FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- A 15-year-old Fort Rucker youth exercised vision, leadership and organizational skills well beyond his years to create a place of reflection on post to honor Gold Star families and their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.
Ryker Chasteen, member of Fort Rucker’s Boy Scout Troop 50, earned his Eagle Scout rank with the completion of his project that was unveiled at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Gold Star Family Reflection Garden behind Wings Chapel May 26.
Above and beyond providing a facility the entire Fort Rucker community can take great pride in for many years to come, Ryker’s creation also serves to inspire hope, Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general said at the ceremony.
“It’s days like today that give you hope for our future – when young men like Ryker and all of his fellow Scouts do something that’s bigger than themselves for the benefit of other people,” he said. “To achieve Eagle Scout is a tremendous accomplishment. Ryker, congratulations to you on this accomplishment, and also for doing it in such a special way at a special time of the year for us here at Fort Rucker.
“The Army has a lot of great traditions for remembering and memorializing the ultimate sacrifice paid by our fallen heroes and caring for their families,” Francis said. “Ryker, you’ve helped make this a very special place to be for our Gold Star families. This chapel is visited by thousands of people every year, and this plot of ground is now a sanctuary, a quiet place of beauty, and this garden is a peaceful place to remember our fallen comrades.
“Ryker, thank you for visualizing, planning and executing this memorial garden for our Gold Star families,” he continued. “Your tenacity and desire to make this happen is now a reality, and we’re all better for it. Great job!”
After the general spoke, he helped Ryker and the other Scouts who helped on the project cut the ribbon on the garden.
The new Eagle Scout said that despite the challenges he had to overcome completing the project, overall the actual work “was not too difficult.”
“The most difficult part was the pavers,” Ryker said, adding that he received a lot of help from his fellow Scouts, family and friends. “They were heavy and uncomfortable to work with – they took a lot of work to get in. We had to measure the area, dig it out, put in a layer of paver sand to get it all leveled out and put in some pads that would keep them from moving so much. Then we had to line them all up and had to cut some to be the right proportions.”
The pandemic complicated achieving his goal, as well, as scheduling for the volunteer effort became more complicated and also hampered the fundraising for the $3,000-plus project. Ryker sold masks to raise money, and reached out to friends, family, and organizations such as the Army Aviation Association of America and the Fort Rucker Community Spouses Club for donations.
He thanked all who helped him achieve the completion of the garden, and added that he is happy to complete his work to achieve the Eagle Scout rank at the age of 15, when typically Scouts achieve it at 17 or 18. “It’s very cool to get it done at an early age.”
Ryker said he plans to remain a Scout to earn more merit badges and help younger Scouts rank up on their way to Eagle Scout.
As for life after Scouts, Ryker said he would like to go into the study of animation. “Probably game design – something along those lines.”
This isn’t the first time the Chasteen family has left its mark on the Fort Rucker community in the form of an Eagle Scout project. Ryker’s older brother and fellow Eagle Scout, Roman, completed a project to install benches along Beaver Lake and its running trail several years ago – earning Eagle Scout rank at the age of 14.
Col. Chad Chasteen, proud father of two Eagle Scouts and also USAACE chief of staff, said he was ecstatic to see Ryker’s vision become a reality.
“It was a little more ambitious than I was ready for when I first saw it,” the colonel said, adding that initial work on the plan and sketching it out began last fall. “As his parent, I just wanted to get behind him and support his idea. I helped him get to the people he needed to get permission from, but really it was his idea, it was his vision and it was his drive that made this a reality.”
But Ryker did get a lot of help along the way, he added.
“Ryker’s getting a lot of credit, but this was a team effort by Troop 50 – the only Scout Troop left on Fort Rucker and has been going since the Vietnam era,” Chasteen said. “In order to actually complete an Eagle Scout project, you have to have the support of a team. He has to design the project, get the project approved, fundraise for the project and then itemize costs, so they know you raised all this money, but it’s all going to go right back into the project. You have to rally volunteers and then organize them to meet the workflow.
“It took a lot of work, but it is really inspiring,” the chief of staff said, adding that Ryker displayed skills that impressed him.
“I was impressed with that rare skill of patience – something I’m not gifted with,” he said. “When things were going wrong – we had innumerable problems because this was our first time doing something like this, and we were discovering and learning and going through it and having to go back to the hardware store over and over again – he was so patient, and that’s a skill.
“Also, his decisiveness and understanding that leadership isn’t about just telling people what to do – you have to lead by doing,” the colonel continued. “He had to jump in, get his hands dirty if he expected other people to do it – he had to dig holes, so other people would dig holes. That’s a good lesson for all of us – if you’re willing to get out there and do the work, then your team will do the work. You can’t expect your team to work harder than you are – I’m proud of him for that, as well.”