By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
DALLAS, March 4, 2011 – Recalling his own experience as an Eagle Scout, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last night praised scouting for instilling principles, integrity and honor in tomorrow’s leaders.
Gates was the keynote speaker at a Circle Ten Council Friends of Scouting dinner here.
The secretary told the audience of 1,500 that he could fit everything he owned in the back seat of his car when he went to Washington, D.C., at age 22 to work for the CIA. At that time, he said, earning his Eagle Scout badge was the only thing he had done that made him believe he could make a difference.
“It was the only thing I had done that distinguished me from so many other high school kids,” he said. “It was the first thing I had done that told me I might be a little different because I worked a little harder, was a little more determined, a little more goal-oriented, more persistent than others. Earning my Eagle gave me the self-confidence to believe, for the first time in my life, that I could achieve whatever I set my mind to.”
Much has changed, and not all of it for the better -- especially for young people -- in the 50 years since he was a Boy Scout, Gates said.
“One thing, however, that has remained the same over the years is the positive experience of scouting on boys and young men,” he added, “and the ability of so many of them to surprise us and inspire us with their determination, their character, their skills, and their moral and physical courage.”
Good homes and good parents produce good boys, but scouting tempers the steel, the secretary said.
“At a time when many American young people are turning into couch potatoes and, too often, much worse,” Gates told the audience, “scouting continues to challenge boys and young men, preparing them for leadership.”
One way scouting creates leaders, the secretary said, is by presenting new challenges that build confidence, self-reliance and the spirit of adventure. Another benefit, he added, is that Boy Scouts learn the importance of service to others.
“The scouting movement shows dramatically that service -- public service -- still beckons the best among us to do battle with complacency, neglect, ignorance and the emptiness of the spirit that are the common enemies of social peace and justice,” Gates said. “Adults like you who support scouting are generously investing in our collective future –- in [columnist] Walter Lippman’s words, you are ‘planting the trees we may never get to sit under.’”
Caring beyond one’s self, the secretary added, is fundamental not only to scouting, but also to democracy and to civilization itself.
Scouting also prepares boys and young men to live lives based on unchanging values such as trustworthiness, loyalty, honesty, kindness, and the respect and dignity every person deserves, he said.
“We in scouting believe that personal virtues -- self-reliance, self-control, honor, integrity and morality –- are absolute and timeless,” Gates said. “There are in too many places too few people with scouting values -- people who say, ‘On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty,’ and mean it.”
The secretary noted that scouting allows adults who are leaders to teach boys to be leaders.
“In challenging boys to learn skills, to master challenges, to strive to live up to high principles and moral values, to find the greater beauty in a life of cheerful service, to build strong character, scouting tempers them into strong leaders for tomorrow,” Gates said.
Former President George W. Bush introduced Gates to the audience. Gates’ service as defense secretary dates back to December 2006, during Bush’s administration.