My Old Boy Scout Troop

We were disheveled misfits, but we were great Scouts.

“I don’t have kids, but if I did, I wouldn’t want my son to be a Boy Scout.”

That’s what I’ve always told people, and even now that the Scouts are apparently getting a little more inclusive, I’m not sure my position is going to change. When I was a Scout, I was always turned off by the way the organization had no place for nonconformists. Being in Scouting felt like being in the minor leagues for the military.

But really, my “I don’t have kids, but if I did …” refrain is actually a little more complicated. My actual feelings are: “I don’t have kids, but if I did, I wouldn’t want my son to be a Boy Scout — unless he could go back in time to be a member of Troop 45.”

Because no matter how I feel about the Boy Scouts of America, I have nothing but good feelings for my “Bad News Bears” mess of a Scout troop.

Detail from a photo by Noah Scialom and posted to Flickr by the Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs OfficeI was a member of Troop 45 for about five years in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I was around 13, and my mom decided I couldn’t spend my teenage years living like Gollum. (That’s probably not how she phrased it.)

So I joined Troop 45, which met Tuesday nights in a Lutheran church. Our meetings generally went like this: 10 minutes of something Scout related (knot tying, first aid, fire safety), followed by 110 minutes of a loosely organized game of football on the church lawn.

I didn’t know anyone in the troop outside of Scouts (I went to Catholic school, they went to public), but I got the sense that Troop 45 was made up of fellow outcasts.

I’ve always been pretty quiet, but the other Scouts were loud, rude, smart-alecky and disheveled: Shirts untucked, neckerchiefs barely in place, jeans instead of green Scout pants. I don’t think anyone even owned a complete Scout uniform. We’d show up at events like a tribe of bandits that stolen their armor from the dead.

But we were good at being Scouts.

Maybe not good at the standing-up-straight, walking-single-file stuff, but really, really good at things like building fires, tying knots, and first aid.

(First aid especially. We’d clean up at the annual First Aid Meet, where we’d have to respond to gruesome, fictional scenarios that would have been at home in one of the “Saw” movies.)

And there were also small moments of heroism in our troop. Two of them involved the same kid, whose name was Jeremy.

On one campout, a giant rainstorm washed through our campsite, causing the main tent — where kept all the supplies — to collapse.

We woke up to find Jeremy struggling to put up the tent, by himself, in the rain.

A dad from another troop came over to offer his praise: “I watched this young man work all night to get this tent fixed. He never gave up, while all of YOU were asleep.”

(None of us thought to ask him why, if he’d been watching all night, he hadn’t come to help.)

On another camping trip, Jeremy woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and saw a car was on fire at the edge of the campsite.

He ran from tent to tent waking everyone up. (Fortunately, the car was far away from us, and the fire never spread).

When the sun came up, a Scout official came to survey the damage, and he heard about Jeremy. He insisted we submit the story to Boy’s Life, the Scouting magazine, which ran a feature in every issue about real-life stories of Scouting bravery.

In true Troop 45 fashion, someone dropped the ball, and the story never made it to Boy’s Life. But I hope this can kind of make up for it.

Article © 2013 by Tom Coombe