If you've ever had your heart warmed at seeing the thousands of American flags placed with pride before each gravestone at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on Memorial Day, appreciated the lack of plastic and garbage along the shores in Ocean Beach or relaxed on a bench at the Point Loma Native Plant Garden to enjoy the floral scents and buzzing bees, you have reaped the benefits of Troop 24's community efforts.
These Scouts have been serving the community this way for, oh, about a century now.
On Friday, Sept. 23, Troop 24 — part of the section of Boy Scouts of America that primarily serves Point Loma, Ocean Beach and other San Diego areas — will celebrate its 100th year anniversary with a ceremony from noon to 3 p.m. at the Bay View Restaurant at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot. The event will be combined with a court of honor to recognize Scout advancements.
Former members of Troop 24, who achieved the level of Eagle Scout and still live locally, are invited to attend the centennial, and other members from around the country and around the world are sending mementos of their time in Troop 24 for display during the ceremony.
In the beginning
Troop 24 was formed in 1918, making a total of five Scout troops in San Diego during that time.
Originally sponsored by Loma Portal Elementary School, the first troop of 11 boys took part in selling war bonds to support the United States' efforts during World War I. This spirit of community outreach continues today as Scouts carry out projects that simultaneously support the community and teach valuable leadership skills to youth and adults alike.
Now under sponsorship from Point Loma Presbyterian Church, the Scouts have done everything from partaking in beach clean-ups and adopting two beaches in Ocean Beach ("adopting" being the term for committing to clean a beach three times a year), getting involved in service projects such as the Ronald McDonald House and Celebration of Champions, delivering meals to Rachel's House and to homeless people, and bringing new clothing and other necessities to the Veterans Village.
"When you see them [the Scouts] interact with someone on the street and watch these individuals thanking the Scouts, blessing them … that really comes across and makes an impact on these young men," said Assistant Scout Master Curt Goldacker.
Eagle Scout status
He explained that in Scouting, there is an emphasis on young people being at the forefront of these interactions; the adult leaders aid in the logistics of the projects and then step back and let the Scouts do their thing. This is all part of the effort to teach the Scouts appropriate behavior when communicating with adults and authority figures.
While community outreach is consistent with Troop 24 throughout the year, the prestigious Eagle Scout projects can take three to fourth months to plan and up to a month to execute. These projects are a requirement if a Scout wants to graduate to Eagle Scout by the time he turns 18.
Some Eagle Scout projects have included refurbishing a law library, putting together 2,000 hospitality kits for homeless shelters, donating benches to the Point Loma Native Plant Garden, and planting a memorial garden as a tribute to a Scout who passed away.
For former Troop 24 member, Tim Sandiford, being an Eagle Scout — and being part of the Scouting program in general — was more than community outreach. "It gave me a core," Sandiford said about his experiences.
He explained that "core" brought him out after a rough time in his life when he wasn't living the way you'd expect from an Eagle Scout. What he learned in Troop 24, and other troops he was involved with, helped change his perspective. "Without that experience as a Boy Scout, I might not even be here today," Sandiford conceded. "Because I had that training in the corps, everything I've done since has been even that much better."
Learning to lead
From 1918 to today, Goldacker said the goals of Scouting have not changed; the primary focus is still to teach participants how to be leaders. With Wood Badge training for the adults since 1919, and National Youth Leadership Training for the younger members, Scouts are constantly being given opportunities to better their skills and prepare for their future. What has changed, however, is the range of merit badges now available for Scouts to achieve.
What started with about 40 badge options (focusing on outdoor skills), has expanded to more than 120, according to Scout Master McDermot Coutts — who, despite the typical two-year rotations for Scout Masters, is approaching his third term. Advancements in technology have opened the door to engineering, robotics, computer science, aerodynamics, graphic arts and more, as viable options for merit badges.
Both Coutts and Goldacker likened the experiences of attaining merit badges to taking general education courses in college that provide a little taste of everything.
"I know plenty of boys who have come away from a merit badge with a life's passion," Coutts said.
Goldacker added that the good ol' Boy Scout basics (first aid skills, CPR training, knots knowledge, etc.) are still emphasized, as well. Coutts opined that the Scouting program and its merit badges are exactly what's needed to teach the life skills that prepare students for adulthood. To become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank, Coutts said a Scout must take courses in personal management (financial planning), cooking, family life and other such topics.
Welcoming girls to the troop
In addition to the technologically advanced merit badges, another big program change is at hand for Troop 24 and Scouts everywhere: The Boy Scouts are no longer just for boys.
February 2019 is the date set by the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America for when girls will be allowed to join the troops. Though Point Loma Presbyterian Church originally expressed some concern with this new rule, Goldacker said the church is now supportive.
Strict rules will be in place with the addition of girls into Boy Scout troops, just as there were when the troops were solely male: There is a two-adult rule (there must be two adults present with each troop); male leaders must be assigned to boy troops, female leaders are assigned to girl troops, and girls and boys sleep in separate tenting areas. Additionally, all adults must go through Youth Protection Training before becoming adult Scouts, and Scouts must be within two years of the same age when in a small group (i.e. there cannot be one senior Scout alone with a Scout more than two years his or her junior).
Though some might consider the inclusion of the opposite sex a big change, Goldacker doesn't see it that way. He pointed out that girls have been involved in Scouting for years, as half the assistant Scout masters are female, and "many young girls look at their older brothers and go, 'I want to do that. Why can't I go hiking? Why can't I go rock climbing?' So they become Venture Scouts, and they do all that — and they're excelling."
Coutts added that there is another factor behind the decision to include girls in Boy Scouts: family. It will create the opportunity for fathers to spend quality time with their daughters, teaching them to start a safe fire or toss a fishing line; and mothers to hike a trail and tie complicated knots with their sons.
"When you've got both parents working and you've got limited joint family time, the concept of segregating your family by gender just doesn't make a whole lot of sense," Coutts said.
Despite the changing times and the rise and fall of Scout numbers, Troop 24 has flourished since it began 100 years ago. According to Coutts, the troop will continue to do so as it embraces sustainable and effective experiences for all of its Scouts.
Here's to another 100 years, boys and girls!
• TO JOIN THE TROOP: Visit scouting.org or sdicbsa.org, or e-mail Scout Master McDermot Coutts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scout Troop 24
• Members: 36
• Ages: 11-17
• Meetings: 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Point Loma Presbyterian Church, 2128 Chatsworth Blvd.
• E-mail Contacts: Scout Master McDermot Coutts (email@example.com) and Assistant Scout Master Curt Goldacker (firstname.lastname@example.org)