By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
July 28, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today shared his personal experiences and passion for Boy Scouting with tens of thousands of Scouts and their families gathered for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Boy Scouts of America. "Scouting has been a big part of my life and my family's life," Gates told an estimated crowd of 45,000 gathered on 12,000 acres on Fort A.P. Hill, Va., as part of the annual National Scout Jamboree.
Gates, an Eagle Scout who has served on the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts and is past president of the National Eagle Scout Association, shared his experiences growing up as a Boy Scout, earning scouting's top rank 52 years ago, and being involved in his son's Boy Scout troop. Even after serving eight presidents and years of working with world leaders, the secretary said, his memories of his Scout leaders are just as memorable.
Noting that their lives were "a bit unusual," Gates told of going on a father-son camping trip when he was CIA director. "A hundred yards from our encampment were three, large black vans, a satellite dish, and a number of armed security officers surrounding the campsite," he said. "Now there's a challenge no Scoutmaster could have anticipated."
Gates told the Scouts he was speaking to them "as a leader from one generation talking with the leaders of the next generation," and said he was like most of them when he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout at age 15.
"I wasn't a straight-A student, nor was I a particularly good athlete," he said. "I wasn't really a student leader." When he arrived in Washington, D.C., at age 22 to begin work at the CIA, he said, "I could fit everything I owned into the back seat of my car. I had no connections and I didn't know a soul."
Earning the Eagle Scout's badge was "the only thing I had done in my life that led me to think that I could make a difference; that I could be a leader," he said to applause. "It was the first thing I had done that told me I might be different because I had worked harder, was more determined, more goal-oriented, more persistent than most others."
The secretary told the Scouts some of them will go on to be leaders in industry, the government and the military. But most importantly, he said, scouting has set them on the path to "becoming a man of integrity and decency, a man of moral courage, a man unafraid of hard work, a man of strong character – the kind of person who built this country and made it the greatest democracy and the greatest economic powerhouse in the history of the world.
"A scout is marked for life as an example of what a boy and man can be and should be," he continued. "You are role models."
In the past 100 years, Gates said, there has been no better program for preparing future leaders than the Boy Scouts. "The fate of our nation in the years to come and the future of the world itself depend on the kind of people we modern Americans prove to be," he said.
The secretary acknowledged that much has changed in the 50 years since he was a Boy Scout.
"We live in an America today where the young are increasingly physically unfit and society as a whole languishes in ignoble moral ease," he said. "But not in scouting."
There are too many places in American life today without the Boy Scouting values of self-reliance, self-control, honor, integrity and morality, Gates said. "From Wall Street to Washington to our hometowns," he said, "in all our lives there are people who seek after riches or the many kinds of power without regard to what is right or true or decent.
"I am here today because I believe in the extraordinary power of scouting to be a force for good in a community and in the lives of its boys and young men," he continued. "As I look out at all of you, I see the legacy of scouting: a new generation of worthy leaders. ...With leaders such as you, America will continue to be the beacon of hope and decency and justice for the rest of the world."