Post by ENS Kathleen Mullen
Thirty midshipmen led more than 1,400 youth into the wilderness of northern New Mexico this summer while serving as service academy rangers at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M.
Philmont Scout Ranch is the largest national high adventure base owned and operated by the Boy Scouts of America.
The ranch covers 137,000 acres – about 214 square miles – of rugged mountain wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains. Philmont offers an 11-day high adventure program for male and female participants, ages 14-20. Participants are organized in crews of 8-11 youth accompanied by adult advisors. More than one million youth have experienced the Philmont adventure since the first camping season in 1939.
Each crew is assigned a ranger when they arrive at Philmont. Rangers spend the first three days with the crew, guiding them through base camp administrative check in procedures and then on their first few days in the backcountry. Rangers teach crews all necessary skills for a successful backcountry trek.
Rangers have been leading crews into the Philmont backcountry since 1957 when Charles Dunn founded the Ranger Department.
The Philmont Service Academy Ranger Leadership Program began in 1972 when the Air Force Academy sent the first group of Rangers to Philmont. The Naval Academy sent its first rangers in 1989. Today, West Point cadets also serve as rangers alongside Air Force cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen.
Upon arrival at Philmont, service academy rangers immediately begin a rigorous training program. The first two days of training are conducted at base camp, where rangers learn the administrative check-in process they will follow with their crews. Rangers also learn about the history of the land and the ranch.
After training at base camp, rangers spend four days training in Philmont’s backcountry. They also get a taste for Philmont’s mountainous terrain and fickle mountain weather. Torrential downpours, hail, and a large temperature range teach rangers to be prepared for a variety of weather.
Philmont has high mountains with rough terrain and elevations that range from 6,500 to 12,441 feet. In training, rangers learn all the skills they will teach their crews. Bear and mountain lion procedures, cooking, water purification, campfire safety, first aid, flash flood and fire safety, land navigation, and the basics of group dynamics are only a few of the many topics covered in training.
Immediately after the conclusion of training, rangers qualify via a written test. The following day, they pick up their first crews.
During the course of the summer training block, the rangers lead four crews into the backcountry. Many find the experience to be exceptionally rewarding and an excellent opportunity to practice small unit leadership.
“Philmont was the best leadership experience that I have ever been through,” said Midshipman 2nd Class Omar Messallam. “The responsibility of having to teach, mentor, and lead young people in a foreign environment is probably the best test of one's professional composure and leadership skills.”
While leading crews, communication, enthusiasm, humility, time management and interpersonal skills are critical for a ranger. Rangers lead different age groups, learning styles, and personalities. It is a ranger’s job to both relate to each participant and teach to the entire group so that all are successful.
“Throughout the month my confidence with small groups sky rocketed as I was in charge of over fifty people,” said Midshipman 2nd Class Chris Rizman.
Rangers participate in every aspect of the Philmont experience with the crew. This may involve climbing Mount Baldy, Philmont’s tallest peak, participating in a conservation project, or participating in a program at one of Philmont’s 35 staffed backcountry camps. Programs offered at Philmont include blacksmithing, a challenge course, railroad building, homesteading, gold mining, black powder shooting, rock climbing, spar-pole climbing, astronomy, and wilderness medicine.
During the training block rangers also enjoy talking to scouts about the Naval Academy and the military. Many scouts learn about the Naval Academy for the first time through a service academy ranger, and some rangers continue to mentor scouts through the admissions process after the Philmont experience ends.
The selection process for each summer’s Philmont Rangers begins in January with an application distributed to midshipmen via email. Interviews are conducted mid spring. Midshipmen interested in Philmont should contact Lt. Cmdr. Casey Rayburg, the Philmont liaison officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.