A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. That’s according to the Boy Scout Law. But after comparing the experiences of the nine Eagle Scouts that work for the Charleston District, one thing is sure – a Scout is… different.
Of the nine Eagle Scouts in the Charleston District, their scouting careers took place in eight different states and one foreign country. No Scouting experience was the same for anyone. As an Eagle Scout myself, I assumed that everyone’s Boy Scout troop was the same – backpacking through the mountains, extravagant trips to mountain ranges throughout the country and rigorous projects to better our community. While some had similar experiences, nothing was the same.
Take trips for example. My troop went on monthly backpacking trips through the Appalachian Mountains. We learned how to hike, orient a map, pack a backpack, cook over a fire and much more. But take Maj. John O’Brien, for example. With his father stationed abroad in the Army, he spent the first year and a half of his Scouting career in Belgium with the Boy Scouts of America’s Transatlantic Council. Their trips mainly consisted of traveling Europe visiting historical sites such as the Berlin Wall when it was still in place. Then enter Caleb Brewer, whose troop in Mississippi camped on people’s farming and hunting lands instead of through parks, completing their five-mile hike requirement down a gravel road. Or there’s Paul Hinchcliff, whose Michigan-based troop did mostly car camping at state parks where there were rolling hills and open valleys. But as you can imagine, camping in Michigan had its own challenges.
“Camping was often bone-chilling cold with terrible sleeping bags,” recalls Hinchcliff. “Every piece of equipment we had was surplus Army gear.”
For the Eagle Scouts that had the opportunity to do a lot of backpacking, it was done all over the country. Brandan Scully’s backpacking trips in New York taught him personal responsibility of being alone in the woods. Being in well-positioned troops in North and South Carolina, O’Brien, Chris Mims and I all traveled up and down the Appalachian Trail on many of our weekend trips. With the luxury the Appalachian Trail offers to backpackers of stretching from Georgia to Maine, even Scouts in Ohio, like Doug Green, could connect and hike parts the famous trail.
While some Scouts like Green took high-adventure trips to places like Yellowstone National Park, only O’Brien, Joe Moran and I were lucky enough to make it to take the Boy Scout pilgrimage to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Philmont is the BSA’s largest national high-adventure base with more than 214 square miles of rugged wilderness, highlighted with a hike up 12,441 feet to the pinnacle of Baldy Mountain. The various treks insert Scouts deep into the mountains where they can hike for more than 70 miles and easily see more wildlife than civilization for 10 days. O’Brien and I both went as boys, but Moran had an unfortunate delay.
“My Boy Scout council chose me to go to Philmont for free, but I got the flu two days before and couldn’t go,” said Moran. “When I had a son, I said, ‘This is my way back into the Scouts,’ and I was able to go with him when he went to Philmont and pin his medal on him when he became an Eagle Scout, which meant more to me than any experience I had as a Scout.”
While hiking in Philmont, Scouts must also complete a conservation project, such as reseeding after a wildfire, erosion control or habitat improvement, to ensure that the area thrives for future generations of Scouts. This goes in line with the Eagle Scout requirement for each candidate to complete a service project in the community, on top of the additional requirements of merit badges and skills. Eagle projects can vary in scale, but must be approved by a Board of Review. The purpose of an Eagle project is less about an Eagle candidate doing work, and more about teaching them life skills, such as leadership and project management. The candidate must plan the entire concept, obtain material donations, recruit volunteers and motivate people to work for them.
Eagle Scout projects usually have a theme of benefitting large groups of people in easily accessible places. Scully built a memorial garden at a state park. O’Brien and Green constructed bridges on trails in camping areas. Moran replaced a bathroom at a local camp. I constructed fences and renovated a boat ramp at a church campground. Mims built an amphitheatre with 40 benches at a state park. Lt. Col. John Litz put in the water and sewer lines at a Habitat for Humanity House. Brewer even got his first look at his future employer when he made a boat ramp functional again after the local sponsor allowed a Corps-constructed project to fall into disrepair.
These life skills, along with the more tangible skills learned in Boy Scouts, put O’Brien and Litz ahead of the game when they got into the Army. For O’Brien, it was the skills of orienteering, hiking, packing a backpack, knots and teamwork that set him apart from the group.
“I already had those skills from Scouts where others had to learn them,” said O’Brien. “I carried the Scout Motto of ‘Be Prepared’ in the Army because you can’t talk your way out of being prepared; either you have the skill or material, or you don’t.”
For Litz, what he learned from Scouts went beyond the standard skills.
“I’ve been in a leadership position since I was a young kid as the quartermaster of my troop,” said Litz. “Boy Scouts is a leadership lab. All of that translated directly over to the military. Scouts instilled the concept of being in charge of a small unit, but having to fit that unit into a larger organization, which is exactly like the Army.”
The other District Eagle Scouts didn’t have to join the Army to take their skills into the future. There were all sorts of lifelong lessons that these Eagle Scouts learned from their Scouting careers that have been invaluable to how they have grown from boys to men.
“Scouts taught me how to act like an adult and how to manage projects,” said Scully. “It was the first time nobody told me what the right answer was.”
“The biggest thing I learned was to help other people anytime I can, respect them and treat them as you want to be treated,” said Green, echoing the points of the Scout Oath.
“Scouts taught me self-motivation,” said Brewer. “We weren’t pressured by leaders to get different ranks, so we had to take the initiative to complete them.”
“Moralistic goals are driven into you,” said Hinchcliff. “You come across other situations in life and you’ve already heard about them in Boy Scouts. Things like personal traits, spiritual beliefs and civic duties; it’s the foundation of my character.”
Some of the District Eagle Scouts continue their love of Boy Scouts today. The love of backpacking that Mims gained while he was in Boy Scouts has led him to continue to hike today, even leading trips with local churches into the mountains of South Carolina. To date, he has led more than 500 people on different backpacking trips.
Moran stays connected with Boy Scouts through his membership in the Boy Scouts’ honor society, the Order of the Arrow, and his immense collection of memorabilia. He started when he was a Scout at camp and now collects neckerchiefs, badges, uniforms, manuals and much more from National Jamborees, camps that no longer exist and events from all over the country.
“Every patch has a story, whether it is your personal story or the event’s,” said Moran.
Most of the District’s Eagle Scouts specifically say that you get out of the Boy Scouts what you put into it. Litz and Moran agree that you don’t realize what you learned in Boy Scouts until after you’re out and you can look back at how everything clicks.
“Becoming an Eagle Scout means you remained focused on a goal that demands a lot of work when there are many competing interests,” said Litz. “That gives you the confidence that you can reach a long-term goal and that you can accomplish other things that are long-term investments.”
Scouting teaches every participant something different, whether they stay in for five weeks or five years. The Eagle Scouts at the Charleston District gained a wide variety of experiences and life lessons that helped them become the men they are today.