Band of Scouting Misfits Attains Eagle Ranking

Achievement of 11 Teens Is Called Unprecedented

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2008; Page A01

The boys called themselves the Viking Patrol. The scoutmasters called them babies.

As Cub Scouts, they were so wild that the exasperated leaders insisted that their parents attend the meetings to keep things from getting out of hand. Their first hike as Boy Scouts became notable for the "strike" when the boys lay down side by side on an easy trail and refused to go on after having covered about the length of the Mall.

But something happened to these 11 whiny, quick-to-say-quit goofballs from Boy Scout Troop 681 in Falls Church. It happened somewhere along the way between pinewood derbies and knot-tying in the Scout House, the log cabin where the group met three times a month under the glassy eyes of a stuffed moose. And it happened on 50-mile hikes and canoe trips, under the watch of scoutmasters such as the retired lieutenant colonel who spun war stories and taught them how to set up an L-shaped ambush, Ranger-style.

Somehow, this bunch of undisciplined suburban kids grew into a closely knit crew of slyly ironic, decent, responsible young men whose proudest achievement was a 90-mile hike in the mountains of New Mexico. Now all 11 members of the Viking Patrol, one of 10 patrols that make up the troop, have made it to the rank of Eagle Scout -- a feat that national, regional and local Scouting leaders believe is unprecedented.

Perhaps no one was more surprised than the boys.

"We were kind of the black sheep of the group," Sam Dowell, 18, of Fairfax said.

Only 5 percent of Scouts achieve Eagle rank by age 18, when Scouting ends.

"To have 11 in the same patrol is virtually unheard of," said Gregg Shields, national spokesman for Boy Scouts of America.

Scouting has rarely been cool. But in a world of iPods, traveling soccer clubs, 24-hour cable television and Wii, Boy Scout oaths and three-finger salutes seem more than a little dated. Founded in February 1910, the Boy Scouts of America reached its zenith in 1970 when baby boomers boosted its ranks to 4.3 million, compared with 2.9 million in 2006. When Scouting makes the news these days, it's usually because of its ban on openly gay leaders, a controversy that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

But studies have shown that Eagle Scouts excel in school and participate in their communities, and admissions officers say the achievement can boost their odds of getting into college.

Scout leaders like to note that some pretty famous people were Eagle Scouts, including former president Gerald R. Ford, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong (and two of the other 11 astronauts who walked on the moon), baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and movie directors Michael Moore and Steven Spielberg. (President John F. Kennedy was a Boy Scout, by the way, but not an Eagle Scout, and neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush ventured beyond Cub Scouts.) Eagle Scouts must earn at least 21 merit badges, including 12 required badges in subjects such as first aid, citizenship and personal fitness. The cornerstone of the program is the community service project.

"One of the huge advantages is it's an award that has set nationally recognized standards," said Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions for George Mason University. "Colleges undoubtedly know it speaks to the student's motivation, leadership and commitment."

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