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Congressional Eagles

Working Toward Boy Scout’s Top Rank Taught Members Life Lessons

Courtesy Office of Sen. Sherrod Brown
Astronaut, Eagle Scout and future Sen. John Glenn presides over the 1969 Eagle Scout ceremony of now-Sen. Sherrod Brown, who was then 16, at the Leland Hotel in Mansfield, Ohio.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher knows exactly which lesson from his time in the Boy Scouts has helped most in Washington: handling poisonous snakes.

"That skill has really served me well here on Capitol Hill," the California Republican joked.

In all seriousness, Rohrabacher and other Eagle Scouts in Congress say their boyhood experience was good preparation for a career in politics.

"Both take ambition, both take a quiet determination," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said. "Both have their moments of loneliness because you need to lead and be apart from the crowd and achieve."

Like winning a seat in Congress, earning the rank of Eagle Scout is a difficult task. A Boy Scout must earn at least 21 merit badges, serve at least six months in a troop leadership position and manage a community-oriented service project all before age 18. About 5 percent of Scouts achieve the rank.

But Scouts are overrepresented in Congress. Although only 1 percent of U.S. men are Eagle Scouts, more than 6 percent of the 444 men in the 112th Congress earned the rank, including 12 Senators.

The Congressional Eagles speak fondly of long-ago camping trips, late-night meetings and hiking excursions. Most, if not all, can still recite the Scout Oath and Scout Law verbatim.

"I live my life, in essence, according to Scout Oath and law," Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) said, before reciting the oath. "Making sure you stay grounded in it is enormously helpful. Make sure you keep that compass. That's one of the things that will never leave me."

But Members say they also learned valuable political skills on their trail to Eagle Scout.

"The very first elected office I ever held was assistant patrol leader," Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said.

"It gives you a well-rounded background in fundamental challenges that you encounter growing up, but that serve you well at the same time in whatever career you might pursue," Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said.

The skills you learn as an Eagle Scout "are pretty fundamental to doing the work that we do as elected officials or as candidates," Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) said. "They were very good early lessons on some really basic skills that come in handy today."

Lesson No. 1: Be Prepared

Nowadays, Cochran comes to the Senate floor prepared for debate but he wasn't always that way. The first time he took an oral exam for a first-aid merit badge, the Senator realized he wasn't prepared enough. He turned red with embarrassment because he couldn't answer the questions.

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