As a Scoutmaster, Glen Piehl is a modern-day Renaissance man. He’s proficient in just about anything a young man needs to know — knot tying, the best way to play taps, how to survive overnight in a snow cave.
While keeping the Boy Scout oath, the award-winning Scoutmaster teaches a group of 21 Aberdeen boys to be leaders and to serve their community.
“We really focus on leadership,” Piehl said. “Of course we follow the oath, duty to God and country, helping other people and keeping ourselves strong. But the most important thing is teaching these boys how to be leaders.”
A Scout troop is like a relaxed version of the military. The boys are divided into patrols led by patrol leaders — usually the older, more experienced Scouts. But Piehl doesn’t stand around barking orders like a drill sergeant. As a Scoutmaster, it’s his job to teach the older boys leadership and take a step back to watch them work.
“There’s a hierarchy among the boys,” Piehl said. “I’m the Scoutmaster, but my role isn’t directly working with the boys on a regular basis. My job is to teach the patrol leaders how to do that.”
“I’m always standing right there in the background, so if they have difficulties or need clarification or some of the boys are acting out, I’m there to help,” he added.
Every January, these skills are put to the test at the Klondike Derby, a weekend-long event at Camp Delezenne near Elma. About 200 Scouts from troops all over the state participate in competitions that test their Scouting skills — first aid procedures, knot tying, bridge building and problem solving.
The boys are given very little adult guidance during the competitions and depend heavily on their patrol leaders.
“We spend the whole weekend doing these various stations in the rain, in the snow, in the mud,” Piehl said. “The boys get wet, they get cold, they get tired. But at the end, they get awards. And when the patrol leaders go up and get the awards, their patrols all yell and scream. It’s great to watch.”
The Aberdeen Scouts also take an annual trip to White Pass where they practice “snow caving.” They go up to the pass on Saturday in February and dig caves in deep snow banks. They then spend the night in their caves — which can be pretty uncomfortable, Piehl said.
Last year, two boys got their boots wet. When the the temperature dropped over night, their boots froze — so they had to hike back down to their cars in spare shoes and slippers while carrying their frozen boots.
This year it rained. Piehl said that was even worse, as the warm temperatures caused the snow to melt and water pooled in the bottom of his cave.
“I wrapped myself in a plastic tarp, so I wasn’t getting wet,” Piehl said. “But there was a constant drip all night landing on my head. I didn’t sleep much. It was a fitful night.”
The troop also takes hiking and backpacking trips when the weather is less miserable. For the last three years, the Scouts have hiked up to Lower Lena Lake in the Olympics. Piehl said this trip is the Scouts’ favorite, as they’re allowed to wade and fish once they reach the lake.
They also attend Scout camp every year, where they spend a week sleeping in tents and working on merit badges. They’re joined by other troops — there are usually about 300 Scouts at Scout camp.
“When we get together to eat, it get’s a little loud,” Piehl said.
A COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY
The Scouts also make an effort to be involved in the Grays Harbor community — volunteering at community cleanups and collecting trees to recycle after Christmas. But Piehl’s favorite project is “flag routes.”
Scouts are given the responsibility of contacting local business owners to see if they’re interested in having flags displayed during seven holidays: Flag Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Fourth of July, Presidents’ Day and Labor Day. The businesses are charged $35 dollars per year, and in exchange the Scouts put up flags in front of the businesses on the holidays. This year, they’re putting up about 80 flags.
“It’s getting the boys to have a business interaction with the local businesses, which builds a lot of character,” Piehl said. “And it gives the businesses an idea of what a Boy Scout is. And it’s also a patriotic thing. There are just so many good things about it. I just love it.”
The Scouts’ commitment to flag routes was put to the test last winter when it snowed the night before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Scouts spent their morning digging through five inches of fresh snow looking for the holes in the sidewalks to put up the flags.
“Normally it takes about an hour to put the flags up,” Piehl said. “This time it took about five hours, and they only got about two-thirds of them up.”
A LIFE-LONG SCOUT
Piehl has committed about 15 years to the Boy Scout program, with seven years as a Scout and eight as a Scoutmaster. He became an Eagle Scout in 1978. His boyhood troop, Troop 126 in Kennewick, is still thriving. About two years ago, Piehl got a call from a Scout in his old troop trying to organize an Eagle Scout reunion.
Scouting has become a family tradition. Two of Piehl’s brothers reached Eagle Scout, as did his nephew. Piehl’s son, Jacob, will soon begin work on an Eagle Scout project.
“Sometimes Jacob’s more involved than he wants to be,” Piehl said. “When your dad’s the Scoutmaster, you end up doing everything that the troop does. But we both enjoy it.”
