Scouting for Latter-day Saints—The Story of Scout Troop 702

by | Jan 23, 2024

Forming a Legacy Troop:

In the last half of 2019, as the end approached for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to charter units of the Boy Scouts of America, more than two dozen dedicated Church-member Scouters gathered in “North County,” San Diego, California.  Their intent was to discuss and explore options to continue Scouting for Latter-day Saint youth.  Finding solid interest among local Church youth and seeing ample adult leadership, a committee was formed, a Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters were recruited, and efforts were launched to secure a chartering organization and meeting place.

As a driving force in the creation of this legacy troop, Trevor Bender recalled, “As the Church began to wind down its charter relationship with Scouting in 2019, I was grateful that there was no prohibition issued on continuing in Scouting.  My local troop had helped me so much in my youth, as well as in the growth of my children; I wanted to help create (a troop) that could be of similar service to those in my community. Eric Gemmell and I reached out to others and the Troop came together pretty quickly. The (COVID-19) pandemic hit us pretty hard, but (the troop) survived and has made a difference in the lives of the families we serve!

After much-dedicated effort, the group was able to secure a chartering organization, Mission Family Dentistry, owned by Church member Dr. Sean Odenwalder. A meeting place was procured at an event venue called “The Barn,” owned by the Marin family, also Church members, in Vista, California.  Charters for a Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop were secured from the San Diego Imperial Council in November 2019.

As Church Scouting ended, the two oldest LDS troops in North County were identified as Troop 701 (Carlsbad Stake) and Troop 702 (Vista Stake)—both dating back to the earliest days of LDS Scouting in San Diego County.  Troop 701 continued as a chartered legacy troop for one more year by members of the Oceanside 1st Ward.  However, the numbers for Pack and Troop 702 were available, and this number was adopted as a way to honor the long and continuing legacy.

As the troop marched out under the 702 flag, the strong adult leadership was a distinct advantage in swiftly ramping up to the level of a long-standing and seasoned veteran troop.  Trevor Bender (emeritus Scoutmaster Troop 711 and District Commissioner) became the Troop Committee Chair (within a couple of years, he would become the Council Commissioner).  Eric Gemmell agreed to be the Scoutmaster (coincidently, he is the emeritus Scoutmaster of retired Troop 702 but not the driving force for adopting the 702 troop number). Gemmell is also a former Roundtable Commissioner.  Assistant Scoutmasters include Duane Neyens (emeritus Scoutmaster Troop 714, former Marine Corps Explorer Post Advisor, Cubmaster, and District Commissioner), Sean Odenwalder (also, the Chartering Organization Executive), Grant Preece (former Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Unit Commissioner), Jeffrey Rutherford (emeritus Cubmaster), and Andy Zinniger (emeritus Scoutmaster of Troop 715 and former Roundtable Commissioner).  As an additional testament to the experience of the troop’s adult leadership, Trevor Bender, Scoutmaster Eric Gemmell, and four of the five Assistant Scoutmasters had earned their Wood Badges (advanced leadership training) during their Scouting involvement.

Christi Zinniger, mother of two of the first Scouts in the troop (both attaining Eagle rank), wife of ASM Andy Zinniger, and original committee member, shared that, “Ever since I can remember, Scouting has been in my life. My father was a Scoutmaster. My brothers were Scouts and attained Eagle rank. I saw the opportunities they were offered to develop leadership qualities and experience life-changing adventures. Scouting, combined with Latter-day Saint religious training, has largely made them who they are today. When my own sons were young, it was a priority for me to expose them to Scouting. I see a real difference between them and their peers because of the opportunities Scouting offers. They are confident leaders whose priorities in life are in line with my own moral standards.”

 

Filling the Eagles Nest:

Within three months, the first Eagle Scout rank was earned by Augustin Navarrete in March 2020.  A total of seven Eagles joined the Troop 702’s nest that first year. By the end of 2023, a total of 26 Scouts had attained Eagle.

Among these Eagle Scouts is Zachary Bishop, who became a 13-year-old Eagle in May 2021. Zach is a fourth-generation Eagle Scout in his family, dating back to his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, who earned the rank in 1932. Zach continued in the troop, serving later as a Patrol Leader and then twice as the Senior Patrol Leader. Zach’s motivation for continuing was that he was having fun being a Scout, but he also wanted to gain more leadership experience beyond what he had attained at 13 years old. He wanted to serve as a leadership example for the other Scouts in the troop. He is currently 16 years old and is considering a career in law after he serves a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and completes college—although he is wisely leaving his career options open

 

Another of these Eagle Scouts is Manuel Pope. Concurrent with completing his Eagle and after many years of activity with LDS troops, Manny was baptized into the Church by his friend and fellow Eagle Scout, Zach Bishop.  Manny was also instrumental in encouraging his sister’s activity with the Young Women program and in her baptism.  The first Eagle in his family, Manny enlisted in the Marine Corps and, as an Eagle Scout, upon graduation from Marine Boot Camp, he was promoted under contract to the rank of Private First Class (PFC).  Manny is headed to military occupational school at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia, to become a Marine Ground Ordinance Maintenance Technician.

Shaping Honorable Priesthood Holders:

Troop 702’s adult leaders have strong testimonies of the benefit of Scouting in the lives of these young Latter-day Saint men and preparing them for a world of trial, challenge, and rigor—whether they become Eagle Scouts or not. Troop meetings and campfires are characterized by the bearing of testimonies, hearing faith-promoting stories and/or studying and discussing the scriptures.  Of the 26 Eagle Scouts, one (Manuel Pope) is serving in the Marine Corps, ten are in college—two at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and four spread through the three BYU campuses; five are awaiting mission calls, ten are on missions (three on break from college) and three are still in high school—with plans for missions and/or college after graduation.

As Scoutmaster Gemmell observed, “One of the best parts about Scouting is the aspect of Duty to God. As a youth sports coach, Young Men Advisor, and Scoutmaster, I have worked with a couple hundred young adults during the most pivotal years of their lives. Scouting provides one of the best environments for them to grow their faith, testimonies, and relationship with God. One of the greatest joys that I have experienced in my life is seeing these fine young men prepare to head out into the world to serve the Lord on full-time missions.

Continuing the Legacy:

Although I was a (non-LDS) Scout, not until I joined the Church and was called into the Scouting program did I realize the tremendous value of the combined programs of priesthood and Scouting, witnessing that these were unsurpassed in developing young men to their fullest potential. The combination of priesthood and Scouting offers young men opportunities to better develop physical, mental, and spiritual strength. The Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting work together to strengthen a young man’s character and bring him closer to Heavenly Father. Scouting, in particular, leverages outdoor adventure (Scoutcraft), association with honorable men, and opportunities to develop leadership skills to fulfill its mission to prepare them “to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes through the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.” It is through these combined influences that we have the countless stories and testimonies of irreplaceable, faith-building, and spiritual growth experiences as told over the decades by general authorities, prophets, and apostles of their exploits as Scouts.

 

Striving and succeeding to incorporate all these purposes, Troop 702 is a structured and example-laden environment in which Scouts continue honing their priesthood and their Scoutcraft. Legacy Scouting for Latter-day Saints continues to work hand-in-hand with priesthood quorums to shape honorable, confident, and capable Priesthood holders of today and for tomorrow.  To the end of the trail, to the last camp, and to the last Scout: “We Scout.”

Submitted by Duane Neyens