by Chris McCann
JBER Public Affairs
7/21/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Summer in Alaska is often jammed full of activities - from filling the freezer with salmon to just camping and enjoying the warm days that seem to come to an end all too soon.
For Boy Scouts, camping happens both summer and winter - and there are plenty of other activities for colder winter months.
Ken Desaussure is the committee chairman for the 190th Boy Scout Troop, one of the two troops on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. A 26-year Air Force crew chief, he now oversees part of the Boy Scouts program.
The 190th comprises eight boys between 11 and 14 - though the age limit is 18. They meet weekly at the chalet at Sixmile Lake.
Another troop on JBER, the 540th, is hoping to draw more boys to their closer-to-home meeting place at Building TDM02, between the credit union and the Bioenvironmental building on JBER-Richardson.
DeSaussure was involved in Scouting himself, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. He said his experiences set him up for success in the Air Force, from goal-setting to leadership.
"As far as the boys, it gives them something to work for," he said. "It also gets parents involved; we have a couple of dads go camping with us every time we go out.
"It helps them mature; they're learning personal-management skills and organization."
DeSaussure's son, Grady, is 14 and also a Scout. Though he doesn't plan on a military career at this point, he said he's reaping the benefits of Scouting.
"Things like knot-tying, I don't use that in day-to-day life," he said. "But responsibility and taking control of a situation, leadership skills, I use a lot."
He cited group projects at school, often the bane of students, as an area he's improved in.
"After [starting] Scouts, when I started learning, I tend to take charge; things are done on time, and they're done well."
Grady said he'd like to be a marine biologist. Fortunately, the Scouting program offers more than 100 different merit badges in many different areas.
"Along with outdoorsmanship, there's fishing, wildlife conservation, things like that," he said. "All those are useful here in Alaska."
For a boy who's not sure whether to get involved, Grady Desaussure said he wholeheartedly recommends the program.
"From Boy Scouts, you can learn to rock climb, shoot rifles, anything," he said. "You get to meet new people, and help a lot of people as well."
Around the holidays, the troop helps out at Bean's Cafe, serving meals to the homeless.
On Memorial Day and Veterans' Day, they place flags on the graves of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Senior Airman Ross Whitley, a videographer with the 673d Air Base Wing, serves as the assistant Scoutmaster for the 540th. He has been involved in Scouting almost all his life.
"When I was a pre-teen and a teenager, my home life wasn't very good," Whitley said. "If I was home, I was either in my room doing nothing, or getting yelled at. Scouts was a place I could be myself with my friends and strive for something."
As an older Scout, he participated in the Challenging Outdoor Physical Encounter, which focuses on climbing skills and develops leadership skills.
"You have to work together to overcome obstacles" just like a military obstacle course, he said. "There's the spiderweb, a rope net you have to get everyone through without touching the rope. You have to get everyone on your team over a high wall."
Since everyone has different strengths, positions shift throughout the weekend's activities.
"You're 'captain, crew or cargo', and every one of those is important," Whitley explained. "Sometimes you're the team leader, who delegates the tasks; sometimes you're on the crew that does them, and sometimes you're just the cargo. But they're all important.
"The course culminates in a trust fall, but not just falling backward - you're falling from four or five feet up into a crowd of people."
"I didn't think it would transfer to the military as well as it does," Whitley said. "But really it transfers to anything - any job you have, you're going to have the same basic structure. Scouting really teaches you about small-group leadership and group dynamics."
The hierarchy of a troop is broadly similar to the military; several boys make up a patrol, roughly like an Army squad, except the patrol leader is elected by the boys.
The senior patrol leader would be equivalent to a platoon sergeant, but also elected.
Adults are just facilitators, Whitley explaned.
"It's a boy-led program. The adults are just there to make sure the boys don't
get hurt, and to take care of the administrative things, like making sure the bank account is up-to-date for camping trips or buying supplies."
Boys in high school can strive for the highest rank: Eagle Scout.
Getting there requires a major community-service project. The prospective Eagle Scout must create detailed plans and explanations, lead the crew in executing, and create a review or summary of the project.
Whitley's Eagle Scout project was re-shingling a garage for a church - a 27-by-18 foot A-frame roof.
"It's your responsibility to get the materials - usually donations from local businesses - and the volunteers to work," he said.
Patrol and troop members usually provide the manpower.
"I got the materials, but I didn't know how to shingle a roof, so I asked a local roofing company. They sent a couple of guys to show us what to do, and to make sure we were doing it right, according to building codes and regulations, using the tar paper correctly.
We had about 30 people, boys 11 to about 16, plus a few adults. I expected it to take a whole day, or even two days, but we were done in about four hours."
It's not just the leadership skills that have stuck with him, Whitley said; it's the values.
The Scout Law lists 12 qualities a Scout must have.
"I can recite the Scout Law more easily than I can the Airman's Creed," Whitley said. "When I find myself on a wrong path, I can think about that oath and find out where I'm going wrong and fix it.
"It's the 'Scout law,' but it's really twelve values every man needs to have," Whitley said. "It's a program to turn boys into good men."
"The things they instill in boys - I believe in them so highly, that's why I still work with Scouts."