“In a well-run Troop camp one of the first things that ought to happen is that the Scouts report the night before with their kits packed ready for inspection.” – The Patrol Leaders’ Handbook (John Thurman, 1950)
I think this is the wrong way of looking at it, however. The aims and goals of Scouting are completely different from a paramilitary organization! Those aspects which Scouting inherits from the military are there only because they really work and they appeal to young men. They also add depth and distinctiveness to the program.
I could make a much longer list of military methods which do not belong in Scouting than I can of those that do. Scouting is not and never has been a paramilitary movement! So instead of shying away from the militaristic features in Scouting, we should embrace them for their effectiveness and appeal to Scouts.
So What is a Patrol Inspection?
A Patrol Inspection is the inspection of a field-ready Patrol by a Scoutmaster or other Troop leader (adult or youth).
A field-ready Patrol is a fully uniformed Scout Patrol with all of their standard Patrol gear and personal camping gear. Any Patrol worth its salt has it’s own camping equipment that’s separate from the the rest of the Troop’s: mostly cookware/tarps/etc. for things the Patrol does as a group. This gear is looked after and maintained by the Patrol Quartermaster. Usually, it’s all stored together in a box or tote.
The purpose of the inspection is to make sure that all Patrol members and their equipment are present and that the gear is in clean, working condition. The Patrol is given at least a few minutes to prepare for the inspection, during which they lay out all their equipment for easy viewing and make sure they are in full uniform.
Benefits of Patrol Inspections
The most obvious benefit to these inspections is to hold the Patrol accountable to the Scout Motto and Law: “Be Prepared” and “A Scout is Clean”! Gear that is broken or not present is a lack of preparedness that cannot be afforded out in the wilderness. Equipment that is dirty can also pose a health risk at the worst or damage gear at the best.
There are other benefits as well. The “Troop Scouters’ Handbook” (Canada, 1959) says:
“The object of inspection is to create pride in personal appearance and the corporate spirit of belonging to a smart unit, and to develop healthful habits and mental alertness.”
Just like the Patrol Flag and the Patrol Call, the Patrol Inspection helps build pride in one’s Patrol. If it doesn’t matter what shape the gear is in, than it must not be important…
When the uniforms are inspected too, it has the same effect on one’s identity as a Scout. The uniform is an important visual distinction of a Boy Scout, and if it doesn’t matter how ratty it looks or how carelessly it is worn, than that indifferent attitude affects the perception of Scouting (not to mention reputation in public!).
Finally, the Patrol Inspection holds the Patrol Leader accountable for his leadership. John Thurman put it very well in his “Patrol Leaders’ Handbook” when he said:
“I hope your Patrol has come out of the inspection… with flying colors, but suppose it didn’t. …
The proper chap to blame is the Patrol Leader, because if you had handled the matter wisely, you would have had your chaps there half an hour before inspection. You would already have inspected the kits yourself, and if anything was wrong there would be time for them to slip home and put it right.
You would know, when the Scoutmaster came round, that he was really wasting his time, because you had already done the job; you were ready for your Patrol’s kit to be inspected by anyone because you knew everything was well. …
There is a good motto for any Patrol: ‘Our site is always ready for inspection.’”
Patrol Leaders are the foundational leaders in a Scout Troop, and one of the most important jobs of the Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader is to help hold them accountable for this responsibility!
Putting it into Practice!
Well, the first question is: “How often?”. A basic uniform inspection can be done in a minute or less at the beginning of each meeting. A full Patrol/equipment inspection should be done at least before every camping trip. Many Scout Troops held them throughout the camping trip as well to make sure the high standard of cleanliness was maintained.
For a full inspection, there are several levels of how detailed it can be. Obviously, the inspection shouldn’t drag on forever. The Patrol equipment, at least, should all be laid out for easy viewing. If the box/tote isn’t adequate for this, the gear can be spread out on a ground cloth or on a table.
As for personal gear, it can be unpacked and laid out as well. If the equipment is properly compartmentalized (hygiene in one sack, mess kit in another, etc.), then it won’t take very long at all. If time is pressing, then the Scoutmaster can pick one member of the Patrol at random to inspect his gear.
Patrols should be graded on how clean and organized their gear is by whatever system works best for the Scoutmaster. At the end of a specified period, the Patrol with the best grade can be honored in some way. This adds extra incentive to do the best possible job. Any suggestions for improvement can be made to the Patrol Leader and discussed by the Patrol-in-council.
That’s pretty much all there is to it! It may seem like a small thing, but the Patrol Inspection can go a long way in helping a Troop maintain high standards and build a quality Troop culture.
Does your Scout Troop hold regular Patrol Inspections? I’d love to hear about how these are run. Leave a comment below and let me know!
If you don’t do anything like this already, I highly recommend adding it to your Program! The extra effort is small, but the benefits are high! The Patrol Inspection has been a staple of the Scouting Program since its founding, and it has more than proved it’s value for today’s Scout Troops!
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