Another Boy Scout Leader Rescue

I never wanted to join the Boy Scouts. My parents tried to get me to join, but I resisted. I loved the outdoors, but on my own terms not in a paramilitary regimented fashion. I always bristled at the bureaucracy and autocracy that scouts represented to me. Thirty years later, my oldest son asked to join the Cub Scouts. I supported this knowing I would have to deal with the same bureaucracy and autocracy. There were adult leaders who never were supervisors or managers in their careers and being put in charge brought the worst out of them. This was no different than teaching Sunday school or other volunteer pursuits where we see the passive aggressive bully come out of people.

I worked as a park ranger, so I grew up rescuing Boy Scouts and Boy Scout leaders. I had no use for either. I’d seen scouts set forest fires, vandalize monuments, and cause mayhem. I’d rescued scouts from canyons, mountains, and rivers. I’d seen scouts injure others, die, and get hurt. The scout leaders I‘d rescued were always worse than the scouts themselves. There were books detailing Boy Scout rescues.

So, when my son decided he wanted to join scouts I was cautious. We survived through Cub Scouts and made it to Boy Scouts with minimal trauma, scaring, and bad behavior. We had the scout leader who sent e-mails in all caps. There was the passive aggressive leader, the bully leader, and the know-it-all leader. Each justified why I taught leadership and management in the form of Situational Leadership, DISC Behavioral Analysis, and Emotional Intelligence. I tried to informally share these topics with my fellow scout leaders. I taught in Wood Badge the Boy Scout adult leadership program, but some people won’t change.

The scout troop I was in had a leader who was a bully. This bully would manipulate, cajole, or outright muscle his way to get what he wanted. He had been enabled to the point where the scoutmaster was a token leader like some foreign nation with a puppet government actually being run by a behind the scenes despot. This bully would yell at the scouts, the parents, and anyone who got in his way. I was an out-of-towner. I did not grow up in this small town. The leaders were all local people who grew up together.

The bully controlled all aspects of the scout troop including leadership, membership, and advancements. The troop was the largest, wealthiest, and most active in the county. Those attributes allowed the bully to operate with complete autonomy. Traits that would have gotten him fired in a business allowed his to flourish as a volunteer. I saw red flags early on, but tried to overlook them like the bully bringing a gun to a scout meeting. He did not show it to everyone, but he showed me. We live in the south, so guns are part of the culture.

The bully was a four hundred pound fire marshal. He was drummed out of the army for failing to pass his physical fitness test. The bully was transferred from the fire department to the fire marshals because he could no longer fit into his fire protection suit. His weight was so great he would have to sleep in his vehicle sitting up on camp outs for fear of his stopping from breathing due to his great girth. The bully controlled campouts, so they fit his physical limitations. He fabricated physical fitness forms saying he was fit to be a scout leader.

As my son advanced in scout rank so my inability to deal with the bully grew. I bailed out on a campout after the bully started to yell at both youth and adults. This was a river trip where everyone canoed except for the bully who brought a motor boat. We warned the bully about the shallow conditions, but he did not listen. He damaged the propeller on his boat and had to be towed twelve miles down the river by an adult on foot who had to tow the bully by wearing a rope coiled around his waist attached to the bully’s boat like some kind of biblical epic. The bully yelled commands the whole way from inside the damaged boat. I left as soon as he started yelling at people. He apologized later, like bullies frequently do.

The next campout was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The campout was on a remote coastal barrier island with no cell phone coverage. After setting up camp we decided to take the scouts on a four mile hike to the beach. We advised the bully not to come as his obesity would not allow him safely to make the hike. At four hundred pounds, he clearly did not pass the Boy Scout physical fitness standards. The bully came on the hike anyway. We stopped at mile one for a water break. The bully looked rough. We gave him an out, suggesting he stay and rest at the shaded rest stop with drinking water.

The bully would not be deterred with common sense and logic. We made it to the beach and the scouts loved it. The bully showed up a half an hour later looking like death warmed over. The bully decided he would take a short cut back across the treacherous marsh. The bully’s friend talked him out of attempting to cross the marsh. It was getting dark, so we took the scouts back to camp. The bully stayed behind with another adult, to rest.  We stopped once again at the one mile mark for a water break.

A hunter in a pickup truck showed up and said, “Your friend is in trouble back there. He collapsed on the beach; you need to get him some help.”

The scoutmaster and assistant scoutmaster attempted to call 911. There was no cell coverage. We were on a remote barrier island with minimal services. It would take emergency personnel several hours to get to our location by boat.  I told my friend to go borrow the vehicle of a local working on his roof. The local gave my friend a ride to the beach where they found the bully and the other adult. My friend found an old coke in a cooler in the truck. My friend used the coke to deter the diabetic shock the bully was going into. There was enough sugar in the coke to revive the bully. The diabetic shock was important as I always suspected the bully was a diabetic, but he always denied it.

The hunter drove the bully, my friend, and the other adult back to camp. The bully looked bad with his face as white as a ghost. We watered the bully up and let him rest. He was quiet the rest of the trip. Upon our return I requested an after action debriefing to go over what happened. I did not want it to happen again. The troop leadership tried to pretend it did not happen. My friend and I would not allow the event to die without learning from it. The scoutmaster got defensive during the debriefing. The bully quit scouts and ran outside crying using his powers of manipulation that allowed him to operate so badly for so long.

The scout leaders begged the bully to not quit. The scout leaders did not want to discuss the event any further. A scout leader nearly died and was saved by two men without as much as a thank you. The entire episode was swept under the rug like a Watergate Conspiracy. The scouts saw the entire rescue event. They watched leaders lead and a bully fall. The event motivated me to start my own scout troop with no bullying allowed.