Story by Spc. Chelsea Russell
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan –- Behind the desk of British Royal Navy Capt. Stuart Borland, deputy chief of stability operations for Regional Command (Southwest), is an oversized portrait of George Washington. As a native of Portsmouth, England, Borland said his passion for American history and its founding father is sometimes viewed as an oddity by his fellow countrymen.
Ever since he volunteered to participate in the Navy’s Personnel Exchange Program 19 years ago, Borland’s military career has been closely interwoven with America and its history. As part of the exchange program, a U.S. Navy officer is sent to work with the Royal navy in the United Kingdom while an officer from the Royal navy is sent to work with the U.S. Navy. Borland also served with U.S. forces during a tour in Iraq.
Between 1993 and 1996 Borland was based in Dahlgren, Va.
Soon after he arrived in Virginia, Borland discovered the local scout troop at Dahlgren Naval Base was in need of a troop leader. Since he had been a Boy Scout in his youth, Borland volunteered for the job. It was during this time he met Andrew Ericson, who was seven or eight years old at the time.
He paused, his lips curving into a smile, as he recalled one of his favorite memories of Ericson as a boy.
Growing up, the Ericson family had a black labrador who wouldn’t stop barking. In order to prevent the dog from annoying their neighbors they purchased an anti-bark collar. Naturally, the young Boy Scout was curious as to how well the shock collar worked.
“Andy decided to try it out,” said Borland. “He put the collar on and shouted.”
Marines are known for their dauntless courage and willingness to try anything no matter how reckless it may seem to others. It was at that exact moment Borland knew Ericson was meant to be a Marine.
“I heard him screaming, which of course made the collar go off even more and he ended up with burns on his neck,” Borland explained, laughing. “If that doesn’t make a U.S. Marine, I don’t know what is.”
Borland lost touch with Ericson when he returned to England. Then, on Jan. 8, 2012, Borland received an e-mail from an unknown address. It was Ericson.
It was the military e-mail database that offered the connection the two long-lost friends needed to reunite.
“He spotted my name and I spotted his name,” said Borland. “So, he sent me an email saying, I think I’m your next-door neighbor. I swapped an e-mail with him and the 8-year-old scout, American scout, is now a 2nd Lieutenant [in the] Marine [Corps].”
Ericson, a Power Plants officer with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 in Yuma, Ariz., is now a U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant. He said his experiences as a Boy Scout gave him the groundwork for enjoying time outdoors and being accountable for his actions.
“Scouting gives you a sense of responsibility,” said Ericson. “You go through different leadership roles while you’re in, which in turn could help you prepare for some of the military stuff.”
Ericson said he was excited when he received an answering e-mail from Borland.
“I knew my parents had kept in touch with him a little bit, but I hadn’t talked to him in years,” he said.
As he reminisced about the past, Borland said he learned a lot from his experiences as a troop leader during his time in Virginia.
One of the trips Borland vividly remembers from his time as a troop leader in the U.S. was when he took his scouts to Mount Vernon. They had decided to honor George Washington’s birthday by taking a wreath to his Tomb. Borland called ahead and managed to do even better. He initially thought they would just have to leave their wreath at the gate, but a lady came with a guard and opened the gate.
The troops filed inside and formed a big circle. After a moment of solemn silence they took the wreath and laid it atop Washington’s tomb. The lady who had let them in then suggested they lead off with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Borland paused a moment before admitting he didn’t know the words.
“I told her that was going to be a bit difficult for me because I really don’t know the national anthem,” he explained. “She said, what do you mean? I replied, I’m British.”
As Borland prepares to leave Afghanistan this upcoming month after a yearlong deployment, he said he has enjoyed the opportunity to once again work with Americans because he feels everyone gains something valuable from the experience.
“Brits look at things slightly differently from Americans and I think the Americans like the British look on things,” he explained. “It broadens out the analysis.”