On this first day of Kwanzaa our focus is Umoja (Unity): to work to maintain unity in our family, community, nation, and race.
Within Scouting programs, nothing beats the feeling of patrol unity.
The formation of the boys into Patrols of from six to eight and training them as separate units each under its own responsible leader is the key to a good Troop.
The Patrol is the unit of Scouting always, whether for work or for play, for discipline or for duty. An invaluable step in character training is to put responsibility on to the individual. This is immediately gained in appointing a Patrol Leader to responsible command of his Patrol. It is up to him to take hold of and to develop the qualities of each boy in his Patrol. It sounds a big order, but in practice it works.
Then, through emulation and competition between Patrols, you produce a Patrol spirit which is eminently satisfactory, since it raises the tone among the boys and develops a higher standard of efficiency all round. Each boy in the Patrol realises that he is in himself a responsible unit and that the honour of his group depends in some degree on his own ability in playing the game
The patrol method is not a way to operate a Boy Scout troop, it is the only way. Unless the patrol method is in operation you don’t really have a Boy Scout troop. “
— Baden Powell
As a young Scout, we might have had patrols. I don’t remember mine though, at least not in the earliest days. I remember camping and hiking that first year but no patrol.
Then, suddenly I was elected to be a patrol leader. The Scoutmaster had us over to his home for training each month. I read the patrol leader’s handbook cover to cover. I was on my way to helping ours be the best patrol—I think we got there, but I was biased as the Patrol Leader of the Flying Eagles, Troop 345.
Patrols are natural building blocks of a Boy Scout troop. Each is a small group of boys who are similar in age, development, and interests. When they are first formed, patrols struggle to get stuff done. It’s hard to buy and cook food on campouts; it’s hard to put up the tents. It takes time to figure what working together means for them, but patrols almost always get there. When they do, the unity of that little team fundamentally changes each boy.
BSA states the following about patrols:
“Patrol spirit is the glue that holds the patrol together and keeps it going. Building patrol spirit takes time, because it is shaped by a patrol’s experiences—good and bad. Often misadventures such as enduring a thunderstorm or getting lost in the woods will contribute much in pulling a patrol together. Many other elements also will help build patrol spirit. Creating a patrol identity and traditions will help build each patrol member’s sense of belonging.
“Every patrol needs a good name. Usually, the patrol chooses its name from nature, a plant or animal, or something that makes the patrol unique. A patrol might choose an object for its outstanding quality. For example, sharks are strong swimmers and buffaloes love to roam. The patrol may want to add an adjective to spice up the patrol name, such as the Soaring Hawks or the Rambunctious Raccoons.
“A patrol flag is the patrol’s trademark, and it should be a good one. Have a competition to see who comes up with the best design and who is the best artist. Make the flag out of a heavy canvas and use permanent markers to decorate it. In addition to the patrol name, the patrol flag should have the troop number on it as well as the names of all the patrol members. Mount the flag on a pole, which also can be decorated. Remember, the patrol flag should go wherever the patrol goes.
“Every patrol has a patrol yell, which should be short and snappy. Choose words that fit the patrol’s goals. Use the yell to announce to other patrols that your patrol is ready to eat or has won a patrol competition. Some patrols also have a patrol song.
“Other patrol traditions include printing the patrol logo on the chuck box and other patrol property. Many troops designate patrol corners somewhere in the troop meeting room; patrols may decorate their corner in their own special way. Some patrols like to specialize in doing something extremely well, such as cooking peach cobbler or hobo stew.”
Together, as Flying Eagles, we did all that and more. We all went on to earn the Eagle rank; it was our goal as an entire patrol. The friendships from back then are still around today, fifty years later.
Working together as a team, patrol members share the responsibility for their patrol’s success. Individual Scouts gain confidence by serving in positions of patrol leadership. Together, all patrol members enjoy the friendship, sense of belonging, and achievements of the patrol and of each of its members.
When a troop forms boys into Patrols and goes on to train them as separate units, each under its own responsible leader, a good troop is a sure result.
Read more about building patrol unit at:
- THE PATROL
- Small Patrols Build Strength and Unity
- Scout Handbook and patrol method save an inner-city school
- The Patrol Method and “The CDBoss Hogs”
- How do Scouting Methods Accomplish Our Aims?
For other stories in this series, click on any of these links:
- Umoja (Unity): Small Patrols Build Strength and Unity
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): James E West
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): Gandhi Gives, So Should We
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): Brigham Young, Leader of Cooperative Economics
- Nia (Purpose): Finding Purpose As an American Youth
- Kuumba (Creativity): Boy Scouts Made Me The Man I Am Today, Here’s How
- Imani (Faith): Faith and Resolve in the New Year