Royal Ranger Outpost 207,.. atten-tion.
The Royal Ranger motto.
Ready. A Royal Ranger is ready to work, play, serve, obey, worship, live, etc.
The Royal Rangers, a Boy Scout-like organization within the Assemblies of God, was where I first remember meeting Senior Commander John Baker, Sr.
Commander John was twice as wide but barely taller than the boys he commanded, he wore a pencil-thin mustache I have never seen him without, he spoke in a thick New York “fuggedaboutit” accent, he addressed every boy in his program as son unless he really liked you, then you were promoted to knucklehead, he demanded respect but made sure he gave more than he ever got, and most of all, he was a man who believed in me when I needed it most.
In 1986, I had just started going to church and for the life of me, I can’t remember why I went to that first Wednesday night meeting. It’s possible that I might have been looking for something to do on a night when the youth program wasn’t doing anything. Or I was bored. I got bored a lot in those days. But, what I do remember is at 16, I was the oldest kid in the room by at least two years and that they didn’t have a program in our church for someone my age. Commander John walked over to me, looked up at me, and in that foreign language that was his accent said, “Son, come join my group tonight.”
Over the course of the next few months, I kept showing up and Commander John kept pouring into me. He was ready to start a Trail Ranger program with me as the only person, he had his mind set toward having me earn my Gold Medal Achievement (the Ranger equivalent to the Eagle Scout), and had designs to make me Ranger of the Year for our section. Within six months, he made me a junior commander and I started helping out the other Commanders with their groups.
While I never got my GMA nor made Ranger of the Year, those years in the Royal Rangers have become an integral part of who I am as a man. Commander John became a role model, exhibiting the character traits that he taught. He was the Ranger Code in the flesh.
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, well, I am the man I am today in part because of the man that he was. He reached out to a kid, took him in, mentored him, and gave him a purpose that grounded me when I was in a very difficult and challenging part of my life.
He was ready.
And if I’m being honest, I’m trying to come to grips with that motto right now. Today, they are laying Commander John to rest, and tonight I’m going to be going to his memorial service to say a final goodbye to him. I’m supposed to be ready. Ready to work, play, serve, obey, worship, live, etc… I’d love to tell you that I’m ready… ready to say goodbye to such a great man. In truth, I’m not.
Oddly, it’s in those moments when I don’t think I am that I can just hear him saying, “Son, you got this,” except it comes out sounding like “Hey, oh! Knucklehead, fuggedaboutit!”
Part of me knows he’s right. Part of me hopes he’s right.
Either way, thank you, Commander John, for the man you were and always will be to me.