Last weekend, I packed bags full of clothing and equipment and left for
secret destination to lead my Venturing crew in a reconnaissance mission that would not only test our scouting knowledge, but threaten to tear my team asunder. I went…to Mafeking.
In 1988, Lord Baden-Powell and a small troop held Mafeking against siege by the encroaching Boers. One of his main strategies was making his force appear stronger than it was by simulating landmines, making fake searchlights, and acting as though areas were cordoned off with barbed wire. Likewise, every year my troop simulates a war situation in which teams compete to show their skills in medical emergencies, navigation, evasion, woodcraft, knotwork, rescue skills, fire craft, and most importantly team work. For the first time, the Venturing crew was invited to enter an all-girls team. As we learned later, no one thought that we could handle the challenge.
2100 hours. The first hurdle was in woodcraft. We were informed that enemy snipers had been posted throughout the camp wielding (water)guns which they would fire upon any team they spotted. We had to be very quiet. Our first assignment was to take a bearing a certain distance north from a flagpole and report it to our contact. We spent several minutes first getting to the pole, and ensuring that no other teams (possible enemies) were there before realizing that it was impossible to take the bearing because the north was blocked with dense forest. We consulted our map and decided that the flagpole in question was probably one overlooked in the center the territory. As we took our bearing, we were surprised by a mass of enemy agents stampeding past in the guise of deer. We realized, however, that there are no real deer at Scoutland.
The team then proceeded to sneak along the shoreline that marks the outward perimeter of Scoutland. Loud enemy voices and lights in the distance reminded us that though we were fairly silent and blacked out, we were woefully exposed. Climbing through a bed of dead leaves onto a bridge was the work of a moment. We reassembled just as the enemy started back down the path toward us. We dove into the brush–the crackling brush. Now we were fairly well hidden but woefully loud. As first shapes of the enemy passed silently through the gloom, agent Delta stood up because she thought the enemy was me. I realized that amidst the signals for silent, come here, and convene, I had forgotten to set a signal for coming out of hiding.
At the first-aid station, I was struck by a piece of shrapnel, and my leg crumpled beneath me. The team remembered how to set a splint, but I began to enter shock, which was none the less disturbing because it involved talk of infant rabbits, fuchsia, and bright gleams of light. Fortunately, I had the foresight to imprint in my subconscious the exclamation, “Are you listening to me? I’m going into shock, you fools!” Agent Bravo was quite perceptive and prevented the unthinkable. Our stellar medic Gamma removed the shrapnel on site and applied a healing potion, and we were fit to continue our mission within fifteen minutes.
Our contact instructed us that an enemy camp was situated at the other end of the territory. As we crouched in the underbrush plotting our next move, screams emanated from the site and then all was silent. An enemy patrol exited shortly afterwards. We had been informed that the enemy had set a watch, which had been quietly been taken out by one of our own. The rest of the group would not notice us unless they heard us, but all were armed. We were instructed to discover the bearing of the gun in the camp, and report any other information we gathered. The trail leading down to the camp was fraught with risk, but the hillside flanking it was covered with dried leaves. In the silence, gunshots
squirted boomed. Agents Gamma’s and Bravo’s bullet-proof vests had come in handy. It appeared that snipers had been posted to replace the downed watchmen. As I dove under a table, a machine gunner turned and sprayed a hail of bullets at us. We made hasty notes. In the distance, shouts and the baying of hounds alerted us of our danger and we fled into the night.
It grew progressively harder to evade the enemy teams. One point in our favor was that they were typically loud and careless who might be watching. Dissension arose in the group as a member pointed out that the team leader didn’t confide in her team. However, both parties were too tired to argue. All parties agreed that the enemy teams were annoying, and extra rations of chocolate were apportioned. It was now about 0330 hours. Frustrations rose as holes in each member’s preparation and knowledge were observed. Nearly an hour was spent in failed attempts to get in touch with our contact, as enemy teams searched for the mole in their operation. Finally, we reached the relative safety of the other side of the peninsula and made a fire against the wind to warm chilled nerves.
As team leader, I had been in this area before, but was now thoroughly disoriented. We made our way to a hidey-hole Agent Delta knew. Unfortunately, although we were in the correct area, we could not now discover the place in the dark. We signaled to the one we knew to be guarding it. He signaled back from the brush. He seemed far too complacent and blanketed to actually be doing a very good job of guarding. However, he was skilled in sleeping in silence. He emerged from the brush, gave us the coordinates of our resting place for the night, and vanished into the darkness. It was now 0600 hours. We stumbled to our camp and collapsed. The next morning would hold our most challenging undertaking yet: boiling coffee in under two hours.
Thanks to elizabethmerrill for the coffee.