ACLU Vs. The Boy Scouts
I was troubled, but not surprised to read this article today. A federal judge ruled back in June that the Pentagon could no longer help fund the Boy Scouts' National Jamboree held every four years at Fort A.P. Hill (Virginia). The quadrennial event gathers young men from across the nation for a week of fun, learning, and fellowship. The U.S. Military has provided support for the event, as well as, the location in years past. Apparently quite a bit of support - roughly $7 million a pop - but I would argue that this expense is well worth it.
I attended one of these Jamborees at Fort A.P. Hill back in 1993. It was an experience of a lifetime and I am thankful for the opportunity. I spent a week camping, boating, shooting, fishing, biking, socializing and countless other activities. The National Jamborees provide an opportunity for scouts from all over the country to come together and share in their diversity - scouts from similar geographical regions camp near one another, setting up displays and activities focused on their home locals. The year I was there, I remember seeing one of the groups from Utah had set up some dinosaur displays and the group from Puerto Rico erected a ship. More important than seeing these regional displays was the opportunity to meet the people - to talk with them and learn about their experiences (both scouting and none).
This was not my only experience of scouting on a military installation. In fact, a good portion of my scouting life was possible through the use of governmental facilities. I grew up as an Army brat, moving every couple years from one base to another - both stateside and in Europe. Mine was not the typical scouting experience, but I believe it has given me some insight into this issue. I spent roughly eleven years growing up involved in the scouting movement and I know I benefited from the military, but I also believe my fellow scouts and I gave something back.
My Eagle Scout project, for example, was a nature trail built by my troop and members of the community. We selected an area, cut the trail, laid wood chips, and identified vegetation along the trail to provide a place for walkers, joggers and nature enthusiasts to spend some leisure time. Because all of this took place on a military base in Germany (read U.S. Government soil), I needed special permission and also received special help. I worked with the Building and Maintenance Director, Tom Hayes. He assisted with the approval of the project, as well as providing the materials (dirt, mulch, sign posts, wood) and labor (regulations required that Army Engineers build the footbridge). I benefited from his assistance and the community has a nature trail, which they can still use ten years after it was originally put in.
My brother’s Eagle project was similar in his need for approval and assistance. Building and Maintenance had an older building on the base that was in disrepair. Using materials they provided, my brother and supporters cleaned, painted, and tiled this building and got it into a condition the military could use. You cannot tell me that the labor provided by the Boy Scouts in these two cases did not benefit the community and the military.
Another instance was in our annual Christmas tree sales. Since German’s do not put up and decorate Christmas trees in their living rooms like we do, there aren’t tree farms all over the place and you can’t go to the local corner lot and pick up a tree come December. As a fundraiser, my Boy Scout troop (and troops in other communities, not just military) would sell trees. One year in particular, we had a company of scouts (that would be army scouts – U.S. soldiers) who ‘helped’ us with the tree harvesting. I put helped in quotations because all my Boy Scout troop did was pay for the trees. The soldiers cut down the trees, loaded them in trucks and delivered them. This was a training exercise for them. I’m not an expert in the military or anything, but I can see the practical applications of this (I wish I could find the newspaper write-up about this online somewhere, but it was nine years ago and things have not been archived, I guess). We then sold the trees to the community. Yes we made money, but it was also a great service. Each tree, no matter its size sold for $10. Even ten years ago that was a steal.
I am sure there are countless other examples of the military benefiting from aiding the Boy Scouts, but that isn’t the reason I think the money the Pentagon is spending at A.P. Hill is worthwhile. This month, over 40,000 Boy Scouts and leaders are going to gather in Virginia. These are boys that are going to spend that week, not on the street, not doing drugs, not joining gangs, but in the woods, teaching, learning, and growing. It is also the only chance many of these teens will get to see the inside of a military base. I know from talking with soldiers that a good number of them were Boy Scouts as young men. Who can say how many of these Scouts will be turned on to the military by their week at A.P. Hill? With the military missing recruiting goals and having news stories about recruitment problems, isn’t this an opportunity for showing off for up and coming prospects? Not to mention the fact that the Boy Scouts teach their members skills used by the military all the time. Any recruit joining the military that has Scouting experience should have a leg up on others.
I'm interested in the fallout from this. The article says the Boy Scouts expect the government to appeal the decision and it is too soon to know what else may come of this. Will it put an end to any and all support for the Boy Scouts on military installations? I hope not.