When the boys of Troop 128 sat down to watch The Guardian, the Kevin Costner action flick about Coast Guard rescue swimmers, they had no idea what was in store for them. They didn't know that hours later they would be learning some of the thrilling lifesaving tactics employed in the movie.
But Sandy Ingle, assistant Scoutmaster of the North Florida Council troop, knew what was the boys were in for. He recently shared with Cracker Barrel the exciting story of his troop's weekend trip. Follow the jump to hear about the weekend in his words and to learn about how your troop can plan a similar adventure.
It's the latest installment in our What a Weekend series in which we highlight the fun that you and your pack, troop, or crew have all year. If you have a story to share, e-mail us.
"What a Weekend" by Sandy Ingle
Although the activity had been in planning for more than two years, the high-level secrecy surrounding the mission meant that only two adult leaders knew all the details of the Mystery Trip. Once a year, members of Boy Scout Troop 128 embark on a weekend camp-out where the destination and activities planned are designed to be a surprise.
On April 23, the Scouts left the parking lot of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church for parts unknown, and they found themselves at a former drive-in theater. They set up camp and settled in to watch a movie on the big screen. That night's feature was The Guardian, which tells the story of a legendary Coast Guard senior-chief rescue-swimmer (Kevin Costner) and his young pupil (Ashton Kutcher.)
The movie was exciting, but the boys still had no clue what the activities of the weekend might include, nor could they figure out why they had been instructed to bring their swim suits when the drive-in theater didn't have a pool or lake.
The next morning, when their adult leaders appeared at flag ceremony in Navy uniforms, and their senior patrol leader sported a mask, fins, and snorkel, the cat came out of the bag.
It was then that they learned that the troop had been enrolled in the U.S. Navy's Rescue Swimmer School. The boys were treated to tasty meals ready to eat (MREs) for breakfast before they piled into the troop van. Then they proceeded to Naval Air Station-Jacksonville for a day of fun.
The first stop was at Building 614 for physical training (seen above), which was hosted by the staff of the Rescue Swimmer School.
After working up a good sweat, they toured the indoor pool and learned the 11 steps a rescue swimmer performs in saving a downed pilot.
They had races in inflatable rafts and simulated a water entry from a helicopter by jumping from a 10-foot tower.
After a quick change, the boys learned all about helicopters, ordinance, piloting, and rescue swimmer gear. They asked questions about flight, flares, fuel tanks, first aid, flight suits, and everything they could think of.
They sat in the co-pilot's seat, climbed on board a tow tractor, tried on a crash helmet, were carried on a stretcher, and sat in a rescue basket.
The next stop was the Navy Exchange food court for lunch. They thought the chow was great, but they thought not having to cook was even better.
Saturday afternoon brought open-water training at Mulberry Cove Marina. Scouts received instruction in kayaking and were towed on tubes behind ski boats by adult volunteers.
Then they returned to the indoor pool for lifesaving competition, including an underwater distance swim, diving brick recovery, and a free swim.
That night, the boys returned to camp to cook dinner on gas stoves, learn about radio direction-finding (RDF), and practice grid-search techniques.
Surprisingly, there were no complaints when lights-out was called by senior patrol leader Kurtis Spaid.
On Sunday morning, the Scouts converged on Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park to conduct a search drill for a "lost" camper.
It took the boys less than 15 minutes using RDF and grid-search techniques to find missing "11-year-old Timmy Brannan" (played by a Scout from another troop.)
Timmy's "broken ankle" was splinted, and he was transported out of the woods with a makeshift stretcher.
Tips for working with military facilities
Here are a few suggestions for volunteers seeking cooperation with military facilities:
Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, military commands were enthusiastically encouraged to facilitate visits by Scout units. Today, however, visits are a hit-and-miss proposition.
We found direct contacts with personnel in individual tenant commands to be much more useful than approaching the base's commanding officer. We were fortunate to have adult leaders with military backgrounds who had friends still on active duty.
The active-duty friends put us in touch with the decision makers at the commands we wanted to visit (like the Rescue Swimmer School).
Once we had the key destinations lined up, we put together a schedule, plugged in the details (like meals and logistics) and circulated it for approval.
We also planned alternative activities for each period in case of rain.
Finally, we made an effort to keep all relevant parties and local media up to date on our plans.
Thanks, Sandy, for sharing your weekend with us!