Tripp Gulledge drills in screws attaching new boards to a Mobile Bay dock.
MOBILE, Ala.–– Tripp Gulledge, 16, a Sea Scout stirred up a passion for scouting among people attending a laity banquet during the June, 2013, Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference.
The fact that Tripp is blind has not stopped him from obtaining the rank of Eagle, an achievement attained by only 2 percent of Boy Scouts. To achieve that rank, Tripp had to earn at least 21 merit badges, demonstrate the Scout spirit and complete an extensive service project.
Tripp’s Eagle project was to re-deck a 110-foot pier for the Mobile Sail and Power Squadron, an organization that offers boater education to the public.
A member of Sea Scout Ship Mobile Bay, chartered to Government Street UMC in Mobile, Ala., Tripp said, “The Power Squadron has done a lot to help with our Sea Scout Ship, and I wanted to give back to them.”
The first few hours into the December project, Tripp worked alone as he ripped out decaying boards.
“I had some seriously sore arms and legs and a really bad back,” said Tripp. “The idea of the project is that the Eagle Scout candidate has to raise all the funds and supervise and take part. But your job is mainly to be the project manager and make sure it all gets done. It took me that first work day to understand that.”
Tripp recruited 20 volunteers from his ship, Power Squadron members, and his home troop, Troop 227 chartered to Dauphin Way UMC, to assist in the project. The Scouts put in a combined 350 man/hours tearing out boards and replacing them with new, pressure treated 2-by-6 inch planks. They also cleared away brush and added two ramps.
Scouting deepens spiritual life
Tripp explained to the laity banquet how scouting has deepened his relationship with God, and Sea Scouts have provided him the opportunity to provide spiritual leadership to his peers.
One of the scriptural passages that serves as spiritual compass for Tripp is John 9:1-3, the passage in which Jesus says a man was born blind in order that God’s might works might be displayed in him.
“We have been blessed during Tripp's years of blindness and we have the expectation that further blessings await after he experiences healing and a visual acuity this is beyond medical expectation,” said the Rev. Rob Gulledge, Tripp’s dad and the pastor of Government Street UMC in Mobile.
Both Tripp and Rob plan to attend the July 2013 National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. Rob will serve on the Sea Scout exhibit staff and Tripp will serve as a Sea Scout patrol leader. In 2010, they attended the last jamboree at Fort AP Hill in Virginia.
“Our tiny downtown congregation is doing the impossible,” said Rob. “For more than 11 years, we have sponsored a Sea Scout Ship to serve area youth. Over the years we have seen a blending of Scouts from affluent backgrounds with those from the inner city.” He describes these bonds of friendship as remarkable. “We began with nothing but we’ve discovered every imaginable resource for teaching citizenship, seamanship, and duty to God along the way.”
The congregation responded to a new “problem” when several Sea Scouts expressed interest in forming a new Boy Scout troop in order to pursue the Eagle award. The boys stirred up interest among their non-Scout friends too. In May, Troop 122 was chartered with about eight boys, ages14, and 15, well past the usual age for joining a troop.
Eagle Court of Honor
Tripp’s Eagle Court of Honor was held last May in Government Street UMC.
His great uncle, Brig. Gen. Inge Waddle, U.S.A.R. (ret.), presented Tripp with a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol. “We have watched proudly as you have moved from one challenge to another,” said Waddle.
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, a longtime family friend and an Eagle Scout himself, gave the charge to the new Eagle.
“It was really cool” to have a U.S. senator at the ceremony, Tripp said.
Tripp presented Paul Hendrix, a well-known Scout volunteer, with a mentor pin, which an Eagle Scout may present to the person he believes helped him the most in his effort to attain the rank.
Tripp has served as senior and assistant senior patrol leader with Troop 227. “Now, after getting Eagle, I’ve moved into a role where I mentor the new scouts as they come in,” he said.
Honor student and drum major
Tripp is an honor student in the International Baccalaureate program at Murphy High School, where he plays the French horn and marches with the Mighty Marching Panthers band. This fall, he will be the drum major.
He copes with his blindness by finding ways to work around it. “I do the same things everybody else does, but I go about them in different way. In the time that you could take to think about all the reasons you can’t do something, you could have done it.”
He usually gets around at school and elsewhere with a hand on a friend’s shoulder. When he marches in Mardi Gras parades, he and a buddy wrap a belt around their arms so that he can follow along.
The rising junior has been playing the piano since the age of 5 and he plans to major in music when he attends Auburn University. His goal is to become a teacher, or a band director.
Tripp’s vision difficulties, known as total retinal detachment, were diagnosed when he was only one month old. Surgery preserved some of his vision, but about two years ago, his vision began to deteriorate again.
Every three months, the family drives to Miami for checkups and consideration of future surgeries.
“I didn’t realize that I couldn’t see as well as everyone else did until I got into first grade. It didn’t upset me; I just realized that I was different,” said Tripp.