Mike Walton (blackeagle)

Our Next Chief Scout Executive? Him?

By: Posted On: 2020-01-09

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The Honorable Dr. Robert M. Gates (image from the Department of Defense public website)


In the history of the Boy Scouts of America, Inc., we have had only 13 Chief Scout Executives, starting with Dr. James E. West in 1911 and currently Michael B Surbaugh, who is currently on medical leave from his role. There is an active search for Mr. Surbaugh's replacement, as while it has not been publically announced yet, those inside the BSA have stated that Surbaugh will step down from the "Key Three" position as the BSA's senior administrator by the end of this year.

I told some Scouters that when the BSA performs their search for Mr. Surbaugh's (temporary) replacement, that part of that search will involve talking with and interviewing several from outside the BSA's well-established "pipeline" of great-performing senior professionals. Chief Mike (Surbaugh) was selected from a group of six senior professionals, including two from strong, progressive local Councils.

I said incorrectly, however to them, that this would be the "first time that the BSA is going outside the organization to find their senior administrator."

The second Chief Scout Executive, an honored educator and outdoor recreation programs manager named Elbert K. Fretwell, served as Chief Scout Executive after Chief West retired in 1943. Fretwell did not "move up the pipeline" to the Chief's office in New York City (where the BSA was headquartered at the time) but was rather selected from a listing of outside candidates collected by the BSA's National Executive Board's search committee.

Now, nearly a century later, the BSA's National Executive Board is looking for another person outside of the established "promotion ladder rungs" to serve as it's chief executive officer. I have been told that eight people are so far on the "interview list" to serve as interim Chief Scout Executive until sometime in late May when the BSA holds it National Meeting in Washington DC.

I want to post, for their consideration (and yours) the name and what I know from background (and a little research), the Honorable Dr. Robert M. Gates for this important national role.

Dr. Gates is what we expect our Chief Scout Executive to be: a product of the Scouting program. He was a part of all three of our traditional programs -- he was a Cub Scout, Scout and briefly a member of an Explorer Crew (Crews existed back in the day as separate "older youth patrols" in a Troop). He earned the Eagle Scout rank as part of a Troop in Kansas, along with a religious emblem. He is a member of the BSA's Order of the Arrow and was presented the Vigil Honor recognition later in his teenage years. He was a summer camp staffer and participated in several intertroop campouts during his youth.

Gates also served as a volunteer at the unit level, serving as a Scoutmaster, Commissioner, and as a member of a District operating committee and later as part of a Council committee. A bit later, Dr. Gates served as part of Regional Area and took on Regional Committee assignments. Dr. Gates received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the BSA and was selected to serve on the steering committee which "jump-started" the reemergence of the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA). He became the National Chair of NESA and chair of it's newly formed Board of Regents, which guides the NESA even now in the "new teens."

I could not find if Dr. Gates received the Silver Antelope or Silver Beaver Awards, but he does hold the Silver Buffalo Award and two years ago now (2017) became one of the BSA's National Alumnus of the Year recipients.

Like all BSA volunteers, Dr. Gates balances his Scouting stuff with his "stuff which pays for his good times in Scouting." In his case, he rose up the steps toward serving as the Deputy Director for Central Intelligence (the CIA's number two guy). This was the time period of Oliver North, the Contras and America's involvement in affairs in central America. Gates led the CIA through some tough times politically. He weathered through all of those relatively unharmed and was selected to lead the agency.

Later onward, Gates was selected as the civilian head of our national defense establishment. He used that "three and 12," he constantly talked about with senior leaders through decisions which affected our nation over and over again. He insisted on adherence to those principles and fired those who severely violated those ideas and the public trust of all Americans. At the same time, it was told that Gates would fire off personal messages with one of his challenge coins to military personnel, family members, and those outside the Department of Defense to say "great job!" and "thanks for keeping America first most in your heart!" At the conclusion of his commitment in serving as America's Secretary of Defense, the President presented Gates with the nation's senior-most civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom.

Gates returned to Texas and to his academic roots in serving as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary. It was during this time that he was elected as the Boy Scouts of America's National President. If those of you who want to blame anyone for the BSA's move toward inclusion in all of its membership, blame Secretary Gates. He insisted that the BSA adopt a similar stance as he took when he abolished "don't ask - don't tell" policies within the military and insisted that "we need all of the hands and minds America can provide" in the new century. His movement toward bringing the BSA to be more open, inclusive, and diverse in its membership was not welcomed by a lot of Scouters.

Secretary Gates continues to serve on the BSA's National Executive Board and as part of NESA's guiding group.

I personally feel that Dr. Robert Gates would be an excellent Chief Scout Executive, whether temporarily until the late spring or permanently.

(I am a little biased with this selection: I served honorably under Secretary Gates as a military officer, and I am a life member of the National Eagle Scout Association. )



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