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National President Dr. Robert M. Gates Delivers Remarks at BSA’s 2016 National Annual Meeting

During the 2016 Boy Scouts of America National Annual Meeting, National President Dr. Robert M. Gates urged the organization to continue to strengthen Scouting for a crucial reason: America needs Scouting now, more than ever before.

As he reflected on his term as president, Dr. Gates lauded BSA’s ability to prepare America’s youth for leadership, and encouraged the organization to seize opportunities for growth in order to bring the values of Scouting, through character development and values-based leadership training, to youth throughout the country.

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May 26, 2016 – DURING A CAREER IN PUBLIC SERVICE THAT BEGAN 50 YEARS AGO, IT WAS MY GOOD FORTUNE TO LEAD THREE VERY LARGE, VERY DIFFERENT ORGANIZATIONS – AS DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, OVERSEEING THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY AND THE FOURTEEN OTHER INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT; AS PRESIDENT OF TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY, NOW THE NATION’S FIFTH LARGEST; AND LEADING THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, WITH THREE MILLION PEOPLE AND THEN AN ANNUAL BUDGET OF NEARLY $750 BILLION, THE LARGEST AND MOST COMPLEX ORGANIZATION ON THE PLANET.

BUT MY FIRST LEADERSHIP POSITION WAS AS A PATROL LEADER IN BOY SCOUT TROOP 522 IN WICHITA, KANSAS. THE ONLY FORMAL LEADERSHIP OR MANAGEMENT TRAINING I EVER HAD WAS AT PHILMONT SCOUT RANCH IN WHAT WAS THEN KNOWN AS THE NATIONAL JUNIOR LEADER TRAINING PROGRAM.

HOW FITTING THAT A LIFE IN LEADERSHIP THAT BEGAN AS A BOY SCOUT PATROL LEADER LIKELY ENDS AS I CONCLUDE MY TERM AS NATIONAL PRESIDENT OF THE BOY SCOUTS. THERE IS A NICE SYMMETRY TO CLOSING THE CIRCLE IN THAT WAY.

I ASSUMED THE ROLE OF PRESIDENT TWO YEARS AGO. I AGREED TO DO SO SIMPLY BECAUSE I CONTINUE TO BELIEVE, AS I HAVE THROUGHOUT MY ENTIRE LIFE, THAT THERE IS NO FINER PROGRAM FOR PREPARING AMERICAN BOYS AND YOUNG MEN FOR LEADERSHIP THAN THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA. AND I BELIEVE TODAY THAT AMERICA NEEDS SCOUTING MORE THAN EVER IN OUR MOVEMENT’S MORE THAN CENTURY-LONG HISTORY.

IN EACH ORGANIZATION I HAVE LED, MY GOAL HAS ALWAYS BEEN TO MAKE STRONG INSTITUTIONS EVEN STRONGER. I CAUTIONED TWO YEARS AGO THAT IF YOU WANTED THE STATUS QUO, YOU SURELY HAD SELECTED THE WRONG GUY.

I TOLD YOU THEN THAT WE NEEDED TO CONTINUE IMPROVING THE VOLUNTEER GOVERNANCE OF SCOUTING, BUILDING ON THE WORK OF REX TILLERSON AND WAYNE PERRY. THANKS TO THE HARD WORK OF AUBREY HARWELL AND MANY OTHERS, OUR GOVERNANCE TASK FORCE UPDATED AND REVISED OUR BY-LAWS TO STRENGTHEN BOTH VOLUNTEER LEADERSHIP AND TRANSPARENCY.

FURTHER, OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, UNDER CHIEF SCOUT EXECUTIVES WAYNE BROCK AND NOW MIKE SURBAUGH, WE HAVE WORKED TO CHANGE THE CULTURE AT OUR NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS TO ONE OF LISTENING AND SERVICE RATHER THAN DIRECTING AND INFORMING. WE CAPTURED THIS EFFORT SYMBOLICALLY BY CHANGING THE NAME OF THE NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS TO THE NATIONAL SERVICE CENTER.

