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Congressional Eagles

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.

"Gosh, the least I could have done was to prepare better and be sure I knew the material so I wouldn't have to impose on the doctor's time," Cochran said. "The next time I passed the test and I got my merit badge."

His colleagues agreed that preparation was essential to both Scouting and lawmaking.

"Be prepared is a pretty good model for a politician as well as a Boy Scout," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said.

"To do your best in Congress, you need to be prepared. To be successful, you need to fulfill that Scout slogan to do a good turn daily, to do good works and to help other people," Thompson said.

Lesson No. 2: Love the Outdoors

Alexander literally used the skills he learned as an Eagle Scout to get elected.

He didn't rely on the project planning or leadership skills he learned as a kid. Instead, wilderness survival helped him become governor of Tennessee.

In 1974, after he lost the gubernatorial race, his campaign advisers gave him some tough advice. "They said, 'Well, if you run around the state like you did in 1974, you won't win,'" Alexander said. "'What do you really like?'"

He told them he loved to hike. So in January of that year, he set off to hike across his state, meeting locals along the way.

"I walked for a thousand miles and I got elected governor," he said.

Lesson No. 3: Get Comfortable Speaking Up

From a young age, Boy Scouts stand up in front of their troops and sometimes groups of their families to lead songs, perform skits and give speeches. That practice helped Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) get comfortable speaking in public, a skill he relies on heavily today.

"A fair number of folks in politics are extroverts; I'm an introvert," he said. "The fact that you got accustomed to that standing up was useful."

Lesson No. 4: Expand Your Interests

With 21 merit badges required to reach the rank of Eagle, Boy Scouts must learn how to perform all sorts of tasks including first aid, personal management and lifesaving.

In the same way, a Member of Congress must learn a great deal about the committees on which he sits some of which are more fun or satisfying than others.

For Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the parallel is even more direct.

Merit badges are "in a lot of ways similar to the committees you serve on in Congress," he said. "One of the merit badges I got really interested in was emergency preparedness, and I've been in the National Guard and dealt with that subject for the last 25 years."

Lesson No. 5: Respect Your Troop

A Boy Scout troop is close-knit. Years of hiking together and sharing tents forms close friendships, teaching boys how to get along with one another.

Although they're not wearing the same gear, the men and women of the Senate operate in similarly close quarters. Alexander drew a parallel between his old Boy Scout troop and his new one.

"The Senate is all about relationships," Alexander said. "We begin the day in the gym, go to prayer breakfast and end the day at a fundraiser together. Being in a patrol is pretty good training for being in a body of men and women that operates by unanimous consent."

Stivers agreed.

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