FORT BLISS, Texas — At 40 feet in the air on a wooden rappel tower, the mind can play tricks. Legs begin to tremble and the ground begins to spin. The instructor tells the Boy Scout to take three deep breaths and then prepare to jump.
Butterflies swirl in the stomach and his hands clasp tightly to a single strand of rope, the only thing between him and the distant floor below. Although it was frightening, these conditions would be similar if he had to save someone’s life.
With the Search and Rescue Merit Badge on the line and a crowd cheering below, he makes his decision. His quaking feet find the courage to leap forth and suddenly rushing wind bursts past him. The ground approaches quickly and the instructor’s words echo in his head, “to slow down, pull the rope towards your back.”
His body reacts and the knots in the rope tighten for a smooth and graceful landing. A proud smile crawls across his face — he’s done it.
For 25 Boy Scouts in El Paso, rappelling down the Air Assault Tower at Fort Bliss on April 27 was not only an achievement they could brag about, but it also put them one step closer to earning the Search and Rescue Merit Badge.
The scouts from Troop 4 started working toward their goal several months ago by learning about different methods and techniques for search and rescue.
When it came time for them to learn how to rappel, the University of Texas at El Paso Reserve Officer Training Corps and the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club jumped at the chance to help, said Cadet Mason P. Livingston, a rappel master and UTEP ROTC student.
“I think the community has a really great appreciation for (soldiers),” he said. “Whatever we can do to return the favor, I think it’s something we should do.”
In addition to rappelling, the Boy Scouts went through the Air Assault Obstacle Course and learned how to carry a litter with a casualty on it.
“I’ve been thinking about joining the Army, so I like getting opportunities like this to try things in an actual training facility,” said Austin F. Garibay, a Life Scout from Troop 4. “It was pretty fun.”
“For 14-year-old kids, I can’t imagine them getting this level of training anywhere else,” said Maj. Michael P. Smith, the Fort Bliss military liaison for the Boy Scouts of America. “They might look like a bunch of skinny, little kids, but they’re pretty tough — tougher than I was at that age.”
Aside from rigorous physical demands, the scouts also had to display leadership qualities while earning their merit badge, he added. In fact, children in the troop planned the entire event, and they intend to continue this trend as they finish out their last few requirements.
The boys are currently setting up trips to visit the Pararescue Indoctrination Training Center at Lackland Air Force Base to get a day’s worth of training from the air-rescue instructors there, and visit Sierra Providence Medical Center in El Paso to learn about helicopter safety from a medical evacuation crew.
If all goes well, the Boy Scouts of Troop 4 should be able to hold their heads high as proud wearers of the Search and Rescue Merit Badge by the end of the summer.