Wood Badge: Part 1

This past Friday I started down a path, on a journey to discovery. Entering my four year in scouting, after serving as Quartermaster and Den Leader for Pack 1155, Brentwood I took an active role as an adult leader when Zachary crossed over to Boy Scouts last year. While I probably led Zachary to Troop 93, I was excited at the leadership with Dr. Val Tompkins and Justin Aldridge, both from Pack 1155. Val served a dual role of Committee Chair and Den Leader, while Justin served as Assistant Cubmaster and Den Leader. It was their personal qualities, leadership style and enthusiasm, which brought us to join Troop 93 and for me to become involved as an Assistant Scoutmaster.

The initial experience and transition from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts was eye opening and I was caught off guard unexpectedly. I was lost when it comes to the structure of the troop, even though I knew the boys were the leaders, as the adults acted in a supervisory/mentoring capacity. While my transition was bumpy, there were lots of questions asked. I was constantly on the the PC, looking for information to add to my limited scouting knowledge, in order to enhance myself as a competent leader. Little did I know there would be training to come.

“Wood Badge is an advanced, national leadership course open only to Scouting volunteers and professionals,” as decribed on Scouting.org. It’s a training course I have had my eye on for a few years, but felt I didn’t have enough scouting experience, spending just 3 years with the Cubs. While my Boy Scout experience consists of just 7 months, the time was right to develop myself personally:

  • Listening
  • Managing conflict
  • Leading change
  • Stages of team development
  • Coaching & Mentoring
  • Leadership for different stages
  • Servant leadership
  • Project planning

The Wood Badge course consists of 6 days of training, divided up between two 3-day weekends. Camp Herms, located in El Cerrito was the setting for Wood Badge W3-23-17. That’s: W for Western Region, 3 for Area 3, 23 for Mt. Diablo-Silverado Council’s number, 23 for the year 2017. Steve Laren would act as the Scoutmaster for Wood Badge.

Bobwhite Patrol, early on Day 1, coming together.

It was with much anticipation I arrived a minutes past 7:30AM, Friday morning arriving at Camp Herms and directed towards “The Quarry” for parking. Every aspect at Wood Badge is organized and well structured; signage, stations numbers and a friendly, welcoming staff (I was greeted by Linda as I pulled up) broke some of the anxiety and anticipation I was feeling. As I made my way to the registration table and presented my name, I scanned to see if I knew anyone from the Brentwood troops. While I did spot a few familiar troops and packs, I knew no one a this training session. That…would be short lived as all participated placed into patrols for Wood Badge.

Of all the patrols, I feel very fortunate to be called a Bobwhite. That is our “critter” for Wood Badge, so we will be known as the Bobwhite Patrol for the duration of the training. A bobwhite is a “ground-dwelling bird native to the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean…is shy and elusive. When threatened, it will crouch and freeze, relying on camouflage to stay undetected, but will flush into low flight if closely disturbed. It is generally solitary or paired early in the year, but family groups are common in the late summer.

One thing our patrol was not, was shy and elusive, as 5 individuals with varying background came together and formed the Bobwhite Patrol. One characteristic I noticed was the outgoing, positive attitudes of my teammates; Lisa Immel, Praveen Nori, Matt Schroder and Mike Oravec. We came together quickly to embrace our critter as the first day progressed.

With the help of Google, we came up with some yells and songs for our patrol. Our first yell, which was a team effort consisted of:

Bobwhites! Bobwhites! SHOTGUN! BOOM! <team members duck>

Catching and funny, it brought laughter throughout the troop, which helped break the ice, as patrols were introduced, friendships made. It wasn’t long after we started putting together more yells and our first song, sung to the tune, Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys. The morning session moved quickly as listening to learn took centerstage. The activity featured each cub working on making their first woggle. The group started out as Cub Scouts and by lunch time we were feasting our success at the Blue & Gold Banquet as we crossed over to Boy Scouts.

Praveen Nori, Kudu in handle signaling the end of the training session.

After learning how to listen in the morning session, we started to apply what we were learning to the afternoon discussions. The aims and methods of the BSA were introduced, as we were welcomed to Troop 1 by our Scoutmaster. With patrols already formed, it was time for patrol leader elections. Praveen Nori was our inaugural leader with Matt Schroder taking the assistant role. Lisa Immel’s calling was devine, fulfilling the role of chaplains aid for the entirety, while Stephen Toumi took quill in had as the patrol scribe. Mike Oravec was our scout without a dedicated role in the Bobwhites, but each patrol member had an integral part to play for troop success.

After a great dinner put together by the troop quartermaster staff, there was a bit of free time before the night’s campfire. As the last light faded over the horizon, scouts gathered in the quarry for song, skit, camaraderie and a night full of activity and information.

Day 2 arrived early, as patrol members made their way down the hills to the lodge for breakfast and to share thoughts and ideas. The morning was crisp and the weather rock told us there was no rain in sight, so it was our time to shine. The Bobwhite Patrol was selected (Gilwell Order) to be the Program Patrol, passed on from the Beavers.

