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A century of service

Posted: April 27, 2012 10:37 a.m.
Updated: April 30, 2012 5:00 a.m.

You find them in all walks of life. They might be playing outfield for the Philadelphia Phillies (Shane Victorino). Or hosting the show “Dirty Jobs” for the Discovery Channel (Mike Rowe). Or founding Wal-Mart (Sam Walton). Or even becoming president of the United States (Gerald Ford).

The men listed above all have at least one thing in common. All achieved the highest honor possible for a member of the Boy Scouts of America: the rank of Eagle Scout. It’s been 100 years since the first one was awarded. Since then, more than two million young men have reached this milestone, including my son-in-law.

It’s one I’ve seen coming for a while now. I’ve long made it my policy to write and personally congratulate every recipient of the rank of Eagle Scout. I do this partly to pay tribute to the hard work that goes into this unique accomplishment, but also because I greatly admire the way in which Eagle Scouts exemplify the dedication and selflessness that make a vibrant civil society possible.

Researchers at Baylor University recently completed a study that measured the lifelong effects of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

“We found that the effort and commitment required to earn this rank produces positive attributes that benefit not only these men in their personal and professional lives, but also benefits their communities and the country through the service and leadership they provide,” lead researcher Dr. Byron Johnson said.

Sometimes this means averting disaster. Consider the case of James Lovell, the head astronaut who flew the ill-fated Apollo XIII mission in 1970. What was intended to be the third manned space flight to reach the moon came perilously close to claiming the life of Lovell and his fellow astronauts when an oxygen tank exploded, seriously damaging their service module. As anyone who has seen the movie “Apollo 13” knows, Lovell’s leadership and coolness under fire helped ensure that this didn’t turn into a national tragedy.

Of course, not every instance in which an Eagle Scout proves what it means to “Be prepared” makes the national news. Consider what happened as Eagle Scout Phil Murdock was piloting a raft of Scouts down the Snake River in July 2010 and one of the Scouts collapsed. According to the National Eagle Scout Association:

Murdock thought the boy was having an epileptic seizure, but he soon discovered the situation was far more serious. “He lost all color. He had no pulse. There was clearly no breathing,” he recalled.

Murdock immediately started CPR, but when that didn’t revive the boy, he decided they would have to reach medical help. Volunteers positioned the boy on a piece of marine plywood in the back of a raft and launched the raft, while Murdock and the boy’s father continued giving CPR. When Murdock tired, 19-year-old Eagle Scout Titan Sweeten took over.

The boat finally reached a takeout point where the U.S. Forest Service had installed an automated external defibrillator. Murdock used the AED on the Scout, reviving him on the third try. The Scout was soon airlifted to a children’s hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, where doctors expressed amazement that he had survived after 30 minutes of CPR. He has since fully recovered.

Most Eagle Scouts aren’t called upon to navigate a damaged space craft or stage a dramatic rescue. But that doesn’t make their service any less important.

“While we’re proud to claim some truly great men in American history among our ranks, we’re even more proud that everyday Eagle Scouts become wonderful husbands, fathers, and citizens,” said Bob Mazzuca, chief scout executive of the Boy Scouts of America. “They lead. They vote. They donate. They volunteer. They work hard and achieve their goals. In short, Eagle Scouts are exceptional men.”

Not all of us can be Eagle Scouts. But all of us can adopt their same spirit of selfless dedication and strive to make our communities better.

Thank you, Eagle Scouts. Here’s to the next century of service.

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