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Ronald D. Young
American Hero Was an Eagle First

By Kyle Wingfield

As a teenager, Eagle Scout Ronald D. Young Jr. had such a habit of roaming around and getting separated from his friends that they nicknamed him "Nomad."

"We'd go on spring break and I'd be lost for days at a time," Young remembers. "When I found (my friends), they'd say, 'Nomad, you showed up!' I've always been one of those people who makes friends pretty easily, so everywhere is pretty much home to me."

That young man's comfort with a nomadic lifestyle was put to the test this spring, as Young, now a 26-year-old U.S. Army chief warrant officer, flew into Iraq on a combat mission -- and things did not go as planned.

"That night (March 23) we took off," Young recalled. "We were the second effort of the battalion. . . . They were going to find the enemy, and we were the attack element -- we were going to attack what they found. We basically ended up in an ambush, flying around and evading fire, and it didn't work out for us unfortunately."

Young's aircraft took a bullet through the engine, then one into the cockpit -- and through the pilot's boot. Smoke started filling the cockpit, and the aircraft took more shells and hit the ground.

"Immediately upon getting on the ground, we jumped out of the aircraft, and people were already shooting at us, so we started running and ran and ran and ran," Young said.

After 90 minutes of running, Young and his pilot were captured. Their faces were broadcast around the world, becoming for many the faces of American POWs during the war. Young drew on his experiences in Scouting to help him cope.

"I was a little more prepared to deal with a situation (like that) given what I had gone through earlier in my life in Scouting," Young said. "Scouting is where I learned a lot of my core values as a person -- like duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service."

Even with his Scouting background and extensive military training, Young said there were parts of captivity for which nothing could have prepared him.

"A lot of it was mental stress, taking beatings and stuff like that," he said. "And that's something you don't learn, you just take it and try to deal with it."

Young grew up in Lithia Springs, Georgia, about 16 miles west of Atlanta. Across the street from his house was a wooded lot, and Young spent much of his time outdoors -- hunting, playing war. Joining the Boy Scout troop at his church seemed like the natural thing to do.

"My father has always worked a lot, and so has my mother, so for me it was an opportunity to do a lot of stuff that I normally wouldn't be able to do," he said. "We used to go to camp every summer ... and of course that was fun."

Young became an Eagle Scout at 17 and was drawn to the military after graduating high school. In the challenge of the armed forces, he saw many elements he had enjoyed in Scouting.

"It was the camaraderie, being a part of an organization that's well-respected. The high-adventure part of it was definitely a plus. ... For our Scout meetings, we would go out whitewater rafting or canoeing down the river or rappelling, and I think that's what kept a lot of us involved when we got older."

Survival training aside, Young says his Boy Scout experience is something that he will cherish.

"I just think it's probably the best program that young men can get involved in. It teaches them to deal with situations, how to deal with other people, how to form a team, how to get jobs accomplished. I'm really thankful that I went through it."