At the U.S. Naval Academy, ties to Scouting run deep

Eagle Scout Midshipman Drew Bell, who will graduate this year.

The 11 midshipmen who greeted the Report to the Nation delegation Sunday morning were cheerful, courteous and kind.

They held the door open for everyone, greeted each Scout with a handshake and a smile, and introduced themselves warmly.

After the introductions, Midshipman Drew Bell confirmed what we all were thinking.

“In case you didn’t realize this,” he said, “we’re all Eagle Scouts.”

Nobody was surprised. These men certainly acted like Eagle Scouts — each doing his former Scout troop and his country proud.

Bell, who earned Eagle in the Northern New Jersey Council, is president of the U.S. Naval Academy’s National Eagle Scout Association chapter. He said the chapter has about 300 members, making it one of the largest college-based chapters around.

Walking around the majestic campus of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., your chances of running into an Eagle Scout are roughly 1 in 10 — much higher than at your typical university. Roughly 10 percent of midshipmen are Eagle Scouts, and many got their first taste of the Naval Academy as Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts, Bell said.

“A lot of people enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy first came here as a Scout group on a tour,” he said.

Speaking of tours, the 10 Report to the Nation delegates were given a closer look at the institution. But instead of the usual one tour guide, the Scouts had 11. The midshipmen, looking sharp in their dress blues, took turns explaining facts about the campus and its rich history.

“I don’t know if there’s any school in this country that has more tradition than the U.S. Naval Academy,” said Shawn Cleary, a midshipman who earned Eagle in the Sam Houston Area Council.

There are building entrances and sidewalks only to be used by upperclassman. There are the flags that get raised each time Navy beats Army in a sports contest. And there’s the Herndon Monument Climb, where at the end of the school year freshmen try to climb a 21-foot, grease-covered obelisk.


A tradition of Scouting excellence

Scouting is another tradition at the Naval Academy. In addition to the higher-than-usual concentration of Eagle Scouts, the Naval Academy has an arrangement with Philmont Scout Ranch and Northern Tier to send midshipmen to the high-adventure bases to serve as Philmont Rangers or Northern Tier Interpreters.

“It’s one of the most valuable programs we have here,” said Bell, who has been a Philmont Ranger. “It teaches leadership, because you’re responsible for [the Scouts].”

In the military, the people below you in rank are obligated to do what you say. That’s how the rank structure works. But leading civilians in Scouting is different, Bell said. Barking orders won’t work; you need to try servant leadership.

That experience will prepare these midshipmen for lives as commissioned officers, where they’ll work with civilians on a daily basis, Bell said.

While the midshipmen (and cadets from the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies) get a lot out of serving on staff at high-adventure bases, Philmont and Northern Tier benefit, too.

They get staffers who are prepared, said Zachary Cammer, a midshipman who earned Eagle in the Suffolk County Council and has been a Philmont Ranger and Philmont Ranger Trainer.

“They can tell that we have leadership skills and outdoor skills,” he said.


 You’re invited to the Naval Academy

The NESA chapter at the Naval Academy hosts a Merit Badge Jamboree each year during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

The event draws 700 to 800 Scouts from as far away as California to earn STEM-related merit badges in a world-class setting.

“These are merit badges like Nuclear Science that you just couldn’t get at most summer camps,” Bell said.

(Or maybe you could, but at the Naval Academy your merit badge counselor will be someone who has actually served on a nuclear submarine.)

Scouting Wire wrote about the Merit Badge Jamboree last year, and the 2016 version was overbooked. In fact, the midshipmen told me that because of the increased interest created by the Scouting Wire article, they’re expecting an even longer waiting list in 2017.

You can learn more by following the Facebook page for the Naval Academy’s NESA chapter.


2015 Report to the Nation

Read more coverage from the 2015 Report to the Nation, happening Feb. 27 to March 3, 2016, right here. And see more photos here.

Thanks to each of the Eagle Scout midshipmen who gave us the tour on Sunday — their day off. Many even took time away from studying to hang out with these Report to the Nation delegates.

Photos by Michael Roytek and Randy Piland.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.