers

Christian Service Brigade

Federation North American Explorers


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5 Tips for Buying Cheap Gear – Backpacker

Basic tips, but helpful reminders as getting a new boy started in outdoor adventuring can become very expensive quickly if everything is bought new and all at once. Staggering out purchases, leveraging “birthday gifts” from extended family and shopping in a thrifty manner can make a big difference. Many outdoor gear shops have “quietly advertised” deals for scouters when they qualify for the discounts (i.e. purchase items as a group, show up in store wearing full uniform, etc.).

Enjoy your travels this Fall and be safe!

Trail Life Troop 113

Buying outdoor gear doesn’t have to empty your bank account. Here are some great tips on applying thrifty strategies to gear up for outdoor adventures (from

Source: 5 Tips for Buying Cheap Gear – Backpacker


Of course, there may be group discounts available from some camping supply stores for troops that are part of a non-profit organization.  It’s always worth asking about, and at worst case scenario, you may have to submit a group order — which just takes a little coordination among the families to research what gear they want and submit the individual orders together.

One example that my troop has used in the past is provided by Campmor, here in New Jersey. We even had Campmor send us a product specialist to do a gear review and how to care for demonstration during a troop meeting!  Thank you, Campmor!

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Who or what is your rock?

The Hawkeye Area Council, Boy Scouts of America posted this picture to Facebook and asked the question; “What do you think? Do you agree with this statement?”

Wood GrainMatthew 7:24-27 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

I suppose that if you do not call yourself a Christian (and it’s ok to be a good scout without being a Christian) then I suppose the Scout Law (and associated ideals) make a pretty good foundation for living this life, here on Earth. After all, most of these ideals are found (coincidentally or not) within scriptures and are good ways to practice selfless-ness and fair minded reasoning. (See also –

However, if you call yourself a Christian, I would have to wonder if this bold statement (in the well intentioned image supplied by the BSA Council) could be misunderstood in its application. Do we really believe that all you need to do is follow the Scout Law and you’re set for all of eternity? Of course, I’m over-reaching their intent, but it’s easy to lock onto “cute sayings” and hold them as a satisfactory “cliffs notes” version of the complete message when there’s much more to the story.

IMGP6935The Methods of Scouting build into an excellent program (regardless of brand name), but being a great man is more than being a great scout, and for those who make the choice to live as a Christian, that decision requires identifying our rock or foundation clearly (perspective) so that we can weather the storms, and have a base of operation enabling us to do good works out of love and care for all other people at all times (disciplined execution of our calling).

As our Lord stated in Matthew’s gospel, we need to hear His sayings, do them and then we may be likened as one who has successfully built his house on the rock to weather the storm. He further adds that those who do not hear or act on His sayings will be like a foolish man suffering a great fall when the storms come.

Who or what is your genuine rock – scouting ideals, or Christ’s complete teachings?

I know I struggle to dive into the Bible daily, and make time to understand the message. I find that its far easier to make assumptions and try to validate them with the Bible than to really listen and then act. How about you? Do you struggle to follow through daily? Are you satisfied with holding open a door for someone to walk through, or are we growing the depth of commitment in our good turns over time?

Once and done, or a commitment to a lifestyle of never being satisfied that we’ve grown and served enough?

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National Paintball Tournament & Summer Adventure

Trail Life Troop 113

Our National Paintball Tournament and Summer Adventure is coming up June 21-26 in West Virginia.

The ACE High Adventure Center in West Virginia will be home to TRAIL LIFE USA’s 2015 National Paintball Tournament and Summer Adventure. ACE has a lot to offer, from whitewater rafting to rappelling to mountain biking to a custom paintball course —  built just for TLUSA — all to offer a fun, challenging, and exciting program.

The 2015 National Paintball Tournament and Summer Adventure begins on Sunday, June 21 and runs through Friday morning, June 26 at the ACE High Adventure Center. Sunday night during the Opening Ceremony a Christian Group will conduct a Praise & Worship Time at the Festival Stage.  Trailmen are encourage to bring their bibles for daily devotionals.

Both pre- and post-tours of the area can include visiting:

  • The National New River Gorge Park and overlook
  • The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
  • Bridge Walk

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Duty to God, but Closet Your Faith?

