Durham Girl Scout Erika Trapp will never forget her visit to Walter Reed Medical Center.
Trapp, who earlier this year graduated from Hopkins School in New Haven and this month will begin her freshman year at American University in Washington, D.C., visited the military hospital a year ago where she witnessed the impact of war, up close.
"I've met veterans before, but not in that type of situation," she said. "Two of them were 19 years old, so that really hit me. They were so positive."
The then 17-year-old was struck by her visit to the hospital, which included a chance meeting with a soldier who'd lost both of his legs in an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attack in Afghanistan and was confined to a wheelchair.
"I've never met someone so positive in my entire life. He had the most positive outlook on life and he said he was so blessed to be there," she said.
Trapp has kept in touch with the solider and a year later has embarked on her own journey, albeit a much less dangerous or painful one. She's in the process of earning her Gold Award, the Girl Scouts' highest honor.
A member of Durham Troop 62891, Trapp is producing a documentary featuring interviews with veterans directly involved in America's conflicts —from World War II to Vietnam to the Iraq War.
"One of the veterans I interviewed was a fighter pilot and a helicopter pilot and he went on 100 combat missions and so when you start to talk to them they just start to drift into their stories and that's when you really get into it. Just hearing their stories is amazing," said Trapp.
In addition to the project, she plans to share raw footage of her interviews with the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, a collection of "first-hand accounts of men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces, beginning in World War I and continuing through the current conflicts."
Trapp, whose mother served four years in the Air Force, will also be busy this fall reapplying to the United State Military Academy at West Point, where she was deemed qualified for admission but was placed on the National Wait List and did not receive an appointment.
Last year, she received nominations from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and to attend the military academy. Now enrolled at American University, Trapp plans to double major in International Relations and Economics and minor in Arabic.
Asked about the impact of the Girl Scouts, Trapp said, "I think the Girl Scouts is a wonderful program. It can teach you a lot about yourself and about your leadership skills and how to be a better citizen in your community, your town, your state, your country.
"If you're willing to stick with it, it'll be more rewarding than you can ever imagine."