Tuesday, April 23, 2019

All I really needed to know, I learned in Girl Scouts

On Monday, April 1, the following speech was delivered by retired Colonel Karen Esaias at the 42nd annual Awards of Distinction dinner in Johnstown as the keynote address for the evening. 

Colonel Esaias stands with Johnstown area Girl Scouts, who officially commenced the evening's events by leading attendees in a traditional flag ceremony.
When I was invited to speak at this event, memories of my own Girl Scouting days ran through my head: earning badges, selling cookies, and overnight camp at Camp Conshatawba. All I really needed to know, I learned in Girl Scouts.

In the Girl Scout Promise, I pledged to do my duty to God and my country. I chose to do my duty to my country by serving 27 years in the U.S. Air Force. There are many ways to serve, with more opportunities open to girls and women unavailable even a decade ago. When I entered the Air Force, only 7% of the service branch were women, some of whom thought they had to be like one of the guys to fit in. In the course of my career, I saw that change. Women and men began to realize that diversity in the unit was a strength—and now, the Air Force is 20% female. The lesson is that each unique person on a team brings skills and insight that makes the whole more powerful.

I do have a confession to share: I was a quiet and shy kid. My sister Kathy loved selling cookies door to door—I did not! In the end, my father made Kathy take me with her and made her split the sales with me.

I don’t know what makes someone grow into a leader. Once, I was talking to my commander and I mentioned my being quiet and shy. He looked me square in the eye and said, “Captain, you may have been quiet and shy in the past, but you most certainly are not now!”

We have mentors in Girl Scouts, older girls willing to share skills and experience with the younger girls. In the Air Force, I saw the importance of mentors—and the particular importance to mentor people that don’t look like you! I was in a small group of women in the Air Force and was blessed to have officers who were kind enough to take the time to mentor me.

Let me circle back to how the influence of Girl Scouting affected my life. Girl Scouts pledge to do our duty to God. In the military, our oath of enlistment for the last 200 years has us swear to protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. Our nation and the Girl Scouts are anchored in the belief that through our service, we are serving God. This has never been more important in our country than it is right now. It is truly the bedrock upon which our Constitution was founded and is a bedrock of Girl Scouting.

The Girl Scout Law is called the Girl Scout Law for a reason—these are founding principles. If all of us lived up to these principles every day, the world would be a better place. Let’s talk about a few of those principles: honor, helpfulness, and self-reliance. I carried these principles during my military career and they still define me.

Honor: Adherence to what is right. I recently had to decide whether to withhold troubling information from a life-long friend. I could not—I had to do what was right despite the potential repercussions. A girlfriend of mine in the Air Force used to say, “We are the people who stop at stop signs in the middle of the night, even when there is no one around.” Listen to the Girl Scout Law and do what you believe to be the honorable thing in every circumstance.

Helpfulness: A Girl Scout is helpful, so look for ways to help others in your community. In my world, the focus of my efforts since returning to Johnstown eight years ago has been helping veterans—those who have served need and have earned our support.

And finally, self-reliance: As a Girl Scout, I learned how to make things, how to build a fire, and how to follow a trail. In the Air Force, I learned how to make decisions, how to light a fire in my troops to encourage them to do what they believed impossible, and to blaze a trail, not simply follow one. Loyalty, honor, leadership, duty to God and country—all I needed to know, I learned in Girl Scouts!