Wood Badge participant reflects on her ‘life-changing experience’

Estrella-Wells (middle) shared plenty of laughs with her fellow Buffaloes.
After her first day of Wood Badge, Renee Estrella-Wells was tired and more than a little overwhelmed.

“It felt like not just one fire hose of information drowning you, but three,” she said. “I questioned who told me this was fun and if I should show them the definition of fun.”

By the second day, though, things started to change. The magic of Wood Badge started to appear.

Wood Badge, a national-level course hosted and staffed by local councils, is the BSA’s advanced leadership training for adults. After six days (one week or two three-day weekends), Scouters leave recharged and ready to tackle any problem Scouts throw their way.

And, as Estrella-Wells began to realize during her course with the Minnesota-based Northern Star Council, Wood Badge isn’t always easy, but it’s always a lot of fun.

A team forms

By Day 2, Estrella-Wells realized she and her fellow members of the Buffalo Patrol were becoming a team and starting to lean on and encourage one another.

They were “laughing through situations and keeping each other on track and moving forward,” she said.

Having a great troop guide helped. Each Wood Badge patrol is assigned a staff member who serves as their guide through the course. As the course progresses, the participants rely on the troop guide less and each other more.

“By the end of the first weekend we went home with a list of things we had to accomplish — project, patrol flag, menus, supplies, tickets, etc.,” Estrella-Wells said. “We all realized that we missed each other, and we were excited to see each other and tackle our list.”

They met twice in the time between the first and second weekend. They were “busy Buffaloes,” Estrella-Wells said, trading phone calls and emails and texts to make sure they were prepared for the second half of the course.

A team performs

Friday morning came, and the Buffaloes returned to camp for the second weekend. They soon realized their preparation and bonding time had paid off.

“The second weekend we had all prepared ourselves to be drowned, but we realized that we were actually floating — heck, we were swimming,” Estrella-Wells said. “We found ourselves bonding, laughing and relaxed.”

Just a few days into the course, Scouters who had wondered how they’d make it through were already dreading its end.

“As we came to the closing ceremony and sang our song for the last time as a troop, there were many misty eyes,” Estrella-Wells said.

Experiencing is believing

My policy when blogging about Wood Badge is to omit specifics about activities you’ll encounter at the course. You might call these posts spoiler-free.

Reading about Wood Badge only takes you so far. You must experience the course to understand how it will strengthen your Scout unit.

Estrella-Wells is a believer, and that’s why she contacted me with her story.

“If you ever thought about Wood Badge, I would suggest don’t wait. Take it as soon as you can,” she said. “I have made friends that I am sure will be lifelong friendships. I have learned many new tools that I can apply in my life, family, work and Scouts. The staff made an impact on so many of us; I am not sure they truly realize the huge effect that they had. It truly is a life-changing experience.”

Learn more

To find a Wood Badge course near you, contact your local council.


  1. I was on one of the earliest weekend Woodbadge courses. I was so confused after the 1st session I was ready to quit. Some scouters did. I completed the course and earned my beads.

    • The Troop Guides had practiced and practiced tying woggles but a little miscommunication it lead to much confusions and frustration. Which was really an excellent place to start because by the end of weekend 1 we were a team. Things kept improving. Wood Badge is a great learning experience.

  2. If this course makes them think they did a real experience and were overloaded, then we have gone downhill. The course in the 70’s was so much more plus it was directed at your program instead of trying to cover all of them.

    • I respectfully beg to disagree with you, Tom. I took a week long Wood Badge course in 1990 (NC-538 aka 312-41) which was taught using Scoutcraft Skills, and have been active now as a Scouter for close to 31 years. Two ticket items from 1990 were to join my district Boy Scout Roundtable and Boy Scout Adult Leader Training Staff. I am still working those ticket items. As I looked around in 2011-2012, I decided that most, if not all the current members of these staffs had either staffed or taken the newer version, and I wanted to be on the same page. It was definitely worth the time and effort, plus the newer version, taught using games and other methods is FUN! Yes, I am still in touch with a few of my original Patrol members, but I am also now in touch with many new (and younger friends), and reinvigorated after C3-312-12-1. BTW, the current course is still all about LEADERSHIP and teamwork, as was older version, but I truly believe I got a lot more out of the current course.

