…Prepared for Anything (8 Feb 16)


On this day in Washington 106 years ago, officials of a new youth-service organization filed paperwork to incorporate and federally charter something called the Boy Scouts of America. These men, representing a broad cut of social and civic clubs, educational institutions and religious bodies, had no clue as to what direction their small organization would go. They patterned much of the new Boy Scouts organization after their peers in Britain: it was a businessman from Chicago, William D. Boyce, which ran into a British Boy Scout during a business trip a couple years back which sparked the entire effort. Boyce later met with Sir Robert Baden-Powell, whom had sparked British youth with the things found in his Scouting for Boys – originally a military skills manual – and brought back copies of the book along with badges and materials to start his own “Boy Scout” group in Chicago. He shared what he learned with other organizational leaders, and together they decided the best way to make this work for the nation was to create a body. The Boy Scouts of America. But there were already Boy Scouts in America at the time of the incorporation. Good news travels fast, even in the days before websites, push technologies, Yahoo and America Online. Personal letters between heads of community organizations resulted in “experimenting with this new concept called Scouting”. Scoutmasters were self-appointed and they organized groups, some with the approval of the Scout Association in England. Church leaders and community activists took kids hiking, camping and teaching themselves as well as them the finer arts of making a ground fire, lashing poles together, and cooking entire meals over open flames. And because this was the period long before Pop-tarts, Swanson dinners and Sara Lee, everything was done from scratch, which required more time to prepare, more time to cook or bake, and naturally, more time to eat. Scouts leaned how to entertain themselves while waiting for the food to cook, without the assistance of Walkman and his self-contained, battery-powered buddies. Scouting grew well in advance of the official words, the official books, the official uniforms, and the official accessories, because of the commitment of adults interested in the development of youth. While Scouting is an outdoor program, full of camping and hiking and pioneering and aquatics – Scouting was also a way to instill patriotism, to enhance American work and living ethics, and to embrace true brotherhood among peoples of this new young nation. America was only a little older than 100 years young when American Scouting first came around… it was still dealing with social problems, with employment problems, and with how best to grow as the country became larger. Those men knew that the future of America really did depend upon those boys they are financing, partnering, teaching through Scouting. “Every Scout a First Class Scout” became the cry. Yes, Eagle was established as the highest rank a boy can earn, and there were a few boys whom advanced that far. But for the majority, making it and being called a First Class Boy Scout was more of an achievement in American life. Newspapers would frequently list the names of boys whom became First Class. A First Class Boy Scout knew how to stop a horse and how to mend knife wounds. He could chop a cord of wood in no time flat and he could set a table fit for a monarch. He understood the concept of saving money and could build a lean-to with just about anything available. He was polite in manners. He was observant in the religious beliefs of others and himself. He was someone you could “take home to meet your parents”. He came in many colors, sizes, shapes and ethnic backgrounds. There was one Scouting program, one set of Laws and one Scout Oath for all to follow. While in some areas of our nation, there may have not been equity in resourcing Scouting or in organized activities for Scouting’s youth members, the Scout uniform became known as one of this nation’s first “racial equalizers.” All Boy Scouts wore the same uniform, the same insignia, and worked from the same book. There were no “white” nor “black” uniforms, insignia, or books. And a First Class Boy Scout, be he brown, beige or freckled – or a shade in between – was a First Class Boy Scout and the community was as proud of him as it was their other civic leaders. Eagle was just icing on the cake! Scouting became an household word, not because of the skills it was teaching, nor because of the way it was teaching those skills by letting groups of boys lead and direct themselves under the supervision of a man or two called a Scoutmaster, whose only “claim to fame” was in proudly saying “those are my boys”. Scouting became a household word because of the things that Scouts and Scout units, called Troops, did for their communities. They took care of the homes of those too ill or infirmed to take care of them by themselves. They created miles of community trails and camping areas and swimming areas. They taught other kids how to swim. They worked in stores and in small businesses, and through their constant work, only stopping for lunch, became known as reliable young men. Scouts housed people during storms, and played with small children while parents met to decide on how to rebuild communities. Scouts directed traffic in and out of towns. In school and church, Scouts were the leaders; the ones that didn’t have an “I don’t know” for a response when asked their opinion. Scouts kept up with the news from town and always had a way to be of use — to anyone whom would ask. And because his town saw him frequently in his Scout uniform, clean and pressed, they sought them out. “Scouts were prepared for anything.” Scouting in America expanded itself, first by offering adult-like opportunities for the older males. Then by offering nautical skills on land and on the water. Then by providing the means for younger boys to