** Please note that all faces in pictures within this blog post not belonging to myself or my son are blurred for privacy reasons. I do not have permission to post pictures of these individuals, so I am protecting their privacy.**
Over this past summer, our Trail Life USA Troop, Troop TX-0098, was invited to join other Troops from the North Texas area at an Appleseed shooting campout this fall. When our Youth PLC met over the summer to determine the locations, themes, and points-of-contact for each of our monthly campouts, they voted to attend, and I’m so glad that they did!
When the message went out to officially sign up/register, we quickly jumped on it and had multiple Trailmen sign up. We ended up having 8 youth and 5 adults attend. The campout as a whole had 45 Trailmen from 7 different Troops sign up to shoot.
As the campout approached, if I’m honest, I was becoming a little skeptical and uncertain. We had a lot of Trailmen missing out on this specific campout, which made me disappointed for them, and the thought of having dozens of Trailmen shooting in one location sounded like chaos at best, and a safety hazard at worst. Thankfully, my fears turned out to be exceedingly unfounded!
Friday, November 16, 2018
Our Troop met at our host church and set out Friday afternoon. After stopping for a fantastic dinner together at one of my favorite places - Grump’s Burgers in Burleson - we continued on our way, stopping every 3.5 minutes for a restroom break. (I’m only slightly exaggerating! 😂)
We arrived at the Central Texas Rifle and Pistol Club location, near Waco, Texas, around 9:30 PM. We were quickly greeted by Eric Inman, Troopmaster for Troop TX-19:1, who guided us through parking our Troop trailer, then showed us to our Troop’s camping area.
While most of our Trailmen set up camp, my son, Kyle, and I headed to a brief, but well organized First Officer and Lead Adult meeting, where we were given packets, information and instructions for the weekend. It was clear by this point that everything was well planned.
The remainder of the weekend was packed full and intense. Troopmaster Eric Inman was the “Camp Director.” This was his Troop’s fifth straight year to attend, and he is an Appleseed Instructor and Range Safety Officer, so he had things perfectly scheduled and flowing like a well oiled machine.
Saturday - November 17, 2018
Most of our Troop woke up at 6:30 Saturday morning. We cooked, ate, did KP, then attended Opening Ceremonies, which involved raising the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance followed by The Trailman Oath.
We checked in at the range in the prescribed manner at 8:30 AM and never slowed down! The Appleseed Instructors started by introducing themselves and the program, then giving lots of safety information. They made it extremely clear to all involved that safety would be the top priority of the weekend - followed by learning to shoot, learning Revolutionary War history, having some fun, and enjoying some fellowship.
When we were given the go ahead, our Trailmen filed out to unload their weapons from my Suburban. My center row of seating had, If I remember correctly, 12 guns, including at least eight .22 rifles, my Glock 19, a .22 pistol, a Stoeger 9mm, multiple range bags, a few ammo cans, and enough ammo (a minimum of 500 rounds per shooter) to start up a very small compound. It was a beautiful sight quite different from anything I’ve seen in my eleven years of involvement and camping with Troop 98!
When it came time to shoot, the Appleseed Instructors made certain that everything worked according to a system, which kept guns pointed in the correct direction (upwards or down range) at all times, and that fingers were kept off of triggers until the proper time. They clearly laid out the rules, and repeated them frequently (after all, we were handing guns to 45 young men between the ages of 11 and 17.) They gave clear instructions in an easy to follow manner and taught the Trailmen, some of whom were holding rifles for the first time in their lives, more information about proper marksmanship and safety than I’ve learned in my 39 years of life.
The first shooting for the Trailmen involved the use of a specific target so that a baseline starting point could be determined as their “before.” Many of the Trailmen had a difficult time putting any of those initial rounds on the paper at 25 yards. My son only had one on his target. We’ll come back to how much they improved later...
Then came a few hours of intense instruction and lots of shooting!
At lunchtime, the Trailmen grabbed their food in under five minutes and took it back inside the range for some history lessons while eating.
Then it was time for more shooting instruction and lots of hands on practice until about 4:30, if I remember correctly. They really packed that time full of incredible teaching.
Once we were dismissed Saturday late in the afternoon, we walked back to our camping area for evening activities.
I made some chili that turned out pretty decent, and ended up being perfect for the cold and windy weather. We followed dinner with campfire burritos, which are dark-chocolate-peanut-butter-spread-and-marshmallows-inside-a-tortilla cooked on a camp stove. These are a specialty of one of our Trailmen. Thankfully, he makes them after Saturday’s dinner on pretty much every T98 campout!
While we cooked and ate, we enjoyed fellowship amongst our Troop along with the occasional leader from other Troops, which was most excellent! It is always awesome to to spend time with the other dads from Troop 98, but it was also really good to get to know some of these guys from other Troops who share similar beliefs and values.
We then attended a phenomenal Multi-Troop campfire event. Trailmen from various Troops performed the obligatory skits. Various Appleseed Instructors told stories from the Revolutionary War. These stories were full of great lessons - inspiring reflection and patriotism, and helping Trailmen to understand the sacrifices that families made to bring about the United States of America. I laughed, cried and felt the impact of those stories deeply.
We ended the evening by ceremonially retiring several well worn US flags, and listened as a handful of Trailmen shared with us what the US Flag means to them. It was somber and reverent - the perfect way to end the day.
Sunday, November 18, 2018
Sunday morning, our Trailmen were awake at 6 AM to take care of breakfast and break down camp before Chapel.
Chapel started off with some praise and worship time. It’s always moving to participate in worshipping our Lord, with my son, in the woods, surrounded by dozens of other men and boys doing the same.
