ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- This summer a group of 18 U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen worked as guides, or interpreters, at Northern Tier, a Boy Scout High Adventure base in northern Minnesota.
This opportunity brought the mids to the Boundary Waters National Forest Reserve, putting them in charge of five- to seven-day canoe treks consisting of boy scouts from across the country.
Upon arrival, the midshipmen went through days of training as they developed their outdoors skills on the traditional "swamper," or training trek. An experienced Northern Tier staff guided midshipmen through the Minnesotan wilderness, teaching everything from recovering capsized canoes, to pitching camp, to cooking cake and navigating the lakes.
After completing the swamper, midshipmen were assigned two crews over the next consecutive weeks. Typically, crews consisted of nine people: two adult advisors, six scouts, and an interpreter. A six-day supply of food, equipment, and personal gear had to be packed in compact bags in order to complete the 60 mile journeys.
"What I love about this program is that it's youth-led," said Midshipman 2nd Class Shawn Cleary, a midshipman participant in 2013 and 2014. "By the end of the trip, the Boy Scouts would be doing tasks as well as I could myself. It's great to see them grow in just a week."
Northern Tier take participants into the remote wilderness, enabling scouts and interpreters alike to enjoy the beauty of the Boundary Waters while putting an emphasis on conservation. The program is designed to challenge Boy Scouts and help develop them into productive citizens while giving them an experience they will remember.
On an average trip, an interpreter and his crew will paddle through more than 30 lakes over the course of 60 to 80 miles. Since lakes aren't connected by water, crews must portage, or carry their equipment, between them. Portaging can be quite challenging, with interpreters carrying more than 100 lbs of gear on their shoulders.
"When I set that canoe back down into the water after my first major portage, it was like finishing my first long distance race," said Midshipman 3rd Class David Larkin. "The feeling was exhilarating."
The midshipmen offered a unique perspective to their crews. Midshipman 1st Class Tim Waterman, the president of the National Eagle Scout Association, participated in the training, as well.
"I picked Northern Tier because I believe it affords one of the best opportunities here to actually make a difference in someone's life," he said.
The military and scouting goes hand-in-hand. Nearly a quarter of the midshipmen attending the Naval Academy have been involved in scouting at some point in their life. Such a close relationship has given Navy midshipmen the rare opportunity to teach leadership in the same program that taught them to be leaders themselves.
Participating midshipmen agreed that Northern Tier was the most hands-on leadership experience offered at the Naval Academy for summer training. A number of midshipmen plan on returning to Northern Tier in 2015.
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