    • The course has far from gone downhill. Quite the contrary! It is a mountain top experience, and feeling overwhelmed is part of helping the participants truly experience the success of reaching the summit. I would suggest taking it again if it has been more than 15 years since you took it. Many Scouters do just that, retake the course, and they thoroughly enjoy the experience, and always learn something new.

      • No better way to improve your skills is to be an instructor. Volunteer to serve on a WB Staff. Our staff met 8 or 9 times in one year going over each day of the course & doing almost all the activities the participants do.

        I learned even more from the inside than I did from the outside. It was one of the best experiences I have had in Scouting. 5/7 of my patrol members (I was a Troop Guide) have completed their tickets & I am meeting with the other two over the next week . . . just under the 18-month window.

  3. I always wondered what was WB going to teach me that I didn’t already know after 40 years in Scouting. I was a single mother of 2 boys & had to work 4 jobs at one time to survive (BTW no car & most of time no TV in our apartment, a truly no frill existence), I had no time to do WB. Fast forward many years & a pep talk of shame was given to me by a dear friend, a man who got me into Scouts & who lived with severe health challenges all his life. Embarrassed & with no excuse, I took his challenge and registered for WB. I had the time of my life (despite coming down with pneumonia) I finished my tickets within 3 months & was beaded the day before my 69th birthday! I lived up to my ‘critter’ — the Beaver, and I’m a Silver one too!

  4. Woodbadge for the 21st Century Curriculum is by far the best development program I have been part of. As a professional educator, I believe all people in a leadership and educator role should attend. Too bad it is only for registered scouters. Nice story Renee!

      • It’s unfortunate that you had the experience described. My question for woofer – Did you work your Ticket ? Did you find meaning in the Servant LEadership model and opportunity to improve the camp, Troop or hook back to your own child thru the wood badge program?

        Truth is… No program is perfect but we can always do better… Hope we do just by result of you being honest and sharing…I think that much we can always embrace.

        Given that I don’t work for BSA nor any childhood Boy scout experience ..when I attended WB it was difficult to get time off work, and to endure..(no lie)

        I was encourage by a few good men to do WB SR901.
        It was not only the best decision of my adult life. I worked 6 tickets and never stopped. I have witnessed 8-9 years of amazing fruits and grace from 2 weekends and a year of service projects. Its not about the coffee.

        I can make some amazing French Press coffee in less than 5 minutes with my Reactor Stove and Backpacking Press.. Beyond the Coffee.  It’s really up to YOU.

        It’s how we respond to opportunities and adversity that matters most -Integrity.
        The World is a tough place…. Thank God for Scouting and MB.

        Something so simple built upon 12 truths and good folks.
        Try it again…come on down to Texas. 2nd Chances are often

        Here is my final thought — Wood Badge can be whatever you make it.
        Some folks goto wood badge and usscouts.org is what happpens as a result to make it better.

        Some Complain about the coffee. Leave your Mark.
        Leave a Legacy.

        God Bless.

  5. I was thrilled when it was over. A large group with small bladders and large prostates filled with coffee and the doors locked! One staffer told me they were intentionally frustrating us. I don’t need people trying to find fault and publicly humiliate adults and ask where their scout spirit is!

    • I don’t think that it was that they were trying to frustrate you, but giving you a lot to do in a short period of time. I had 2 things I didn’t like about the 1st weekend and one was that there wasn’t enough time and things seemed to be hectic. At RT, I ran across one of the other Troop Guides (not mine) who asked me what I thought. I told him and he said, “What do you think that a new Scout or parent feels like when they attend their first meeting if they have never been in a troop before? Doesn’t there seem to be a lot going on and in a boy-led troop, there may be a little chaos?” Maybe the point was to get you to understand what many Scouts/leaders feel that are new to Scouting?

