Meet a globe-trotting Michigan Scouter who served in Afghanistan

When Lt. Col. Sarah Deal was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in 2009, she and her husband, airline pilot Phil Burrow, needed someone to help take care of their boys, 7-year-old twins Troy and Brandon, and Eric, who was 2. Their friends, the Barfuss family, volunteered, instantly growing in size from six kids to nine. Deal’s boys tagged along with the Barfuss kids when they started in Pack 611 in St. Joseph, Mich., the next fall.

Deal got involved in Scouting with her sons’ pack after her 13-month deployment. She eventually moved the boys to Troop 623 and became the troop’s high-adventure coordinator.

At the start of a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan in August 2017, Deal learned that people on the NATO base where she was stationed volunteered with local Afghan Scout troops. She jumped on board, seeing a chance to continue her Scouting involvement and connect with other people on the multinational base. Among the projects she coordinated: making personal first-aid kits using materials that McKay Barfuss, a member of the family that had gotten her boys into Scouting, had collected for his Eagle Scout project.

How does Afghan Scouting compare with American Scouting?

They do the same things we do, like flag ceremonies and camping. Their Scout Oath is almost the same, and they raise three fingers when they recite it. But they’re very disciplined. Their uniforms are almost perfect, their shirts are tucked in, their neckerchiefs are on and perfectly twisted.

What else is different?

Service actually seems to be one of the main focuses of Scouts over there. For example, the Kabul troops would go to Bamiyan, which is the most remote province, to tutor kids — many of whom live in caves — in math and reading. More recently, they went to a drug rehab facility to visit with the clients and learn from them, and installed windows at a school in Kabul.

Is that something you’d like to see more of back home?

We help out our chartered organization a lot, but I think there’s more outreach we need to do. I’m one of those leaders that was all about the advancement and the merit badges. I think more service to the community could be very beneficial.

Teaching first aid seems especially important in Afghanistan.

Yes. Especially when you get out into the remote provinces, it’s not like you can drive five minutes and see a doctor. You may have to travel four or five hours.

How did you handle teaching about improvised explosive devices?

We had our IED team come in and teach what they look like, what to do if you see one, who to call. IED casualties were part of what I counted in my job as director of the Civilian Casualty Mitigation Team. We had probably an incident a week where a kid picked one up or kicked a soccer ball over one or something like that. We had interpreters that helped out, and we used picture boards.

Is it true that you kept your pack position while deployed?

Yes. Den leaders would email me all their advancements. I would upload them into the system, download the report and email it to someone back here, and they would go buy the awards. I quite enjoyed that. It made me still feel like part of the pack. Believe it or not, sometimes you feel like you’re forgotten when you’re over there.

How did you get your troop back home into high adventure?

They’d wanted to do high adventure for a while and even had $600 set aside. But they always said, “We’ll do it next year.” I think the trick was just having an adult step up.

What have you done so far?

We went whitewater rafting in Pennsylvania in 2016; we did a Philmont trek in 2017. Two adults took them to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for a canoe trip last summer. Now they want to go whitewater rafting again. The high adventure has kicked in.

So you’re back to full speed after you came home last May?

I’m slowly getting back in. I didn’t dive in when I came home. I wanted to spend time with my kids.

Fact Sheet: Sarah Deal

Years as a Scout Volunteer: 8

Current City: St. Joseph, Mich.

Current Positions: Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 623; advancement chair, Pack 607

Day Job: Lieutenant colonel, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve

Most Satisfying Moment in Scouting: Receiving her first Eagle mentor pin last year from Eagle Scout McKay Barfuss. “Instead of the
parents being the nag, sometimes I’m the nag. I became his nag. I didn’t realize I had meant so much to him.”

Favorite Camp and Why: Camp Frontier, Pioneer Scout Reservation, Pioneer, Ohio. “We enjoyed [choosing our meals] and cooking in the campsite. Plus, most of the senior counselors were college students, so they were older and more knowledgeable than at other camps.”


  1. We need more Scout Leaders like Sarah. I had the privilege of working with her in T623. She is a great role model for the Scouts.

  2. This was an amazing story to read. The “Colonel” really has THE SCOUTING SPIRIT! For her to be a full time Field Grade Officer, and support BOTH Pack and Troop activities, just shows what dedicated Scouters can do! I wish her and her husband well, and hope the still manage to be involved with Scouting as well as their military duties. THANK YOU BOTH FOR YOUR SERVICE!

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