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Imperial County Scouting: Shoot First

by Alan Markow, published

Explorer Scouts: they're the top-of-the-line Boy (and Girl) Scouts, and they take on environmental programs, create charities and generally do good throughout the land. So what a surprise it was to find that Explorer Scouts are being trained to carry weapons and supplement the U.S. Border Patrol down in Imperial County.

Aren't these the kids who are supposed to walk grandmothers across busy streets?

As it turns out, Exploring - part of the Boy Scouts of America's Learning for Life program - introduced a law enforcement "merit badge" a few years ago, and it has since become one of the most popular areas of concentration. Today, six of the eleven college scholarships available to Explorer Scouts are in Law Enforcement (with a seventh focused on fire-fighting).

People have argued for years over the paramilitary qualities in all of scouting, and whether this is a positive or negative for the nation, but there can be no question about the reaction to the New York Times article and its photos of scowling scouts with guns. Reader comments have ranged from "this is nuts" to "I wish we had this in Australia."

The first of Exploring's five "focus areas" is Job Opportunities, and in a 2008 article on non-profit activities, Bunker Hill, IL scout leader Carl Benjamin makes it clear why Law Enforcement is a good candidate for any Explorer Post to pursue: "...there continues to be a lack of good qualified law enforcement individuals across our country. Exploring hopes to add to the change in this problem by encouraging young people to look to the future in law enforcement."

Other Explorer Posts emphasize such vocations as engineering, aeronautics and environmentalism. The hands-on nature of the preparation of these young men and women (ages 15-20) provides unique learning experiences and real-world contacts in their chosen areas.

But should they be carrying weapons and patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border? Are they law enforcement workers-in-training or future vigilantes?

On one hand, this is no different than ROTC training at the high school and college level, where students learn the skills necessary to play a role in national defense and go to summer camps to actually train with members of the Armed Forces. But ROTC students are not scouts, and it's disconcerting to think of scouts carrying weapons and screaming "United States Border Patrol, put your hands up" as described in the Times article.

Some of the law enforcement training deals with school shootings such as Columbine, which makes it particularly disturbing to read that one young lady likes the program because she's "attracted by the guns," according to the article.

Exploring is a 60-year-old program with an impressive record of achievement. And it may be that learning to take down an escaping illegal immigrant by putting your foot on his or her back is a valuable skill to teach. But it has dismayed some of the Times readers that the scouts are into a "fascistic" mode. Says one, "Can't we teach these kids something that will actually help them and safeguard our country's future? I suggest history, arithmetic and a course on how to manage their finances."

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