But even though he’s a Scouting veteran, Piehl said he always has more to learn. He often turns to friend “Klondike” Mike Stamon for guidance.
“Mike Stamon, he is the basis for the Klondike Derby,” Piehl said. “And that’s why he’s ‘Klondike Mike’, He spends October through the end of January just organizing the Klondike Derby.”
Piehl said Klondike Mike taught him the hands-off approach to Scout leadership, emphasizing that Scouts learn faster when they’re given room to grow.
“If we’re at the Klondike Derby and Mike sees a parent or Scoutmaster stepping in to tell the boys what to do, he’ll step in and tell them to stop,” Piehl said. “He is very consistent — this is about the youth.”
Piehl was recently awarded the District Award of Merit, an honor awarded to one Scoutmaster in the district who shows commitment to his troop and the community. His troop was also named the Troop of the Year for their district. Piehl’s troop, Troop 5, is part of the Coastal Waters District, which extends from the coast east to Shelton and as far south as Raymond.
“I’m proud of it because it shows what my troop has accomplished,” Piehl said. “The reasons I received the District Award of Merit are a reflection of our troop and why we won Troop of the Year. It’s a lot of youth involvement, it’s a lot of parent involvement. It’s getting out there and being involved in the community and teaching our youth how to be strong leaders.”
The troop is also having a strong year in terms of Eagle Scout candidates. When Piehl became Scoutmaster, many of the boys in the troop were young and they didn’t have Eagle Scout candidates for several years.
“When I first took over the troop, there were a couple of older boys but they cleared out pretty quickly,” Piehl said. “Then I ended up with a bunch of 11-year-olds, who are now my 16-year-olds. And we’re finally getting to the point where we can have Eagle Scouts.”
Three of the Scouts currently have approved Eagle Scout projects. One will find and map out all of the steel cut-out art in the Raymond area, another will make a gun-safety training video and the third is working on a mural.
“A typical Eagle Scout project will be a couple hundred hours of investment,” Piehl said. “But some projects are more complex and they’ll do a lot more work.”
In addition to completing an Eagle Scout project, candidates must also earn a total of 21 merit badges. There are 11 mandatory badges an Eagle Scout must earn — such as knot tying, swimming and first aid. Scouts can choose the remaining 10 badges from a nearly endless list.
“Just about anything that someone does, that more than three or four people do, there’s a merit badge for it,” Piehl said.
This random assortment of badges is yet another way for the community to get involved. Local firefighters advise Scouts earning firefighting badges, blacksmiths advise on the blacksmith badges.
Most of the Scouts earn pioneering badges as an homage to Grays Harbor’s pioneer roots. Piehl said a local Scout shouldn’t even try to become an Eagle Scout unless he’s earned his pioneering badge.
A SCOUT AND A COWBOY
Even while wearing his Scout uniform, Piehl often sports his cowboy hat and boots. He grew up in Kennewick and had a very brief career as a bull rider.
He got into the sport by accident. There was a farmer who lived across the street from Piehl’s school who was getting old, so Piehl and his friends would help out around the farm.
“The farmer had a donkey who was wilder than anything, and we offered to break it so the guy could use it for hunting,” Piehl said.
This led to Piehl and his friends trying to ride the donkey, and they got a lot of practice trying to stay on the bucking, uncontrollable animal. So when the rodeo came to town, Piehl and a friend decided to enter a steer-riding contest.
But, there was a mix-up. Instead of ordering steers, the rodeo managers ordered bulls.
“My friend decided he wasn’t going to do it,” Piehl said. “But I said, ‘What the heck? I’m already here.’ So I did it anyway.”
Piehl quickly found out that riding a donkey and riding a bull are completely different. The donkey had a thin, ridged back — Piehl said riding a donkey is like trying to ride a fence rail. But the bull’s back was so wide that Piehl had a hard time clamping his legs around it.
“It’s like sitting in a stiff easy chair that really wants to hurt you,” Piehl said.
But on his first try, Piehl managed to stay on the bull for the full eight seconds required to complete the event. But the second time, he wasn’t so lucky.
“I remember hitting flat on my back, and looking over at the bull pawing the ground,” Piehl said. “And I think that’s what my parents saw. And they said, ‘You can do that again when you have your own insurance.’”
Although he’s hung up his spurs, Piehl likes to keep his inner cowboy alive. He recently splurged on a pair of 100th-anniversary burgundy Tony Lama boots.
“I looked at the price tag and went ‘woah!’ ” Piehl said. “They cost more than I care to admit. But four months after first seeing them, I bought those boots.”