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Scouting is a lifelong journey

For me, the beginning of scouting took place in 1980 when I became a Cub Scout. With the help of our Den Mothers, my fellow Scouts and I advanced through the ranks as youth learning different woodworking projects, leather works, leaf rubs and plaster molds of animal tracks in sand.

A highlight for most Cub Scouts is the Pinewood Derby, where you run five-ounce cars carved from pine to race down a track competing against your fellow den to determine which boy's (and especially Dad's) car will take the top prize.

I began Boy Scouts in 1984 with a cross over ceremony. The adventures became more challenging and there was a greater focus on leadership, service, achievement, character and outdoors.

In Boy Scouts, the game changes and the troop is boy-led. There is an elected lead boy. He is called the Senior Patrol Leader. He, and other elected Patrol Leaders, guide and lead their troop with help from the Scoutmasters, thorough meetings, campouts, planning sessions and a multitude of tasks.

Service projects are a big focus for the Boy Scouts. You may see trees planted, wood duck houses and picnic tables constructed and more projects implemented throughout the community — with time and materials donated by the Scouts. Other projects oftentimes go unnoticed, such as the Scouts cleaning up in the background or volunteering for community meals and projects.

Achievement can consist of different ranks: Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle Scout. Their rank is determined by a set list of varying tasks consisting of merit badges, service hours, leadership roles, time in rank, Scoutmaster's conference, and finally, a board of review where the boy is interviewed by a board of adult leaders that evaluate him on character, what he has learned and what his next goals are. Boys earn their ranks at different rates, based on their initiative and interest levels. But, achieving confidence and proficiency is a larger component, often awarded through merit badges.

Character is developed through a spirit of friendly service and encouraging one another. High adventure outings definitely test a young boy's character as they learn their limits and how to perform as a team when challenges are faced.

The setting for scouting largely consists of the outdoors. By the time a scout reaches the rank of First Class he will be proficient in setting up his campsite, cooking, first aid, orienteering, tying knots and other skills.

In 1989, I earned my Eagle Scout rank, and in 1990 I earned my Bronze Eagle palm. At this point, I felt I had accomplished what I needed to as a youth in scouting.

A few years later, I joined the Army, and as an added benefit of being an Eagle Scout, I had an automatic promotion to E2. In the current military system, the U.S. Army awards Eagles Scouts the rank of E3.

As an adult, my wife and I went to sign up our son for Cub Scouts in Park Rapids, and we agreed I wouldn't volunteer to be a leader because we were too busy as a family. Our son walked away from the Round table as a new Tiger Cub, and I walked away as the Den Leader.

I set the expectations at the first meeting with the parents when I said, "My goals for leading this den are simple: If the boys have a safe circle of friends outside of the den at school; if they have a better understanding of nature; and at some point hold a door for other people, we will have succeeded."

Many nights heading to the meetings I would finalize the plan for the night. Corralling the boys presented a set of challenges for me. I would want to cover the material and get them to sit still by baiting them with a dodge ball game or something more active. Many nights I wondered if it was worth it. Were they learning anything? I felt exhausted.

On Jan. 1, 2013 my son and eldest daughter (9 and 7 at the time), rescued my youngest daughter (4) when she fell through a spear hole on Fish Hook Lake. They certainly saved her life, as my back was turned while I cleaned holes in a fish house and would have missed the event. Scary as it was, the kids received a lot of attention and awards for their merit.

A newscaster from Fargo came to Park Rapids to interview the kids about the story. During my son's interview, the reporter asked him how he knew what to do in the case of an ice rescue.

"My dad just taught us a couple weeks ago how to do an ice rescue in Cub Scouts," he replied.

Now, writing this, my heart drops when I reflect on what he said. All the long meetings, frustrations and rushing around being a Scout Leader just came together with a purpose all at once.

Without Scouting, my youngest daughter may not be alive today.

Today, my son and I still serve in the Boy Scouts. I believe I will spend the majority of my years to come helping the scouts, as I believe our family has a debt to the Scouts for the life of my youngest daughter.