An Old Scouting Friend Honors New Eagle Scouts



Scouting and Rotary, the international service organization, have a long shared history. In the early days of Scouting, Rotary Clubs helped form many local councils and build many Scout camps. Rotary Clubs continue to sponsor many local packs and troops, and Rotarians regularly serve on council executive boards and district committees.

A few years back, the International Fellowship of Scouting Rotarians created an IFSR Eagle Scout certificate, designed to be presented to new Eagle Scouts at courts of honor or other recognition events by Rotary Clubs or IFSR members. If you or your troop has a Rotary connection, you should check out this special award.

Clubs and districts can order the certificates for $2.50 each (plus $1.50 for postage), but discounts are available for quantities of 10 or more. Complete details are available at

Teaching Ethical Decision Making in Scouting



New Boy Scout leaders are often surprised when they hear the BSA’s mission statement for the first time: “The mission of the Boy Scouts of America 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.”

It’s safe to say that most Scouters spend more time teaching knot tying and Dutch-oven cooking than ethical decision-making. That’s unfortunate. While lots of Scouts will undoubtedly use their Scoutcraft skills as adults, every single one of them will face ethical choices. We need to help them get ready.

A good way to do that is to allow and encourage your Scouts to make frequent decisions—from simple decisions like picking a campout dessert to complex decisions like choosing which trail to take at a backcountry crossroads. Unless health or safety becomes an issue, don’t veto your Scouts’ decisions. Instead, let them learn from their mistakes.

It’s also a good idea to role-play ethical decision making, presenting real-life scenarios and challenging Scouts to make tough choices. Try to avoid obvious right-vs.-wrong situations, where Scouts will know the right answer and tell you what you want to hear. (I call these Sunday-school answers because my church kids give them to me all the time.) Instead, invent right-vs.-right and wrong-vs.-wrong situations, where there’s no easy solution.

A good source for ideas is my regular Ethics column in Scouting magazine. Each installment sets up an ethical dilemma (often related to Scouting) and offers a series of discussion questions you or an older Scout can use. Another good source is the DELTA Handbook. This book is now out of print, but you can access it online at

Like knot-tying and Dutch-oven cooking, decision-making isn’t a skill we’re born with. That’s why we Scouters need to teach it. In fact, you might say that’s our mission.

Playing Politics at Eagle Courts of Honor



Die-hard Republicans may find it distasteful to present a new Eagle Scout with a congratulatory letter from a Democratic president. Yellow-dog Democrats may feel the same way about letters from Republican senators or representatives. As the 2016 election season heats up (just 445 days left until we go to the polls!), these partisan feelings can become even stronger. They may even tempt you to skip certain letters or add editorial comments as you present congratulatory letters during an Eagle court of honor.

A presenter at a court of honor I attended neatly solved this problem and effectively defused any partisan tension. “Brian,” he said, “you should remember that these letters come not just from the individuals who signed them but from the offices they represent. What’s important here is that your senators, your representative, and your president are sending you congratulations—not that people named Mitch and Rand and John and Barack are.”

The new Eagle, of course, probably didn’t need to hear those words; after all, most kids still have respect for people in high places. For the adults in the audience, however, his words were a powerful statement that some things—including Eagle courts of honor—are more important than politics. That’s a message we all need to hear, and not just during interminable election seasons.

PASS, PAW, and Philmont


philmont (national geo)

When I was a Scout, our troop never attended Philmont Scout Ranch (or the BSA’s other high-adventure bases, for that matter). Looking back, I think the reason was that we didn’t have a history of Philmont attendance, which meant we didn’t have any adult leaders who felt confident in putting a crew together. (My dad, who was a troop leader, had been to Philmont in the 1950s, but that was about it.)

Troops today face a similar problem, even though Philmont does a great job of helping with pre-trip planning and even though there are lots of useful resources on the internet, including the popular Philmont Advisor’s Guide.

For next season, Philmont is making planning even easier with a series of programs designed to get you up to speed quickly. Here’s a rundown of what they are and what they offer.

Philmont Advisor Skills School (PSR-PASS): A four-day/three-night base camp and backcountry experience at Philmont for adults ages 18 and up. Topics include everything from land navigation and backcountry sanitation to conducting shakedown hikes and planning travel to and from Philmont. Three sessions will be held this fall. Cost is $76.

Philmont Advisor Skills School (FIELD-PASS): A 10-hour session held at a location near you for adults ages 18 and up. In a city or state park, you will learn backcountry procedures while enjoying a trail lunch and dinner. Seventeen sessions will be held between October and April. Cost is $25.

Philmont Advisor Workshop (PAW): A two-hour evening session held at a location near you for adults ages 18 and up. Topics will include physical conditioning, shakedown hikes, crew leadership positions, and more. Twenty sessions will be held between October and April. There is no cost to attend.

FIELD-PASS AND PAW sessions are open for Scouters who are registered for 2016 or 2017 treks or who are just generally interested in learning about Philmont. (It looks like you’ll learn plenty that you could apply to any backcountry trek.) Due to space limitations, PSR-PASS sessions are limited to first-time adult advisors who are registered for 2016 treks.

Philmont is a true mountaintop experience for any Scout or Scouter. If you’ve ever thought about taking your troop to the ranch, these new sessions should make the experience even better.

For more information and to register, visit

The Gift That Keeps on Giving



We often say at Eagle courts of honor that the Eagle Scout trail is never-ending. But many Eagle Scouts hit a speed bump not long after their courts of honor. In rapid success, they receive their Eagle badges, graduate from high school, and enter college, the military, or the workforce; the next time they seriously engage in Scouting is when their own sons join Cub Scouting.

