'Scouting at Its Best'
By George Tipton Wilson
The Chickasaw Council's biennial Scout Base mega-camporee draws Scouts from several states to a spectacular weekend of unforgettable Scouting experiences.
On a Friday evening in October, hundreds of Boy Scout tents sprouted at the Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington, Tenn., about 15 miles outside Memphis.
Early the following morning, the campers were awake, preparing breakfast, and eagerly looking to the skies. They were awaiting the arrival of the Golden Knights, the Army's crack parachute team.
Suddenly an advance sky diver was seen descending unerringly toward an X-marked spot on the tarmac. The image of Old Glory emerged from the red, white, and blue smoke trailing the other divers, and the Navy Band Mid-South struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The parachute team presented a flag to the color guard, and as it was hoisted to the top of the flagpole, the assembled Scouts recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Scout Base 2004 was officially under way.
'Biggest and best'
The attendance for the three-day camporee was announced as more than 12,0009,000 Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers, 1,600 staff volunteers, and 1,500 parents and visitorsprompting event chairman David A. Pickler to call it "the biggest and best council event in the nation."
Most of the campers were from West Tennessee, North Mississippi, and Northeast Arkansas, Pickler said, "but some came from Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We had 10 different councils sending Scouts."
The biennial super-camporee is a cooperative effort of the Chickasaw Council and the Naval Support base, which Pickler called "an amazing partnership. Not only have they offered us their facilities but also the helpfulness of their personnel to keep the program moving smoothly."
During the weekend, the base commanding officer, Capt. Helen F. Dunn, could be seen working with camporee leaders to ensure they received full cooperation from the Navy.
"Scouting's commitment to instilling strong values, building strong leaders, and teaching skills that will last a lifetime resonates deeply with Navy core values: honor, courage, and commitment," she noted.
The camporee had three major program areas:
"This shows Scouting at its best," commented Gerald Gaul, a retired FedEx engineer, who was visiting with his wife, Cheryl, and observed Scouts participating in Indian dancing, survival training, scuba diving, and crossing monkey bridges. "The Scouts are learning patriotism, honor, and many areas of knowledge."
A jamboree-like experience
The origin of Scout Base as a council event goes back to 1987, when the Chickasaw Council held its first large-scale camping weekend at the facility, then known as Naval Air Station Memphis.
In 1995, the base's name and duties changed, and it was not until four years later that David Pickler was asked to bring back the Scout Base weekend with an entirely new concept.
"We had 25,000 Scouts in the counties served by the council," he said. "Every four years we might send about 150 of them to the national Scout jamboree. We wanted to offer that kind of jamboree experience to all the Scouts in the Mid-South on a regular basis."
The first jamboree-like Scout Base was in 2000.
"We had perfect weather and a good turnout of about 4,300 Scouts and Scout leaders," Pickler said. "That showed we could stage such a large-scale event, presenting a great program that leaders would want to bring their boys to."
For 2002, organizers added a Venture Island area, expanded the merit badge midway, and added an arena show concept. But torrential rains hampered the weekend, canceling events like the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs parachute team.
"Even with all the rain, we had about 7,200 Scouts and other participants," Pickler noted. "And we delivered 100 percent programming."
Dick Howard, Crittenden district commissioner and a member of the planning committee for Scout Base 2004, was enthusiastic about the event becoming more regional in scope.
"Many Scouts are from small communities where they would never have the chance to experience some of the great activities they have here," he noted.
Action Center action
At the Cub Scout Action Center, Ross Rhodes and Ben O'Connor, both 8, of Pack 56 in Collierville, Tenn., enjoyed attractions like the "Way Out West" Dude Ranch, where they could saddle horses and learn to milk cows.
At the Boy Scout Action Center, some youngsters were introduced to scuba diving, while others learned wilderness survival from an expert. Still others were intrigued with Dutch-oven cooking demonstrations.
Francis Nayan, 12, of Memphis Troop 334, said he enjoyed activities staffed by Navy personnel. One of the most popular was the flight simulator, where boys were constantly in line for a chance to experience taking off from an aircraft carrier, going into aerial combat, and returning to the flight deck.
Jermarcus Champion, 14, of Memphis Troop 761, said he worked on the Fly Fishing merit badge at Scout Base 2002 and now was interested in Auto Mechanics at the merit badge midway. Among the Proud Heritage presentations he enjoyed most was Hometown Heroes, where he joined a constant circle of Scouts studying a Memphis Police Department helicopter and a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172.
The Venturing Action Center, across the base at Navy Lake, included a kayak challenge; a triathlon featuring archery, air rifle, and running; and a timed team competition that involved a biathlon (biking and running), horizontal traverse climbing, canoeing, and orienteering.
Victor Foster, 19, and Tricia Goetzka, 18, both mechanical engineering students at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, came back to Memphis just to attend Scout Base. They are members of Venturing Crew 255.
"We enjoy testing both our mental and physical skills," Tricia said. "I have learned so much from this program."
At the base conference center, command post for the Scout leaders, Gene Bradberry presided over an extensive collection of Boy Scout memorabilia.
Bradberry has been active in Scouting since he became a Cub Scout in 1947, and much of the display, including vintage uniforms, insignia, and equipment, came from his own collection.
He was pleased to see Scout Base become such a hit, because now more campers than ever will have a chance to add some special moments to their personal collection of Scouting memories.
Freelance writer George Tipton Wilson lives in Memphis, Tenn.
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