I SPOKE TWO YEARS AGO OF THE NEED TO STOP THE DECLINE IN MEMBERSHIP AND FIGURE OUT WAYS TO BEGIN GROWTH AGAIN – ABOVE ALL, BY EMPHASIZING THE RECRUITMENT OF CUB SCOUTS.

ANOTHER PRIORITY I MENTIONED WAS THE NEED TO DEVOTE MORE ATTENTION AND RESOURCES TO SCOUTREACH BECAUSE KIDS FROM DISADVANTAGED FAMILIES NEED SCOUTING MOST OF ALL. WE HAVE THE CHANCE TO CHANGE LIVES IN DRAMATIC WAYS BY GIVING THESE BOYS THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE SCOUTS.

I SPOKE OF THE NEED TO RENEW OUR EMPHASIS ON BUILDING STRONGER RELATIONSHIPS IN OUR COMMUNITIES – AND THE NEED TO BE FAR MORE AGGRESSIVE IN RECRUITING HISPANIC, AFRICAN- AMERICAN AND ASIAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY LEADERS TO OUR COUNCIL, REGIONAL AND NATIONAL BOARDS.

FINALLY, WITH ALL SINCERITY, TWO YEARS AGO I EXPRESSED SUPPORT FOR THE 2013 DECISION TO WELCOME GAY YOUTH BUT SAID THAT WE NEEDED TO PUT THE MEMBERSHIP STANDARDS ISSUE BEHIND US AND MOVE FORWARD. I SAID I WOULD OPPOSE ANY EFFORT TO RE-OPEN THIS ISSUE – ACKNOWLEDGING AT THE SAME TIME THAT NO ONE COULD FORETELL WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE.

AND NO ONE DID PREDICT THAT DURING THE ENSUING YEAR, WE WOULD BE CONFRONTED WITH NEW CHALLENGES WE COULD NOT IGNORE. FIRST, SEVERAL MAJOR COUNCILS OPENLY DEFIED THE NATIONAL POLICY WITH THE PROSPECT OF A NUMBER OF OTHERS FOLLOWING IN THEIR STEPS. AS I SAID A YEAR AGO, WHILE TECHNICALLY WE HAD THE AUTHORITY TO REVOKE THEIR CHARTERS, SUCH AN ACTION WOULD IMMEDIATELY DENY THE LIFELONG BENEFITS OF SCOUTING TO TENS OF THOUSANDS OF BOYS AND YOUNG MEN AND COUNTLESS MORE IN THE FUTURE.

SECOND, MORE THAN TWO DOZEN STATES HAD PROHIBITED DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT BASED ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND WE FACED A POTENTIAL ONSLOUGHT OF LEGAL ACTIONS IN MULTIPLE STATES WHICH I AND OTHERS BELIEVED WE COULD NOT WIN. THUS, SCOUTING WOULD FIND ITSELF IN THE UNTENABLE POSITION OF WELCOMING GAY YOUTH, BEING REQUIRED TO HIRE GAY PROFESSIONALS, YET BARRING GAY VOLUNTEER LEADERS.

THIRD, WE ALSO FACED THE VERY REAL PROSPECT THAT THE COURTS OR OTHER GOVERNMENT ENTITIES WOULD SIMPLY ORDER US TO CHANGE OUR POLICY, INCLUDING THE CONSIDERABLE LIKELIHOOD OF FORBIDDING ANY KIND OF MEMBERSHIP STANDARD, INCLUDING OUR FOUNDATIONAL BELIEF IN OUR DUTY TO GOD AND OUR FOCUS ON SERVING THE SPECIFIC NEEDS OF BOYS.

