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Marines can hone leadership skills by volunteering with the Boy Scouts

July 3, 2016 (Photo Credit: Navy)

Calling all scouts. No, I don't mean scout snipers. I'm talking about the Boy Scouts of America.

Marines might be surprised to find out how much they have in common with scouts. In fact, the founder of scouting, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, (B-P for short) was a lieutenant general in the British army back in the late 1800s. His book, "Aids to Scouting for NCOs and Men," prompted many young men to learn about the skills needed to be a scout in the army.

The vision statement of the Boy Scouts of America calls for character development and values-based leadership training. The program offers young people fun and adventure, and instills in them lifelong values and ethical character traits. Scouts are trained in citizenship, service and leadership, and they serve America's communities.

I know that's a lot to digest, but let me break it down, Barney-style. "Responsible fun and adventure" sounds like your typical weekend safety brief, right? Instilling lifetime values from the Scout Law: "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent" can easily translate to honor, courage, and commitment. Training in service and leadership? Take a look at your promotion warrant.

Still not convinced? Much like smartphones have applications for everything, Boy Scouts have merit badges for everything. There's always an opportunity to be a merit badge counselor.

Boy Scouts experience day in the life
Cpl. Matthew Barnes, an assaultman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, observes the Mark 19 Grenade Launcher as a Boy Scout prepares to fire at the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Charles Santamaria/Marine Corps

Are you in motor-transport? You could teach automotive maintenance or truck transportation. Are you a pilot? Try aviation. Are you a data/communications maintenance nerd like me? There are electricity, electronics, radio and robotics merit badges. Maybe you're in combat camera? You could teach videography or photography. Are for infantrymen just really into marksmanship, there's coaching on rifle shooting, shotgun shooting, archery and even pistol marksmanship.

Those are just a few of the 117 merit badges a scout can currently earn. Even if you don't have a military occupational specialty that lines up with a merit badge, your hobbies probably do. There are badges for athletics, chess, climbing, farm mechanics, fishing, golf and horsemanship, just to name some.

The scouting program is professionally guided, but run by volunteers. That means that while there is just only a handful of people who get paid to coordinate all the logistics, there are enough volunteers across the U. S. to support more than 100,000 scout units. But that certainly doesn't mean we couldn't use more.

In addition to the 117 merit badges that can be taught, there are also seven ranks to earn, each of which with at least 10 requirements. That adds up to 187 opportunities for Marines to impart some of their skills and knowledge.

For Marines wondering what's in this for them, volunteering is never a bad thing. Having some time documented looks good on counselings and fitness reports, especially when backed up with letters of appreciation. It can even lead to personal awards. I recently was awarded the Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for three years of continuous service to a local Boy Scout troop.

It's also good for leadership development. Ever wonder what you can do differently to better lead your junior Marines? Try leading about 20 13-year-olds. One method that I've learned is leadership through mentorship. Since I'm closer to the scouts' age, they tend to take what I say to heart. I'll be teaching them skills, and before I know it, they're performing and teaching the younger scouts in return.

Lastly, being in a Boy Scout troop is fun. Most troops will go on a weekend outing at least once a month, play some form of team-building game before every meeting, and some even offer special leadership training for both youth and adults. If that's not enough, you can usually get out of work early to attend meetings and camp outs.

When I first joined the troop as an adult, I was hesitant to stick with it. I felt like an outsider because I didn't grow up in that troop and didn't have a son involved in the group. But those feelings disappeared after just a few meetings. Just because you're not a parent, doesn't mean it's weird to volunteer with the youth, and definitely doesn't mean you can't be a good mentor.

When I earned the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts, I had made a promise to give back to the scouting program 10 times what was invested in me. That promise is what has driven me to become more active in the community. Even those who were never in the Boy Scouts should give volunteering with a troop a try. If nothing else, it's a good life experience.

Marines interested in getting involved who don't know where to start can search for troops near their base. Another good way to get involved is by talking with other Marines in your command. I happened to join a troop that my former company gunnery sergeant and first sergeant had kids involved in. My company executive officer's son recently earned his Eagle Scout rank, so I now know some people involved in that troop, too.

Chances are that most Marines probably know somebody with a son involved in the scouting program.

Cpl. Eric Stern is currently assigned to the North Carolina-based 2nd Maintenance Battalion.  

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