Tom Armstrong has accomplished something of which few can boast - and the ones who can are a fraction of his age. Yet the humble gentleman born in 1942 calls his achievement "no big deal" and would rather talk about his fellow Scouts than his own success.
This past summer, Armstrong took part in the Boy Scouts of America's High Adventure Florida Sea Base, sailing across the Florida Keys in a 41-foot sailboat crewed by him and other Scouts under the guidance of a captain who earned his Eagle ranking as a teenager. After completing the program, Armstrong received the Triple Crown of National High Adventure Award, a prestigious patch given to Scouts who have completed any three of the Boy Scout's four High Adventure camps.
In 1957, Armstrong traveled to the backcountry Philmont Scout Ranch base in Cimarron, New Mexico, as a 15-year-old Scout. That same year, he earned his Eagle Scout rank. His memories of that first camp are not quite as fresh as the others, though they remain vividly etched in his mind.
"I got a scholarship to go from my dad's Exchange Club," Armstrong recalled. "We had to build fires to cook our dehydrated food. It's a trek of 100 miles over a period of 10 days. It'll make men out of boys, or they'll drop out."
His next High Adventure camp wouldn't come for many years, though his life consisted of one adventure after another. Completing high school and then college, Armstrong served four years as a captain in the Air Force, followed by a 25-year career with the FBI. After that, he worked for 18 years as an investment advisor with Edward Jones Investment.
"Lovett Bennett, Scoutmaster for Primitive Baptist Church's Troop 342, had been after me for years to volunteer with the Scouting program," Armstrong said. "Two days after I retired, at the age of 70, that's what I did."
He has been an assistant Scoutmaster ever since - and he's a walking commercial for the Scouting program.
"We need more young boys that are willing to become men," he said. "We had five Eagles within
12 months. We're Eagling out.
"We need kids 11 to 17 to get involved," he continued. "It's a great place for fathers and sons to be together."
Armstrong, who is married to Rubylane and has two adult daughters, enjoys his time spent with the Scouts.
"You'd be surprised to watch them grow up right in front of your eyes," he said.
Last summer, he watched some of them do just that at the second of his High Adventure bases, Northern Tier, a camp in Ely, Minnesota, on the boundary waters between the United States and Canada.
"Participants canoe and portage all their gear and canoes over 50 miles in a week," he said. "The boys put up their own tents. If they don't bring something they need, they have to scrounge it up. And if you bring too much, you have to carry it, and it's heavy."
The High Adventure bases are for Scouts 14 and older, but the troop takes part in many other outdoor activities throughout the year, as well as an annual summer camp.
"If you want to enjoy the outdoors, this is the place for you," he said.
Armstrong said the troop cooks 500 Boston butts twice a year and sells them as a fundraiser to help those who might otherwise not participate in Scouting due to a lack of funds.
Though he's achieved the Triple Crown, Armstrong has no plans of slowing down. Next summer, the troop will rotate back to Philmont Scout Ranch, and Armstrong intends to complete the High Adventure base a second time, though he has been back to Philmont a couple of times for shorter excursions.
Excited to go again, Armstrong joked, "The mountains are much steeper and the air is thinner since I got old. I didn't notice it when I was 15." With a return to seriousness, he added, "If you don't believe in God, go out to the Rocky Mountains. Every time you turn a corner, it's a beautiful sight."
Armstrong said that hanging around the Scouts keeps him young.
"It's kept me going. It's wonderful to watch these helpless kids grow into men and then to watch the older ones help and mentor the younger ones," he said.
In the summer of 2018, the troop will participate for the first time in the Paul R. Christen National High Adventure Base at The Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.
"If I'm still alive, I'm going," Armstrong said.
Scouts who complete all four High Adventure programs are given the Grand Slam of National High Adventure Award - and odds are, Armstrong soon will be able to boast of achieving that, too.