A new push by BSA to increase the visibility and value of “duty to God” ( has inspired a lot of spirited discussion on various internet forums.

first-class-badgeOne such discussion was titled; “Why is Duty to God such a weak program area?” and that caught my eye as I expected a series of interesting comments and some suggestions on ways that scouting units could incorporate faith related elements into their ongoing program (i.e. saying grace at camp meals, etc.).

In actuality, the discussion focused on several key themes (with actual comments copied below):

  1. Duty to God is an outmoded idea that is merely a quaint legacy of a century-old program.
    1. I would say that the reason it is going by the wayside is our society. If you look at church attendance, it has declined for many years. If the Leaders are not attending church, and the youth are not attending church, they are going to be unlikely to say Grace, or do other “religious” things. We have also driven religion out of schools and anything having to do with public events.
    2. Many parents of this generation of Scouts are not affiliated with any church and are most kindly described as secular humanists. Might Scouting lose them and their kids if we push Duty to God too far beyond their comfort levels, and thereby cost the kids (and Scouting) more than would be gained?
    3. IMG_20140726_125408550I saw a Barna research article (but did not read further than the headline) that said that 43% of Americans are unchurched…In this environment passionate belief is not modeled well in any portion of our culture and is often discouraged…And I don’t blame them. With attitudes like ‘all faiths are equally valid’, it is easy to come to the conclusion that it does not matter…So the problem seems to come from a general disinterest in society. So is there a way for scout leaders to show religious passion while necessarily making it generic so no one will be offended?”
    4. …may I add that the disinterest is probably caused by various issues with several belief systems. For example, terrorists who are acting in the name of Islam or several Christian denominations who seem to believe that their way is the only way and does everything they can to make sure that no one forgets that. Folks are very turned off by those attitudes and the use of a religion by those who would subvert it.”
  2. Pursuit of faith within scouting is problematic unless it is something so generic that it becomes meaningless, and it’s hard to present faith without it becoming perceived as unwarranted proselytization.
    1. I don’t need a santa-like god looking over my shoulders, taking notes on whether I’m naughty or nice to know what is the right thing and how to treat people. There’s IMGP6938one simple commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. If we all did this, the world would be a better place.
    2. I would simply caution that Scouts are Reverant, NOT Religious. My concern here is that by increasing the importance of Creator in Scouting, that some folks are going to over-reach the intent…I’d not think much of seeing a Catholic Scoutmaster start to push being Catholic (however unintentional it may be) over a Scout being his own person. There is a lot to be said about finding yourself when you surround yourself with the bounty of sounds from Mother Earth
    3. This is one of the reasons I have elected to separate myself from formal membership in BSA – the expression of religiosity without identifying who we are worshiping runs counter to my personal faith.
  3. No practical experience in presenting scouting ideals (Oath, Law, Motto, Slogan, Outdoor Code) – preferring for scouts to “pick it up” by example of leaders lifestyle, etc.
    1. I have found that there is some anecdotal evidence that some units may prefer to focus on other methods (outdoor program, advancement, etc.) and let “ideals” take a distant backseat or be merely experiential (follow moral example) as opposed to an active discussion. Contributing factors: unease in communicating about ideals, uncertainty how to incorporate ideals in practical ways, shifts in family backgrounds away from “churchy” environments (i.e. little league, public school, etc.)
    2. I think the biggest reason why Duty to God is so weak and misunderstood as a program area is that activity leadership and youth do not find it fun and interesting.

I think that each of the people making these remarks felt very strongly about their position and I appreciate them for contributing to the conversation in a respectful and constructive manner.

On of the positive contributions that I found interesting included:

Suggest inviting your pastors to events. Suggest inviting your pastors to take an active role in the religious awards program. If they are too busy, perhaps delegating the educational coordinators to assist.

In this case, there may be an underlying assumption that the unit may be chartered to a church or faith-based organization which could supply a specially trained faith leader to help coordinate “duty to God” activities and discussions in a tactful manner.  For units chartered to secular organizations, it would not be too difficult to make a few phone calls to find folks who could participate in a constructive manner.


Unfortunately, some of the comments were troublesome to me.  I understand that my own biases may be interfering in understanding the full intent of the persons making the comment, and I’m hoping to be fair in explaining why their comments pricked my conscience.

