“Being brave isn’t the absence of fear.
Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.”
– Bear Grylls, Chief Ambassador of World Scouting
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
From the very beginning of their Cub Scouting career, youth in the Scouting program are provided opportunities to learn skills that will benefit them for life. From teamwork to respecting wildlife, physical fitness to good citizenship, helping others to emergency response, and more. There are very few moments as fulfilling as noticing your Lion or Tiger thanking a Veteran, watching your Wolf raise a flag, seeing your Bear safely utilize a pocket knife, or knowing that your Webelos can prepare a meal over a campfire. Surely the motto, “Be Prepared!”, resonates with us all, even if we aren’t ourselves wearing a uniform. Knowing how to confidently exist in a hurdle-filled world is likely why we registered our children in the first place, but sometimes the fun of the program acts like a spoonful of sugar, and we often forget that what they’re learning is preparing them for more than whittling soap arrowheads.
There are countless proud moments for any parent or leader. Sometimes it’s just in seeing your Scout in uniform, working hard alongside their peers, but there are monumental moments that arise where they go above and beyond the call of the program and take action in a way that is equal parts training and personal integrity… like when they save a life. I can tell you from personal experience that what you feel then is more than pride, it’s overwhelming gratitude and admiration.
Ever look up to a Cub Scout? It’s wonderfully humbling. Let me tell you the story of my son, Nate.
Nate joined Cub Scout Pack 521 in Mechanicsville, Virginia, in the fall of 2015 as a Tiger. In what I didn’t know would be the best decision of my life, I signed-on as den leader, and so began an adventure of a lifetime. Following in his big brother, Michael’s, footsteps, Nate welcomed the challenges of the Cub Scouting program and flourished alongside other Scouts who would become some of his very best friends. There were campouts to be had, s’mores to be eaten, fish to be caught, targets to be shot, and adventures to complete. They did it all.
Three of the more memorable adventures involved water. Completing the “Spirit of the Water” adventure their Wolf year was particularly fun for his den, because who doesn’t want to literally jump right in and learn about water safety? Our Bear year, we tackled “Salmon Run” together. I have a vivid memory of my assistant den leader teaching this merry band of Bears how to perform reaching rescues using pool noodles, pool nets, and beach towels. It was amazing seeing such young people practicing something so important. Fast forward to their Webelos year, completing the “Aquanaut” adventure together at both our neighborhood pool and the unguarded pool we visit often with his grandparents. With the help of his brother and grandmother, Nate honed in on expert diving skills, and perfected the “order of rescue” and reach and throw rescue techniques.
Every day, about ten people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. [cited 2012 May 3]. Available from: URL: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars.
From Tiger to Webelos, the program introduces and practices emergency response throughout. Every Cub Scout learns how to react in an emergency, who to call, how to call, and that being calm in a stressful situation can make all the difference in its outcome. Each rank builds upon these skills, preparing youth to react appropriately no matter the severity of the emergency. As they bridge into Scouts BSA Troops, those skills are mastered and, as a result, Scouts become some of the most important members of their community.
You won’t be hard-pressed to find articles and stories of Scouts saving lives throughout history. For us, we open our mailbox once a month and flip right to the Scouts in Action section in our Scout Life magazine to read about the true stories of their heroics and bravery. The recurring theme in each story is that these young boys, girls, men, and women draw from a deep well of knowledge learned through their rank adventures, applying their bravery to selflessly and brilliantly save a life. If you aren’t up on your Scouts in Action, I suggest reading through the linked archives above. These Scouts are incredible.
Imagine how it must feel to be one of those youth, springing into action and changing what has the potential of being a grievous and life-ending situation. Imagine being only 9-years-old when one of those situations presents itself and the burden of bravery lands squarely on your shoulders and altruism and empathy take over.
That’s what happened to Nate in the summer of 2019.
June 30th was just a regular summer day for Nate and Michael. Our family was spending the day in Maryland enjoying the Chesapeake Bay, boating with grandparents, and swimming for hours on end in their local, unguarded pool. It was sunny, 90 degrees, and the water was crystal clear. Aside from a raft and a couple of adults, the boys had the pool to themselves for most of the afternoon, using all that space to practice diving. As the day went on, we were joined by a grandmother and her 5-year-old grandson, Bentley. He was known to be a weak swimmer and relied on Nate’s raft to “keep up” with the older boys. Despite our family watching over him in the water, his wild energy had him jumping from and back onto the raft until he was utterly exhausted.
