If there is one characteristic that marks scouts around the world, it is the call to be prepared. That trait was on full display June 14 at the 50th anniversary of the founding of Boy Scout Troop 245 on Hilton Head Island, as the troop’s origins and adventures were recounted.
Since 1972, Troop 245 has introduced scouting to hundreds of boys who have provided hours of community service to Hilton Head, many of them to the benefit of Honey Horn. Its activities are headquartered on the grounds of Honey Horn at the Coastal Discovery Museum. Members come from both Hilton Head and Bluffton.
Troop Committee Chairman Mike Flood listed some of the accomplishments.
“We have well over 100 Eagle Scouts. It takes anywhere from 50 to more than 150 service hours to complete an Eagle Scout project, so that’s at least 10,000 service hours. That’s more than 416 days of service to the town of Hilton Head,” he said.
Flood said that the troop averaged 30 boys per year, each of whom performed a minimum of 18 hours, which is an additional 27,000 hours of community service in addition to the Eagle Scout hours.
“Scouting truly does impact the community and the boys themselves,” Flood added.
The troop’s humble origins began in 1972 when Scoutmaster Jim Flood, who led Troop 233 at St. Luke’s Church at the south end of the island, persuaded Jim Scheider to start a troop.
“It was an interesting time in 1972,” said Scheider, whose family had moved into the cottage at Honey Horn 10 years earlier. He agreed to take on Troop 245 and arranged for the troop to meet every Tuesday night at Honey Horn.
“I had some interesting experiences on Hilton Head Island already that – thank goodness – served me well. I also wanted to create a scout troop different than the one I had been in and different than the one at 233. No offense to them, but those were primarily kids of privilege,” Scheider said.
Referring to photos that appeared on a screen behind him, Scheider added, “You will see from some of the scouting pictures of my group – they were not kids of privilege. They were essentially native islanders who had great skills, but I wanted them to have the exposure that I’d had going down to the National Jamboree, going here and there. Almost all of these children are kids who had never been beyond Ridgeland.”
As a troop, the scouts traveled to the mountains of North Carolina, camped at Windmill Harbor and all over the island, Scheider recalled.
“I don’t know how many of my scouts progressed to Eagle. I don’t think any. But, we were lucky to survive, so to speak, because they were an interesting bunch with great skills, great families, and we tried to embrace the Gullah culture that means so much to me to this day,” said Scheider. “But how splendid … for this place to be the genesis of Troop 245. I thank you for the honor and privilege of having sort of leapt into the breach and get things started.”
The scoutmasters in attendance recalled some of their experiences while admitting there were far more stories to tell than time to tell them during the celebrations.
One of the sad yet delightful tales came from Rick Dextraze, who spoke about the late Scott Liggett, former scoutmaster and chief engineer/director of public projects and facilities for the Town of Hilton Head Island until his sudden death in February 2021. Liggett, who garnered numerous kudos from scout leaders who knew him, became scoutmaster in 2011, but never stopped sharing his knowledge.
“Scott was the epitome of ‘Be Prepared.’ If there was anyone that I knew that was going to show up at a meeting or a campout prepared, it was Scott Liggett. We all learned as leaders something new every time Scott took us on campouts,” Dextraze said. “You’re going to think this really stupid, but one of the things that I always remember about Scott was when we were camping at Congaree National Park. Scott said, ‘Come on, I’m going show you how to find wolf spiders.’ Those of you that have seen wolf spiders, they’re really small. They hide in the pine straw and leaves. How are you going to find them at night?”
Liggett told scouts to take their flashlights, hold it next to their eyes and look at the base of a tree.
“Now see all that twinkling down there? Now walk down to where it twinkles, and poke that a little bit and you’ll see the wolf spider,” Liggett told the scouts.
“It was the most incredible experience,” said Dextraze, “that you can find from 20 feet away something that small. Scott always had something special to contribute. He was a very brave man and a very humble man. And I know that all of us that spent time with Scott and were able to share scouting and friendships, we are richer for it.”
Scoutmaster John Wynn shared several stories but finished with a cautionary tale about an incident during a campout.
“You’ve got trips, you’re traveling, you’ve got to worry about people getting left at rest stops, and all that kind of stuff. In the back of your mind, it’s always this safety thing,” Wynn said. “So you’ve always got to check that child protection, keeping them safe from hazards, keeping them safe from each other sometimes.”
Wynn described arriving at a campsite late on a Friday evening. As each patrol pulled out their chuck boxes and began preparing their meals, he checked on a young patrol.
“As they were wont to do sometimes, they’re going to go ‘gourmet.’ They had their chicken cutlets and their vegetables, and I said, ‘You guys know what you’re doing here?’ And they said, ‘Oh, yeah. We know. We do this all the time’.”
The scoutmaster made a mental note to return and check on them and went off to referee the rest of the camp set up with the older boys.
