The Boy Scouts in McLean’s Troop 128 had spent many camping trips practicing their first-aid skills, but it was not until Memorial Day, 2018 that some of them got the opportunity to put their training into action.
A crew of seven Scouts and their adult chaperones were practicing hiking in full gear on the aptly named Old Misery Trail in Maryland’s Cunningham Falls State Park on May 28 when they encountered a woman who had injured her ankle while climbing the park’s 1,500-foot tall Cat Rock.
What happened next earned National Certificates of Merit from the Boy Scouts of America for all of the involved McLean Scouts.
The BSA formally delivered the awards to their recipients during the troop’s weekly Court of Honor meeting at St. John’s Episcopal Church in McLean this week on Feb. 25.
The Boy Scouts of America bestows two meritorious action awards to youth members and adult leaders who perform “a significant or outstanding act of service of exceptional character” using the skills or ideals promoted by the youth organization.
National Certificates of Merit go to individuals for acts of service significant enough to deserve special national recognition, while the Medal of Merit acknowledges acts of service that reflect “an uncommon degree of concern for the well-being of others,” according to a BSA fact sheet.
It is rare for Scouts to earn National Certificates of Merit, according to BSA National Capital Area Council Chain Bridge District Chair Francesca Fierro O’Reilly, who presented members of Troop 128 with their awards on Monday.
“This is a momentous occasion,” O’Reilly said. “In my tenure as district chair, I’ve never had the privilege of giving out meritorious certificates, so this was my first opportunity, and I’m so very proud of those Scouts and Scouters. This is what we train for.”
O’Reilly has served as chair of the Chain Bridge District, which encompasses 78 Scouting units in McLean, Falls Church, and Arlington, since 2016.
Troop 128 Assistant Scoutmaster John Dietrich was among the parents present on that fateful outing to Cunningham Falls Park, and he still describes the sight of a crew of boys, including his teenage son, Adam, helping carry the woman down from a mountain top as “amazing.”
According to Adam Dietrich, an Eagle Scout who was 16 at the time, he and his fellow Scouts were near the end of their hike when they came across a woman in pain.
Initially, they thought she had only sprained her ankle, so they braced that area and manufactured some crutches that she could use to walk.
When the woman proved unable to move more than a few feet, however, it became clear that her injury was more severe than expected. That discovery spurred a scramble to contact park rangers for assistance.
Some rangers arrived with a stretcher for the woman, but there were not enough of them to properly help her down the mountain.
As a result, the Scouts took turns supporting the stretcher as they made their way along the winding, mile-long trail. The boys who did not assist with the stretcher contributed to the effort by carrying their peers’ gear to the parking lot so they could help the woman unencumbered.
“We were carrying one backpack on our back, one on our front,” Life Scout Joseph Dean Massaro, 15, recalled. “We couldn’t really see in front of us.”
The damp weather that day exacerbated the arduousness of the trek, but everyone made it to the parking lot intact, and the woman was transported to a hospital to receive more extensive medical care.
When the Scouts contacted the woman later to learn what had happened to her, she told them that her ankle had actually been broken, and without assistance, the damage might have been permanent.
“The one thing that she said was that the key thing about us that helped her get through it was the fact that we were all calm,” Eagle Scout Christopher Barre, 17, said. “We weren’t freaking out. We were keeping her calm, making sure that she knew that she was going to be alright. I think Scouting has really prepared us for that.”
Adam Dietrich, Barre, and Massaro, along with Life Scouts Ethan and Luke Carlisle, John Sears, and Alexander Smithgall, earned the Boy Scouts’ National Certificate of Merit by going “above and beyond what the average person would do,” O’Reilly says.
The Scouts offered the woman assistance after many other hikers passed her without asking whether she needed help, according to Troop 128 Assistant Scoutmaster Reuben Brigety, who delivered an introduction for the certificate presentation.
While the Scouts who received the certificates called them a bonus to the real reward of helping another person, their Scout leaders say that recognizing their efforts in a public ceremony sets a positive example for other troop members.
“I think that this kind of award is important, because it shows each and every one of these boys how their training as Boy Scouts helps them in life and prepares them to help others,” John Dietrich said. “It’s absolutely amazing, and it makes them feel really good.”