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Ex-POW talks to Boy Scouts

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

ALBANY -- In a room full of wide eyes, Ron Young told Boy Scouts of America from Albany's Troop 15 the story of his capture and subsequent rescue as a prisoner of war in the 2003 Gulf military action against Iraq.

Young, who is an Eagle Scout, told the scouts the importance of sticking to the Boy Scouts' motto of "Be prepared" and how scouting helped prepare him for his life later in the Army as a chief warrant officer and pilot of an Apache Longbow helicopter.

"During survival school in boot camp it was great because it wasn't the first time I had to build a fire from scratch, I learned that in Boy Scouts," said Young during an interview with The Herald.

The pilot also credits Boy Scouts with helping him to achieve his goal of becoming a pilot.

During his inspirational message, Young discussed details about his time as a POW during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In March 2003, Young and his co-pilot Chief Warrant Officer David Williams crashed their Apache Longbow helicopter in Karbala after taking enemy fire.

Both Young and Williams survived the crash and were able to elude pursuing Iraqi soldiers for several hours but were ultimately captured under strong gunfire.

"All I had was a 9 mm and I looked at Dave and I said what do you want me to do," said Young of the experience of being surrounded by Iraqi soldiers. "We then decided that our only way to live through this scenario is to give ourselves up."

After a series of interrogations by Iraqi police and soldiers, Young told scouts that he and Williams were taken by an Iraqi group to Samarra where they were held with the members of the 507th Maintenance Company who were earlier captured along with their comrade Jessica Lynch.

The former POW said the Iraqis rarely fed the prisoners and he ended up losing a considerable amount of weight. Young, who said he regularly weighs 220 pounds, dropped to 170 during his POW incarceration.

The pilot said he found strength in his belief while he held captive and prayed to God consistently.

"I prayed about stuff I hadn't even done yet," Young joked. "I was like, 'Just in case I even think about doing this. I'm just going let you know God I won't do it if you get me out of this.'"

After 23 days as POW, Young and the six other POWs were rescued during a raid by Marines. There had been two previously unsuccessful attempts to free the pilots before the raid.

Scoutmaster Berry Bell said it was important for the scouts to hear Young's motivational tale because it shows the boys how much their freedom cost.

"This gives them heroes, too," the scoutmaster said. "There are no John Waynes anymore so when we have someone like Ron come in it makes a huge difference to the boys."

Bell said the fact that Young was a Eagle Scout also gives the scouts more motivation to become Eagle Scouts themselves.

"It's very motivational for them," the scoutmaster said. "They see these people that have grown up in scouting and how it has impacted their lives."

Young, a Georgia native from Lithia Springs, said he enjoys speaking to scouts and other groups about his story.

"That's the only reason I came here today because I know that some of these boys are going to join the military or become pilots and I want to let them know what it is like and the importance of staying in scouting and becoming more prepared to do what they want in life," Young said.

Since his rescue, Young has worked as a cable news special contributor, competed to the finals of CBS' "The Amazing Race" and is currently serving as a White House political appointee to Housing and Urban Development.