“The Sign” (2 Sep 15)

(From “My First 29 Days in Baghdad” by Mike Walton (c) 2003)
(I arrived in Baghdad, Iraq one week and four days after the ground war died down, in late March 2003. Each day was a personal challenge and to remember the specialness of living in that historic location at that part of history, I wrote in a PDA my impressions, experiences and joys and sorrows about living in Baghdad and relating it to my experiences as a volunteer Boy Scout leader (“Scouter”). )
Day Nine
…I remember reading a Boys’ Life article back as a child in the middle 60s about the Scout Sign and its importance.  Besides being the sign common to every legitimate and illegitimate Scouting association in the world, it also performs some amazing actions of its own.  It is a symbol of attention, of “shut your face and listen to me!” — of authority.  I don’t know how many Scoutmasters have drummed into the brains of their Scouts (and later when I became a Scoutmaster, I found myself saying the same thing!!):
“When the Sign goes up, the mouth goes shut!”
I read a newspaper account when Gerald Ford became President, that he raised his hand in the Sign of the Scout to receive the presidential oath of office.  He wanted to “pledge his leadership on his Eagle Badge”, I remember the article reading.  I have looked in archive after archive, and I cannot find a single photo with him holding his hand in anything other than full palmed.  I would love to get a photo of him doing this, though.  It would be a centerpiece in any office which I have… I am convinced that someone who knew how strongly President Ford felt about his Scouting experiences — proving that adage that an Eagle Scout could do just about anything, including serving as President of the United States — made that up and now it’s one of those Scouting “urban legends.” 
In that Boys’ Life article, I read that adult men would be stranded or lost, or new to a town. They would go to the center of town, and raise their hand in the Sign of the Scout.  Almost immediately the article continued, others who know the importance of the Sign of the Scout would come to their aid.  They would give him food, a place to live, and most of all, friendship.  Just because he’s a Scout. 
“Yeah, right!” I could hear Scouts (and a lot of Scouters!) say. “That will NEVER work today!”
So (while I was overseas stationed at Saddam Hussein’s former Presidential Palace (now called “Freedom Palace”), located almost in the center of the city and uphill from the Tigress River) this morning I performed an experiment.
A little about the Palace’s personnel composition.  
The Palace was populated with a third military “suits”, from all branches of the American and four other nation’s armed services; a third “politicals”, Presidential appointees from the State or Defense Departments and “volunteers” from a number of federal agencies all sent over to Iraq to staff provisional offices and bureaus; and a third “foreigners”, including host-nation Iraqis who have been “cleared” to work side-by-side with the other two-thirds and eventually take over as the new government “jelled”.  It was at the start; a great experience to be there and see people who normally had positions in the Pentagon or at their services’ logistical or personnel commands or who would normally work at the State Department. 
Truth be known, there’s probably a few Central Intelligence Agency field operatives in the mix here too…
On this particular morning — a Friday morning – I waited until I knew more than a handful of people would be around.  Taking my last swigs of coffee from the large Chick-fil-a red and white mug I filled a couple of hours prior, I sat it down on a marble seat, beside my MobilePro PDA I carried around with me.  I then climbed on top of the marbled circular table — one of four in the Rotunda — stood as still as I could and raised my right hand in the Sign of the Scout.
I listened. I looked around. After about 20 seconds of standing there, Scout sign proudly at the 90-degree angle taught to me by my Patrol Leader Stanley when I was 10 and a half years old, nothing.  People were still talking and discussing their tasks for that day among themselves.
I started to really feel stupid standing there.
Two men and a woman came up to me after 30 or so more seconds. I lowered my hand and looked at them.
“I was just being silly, that’s all. I’m okay.”  I stepped down from the large marble table, looking at the three of them, all with a coffee cup in their hands, looking at me.
I introduced myself and stated where I worked.  I again reassured them that I was sane and did not inflict myself with one of my atropine injectors or something.
“When someone did that back in Oregon, where I’m from, they wanted my attention. You must be a Scoutmaster.”
“Used to be,” I said, wiping my sneaker prints from the table with an extra paper napkin I had. “Boy Scout too.”
“You were a Boy Scout?” the woman asked. “I was a Girl Scout. When someone did that, we were told it meant they needed help. You sure you don’t need help?”
“I was working through an experiment for a story,” I said to the three of them, pointing to my opened PDA sitting on the shiny marble. “I write short stories on the side.” 
“In my world,” the other man stated with a heavy British accent, “It means “Come quick! I’ve got something to tell you!”
I recounted the story I remembered from the Boys’ Life article and soon, I had three new friends.  Denise, one of the smallest women on the CPA staff and the senior staff lawyer.  Curt, working with the Ministry of Education.  And Simon, the man who later worked with us as a part of the external communications team.  We exchanged email addresses and through more small talk told each other where we could be found in the large Palace.  We finally said our
goodbyes as we moved toward our workplaces.
The experiment worked, although I felt stupid standing there in my blue jeans and shirt, holding my hand in the Scout Sign for what seems to be hours.
I wonder. Did anyone take a photo of me doing this stunt? Not that I would care…  Just wondering.

About Settummanque

Take your standard Oliver North. Add strong parts of Bill Cosby and Sir Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of Scouting). Throw in Johny Bravo without the "hurhhs!" and his pecks. Add a strong dose of parenting, the sexuality of a latin lover, and Mona Lisa's smile. And a 40 year old's body frame. That's me basically *grinning*
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