THUS, I WARNED AT THIS MEETING A YEAR AGO THAT THE STATUS QUO IN THE MOVEMENT’S MEMBERSHIP STANDARDS COULD NOT BE SUSTAINED.

MINDFUL THAT 70% OF OUR SCOUT UNITS ARE SPONSORED BY CHURCHES, THE OFFICERS AND ENTIRE EXECUTIVE BOARD OF BSA HAD TO ADDRESS THIS ISSUE LAST SUMMER. WE COLLECTIVELY CONSIDERED AND THEN OVERWHELMINGLY APPROVED A CHANGE IN POLICY THAT WOULD ALLOW GAY SCOUT LEADERS TO SERVE WHILE PROTECTING THE FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT OF OUR CHURCH PARTNERS TO SELECT SCOUT LEADERS WHOSE BELIEFS AND LIFESTYLES WERE COMPATIBLE WITH THOSE OF THE SPONSORING CHURCH. AND WE HAVE MADE CLEAR THAT GOING FORWARD, BSA WILL SUPPORT AND PARTNER WITH ANY CHURCH SPONSOR WHOSE RIGHT TO CHOOSE ITS OWN LEADERS IS CHALLENGED.

AND SO A DIFFICULT DECISION WAS MADE, A DECISION THE OVERWHELMING PREPONDERANCE OF SPONSORING INSTITUTIONS AND VOLUNTEER LEADERS HAVE ACCEPTED. A DECISION THAT HAS ALLOWED US, AT LONG LAST, TO FOCUS ON PROGRAMS, ON GROWING OUR MEMBERSHIP AGAIN, ON REACHING BOYS AND FAMILIES IN NEED OF SCOUTING BUT UNAWARE OF ITS BENEFITS. ALLOWING US TO LOOK TO THE FUTURE AND TO BETTER SERVE AMERICA AND AMERICANS.

SO, WHERE ARE WE TODAY? MOST IMPORTANTLY, THROUGH THESE CHALLENGES WE HAVE MAINTAINED OUR UNITY AS A MOVEMENT. SIGNIFICANTLY, MEMBERSHIP IN RECENT MONTHS HAS BEGUN TO MOVE IN A POSITIVE DIRECTION FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MANY YEARS. WHILE WE HAVE NOT YET RETURNED TO THE PLUS COLUMN OVERALL, WE HAVE GONE FROM A MEMBERSHIP LOSS OF NEARLY 8% IN 2013 TO A 3.9% LOSS LAST YEAR AND 2.8% THIS YEAR. WHAT’S MORE, THE RE- CHARTERING PROCESS HAS GONE MUCH FASTER THAN IN PAST YEARS AND RETENTION RATES ARE UP, SO WE BELIEVE THE CHANCES OF NET POSITIVE GROWTH THROUGH THE REST OF THIS YEAR ARE QUITE PROMISING. IN FACT, EVERY LEADING INDICATOR OF MEMBERSHIP GROWTH IS POSITIVE. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MANY YEARS, WE SAW NET POSITIVE GROWTH IN CUB SCOUTS LAST FALL, AND WE HAVE SEEN GROWTH IN EXPLORING EACH OF THE LAST THREE MONTHS. IN SUM, WE ARE ON THE THRESHOLD OF A SIGNIFICANT HISTORICAL EVENT – A RETURN TO POSITIVE NATIONAL GROWTH FOR THE FIRST TIME IN DECADES.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES TO GROW HAVE OPENED BEFORE US, AS PUBLIC SCHOOLS, COMMUNITIES, CITIES AND OTHER GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS HAVE ONCE AGAIN OPENED THEIR DOORS FOR SCOUT RECRUITING IN SCHOOLS AND SCOUT USE OF CIVIC FACILITIES.

CORPORATIONS WHICH REDUCED OR ELIMINATED THEIR SUPPORT FOR SCOUTING AND COMPANIES THAT NEVER HAD SUPPORTED US ARE RETURNING TO THE FOLD OR JOINING US, INCLUDING COCA-COLA, WALT DISNEY, WELLS FARGO, HOME DEPOT, COLEMAN, MONSANTO AND MANY OTHERS.