“By the time all of it was done, it was dark, and we just kind of sat down. I figured OK, fine, we’re good here. No problems. Everybody’s here. No one’s hurt, no critters and bears,” Wynn said. “And then in the dark behind me after about five minutes I hear this voice, and someone says, ‘This chicken doesn’t taste right.’ No harm was done, but my uh-oh moment that trip wasn’t bears or broken legs. It was undercooked chicken.”
Current scoutmaster Mike Bennett took charge of the troop just before the pandemic.
“I come in the end of 2019 and into 2020, and three months into it COVID hits. We’re on lockdown the whole troop, the whole island, the whole nation is on lockdown,” Bennett said. “And I’ll tell you, it was an amazing experience. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to prove my stuff. And we come up against across a very interesting challenge.”
Bennett said his troop spent more than 4,000 hours on Zoom.
“The troop, the young men that were involved, came to the plate like you wouldn’t believe. The leaders came in full force and continued the scouting tradition in one of its worst, dire times,” Bennett said. “We continued our meetings, our elections, our tap outs, our community service, we did that. All of our rank advancements, our boards of review – everything we continued, and it was a complete effort on everybody’s part to make that happen. It really was a testament to the strength and the foundation that you guys built, and the character in scouting came out during this time.”
Carlton and Tobin Wilson are two of the Bluffton members of Troop 245.
“My son, Tobin, is a scout with the troop. It’s been fantastic. We’ve been in the troop for almost four years, and he’s close to getting his Eagle,” said Wilson. “For him specifically, I think what he gets most out of it is the leadership aspect. There’s really no other organization where the kids get to do the leading. They learn from their mistakes and learn how to work with their peers. Troop 245 is very active for the adults. We’ve both made friends and gotten more involved in the community, and that’s a great aspect of scouting.”
Wilson is as involved with the troop as his son.
“I’ve been one of the assistant scoutmasters, ultimately helping with the other kids’ advancement through scouts, helping with the camping trips, and passing on things that I learned through scouting as a kid and the military. I intend to continue to help even when my son gets his Eagle,” he said. “The Eagle award is recognized even beyond college. I don’t know of any other award at the teenage level that carries as much weight as Eagle does.”
Awards were certainly part of the celebration, and scout leaders and troop volunteers were recognized for their years of service and their support of troop activities. Recognition of scout accomplishments would take place following a pizza dinner with their families and friends, but before the break, Flood had two very special presentations to make.
Bennett was presented with the Unit Leader Award of Merit, presented to unit leaders to encourage units to be strong and viable by attaining certain benchmark characteristics. The citation noted that Bennett was dedicated to the values and methods of scouting, a conscientious organizer who is himself is always prepared, and ensured that those around – adults and scouts –were also always prepared. The citation also noted that “in addition to his dedication passion and leadership skills, he is also a very amiable and friendly person.”
The award comes with a special scoutmaster patch that has a red star in the center, and a gold square knot patch to be worn on the front of the shirt.
A certificate of heroism from Coastal Carolina Council was presented to Assistant Scoutmaster and Outdoor Committee Chair John White specifically for an act of heroism during the weekend of Feb. 15-17, 2019. The troop scheduled a camping trip during which the main activity would be mountain biking on the Skinny Mountain Bikes Trail in the Forks Area Trail System near Clarksville, S.C.
Prior to the trip, White had completed the BSA Wilderness First Aid Course, and then taken the troop’s first aid kit apart and put it back together completely stocked with appropriate equipment.
The group was about halfway through a seven and a half mile ride on the trail and Jack Gaitlin, an 11 year-old Tenderfoot scout at the time, suffered a broken femur from what can only be described as a freak accident.
“A tree literally fell on Jack as he was biking. It was a windy trail. So no one was right next to him at the time,” Flood said. “We heard a loud scream, went back and found Jack trapped, pinned underneath this tree alone with his bicycle. John and I and several other leaders arrived and it was clear that Jack’s leg was broken. It was at an angle that is not what I’m used to seeing, let’s just put it that way. And he was very brave at the time.”
White assessed the situation as safe to begin first aid treatment, and then provided guidance to other adult leaders. Flood said that if White had not taken the first aid course and then restocked the materials in the troop’s kit, they would not have had exactly what they needed for the broken leg, which was a specific type of splint.
According to the citation, White calmly led the other scouts in noting their exact location, climbing upward until they had cell reception, and reaching emergency services.
After Gaitlin was evacuated and on a helicopter, the rest of the troop remained with White for the remainder of about seven more miles through the woods.
“He did so with the calm competence that the group needed after such a traumatic event. It is not an exaggeration to say Jack Gaitlin is alive today in a large part due to John White’s superior leadership, outstanding calm under pressure, commitment to excellence in the ways of scouting especially that of being prepared,” said Flood.
As the crowd broke up for the pizza break, scoutmasters and scouts mingled, recalling their experiences. It was a satisfying moment for Scheider.
“I have done a lot of things over my life but this was probably one of the most rewarding,” said Scheider, “because it’s just the continuity for others to pick up and run with it, and build on the foundation we started 50 years ago.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.