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Royal Rangers take the high road

What do you think of when you hear about kids camping out in green uniforms, earning merit badges?

The Boy Scouts of America, of course.

But although the Boy Scouts have been around for more than 90 years, and are probably the largest youth group of its type in the world, there are other, similar groups that are also quite popular — though often smaller and with a different agenda.

The Royal Rangers looked to the Scouts as a template for their own group, created in 1962. But instead of members carrying around the Scout Handbook as their “Bible,” the Rangers carry around the Bible itself. The Rangers operate almost exclusively under the sponsorship of the Assembly of God Churches — throughout the United States and in about 140 countries worldwide. There are about a dozen active outposts in the Kitsap Peninsula, and a pair of active outposts (and one non-active outpost) in CK, said officials.

The Rangers emphasize the Bible to build faith-filled members for society.

“The main focus is to reach and teach boys for Christ,” said Peninsula area commander, Neil Allen. “We mentor them to be strong young men of faith and moral courage.”

Instead of “troops,” Ranger groups are called Outposts. In the BSA it’s “troop leaders.” in the Rangers, it’s outpost commanders. The steps Boy Scouts take on the way to Eagle Scout, the BSA’s highest rank, are also mimicked to some degree by by the Rangers, with its highest rank the Golden Medal of Achievement.

“Our requirements (for the GMA) are more strict than the Boy Scout’s Eagle,” said Silverdale Outpost No. 330 Commander Shawn Shaputis. “The Gold Medal is based on the spiritual, as well as community service.”

Shaputis’ son, a junior at Klahowya High, recently earned the Medal. Since the Ranger’s founding in the 1960s, only about 1,000 youngsters have won the rank. He was interviewed by a staff of Ranger leaders, wrote a 500-word essay, and after winning the Medal, received letters of congratulations from state Gov. Gary Locke and President George W. Bush. He also received a flag that had flown above the White House. The teenager received his medal at a special ceremony with 125 fellow Rangers. (There are about 50 members in Outpost No. 330). Local officials believe only three or four youngsters have achieved the rank in the greater peninsula area.

There are four age groups (based actually on school-grade levels): Ranger Kids, grades K-2; Discovery Rangers, grades 3-5; and Explorer Rangers, grades 9-12.

“Not all Rangers are associated with Assemblies of God. In special situations, in which local Assemblies of God are too small, other churches agree to sponsor the Rangers — such as Faith Fellowship sponsoring our outpost,” said Shaputis. The church is on Newberry Hill Road. CK’s other active outpost also is sponsored through a church other than an Assembly of God.

Rangers have about 160 merit badges they can earn. Some are required, others are optional. In addition to merit badges for camping and the outdoors, there are badges for specific books mastered in the Bible: “1 Corinthians,” “Romans,” etc.

Sixth-grader John Burton, a Ranger for “five years,” said he’s earned the above merit badges, and cited his favorite activity:

“You get to go on camp-outs,” he said. Fellow Ranger Jacob McCoy, also a sixth-grader, chimed in with “Ditto!”

Hiking and camping and learning about nature is another big part of the Rangers. They’re out in the woods as much as possible, and there are many merit badges for this. Rangers also participate in pine wood derbies, bike rodeos, and even rocketry derbies.

As an example of the broad range of merit badges, Ranger Drew Strunk of Outpost 330, an eighth grader, said he’s working toward his computer science badge.

Outposts meet individually every week (Outpost 330 meets 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesdays at the church) and at a regional camp, Camp Koinonia, near Cle Elum, once a year. It’s a four-day event which draws up to 800 boys.

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