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VIDEO: Fort Wayne Eagle Scout’s achievement establishes area Boy Scout firsts

Eric Burgess, committee member for Boy Scout Troop 349, lists the achievements of Gannery Htoo, seated at right with his parents, during Htoo's Eagle Scout award ceremony Sunday at Aldersgate United Methodist Church on Getz Road in Fort Wayne. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Scoutmaster Chad Tranter of Boy Scout Troop 349 pins the Eagle Scout badge on Gannery Htoo during Htoo's Eagle Scout award ceremony Sunday afternoon at Aldersgate United Methodist Church on Getz Road in Fort Wayne. Gannery's father stands at right. Troop 349 is based at Aldersgate church. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
A cake congratulates Gannery Htoo of Fort Wayne for earning the rank of Eagle Scout.The cake was among the food items people enjoyed after Htoo's Eagle Scout award ceremony Sunday at Aldersgate United Methodist Church. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Gannery Htoo, left, poses for a photo with Paddy McCune, head of security at Salamonie Lake, after Htoo's Eagle Scout award ceremony Sunday at Aldersgate United Methodist Church on Getz Road in Fort Wayne. McCune was the Salamonie Lake contact for Htoo, whose Eagle Scout project included repainting and repairing the fish-cleaning station at the lake and installing 100 feet of split-rail fence. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

Gannery Htoo was the 90th Boy Scout from Troop 349 in Fort Wayne to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. His journey there also established a few firsts.

In this area’s Anthony Wayne Council of Boy Scout troops, Htoo,18, of Fort Wayne, is the first person to earn Eagle Scout rank who is a member of the local Karen ethnic community and the first from a family who came here as refugees from Myanmar, which formerly was known as Burma.

Marc Richardson, who has been director of Boy Scouts’ Area 6 since 2010, also said he can’t recall any scouts from a similar background earning the Eagle Scout award in Area 6, which includes most of Indiana and western Ohio.

Htoo formally received his Eagle Scout award Sunday at Aldersgate United Methodist Church on Getz Road, which is where Troop 349 meets. The hour-long event featured ceremony, history, the sharing of wisdom and gratitude, and a few tears.

“It’s been a great blessing to be part of it,” Htoo said of scouting during an interview last month with News-Sentinel.com.

DIFFICULT BEGINNING

Htoo was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. His parents and older brother were born in Myanmar, but the Karen people don’t consider themselves to be Burmese, he said.

His family lived in the refugee camp until he was age 8, when they received permission to settle in the United States. They moved to Fort Wayne in May 2008.

Htoo first learned about scouting in fourth grade when a representative of the Girl Scouts came to his school to present an award to her daughter at the school.

He saw the Girl Scout representative the next year and asked if there was a similar organization for boys. She said she would try to get information for him. They didn’t connect again until the summer of his sixth-grade year, but he never lost interest and eventually joined Boy Scout Troop 38 at Calvary United Methodist Church to see what it would be like.

“I am just a very curious person overall,” he said.

He stayed in Troop 38 until moving in fall 2017 to Troop 349 at Aldersgate United Methodist.

JOINING BOY SCOUTS

Boys — and now girls — must be age 11 to join Boy Scouts. The Cub Scouts program serves children in kindergarten through grade 5.

By the time he received information needed to connect with scouting, Htoo was too old for Cub Scouts. He has a little brother in Cub Scouts and a younger sister in American Heritage Girls, the latter of which is similar to Girl Scouts. A second sister isn’t involved in scouting.

“I felt scouting served a lot of great value in my life,” he said of encouraging his siblings to try it.

When Htoo first joined Boy Scouts, his parents had no idea what the program involved, he said. They don’t understand much English.

It took a couple of years for them to get a better idea of what skills and training young people learn in scouting, Htoo said. His parents, who sat with him during the Eagle Scout award ceremony, now are very supportive of him and also left it up to his younger siblings if they wanted to join scouting, he said.

SCOUTING’S APPEAL

The fun and adventure seem to be what keeps youngsters active in scouting, said Robert Fast, the Boy Scouts’ Miami District commissioner and the charter organizational representative of Troop 349 to the Aldersgate United Methodist congregation.

Scouting also opens doors for young people and exposes them to potential career interests, Fast said. For example, Troop 349 members had a chance to visit the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing, which is based at Fort Wayne International Airport. Scouts had the opportunity to stand by an A-10 military jet and try out night-vision goggles.

Becoming an Eagle Scout opens even more doors, Fast said. It shows people you will find a way to get a job done and will complete it.

Scouts also get a lot of leadership training, as well as learning camping and survival skills that build up a young man’s self-confidence, he said.

THE CHALLENGE

Eagle Scouts must complete 21 merit badges out of more than 130 possible scout badges, said Eric Burgess, a Troop 349 committee member. Burgess was involved at Troop 38 when Htoo joined, and Burgess tried to help Htoo and other youngsters from the refugee community get to troop meetings and events and stay active in scouting.

“He is more of a father role for me,” said Htoo, whose father has a two-hour commute each way to his job and normally couldn’t get Htoo to scout meetings.

Ten of the possible badges are required of every Eagle Scout candidate, including one citizenship badge each in community, nation and world.

The scout also must complete an Eagle Scout project that benefits a community.

The 21 merit badges and Eagle Scout project must be completed by the time the scout turns age 18 for him or her to be eligible for Eagle Scout rank.

In any given year, only five out of 100 Boy Scouts will earn the Eagle award, Htoo said.

“I’m a very pushing person,” he said. “I push my way through a lot of things.”

THE EAGLE PROJECT

For his Eagle Scout project, led fellow scouts in installing 100 feet of split-rail fence near a fish-cleaning station at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Salamonie Lake, which is about 40 miles southwest of Fort Wayne.

Htoo also had to plan and organize scouts to repaint the fish-cleaning station inside and out and to make some minor repairs, he said. They also built two educational poster boards with images of fish and information about them so people can identify the fish they have caught.

He started the project in May 2017, and it took three weekends and more than 200 man-hours to complete it, he said.

The project then had to be approved by the local Anthony Wayne Council of Boy Scouts and then by the national Boy Scouts office, Fast said.

“Gannery, I’m very proud of you,” Paddy McCune, head of security at Salamonie Lake, said during Sunday’s Eagle Scout ceremony. “The project was amazing.”

“If you continue on this path, the world is going to be better off for it,” added McCune, who was Htoo’s contact at Salamonie Lake regarding the Eagle Scout project.

GIVING BACK

Htoo said he tries to see what he can add to scouting, including using his cultural background to enhance the experience for others. For example, he has made spring rolls at some of their campouts, which are a big hit.

“I’ve done a lot of recruiting,” he said, including encouraging several other youngsters from the Myanmar refugee families to join scouting. He also has worked for the past few years as a leader at scouting summer camps.

In addition, he also serves as chapter chief of the local Order of the Arrow, a group who have gone above and beyond normal scouting values and focus on service to the community.

“It is for those who want to really do something in life,” the ever-enthusiastic Htoo said of scouting.

He’s thankful for all of the effort and encouragement others gave him along the way to earning his Eagle Scout award. He’s also looking ahead.

The 2018 South Side High School graduate plans to study biology in college with the goal of becoming an Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.

“I’m glad the process is over, but I am not done here,” he said of earning his Eagle Scout award. “I want to give back, definitely.”

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