Monday, February 1, 2021

January campout ‘for the birds’…but in a good way

Troop 50 Scouts “nested” the weekend of Jan. 22-24 at Auburn’s Chewacla State Park with a variety of activities in mind — chief among those being working on Bird Study Merit Badge. The troop’s first campout of 2021 also included work toward Hiking Merit Badge, including a five-mile troop-wide hike on the park’s scenic and backwoods trails.

Friday evening included typical activities that mark the first night of a campout: setting up patrol areas where Scouts would cook and gather, as well as pitching tents where Scouts would bed for the night. Fortunately, the day’s rain broke just as Scouts arrived at Chewacla, but was followed that evening by temperatures that dipped into the upper 30s — making for a chilly night’s sleep and an equally chilly morning on Saturday.

Mr. McGuire leads the morning's Bird Study Merit Badge discussion.

After patrols finished breakfast, the troop divided into two groups — with a majority of Scouts opting to pursue Bird Study Merit Badge. The morning session was led by John McGuire, a troop parent, certified forester, and wildlife biologist. The group discussed the basics of bird study, such as understanding birds’ importance to the ecosystem, terminology and sketching techniques, and using bird study resources like field guides and binoculars.

Scoutmaster Baird and Assistant Scoutmaster Wes Williams share their hiking and
backpacking experiences as part of the Hiking Merit Badge session.

A smaller group of Scouts worked on Hiking Merit Badge requirements with Scoutmaster Andrew Baird. It may be earned by Scouts as an alternate option to Eagle-required Swimming or Cycling merit badges. Their discussion included planning for a hike, mitigating hiking health and safety hazards, and incorporating proper guidance for attire and footwear. Both Scoutmaster Baird and Assistant Scoutmaster Williams shared about their experiences from both short hikes and multi-day Philmont Scout Ranch backpacking treks ranging from 70 to 80 miles.

The Wizard Lizards Patrol with their assigned members of the Leadership Corps.

The Gladiators Patrol, along with their assigned members of the Leadership Corps.

The troop reassembled for a group hike through Chewacla State Park — the goal being to cover five miles as part of the Hiking Merit Badge requirements. The troop departed in two groups, reconvened for a trail lunch, and then set out again for the remainder of the trek.

Scouts who were part of the Bird Study Merit Badge class head out to do a little bird-viewing.

Upon the troop’s return, the Bird Study Merit Badge group conducted a field observation of the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite. Scouts used binoculars to view the birds’ activities, and described and recorded the birds they saw in their field notebooks.

After dinner and well into the evening, the troop gathered for a traditional Saturday evening campfire. Scouts entertained each other with skits and songs — both planned and impromptu. The final element of the campfire was the retirement of roughly a dozen American flags. Most were faded, torn, or tattered and therefore ready to be retired — the term used to define the proper, dignified way of destroying United States flags that are no longer fit to serve the nation. The United States Flag Code, Title 4, Section 8k states, “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

The 48-star American flag provided by the Jerome family for retirement.

One flag stood out from the rest — a 48-star American flag given to the troop by the Jerome family, which includes Jake Jerome, the troop’s first senior patrol leader, second Eagle Scout, U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, and a current U.S. Air Force pilot. The flag, more than 100 years old, would have been in circulation between the admission of Arizona as the 48th state in 1912 and Alaska’s and Hawaii’s statehood in 1959. The Jeromes decided that, because the flag had become discolored and stained, it was past its prime and ready for a dignified retirement.

Scoutmaster Baird assists Scouts with the retirement of the Jerome family flag.

The ceremony included the retirement of nearly two dozen
American flags.
This particular flag belonged to Jake’s great-grandfather who fought in World War I. He received the flag in conjunction with his service in the U.S. Army, which also included being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross — the second-highest medal after the Medal of Honor that our country awards servicemen and servicewomen.

The solemnity of the flag retirement, which concluded with the playing of Taps by new troop bugler James, and the cooling temperatures found Scouts welcoming the day’s end and the warmth of their tents.

On Sunday, after breakfast was over and everyone’s gear was packed away, the troop gathered to reflect on all that Scouts accomplished over the weekend. Chartered Organization Representative and Troop Chaplain Michael Tullier led the troop in its traditional “Duty to God” devotional service. Together, they discussed the role of pausing, prayer, discernment and wisdom in the decisions we make in life.

During the troop’s Patrol Leaders’ Council meeting the following Monday, youth leaders saw opportunities to work on Hiking and Bird Study merit badges as a good mix. They observed that the patrols worked well together, but duty assignments and “kitchen patrol” need to be improved to ensure better organization and teamwork. They also liked incorporating the flag retirement ceremony as part of Saturday night’s campfire.

The troop is evaluating camping options for February and remaining focused on the pandemic’s possible effects on those and troop meeting plans.

For more photos from the campout, visit the troop’s online photo album.