Things can go from fun to terrifying in a flash, especially with children and especially where there’s water. Drowning is silent – you can’t take your eyes off of the children in your care for even an instant, no matter their swimming skills or strength. “I noticed Bentley was underwater so I watched him for about ten seconds to see if he would come up. When he didn’t, I knew he was drowning.” Nate recalls. With all of the splashing, it was impossible to see that Bentley had jumped from the raft and became too tired to pull himself back up. Before any of the adults could react, Nate sprang into action.
“I dove into the pool down to the bottom, grabbed him up, and swam him to the parents in the shallow water. He looked like he was very tired.”
Nate dove into the five-foot depth, pulled the full bodyweight of a kindergartener from the bottom, hugged him from behind, and swam him to safety. My boy did this bravely and without panic. As he explained what had happened to the adults in the pool, it was clear that Nate had just saved a life and that even a moment more would have been too much for little Bentley. We were all understandably shaken by the experience, and all Nate could do was consider how he’d teach this boy to swim the next time they were together at the pool. This isn’t where the story ends.
That evening, as I was digesting the events of the day, I posted about it on Facebook and proudly read to Nate all of the love and support he was receiving from our friends and family. If you’re a Scouter, you know that it isn’t just about the youth. You gain a new community of lifelong friends that care about your family and have the experience to guide you toward opportunities you didn’t know existed. Such was the case here. Many Scouter friends commented that Nate should be nominated for the Lifesaving or Meritorious Action Award, something I never would have known to do. (Big thanks to Ben Ward and Heather Dunton for the insight, encouragement, and support!!)
About the Lifesaving or Meritorious Action Award Recommendation, the Wait, and What Comes Next
When a registered Scout attempts to save or saves a life, they qualify for one of three national-level awards for either Lifesaving or Meritorious Action. The Recommendation for Lifesaving or Meritorious Action Award is a fillable PDF that summarizes the action taken by the Scout and then details the incident by the nominee, rescued persons, and witnesses. These are submitted to your local Council, who then forwards them to the National Court of Honor for consideration. The National Court of Honor reviews the recommendation and determines if the actions taken qualify for an award, and if so, which award the Scout will receive.
This is where a Scout is patient. It’s impossible to know who said it first, but no truer words were spoken than “anything worth having is worth waiting for.” Trust the process and try not to let the time it takes for the National Court of Honor to review your Scout’s recommendation make you feel like their actions weren’t worthy of recognition. It will take some time before you get word that the recommendation has been received, much less reviewed. Touch base with your Council every once in a while, advocate for your Scout and have faith in the process.
As we waited, Nate’s heroics were graciously celebrated by our local Scouting community. We are proud members of the Battlefield District in the Heart of Virginia Council, and they treated (and continue to treat) Nate like a celebrity. He was immediately honored at our annual Friends of Scouting Dinner, receiving a standing ovation in front of hundreds of proud and supportive guests.
Nate was even interviewed by our Director of Field Services, Mr. Bill Givler, who, along with the amazing Lakayla Bonaparte, created a wonderful video about his actions in the pool that day.
I can’t impart upon you enough how important a strong relationship with your District and Council is on any given, normal day, but especially in situations like this. The way they treated Nate was exactly how I want every Scout to be treated at all times, with respect and consideration. The folks at the helm are everyday heroes!
Nearly two years after his application was submitted, Nate received word that he would receive the rare Heroism Award, a special medal and knot that was reinstated by Scouts BSA in 2018. As explained by Bryan on Scouting, this award is presented to youth members or adult leaders who demonstrated unusual heroism and skill in saving or attempting to save a life at minimal personal risk. It is one of three lifesaving awards presented by the National Court of Honor. Two meritorious action awards are also considered when you submit a recommendation. Each one is a tremendous honor, and every recipient deserves the recognition they receive!
Award Presentation… Hang On Tight!
