On a chilly Saturday afternoon, in a wide, dry field devoid of evidence of the previous night’s snowfall, Garden City Community College ROTC Cadet Ryan Hicks spoke to a group of five Boy Scouts.
“Remember all your tests," he said.
The boys, a handful of the nearly 30 present on Saturday, were gathered around a post in a field just to the north of Tangeman Sports Complex near the bypass, flipping through packets of paper and holding up maps.
Some asked Hicks questions as others wrote down symbols and descriptions of the landscape directly around them. A few eventually took out their army green compasses to find their next point. One boy wandered a short ways away, pointing out the petrified flowers. And eventually, with a compass-laden scout leading the way, they trekked single file off to their next location.
The scouts, comprised of boys and a girl from troops 108 and 59, had taken the day to partner with the GCCC ROTC and Taskforce Broncbuster, a group of active National Guard soldiers who also are enrolled or involved at GCCC, to learn and practice orienteering tactics for their orienteering merit badge.
The day was planned largely by the college primary ROTC instructor, Jeromy Fisher, and five of the college’s ROTC cadets: Hicks, Brian Flores, Anttonaya Rhodes, Imelda Te’o and Lesuea Te’o. The ROTC class, new to the college last fall, recently began transforming the land in that area into a land navigation course, or a series of posts stationed throughout nature used to test compass and map skills.
The ROTC members began clearing the area of trash and constructing posts, and Fisher posed a question: How could the group share this space with the community?
The cadets suggested holding navigation and orienteering classes for the high school’s JROTC and the community’s Boy Scout troops. The orienteering merit badge is a tough one to complete in normal circumstances, Fisher said. The college’s ROTC decided to not teach and walk the course with the scouts, but also intentionally leave the course partially unfinished so scouts could install several posts to complete another part of their badge.
The plan to work with the Boy Scouts expanded into a full day, and a couple to come, of collaboration between the GCCC ROTC, Taskforce Broncbuster and the Boy Scouts.
Fisher, Flores and Imelda Te’o spent Saturday morning teaching the scouts about terrains and topographic symbols on maps; about compasses and delineation; and about the practice of orienteering. At the end of the lessons, they would be tested on the information and plot points on a map to locate.
The instruction and practice session were orchestrated by ROTC and Taskforce Broncbuster members. The lesson plans were of their own design, and the instructional posters on the walls were drawn by them.
“What I hope we accomplish from this navigational course is that if they're lost, you don't have to get out this thing and just look at a GPS," Flores said, gesturing to his cell phone. "You can actually think and learn from what you have. You can look at the North Star, use your compass — a DIY kind of thing. Do it yourself instead of relying just solely on technology."
Rhodes said she hoped the scouts would remember lessons when they left, and that they’d take with them an understanding of the ROTC and National Guard.
To Imelda Te’o, who lived in American Samoa until 2016, the ROTC and National Guard was able to go more in depth into lessons on practical skills like orienteering and land navigation. She was glad the scouts were getting a taste of the skills.
"How are you supposed to live if you don't know the basics of survival?" she said.
The scouts sat at tables covered with large maps, informational packets, protractors and compasses, listening mostly, but also getting engaged hands on. Imelda Te’o said when she and Flores presented, they promised prizes to the team that could best guess different symbols on maps. Hands were flying in minutes, she said.
The scouts were a diverse group in some ways, ranging from 11-year-olds fairly new to the troops to 15- and 16-year-olds starting to check off requirements for Eagle Scout. Some were just glad for the frequent breaks and free pizza, but others were excited about the information and their teachers.
“Today’s been pretty good because this is a new experience for me,” said Jacob Wegner, a 15-year-old scout from Troop 108. “For the last two summers, I've worked at a summer camp, and they would have a compass course. And (today's lesson) is run by military men, or ROTC, and at the place where I work it was just trained scouts. Being trained by professionals is a pretty big honor."
"The fact that they're working for the country and basically saving our worlds and they're here teaching us about this (is honorable),” he said.
For Troop 108’s scoutmaster Karen Nonhof, the packed day had many advantages. It let the scouts hear from others adults in the community and get exposed to another possible career path.
“I think it's really good because for a lot of these kids, they have no idea what it is they want to do, and going into the ROTC, getting scholarships, figuring it out, being in the National Guard is really helpful,” Nonhof said.
In the early afternoon, the groups set off in different directions, across a prairie-like field or through taller grass or down to a rolling sand pit. They walked in lines and clusters, sometimes their leaders walking ahead with a compass and sometimes nearly crossing paths. The scouts, ROTC cadets and National Guard soldiers shared a skill and experience.
“It’s been a great mission for all of us to do together,” Schmitt said.