New girls in Scouts set pace with ‘seamless’ integration on Okinawa
December 20, 2019
CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — In years past the leader who called Scouts BSA Troop 110 to order Wednesday on Camp Courtney may have elicited surprise, even disapproval, from some old-school Boy Scouts.
“It’s very important that you are accountable for your responsibilities,” said assistant senior patrol leader Melanie Alejandra Varon Golden, addressing the group about the possibility of becoming leaders themselves. “You have to be willing to put in 100% effort because other Scouts rely on you.”
The 17-year-old Star Scout — scouting’s third highest rank — joined the 109-year-old civic organization for 11- to 17-year-olds in March, one month after the Scouts opened their ranks to girls.
Varon Golden and her male and female counterparts said integration had not only been seamless but highly successful on Okinawa, improving Troop 110 and pushing Scouts of both genders to greater heights.
“Coming in, I was a bit nervous,” Varon Golden said after the meeting. “Even though society has these things that are more so for men, I think it’s been a great opportunity that we are able to be a part of Scouts BSA and are treated equally.”
Troop 110 is one of eight on the Japanese island of Okinawa, according to the Boy Scouts of America Far East Council website. Troops are spread across Japan and Korea.
Troop 110 is about 30 years old, said assistant Scoutmaster Ryan Gutzwiller. Since adding girls in February, it now operates as two separate gender-specific troops under the same umbrella.
The Scouts decide what they want to do together or separately, and those events just sort of happen organically, the troop’s scoutmasters said. Many activities, like meetings, hikes and certain camping trips, are done jointly.
Four girls joined in February, Gutzwiller said. That number has grown to 10. The girls are thus far so motivated to achieve, that they have spurred their male counterparts to keep up, he said.
No issues have arisen due to having both genders in the troop, scoutmasters said.
Scout Chett Huff, 15, said he knows the girls from school, so welcoming them into the fold was easy. Huff is a Life Scout, scouting’s second highest rank.
“They bring a lot to the table,” he said.
Assistant Scoutmaster Jeff Planteen, who achieved scouting’s top rank of Eagle Scout, has been overjoyed watching his daughter Kaelin, 11, carry on enthusiastically in his footsteps, he said. She took part in a wilderness survival campout and scaled 12,389-foot-high Mount Fuji.
“I’ve definitely seen confidence, her ability to speak up and say, ‘Hey, I know how to do that,’ or ‘I can show you how to do that,’ which is something I don’t think she really had before,” Planteen said. “She’s having a blast.”
“The people here are awesome, and they’ve been welcoming,” said the soft-spoken Kaelin Planteen. “We go on really fun adventures.”