By C. Todd Lopez
FORT A.P. HILL, Va. (July 29, 2010) -- During the first full day of the National Scout Jamboree here, July 27, thousands of young men across America participated in learning activities and earned merit badges -- some with the help of Soldiers.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Huizar, a drill sergeant from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., helped Scouts learn to turn twine into rope, to lash logs together, and to turn wood and rope into a bridge -- all part of earning the pioneering merit badge.
"It's pretty much wilderness survival, how to make tools and pretty much getting back to the roots of rope-making and getting crafty with your surroundings," Huizar said of the skills he was helping Scouts learn. "The biggest part of pioneering is that it's all teamwork. Hardly any of this stuff do you want to do on your own. You're going to need teamwork development."
Behind Huizar, with the assistance of adult civilian mentors and other Soldiers, two young men used crude wooden tools to twist thin strands of twine into thicker ropes.
One of the boys, Zach, with the Troop 714 of Fairbanks, Alaska, was well into earning his Pioneering Badge -- a process that takes as many as four hours of listening, learning and teamwork.
"It's a lot more work than I thought it was going to be," Zach said.
Zach, at his first Jamboree, said he wasn't entirely sure what other badges he hoped to earn while there, though he added there's opportunity to earn badges back at home. What's not so readily available to him in Alaska, he said, are some of the activities young men from the warmer southern states enjoy -- activities that are available and prove popular at the Jamboree.
"I'm mostly trying to do things I can't do in Fairbanks," he said. "Like the fun stuff like scuba diving and snorkeling."
Scouts like Zach work to achieve merit badges in skills like metalwork, electronics, first aid or radio. More than 125 such badges exist to be earned, and opportunities are available at the Jamboree to earn about 100 of those. Learning, developing skills, and earning an associated merit badge is one way Scouts can achieve the top Scouting rank of Eagle Scout, an achievement, says Huizar, that has some similarities with being a Soldier.
"To be an Eagle Scout, there's a lot of the same requirements as for being a Soldier: land navigation, survival skills and stuff like that," said Huizar. He also pointed out additional similarities. Holding in his hand a dog tag engraved with the Army Values and the Warrior Ethos, he said "this is something we give to a Soldier when they graduate basic training. And we give them to the Scouts too, because our values are pretty much the same as their values."
Staff Sgt. Daniel Bath, stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., was at the Jamboree to help Scouts earn their climbing merit badge.
Bath said Scouts will learn calls used while rock climbing and belaying, different ropes used for climbing, tying of knots, as well as safety. After classroom instruction and demonstrating new skills with ropes and safety, the Scouts will get to try their climbing skills on a climbing wall.
"They'll be climbing on (the rock wall) until they're sick of it," Bath said. "They have to climb at least three routes, but they can climb until they're done."
Bath said he was a boy scout himself, and about 13 years ago, he came to the Jamboree.
"I earned the climbing merit badge when I was about 14 years old, so I've been climbing ever since" he said. "I've been climbing for about 15 years. I just think rock climbing is fun. I got hooked on it when I was young and I've been doing it ever since. I just can't get enough of it. It's challenging. It's a good workout. It keeps you fit. It gives you a change to be in the outdoors. It's just one more thing you can do in the outdoors that's not boring."
Bath said he volunteers to teach the climbing merit badge back in Kansas, and that he also volunteered to go to the Jamboree to teach it there.
Nick, a scout with Troop 2005 from Phoenix, Ariz., is a Life Scout and says he needs just three more badges to attain Eagle Scout. One of those merit badges will be for climbing, with Bath as his instructor.
"I've been climbing multiple times," Nick said. "But I haven't gotten the chance to get on a real mountain. The class here was pretty cool. The Soldiers did a great job instructing. They are probably the best instructors you can get, because they actually lived the stuff that they're doing."
Nick said he felt comfortable working with Bath and other Soldiers while earning his badge, even saying "there was some humor in some of them. They made you want to stay and learn more."
Even Soldiers in the band were at the Jamboree to mentor Scouts. Sgt. 1st Class Tony Abatecola, with the Rhode Island National Guard's 88th Army Band, helped Scouts learn more about music, and even learn to play an instrument. To get the merit badge in music, Abatecola said, Scouts must learn a lot.
"He has to know a bunch of information, such as music history, and composers, what they do, and how they contributed to the modern music of today," he said. "They also need to know conducting patterns, how to conduct the songs and how to play. They need to know some of the theory and how to understand and read the music."
Peter, with the Troop 425 from Trumbull, Conn., was looking to get his music merit badge while at the Jamboree, though he already has a substantial background in music.
"I've been playing trumpet since 4th grade, and I'm a freshman now. I went through elementary school band, middle school band and my high school marching band. Also I tried out and made a western regional band. So I don't think it will be that difficult," he said, about earning his music merit badge. "It'll be fun."
Already a Life Scout, Peter said he's got 20 merit badges under his belt. He said he hopes to also earn the theater arts badge while at the Jamboree.
Abatecola's unit was tasked to come to the Jamboree to provide support, something he said he was excited to do.
"I was involved in Scouting," he said. "And it's a great opportunity to work with people. The kids get to see the Army is not just about war fighting. They get to see the Army is huge and does a lot of things. And the correlation between the Boy Scouts and the Army is great -- a lot of the basic traits the Boy Scouts learn is basic soldiering skills in some areas: woodsman, courtesy, respect, citizenship -- and even music."
The Merit Badge Midway wasn't the only place that Soldiers and scouts met face-to-face at the Jamboree. At the "Armed Forces Adventure Center," just past three swimming pools built specifically for the Jamboree, Scouts could meet with members from all four branches of the Armed Forces.
At one location there, Scouts were challenged by an Army drill sergeant to beat pull-up records set by other Scouts. By late afternoon, the record was up to 23, and Scouts cheered each other on as one after the other they tried to top the record so they could claim "everything on the stage" -- that's one each of a collection of Army-themed prizes.
Next door, Scouts played a videogame where they "drove" the Army-sponsored No. 39 NASCAR race car in place of the official driver, Ryan Newman.
"This is the speed and action station," said Staff Sgt. Dave Hair, an Army recruiter from Charlottesville, Va. "It allows the individual to basically take control of Ryan Newman's car and drive on desert roads behind MRAPs and Army personnel carriers."
Players end up walking away with an Army-themed water bottle -- great to help beat the heat at the event.
"We're not actively trying to get anyone to join the Army," Hair said. "We're here to support the Boy Scouts of America on their 100-year birthday. We're just here to support them and show them some of the stuff that the Army does have."
Hair said he was a Boy Scout too when he was younger, and also attended a Jamboree.
"It's only the first full day today and it's been busy, but it's been good to work with the Boy Scouts and help them out and answer some questions they have," he said. "Some of them ask me about the Army, some of them ask me where they can get their stamps done. I think it's a good way for them to see what possibilities are out there for them -- not just with the Army, but with everybody else that's set up out here at the Jamboree."