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Boy Scout National Meeting Breakfast
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, D.c., Friday, May 26, 2006, Friday, May 26, 2006

John Cushman, Roy Williams, thank you so very much for this fine honor and for your dedicated leadership in service of Scouting.

I'm delighted to join all of you here.  Unfortunately, the President has scheduled a National Security Council meeting for this morning at 8:35.  Otherwise, I'd be joining you for breakfast, and then we'd have the speeches and the awards and that type of thing, and I'd have a chance to say hello to a great many of you and thank each of you individually for what you do for Scouting.

As Secretary of Defense, I've had the privilege of meeting a good many Scouts who have come to the Pentagon.

In fact, just outside my door is a small, folded American flag, one of the many flags that are distributed by the Boy Scouts to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who serve our country.  The flag has a little note with it that says:

"Here[s] is a flag for your pocket, so you can always carry a little bit of home.  [And we're] We are praying for you and [we're] we are proud of you.  [We] Thank you for defending our country and [our] freedom,"

That small flag is a reminder that so many Americans -- and so many Boy Scouts -- recognize the importance of the duty that each member of the military has and what they -- that they volunteered to serve our country, to defend them, their families, their homeland and their freedom.  And that recognition is greatly appreciated by all of those in uniform.

I'm very honored to accept Scouting's Silver Buffalo Award.  I'm told that I'm in some very excellent company, including my friend -- long-time friend -- Gerald Ford, who received this award.  So it's quite an honor.

But the honorees that have received this award really are not the only figures in Washington, D.C. who have been touched by the Scouting program.  The bigger part of Scouting's impact is -- in Washington is very -- not very visible, really, but it's much more profound.  It can be found in the character of the men and women who serve the American people.  Indeed, many of our nation's highest elected leaders were Scouts.  President Bush was a Cub Scout in Midland, Texas.  Vice President Cheney was a Boy Scout in Casper, Wyoming.  I'm told that about half of the current members of the Congress participated in Scouting in one way or another, and 27 were Eagle Scouts.

I'm also told that many of our nation's judges, including one member of the Supreme Court, were Scouts.

These men took their promise “to help people at all times to heart,” making a career out of service to others.

President Ford describes the impact of Scouting on his career, saying that -- he said:

"I can say without hesitation, because of Scouting principles, I know I was a better athlete, I was a better naval officer, I was a better Congressman, and I was a better prepared President."

When you think about it, the fact that so many leaders have been Scouts should be no surprise.  Since its earliest days, the Boy Scouts have cultivated leadership and good citizenship -- a service that has been recognized since the United States Congress first chartered the Boy Scouts back in 1916.  The Scouts has been an integral part of our country ever since -- now some 90 years.

Now, I was not present at the creation of the Boy Scouts.  But as was mentioned, I've been affiliated with the Boy Scouts in one way or another for most, but not all, of those 90 years.  I was:

  • A Cub Scout back in 1941.  So that's 65 years ago;
  • Then a Boy Scout;
  • Then an Explorer Scout;
  • Then an Eagle Scout;
  • Then a Guide Patrol – at Philmont Scout Ranch -- in Cimarron, New Mexico.  What a special experience that was for a young boy from Chicago, I must say.
  • And then in 1975 or '76, I guess, a Distinguished Eagle Scout.

You know, a list like that kind of leaves people with the impression that life was just a smooth steady climb, and everything's predictable – in life.  But of course, life's not that way.  Life's filled with choices, and often one does not know the true impact of a decision until a good many years later.

For example, one summer when I was a Scout I was ready to quit Scouting.  It was during World War II.  By then I'd been a Scout in Illinois, North Carolina, Washington state, and California.  And I remember writing my father a letter, who was out on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during the war, and I said as much, that I was going to quit Scouting.  My dad sent a note back saying:  That's fine, use your own judgment.  Go ahead, it's your call.  After all, he said, “quitting is easy.”  He said “you can quit one thing, and then you can quit another, and then pretty soon you're a quitter.  So you will have defined yourself not by what you've done, what you accomplish in life, but your decisions not to finish what you start.”  Well, even at age 12, I got the message.  And I stayed in Scouting.  And it was one of the best decisions I've made.

