Scouting and Wood Badge

A couple years ago, I decided I should complete the Scouting Wood Badge (WB) program.  This was kind of driven by two things, both my thought that I needed to “up my game” as far as Scouting goes, and also due to numerous recommendations by Scouting friends.  It’s quite the time commitment, six days of “classroom” training, and then five projects you do to benefit your Troop or other Scouting organization; these typically take about a year of effort to complete.

My five ticket items were a mix.  The easiest one to complete was the BSA Trainers Edge course, which is one day on site.  I figured it would not be useful, but it turned out to be very useful, even to a guy who has done a lot of presenting in his career.  I had one ticket item getting our Troop to be able to put on a backpacking program.  Another item was to enhance availability of Merit Badges to our Scouts by the Troop, and one more item to enhance recruiting of new Scouts from the geographical area around our Chartering Organization.  Finally, I had a ticket item to give service to the District organization our Troop is part of.  I completed the five items and am waiting to be awarded the Wood Badge in the next month or so.

Naturally, I have been reflecting on the WB program during this process.

First, I have to say that the impetus given by the ticket items really helped with getting some things done for the Troop that needed doing.  One I actually consider a failure; the recruiting effort had little success.  However, I did come up with some new ideas for next year, so I will consider it an item to be built on.   The other two Troop related items were completely successful, and the backpacking item I am particularly proud of.  The District service is a continuing effort.

26 January 2016 update:  A note on the ticket item I refer to as a failure in the previous paragraph.  I was trying a direct mail effort to 35 churches and schools in the area of our Troop meeting place, asking to let us come by and recruit for our Troop.  I got one response back out of 35, which I was very disappointed by.  I was bothered enough by it that I ginned up a second letter, with a postcard enclosed asking for feedback on why they didn’t want us to recruit.  This one got six responses asking us to come recruit.  So maybe not so much of a failure, but I still wonder why there were so many non-responses the first time.  Back to the blog post:

As I said, WB starts with a six-day commitment, and for me, that was the hardest part of the program, as I am fairly booked up by family and work.  I bit the bullet and signed up for the course as presented in two three-day chunks, over a pair of Thursday-Saturdays about three weeks apart (there are WB courses that happen in a single six-day block alsob).  In both cases, I ended up on business travel the first part of each week, which meant arriving in camp very late Wednesday the first week, and getting in to OKC at 2200 Wednesday the second week, and then getting up at 0430 to get down to camp by 0700 Thursday morning.  The first session was essentially booked with stuff 0700 – 2100 all three days except the last, which was depart at 1700.  The second session had some blocks of time for doing stuff in camp and relaxing.

Wood Badge has a number of objectives, and the primary objective is team building.  There are a number of activities like games, videos, and briefers on these topics.  Some of it was useful to me, some not so much, but overall a positive.  I’ve read about the theory of WB, and the designers are very certain that in order to form a team, it must be forged in the heat of – something.  Battle, or intense work, stress, or conflict.  I think that’s why the days are so full, it’s meant to stress people.  There was also a lot of ritual involved for everything, which is meant to enhance a sense of belonging and binding to the other people you are with.

The staff for our WB had obviously put in a heck of a lot of work to make the sessions work.  They were up before we were and went to be after we did, and in talking to them they had been meeting and camping and working together for almost a year before the actual WB course.  That’s a level of commitment that is very impressive.  The meals and infrastructure were well done.

There is some improvement in the Wood Badge program I think could be made. The biggest (this could sound elitist, but I don’t mean it to), I think that the basic orientation to Scouting parts of WB should be eliminated, to include the camping practicum, the model campsite, and the like.  There were a lot of people in my WB class that were new to Scouting.  Of the five guys in my patrol, I was the only one that had been through BALOO, IOLS, and Scoutmaster Fundamentals (for those who don’t know, BALOO is training to take Cub Scouts camping, and IOLS and SMF are basic training for Boy Scout Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters); on top of that I’ve been involved in Scouting since I was a kid.  I’m a fan of training, and I think that making SMF/IOLS a prerequisite for WB would help BSA with getting leaders fully trained (and I think that you should be able to “test out” of IOLS with experience, which all of our guys had).

I guess what I’m saying here is that you shouldn’t be at the premier, advanced training for Scouting if you don’t have the basic training completed, and at least some practical experience.  I would rather the time I am volunteering (and the associated dollars I am paying) be used for enhancing the direct objective of the course, instead of rehashing stuff I already know.  The structure of the course (patrols/troop) is good, appreciated, and 100% relevant to the course objective, but it shouldn’t have to be explained at length.

The accommodation concept was for the participants to sleep in wall tents the first session, then set up a patrol-based campsite for the second session.  I would rather be in a patrol camp both sessions, and perhaps have more time to spend with my patrol members in the camp in the evenings, rather than go with courses until late.  The mix of dining hall meals and cooked in camp meals was a good mix.

Wood Badge ended up costing me about $750, aside from the annual leave I used to attend the four days during the two workweeks.  That breaks down to $200 for the course, about $100 in transportation to the course and back (I rented a SUV for the second half to carry equipment for the service project we performed), about $250 for the Trainers Edge (I took it in Dallas, and so I had a couple hotel nights plus the course fee), and then about $200 in costs for copying pertaining to the recruiting ticket item (which was higher than I thought it would be).  I could have avoided the cost for Trainers Edge had I taken it in OKC (I had schedule conflicts for various offered TE courses through the end of 2015, almost all for Scouting activities).

The service project our course built in camp was a lot of fun, although it was also very sweaty.  Everyone worked and got it done very quickly.

So overall, I enjoyed the Wood Badge experience.  I think the bottom line on it is that completing the ticket items and the awarding of the beads is, for me, a milestone on a path ahead in service to youth.  I think that the lessons learned will help me continue to support my Troop, my District (and perhaps Council at some point), and my other service interests, in particular the Girl Scouts and St. John’s.

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