THE MEMBERSHIP POLICY CHANGE HAS CREATED NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR US IN BOTH FUND-RAISING AND MEMBERSHIP GROWTH, BUT NEITHER WOULD MATTER IF WE DID NOT HAVE EXCITING NEW PROGRAMS TO ATTRACT BOYS. AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE HAVE DONE WITH THE BUILD AN ADVENTURE INITIATIVE, AND THE NEW CUB SCOUT PROGRAM. LET ME READ TO YOU AN E-MAIL I RECEIVED FROM A SENIOR OFFICIAL IN THE UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE EARLIER THIS MONTH:

“I AM AN ASSISTANT CUBMASTER AND DEN LEADER FOR MY SON’S PACK. I CAN SEE A CHANGE IN THE INTEREST LEVEL OF MY SCOUTS WITH THE NEW CUB SCOUT PROGRAM. I SPECIFICALLY SEE A DEFINITE EXCITEMENT FROM THE BOYS BECAUSE WE ARE GETTING OUTDOORS FOR ACTIVITIES WHILE LEARNING ABOUT SUBJECTS THAT CAN BE RELATED DIRECTLY TO THE SCOUT LAW. I LIKE THE IDEA OF THE SCOUT LAW AS PART OF CUB SCOUTS. I CAN EASILY RELATE EACH OF OUR ACTIVITIES TO ONE OR TWO PARTS OF THE SCOUT LAW. FURTHER, I BELIEVE KIDS NEED TO GET OUTSIDE – AWAY FROM ELECTRONIC DEVICE DISTRACTIONS – AND USE ALL FIVE SENSES TO GAIN EXPERIENCE AND LEARN. THE NEW CUB SCOUT PROGRAM HELPS ME TEACH THE FUNDAMENTALS OF SCOUTING WHILE GIVING ME THE FLEXIBILITY TO CUSTOMIZE THE PROGRAM TO THE NEEDS OF MY SCOUTS AND THEIR FAMILIES. ADDITIONALLY, THE NEW DEN LEADER MATERIALS SUCH AS THE LEADERS GUIDE ARE NOW VERY USEFUL BECAUSE THE RESOURCES ARE, FOR THE MOST PART, IN ONE PLACE. AS YOU CAN IMAGINE, MY JOB DOES NOT ALLOW ME THE OPTIMUM TIME I WOULD LIKE TO PREPARE FOR EVERY MEETING, BUT THE NEW MATERIALS ARE ‘WORKING PARENT’ FRIENDLY, ALLOWING ME TO ALWAYS PUT ON AN ENRICHING AND IMPACTFUL MEETING. AS AN EAGLE SCOUT WHO LOVES SCOUTING AND EVERYTHING IT GAVE ME, I WANT MY SCOUTS TO HAVE THE SAME EXPERIENCES I DID GROWING UP FROM CUB SCOUTS THROUGH BOY SCOUTS. THE NEW PROGRAM HELPS ME DELIVER THAT EXPERIENCE.”

IT IS CLEAR FROM SUCH RESPONSES THAT ALL THOSE INVOLVED IN DEVELOPING BUILD AN ADVENTURE AND THE NEW CUB SCOUT PROGRAM HAVE PLACED IN OUR HANDS THE TOOLS NEEDED TO ATTRACT AND KEEP BOYS IN SCOUTING. IT IS A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT.

WE ARE ALSO SEEING, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MANY YEARS, ABSOLUTE GROWTH IN THE EXPLORING PROGRAM AND I KNOW MIKE SEES GREAT OPPORTUNITIES HERE. AND HATS OFF TO THE GREATER ST. LOUIS COUNCIL FOR THEIR BOLD INITIATIVE TO CREATE TWO NEW LAW ENFORCEMENT EXPLORER POSTS IN FERGUSON, MISSOURI. MORE AND MORE COUNCILS ARE LOOKING FOR AND IMPLEMENTING SUCH PROGRAMS THAT OFFER SO MUCH TO COMMUNITIES WHICH HAVE SO LITTLE.

OUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT. WHICH MEANS WE HAVE A FULL AGENDA. BEFORE I HAND OVER THE GAVEL TO RANDALL STEPHENSON LATER TODAY, I WANT BRIEFLY TO SHARE WITH YOU THREE PRIORITY AREAS ON WHICH I BELIEVE WE NEED TO FOCUS:

  1. EXCELLENCE IN CONTINUED PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT AND MEMBERSHIP GROWTH ARE JOINED AT THE HIP.
  2. SCOUTREACH – AND SUSTAINING SCOUTREACH PROGRAMS ONCE STARTED — MUST BE A HIGH PRIORITY. NO CHILD OF ANY ETHNICITY SHOULD BE DENIED THE SCOUTING EXPERIENCE BECAUSE HIS FAMILY IS TOO POOR OR HIS NEIGHBORHOOD LACKS PROPER ADULT ROLE MODELS OR A SPONSOR. SOME COUNCILS ARE DOING VERY WELL; THE REST SHOULD LEARN FROM THEM.
  3. TO REPEAT WHAT I HAVE SAID EACH OF THE LAST TWO YEARS, WE NEED TO INCREASE THE DIVERSITY OF OUR BOARDS AT EVERY LEVEL. THE ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT OF COMMUNITY LEADERS AND LOCAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS WHEN IT COMES TO DEVELOPING SUPPORT FOR SCOUTING IS A NO-BRAINER.

A CLOSING THOUGHT AS I LEAVE THIS POST. AMERICA NEEDS SCOUTING.

CONTRARY TO WHAT YOU HEAR FROM SOME POLITICIANS, WE CONTINUE TO LIVE IN A GREAT COUNTRY. BUT IT WILL ONLY REMAIN GREAT AS LONG AS AMERICANS EMBRACE THE OBLIGATIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF CITIZENSHIP AS WELL AS ITS MANY RIGHTS AND BENEFITS. AMERICA NEEDS SCOUTING TO REMIND ALL OF THEIR DUTY TO OUR COUNTRY.

AMERICA NEEDS SCOUTING BECAUSE IT TEACHES BOYS THAT THE ONLY SELF-ESTEEM OR ESTEEM FROM OTHERS WORTH HAVING MUST BE EARNED. NOT EVERY BOY IN SCOUTING GETS A TROPHY. EVERY BADGE, FROM A MERIT BADGE TO THE EAGLE AWARD ITSELF MUST BE EARNED. AND SCOUTING DOES NOT GRADE ON THE CURVE.

AMERICA NEEDS SCOUTING BECAUSE WHAT OTHER ORGANIZATION TAKES BOYS INTO THE WILDERNESS TO FIND ADVENTURE, TO LEARN ABOUT OUR PRICELESS NATURAL HERITAGE AND TO DEVELOP THE INNER STRENGTH AND CONFIDENCE TO OVERCOME CHALLENGES AND ADVERSITY.

LISTEN TO THE WORDS OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS, WRITTEN MANY YEARS AGO: “IF THROUGHOUT TIME, THE YOUTH OF THE NATION ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE THE MOUNTAINS OFFER, THEY WILL HELP KEEP ALIVE IN OUR PEOPLE THE SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE. THAT SPIRIT IS A MEASURE OF THE VITALITY OF BOTH NATIONS AND MEN. A PEOPLE WHO CLIMB THE RIDGES AND SLEEP UNDER THE STARS IN HIGH MOUNTAIN MEADOWS, WHO ENTER THE FOREST AND SCALE THE PEAKS, WHO EXPLORE GLACIERS AND WALK RIDGES BURIED DEEP IN SNOW – THESE PEOPLE WILL GIVE THEIR COUNTRY SOME OF THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT OF THE MOUNTAINS,”