If you ask any Bobwhite B-Dubber, we took the program to the next level and set a very high bar for those patrols to follow. We got started with song early in the morning, as leadership wanted pictures of all the patrol and staff. Together we combined for about 8 songs within the 90 minutes of the morning. Mike Oravec received the Kudu and blew the horn to start the days activities. Praveen Nori patched Matt Schroder as Patrol Leader for the day.

The morning session taught us about leveraging diversity through inclusiveness. We started with a Zulu Toss game, in which individuals worked together as a team in an attempt to keep 6 tennis balls moving through the group. The Bobwhites achieved 5 balls in the air, but just missed out on that 6th ball.

After discussing the Scout Oath and Scout Law, how we should live by and promote these principles in our own lives, as well as those scout we lead, we moved on to another morning activity. Each member had the opportunity to set up and light a portable stove. After some equipment checks, those who had not set up a stove before were able to do. After a short discussion, it was back to lodge to see what we were most afraid of.

It really came as no surprise that the top fear, as a nation was speaking in front of a group. Many patrols recognized this as a fear, myself included. It’s interesting to note that I have been willing to step up more, leading in song and yell, as part of our responsibility of the Program Patrol. In order to take advantage of the training, you must shed your fears and hesitation and fully participate as a member of the patrol and the troop, a quality that is bound to make a good, confident leader.

It was back to another game called Front End Alignment, where are Matt, our patrol leader attempted to derail the troop. There was a 15′ piece of blue plastic with a bucket at the end. The object for 3 members of the patrol to throw, three pieces of candy into a but from varying length. While the rules weren’t fully clear, we interpreted the rules the Bobwhite way and someone picked up the bucket in order to catch the candy. Matt however, was dead set on re-reading the rules in an attempt to deter us from our plan. His type ‘B’ management style (dictatorship) failed, as he couldn’t impose his will on us as a group. In the big picture, those 4 patrols with type ‘A’ patrol leaders outscored and fared better than our group.

After lunch there was a quick discussion on our project and how to plan for the second weekend, when we implement what we had learned. Our patrol discussed a few ideas, but we seemed to agree upon a project that centered about Leave No Trace. While not a BSA sponsored program (BSA moving to Outdoor Ethics), they have adopted it as part of the training curriculum. As a patrol we wrote up a proposal, which would be submitted to the Scoutmaster for approval.

Bobwhite Patrol prior to lift off of the S.S. Roberto Blanco!

The afternoon project was build and launching water propelled bottle rockets into the bright, blue sky. Patrols were giving 60 minutes to design and build their rocket using varying art supplies. The Bobwhite Patrol decided to pay homage to the ground bound bird that brought us together, the bobwhite. Dubbed the S.S. Roberto Blanco, we walked to the launch site, rocket in hand.

In Gilwell Order, we were the second patrol to launch our rocket. The rocket performed admirably, as Lisa Immel was tasked as the launch director, filling the rocket with propellant (and glitter) and then lighting the fuse or in this case pulling the pin. The rocket performed magnificent as the launch went off without a hitch, as Roberto Blanco rose in the afternoon sun. We figure it achieved a height of 50′-60′ feet before turning back for its decent back to Earth. Our patrol was overjoyed and celebrated success with our rocket, while the staff, dressed in pirate garb scored us in the mid 7 to 8 range, out of 10. When awards were handed out, we received the Scour Spirit award and felt it was fitting, as we had been keeping up song and yells as the Program Patrol.

The evening activity was interesting with back to back games featuring the Wood Badge Game Show, formed around the popular TV game show, Jeopardy. This was followed by a special guest and a game called The Game of Life (aka Win All YOU Can). These two game seemed to highlight where each patrol and the troop was overall. The leaders of Troop 1 continued to talk about patrol competition, reminding us that we were attempting to act as a troop. Stressing putting aside individual patrol achievements for the sake of the patrol. Not sure the message was completely received.

The Wood Badge Game Show was great fun with 8 different patrols attempting to answer scouting related questions. In the end, it mattered not who won, but that each patrol was supported by the others when answers questions right or wrong. We continue to talk about maintaining Scout Spirit. This was evidenced as the Eagles ended the game show on a -2100! But they were making attempts, unlike some other patrols who were more alert to their scores and appeared to be “in it to win it.”

The most important event of the evening was The Game of Life, as taught to us by a special guest from San Diego, a long time friend of Scoutmaster, Steve Laren. His energy was outstanding! The game was simple, with simple instructions and just 2 cards; beads and a log. Teams were required to hold of the two cards up. Many were mystified as to the scores in the first 3 rounds, but at the start of the 4th round, patrol leaders were called together in order to work as a team. Returning to patrols, we attempted to implement our plan. Unfortunately, the Foxes didn’t completely follow directions, which was met with a sigh from the other three patrols.

