Embracing the Wood Badge Journey: A Transformative Leadership Experience

Just one week ago, I completed my second weekend of Wood Badge, and as the initial retreat euphoria begins to fade, I find myself compelled to put pen to paper and reflect on this extraordinary journey. My aspiration is that this narrative will resonate with those who have embarked on their own Wood Badge adventures, evoking cherished memories, or perhaps inspire those contemplating taking the course for themselves.


To provide context, let me offer some insight into my Scouting background. My connection to the Scouting program began when I was in First Grade, and it has remained an enduring part of my life. From Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts to Exploring and Venturing, Scouting played a significant role in my youth and young adulthood. Now, as an adult, I’ve rekindled my involvement in Cub Scouts, Scouts BSA, and Venturing, while also contributing to the District and Council levels. In simple terms, I’ve drank the bug juice.


However, despite my deep involvement in Scouting, I had persistently found excuses to avoid enrolling in Wood Badge until this year. I would proudly point to the Eagle Scout knot on my uniform and quip, “This is my Wood Badge,” or jest that Wood Badge was some kind of Scouter’s cult fixated on their patrol critter. Looking back, these excuses seem feeble, and ironically, during the very first weekend of Wood Badge, we examined how preconceived notions can hinder our personal growth.


So, what compelled me to finally commit to the Wood Badge course this year? Was it a desire to fit in and acquire the credentials of a “proper” leader? Was it pressure to support another Council activity suffering from insufficient participants? Or could it have been the consistent peer pressure, even when I couldn’t fully grasp their motivations? All I can say now is, I get it, and I comprehend the significance of Wood Badge.


In the months leading up to the course, I was eager for it to be over with. I had pondered possible ticket ideas, though without truly grasping the profound meaning behind it. I might have even been a tad pushy, roping in three other leaders to ensure we had enough participants. For that, I offer no apologies.


It’s worth noting that there wasn’t much communication about what to expect before the course, which irked me as I tend to be someone who craves meticulous preparation and research before diving into any endeavor. Some might label me a control freak, but I prefer the term “prepared.” Yet, having experienced Wood Badge, I am thankful that I entered the course with minimal expectations. The anticipation, the mystery of not knowing my small group or who my Guide would be, added an element of excitement.


The day finally arrived, and I was up before dawn, embarking on a one-hour drive to the Muskingum Valley Scout Reservation to ensure I’d be there by 7 AM. I stood at the welcome center in my Field Uniform, backpack in tow, feeling the same nervousness I did as a first-year Scout. I was surrounded by a diverse group of Scouters from various backgrounds. Despite recognizing some familiar faces, including the three leaders I had coerced into joining, many attendees were strangers to me. This posed a challenge, particularly because, despite appearances, I am an introvert.


Following the initial check-in, I joined a small group heading towards the dining hall to kick off the weekend. I attempted to strategically time my arrival to align with a Troop Guide and group that I believed would be my patrol. I’m no novice when it comes to leadership weekends, but Course Director Matt Winland had already assigned patrols well in advance. In hindsight, it worked out for the best.


During the pre-session, I was merely going through the motions, assuming my experience as a seasoned Scouter would provide me with an upper hand. I had preconceived notions that this weekend would be a breeze. The individuals I had positioned myself with were meant to help me blend in and simply get through it. However, as Matt began calling out names, den by den, my confidence waned. I watched as people I was comfortable with were assigned to their dens. The crowd thinned, my nerves intensified, and finally, my name was called, my den was assigned. This group of men would shatter every assumption I had about the course, leadership, and my role as a Scouter.


Ah, Den! On our first day, we played our roles to perfection, excelling in every task presented to us. Let’s be honest; we were a powerhouse. With five former Scouts and OA Members, all possessing extensive experience across Scouting levels and programs, and guided by none other than the Scout Executive himself, we brought everything to the table. We shared personal stories, some even shedding tears as we reflected on our Scouting journeys. Forming and storming was a mere warm-up for us.


As the weekend unfolded, the intensity deepened. We merged with over a century’s worth of other Scouters from across the world, joining the Bear Patrol. We focused on the five central themes of Growing, Connecting, Guiding, Empowering, and Living the Values. These themes anchored everything I had learned in countless hours of Scouting training. That evening, as I left our campfire with tears in my eyes, I reminisced about the journeys and campfires that had led me to this moment, with the hope of many more to come.


The bonds within the Bear Patrol continued to strengthen over the weekend. We chose to push ourselves to the limits, engaging in deep self-reflection on our weaknesses while leveraging our strengths. A common goal drove us forward, and I felt as though I were riding a high that would never dissipate, despite the looming inevitability of returning to reality. With plans set for the second weekend and a commitment to stay connected during the break, we left behind a place that had become sacred to us.


My first week of the break was a true test. The echoes of Gilwell resonated in my mind as I navigated the challenges that followed my leadership retreat high. Recruiting and popcorn season, as many of you may know, can be relentless on a Scout Leader’s spirit. I went through the motions, attempting to stay connected with my Patrol by updating our group chat with pictures of my Scouting adventures and pondering how to embark on my ticket. It felt like I was merely going through the motions.


Returning for the second weekend was even more demanding than the first. The pressure to complete my ticket, which was only partially started, coupled with the added complexities of outdoor experiences, weighed on my mind. I needed to rekindle the spark from the first weekend. The pace quickened, discussions grew more pointed, pushing our leadership abilities to new limits. Reflection delved deeper, and the bond within our patrol expanded to encompass the entire troop. We were encouraged to broaden our circles and enhance our teamwork. The five central themes came full circle, and tears were shed as my Patrol faced new challenges and found unwavering support in each other.


As the second weekend drew to a close, with final words of wisdom from our course director, I felt energized, focused, recharged, and ready to face anything. I’ve distilled five major takeaways from my Wood Badge experience: Leadership is about service, diversity strengthens our community, setting and achieving goals, effective communication, and building lasting relationships.


Wood Badge has not only enhanced my Scouting journey but has also deepened my understanding of leadership and community. The memories and lessons learned will remain with me as I continue my commitment to the Scouting movement. If you’re contemplating Wood Badge, don’t hesitate. Embrace the journey, the challenges, and the transformation that awaits. You won’t just earn a neckerchief; you’ll gain a deeper sense of purpose as a leader, mentor, and advocate for Scouting. I eagerly look forward to the path that lies ahead, fortified by the lessons and camaraderie of Wood Badge.