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Scouting was the original tie that bonded three Hanover youth. Soon, service in the U.S. Military will connect the three friends.
This spring, Brian Dickerson, 22, and Matthew Perry and Michael Scaplehorn, both 21, will graduate from the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the Virginia Military Institute, respectively.
The three Eagle Scouts and soon-to-be graduates reunited over the holidays before finishing their final semesters and each told the Herald-Progress they look forward to venturing out of the academic environment to the next stage of their military careers.
Belying their optimism is the fact that it hasn’t been a cakewalk.
Perry described the first day he arrived in Annapolis in fairly blunt terms.
“It was a kick in the teeth,” he said.
There was a lot of yelling as the incoming class of midshipmen filed into a new way of life. There was also the familiar buzzing sound of military initiation, followed, for Perry at least, by second thoughts.
“I got my head shaved and I’m standing there waiting to go back into Bancroft Hall, my parents all around me, and you can see it in my face from the pictures we have… ‘What did I just do?’” Perry recalled.
However, life at the Academy became normal for Perry after about two weeks there. The hardest adjustment for him was the constant, busy workload, a change from the relatively lackadaisical regimen of high school. When he does have downtime, Perry has trouble occupying himself.
“I come home and I get bored the first day,” Perry said. “I started a [woodworking] project because I couldn’t sit still anymore.”
The first nine days at VMI are called “hell week” where new cadets, referred to kindly as “rats,” are exposed to the way of life in Lexington.
“It was a big shock going from being Michael Scaplehorn to being this ‘rat,’” he said.
After he was “indoctrinated into the system,” Scaplehorn said that he for the most was able to fall into a daily regimen.
For Dickerson, whose first choice would have landed him in Annapolis with Perry, the transition to life at West Point was also abrupt.
“I walked in and I was pretty terrified; I didn’t know what to expect,” Dickerson said.
“I learned how to march very quickly,” he added.
But military life comes naturally to the Hanover High School graduate. His father Malcolm retired as a Colonel in the Army in 2005.
“It seemed very comfortable to just go from a military family to the Army and actually serving,” he said, also acknowledging the opportunities that the Army presented.
“I think that was the biggest factor in my decision,” he said.
The decision for Dickerson, Scaplehorn and Perry to pursue a military track came early. While still Scouts, the trio attended jamborees held at the Naval Academy. For Dickerson, it was the first time he was exposed to what service academies could offer.
In his junior year of high school, Dickerson applied to all of the service academies and VMI, and settled on West Point after not being accepted to the Naval Academy, a choice that in hindsight worked out for the better.
“I’m definitely very happy with where I am right now and glad that God guided me this route instead of to the Navy,” he said.
After he graduates, Perry will have 30 days of leave before reporting to Pensacola, Fla. for initial flight training or taking temporary orders in Annapolis. After the rigors of the Naval Academy, Perry, an aerospace engineering major, said he looks forward to the change of scenery and leaving the classroom for the cockpit.
“Instead of just straight schoolwork I’ll have some bookwork and a lot of flight time,” he said.
Scaplehorn also plans to head to flight training in Pensacola but does not yet know when he will report there because Naval Academy graduates are given first preference. But he is excited to begin service in the U.S. Navy.
“I’m going to be ready to get into the real thing and serve instead of this limbo stage where I’m kind of in the military but not really,” Scaplehorn said.
After growing up and attending school in small towns, Scaplehorn also looks forward to the change in scenery once his assignment is finalized.
“The whole learning to fly thing is going to be pretty cool, too,” he added.
Of the three friends, Dickerson is the only one with plans to go into the Infantry. He will find out at the end of this month his assignment but hopes to join up with the Airborne Infantry based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
“I’m definitely ready to move on,” he said. “All the lessons that the Academy was there to teach me, I think I’ve got most of them. So, this last semester is just honing what I got out of West Point.”
Reached Monday, Malcolm Dickerson shared the perspective that comes with watching a group of pre-teen scouts grow up and decide to join the military ranks.
“I see Brian, Michael and Matthew as true peers, embracing a demanding yet honorable profession as so many good young men and women have who were raised in Hanover County,” he said. “ I think it is fitting to apply a paraphrased comment made by Judge Gilman, on the occasion of the presentation to Brian, of West Point’s Offer for Appointment as a testament to who and what they have become: ‘… He is the type of person who will faithfully lead your sons and daughters.’ I believe this to be true of each one.”