From Conway, Arkansas to MMA — Scouts become Cadets and Achieve Eagle Scout Rank with Honor, Service and Grit

For five young men from Conway, Arkansas, their high school education has amplified the values they began learning through Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in ways that most Scouts don’t experience. Missouri Military Academy’s (MMA) Boy Scout Troop 1889 includes five cadets who hail from Conway’s Troop 534 — Cadets Michael Henderson ‘22, Phasakorn Cunningham ‘21, Narathorn Cunningham ‘24, Ethan Zinser ‘22 and Noah Cecil ‘22.

For these cadets, the respective MMA and BSA missions* combine to create a powerful synergy of positive development.

According to Scout Master Rick Dehlinger – who also serves MMA cadets as deputy commandant of activities and support – the MMA experience and environment strengthens Troop 1889 by reinforcing the Academy’s and Boy Scouts’ complementing values; providing structure, consistency and opportunities to advance as a Scout; and enhancing the troop’s brotherhood.

“The scouting program at MMA complements the values we teach and expect at MMA,” said Dehlinger. “Everything a cadet learns – our core values, uniform standards, the JROTC mission and more – all focus on young men growing up to be better citizens.”

Common Focus: Prepare for Success

This year, two of the Arkansas-natives graduated from Boy Scout to Eagle Scout – Cadets Michael Henderson, son of Michael and Donna Henderson, and Phasakorn Cunningham, son of Francis “Wally” Cunningham and Kanitta Sangchawee.

According to Cadet Henderson, who joined MMA in August 2020, MMA and Scouts both strive to better their participants in all aspects of life. For him, the Scout motto — “Be prepared!” – mirrors how MMA focuses on helping cadets prepare academically, mentally and physically.

“Boy Scouts and MMA put us into an uncomfortable environment to overcome the challenges that we are faced with,” Cadet Henderson said. “This helps improve self-confidence and makes [us] more outgoing. And this is all accomplished while being in a safe, controlled environment.”

But being a Scout isn’t all work, no play. According to Cadets Henderson and Cunningham, these challenging activities are what make being a Scout so much fun.

“It’s hard work becoming an Eagle Scout, but the road there is fun,” Cadet Cunningham, who joined MMA as a high school freshman, said. “I enjoy camping and the social aspects, like talking with friends around a campfire.”

Conway Cadets’ Eagle Scout Service Projects

To become an Eagle Scout, Scouts must earn a total of 21 merit badges (which include required badges in first aid, communication, personal fitness, sustainability, camping and more); serve the troop in a leadership role; and complete an Eagle Scout Service Project. Read full Eagle Scout requirements here.

Cadet Henderson’s Service Project

For his service project, Cadet Henderson led a construction project for Soul Food Café Mission in Conway. With the help of Troop 1889, Cadet Henderson built a cement loading area that Soul Food Café Mission uses to help provide food boxes to homeless individuals. He also transformed their recreational area by leveling the ground, installing footings and planting sod. The new recreational area is now used for staff and the homeless they serve to enjoy their donated meals.

“An Eagle Scout project is a true test of a Scout’s leadership, organization, and teamwork skills,” Henderson said. “Each project is unique and means something to every participant.”

Cadet Cunningham’s Service Project

For his service project, Cadet Cunningham built and installed 10 wood duck boxes for Arkansas Game and Fish Department in Belle Slough wildlife management in Mayflower, Arkansas. Wood duck boxes are man-made nesting alternatives for hens to nest in relative safety from predators – they are used to help increase local populations of ducks in areas where natural cavities are limited.

“It was difficult, but the preparations made it fun to complete,” Cadet Cunningham said. “The people that helped me were close friends, so it was enjoyable.”

Family Support Strengthens Scouts at MMA

According to Dehlinger, Troop 1889 gains a lot of its strengths from the invested support of families in Arkansas.

“The families in Arkansas are fully invested in assisting their Scouts and staying on top of their tasks, always offering support where they can,” Dehlinger said. “This is great because Scouts sometimes need a push from home to stay focused on the finish line.”

Wally Cunningham, father of Cadet Cunningham, said he believes the combination of an MMA education and Scouts are helping his boys gain the discipline and life-skills to succeed in life. 

“MMA and Scouts both offer structure, guidance and teaching, while celebrating success and correcting deficiencies. In Scouts, it’s not about win or lose – it’s about becoming better. At MMA, it’s not about being the best, it’s about being the best you can be,” Cunningham said. “It's very fulfilling, and I'm very proud that both my sons will be Eagle Scouts and MMA graduates.”

Cadet Henderson’s mother, Donna Henderson, agreed, saying the combination of Scouts and MMA has made Cadet Henderson the honorable, motivated young man he is today.

"[Through Scouting, Michael] has learned to be an empathic leader and to value the characteristics of integrity. MMA has taught Michael that he is responsible for his own success and he is embracing the opportunities available to make it happen," she said. "The Scout Oath and Law mirror the MMA core values. These values are why we encouraged Michael to participate in Scouting and one of the main reasons we choose MMA. We want our son in an environment that fosters the values our family holds as building blocks for people of integrity."

Advice to Upcoming Eagle Scouts

Currently, the boys in Troop 1889 are working on earning their merit badges. As a group, they have been planning their next camping trip – a task they repeat monthly and are solely responsible for planning. Cadet Scouts have divided up tasks for their camping trip, such as meal planning and gear loadout, and will enjoy a camping and hiking expedition on in the backwoods of MMA’s 288-acre campus.

“The boys from Arkansas stand out because the combined strength of their brotherhood motivates them to hold one another accountable within the troop. They push each other to be better Scouts, students and individuals,” said Dehlinger.

According to Cadets Henderson and Cunningham, the most important part of being a Scout is persevering and enjoying the experience.

“Enjoy the process and learn from the mistakes you make along the way,” Cadet Henderson said. “Be thrifty with your time and complete your responsibilities but take advantage of your time in Scouts and enjoy all it has to offer. It will surely reward you for your hard work.”

“Embrace change and [Scout] culture, enjoy the process of hard work and reap the rewards,” Cadet Cunningham said. “Keep working hard – [being an Eagle Scout] is closer than you think.”

*The BSA mission is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law, which includes values of loyalty, kindness, bravery and more. See Scout Oath and Law here. MMA’s mission is to empower young men to unlock their full potential through a program of academic excellence, competitive athletics, character and social development, and leadership training within a structured environment, emphasizing values of duty, honor and selfless service. See MMA's values here.

Missouri Military Academy is an all-male, college preparatory military boarding school with a diverse domestic and international student population. The Academy’s rigorous program empowers young men to reach their potential as future college graduates, citizens of character, and leaders in their communities. MMA’s 360˚ Education fosters academic excellence, a healthy lifestyle and physical development, leadership and life skills, positive character development, and personal motivation. To learn more or to enroll your child at MMA, please contact 573.581.1776 ext. 323 or email

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