When Shakespeare’s Henry V spoke of his “band of brothers,” he described an empowering bond–forged under extraordinary circumstances–that elevates normal people and normal relationships above the every-day course of life.
Usually with far less drama, Scouts and Scout leaders purposefully engage in such a process of taking young people out of their normal patterns to do simple but extraordinary things. The bewildering experience of a young Scout away from home and nestled in dark woods is one that can teach, inspire, and bind youth and leaders together.
Scoutmaster Jeremy Vick remembers a troop that was accustomed to frequent campouts, but whose leaders wanted to bring more substance into the camping experience. The troop built “SSKs” for each scout. An “SSK” is a “Spiritual Survival Kit.” They were simple military pouches one might pick up at a surplus store, or on-line, loaded with a mini Book of Mormon, a For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, True to the Faith, Duty to God, a miniature notebook, and a mechanical pencil. The rule was that they could neither add to nor take away from those contents to be brought to every activity.
At campouts, they would carve out a half hour to work from their SSKs. One boy might be writing in a journal, another reading, others focused on Duty to God. Invariably, the exercise expanded as the boys talked about spiritual subjects, about their upcoming missions, and whether they thought they would be ready. Normally the half hour extended spontaneously to 90 minutes. The leaders knew they were on to something when one night they forgot and sent everyone toward bed when deacons started asking, “What about SSK?” “Aren’t we doing SSK?”
Soon the boys were engaged in meaningful thought and conversation that continued until the fire had burned down to a bed of white coals.
Before one multi-troop campout, a senior patrol leader had his troop wear matching Class B uniforms. As the troop gathered at the camp, a Scout from another troop was running by at full stride when he suddenly stopped in a cloud of dust to take a careful look at them, then said, “Wow. You guys look great. I wish our troop looked like this.” The SPL rose in stature in everyone’s eyes, and unity grew.
A troop had a boy who came to Wednesday activities, but without joy. He went to Scout camp but without enthusiasm. Later, at a court of honor, the boy was called out to receive a number of merit badges. Afterward, he told the Scoutmaster of the mistake. “I didn’t earn these.” “Well, sure you did.” The leader took the awards from his extended hand and, one at a time, handed them back to him. “Remember when we camped by that river and learned to canoe? That’s when you earned this one. And at Scout camp when you perfected your bow and arrow skills? And when you swam a mile? And when….” This conversation turned on a light and the boy went away with a new confidence that he could excel in Scouting—and in other life experiences that he had been drifting through without dipping his oar. A few weeks ago, he entered the Missionary Training Center, having earned his Eagle rank and now in possession of an engaged world-view. The Scoutmaster muses, “Without Scouting, I don’t know how he would have had the courage or the initiative to do what he is doing now.”
John Beesley is a longtime Scout leader in Troop 51, a non-affiliated troop in Provo, Utah. He recalls the marked change that took place as he took the three interested Scouts in his troop to a national jamboree in Virginia a decade ago. They prepared by making fifty neckerchief slides in his workshop, festooned with historical postage stamps about Scouting and about east coast patriotic landmarks.
Once at the jamboree, they traded these items for patches and pins, discovering that their handiwork was immediately very much in demand. The boys grew in pride of their troop and became a small band of brothers who, in the intervening years, have gone on to successes that might surprise those who once knew them in their pre-Scouting lives.
Scouting succeeds when boys lead–and when leaders guide–in the creation of extraordinary experiences that draw them together in love and trust and comradery.
~Submitted by the Young Men General Presidency and Board