Scouting out a decade

Eight Mercer Island friends rise to the Eagle Scout rank together

By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Young men become Eagle Scouts every year across the nation. But for a close group of scouts, which has been knotted together for a decade as one patrol, to all become Eagle Scouts during the same year is something few troops can expect — or even be prepared for.

Last weekend, Island Boy Scout Troop 547 honored eight young men who recently received the organization’s highest honor, the rank of Eagle Scout. The group has been friends since they were Cub Scouts. They held a collective court of honor on Sunday. The seven young men honored in the ceremony were Jacob Bruckner, Chaffin Hornor, Joe Nishida, Ross Pendleton, Matt Sims, Tyler Herr and Colin Dess. Andrew Meade, another long-time Falcon patrol member, celebrated his achievement last November.

“That’s an unheard-of feat, that these eight boys all became Eagle Scouts,” said Peter Dess, their assistant scout master.

While the eight new Eagle Scouts may not always be found together in the school hallways, being together out on the trails of the Cascade Mountains and the waters of Puget Sound for the past 10 years has made the group as close as brothers.

“I think it’s incredible that we got together as kids in elementary school and have stuck together,” said Matt Sims, one of the scouts. “We may not all be best friends outside of scouting or participate in the same activities, but when we are all together, it’s like we’re brothers.”

Earning the rank of Eagle also puts the young men among an elite brotherhood of scouts, only two percent nationwide, who receive the award. What makes their accomplishment even more unique is that the group started as Cub Scouts, and all eight of them made Eagle — something already rare in the organization. According to the Chief Seattle Council’s Web site, the local administrative office for the greater Seattle region, there were 47,191 scouts in 2005 and less than one percent of that group, only 392, earned the Eagle that year.

On the Island, there were a total of 14 Boy Scouts from the four troops who earned Eagle in 2007, including the eight Falcon Patrol members from Troop 547. As of 2005, the nationwide organization was composed of 50,996 troops made of 943,426 Boy Scouts and 543,971 adult volunteers.

The experiences that the young men shared, on the way to earning the award, both good and the bad, cultivated a closer friendship and led to better adventures.

“All the people who have been in my group in scouting have also turned into my best friends,” said Joey Nishida. “So it was really just like hanging out with friends whenever we went on outings or did other things.”

Most of the eight scouts recall climbing Mount Rainier last summer as the highlight of their experience, though they also said camping in New Mexico at the Philmont Scout Ranch was unforgettable, especially for Ross Pendleton, who was spooked by a black bear. Pendleton said one night he was assigned to hoist the group’s food onto a certain tree across the stream from their campsite. On his way back to camp, a bear came behind him and he thought the others were only crying wolf.

“A bear came up behind me and when everyone said that there was one, I didn’t believe them,” said Pendleton. “I turned around, and apparently I freaked out majorly.”

Fortunately, Pendleton came out of the situation unscathed. Later, as the young men were reaching the end of their tenure as boy scouts — scouts must become adult leaders if they wish to stay past age 18 — they decided to climb to the top of Mount Rainier. That achievement, some said, also symbolized their effort to become Eagles and was their most memorable outing.

“Being on the summit was a really amazing experience,” said Sims. “I was excited, but I have never been colder in my life. Our crew had hiked to the summit by 5 a.m., so we were able to watch the sunrise from the top.”

For Colin Dess, the accomplishment of climbing the 14,410-foot summit took a while to settle in.

“It’s kind of odd because when we were reaching Mount Rainier’s summit, we didn’t stop for five hours, and after awhile your brain shuts down and you’re so cold and tired, you just don’t want to think,” said Dess. “It hadn’t hit us what we had accomplished that night at camp until we woke up the next day, and then we realized what we had done.”

Joey Nishada said climbing Rainier was an experience he would forever remember but not necessarily repeat.

“Climbing Mt. Rainier was the culmination of my scouting career,” said Nishada, “and it was a great way to go out. It is probably one of the most memorable things I will ever do, and most enjoyable things — even though I have no desire to climb another mountain anytime soon.”

In addition to memorable good experiences, there were plenty of rough times for the group out on the trail. Most times, it was getting wet and having to finish a trip in soaked clothes that ruined it for the scouts. Sims remembers falling into a creek while at the Philmont Ranch in New Mexico with his only dry clothes.

“It was pitch black and I had a hard time seeing what I was doing. I was wearing all my dry clothes and I ended up hiking the remaining trip with damp clothes. Plus, I was unable to dry my clothes because it was raining very hard.”

While the adventure wasn’t ruined for Sims, who said he had a blast despite being soaked, a flooded campsite at Camp Parsons is also memorable for the group. On that trip Dess was the first to get sick, but after the group’s gear got wet, he wasn’t the only one.

“One year we were at Parsons and there was a huge rain storm,” Dess said. “Our gear was on the floor of the cabin and there was nobody in there except me, and I couldn’t do anything because I was sick. The water came pouring in from one end — it was at least a couple of inches. Plus, a spring overflowed into our campfire later and we couldn’t get warm.”

The young men, however, said these trying times taught them the best lessons, something their handbook couldn’t do.

“What I’ve learned in scouts is that the phrase ‘Be Prepared’ really means prepare for the worst — because most of the time, that’s gonna happen,” said Pendleton.

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