CHARLESTOWN — It was a banner month for 18-year-old Christopher Clarkin, a Troop 15 Eagle Scout, one in which he was able to realize two long-sought goals.
On Jan. 23, Clarkin, a freshman at the University of Rhode Island, received the William T. Hornaday bronze medal, the top conservation award of the Boy Scouts of America. The presentation came five days after he had gotten a packet from the United States Military Academy notifying him of his appointment as a cadet. He will leave URI at the end of this semester and begin basic training in July.
Clarkin said he was excited to take on the new challenge and planned to work out with a friend who has been accepted to the Air Force Academy to prepare for the rigors of physical training. “I’ve always been around here, Charlestown and URI,” he said. “Now I will be going all the way to West Point.”
Clarkin’s family and friends gathered at the annual meeting of the Boy Scouts’ Narragansett Council at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick to watch him accept the Hornaday medal. The award is a rarity. The last one given by the council was in 1994, and nationwide, in the past 100 years, only a little more than 1,100 of the medals have been awarded. The Narragansett Council serves all of Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“It’s quite an achievement in this day and age,” said his grandmother, Betsy Clarkin, right after the ceremony. “To be able to concentrate on such things — there are so many distractions for kids today. I kind of marvel at that.”
John H. Mosby, Narragansett Council Scout executive and CEO, told the crowd that many Scouts had strived to achieve the medal and had been turned down. “The medal is the most distinguished conservation award in the Boy Scouts of America and the standards are rigorous,” he said. “We are very pleased to be able to make this award to Chris.”
In his application for the medal, Clarkin wrote that he had been involved in environmentalism since he was 6, as a beginning birder and as a volunteer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Boy Scouts has offered me a wonderful platform to further my involvement in environmental issues in my community,” he said.
Essentially, a Scout has to complete four projects to be considered. His first project, and one that helped him gain Eagle Scout status, was clearing invasive plants at the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge.
His next effort was in the forestry category, guided by Ron Fasano, a member of the board of the Rhode Island Forest Conservators Organization and secretary of the R.I. Tree Farm System. Clarkin built trails and a kiosk at the 18-acre Henry Arnold Memorial Demonstration Woodlot Project in West Greenwich.
Fasano is also an assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 15, which meets at the Charlestown Senior-Community Center at Ninigret Park. He said that without Clarkin’s efforts, work at the state-owned woodlot might not have happened or would have taken years to complete.
The site showcases three different forestry practices “and will be good for 15 to 20 years,” Fasano said. “It was a huge plus to have a Boy Scout involved,” he added, because it gained the confidence of the state officials who had to approve the project.
Clarkin’s third project, which involved recycling, proved a bit more challenging.
An effort to improve recycling at Chariho High School’s cafeteria did not pan out. He moved on to a project with the Rhode Island Mobile Sports Fishermen Club to extend a fishing line recycling program. On this project he built recycling containers and installed them at the various locations with the aid of the club’s conservation chairman, Stephen Cersosimo.
His final project dealt with fish and wildlife management and the education of children about the importance of everyone’s role in stewardship of the environment. For this he worked at the Frosty Drew Nature Center in Ninigret Park.
“The opportunity to improve upon Frosty Drew Nature Center’s commitment to education with the children that attended their summer nature week programs as well as the general public was a full circle moment for me,” Clarkin wrote in his application, referring to his own childhood interests.
“All in all, I accumulated 113.75 hours personally, 309.5 from my devoted work crews, for a total of 425.25 man hours and a greater appreciation for the world around us and the importance of our part in taking care of it,” he wrote.
In addition to the four projects, Clarkin had to also earn six merit badges, for work on energy, environmental science, fish and wildlife management, public health, soil and water conservation, and forestry.
Clarkin’s drive to earn the medal was equaled by his effort to win acceptance from West Point. He was guided through the application process by retired Col. John Vickers of Portsmouth, who he met at a Boy Scout Camporee sponsored by the academy.
Clarkin attended three of the weekend camporees with Troop 15 in New York. As the academy’s Rhode Island representative, Vickers called Clarkin and interviewed him and sent along a recommendation to West Point. Clarkin’s principal sponsor was Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a former Army Ranger who is one of just eight senators in U.S. history to graduate from the academy.
The academy accepts about 1,100 applicants each year, and about one in 10 is an Eagle Scout.
According to Vickers, candidates are judged 60 percent on academics, 30 percent on leadership potential and 10 percent on athleticism. Eagle Scouts, he said, automatically gain that 30 percent in the leadership category.
Clarkin said he began to consider a militry career at beginning of his junior year in high school. He applied last year but did not make the cut so he enrolled at URI. His said his parents had no strong opinions regarding his desire to go to West Point but that they were very supportive.
His mother, Christine, said that she was “thrilled that he is going.”
“I told him ‘whatever your dreams are,’” she said. “Last year he was disappointed, but 24 hours later he said, ‘I’m getting in. I’m going for it.’”
His father, Bill, was a second lieutenant in the Army from 1986 to 1989, serving in an armored battalion in Germany.
“Having served with people from West Point I believe he will succeed,” Bill Clarkin said.
“He has the temperament to succeed and thrive. It’s where he wants to be. I’m happy for him.”
The younger Clarkin said he hopes his exposure to different fields in the military will help him decide on a military career path — possibly in aviation or military intelligence.
At URI he is majoring in engineering and Chinese language. Those credits are not transferable to the academy, but he said he hopes that his college experience will help him during the first year.
Recently Clarkin competed with URI’s ROTC Ranger Training Team at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Forty-two teams competed and URI placed eighth. The year before, URI finished second to last. Clarkin was the only freshman on the university team.
The competition including timed events that included weapons assembly and disassembly with an M7 pistol, M4 rifle and M249 light machine gun, an obstacle course, building a rope bridge, and hiking in full gear with a rucksack.
Clarkin said his Boy Scout training was especially handy during the competition because of his expertise with knots in making the rope bridge and tying a Swiss seat, which is used for rappelling or extraction purposes.
He called his year at URI a “good experience because I am going to West Point with an extra year to mature.”
“It’s a very competitive environment,” he said.
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