Next, the Chaplain from another Troop led all of the gathered Troops through a lesson, which he absolutely nailed! Much of the lesson was based on the Trail Life USA motto - “Walk Worthy,” which comes from Colossians 1:10, which in the NASB reads, “that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
One of the best takeaways was a reminder that while we are wearing our uniforms, we represent not only Trail Life USA, but also our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Someone who had attended this same event last year shared with us that one of the Appleseed Instructors asked why these young men were so different from other young men. That conversation led to that man professing faith in Jesus! That’s what it’s all about right there!
If the gentleman who led Chapel happens to read this, I’d like to say, “Thank you very much for a job well done!” What a great reminder of why we “Walk Worthy!”
After Chapel, we again held an Opening Ceremony, identical to Saturday morning’s and then we were at the range by 8 AM.
Saturday’s instruction was primarily from the prone position. Sunday, several of the Trailmen hadn’t made much improvement, so the Appleseed Instructors caller an audible. After a brief discussion, they determined that the young men would be split into two groups, one of which would move forward with new instruction. The other group was to receive more specific and individualized attention in an effort to improve their skills before moving on. This ended up being a very wise change of plans.
The Trailmen who moved on were given new lessons and learned to shoot from other positions, including standing and kneeling. They learned so much in a short time. It truly was incredible!
The other group spent the next few hours refining their skills from the prone position. Almost all of them made some huge breakthroughs and figured out what piece they had been missing. They all improved substantially!
Sunday lunch was much like Saturday lunch. Grab it quick and get back inside to continue learning.
Toward the end of the day, the Trailmen shot through a couple of rounds of the Appleseed Qualifying Test (AQT). This was pretty intense, but so good for the young men involved.
Some of the other leaders and I were taught to score the targets and helped to fill out certificates for some of the young men who had attained specific levels in their shooting. My son, Kyle, had the fourth highest qualifying score, 167, which put him in the “Marksman” category, three points shy of “Sharpshooter.” (By the way, I refused to grade his test for the integrity of the results. I even made the leader who graded it check with the Range Boss on part of the score to ensure he wasn’t too lenient in grading a few of the shots.)
Kyle learned so much. I’m proud of how hard he worked all weekend, not only as our Troop’s First Officer, but also at learning and practicing the lessons taught on the range. It was humbling to watch him grow so much in just two days.
To end their shooting time, the Trailmen took another attempt at shooting the redcoats at a new Appleseed target, identical to the one used for their “Before” baseline. The “After” target showed incredible improvement. My son, Kyle, who put only one shot on paper in the before shooting round, put 14 on paper for the after round! One of those shots hit “Morgan’s Shingle,” simulating hitting a roof shingle at 250 yards, a test used by one man during the Revolutionary War as the *first step* in determining eligibility for joining his militia to fight the redcoats!
Lastly, certificates were handed out, accolades were given, and then came one of the coolest parts of the weekend. The Camp First Officer, a Trailman who had been on this campout several times over the past five years, who had earned Rifleman last year by shooting over 210 points in the Appleseed Qualification Test, was offered a position as an Appleseed Instructor and accepted! That was pretty incredible to watch!
The Appleseed instructors were knowledgeable, personable, firm, extremely focused on safety, kind, organized, and very generous, especially considering that they were all volunteering their time. When Trailmen had issues with their own rifles, many of the instructors pulled out their very nice, personal rifles and loaned them to Trailmen without hesitation. They taught with heart, giving the Trailmen everything they had. I was genuinely impressed by the instructors and the Appleseed program and methods. If any of you happen to read this, thank you so much for all you gave my son, and the other Trailmen from our Troop! You guys seriously rocked it!
As far as a Multi-Troop event, it was well organized, run extremely well, and was a great example to our Troop of what can be done by pulling together the resources and knowledge of several Troops. Troopmaster Eric Inman did a phenomenal job of setting it up, communicating with other Troops, letting us know what to expect, running the show, and asking for constructive feedback afterwards. At the end of the event, I quietly awarded him one of my personal Challenge Coins for his outstanding work in putting this together. He is the first person outside of our Troop that I’ve given one to. I did not give that to him lightly - he deserved that and so much more. If you see this post, sir, thank you very much for your efforts on behalf of the Trailmen in North Texas, and specifically Troop 98. We are in your debt, and exceedingly thankful for your hard work!
Throughout the weekend, the Trailmen from Troop 98 kept talking about how much fun it was and how much they’d love to return. Anytime I asked about enjoyment levels while at the range, there was an abundance of enthusiasm. My son spent hours telling his mom about the weekend when we arrived home, and then every Thanksgiving gathering the following week involved substantial talk of the weekend, along with showing off his targets.
We did have a first year Navigator and a second year Navigator along on this trip who expressed that it was a bit overwhelming to them. They had a lot of fun and seemed as though they were glad they went, but neither is as anxious to return as the others. I think it was just a bit much for their age and maturity level. Neither has had an opportunity to attend many monthly campouts yet, so this was a bit more difficult for them. If our Youth PLC votes to return next year, I’ll likely suggest that we limit attendance to at least 7th graders and up, possibly even 8th or only Adventurers. That will need to be a discussion amongst our leaders and parents.
The Trailmen of Troop 98 who attended, including us old guys, were incredibly blessed to have been part of it!
In closing, I’d say that If you ever have the opportunity to attend an Appleseed event, I highly recommend you do so! You won’t regret it!
Thank you for reading and “Walk Worthy!”
December 12th Edit to add: My son informed a few days back that in their most recent PLC Meeting, the Trailmen leaders discussed looking into the possibility of doing a one-day Appleseed training day for their next Adventurers only non-camping outing. They really loved learning to shoot the Appleseed way!