Cadette Girl Scouts, survival, and the Green Berets

Training girls in survival skills, Climbing all over Sandy Bend's hills. Men who laugh along the way, They're our friends, these Green Berets!

Here in the wooded hills of northwestern West Virginia 13 men of the National Guard Special Forces (Green Berets) from nearby Huntington recently shared their enthusiasm, interest, and training with close to 100 Cadette Girl Scouts.

The weekend this fall marked the fifth year of National Guard presence at the camp, designed to introduce junior high age Scouts to survival and leadership skills.

Participation by the Green Berets ''began by chance,'' according to Nancy Gretzinger, camp director. Five years ago the National Guard was invited to demonstrate helicopter maneuvers, she said.

''All of a sudden we thought,'' 'Who are the survival specialists?' And we realized, there they are. It has just grown from there.''

Each year the Green Beret reservists volunteer their time without pay or military credit for the weekend they spend as instructors, confidants, good-humored victims of campfire skits and stunts, and guests for meals prepared by the girls over campfires.

This year the girls from about 15 troops in Ohio and West Virginia rappelled over a ravine on a single rope, swung by another rope over an imaginary river, and searched for edible wild food. (The latter included a black rat snake which became a camp pet rather than going into a pot.)

The teens were challenged to pack a survival kit and to work cooperatively to deliver food or medical supplies across imaginary rivers where mythical bridges had been washed away by storms. They worked with compasses, devised splints of available materials for unbroken bones, and demonstrated the use of a snakebite kit.

The planners have no illusions that after a single weekend the girls are prepared for any similar emergency. ''The objective is to give the girls a sense of independence and to see what they can do,'' Mrs. Gretzinger explained to troop leaders.

''You want to have a basic idea of what to do,'' Byb Polcyn of the Green Berets told girls who had just completed one ''mission'' with only ''a few broken supplies'' in the kit they were assigned to move across a bridgeless river.

''You don't know what to do until you get right to a situation,'' added Polcyn, who commended the girls on their resourcefulness and leadership. ''Everybody put in ideas - that's the way,'' he said.

''We saw indications of real leadership,'' observed Mrs. Gretzinger after all the girls, in groups of about a dozen each, had completed the seven survival skill training challenges. She added that in some of the exercises:

''We also saw a real lack of it.

''These girls grow with a variety of experiences,'' Mrs. Gretzinger asserted. ''It widens their horizons. That's what Girl Scouting is about.''

The Green Berets, for their part, related some of their experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia, and National Guard training camps and suggested strategies to the girls for improving their responses to other challenges.

Adults marveled this year, as in the past, on the ability the men exhibited not just in teaching survival and leadership skills, but in all their relations with the girls. They seemed to make every girl feel very special - whether shy or bold, attractive or less so, skilled or clumsy.

The men awarded the patches from their uniforms to the team which scored the most points in the seven activities. ''There is a lot of history and a lot of pride in these patches,'' Capt. Mike Mulford of Ohio told the girls. ''We don't give them up for just anyone.''

Many of the officers had, as had some of the girls, been at the survival camp before. The men have seen the same campfire skits, have watched their berets travel atop many teenagers, and have heard the same campfire songs many times before. They have consumed quantities of campfire stew, banana boats, and s'mores from metal camp kits - always as if it were gourmet fare.

''I guess we're still just kids,'' suggested Bernie Greer, a West Virginia mining engineer.

Peter Judd of Ashland, Ky., the only officer to have been at the camp all five years the military has participated, finally said, ''I just enjoy being here and working with the girls.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.