Scouting empowers young people with the confidence to be leaders and cultivates a spirit of active citizenship. Through the program, Scouts are able to explore new hobbies and pursue different interests, which may lead some down a unique career pathway. One such Scouter and Arrowman found his pathway in diplomacy. Dr. Reuben E. Brigety II was recently appointed for his second ambassadorship as the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa.
Dr. Brigety resided in McLean, Virginia before moving to Pretoria, South Africa. His wife and two sons, who are both active in Scouting, joined him on his ambassadorships. He is an Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 128 in the Chain Bridge District of the National Capital Area Council and a member of Amangamek-Wipit Lodge. Dr. Brigety has earned many awards in Scouting including the Community Organization Award, District Award of Merit, International Scouter Award, Scouter’s Training Award, and the William D. Boyce Award New-Unit Organizer Award.
We at OA Today had the opportunity to interview Dr. Brigety and learn more about his time in Scouting and his professional life as a U.S. Ambassador.
Where were you when President Biden asked you to serve as an ambassador?
“I received a phone call from the White House on the Friday of Labor Day Weekend of last year. On the other end of the phone was Cathy Russell, who was the then-Director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. Cathy said, ‘Reuben, the President needs you to go to South Africa…As you know, it's a very important relationship during a very important time.’ I was grateful for the consideration and responded by saying, ‘let me talk to my wife about it.’ At the time, I was living in Sewanee, Tennessee with my family, where I was serving as the Vice Chancellor of the University of the South. In talking with my wife, the answer became clear to the both of us: when the President of the United States asks you to serve the county, you serve. I did not seek this position, but answered the call to serve. Now, a little more than a year later, here I am in South Africa.”
What is your favorite part of your job as an ambassador?
“There are many facets of this job that I enjoy, but it is a true privilege to work alongside so many dedicated Americans in our embassy. My posting in South Africa is the second diplomatic community my family has the experience of living in. I have two sons, the oldest of whom just achieved the rank of Eagle Scout this past summer. It is a unique opportunity to get to know the host country through the lens of the people that live there and through the lens of our colleagues in government. This provides us insight into the issues we work on, as well as their impacts.”
Could you give us sort of a rundown of what your average day would look like?
“The short answer is there is no average day. In the U.S. Foreign Service, there are two main roles I carry out: ambassador and chief of mission (COM). As ambassador, you are the official representative of the President of the United States to the country or organization to whom you are accredited. You receive a letter from the President that outlines all of your responsibilities and expectations. As COM, you lead the diplomatic efforts for the mission of the country or organization to whom you are accredited. This includes meeting with various senior government officials of your host country on a variety of different issues. For example, South Africa has one of the largest HIV disease burdens in the world. One in every five living persons with HIV are in South Africa. In response, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. has invested around eight billion dollars in aid to South Africa to fight this pandemic. Engaging productively and timely is part of what we do. It is also important to get out of the office and explore your host country. For example, I just spent two and a half days on the road visiting one of South Africa's nine provinces, the North West Province, which is home to a lot of platinum and gold mines in the country. The town of Mafeking is also located in that province, which is where Lord Baden-Powell served during the Boer War and where he got the idea for the Boy Scouts. Additionally, I also support senior U.S. government officials when they visit my host country.”
When did you get into Scouting and what got you into it?
“I got into Scouting in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. My father was a Cub Scout, but growing up his family was poor and could not afford a uniform. All they could afford as the neckerchief and cap. He grew up in the segregated deep-South, in a time when the Boy Scouts were also segregated. I did Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting through the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church. I made it to Second Class and got interested in attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. After that my interests shifted to doing things that I thought were more relevant in helping me get admission to Annapolis. When I got to the Naval Academy, about one third of my class were Eagle Scouts. In retrospect, the best leaders that I saw applied the leadership skills they learned in Boy Scouting to the work they did at the Naval Academy. I do think that if my older self could go back and advise my younger self, I would have found a way to advance further in the Boy Scouting program as a youth. It is probably one of the reasons why I have been so involved with the Scouting journeys of both of my sons as an adult volunteer. In my own adult Scouting journey, I have encountered people with differing views on various aspects of our national life, but who nevertheless come together in the aims and purposes of Scouting under a common value set: committed to helping to build young people into great citizens. And I have treasured that just as much as I have treasured the ability to play a meaningful role in the individual lives for the Scouts with whom I have worked with.”
