The Eagle Court of Honor ceremony is bound to include a few cheers. The ceremony for Carter Ross Gammill, may well have set a cheering record.
Carter, 18 and a lifetime member of Holy Communion, could barely contain his glee. His shouts were the hoot-hoots now heard in the woods wherever Boy Scouts camp in this region, a small but unmistakable mark of a teen who threw himself into becoming an Eagle Scout and never doubted he would prevail.
“The hoot-hoot is a special call,” said Lawrence Magdovitz II, one of a half-dozen Boy Scout leaders who participated in Carter’s ceremony at Holy Communion on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s become its own thing. Boys who have joined scouting after Carter know the hoot-hoot,” he said.
Scouts of all ages use it to find each other in the woods, even though there is no owl imagery in Scouting, Magdovitz said, laughing.
“We’ve all learned it and use it. It’s like Carter to us. It’s contagious.”
Carter received his Eagle Scout badge, patch, neckerchief and slide in poignant moments felt across the parish hall. Some wiped away tears, others, like Carter, could only beam.
When he turned to pin the Eagle Scout medals on his mother and father, the circle was complete.
“Fewer than 4 percent of Scouts achieve the Eagle Scout honor,” Scout leader Christopher Houston told the crowd.
No one achieves it without earning 21 merit badges in subjects from meteorology to local and world citizenship, communication, cycling, cooking, life-saving, even dog care. One must help others plan and complete their Eagle Scout projects. And of course, one must complete one’s own.
Carter built and installed five benches around the climbing wall at St. Columba Episcopal Retreat Center. His work is a testament to what St. Columba means to him and the walls he climbed to be an Eagle Scout.
“For Carter, it’s important because Holy Communion spends a lot of time at St. Columba. They also have the camp there for kids with special needs, and even though Carter has never attended it, it’s important to him,” said Debra Gammill, his mother.
“He built those benches to last.”
Carter, who has autism, found much of his stride in Scouting, which he joined at age 6, Debra said.
"Carter has had such great doctors and therapists, and they all encouraged us to involve him in activities with 'typical children,' she said. “So we signed him up for Scouts, karate, church activities, summer Bible schools, YMCA camps and anything else where he would be with more 'typical' people than special needs people.
“He has such a great memory, he could memorize all the merit badges. In various memory competitions they have at Camp Currier (the Boy Scout camp near Hernando, Miss.), they depended on Carter to get all those for the troop,” she said.
“He was really good at knot-tying. He could bring them through those competitions as well. He has learned to do some cooking because of the Scouts, which is great. He also loved to go hiking. He was always right up front with the leaders,” she said. “I think he could out-hike all of them.”
Scouting was perfect for Carter because while the tasks and level of self-discipline it takes to be an Eagle Scout are immense, “it is not competitive. You are not working against each other. Everyone is on their own journey,” said Carter's Scoutmaster, William France from Troop 278.
Besides daylong merit-badge colleges, his father, Lester Gammill, spent a week at Boy Scout Camp Kia Kima in Hardy, Ark., which included six hours of emergency survival training made more intense by mosquitoes and ticks.
“Getting him ready for everything was always something,” Lester said, noting with a slight grimace that he is at least 10 years older than all the other dads.
Carter also gets Boy Scout kudos for his zeal for sticking to a project.
“No one else had the follow-though Carter has. He was probably the only Scout who finished his merit badges on time. A lot of the others left them hanging,” said France, who spends 40 Tuesday evenings a year working with the troop.
It’s an honor he takes seriously.
“Nobody teaches young men how to be grown men than other grown men,” he said, quickly wiping away a tear. “That’s the truth. And you get to meet great dads too.”