ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – (Oct. 1, 2023) The Rock Island Arsenal hosted more than 360 scouts, scout leaders, and volunteers from the Illowa Scout Council as part of their Heritage Trail Camporee from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1. The event marked the first time since the local Boy Scouts of America council camped overnight at the installation in numerous years and first time a scout camporee was held on island since 2019.
“I am thrilled to have all of you scouts here today,” said Col. Daniel Mitchell, garrison commander, U.S. Army Garrison Rock Island Arsenal. “Welcome to Rock Island Arsenal, our Quad Cities home of military history and heritage. Thank you to the Illowa Scout Council for putting everything together that made this possible. The partnership with them has been fantastic to bring all of you here and to give you this experience. We hope that when you leave from here that you remember Rock Island Arsenal fondly for the rest of your lives.”
Nineteen scout units and more than 360 scouts and scout leaders camped, cooked, and explored Arsenal Island highlighting the history and heritage of the installation through "adventure trails," of activities to include an American Eagle Trail (vocational), Challenge Trail (physical fitness), Heritage Trail (living history), Lincoln Trail (preparedness), and an Honor Trail (service - Sunday morning).
“More than 80% of scouts and leaders had not previously visited Rock Island Arsenal,” said Jon Ramsdell, chief, Plans Analysis and Integration Office, U.S. Army Garrison Rock Island Arsenal. “Many didn’t know there was an active Army installation in their community.”
Ramsdell was one of the key RIA coordinators and facilitators, and while much of his time was spent coordinating the event before it took place, he also participated in the camporee as a scout leader and parent who remained fully engaged in all the activities throughout the three-day event. The 90+ degree unseasonably warm weather presented a challenge to scouts, leaders, and activity facilitators alike, but advanced coordination resulted in easy access to shade, hydration, and some air-conditioned locations.
Some of the most popular activities included:
- A welcome ceremony led by the garrison commander, Col. Daniel Mitchell and Command Sgt. Maj. Jorge Escobedo, command sergeant major, Army Sustainment Command, at Memorial Field.
- A tour of the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, First Army Historical Displays, Colonel Davenport House, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District’s Mississippi River Visitor Center, and the RIA Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center’s Liberty Mark VIII tank undergoing refurbishment.
- Physical fitness challenges hosted by Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force recruiters – the scouts walked more than eight miles during the three-day camporee.
- Citizenship and flag courtesy overview by the American Legion Post 26 in Davenport.
- Military vehicle display and engagement with the Maintenance Company (-), Combat Logistics Battalion 451, Combat Logistics Regiment 45, 4th Marine Logistics Group, Marine Forces Reserve Detachment.
- Emergency preparedness activities provided by the Rock Island Arsenal Police and Fire Departments with hands on equipment orientation, a visit of the police department processing and fingerprinting, and knot tying, and first aid training conducted by the Arsenal Fire Department.
- A scout leader tour of the Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation Outdoor Recreation rental facility.
- An evening campfire with fun skits, songs, and camaraderie. A Dutch oven dessert cookoff, judged by Command Sgt. Maj. Jorge Escobedo.
- Honor and selfless service activities at the Rock Island National Ceremony to include scouts participating in a non-denominational religious service, meeting, and engaging in conversation with WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam veterans; and participating in a tour of the cemetery hosted by cemetery staff.
- Other activities included an amateur radio demonstration with morse code instruction, a military martial arts demonstration, and a Civil Air Patrol hosted search for a notional downed aircraft.
Throughout the very busy weekend of activities the sight of scouts on Arsenal Island took many onlookers, volunteers, and leaders to recall their own past involvement in scouting or just the pride in seeing the installation filled with scouts.
“I was a scout growing up,” said Mitchell. “I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout, and it was one of the best things that I did as a kid. So it warms my heart to see all of you here today in uniform and getting ready to do this.”
“I’ve been in the military for 29 years, I’ve been a sergeant major for 13 years and this morning when I saw you walking by my house that was one of the best moments I had the privilege of witnessing in my entire career,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jorge Escobedo, command sergeant major, Army Sustainment Command. “I really hope that you guys have a great time and hope that next year we get to host you again, because it’s really an honor and a privilege to have you here.”
The turnout and level of success that the Illowa Scout Council had with the camporee on the Arsenal didn’t take place by mistake, it took coordination, but the push for that success was seen from both the Scout Council and from all those involved at the garrison and across the installation.
“Personally, I think the event was a big hit,” said Jonathan Cartner, scout executive, Illowa Council, Boy Scouts of America. “I never imagined the response we received from a planned 250-person event to an ending 360-person event. Phenomenal turnout from our Scouts and Scouter. I was also extremely impressed with the support from the Arsenal. I have been involved in planning Scouting events on military installations before and never had that level of support from the garrison down to each department/organization on the installation – it was great to see!”
Cartner shared some of the survey comments the council received from scout leaders, as well as the scouts themselves after the event was over.
“We loved everything we got to see – it was great having so many things to try to get to.”
“The attractions were great from the scout perspective.”
“The physical fitness course was good, we liked areas where there were speakers.”
After an incredible camporee filled with numerous activities both installation and scout coordinators are already working and planning towards next year’s camporee.
“I would absolutely support a reoccurring event on the Arsenal like this as well as an expanded opportunity to include our Cub Scout families at some point,” said Cartner.
“Scouts met and engaged with service members and veterans,” said Ramsdell. “These scouts and leaders are definitely encouraged to return to the Arsenal, to enhance their scout programing and expand their relationship with us.”
The Rock Island Arsenal is proud to partner with the Illowa Council BSA to serve as the location for its annual Heritage Trail Camporee.
Rock Island Arsenal is located on a 946-acre island in the Mississippi River. In 1969, the arsenal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1989, the original arsenal buildings were designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, Rock Island Arsenal is our nation's largest government owned and operated arsenal. The importance of the island was identified as early as 1809, when it was set aside as a federal military reservation by an Act of Congress.
The Illowa Council BSA consists of five districts to include the Mesquakie, Kittan, Hoover, Saukenuk, and Inali, that reside in 13 counties across Iowa and Illinois. Those districts have 131 Cub Scout packs, scouts BSA troops, Venturing crews, and Explorer posts delivering scouting programs with more than 1,610 adult leaders and 2,600 members, of which 60 scouts earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 2022.