By Heather Clark, Fort Campbell CourierDecember 24, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Dec. 23, 2015) -- For the past two years, 16-year-old Boy Scout Eric Merritt has been a regular fixture at the Fort Campbell Stray Impound Facility, spending his summers and holidays there as a volunteer.
"I walked the dogs, cleaned out the cages and played with the animals, too," Eric said.
"He's always right on time and ready to go," said Lindsey Morales-Burke, animal caretaker at the shelter.
"He does everything we ask and never complains. He's always asking if he can do more, trying to find that extra thing to do to make the animals happy."
As the time approached for Eric to undergo the process of becoming an Eagle Scout, he began to consider ideas for his Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project -- one of the biggest undertakings in the Eagle Scout process. Each potential scout is left to come up with his own project, one that allows him to take on a leadership role and provide a service to the community. The decision to help the installation's small animal facility to which he has donated so much of his time was an easy one.
On Tuesday morning, Eric arrived at the animal shelter with two fellow Scouts -- younger brother Aaron and friend Evan Plumb -- in tow, along with mother Myra and father, Sgt. Maj. Douglas Merritt, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
The Family's vehicle pulled with it a large trailer, containing pet food bowls, treats, toys and a number of cat beds that Eric and his volunteer crew constructed by hand.
"With the Eagle Scout project, the Boy Scouts of America has a big process to go through," Myra explained. "They can actually download a process book. The book is really helpful, and I do encourage our future scouts at Fort Campbell to use that book. It takes you from picking the project for getting approval to preparation."
"First I had to get the project approved," Eric said. "They [the shelter] approved it because they really wanted some new beds for the cats. Then I had to get it approved by my council and by my scout master."
Eric began his service project process in June, ironing out details for project approval, fundraising, time management and construction.
A few snags were hit along the way in terms of paperwork; then came the news that he and his Family would soon be moving to Germany.
"He had to go through the process of 'if I don't alter this plan, I may not be able to do this before I PCS,'" Myra said. "We start packing on [Dec. 31.]"
Although there were hurdles to overcome, Eric was able to see his project through to completion, with the help of his Family, friends and fellow Scouts. His efforts were well-met by Fort Campbell's veterinary team.
"Everything he's done has been super helpful," said Capt. Emily Farmer, Fort Campbell Veterinary Clinic.
"The cats are going to love these new beds. It's great for them to have a little social enrichment, and these beds and toys provide that. So it helps them to be better animals for adoption -- better pets."
"We are very grateful," Morales-Burke said of Eric's gift.
"We are a small shelter, so a lot of people don't know we're here. So to get any kind of support like that is truly a good thing. The cats will love their new beds."
For Douglas, who said his entire Family has always been part of the volunteer community, Eric's Eagle Scout project was a particular source of pride.
"I see him growing up and taking responsibility to help other people, and I couldn't be prouder," he said. "I'm always proud of him, but this is above and beyond."
Myra said she is not only proud of her son, but also thankful that he had the opportunity to complete his project, even with a compressed timeline.
"It taught him about flexibility and adjusting schedules," she said.
"It's life lessons, part of being in a military Family. It teaches him about the resilience that we preach here in the Army. Through the challenges, I think this whole process has helped him to grow."
Eric's efforts also were welcomed by those who care for the little creatures of Fort Campbell.
"It's really nice to see the involvement of the young people, especially with the pets," Farmer said. "Not everyone wants to come and volunteer in a shelter, so it's great to see someone wanting to get involved. It really warms my heart."