      If I ever see a non-hectic (I won’t say chaotic) Boy Scout meeting, it usually means that the Troop is being ran by the adults rather than the Scouts.

    • Sorry your experience was that way. We were never humiliated. If we had any frustration either individually or with in a group our guides were there to help us through it. Yes it was hectic the first weekend..but if you sit back and think about it…it is meant to put you in the scout’s shoes.

  6. I was honored to complete Wood Badge at Gilwell Park in England with Transatlantic Council in 2016. Great course. I believe Wood Badge is a great course and strongly recommend. I started a course in 2001 with Silver Buffalo recipient Neil Lupton in Boston. I was never able to finalize the practical phase. I will get beaded at Normandy Beach in April.

    Transatlantic Council will be sponsoring a Wood Badge course in August 2017 at Camp Freedom near Ansbach, Germany. Please consider coming to Europe and going through our wonderful course!

    • I was 25 and Scoutmaster in Transatlantic Council when I took the old 10-day outdoor WB, course 802-3. Beaded in 1967, back in the States. About 20 year later, my local council insisted that I take the Cub Scout Leader Trainer WB, a week of mostly indoor classoom stuff; sorry to say, I didn’t finish my ticket ue to family problems. Chatting with Green Bar Bill a few years later, he asked my opinion of the two courses, as he was wrapping up a rewrite of the course that came with Boypower 76. He was not surprised that I had found the latter course somewhat weaker than the older one.

  7. Woofer, if you were humiliated or intentionally caused to be frustrated, your course director and staff did you wrong. There are parts of the course that cause frustration but they are meant to teach you real world lessons . Staffing my 3rd course and have never seen it done the way you’ve discribed.

  8. In retrospect on the course I took, I think that the main thing was forcing the patrol to work together to accomplish goals. The material was fine, but presented so quickly that it was next to impossible to assimilate everything. However, you gleaned the things necessary to accomplish your goals, and implemented them.

    I will often ask if someone has taken WB. If they say “no”, I tell the the appropriate response is “Not Yet!”

  9. I was talked into taking Wood Badge. It was one of the earlier courses – NECS 19 in 1986 in Rockville, RI. There were five of us in our “Den.” I had not one iota of a clue what I was doing and like Renee, was totally overwhelmed. However, because of one of the best staffs ever and the best group of fellow “den” members ever, I had the best experience of my life. One den member did not finish to receive her beads, but the other three, plus myself all attended each other’s beading ceremonies, even though we lived hundreds of miles from each other. We remained friends and tearfully attended the funeral of one of us. I went on years later to attend a Boy Scout Wood Badge course, plus the new 21st Century Wood Badge course; and served on many Wood Badge staffs. However, none could or would compare to the magic that happened on that very first Wood Badge course experience. That experience has dictated who I am today, and is why I have remained in the Scouting program for almost forty years.

  10. WOOD BADGE…. is the yellow brick road! I met with my SPL and Quartermaster who had just completed BrownSea Double Two, on the bus. I let them know straight out “Its your show”…. I’m there if you need me. When the bus pulled in to summer camp, the staffers came up to me, and started to give me instructions…. I said. ” Whoa….” I pointed the my SPL and Quartermaster and said “Tell them”! Where did you say our campsite was…..? Young Scouts were coming up to me asking me all kinds of questions. I ask them…. DID YOU TALK TO YOUR PATROL LEADER? DID YOU ASK THE QUARTERMASTER? It was around 3PM, I told the SPL to give me a heads up, and let me know what time he will be taking the troop to chow…. and what will be the uniform be. I ask the Quartermaster if they will be building a gateway, etc….. if you need help with materials let me know….. Mr SPL I would like about five minutes at the morning formation to make some announcements, and don’t forget to tell the new Scouts, I have home sick tea, and that if you don’t turn around three times after each swallow, it won’t work. Mr SPL will you be planning a wide game after dinner…… if so, I would like to sit in on the leadership council meeting….. But they will have to plan it.

