Defense Secretary Praises Scouts for Achievements
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told a small group of Boy Scouts they were on the right track, during a meeting at the Pentagon yesterday.
“Congratulations for the awards that you’ve gotten (and for) being chosen to do this,” Gates told the eight Scouts representing the Boy Scouts of America’s various programs and regions of the country.
The group was in town to present the organization’s annual report to the nation. The report is mandated by the organization’s congressional charter, Renee Fairrer, the National Council’s associate director of communications, said.
The group presented Gates with a copy of the report, as well as a framed patriotic painting depicting a Scout. The secretary made his own presentation of Defense Department mementoes, one of which -- a DoD flashlight -- was a particular hit.
Gates attained the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America and earned the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award before graduating from high school. Upon assuming his current position within DoD, however, he resigned his membership on the Boy Scouts national board as well as his presidency of the National Eagle Scouts Association, which he’d held since 1996.
“Scouting obviously means a lot to me,” Gates said.
Tayler McGillis, 12, was sporting a chest full of more than 70 merit badges.
“Tayler, you’re cut out for big things,” Gates said. “I didn’t have that many by a long shot.”
The annual trip to the nation’s capital is an opportunity for exceptional Scouts to learn more about their government, Fairrer said.
“Each year we bring a delegation of young people that represent different programs and different areas of the country to get a behind-the-scenes look at Washington and what happens, and the leaders who make Washington … run,” she said. “These represent some of the best Boy Scouting has to offer.”
Ashton Pruitt fits that bill. The 15-year-old received the highest award the Boy Scouts offer for meritorious action, Fairrer said.
“During Hurricane Katrina my family stayed,” Pruitt said. “The water started rushing through the house, so I helped my grandmother, my legally blind brother, my mother, and also my uncle, get out of the house and get on the neighbor’s roof.”
The family members remained on the roof until firefighters rescued them 19 hours later, he said.
Pruitt attributes his actions that day, at least in part, to his Boy Scout training, some of which was very recent. “The week prior to this incident we went on a camping aquatics weekend, where I got the swimming merit badge and learned how to use pants as a flotation device,” he said.
Since arriving in Washington on Feb. 24, the group had seen some of the city and presented its report to President Bush. They had a tour of the White House and several other events ahead of them before leaving for their respective homes tomorrow.
Pruitt said the group had enjoyed all of its activities, especially meeting Gates. “It’s always good to meet other people who were in Boy Scouts and grew up to be very successful in life,” he said.