DOUGLAS ALSO WROTE, “DISCOVERY IS ADVENTURE…WALKING THROUGH THE WILDERNESS IS INDEED LIKE LIVING. THE HORIZON DROPS AWAY, BRINGING NEW SIGHTS, SOUNDS AND SMELLS FROM THE EARTH. WHEN ONE MOVES THROUGH THE FOREST, HIS SENSE OF DISCOVERY IS QUICKENED. MAN IS BACK IN THE ENVIRONMENT FROM WHICH HE EMERGED TO BUILD FACTORIES, CHURCHES, AND SCHOOLS. HE IS PRIMITIVE AGAIN, MATCHING HIS WITS AGAINST THE EARTH AND SKY. HE IS FREE OF THE RESTRAINTS OF SOCIETY AND FREE OF ITS SAFEGUARDS, TOO. BOYS, PERHAPS MORE THAN MEN, KNOW THIS EXPERIENCE.”

“BOYS, PERHAPS MORE THAN MEN, KNOW THIS EXPERIENCE.” WHO, INDEED, KNOWS THESE THINGS BETTER THAN BOYS WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED THE WILDERNESS THROUGH SCOUTING? WHERE, EXCEPT IN SCOUTING, CAN A BOY KEEP ALIVE THE AMERICAN SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE, THE THRILL OF RISK AND DARING, THE SATISFACTION OF OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGES OF THE WILDERNESS.

AMERICA NEEDS SCOUTING TO BUILD CHARACTER AND LEADERSHIP SKILLS IN BOYS AND YOUNG MEN. RARELY HAS THE LACK OF CHARACTER AND LACK OF COURAGEOUS, BOLD, VISIONARY LEADERSHIP BEEN SO APPARENT IN AMERICA. BUT NOT IN SCOUTING. WE ARE THE COUNTRY’S LARGEST AND BEST LEADERSHIP AND CHARACTER-BUILDING FACTORY. WHEN SOMEONE CYNICALLY REFERS TO A PERSON OF CHARACTER WITH THE PHRASE, “HE’S A BOY SCOUT,” IT IS, IN FACT, THE HIGHEST COMPLIMENT. IT IS WHO WE ARE.

FINALLY, AMERICA NEEDS SCOUTING BECAUSE IT NEEDS YOUNG MEN FOR WHOM GOD IS CENTRAL IN THEIR LIVES. FOR SCOUTS OF ALL AGES, DUTY TO GOD IS NOT A MERIT BADGE OR A PIECE OF METAL AND COLORED CLOTH. IT IS THE FOUNDATION STONE OF WHO AND WHAT WE ARE. WITHOUT DUTY TO GOD, THERE IS NO SCOUT OATH, NO SCOUT MOVEMENT. A BOY WHO KNEELS BEFORE HIS GOD WILL STAND TALL AS A MAN.

I JOINED CUB SCOUTS NEARLY 65 YEARS AGO. IN MY ADULT LIFE, I HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA THAN I AM TODAY. OUR CHALLENGES FINALLY ARE MANAGEABLE, AND OUR OPPORTUNITIES LIMITLESS. WE MUST LEAVE THIS PLACE PREPARED TO BE BOLD, COURAGEOUS AND DARING IN THE SERVICE OF THE GREATEST YOUTH-SERVING ORGANIZATION IN THE WORLD. THIS IS OUR MOMENT; WE MUST SEIZE IT. GOD BLESS THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, AND GOD BLESS AMERICA.

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Rochelle Randles

Rochelle

Rochelle Randles is a communications specialist at the Boy Scouts of America. She enjoys sharing incredible adventure stories within the Scouting community and beyond. If you have story ideas or questions, reach out to us at communications@scouting.org.