Born and raised in Tupelo, Miss., Bob Smith enjoyed many adventures in Scouting, including the 1973 National Scout Jamboree, a Philmont trek, and a trip to the National Order of the Arrow Conference in 1975. Those adventures, and the skills he learned along the way, prepared him for what became a 24-year career in the U.S. Army. (He retired as a lieutenant colonel.)
Smith said he joined the Army in part because it was much like Scouting. "Man, I can do this," he told himself. When he got to Army Ranger school, he discovered that it was just like working on Wilderness Survival merit badge -- although it did go on for nine weeks.
Like all soldiers, Smith traveled widely through his career, serving in Europe, the Middle East, and numerous stateside postings. Wherever he went, he tried to spread the spirit of Scouting. In Europe, for example, his colonel put him in charge of planning high-adventure trips for soldiers and their families in Spain and the Mediterranean.
Smith said his Scouting background came into play in a surprising way at the start of the Kosovo war. Smith's base in Macedonia was scheduled to host a barbecue for the U.S. ambassador and an array of U.S. and European officials, and Smith's boss tagged him to cook.
The morning of the barbecue, however, Smith awoke to discover that there was no charcoal and no lighter fluid. Unruffled, he gathered a crew of soldiers around the fire pit. "Are any of y'all Boy Scouts?" he asked. "Have any of you been to a camporee?" A few tentative hands went up, and Smith sent the soldiers out to scavenge firewood from around the base.
When they returned, he said, "Now, we're going to take one match and start a fire." And they did.
Of course, Smith relied on his Scouting background for more than just building fires. He also used it to build bridges. "Looking at the Scout Law, you can do things a better way," he said. "You can be the gatekeeper between two cultures that are trying to annihilate each other."
During his Army career, Smith never lost touch with his hometown and the people there, including long-time professional Scouter Palmer Foster. He'd contemplated a second career in education, but Foster convinced him to go in a different direction. And so, on June 1, 2004, Smith became district Scout executive in the same district where he'd received his Eagle badge, and so much more, three decades before.