Something in the water: Why being an Eagle Scout helps at the U.S. Naval Academy

Second-year midshipman and Eagle Scout Thomas Dias (left) talks with 1998 U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Eagle Scout Jeff Messer (right).

The two midshipmen stood tall in their crisp blue uniforms.

It was a cloudy Sunday morning at the U.S. Naval Academy, and Thomas Dias of Pennsylvania and Ray Mier of Ohio were about to embark on a tour planned just for the Report to the Nation delegates.

But first, Jim Rogers had a quick question. Rogers and his wife, Sandy, serve as this year’s host couple. Jim Rogers, the former CEO of KOA and a longtime supporter of Scouting, asked the midshipmen whether being an Eagle Scout helped them get in to the Naval Academy.

“Did Eagle Scout help?” Mier repeated. “I got my acceptance letter the day after I put it in my application.”

“I had to wait a little longer, but it did help,” Dias said. “Being an Eagle Scout, being a part of the National Eagle Scout Association here at the Naval Academy is awesome and really rewarding. We get to do a lot of volunteering and a lot of outreach for Scouts — give back to the program that gave us so much.”

After that inspiring introduction, the tour began. The delegates saw where midshipmen eat, live, take classes and participate in sports. And they learned that between 10 and 20 percent of midshipmen are Eagle Scouts.

Academics and sports

The Naval Academy is a four-year institution that produces officers for the Navy and Marine Corps. Graduates leave with a bachelor of science degree, taking classes and participating in military training along the way.

I was interested to learn that every midshipman is an athlete, meaning he or she must participate on one of the school’s NCAA Division I sports teams, a club team or an intramural team. The midshipmen practice or play sports during a mandatory two-hour athletics period each afternoon.

In addition, each midshipman takes classes in wrestling, boxing and swimming. So, yeah, they’re in pretty great shape once they graduate — both academically and physically.

They’re in sound financial shape, too. The government pays for their college tuition, but I wouldn’t call it a free ride. These men and women repay their debt by providing service to their country — a minimum of five years in the Navy or Marine Corps after their commissioning.

Those midshipmen who saved some or all of the $100 to $200 monthly stipend they receive during their time at the academy could leave with thousands in the bank when they graduate.

“There are many nights where I’m like, ‘man, I wish I could get that pizza’ or ‘man, I wish I could see that movie,'” Dias said. “It’s a sacrifice.”

A Naval Academy graduate returns

Jeff Messer can relate. The Eagle Scout, a 1998 graduate of the Naval Academy, said Sunday’s visit brought back a flood of memories.

Messer is part of the Report to the Nation delegation with his daughter Isabella, one of the first girls to join Scouts BSA in Maine. It was the first time anyone could remember a Naval Academy graduate being part of a Report to the Nation delegation.

Messer spent four years on the Navy hockey team — “but I’ve broken more stuff sailing than playing hockey,” he said — and was a member of the academy’s NESA chapter.

He calls Scouting a “leadership laboratory” that prepared him for the challenges of life at the academy.

In Scouting, “you can try different things, kind of understand your own personal leadership style,” he said. Serving as a patrol leader in his troop prepared Messer to be a platoon leader at the academy.

Messer’s camping skills came in handy, too.

Most weekends as a plebe, the academy term for a freshman, are spent enjoying a few hours away from the yard. But one weekend during Messer’s plebe year, his squad leader had something different planned. The squad leader, channeling his own Scouting background, took the group on a weekend whitewater rafting trip down the Gauley River in West Virginia.

“We camped out the night before, we rafted all day Saturday, then we drove to the Washington National Forest,” he said. “It was great.”

Messer said it makes sense that the Naval Academy prioritizes Scouting experience when using its Whole Person Multiple to decide whom to accept.

“The morals, the character and the achievements that the academy is looking for closely align with the Scouts,” he said. “If you succeed in Scouts, you can succeed at the Naval Academy.”

I asked Isabella whether she’s planning to apply to the Naval Academy when she’s older.

While she wasn’t ready to commit to higher ed plans at age 10, she did tell me how proud she was to know her dad attended such a storied institution.

“It’s really cool,” she said.

John Ertel shares stories with the delegates.

Bring on Scouts BSA

John Ertel is an Eagle Scout and retired Naval Academy physics professor. He started the NESA chapter at the academy many years ago.

He joined us on the tour, offering stories and additional insight about life as a midshipman. Ertel said he’s been keeping up with the launch of Scouts BSA and the fact that young women can now work toward becoming Eagle Scouts.

Given the strong presence of Eagle Scouts at the Naval Academy (the latest numbers show between 10 and 20 percent of midshipmen are Eagle Scouts), Ertel wondered how Eagle Scout midshipmen feel about young women earning Scouting’s highest honor.

“Midshipmen who are Eagle Scouts were polled, and they voted unanimously in support,” Ertel said. “They said, ‘If a young woman completes the same requirements, she should get the same recognition.'”

Ertel said he suspects the Naval Academy will try hard to recruit some of these young women who earn Eagle. That means they’ll strive to beat their rivals at the Army and Air Force when doing so.

“The U.S. Naval Academy will try to get those first female Eagle Scouts,” he said, “no matter what West Point or the Air Force Academy try to do.”

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Photos by Michael Roytek and Randy Piland. See more photos here

About Bryan Wendell 2883 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.