By Staff Sgt. Mike PryorSeptember 26, 2008
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Most paratroopers are proud of their tough reputation, so Staff Sgt. Andrew Nelson used to get a lot of teasing from his Army buddies about being a Boy Scout.
But Nelson, who was an Eagle Scout before enlisting in the Army, took it all in stride with the good humor and upbeat attitude that made his troops love him.
Sadly, Nelson was killed in Iraq last year while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment. Last month, the Boy Scouts of America paid tribute to Nelson and his lifelong support of the organization by renaming the welcome center at his boyhood camp in his honor.
The Andrew P. Nelson Welcome Center at Camp Wilderness, in Park Rapids, Minn., was officially dedicated on Aug. 23 during a ceremony attended by family, friends, and members of Nelson's platoon from the 82nd Abn.
It was a fitting way to remember a man who never hid his love for the Boy Scouts or the values the Scouts instilled in him, said Sgt. Michael Kulkarini, of Detroit, who served with Nelson in Iraq and journeyed to Minnesota to attend the dedication.
"I think he would have loved to be remembered in that kind of way," Kulkarini said. "(Being a Boy Scout) was a big part of his life. He really cherished those memories."
Nelson spent much of his childhood exploring Camp Wilderness' 2,400 acres and he returned for scouting events often over the years. Now, the 1,700 Boy Scouts and 800 Cub Scouts who arrive at the camp every summer will see Nelson's face on a large poster when they check in at the welcome center.
"This camp was a part of Andrew Nelson. It's fitting he should be here to welcome Scouts," said Boy Scouts of America executive Mark Holtz during the ceremony.
The skills Nelson learned in the Scouts served him well in the inhospitable conditions of Iraq, recalled members of his platoon.
"Whether it was tying something off or rigging a shelter up real quick or telling us which roots we could eat, he knew all that stuff," Kulkarini remembered.
"He was comfortable out in the woods," said Sgt. Nathan Kaiser, another of Nelson's squad members, "and that made all of us more comfortable and more lighthearted because of it."
Nine members of Nelson's platoon made the trip to Minnesota to be present at the dedication and to meet with his family. It was the least they could do, said Kulkarini.
"We really loved Andrew. We felt a privilege and a responsibility to show (his family) that they may have lost a son, but they still have a connection with all of us," he said.