Scouts meet virtually, earn badges through serviceFORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — COVID-19 mitigation protocols have presented numerous changes and challenges to nearly all aspects of life. But for the Scouts of Fort Leonard Wood’s Troop 149 and Cub Scout Pack 149, public-safety measures and social-distancing practices have also presented opportunities to learn, adapt and be of service.Since April 10, the local groups have held their meetings virtually, connecting with each other through video-conferencing apps to complete projects, help each other earn merit badges and continue to serve their community.“The impact of the pandemic has caused the troop to be more flexible than ever before,” Troop 149 Scoutmaster Chad McCaulley said.About 20 Boy Scouts, in grades six through 12, make up the local troop, while nearly 55 elementary-school-age Cub Scouts make up Pack 149. The groups share six volunteer adult leaders.McCaulley said the virtual meetings have been going well.“(Pack 149) had success with two of the dens, so we decided to try it at the troop level,” McCaulley said. “Since all of our Scouts have to conduct their school work from home and all have computers, we sent the invitation out … and had the Scouts join in.”McCaulley noted several of the Scouts’ tech-savviness and ability to adapt has proven valuable since the virtual meetings began.“Some of the Scouts have better technological skills than a few of (our) adult leaders,” he said.When asked, he said the main obstacle to meeting virtually has been “nothing more than learning the importance of taking turns while talking and the use of headsets to minimize feedback.”Prior to the implementation of COVID-19 mitigation measures, the Scouts were scheduled to take part in multiple camping events and had recently begun service projects to clean up and maintain the Sandstone Spring hiking trail, which begins near the Pershing Community Center and ends near the historic Rolling Heath School House. Scouts had already completed a group service day in late February and had plans to continue in March. After their meetings went strictly online, the group shifted gears to continue the project in a different way.“The Scouts have taken turns when they go down and work on the trail,” McCaulley said, noting that the practice minimizes the number of Scouts working at one time. “The trail is long enough that the Scouts can easily maintain a proper distance.”Troop 149 Scout Hunter Sheffield, 14, has been inspired by the project and eagerly awaited his chance to contribute.“Families of the troop have been going out and working on segments of the trail, slowly working towards completion,” he said. “This has been a great way of getting the Scouts out of the house and into an environment of labor and service to the community. Though I have not yet personally been out to work on trailblazing with my family, I look forward to doing my part very soon.”Fellow Scout Kurt Hauer, 12, has taken advantage of his time working on the trail to work toward earning his Signs, Signals and Codes merit badge by putting out trailblazing markers. He also volunteered to read camp stories and organize a virtual scavenger hunt for Cub Scouts when they held their virtual campout, and he assisted his mother, Troop 149 Advancement Chair Valerie Hauer, with making cloth face masks for a local clinic in St. Robert.“I’ve been working on a lot of merit badges,” Hauer said.While they enjoy being of service even while being distanced from other Scouts, both Sheffield and Hauer have things they miss about the in-person meetings.“With the virtual meeting, I still see my friends, but it really isn’t the same,” Hauer said.Sheffield said the biggest change he has noticed is in advancements and accomplishments, where normally a Scout would display or demonstrate a skill in-person to a troop leader.“It’s very difficult for anything hands-on to occur,” he said. “Luckily, there are cameras that we can use to show knots or lashings, but the sense of one-on-one teaching is very hard to come by.”Although originally intended to last only a month, McCaulley said both the Troop 149 Scouts and Pack 149 Cub Scouts will continue to meet virtually as long as COVID-19 safety precautions remain in place on Fort Leonard Wood.He said while it may seem to many that Scouting primarily involves outdoor activities, such as hiking or camping, there is actually a lot more to it – much of which can continue even with restrictions in place.“The reason that many parents get their children involved in Scouting, and why many adults volunteer their time, is that it gives Scouts an opportunity to explore more of the world that surrounds them, challenge themselves in potentially difficult situations that help build their self-confidence and improve team-building and leadership skills,” McCaulley added.Troop 149 and Pack 149 are open to both boys and girls. For more information about the programs, parents can email flwtroop149@gmail.com for the Boy Scouts program and flwpack149@gmail.com for the Cub Scouts program.