By: Allison Sauer, Cadette Troop 2279 Co-Leader
Have you ever signed up for one of the many overnight events that are offered through Badgerland Girl Scouts? If you have, chances are you’ve received a packing list. I know you’ve seen something on your packing list and thought, “This is surely a suggestion, knee socks… seriously? Sturdy shoes…come on! My kicks will be just fine.” At one time or another, I’ve not only thought those thoughts, I’ve said then to my daughter.
And I will never ever do that again! EVER!
My troop loves getting the PathFinder. Our ritual is to go through and highlight all of the programs we’re interested in. Last year, the Be Prepared, Search and Rescue program really stood out, and my girls were so excited to attend. After we secured our spots, I printed out the packing list for everyone. And when the time came, with the aforementioned mindset, we packed and set out for our adventure.
Getting to Camp Brandenburg was so easy. If you’ve never been, you are missing out on an absolutely gorgeous piece of property that we are truly lucky, as a council, to own. The rolling hills, thick woods and lake make for a beautiful setting for just about any Girl Scout event.
As we entered the camp and headed towards check-in, everything looked normal. I could hear Courtney, Troops and Resources Program Manager, asking the girls if they were dressed in what they would be wearing for the program, and making sure that everyone would be warm and comfy for when the program began. My girls and I were ready to go, or so we thought.
At check-in, Courtney asked if Bella would be comfortable working on a “special project” for the night. She agreed, and off she went. A little while later, she joined back up with us at Hilltop, her “special project” a secret to everyone.
When I walked into Hilltop the atmosphere changed a bit. There were several military-looking people scattered around the room. Courtney introduced us to a man named Eddie and his team, who are not only first responders, they are the team that is normally deployed first when a disaster hits somewhere in the U.S.
I immediately thought of the packing list and panicked a bit because of my flippant attitude toward it. Clearly, Eddie took his packing list seriously. He was dressed in all-black combat gear, sturdy black boots and a thick, black belt chocked full of pouches. To say he was intimidating would be an understatement.
I wore my skinny jeans, ankle socks, comfort-sole Candie’s, a Girl Scout tee layered under my black Columbia, and I just had a pedi. After seeing Eddie’s “outfit” my mantra became, “I’ll be fine, it’s a Girl Scout event… it’ll be easy”
Was I ever wrong.
That evening’s mission was truly literal. Eddie and his team set the stage for a search and rescue of a grandmother with Alzheimer’s, who was lost in the woods with her autistic grandson. We were split into groups and partnered with rescue workers from across the country. They shared great information with our girls; from how and why they set a grid map, to why being quiet and listening is important.
Next, we were inserted into our search grid, which was located above Hilltop. The lay of the land is steep and thick with trees, dead leaves and underbrush. It was around that time I realized what Bella’s special project was. Eddie and his team had applied makeup to her leg to make it look bruised, and asked her to pretend to fall and injure herself. When Bella “fell” the entire search stopped until additional rescue workers found us, assessed the situation, strapped Bella to backboard and began hiking their way up a steep incline. No path, no markers, just ankle-twisting underbrush, small trees slapping at your face, and plants with thorns grabbing at your skin.
Why do I remember these specific roadblocks? Well, prior to Bella’s injury there were some girls whining about these obstacles. “My feet hurt.” “The branches are cutting me.” “This is too hard.” etc. Three amazing rescue workers and I carried Bella up through the woods. Keep in mind, Bella is 5’5”, 140lbs and strapped to a backboard!
What I didn’t know was that our group of girls didn’t stay behind to continue searching for the original victims. Instead, they tearfully followed their fellow Girl Scout, whom they had only met hours earlier. Not only that, they insisted on carrying Bella down steep terrain to the emergency vehicle waiting for us.
This was amazing to behold. Seeing their focus shift from complaining about the bugs flying around to worrying about their fellow Girl Scout was life changing. Once the girls loaded Bella into the emergency vehicle, they complained no more. Their focus was finding the two victims, all the while, worrying about Bella’s “injury.”
As night fell we were at the tail end of our grid, which connected with base camp. It was at that point when Eddie met us. He explained to our group that Bella had pretended to be injured, and she had joined another group to continue the search. As he walked away, I was met with 10 girls that were happy, crying and confused. “I was so worried about her,” and “I couldn’t stop thinking of her,” were some comments I heard.
At that moment, I couldn’t have been more proud to be part of Girl Scouts. The girls accepted each other not just because they were told to or because they were grouped together. They accepted each other because they are sisters. I watched the girls show compassion and kindness, patience and resilience. I have never experienced the unconditional love that these girls showed each other. I was rejuvenating as a human and I was close to tears many times that day.
It was later in the evening when the last group of girls used the information they learned to safely carry a “hurt” 9-year-old boy up an incline so steep, a rope pulley needed to be secured to ensure safety for all. When they reached the top, a thunderous round of applause echoed around us. I will never forget the words Eddie spoke next. He pointed to all the girls and said, “You did this.”
Yes they did.
From start to finish we were met with challenges that required us to push ourselves mentally and physically, and they each crushed it! The weekend’s program was not just about Search and Rescue; it was about like-minded strangers coming together and building relationships through unique opportunities like this and leaving as friends.
Our daughters pulled together for a mission, little did we all know the mission was not exclusively about finding two lost victims, it was about finding strength to do things we never thought we would or could do. It was about supporting each other through encouragement. I know Bella will never forget that weekend, and neither will I.
On a side note: if “sturdy shoes” is on the packing list, it’s not a suggestion!