On December 30, 2020, Nate capped off everyone’s difficult year on a very high note. The Heart of Virginia Council Director of Field Services, Bill Givler, and Council Commissioner, Tom Wood, awarded Nate with his Heroism Award in a socially-distanced presentation that he’ll never forget. Nate was proud to receive his Heroism Award medal, knot, and special certificate. What Mr. Givler and Mr. Wood said to him that day will stick with him forever, becoming a big part of the way he sees himself and others for the rest of his life.
We thought, surely this is the epitome of coolness? There’s no way this could get any more exciting for Nate… right? Well, then the inaugural edition of the newly re-branded Scout Life Magazine arrived in our mailbox. It was already a collector’s item for us, but when my husband thumbed through it, the excited scream he let out sealed its fate as our favorite edition of all time. Right there on page 41, among the heroes in the Scouts in Action section was a rendering of a boy we’d know anywhere.
When your Scout receives an award from the National Court of Honor for Lifesaving or Meritorious Action, they are automatically included in the Scouts in Action section of Scout Life Magazine. We had no idea! Keep this in mind and reach out to your Council after publication, as they receive numerous copies for recruitment purposes and would likely be thrilled to provide you with several. You’ll want every copy you can get!
What happens next is on you, parents and/or leadership! In our household, we’re firm believers in helping others without expecting recognition or reward. However, in special circumstances like this, it’s important to document these special accomplishments. Reach out to your local newspapers and celebrate your Scout in your community. Our local publication, the Mechanicsville Local, allowed for me to write and submit an article on Nate’s behalf, of which I’ve collected countless copies for various purposes.
This is a wonderful opportunity to promote your Scouting units, as well! Give copious shout-outs to your District and Council members who supported your Scout along the way. Include your chartering organization, family, and friends. Celebrate service and heroism! Spread the love. Be the good news we all want and need to hear.
A Mother’s Musing
When you fill out the Scouts BSA Youth Application, you do it because you want something more for your child. You want for them to become a leader, a stand-up citizen, and possibly a lifesaver. You want for them to know how to take care of themselves and others, to be selfless, kind, and trustworthy. You want them to feel confident and sure of themselves, and to be mindful of others. You want every opportunity for success to be available to them, for them to appreciate hard work and dedication, and for them to achieve something great. As parents and leaders, we tend to get caught up in the details of a thing without seeing it for what it is. Sometimes we see the numbered requirements and not the end goal of an adventure. My advice to us all is to simply step back for a moment and take it all in because what we’re experiencing in these years with our youth is unbelievably important and special. Tackle the experience with joy and patience. Acknowledge when, through training and bravery, your Scouts step beyond what you think they’re capable of and onto a path you couldn’t have seen in your wildest dreams. For me, this has been a lesson in patience. It has expanded my understanding of pride and helped me to see my sons in a completely different way. Kids are capable of more than we give them credit for, and where they will always need and deserve our advocacy and encouragement, they can and will do some seriously amazing things.
If your Scout has thrown aside fear or trepidation in an effort to save a life, congratulations! You are raising and training a hero. Celebrate them with fervor. Honor them. Shout their praises from the rooftops! Let their world know that their selfless bravery is the baseline for which we should all act at all times. Be patient and trust in the process. Know that a year or two might go by without an update about their recommendation, but that every link in the chain is working hard to acknowledge your Scout.
Last but not least, and most importantly, feel these feelings. As a mother, when my son carried Bentley to me in the pool that day, it took some time before the shock wore off and the tears erupted. Your son or daughter will need for you to listen to them throughout this process, but especially directly after they’ve saved a life. Mindfully and thoughtfully listen to their worries and concerns, carefully debrief them of the situation. Comfort, console, and encourage them. Remember that even a Troop-level Scout is still a child and that actions like these are far bigger than they realize. There’s a lot of trauma involved that takes time and care to process. If they need assistance processing the event, please hear them and get them the professional help they need.
Yours in Scouting,
2 thoughts on “A Mother’s Musings: When Your Scout Saves a Life”
Such a beautiful story! Congratulations!!! Where’s my tissues?! 🥰
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You are so loved, sweet Heather! Thank you for helping us pull this off for Nate. You’re a treasure!