Spring Summer 2013 181One scouter said “No matter what, when it comes to a camporee, we are Scouters first. After that I become a Catholic Scouter only in the right situation.”  Contextually, he was discussing the use of interfaith services to convey a generic moral tale to highlight a point of the Scout law as preferable to faith-specific services where boys could actually worship in the context of their own faith practice (i.e. a protestant service, catholic service, jewish service, etc.)  When I was a youth in scouting, the norm was to offer faith-specific services at different times at the chapel during summer camp or camporees.  Now the push is for “interfaith” gatherings.

A response from another scouter appeared shortly after this post:

Also, as a Catholic, I know what a part time one is. But it’s not “I’m not one at a camporee” but I am one “once in a while.” You’re always Catholic and supposed to be.

2013 RFSR Ships wheel finalA Scout is Loyal to whom loyalty is due.  For me, part of my duty to God is to be loyal to Him throughout my day to day experience – not merely when it may be convenient to avoid offending others.  Now, as a Scout, I’m also called to be friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful and reverent (including the respect of other people to believe as they wish).  Balancing these concepts isn’t difficult (nor need it be).  As a Christian, I don’t aim to hurt people’s feelings, but I also won’t “hide my faith in a closet” in order make people more comfortable in normal social situations like participating in a scouting program – especially as long as BSA promotes the active practice of faith in its aims for character building:

  • In little league, faith wasn’t brought up during practices or games.
  • Conversely, at BSA, (for example) there’s a First Class rank requirement to “Lead your patrol in saying grace at the meals” (4e).

BSA is at or nearing a critical crossroads in its history.  Will it stay true to it’s original course of promoting faith practice as critical to participating citizenship, or will it change course to de-emphasize faith, closet adults from commenting on their own faith practice, or move slowly to eliminate faith from the program — to become a truly secular program?

BSA’s own president has been quoted as saying “In Scouting, there’s a secular emphasis on values and virtue that is not found anyplace else” ( which at face value seems to contradict the notion that moral and ethical values are derived or delivered from a Higher Being called “God”.

2013 RFSR Jolly Roger Patch finalIf our values (as scouts) come from mankind, how can we (as individuals) agree on the common definition of each point of the scout law? The foundation shifts from personal view to personal view or from time to time as society redefines the rules of acceptable behavior. Is that where tolerance comes into play? What if I think that lying doesn’t really hurt anyone so I can tell “white lies” without being untrustworthy? Who are you to tell me I’m wrong?

As another blogger indicated;

“The god of Scouting is much like the god of Alcoholics Anonymous, a “higher power” that is whatever one wants it to be. Sure, you have to believe in god to be a Scout, you just don’t have to be too specific about it.This brings us to the basis for morals. How can an organization that will not take a stand on the identity of God be expected to take a stand on specific moral issues? There is a direct connection between the law and the Law Giver. If you’re not really sure who the Law Giver is, how can you be sure whether [any] specific behavior is “morally straight” or not?”

On another linked in forum dedicated to scouting, another scouter summed it up this way;

“Bottom line – nothing is perfect. You do the best you can to include all and offend none. If you want perfection – then Scouting is probably not the organization for you.”

This comment was “liked” by many others as seeming to settle the discussion. The concern is that by telling folks to “like it or leave”, we are asking people of faith to “closet” their beliefs while participating in scouting or find another organization that is more tolerant. It seems a double standard for an organization to encourage youth to be “out of the closet” about their preference in potential sexual partners, but “in the closet” about their choice of who they name as “God” while still prohibiting youth of “no-faith” from the many benefits of scouting. I thought we were supposed to help ALL other people at ALL times, not just when it was convenient to our individual, personal ideology. Telling people that they ought to be quiet, hide their beliefs or be shown the door seems counter to actually helping anyone except ourselves to feel better about our own perspective by removing all challengers.

Public Speaker RockwellWebsters dictionary says that tolerance means we can get along while disagreeing, not that we have to share the same ideology in order to work together as “first among equals”. Asking people to be in the closet or leave (or not be welcome) for faith issues (creed) is just as objectionable as for sexual preference, color, race, etc.

Is it scouting for all, or scouting for some (that think exactly like us)?

The 1911 Handbook states; “And then the final and chief test of the scout is the doing of a good turn to somebody every day, quietly and without boasting. This is the proof of the scout. It is practical religion, and a boy honors God best when he helps others most.”  In the context of scouting (not church), why can’t duty to God be this simple?


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Merry Christmas (2014)

Trail Life Troop 113

Luke 2:8-14 (NASB)

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He…

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