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Boy Scouts of America "Citizen of the Year" Award (Washington, DC)
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, DC, Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thank you, Secretary West. What Togo failed to mention was that he was one of the co-chairs of that group that investigated the problems of the care of our wounded warriors. I thank you for your service. 
Antar, you are amazing. You are our future. We admire you and, apropos of the comments that were made, I think you’re a great dad model.
Thank you all for coming and inviting me here tonight. It is an honor to receive the “Citizen of the Year” award from the National Capital Area Council. When I say it’s a pleasure to be here, I mean it. I don’t face many friendly audiences in this city.
Nearly 15 years ago, I re-engaged with scouting after a hiatus of nearly 30 years, when retired Chief of Staff of the Air Force and then-Chairman of the National Capital Area Council board General Larry Welch asked me to serve on your board. I told him I would be moving to the Pacific Northwest within a year or so, and he told me that did not matter. So, I joined. Some years later, I was asked why I had not gotten re-involved in scouting much earlier. I said, because I was busy and no one ever asked me. Let that be a lesson. Never hesitate to ask. Anyway, in the summer of 1994 I headed for the Pacific Northwest and I thought, retirement. Somehow, it just didn’t work out. So tonight, as I have done before some 130 Scout Councils including this one, I would like to speak briefly about the impact scouting has had on me. 
First, scouting was really the only preparation early on that I ever had for becoming a leader. I attended the National Junior Leader Training program in Philmont when I was a teenager – a program that taught me how to deal with people, how to set goals, and then go about achieving them. I actually never saw the need for another management course. All would only have been wordier, more expensive versions of what I learned at age 15 at JLT at Philmont.   
Second, scouting taught me the importance of character. I’ve never – in the nearly 50 years since I was a Boy Scout – found a better expression of the way people ought to live their lives outside of the Bible than the scout oath and law.
Third, scouting gave me a sense of personal responsibility, not only to other people, but also to the world around me – nature, community, and the country. The same ethic I learned as a Boy Scout to leave a campsite better than I find it, I have tried to apply to life in general – to leave every situation better than when I found it. This is not as easy as it sounds, in government, in a university, or in business. You have to feel this deep inside.
In this era of YouTube, violent video games, and celebrities lining up for re-hab – a time when my press conferences seem strangely and regularly pre-empted by late-breaking important news of the doings of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears – in such an age, scouting can sometimes seem like a quaint relic of the past. But I would argue that scouting is more. It is more important, more relevant today than ever before.
Where will our young men learn leadership? 
Where will they learn character? 
Where will they learn personal responsibility? 
Where will they learn a spirit of adventure, of taking sensible risks? Of pushing themselves beyond what they thought they could do?
I know that I, personally, learned these lessons first in Boy Scouts, and have used them every step of the journey that led to where I am today. 
As a teenager, I was a good but not a great student. I certainly was not a great athlete. Yet, I differentiated myself by earning my Eagle Scout badge, an achievement which required, and demonstrated, as for all those who earn it, persistence, successful goal-setting, and self-discipline. That early achievement gave me the confidence to tackle the increasingly complex challenges that I would face later in life. 
For those of you who are scout leaders and wonder if you have had an impact, I can assure you that almost five decades later I can remember all the names and faces of all of my scout leaders – although I must say that’s a bigger and bigger feat as the years go on.
A particularly valuable lesson taught to me and my fellow troop members one cold Kansas winter was when our Scout Master, Forest Becken, taught us how to cook on a fire of dried cow chips. It imparted a very distinctive taste to already nearly inedible food … believe me when I say it is a taste I have recognized more than a few times serving here in Washington, D.C.
Leadership skills, and the understanding of the critical significance of character and personal responsibility are three of the most important gifts I ever received, and I received them from the Boy Scouts of America. 
I see these attributes displayed by the brave men and women of our armed forces who serve and sacrifice every day in battle against an unrelenting enemy determined to do our country harm.
While we are a nation at war, we are also in the middle of another war, this one inside America. It is a battle for the souls of our boys and young men. I firmly believe every boy who joins the Scouts is a boy on the right track.
While I believe that we are facing a world of unprecedented threats, I also believe we face a world full of unprecedented hope and opportunity. Scouting provides the kind of optimistic, confident and skilled young leaders of integrity who will ensure that we fulfill the hope and seize the opportunity.
I’ll close with a story that conveys this sense of hope about America’s youth and America’s future. It was December 1985, and I was at CIA during what was a particularly bleak period. There were a lot of terrorist attacks.
That December, CIA received a letter from a group of Boy Scouts, and they offered to help us fight the terrorists – but only on one condition: that we didn’t tell their mothers they had written to us.
As one senior CIA officer at a staff meeting observed, at least they had a well-developed sense of security.
I’ll wager at least some of those boys – now men – are, in fact, as I speak, in an American military uniform somewhere fighting terrorists. Their moms know it this time, and we pray for them all.
I’m honored by your “Citizen of the Year” award, and will do my best to live up to your expectations for a Boy Scout from Kansas. 
It will occupy the same place of honor as my Silver Buffalo Award. These objects will be proudly displayed.  But make no mistake, they both pale in comparison to the real reward – the lessons the Boy Scouts taught me in the days of my youth. I only hope I can live up to my very first oath – the Scout Oath – made more than half a century ago, and continue to be worthy of this award. Thank you.