Local teen builds exhibit at Fort Drum museum
May 17, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Understanding firsthand the demands that deployments often make on Army Families, 15-year-old Dakota Bellotte was motivated to make his Eagle Scout project benefit Soldiers and their loved ones.
His creation, an exhibit called "Things to Remember on Deployment," officially opened at the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum last month.
The exhibit displays items Soldiers used most or had forgotten on deployment, while also informing them about diverse Afghan cultures and languages through a video presentation.
"I thought it was a good idea for Soldiers who have been told they are going to deploy," said Dakota, who derived the concept for his project from talks with Kent Bolke, the museum's curator. "(Soldiers) can see what they need ahead of time. It's kind of like a packing list up on the wall."
Bolke said the best part of the exhibit is that Soldiers deploying for the first time can learn the lessons of those who have actually been there before.
"Here is a little bit of a personal touch," Bolke said. "The guys who went before you forgot to take with them a hammer, for example.
"Find out what it is that you need to take with you," he added. "Put it in your bag ahead of time, so that when you get down there you are not trying to drive nails with a rock."
The exhibit also offers visitors a handout containing two lists. The first one includes forgotten and most-used items on deployment, such as a lighter, compass or woodworking tools. The other list highlights care-package items most requested by Soldiers, such as batteries, beef jerky or gummy bears.
Bolke said the friends and Family Members of Soldiers should grab a handout, too, to help them answer a top question: "'What can I send you?'"
Dakota said he understands that question well from his own experiences.
"It's pretty hard without a dad or mom around," he said. "So I wanted to help (Soldiers) and maybe help their Families a little too."
Deployments have been a major part of life for Dakota, who has lived in the North Country since the third grade. His father, a Chinook helicopter pilot with 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, was a Black Hawk crew chief deployed to Sarajevo in 1997 when Dakota was just 6 months old.
Since then, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael "Cody" Bellotte has deployed twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.
He said it has been remarkable to watch how far his son has gone since joining the Cub Scouts nine years ago.
"He's always had the drive to become (an Eagle Scout)," Cody Bellotte said. "It's just a surprise that he got there so quickly.
"I'm very proud of him," he added. "The project made him step up and go to that next level in his progression as a leader. He actually took off the friend hat and put the boss hat on. That is sometimes a hard thing to do."
Before aspiring to be an Eagle Scout and taking on a service project, a Life Scout like Dakota must be active in his troop, must be in a leadership position and must possess 21 merit badges.
In addition to Scouting, the Carthage Central High School freshman is a competitive member of the school's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
Dakota personally interviewed more than 30 Soldiers for his project. He also had Scouts from his troop collect information from 30 other formerly deployed service members.
He admits that interviewing Soldiers was the biggest challenging.
"One of the hardest things was just getting over the nervousness of talking to them," said the senior patrol leader of Troop 54 in Carthage.
After all of his research, Dakota said hands down, coffee was the most popular item to make both lists.
"Spoons came up a lot, too," he said. "One Soldier was telling me … just a box of plastic spoons would have gone a long way."
Dakota also was required to go door to door seeking donated materials for his exhibit from local businesses. He was turned down several times before he managed to get tools donated by a hardware store and a DVD player and flat-screen TV from a major electronics outlet.
Bolke said he was thrilled to see the completed exhibit. He said its future will be determined by which engagements 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers are committed.
"As time goes by, the exhibit will grow and modify," said Bolke, emphasizing that Soldier education is a primary mission. "It doesn't matter if you are deployed to a combat zone or you are just deployed somewhere for training -- it's just a matter of wanting that little touch of home."
Dakota, who helped his father build additions on their home near Great Bend, said he was glad for the opportunity to not just do a project for his own purposes, but one that helped others.
"I knew it was a community project, not just an Eagle project," he said.