Boy Scout seeks badges in remote location
By Cpl. Lameen Witter
| | November 27, 2007
NIGER, Africa --
The 130-degree African sun beats down on the young boy's brow, resulting in a trickle of sweat. He has been walking for nearly three miles with several more to go. The perspiration from his left hand has moistened the paper he has been carrying for the last hour with the plotted locations that he has found with the compass in his right hand. In search of the next location on the paper, his feet grow heavier with each step, but his desire to find all the points in the area keeps him motivated.
In the distance goats can be heard lost in the Mila fields. Women from the local village, carrying jugs of water on their heads, walk past the boy and his father. Nigerien soldiers headed in the opposite direction with similar papers and compasses in their hands pass the two, stopping only to check their azimuth and comment, "Ca Va?" The boy and his father politely reply and continue on their quest. The quest in this instance is beyond longitude and latitude of the next points on the paper. It rests in the embroidered design of the Boy Scouts Orienteering merit badge.
For young Devin M. Wildman, son of Niamey Marine Corps Security Guard (MSG) Detachment Commander Staff Sgt. Jerry L. Wildman, just being a Boy Scout can be a little difficult. Moreover, trying to attain merit badges without the guidance and safe haven of a troop can be even more difficult. So, when the Marines and Sailors of the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorist Initiative (TSCTI) began teaching the Nigerien soldiers land navigation as part of their mission, Devin's parents saw it as a rare opportunity to get their son another merit badge.
The 24 service members of the Mobile Training Team (MTT) dedicated themselves to the State Department's initiative to bolster the capabilities of Africa's Sahel region and stem the flow of illicit arms, goods, and terrorists in the area. The Cadre took over the mission from Special Operations Command, Europe personnel, providing the unit with an operational break after the unit previously conducted similar training in Mali and Mauritania.
The Marines began their mission in Chad by providing eight weeks of training to soldiers there. The team moved to Niger on August 9, 2004 for another eight weeks to train the Nigerien force in basic individual infantry skills up to company-level tactics.
The Marines set a week aside to teach three platoons of 150 soldiers land navigation. The team also taught classes such as field medicine and marksmanship training with the AK-47 assault riffle. The Nigerien soldiers learned how to read a map, navigate using a compass, measure distance by counting one's pace, and navigate through a compass course that consisted of four points ranging 100 to 300 meters in distance within a 5x6 kilometer area.
The local area surrounding the Nigerien Army Base, Tondibiah, where the MTT is conducting the training, provided the setting for the land navigation course.
Realizing that the requirements for the Boy Scout merit badge and the land navigation were similar, Army Lt. Col. Roman Fontes, defense attaché of the U.S Embassy in Niger, approached TSCTI MTT Officer in Charge, Maj. Paul A. Baker, about the eleven year old earning his merit badge alongside the Nigerien soldiers.
"It was hard reading the map, and I got real tired because my dad and I walked a lot trying to find the points," said Devin as he recalled his experience balled up with his knees to his chest while sitting in the couch at his house.
According to 1st Lt. Marcus Cornelius, team leader of instructor/trainers and the main instructor/trainer during the land navigation course, Devin performed well, completing the four-point navigation course within the top percentile of the training class. He surpassed several of the Nigerien soldiers.
"I think its wonderful that Lt. Col. Fontes thought enough to contact Maj. Baker, and that Maj. Baker thought enough about it to include him in the team. Everyone there helped him out. It's like he's got a whole band of big brothers," said Mrs. Michelle Wildman, remembering when her son came home with a smile on his face. "He had a great time walking around and eating MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). He will not get that experience anywhere else."
Mrs.Wildman was Devin's cub master for four of the five years that he was in the Cub Scouts. This allowed her to be the one who presented her son with his merit badges as he achieved them. As a Boy Scout, Devin is the one that must initiate the activities that will earn him his merit badges, and as a lone scout, a boy scout with no troop, he relies on his family and friends to fill the void of having no troop. As a result, the MSG Marines and U.S. embassy workers have and continue to help Devin gain his other merit badges, such as the art, and reading badge. He's currently working on his citizenship in the world, family heritage, personal fitness, and music badge.
According to Eagle Scout, 1st Lt. Mathew Welch, team leader of instructor/trainers, TSCTI MTT, the Boy Scout organization is similar to the Marine Corps in that a
Scout has to earn his awards and badges, and a scout enjoys the brotherly fellowship that also thrives in the Corps. Welch said it's a great beginning for any young man and sets him in the right direction for life.
When asked if he ever thought of being a Marine one-day, Devin replied with a growing smile on his face and a giggle, "I don't know, maybe."