Three Onekama Girl Scouts take part in special assignment on Mackinac Island

“On my honor I will try to:

 To serve God and my country,

 To help people at all times,

 and to live by the Girl Scout law,”

 The Girl Scout promise

Many girls make that promise upon entering Girl Scouts, but those who actually follow that course are the ones who rise to the top of the organization.

Onekama Girl Scouts Kaylan Fitch, Elizabeth Bergren and Kayla Feil of Troop No. 147 are good examples of Scouts who took that promise to the next level. The trio recently donated a week of their time on Mackinac Island as part of the Governor’s Honor Guard.

Honor guard Girl Scouts at Mackinac Island this year included Onekama’s Kayla Feil, Elizabeth Bergren and Kaylan Fitch. They three girls are part of Girl Scout Troop No. 147.

Every summer — from Memorial Day to Labor Day — a different Boy and Girl Scout Troop will take over as the Honor Scouts for a week. The scouts are chosen on merit and perform specific duties including raising and lowering the flags (in unison) at the historical buildings and downtown on the island. They also serve at a variety of posts during the day to assist tourists.

“I had upper gun, which is located at Fort Mackinac, and your duties are to make sure people don’t cross the road as they fire the cannon,” said Feil.

Bergren was assigned to the parade ground area.

“It was located right at the soldier’s barracks as there is a big open space where the re-enactment soldiers do rifle firing, tours and court marshals and even a musical concert,” she said. “I would inform people where those were at, and the safest place to watch them. My position was located just inside the front gate at the fort, so people would ask me a lot of questions about things to see in it.”

This year brought about new challenges for Fitch in her assignment.

“My first three years I was in the fort, but this year was my first in being downtown at one of the historical houses,” she said. “I was at the Biddle House, and right behind it is the blacksmith shop. I stood in front of the house and gave directions and stamped tickets.”

Fitch joked that the position in town and her flag duty by the visitors center gave her a good workout every day as she had to climb up the steep hill to the fort three times a day. She added that the weather was extremely hot that week and being located down in the town among the buildings didn’t leave much room for a breeze.

“Our shifts would vary from two to three hours,” said Bergren. “We usually only have guide duty five days a week, and then we have kitchen patrol inside the scout barracks for the other two days.”

Fitch has served as an honor scout for the past four years, while Bergren did it for three years. Since they graduated from high school this year, this was it the last time they could participate in the program as scouts. This was Feil’s first trip to the island and since she is a junior she can return next year.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but you realize how much fun it is at the end of the week,” said Feil.

Fitch said that the longer a scout takes part in the program, the better their assignments are each year.

“They send a list of the assignments and you prioritize your top three picks,” she said. “They take seniors first and give them what they want first.”

Bergren added that the first year most scouts don’t know what to pick or what are the good assignments. She added that the camaraderie between the scouts is one of the special things about the Honor Guard.

“They usually get stuck with upper gun,” said Fitch with a gigle as she looked at Feil. “The girls are so much fun. You usually don’t find huge groups of girls like that and get along with everyone, but you do on Mackinac.”

Troop No. 147 is a 73-member squad based out of Grand Rapids. They hold meetings in Muskegon, but the scout members come from all over the west side of Michigan. The girls attend regular monthly meetings throughout the year.

Feil said the first indication of the size of the troop comes on the first day serving on the Honor Guard.

“You really don’t realize how big your group is until you start marching up the hill to the fort in a single file line,” said she said. “We all had backpacks on, and I had my bike with me to push up.”

All three of the girls said they enjoyed the down time when they weren’t acting as honor guard members.

“You can explore the island, shop or do whatever,” said Fitch. “You are required to take one hour rest hour every day.”

The honor guard members stay at the scout barracks that are located right behind the fort. It was a popular gathering spot and, with the close proximity to the other scouts they all became friends in a hurry.

Bergren pointed out that one of the things that make it interesting is a fire drill performed every year that has be be completed in under two minutes.

“We have to get out of the barracks and past the flag pole and be accounted for with our bunk buddies,” she said. “The way it works is the girls have to be holding their hands upraised with their buddies or their truddies if someone is using a bunk on the floor beside them.”

Fitch laughed and said that the girls always know it is coming, but the question is when. Bergren said that after being there several years they have a general idea of the time frame.

“It usually happens around midnight and they come up the stairs and blow an air horn and everyone just starts screaming,” said Bergren. “We had a lot of people freak out and we actually failed the drill the first time, so we just got back to sleep and they did it again.”

All the girls agreed that the week is very enjoyable and that they provide a great service to the tourists. The visitors and locals on Mackinac Island were all very nice to the scouts.

“Every year on Thursday we have fort staff night and they are all invited over for a meal and they sing songs, so it is really nice,” said Fitch. “The food is really great as they have a breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner and it is always good.”

The scouts have a group of traditional stops during the course of the week including one stop at the Grand Hotel where the Scouts get to a meal. Another is a stop at well-kept scout secret inside the fort.

“Inside the fort there is a little restaurant called the Tea Room, and we always go there to get their milkshakes because they are the greatest,” said Bergren.

The girls also keep busy twice a day with the place the flags throughout the island. They were all stationed at different areas.

“Every time I think of flags, I think of how it looked like rain,” said Feil. “Once it was so close to the time for doing the flags that we couldn’t put on our ponchos. It looked like it was gong to pour, but we had to stay at our post.”

Bergren agreed that they had one eye on the flag they were responsible for and the other on the sky.

“You have to do it all at the same time and then right after they finish playing the music your fold up the flag,” said Bergren. The minute the flags went down and everyone was scrambling to get the ponchos on, but it was too late as everyone was soaked. We all put our shoes in front of the fan that night, but they were soaked.”

However, the girls said what what they gained from this week was priceless. The urged others to take part in the program and said there are many ways to participate even for non scouts.

“It was an amazing opportunity,” said Feil.

Bergren agreed.

“It is a a lot of community service and it is unique thing to have on any application for a job or for college,” said. “With colleges, more so than anywhere else, they look for leadership and community service.”

By serving as honor guard members all three scouts lived up to the promise they made so many years ago when they entered the program. All three agreed that is what made it worthwhile to donate a week of their time this summer.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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