  11. Is there an birth age when Wood Badge is no longer that important. I was in scouting when I was younger but left because of work. Its hard to commit when you work in a 24/7 work. I ended up being out of Scouting for 25 years and returned when I was 60 at a district level. I am now getting people asking me to take Wood Badge but I am not sure it is important at this time in my life.

      • A gentleman in our council had the same problem. He never had time when he was younger, and his wife was not keen on all the time he spent Scouting. After his wife passed away, he was determined – at the ripe old age of 74 – to do whatever it took to attend Wood Badge, He did and exclaimed that it was the best decision he ever made. He no longer felt left out when we were all together at a dinner, or whatever, and most of his friends got up to sing “the song!” He was presented with his 75- year veteran award and lived to his early nineties. He was a Scouter to the very end and coincidentially, was buried on Scout Sunday – in his crisp Scout uniform!

      • I was 57 and also a district Scouter. I have been in Scouting 35 years, both as a youth and adult Scouter. Wood Badge is the best thing I’ve ever participated in!

    • Only requirement is completion of position specific training. I did WB in 2007 when I moved from troop committee member to Unit Commissioner and tailored my ticket to requirements for the Arrowhead Award and Commissioner’s Key.

    • I just finished the course and we had ages 19-68! It’s an awesome opportunity for FOUR generations to be able to share knowledge!!

  12. My course was NE-III-78; every minute was a gold mine of information, and an insight into the scout’s point of view. You learn how a new scout feels from his first meeting, first camping trip, and the value team work….. the Patrol system. You’re shown, get to practice, and achieve all scout skills needed to reach 1st Class rank. Then there is the gift of the learning about and applying the ten leadership skills. I’ve been a volunteer scouter for 40 years, and of all the training (Unit, District, Council) I received… Wood Badge is the zenith!

  13. I had the honor of attending both one of the last Cub Scout Wood Badge Courses, NE-CS-55-10 and one of the last Scoutcraft Skills Boy Scout Wood Badge Courses, NE-ll-104-11. They were truly a life altering experience for me thanks to the excellent Scouters that Staffed them. They were such great instructors.

    Being inspired by them, I went on to be part of the Staff that introduced the first new Wood Badge Course, NE-ll-109 in our Council and will never forget that experience either. It was truly an honor to be part of such a dedicated group of Scouters. I continue to encourage every Scouter to attend a Wood Badge Course.

    “Who hath smelt wood-smoke at twilight? Who hath heard the birch-log burning? Who is quick to read the noises of the night? Let him follow with the others, for the young men’s feet are turning to the camps of proved desire and known delight!

  14. Philmont Leadership Challenge is a great follow up to Wood Badge. It is a mountaintop experience, literally a Lover’s Leap experience. I took it in 2014 and it is the best training I have ever taken. Plus it is at Philmont! There is a course in July and September this year.

  15. I became an “All Gnawing Beaver” in 1984 and have been involved in 14 more courses over the years. I have seen many changes … some for the better and a few that removed skills, assuming they would be learned in some other training.
    My course director has been my mentor through all the years since, even when I was leading a course or serving on the staff of other courses. Many of the challenges I have taken on since those days have succeeded through the use of skills learned in that original course,… indeed, without that training, I might never have taken on those challenges in the first place.

  16. S2-215-17

    My patrol, the Beavers, gelled after we played the villain in the game that is played by voting Axe & Log or Beads. After the response we got, we all reveled in that role because we never lost sight of the fact that it is a game.

    I made five friends in Scouting that I never would have known otherwise. I have made connections with unit, district, and council level leadership that I never would have had otherwise. I learned a lot about my strengths and, more importantly, about my weaknesses.

    I highly recommend Wood Badge for anyone that wants to push their boundaries in Scouting.

  17. I attended my Woodbadge course in the Andrew Jackson Council S1-303-11-1. His year I had the honor to be a Troop Guide for course S1-303-17-1. It was a great experience and I learned a lot that I didn’t grasp as a participant. I highly recommend the Woodbadge course.
    Rick Kolar
    Scoutmaster Troop 164

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