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Gravois Trail


Gravois Trail > Posts > Scouter’s Corner: Lessons From Scouting Reach Far Into Adulthood for Brad Johnson
November 01
Scouter’s Corner: Lessons From Scouting Reach Far Into Adulthood for Brad Johnson

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – With more than 40 years of experience with the Boy Scouts of America, Brad Johnson has seen it all and done it all from his beginnings in cub scouts all the way up to serving as district commissioner. Though some of his memories of the fun activities and adventures have begun to fade with time, it was the lessons he learned and skills he gained that have stuck with him the longest and have been most beneficial as he has made his way through life.


As a corporate director of program management for Sigma-Aldrich Corporation in St. Louis, Johnson was able to lean heavily on his scouting background to help lead his department.


“Scouting became important to me because it helped to develop me into a strong self-starter,” said Johnson. “It helped to kind of mold my leadership skills and the leadership abilities that I have today. Sure, I remember how to use a compass and map, first aid and all of that kind of stuff; those weren’t the important things though. It was the underlying issues. It was personal initiative, integrity and leadership. Those were the things that I hung on to that became important to me.”


Even before he reached his supervisory role, Johnson saw the impact of lessons learned through running National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) camps and serving as a patrol leader during his teen years.


“I learned more in scouting than I did in my management classes in MBA school,” Johnson said. “And frankly, I found that my background experience in scouting made it easier because a lot of those theories were already engrained. I found management school was easy because all of those concepts I was learning, I had scouting experiences that I could lean on and say, ‘That’s what they were talking about.’


“I really believe that the scouting experience is so important in developing fundamentals; how you deal with people, how you handle people. And the reason that I’m still involved with scouting is because it had such a strong bearing on the professional I turned out to be.”


Johnson’s journey in scouting began in Clarksville, Tenn., when he joined cub scouts. When his dad returned from Vietnam, the family packed up and moved west to California. It was there in the small town of Livermore that scouting would make the biggest impact on Johnson’s life, taking him from a quiet boy to a confident adult.


“I joined a scout troop run by a guy named Cliff Walker,” Johnson recalled. “We went on our first backpacking trip and it was called a flume trip. They dropped us off at a location and we hiked five miles to our campsite. Now, I’m 12 years old. If I characterized myself at the time, because we moved frequently, I was on the verge of becoming an introvert. I wasn’t overly aggressive; not out of shape but not, you know a sports guy. We hiked in the rain for five miles along this platform on a mountain that was only 18 inches wide, and it was hard. It was pouring down rain and it was cold. I had another guy in my class who was the bully and the sports guy who cried the entire weekend and I told myself at the end of that trip that scouting was for me because I could stand up and be right there with him.


“We did lots and lots of hard things. We got cold, our feet got wet, we had hard times, but I grew while I was out there and so scouting became an important part of my life right then and there. I learned to love the outdoors and I learned to love the challenge. It helped me to develop as a kid who wasn’t really all that good in sports. I could be good at this, simply by trying really hard and by sticking to it.”


Johnson reached First Class in Livermore before his family moved again, this time overseas to an American military base in Stuttgart, Germany. Joining a troop in the Transatlantic Council, Johnson eventually earned his Eagle in 1974 and was elected into the Order of the Arrow. As one might imagine, scouting activities differed slightly in Europe and included outings such as hiking through the German Alps and camping in Pisa, Italy with the Leaning Tower of Pisa right outside his tent.


Johnson and his family eventually returned stateside to Woodbridge, Va., where he remained active in a local troop and ran the NYLT (then called JLTC) program for two years before aging out.


Though he’s now enjoying retirement, Johnson continues his involvement with the BSA and recently joined the Boy Scouts of America’s STEM Program as the Gravois Trail chairman. An acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM is the BSA’s initiative to engage its youth members in skills and experiences in these areas and help them develop the STEM skills critical for the competitive world marketplace. These disciplines are considered by many to be the foundation of an advanced society. In many forums-including political, governmental, and academic-the strength of the STEM workforce is viewed as an indicator of a nation's ability to sustain itself.


Johnson’s background with Sigma-Aldrich, which manufactures and distributes research-grade chemicals primarily to academic settings and research, helped lay the foundation for his interest in science and technology. As a corporate director of program management, Johnson supervised a group of people who were ultimately responsible for developing and deploying systems to make business processes more efficient.

“Those highly technical skills are key talents necessary to perform what needs to get done in the future,” Johnson said. “You look at the countries who are putting out people with those skills, it’s not the U.S. Many people serving in high-tech roles are coming to the U.S. to get the education so it is not the education system. It is that young people just don’t have an interest in these areas. People at six years old don’t say, ‘I want to be an engineer.’ So maybe we need to start early and kind of demonstrate to the young people what is cool about these areas of focus. If we do that and stimulate interest, maybe they will naturally go into academic programs in these high-tech areas.


“That is why I am involved. I think that’s important (to get young people interested in those areas). The outdoor experience, the hallmark of scouting, is a method. It is not the reason for scouting. Scouting doesn’t exist to teach people how to go camping. Scouting exists to teach young people how to be better people, how to make ethical decisions, to be self-reliant and to learn appropriate leadership skills. Scouting uses fun things to teach those skills such as camping and it is the same thing with STEM. If we can build a program that makes science and technology fun, then I think we can help stimulate interest and excellence in these areas.”


It sounds like a large task, but Johnson remains optimistic in the BSA’s efforts and is once again looking forward to the new challenge presented before him.


“Today I feel like I can pretty much do anything because I have,” said Johnson. “I owe all that to scouting. It made a big difference in my life.”


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