Andrew Weatherly took being a "Life Scout" literally. Because of that, he has been awarded the Boy Scouts of America's National Court of Honor Heroism Award.
Had it not been for Weatherly's "coolness under pressure" and making "all the right decisions," his fellow Venturer scout, John Warfle, would probably have become a statistic of tragic accidents. Today he is alive to contemplate his near death experience.
It all happened the night of Oct. 30, 2004 at Assateague Island National Seashore campgrounds on Maryland's eastern shore when a hand-dug, five foot deep sand tunnel collapsed on Warfle bringing him to the brink of suffocation. Weatherly succeeded in clearing the sand, and keeping it clear from Warfle's face while others shoveled away the sand enough to free his body.
Both scouts are members Venturing Crew 1509 of Alexandria/Mount Vernon area, sponsored by St. Aidan's Episcopal Church of Alexandria. They were on a weekend camping trip with other members of their co-ed unit under the guidance of several adult supervisors, including Warfle's mother, Jane.
"This camping trip was the second one for this group," said Nadine Wren, another of the adult advisors. According to Wren, it was to be a trip to relax and refresh themselves mentally and spiritually.
Each of the scouts had worked hard to clear their busy school and extracurricular schedules to be able to afford the time for the outing.
"No hikes, no big service projects, no badge or award work on this trip," Wren said.
"The weather was damp and dreary. So, instead of Frisbee on the beach, or kite flying, or walking the beach looking for treasurers, instinct dictated hole digging. Simple, quiet, repetitive digging," said Wren.
Little did they know what fate had in store.
Weatherly described the scene a little less poetically.
"We didn't have much to do on Saturday, with the weather what it was. So, we were digging holes in the sand to make sand forts," he said.
Warfle and Katie Staples were digging two adjacent sand "forts" approximately three feet apart about 20 feet from the group campfire about 6:30 p.m. that night. After going down approximately five feet, they decided to dig a tunnel connecting the two forts. However, they were warned by Venture Crew Advisor Carla Amerau not to crawl into the tunnel in case of a collapse.
"We had finally got through so me and Katie were pushing at each other's feet, through the tunnel to prove it was there, then the sand collapsed on me. When it did I was completely buried," Warfle wrote in his account of the incident to the scout council.
"I remember it was real dark and cold, and then I started hyperventilating, which only made more sand go down my throat and into my eyes. I couldn't move, I couldn't get out, I couldn't even breathe. I started to panic, which, I know, is the worst thing you can do in a situation like that. At that point I seriously thought I was going to die," he wrote.
Katie, still in the other hole, was not aware of the severity of the situation and Andrew was "over a ways," according to Warfle.
"My lungs were filling with sand and it was like being at the bottom of the pool too long. You're trying to get to the air and when you finally do it feels like life," he said.
"Well, it was like that only 10 times worse. When I finally got to the air, it was because Andrew dug me out," Warfle said. The fact is that the four adult chaperones, who had been summoned by Katie, on drill-like instructions from Weatherly, did the digging while Weatherly kept the sand away from Warfle's face.
AFTER ABOUT 30 minutes of careful digging, Warfle was free enough for Weatherly and Katie's father to pull him to safety. "I was in disbelief that John had done that. We were all in the sand trying to dig him out," said his mother Jane.
"The first thing John said to me was 'I got sand in my pants,'" Weatherly said during the reception at St. Mark's Episcopal Church after receiving his Heroism Award.
The site of the presentation had a dual significance to parishioners of the church on South Kings Highway. The Rev. John Weatherly, Andrew's father, was home on leave from active duty as a U.S. Army chaplain with the Virginia National Guard.
Following the holiday he returns to his Blackhawk helicopter unit, 2nd/224th, 29th Division, out of Fort Belvoir. Sometime in late January or early February he will deploy to Iraq for a year as part a U.S. Army/U.S. Marine combined force.
"The scouting program in the Mount Vernon area is superb. It is extremely well supported by both the young people and the adult community," Weatherly said.
John Weatherly and his wife, Beverly, joined Andrew at the front of the church where Michael Crane, district chairman for the area's chapter of Boy Scouts of America, presented the Heroism Award.
"This award epitomizes what scouting is all about — looking out for others," Crane said.
He was joined in the ceremony by Ray Garant, a district commissioner, and Dominick Caridi, who served as Andrew's Scout Master when he achieved Eagle Scout status in early 2005.
"After this life-saving event he went on to become an Eagle Scout," Caridi said.
John Weatherly expressed his pride at his son's heroic effort.
"I'm very proud of my son. He didn't even bother to tell me about it until two or three months after it happened. But, that's typical. He rarely talks about himself," he said.
"When he did tell me, I told him that God had put an angel on that beach that night at just the right time," he said. Andrew, 17, a senior at Mount Vernon High School, will be graduating in June.
"I'm hoping to get back on leave for his graduation," John Weatherly said.