Thursday, June 12, 2008

Not the Boy Scouts

News of their storm-related deaths cut through me like a knife. It’s not supposed to happen that way. But it nearly happened to me and my troop. I know the terrors of a storm-filled campout.

Troop 5, Austin, Texas, had a long tradition of strong adult leaders turning out great kids of all ranks. Ours was oldest and largest troop in the city. Still is.

But my first weekend campout as a green Scoutmaster was pretty bad. Near disastrous.

We were spending the weekend at a Boy Scout wilderness camp in Bastrop State Park about 30 miles from Austin. Weather forecasting was not as sophisticated then and cell phones had not been invented.

After supper, the storm hit with a sudden fury. Fierce ball lightening zapped through the trees. The rains fell in torrents. Soon, even our best tents were sopping, inside and out. As a last resort, we crammed the boys into the few vehicles we had in an effort to get dry and maybe catch some sleep. I think I finally managed some sleep around 3:30 in the morning.

Throughout Central Texas many people died that night. Thirteen, I think. Fortunately, none at our campsite. But a scout troop at another location was marooned for hours by a raging river out of its banks.

Next morning, we were all still wet, cold and groggy. There was no dry firewood within miles but a 12-year-old said he could fix that with “Scout juice.” Before I could collect my senses, the kid poured Coleman fuel on the twigs – and tossed in a match.

Fwump. A huge fireball jumped up his face. I was terrified that a child had been blinded. But we were lucky. Singed eyelashes, that’s all.

Two days later, we returned the boys to their grateful parents and I vowed to never again put my scouts in the path of danger – any danger. I would get prepared. For the next four years, I took every training course offered to adult leaders. And enjoyed many a wonderful campouts every month with the kids.

Those young men are in their 40’s today. Several are still active with the old troop. They may not remember that awful night in Bastrop. But I will never forget it.

And I know this: today, Scouts everywhere remember those young men who were killed and injured last night in the tornado that struck the Little Sioux Scout Ranch near Omaha.

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