No more campouts for me.
I won’t miss the bugs. I won’t miss the cold ground. Neither will I miss the long hikes, bad coffee or the lost gear. Over the last eight years, outdoor retailers have made a small fortune from my family’s repeat purchases of tents, camp stools, first-aid kits and water bottles. We went through a lot. And still our garage is full.
But I will miss the sight of a young Scout learning to set up a tent or build a fire, or cook Dr Pepper chili over an open flame and eat a meal in the great outdoors.
I’ll miss the happy shouts of Scouts who finished navigating a five-mile hike by themselves, over unfamiliar terrain, and the look in their eyes of having met and conquered a big challenge.
I will also miss watching older Scouts teach the youngest how to tie a proper knot, use a compass or retire a tattered U.S. flag in a solemn bonfire.
These are the things that happen on a typical Scout campout. For 113 years, young Americans have learned outdoor skills, self-sufficiency and teamwork. More importantly, they’ve grown into responsible, tested and confident leaders who try to “do a good turn daily.”
America needs the Scouts now more than ever.
Let me be clear: The Boy Scouts of America has been disorganized at times, confusing, mismanaged, technologically backward, slow to diversify and negligent in protecting vulnerable children. In March, a federal judge upheld a $2.4 billion bankruptcy reorganization plan to settle thousands of child sexual abuse claims against the BSA.
And yet, the BSA has survived.
New measures will support survivors and help prevent abuse in the future, such as background checks for staff and volunteers, mandatory youth training and a ban on one-on-one interactions with children. These changes have already become common practice.
The BSA has persevered, I think, because most Americans understand that it is a fundamentally unique and overwhelmingly positive organization that does what few can.
It sets benchmarks. It promotes a Scout Oath and a Scout Law. It coaches morality and ethics. It teaches boys (and girls now) a wide variety of citizenship principles and outdoor skills. It gives them an appreciation of our nation’s incredible outdoor space, our common heritage and how to be a servant leader.
Equally important, the BSA allows our young people to fail in a safe environment. They might forget key principles. They might disregard proper procedures when conducting a meeting. They could misread a map, lose tent pegs, stumble over the Pledge of Allegiance, fall in the water or get homesick. These are common on campouts, too.
That’s OK. Scouts fail at first, then try again. They improve. They learn. They gain confidence. And eventually, they succeed. Along the way, boys and girls become stable, confident and mature young adults.
I’ve seen it firsthand.
We have two Scouts in our family. Sam earned his Eagle rank first. He’s in college now, but still has his Eagle medal proudly displayed in a shadow box over his bed at home.
His younger brother Bo was awarded his Eagle rank in May. Our entire family attended Bo’s ceremony, in which he was recognized alongside 19 other Eagle Scouts.
His mother pinned the medal on his uniform. Sam got to drape the red, white and blue kerchief around his neck. We took pictures and celebrated.
Both are honest, empathetic, loyal, kind and confident young men of strong character and sound ethics. This is due in large part to the impact of Scouting, which helps parents, and our society, reinforce these healthy, wholesome traits.
In short, I believe in Scouting. So do thousands of other moms and dads who volunteer their time on a weekly basis to keep the organization running. It’s a remarkable nationwide volunteer machine.
I am well aware of the organization’s failures. These should not be diminished, discounted or forgotten. And yet I believe that the BSA has evolved over the last decade into a stronger, safer, more modern American institution that should be respected and preserved.
My last Scout campout is behind me now. I won’t miss those cold, clammy nights and the fart jokes and the messy breakfast tacos. I won’t miss the long drives to remote campgrounds on weekends in the spring and fall. Or the bugs.
But I will miss watching young people grow up.
My sons are better because of Scouting. And our country is in better hands because of it, too.
Jeff Brady is the director of communications for the city of Farmers Branch. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.