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Charlotte Boy Scouts connect with submarine crew

Boy Scout Troop 1, Charlotte’s “Pioneer Troop,” is using letters, emails and photographs to build a strong relationship with the U.S. Naval submarine that bears the city’s name.

The troop, based at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church on Park Road, first began its relationship with the USS Charlotte submarine in 2005.

Roger Ball, a professional photographer and former assistant scoutmaster of Troop 1, said Boy Scout troops often visit military installations.

“Knowing that the Norfolk Naval Yards were close by, I looked into a possible tour of it. In researching this, I came across a mention about the USS Charlotte (SSN-766) Submarine coming to the Naval Yards to have a DMP (Depot Modernization Period) where it would remain in dry dock for two years as it was up-fitted or modernized,” said Ball.

“I asked the troop if they would be interested in touring the base and possibly touring the sub if that could be arranged,” he said. “They were.”

The boys came up with the idea of making a presentation to the crew, so Ball offered to supply some skyline prints of Charlotte that could be hung in the sub or at their base. After Ball contacted the mayor’s office for a contact on the ship, they supported the effort aswith a signed letter from then-Mayor Pat McCrory.

After two years of emails to the boat’s commander, arranging a tour seemed almost impossible. But then the troop got a lucky break in January of 2007, when an opportune meeting occurred between two Scoutmasters and a group of Navy brass at a UNC game.

They exchanged contact information and after the troop sent several emails to the admirals explaining the presentation, they put in a good word on the boys’ behalf.

The troop was told to be ready to come on short notice, as there’d only be a small window of time between the ship’s DMP, sea trials and then its return to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

They got the call at the beginning of September 2007 and on Sept. 22, the 16 young men of Troop 1 were escorted aboard the USS Charlotte. The boys met with then-Commander, Bobby Parnell, in the officers’ stateroom and presented him and the crew with the two framed skyline prints of Charlotte, along with the letter from the mayor.

The boys in return, received a plaque as well as a tour of the sub, including the missile room, bunk areas, cafeteria and the high-tech control room. They saw the torpedoes and the periscope, and even listened to the sounds of schools of fish and whales at the sonar station.

Matthew Crotty, who has been in the Boy Scouts for about seven years and who was one of the group who toured the vessel, said he was 14 years old at the time and the idea of seeing a SSN sub up close was a dream.

“I felt very honored to be granted access to such an expensive and important piece of our nation’s arsenal,” said Crotty. Bishop Saunders, who is now 17 years old and a junior at Myers Park High School, was 11 when he toured the sub.

“What [young] kid wouldn’t be so excited to visit such a mighty force in the military,” Saunders said.

Since the tour in 2007, the troop has remained in contact with the various commanders of the ship through emails and written correspondence, even exchanging emails while the sub was on duty in the Pacific Ocean.

Commander Richard Young said in a letter to the troop in April, “The support from your troop and the Mecklenburg County Council serves as a humble reminder to me and my crew that [the] USS Charlotte is lucky to represent the great community of Charlotte, North Carolina.”

In 2011, the troop sent updated skyline prints to replace the 2007 set since the Charlotte skyline had changed. This time, Mayor Anthony Foxx wrote an official letter that accompanied them.

One of these prints was a sunset shot taken the evening of April 28, 2011, the night of the NFL draft, when the uptown towers were lit in Carolina Panther blue, and the Panthers chose Cam Newton as their No. 1 pick. The troop decided to ask Panthers coach Ron Rivera if he’d autograph the print. He did, and gave the troop a special Panther Challenge Token. The relationship with the USS Charlotte has given the Scouts an opportunity to practice writing and communication skills. Several Scouts corresponded with the USS Charlotte’s executive officer as part of requirements to earn an Eagle-required Communications Merit Badge.

Ball said he believes this relationship has had the elements necessary for obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

“This journey is a great example of using the resources available to reach a worthy goal, that good communication (both visual and written) is important in attaining those goals and that organization, patience and perseverance may be necessary along the way,” said Ball.

For the boys, the meaning goes further.

“This relationship can open our eyes to real world circumstances overseas and is an opportunity not worth wasting to learn about other people’s lives fighting for our country each and every day,” Saunders said.

Crotty echoes that sentiment, “I feel that the relationship with the troop shows the crew that they have not and will never be forgotten. The incoming youth at Troop 1 will always be enthralled by the story of how the troop has a relationship with a … submarine.”

Jennifer Baxter is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jennifer? Email her at jbaxter29@gmail.com.
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