Duty to country: Tillerson says Scouting values guide him at State Department

By the time they made it through metal detectors, past gates that required both an ID card and a security code, up a manned elevator, and through a heavy door that required a second secret code, the Report to the Nation delegates had to be feeling pretty special.

That feeling was only made stronger when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walked in.

On Tuesday, the Distinguished Eagle Scout who is No. 4 in the presidential line of succession invited the Scouts, Venturers and Explorer into his outer office for a fireside chat. He spent more than 30 minutes talking with the Scouts — never coming across as rushed.

That’s not surprising for the man who is past president of the BSA and has announced he’ll hand-sign letters of congratulations to new Eagle Scouts.

The room where it happens

“I didn’t expect to be secretary of state,” Tillerson told the Scouts and Venturers.

But when he was asked to take on the role, he was reminded of the Scout Oath and the ideals of duty to God and country.

“And my wife said, ‘you don’t have a choice,'” Tillerson said. “And she was right.”

He explained that the room in which the Scouts were seated — with an elegant chandelier overhead and a wood-burning fireplace — is the same spot where he hosts world leaders.

“This is where all the foreign leaders come and meet with me,” he said. “It is useful to put our foreign leaders at ease.”

He told the Scouts that the State Department tries to ease conflict around the world. He was only half-joking when saying that if he and his team do their job, the Department of Defense has less to do.

“People all over the world want the same thing — a safe place for their kids’ future,” he said. “I haven’t found a country in the world where they don’t want that.”

Tillerson’s responsibilities aren’t easy, but he said he has a secret weapon: his Scouting background.

Whenever a tough decision faces him, “I just test it against my Scouting values,” he said.

‘Bookended with God’

Tillerson asked for questions, and Hannah Wheaton, a Venturing Silver Award recipient from Virginia, was first up.

“What one word in the Scout Law do you put above others?” she asked.

“Well I use them all,” Tillerson said. “But I always tell people Scouting is bookended with God.”

He explained that the Scout Oath starts with “duty to God,” and the Scout Law ends with “reverent.”

“Everyone has their faith, and in Scouting we have to have some recognition that there’s something bigger than us,” he said.

Tillerson said he’s also a big fan of the Scout Law’s first point.

“Trustworthy goes to your personal integrity,” he said. “The most important thing you own is your personal integrity. You can’t buy it, and you can’t go to school for it. Nobody can take it from you, but you can surrender it.”

Life of a secretary of state

Tyler Schutt, the National Youth Representative for Law Enforcement Exploring, was next with a question.

“What’s a typical day like, if there is one?” he asked.

Tillerson said the routine is the same, even if the issues constantly change.

He’s at the office at 7:30 a.m. and leaves around 6:30 or 7 p.m. He comes in on Saturdays, because “that’s a good time to not be bothered.”

Hearing this, National Venturing President Pratik Vaidya wondered whether the secretary has time to relax at all.

“It takes a family that’s extraordinarily supportive of me,” Tillerson said. “I’m willing to put in whatever hours I have to put in. But when I get home, I do make a point to not go into my office.”

He said he and his wife sit by the fireplace — in a room without a TV — and talk. Or sometimes they just read. Anything to unwind a little after a difficult day.

Tillerson encouraged the Scouts to find a similar work-life balance once they enter the workforce.

“Keep your priorities straight,” he said. “Take care of family first, and then you’ll be better when you are here.”

A Scouting supporter for life

Tillerson travels the world for his job — Germany and Mexico were recent stops — but the first time he ever rode on an airplane was in 1969 to attend the National Scout Jamboree in Idaho.

As a Scout, he hiked at Philmont and paddled at Northern Tier. As an adult volunteer, he made time to attend and speak at national-, council- and unit-level Scouting events.

This is a man who understands the value of Scouting and how any amount of time in this life-changing program can catapult young people to new heights. But he didn’t want to receive praise on Tuesday; he wanted to give it.

“Thanks for the example you set for those who are younger than you,” Tillerson told the delegates.

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Find more coverage here, and follow me on Twitter: @bryanonscouting.

No outside photographers were allowed at this visit, but you can see other Report to the Nation photos here.