Army veteran serves Scouting overseas.
JOHN CASS QUIT Cub Scouting in the third grade, only to return a couple of years later to join Boy Scout Troop 200 in Toledo, Ohio. A stern warning from his mother (“If you quit this, it will be the last thing you join.”) kept him motivated, as did a 1984 Philmont trek and the 1985 National Scout Jamboree. At that jamboree, which marked the BSA’s Diamond Jubilee, Cass vowed to return for the 100th Anniversary jamboree. And he did, serving as Scoutmaster for the Transatlantic Council’s jamboree troop last summer.
During a 24-year Army career, Cass held positions ranging from den leader to district committee member in a half-dozen councils. Now an Army civilian worker in Stuttgart, Germany, he leads a troop that serves military dependents and children of American businesspeople.
How do you deal with the challenges of leading a BSA program overseas?
This really depends on your point of view. If you look at the challenges—language barriers, unknown terrain, rotational Scouts, and parents—as opportunities, the positives far outweigh the potential negatives. Language barriers are a problem, but I would say there are few troops in Europe that don’t have a native speaker among their resources. Unknown terrain is a challenge, but Europe is built for outdoor enjoyment; maps, guidebooks, etc., are easily accessible. Having parents and Scouts rotate out on an annual basis presents some challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to keep the program fresh and take in new ideas every year.
How do you deal with families rotating in and out every year?
The problem is synchronizing what other troops do and how our troop operates. We offset much of this by offering a “Troop 324 101” session every September that orients Scouts and parents about how the troop camps, as well as our policies and procedures. Additionally, we offer September and January troop orientations that coincide with the major rotation cycles. We also place a great emphasis on troop leadership training to ensure all Scouts are on the same sheet of music.
Are your Scouts usually involved in Scouting before and after their time in Germany?
Many of the Scouts who rotate in do come from a Scouting background. They range in rank from Tenderfoot to Eagle Scout. You never know who will show up. It’s kind of fun. Most who return to the States stay in contact and are often grateful for their experiences in Europe.
Does your troop interact with Scouts and leaders from German Scouting associations?
Living in Europe gives you a real sense of world Scouting. Most camporees include German troops. They are very open and willing to engage with Scouts of other nations.
What kind of camping opportunities does your troop have?
Camping in Europe is incredible. You can do incredible outings from canoeing on a river with locks to climbing 7,000-foot peaks. We build snow shelters in the Swiss Alps, do mountaineering in the German Alps, and camp with European Scouts. Where stateside units might go to their local camps for winter cabin camping, we might go to a centuries-old castle.
How do you raise money in an overseas setting?
Each unit seems to find a niche money-earning project that is needed by the base and helps with the quality of life for those military members based overseas. For example, our troop does an annual Christmas tree sale, as well as quarterly barbecue-sandwich sales that cover our expenses. We are required to do the same paperwork any private organization would have to do to earn money on a military facility.
How do your expenses compare with stateside troops?
Our travel expenses can be significant, but again you have to think European. The train is a cheap and affordable means of group travel in Europe, and significant reductions that minimize the costs are given to youth groups.
Where have you faced the most challenges overseas?
In 2000-2001 I was involved in a Direct Service Council pack in Oslo, Norway. We had to order awards a month in advance, often over the phone, which meant some pretty late nights. Training was not available, and literature was difficult to find and obtain. Returning to Germany in 2006 I was amazed at what benefits are available online. The Online Learning Center, BSA literature, and the BSA Web site have made an incredible difference in the Scouting program overseas.