become a part of Scouting, and through Cub Scouting, to get a small taste of what Scouting is all about when they get older. In all cases, America continued to look to Scouting as that “great equalizer” of life, the one place unlike any other in life, whereby truly one’s achievements are only limited to what he was willing to do and how quickly he would meet his own goals. In the 60s, the BSA, now a truly national organization, with chapters operating in all 50 states and by mail or cable in such remote spots as Moscow, South Africa, Peru, Peking and in 100 other countries; allowed teenage girls the opportunity to experience the grand outdoors through their Exploring program. However, most girls as well as boys at that time in life, were interested more in getting that first job and being happy working that first job. The Exploring program allowed them to do just that, by partnering them up with businesses that saw the benefit of workers that want to be there. More importantly, these were SCOUTS – a different brand of Scout, but one in the true tradition of those earlier Scouts that bent over backwards to be of service to others. Many Explorer Posts did the nation and their communities – as well as the program – proud. The Boy Scouts of America further expanded itself by operating in schools during school time. Many areas of the nation still barely had safe roads, and electricity in some areas was still a dream to be realized. But they had Scouting, thanks to the forward thinking of businesses and schools that saw what Scouting has done for citizenship and personal fitness development earlier, and wanted some of that too. By the middle 70s, every public and private school system wanting Scouting had it and conducted Scout Troop and Cub Pack meetings either during or after school. Every community in America has heard of Boy Scouting and most wanted – and had – Scouting in some form: the traditional form, chartered and partnered by a business, church, school, military organization or “group of citizens” residing in a community; or non-traditionally, within the context of school, church or within American Embassies in such far – off locations as Chile and New Zealand. Doing good for others and working with business and government has always been the benchmark of Scouting over the many years. From paper and can drives in the 30s and 40s, to Victory Gardens, to drug abuse prevention programs, to organ and tissue donation awareness, Americans have reacted positively to the call by Scouts to help out. When floods leveled entire communities, it was the National Guard and the Scouts first on the scene – in some cases, one and the same as many National Guard units chartered Emergency Service Exploring units to handle contingencies exactly like what happened. When tornadoes blew, or when hurricanes came on-shore, or deep, long snows hit communities, Scouts were there, preparing and in some cases handing out food, putting together cots and finding blankets, and collecting and distributing toys for needy children. Our newspapers are full of Scouts, individually and collectively as units, entire Councils — putting aside such petty things as race, color, creed and later sex — working to make a positive different for other people. And it all started with the willingness of businessmen, civic group leaders, church officials, educational administrators and community leaders to “put together an organization which will do good for America and her citizens, while teaching good qualities of responsible citizenship, personal character, and moral and physical fitness.” In today’s dot-com, super-fast electronic retailing environment, Scouting still needs those businessmen and women, those civic group leaders and those members of our communities and cities, to continue to forge and reformulate Scouting today. To help us to chart the direction we should be moving in. To help Scouting’s volunteers to teach valuable skills which they and America may need to meet our still-changing world. It was only in the early 70s that a new merit badge in Computers was introduced; and in 1973, a merit badge called Emergency Preparedness was added to the short list of badges required of all Eagle Scouts to earn. While Scouts today are not taught how to stop a runaway horse or how to sew a tent together, Scouts do learn how to react to and report a bomb threat as well as how use a ground cloth as shelter. Remember the Columbine shootings? Two boys, one unfortunately, a former Boy Scout, armed themselves and killed several students and a high school teacher in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. Two of the many students holed up in the high school waiting to be rescued, administered first aid to the high school teacher who later died. They remembered their Scouting first aid training as they treated the teacher for shock by covering him with shirts and jackets and helping him to focus on his family. One Scout was showing him photos from the teacher’s wallet, asking him to tell him who were in the photos while they applied direct pressure on the shotgun holes to slow the bleeding. One of those two students, a Scout named Aaron Hancey, later told a newspaper reporter that in Boy Scouting, “you’re trained to deal with broken arms, broken limbs, cuts and scrapes. Stuff you get on a camping trip,” “You never train for gunshot wounds.” In many places we do now. Scouting is still as important to American life as it was back in 1910. We have adapted to the times we lived within, and will continue to do so. I invite you to help us continue the adaption and movement of such an important program! Settummanque!! (this article originally published in February 2000 and has been updated a bit. It was a part of “Scouting’s Days of the Week”, a set of articles I wrote for local Council usage during Scouting Anniversary Week that year.)


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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