At what point did you get involved with the Order of the Arrow?
“I belong to our home troop in Northern Virginia, which is almost as old as Scouting itself, having been founded in 1922. When my oldest son, Roebel, got involved and when my younger son got involved in the troop’s companion Cub Scout pack, I wanted to get involved too. So I took all the requisite training and became an Assistant Scoutmaster. I learned about the Order of the Arrow from the other adults that were involved in it. I subsequently was nominated for the OA, went through my Ordeal, and became active in the OA. My son became an Arrowman about a year or two after I did.”
What would you say are some of the most valuable lessons that you got from the OA or from Scouting in general that you apply to your job or your life?
“My Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills (IOLS) instructor was a retired Army colonel and he said something that resonated with me. He said, ‘you know, I've never gone wrong in my life, I have followed the Scout Oath and Law, even when it had nothing to do with Scouting.’ This is exactly what Scouting is meant to be. First, these values do not simply apply when you wear the Scout uniform. They are actually meant to help guide your life. Along with the lessons I learned from my own parents and what I learned at the Naval Academy, I use the lessons taught in Scouting as one of the guiding pillars with which I try to engage other human beings and try to live my life. Second, ‘Be Prepared,’ is not just a slogan, it is a mindset. As an ambassador, you are constantly trying to look around the corner, not simply dealing with the challenge of the day, but trying to think a step or two ahead. And third, the importance of being comfortable in the outdoors. Serving in a country like South Africa, requires you to be out and about, not just in an air-conditioned office, but also in a windswept village where you are trying to get a sense of how people are actually living. You need to be adaptive. These are all basic lessons that either I learned or were reinforced in Scouting, and thatI continue to apply every day.”
What got you interested in international affairs?
“I am a child of the 1980s and grew up during the Cold War. I read all of the original Tom Clancy novels when they came out. When I was in eighth or ninth grade, I really loved social studies and had the opportunity to get involved in a few youth programs. All of this helped spark my interest in international affairs and made me realize that this is what I really want to do. I wanted to be a navy version of Colin Powell one day. Growing up he was my hero and someone who I got to know as an adult. I did not apply to any college besides the Naval Academy, which I was admitted to in September of my senior year of high school. It was a great privilege to go to Annapolis. I made friendships there that are as close as brothers and sisters that I still have to this day. I learned a lot about myself and forged a deep love of service to my country, which I continue to do in the foreign service.”
What advice would you like to give young Arrowmen?
“Your character is your destiny. See to your character and the rest will fall into place. When I was at the Naval Academy, I learned to scuba dive. One of the things they teach you about is the bends (decompression sickness). If you dive deep and you come up too quickly, nitrogen bubbles form in your blood, which can make you disoriented when you are underwater. This can make you think you are swimming up when, in actuality, you are swimming down, left, or right. To help orientate yourself, you have to train yourself to follow the bubbles. No matter what you feel, and no matter if you think you are going in the right direction, you have to follow the bubbles because the bubbles will always tell you which way is up. Much like these underwater bubbles, it is important for you to identify your moral bubbles in life. When you are upside down or feeling like you are going the wrong direction, those principles and ideals will always show you which way is up. You have to train yourself to follow them because just like in scuba diving, following the bubbles will save your life.”
What is your favorite Disney princess and why?
“I have two. The first is Tiana from Princess and the Frog. She is the first African American Disney Princess and helps young African American girls recognize that they can be princesses too. The second is Merida from Brave. I really love her sense of self determination, notwithstanding the expectations placed on her by society. I think it is a great message not only for girls, but for everybody.”
Amb. Brigety is not only an active participant in the international relations of our country, but he has also found the time to be an active Scouter. While he is taking a step back from Scouting to focus on his ambassadorship, he has made it clear that when he returns he wants to stay involved in the organization. Until then, we will be eagerly watching him as he represents our nation and the values Scouting and the OA stand for.