One of the great values of the Scouting program is that it prepares young people to make right choices.  In choosing to put on the Scout uniform, young people indicate that they value honor and duty to God and country.  They willingly accept the duty to “help other people at all times.”  These are important values.  They help young people have the courage to make right choices when faced with difficult decisions later in their lives.  Living up to the Scout Oath and the Scout Law involves repeated challenges, a daily choice to strive to reach one's potential and to follow a moral code.  Meeting that challenge brings credit upon Scouts, and I'm sure that it has a broader impact in communities all across our great country, all the way up to the national level here in our capital.

We see the impact of Scouting in America's military, to be sure.  Tens of thousands of Scouts have shown the highest form of patriotism by serving our country in our armed forces.  By putting on our country's uniform, they're living up to the highest ideals of the Scout Oath and the promise “to do their duty to God and our country.”  Each person serving in our military is a volunteer.  They are there because they raise their hands and say, "Send me."  Our country is truly blessed to have such wonderful young people and their families willing to sacrifice so much for the cause of freedom.

Those who were once Scouts, and now have become leaders -- here at home, or on battlefields abroad -- have made a conscious choice to serve their country.  They chose to face the tough challenges of our time, and strive to make our country and world a better place.

So the true impact of Scouting is broad and deep.

And that's the result of the years of support that each of you, and so many others across the country, provide as the adult leaders to the millions of young people who take up the Scouting program.  Scouting could not exist without countless hours that are invested by the people in this room and your associates all across the country -- as mentors, as leaders, as role models.  And although the impact may seldom be immediately obvious, the value of your service is seen over many, many years in ways that you'll never even notice.

You know, even a single event can have an impact, and a positive impact -- and effects on someone's life far into the future.  I remember my senior year in college.  I was -- I went to a class banquet, and the speaker was the former governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson.  It was 1954.  He'd been defeated by Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.  He was later to be defeated by Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.  And he said some things that had a profound effect on me.

It was a time when the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II were still very fresh in all of our minds.  It was the dawn of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the nuclear era, where there was a risk of nuclear war.  His remarks, I suppose, could have been somewhat grim or fatalistic about the circumstance of our country in this world, but they were not.  They were filled with hope.  They were filled with promise.  And they were filled with talks about the importance of each -- importance of each individual's responsibility to others, and then the opportunity that exists for all of us.

He said, among other things, quote,

"You live in a time of historic change and of infinite difficulty.  But do not let the difficulties distract you.  Face the problems of your time you must, deal with them you must.  But do not allow the alarms and [the] excursions and partisanship of our political scene to distract you....Dare, rather, to live your lives fully, boldly; dare to study and to learn, to cultivate the mind and the spirit."

I mention those words because I think it's fair to say that no matter where in our country you come from, no matter what your circumstance, no matter where you are along the path of life, we live in a nation where everybody can succeed and contribute.  And our limits are only self-imposed.

America is the leading force for good in this world of ours.  We are truly privileged to live in this amazing country.  It's a special place -- which is why so many young men and women volunteer to serve it, our country, and defend it.  This is well understood by those who serve as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in the United States Armed Forces.  It's something understood by many who serve the American people in government, and it's something that's being learned even by the youngest Boy Scouts and the communities across America.

I am truly honored to accept the Silver Buffalo Award.  And I was very sincere when I said that I wish I did not have to leave for the White House, and could stay and tell to you how important what you do is, how grateful I am for what you do, and that you should know in your hearts and souls that over the decades ahead, those young people's lives that you touch will be better because of what you do for them.

I thank you for your service to the communities, and I say thank you and may God bless you all.  Thank you.