By the end of round 7, patrols understood the game, but there was much frustration throughout both sides of the room (4 patrols made up 1 team). Some were frustrated to the point of looking upset and calling out the offending patrols. In the end, the scores were irrelevant, as the the object of the game wasn’t “win all you can.” After discussion lead by our special guest, the title of the game could be changed to “you all can win!” In order to make this happen, which it did as teams scored 5000 and 4000 points respectively. The rules and idea of how the game was played changed midway through as teams realized how to work together in order to achieve for their patrol and team, eventually the entire troop.

The final day of the first weekend was short, as we were planning on departing by 5PM. After breakfast, thanks again to the great quartermaster staff, we assembled at Gilwell Field for flags and morning announcements. The Bobwhite Patrol gave one last blow of the Kudu as we passed on the responsibility to the Fox Patrol. We pinned Mike Oravec as Patrol Leader, while Stephen Toumi became the assistant. Praveen Nori took over scribe duties..

Morning lecture too place at the fire pit in the way of an instructional interfaith worship service. Lecture, prayer, song dotted the morning as we, as leader learned how to run a successful service on Sundays. At the conclusion of the service it was back to the lodge for a troop meeting, where we learned about the Learning EDGE and the Teaching EDGE, which built on the stages of team development.

The day was half over when lunch time arrived, things were about to get busier. After lunch the patol leaders had their daily PLC meeting, while the chaplin’s aides met as well, leaving the remaining scouters in their patrols, where they were left to work on their mission and vision statements in preparation for their 5 tickets items.

For me, I turned to Rand Mahoney, our Troop Guide, as I found how he chaired the JOTA/JOTI event for the MDSC at Pacificon in October. This amateur radio event is to introduce scouts to the wonders that are amateur radio, communicating with scouts locally and worldwide. It was mentioned that helping to setup and run the event in 2017 and potentially lead the event next year would fulfill a ticket.

I also began brainstorming leadership ideas to take back to Troop 93 in Brentwood. Being named as the Merit Bade Coordinator, I am hoping to slide by with an “easier” ticket, as the merit bade counselors need to be updated in order to provide leaders to train our boys. Other leadership ideas included some form of transition training for leaders crossing over with their sons from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. Taking it from personal experience, I was left with many questions and not many immediate answers.

With October quickly approaching, our SPL of Troop 93 put a call out for letters in from those boys interested to be the next SPL. Unfortunately, no one responded, which leaves the boys without an incoming leader and the adults left to decide the next move. What I would like to see is some sort of parallel training moving forward, where you could have an extra boy (or two) attend some SPL meetings to see what takes place in order to prepare these boys for their time as SPL or any other leadership position.

L to R: Rand Mahoney, Mike Oravec, Stephen Toumi, Matt Schroder, Praveen Nori, Lisa Immel. Bobwhites before the closing flag ceremony.

The same can be said for the adult leadership. We have a great Assistant Scoutmaster in Justin Aldridge. While I applaud him for his military service in the U.S. Coast Guard, his posting could be up inside of 2 years and he and his boys will be moving on. While this wouldn’t necessarily leave us without an assistant (we have 4 others, including myself), he is a wealth of information and experience, as well as a confident leader. His words of wisdom to the troop would be missed.

Other ideas include giving back as a part of the staff at LEAD, NYLT or Wood Badge. Guess my name could end up on a few lists at the completion of our course. However, at this time I could not see myself in that high profile of a leader position. Maybe I am selling myself short and I could do, we will see how my 5 ticket items come together in the next few weeks after I meet with Rand Mahoney.

The staff presented the conservation project we, the scouters will be working on when we return to Camp Herms. We heard from Sean, the park ranger at the camp, as he discussed what we will be doing in order to clean up parts of the camp, as the scouts are the one to maintain the facility.

The remainder of the afternoon consisted of watching the film October Sky, based off the book, Rocket Boys. “This movie is based on the first memoir in a series of three, by Homer Hickam, Jr. It is a story of growing up in a mining town, and a boy’s pursuit of amateur rocketry in a coal mining town.” More than a great story, its a chance to watch and examine how people apply skills of leadership, as seen from Homer, as well as his father, John. Both individuals have aspirations and dreams and their visions evolve and change as the movie progresses.

Aside from being a touching movie, it echoed with many things we had learned over this first weekend. More important, as highlight by SPL, Craig Mizutani as I began to reflect on the training personally, by observing traits in others, it is easier to improve traits in ourselves. That means change CAN happen on ALL levels; being a better person, a better leader, better friend, better spouse. I am not to afraid to admit I was a bit teary eyed at the end of this discussion and for the first time felt empowered to make change in my life on many levels.

The day concluded with the lowering of the flags at Gilwell Field, as the axe was removed from the log until next session. Staff leadership was on hand as we received positive feedback from Scoutmaster, Steve Laren as he closed the ceremony with one final song, “Is there a beaver in the house?”


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