While you can’t control what your Eagle Scouts do after they leave your troop, you can do one simple thing to help keep them connected to Scouting: On behalf of the troop or the chartered organization, present them with National Eagle Scout Association memberships at their courts of honor.

Membership in NESA is a great way for an Eagle Scout to stay connected with what’s going on in Scouting (including through the quarterly Eagles’ Call magazine, much of which I happen to write). As an Eagle Scout leaves the proverbial nest, his NESA membership continually reminds him of his roots and encourages him to stay involved—or get re-involved—with Scouting.

Best of all, new Eagle Scouts can join NESA for the special rate of $20 if they apply within six months of their boards of review. This membership is good until age 23, making it a bargain compared with the regular five-year rate of $35 (which is itself quite reasonable).

For more information, visit

(Disclaimer: Although I’m writing for Eagles’ Call, I don’t have a financial interest in the number of Eagle Scouts who join the organization.)

Tuning in to WII-FM



A wise wag once told me that the most popular radio station on the planet is WII-FM, which stands for What’s In It For Me? Sure, you can’t find the station on your radio dial or on your favorite streaming app, but you can tune in nonetheless. In fact, you probably tune in every day. Don’t believe me? Count the number of knots on your BSA uniform. 🙂

Part of the genius of the Scouting program is that we answer that question pretty well for kids, enticing them with fun, adventure, badges, etc., so that they’ll hang around long enough that we can teach them character, citizenship, and fitness. After all, nobody ever joined Scouting at 10 years old to get his character developed. As Robert Baden-Powell said, “Had we called it what it was, viz, a ‘Society for the Propagation of Moral Attributes,’ the boy would not exactly have rushed for it. But to call it Scouting and give him the chance of becoming an embryo Scout, was quite another pair of shoes.”

This week, I’ve been working on content for volume 2 of the new Troop Leader Guidebook about working with older Scouts. In thinking about how troop leaders interact with Scouts in high school, I’ve come to realize that we don’t always take the WII-FM question into account. We want our older Scouts to be present and to serve as troop leaders–which is all well and good–but we fail to consider what’s in it for them. We grumble that they want to spend all their time in the corner chatting with their friends, not understanding that hanging out with their buddies may be the thing they’re most looking for. We criticize them when they skip troop outings that feature the same old simplistic pioneering projects and string-burning games, not understanding that they’re yearning for challenge and high adventure. We complain when they come straight to a troop meeting from band practice without putting on their Scout uniforms, not understanding that they’re yearning for affirmation, not condemnation. And then we get mad when they leave Scouting for other pursuits that better fit their needs.

At your next troop meeting, look around at the older Scouts who are present–and think about those who are absent. Is your troop answering the WII-FM question for them?

The comments section is open; I’d love to hear your responses.


On Wings Like Eagles



Many Eagle courts of honor draw inspiration and symbolism from America’s national bird. Several years ago, a friend sent me the following inspiration piece, which would make a great addition to just about any court of honor, but especially one honoring a young man who’s overcome extraordinary challenges in life:

Did you realize that an eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it breaks? The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it.

The eagle does not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds that bring the storm.

When the storms of life come upon us–and all of us will experience them–we can rise above them by setting our minds and our belief toward God. The storms do not have to overcome us. We can allow God’s power to lift us above them.

God enables us to ride the winds of the storm that bring sickness, tragedy, failure, and disappointment in our lives. We can soar above the storm. Remember, it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down, it is how we handle them.

As the Bible says, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Three Ways to Make the Order of the Arrow Work for Your Troop



This week, some 15,000 Scouts and Scouters have descended on Michigan State University for the National Order of the Arrow Conference. NOAC is traditionally the BSA’s second-biggest event (after the national jamboree), and this year’s edition is roughly twice as big as usual because 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Order’s founding. (It would have been even bigger if registration hadn’t been capped due to space constraints at MSU.)

Despite–or perhaps because of–its success, the OA is viewed with suspicion by some troop leaders, who are afraid the OA will “steal” their older Scouts. (They level the same charge at Venturing, which has the additional enticement of being co-ed.) While it’s undoubtedly true that some Scouts’ participation in their home troop wanes as they get more involved in the OA, you shouldn’t think of the local lodge advisor as a mortal enemy. Instead, you should think about how the OA can actually enhance your troop program. Here are three ways:

1. Expect active participation. A Scout can’t be in the Order of the Arrow unless he is registered in a troop or team. To seal his membership and become a Brotherhood member, he must log at least 10 months of active service to his unit. In a recent “Ask the Chairman” column, OA Chairman Ray Capp addressed a situation where an Arrowman was criticized for going to troop meetings instead of OA meetings. Here’s the key part of Capp’s response: “I think this Arrowman made the right choice to participate in his unit, as our founder admonished: the Arrowman’s first duty is to his unit.”

2. Use the OA’s training courses. At NOAC, at section conferences, and at the National Leadership Seminar, the OA offers a wide array of leadership training that supplements what your Scouts learn at Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops and National Youth Leadership Training. After troop members attend such training, sit down with them and talk about what they’ve learned, just as you would after Scouts attend NYLT. While some training topics are specific to the OA, many apply to the troop as well, such as understanding people or building a social media platform. Find ways for them to share what they’ve learned with their peers (and with adult leaders), perhaps by taking a few minutes at a PLC meeting to share a new leadership technique.

3. Leverage the OA’s high-adventure program. The OA offers impressive high-adventure programs at each of the BSA’s high-adventure bases. If you’re a small troop or just can’t muster enough interest in mounting your own trip to Philmont or the Summit, get your older Scouts plugged into OA Trail Crew or the Summit Experience. For very little effort on your part, those Scouts will have a mountaintop experience and will come home fired up about Scouting.

It’s easy to look at the OA and Venturing as competitors–just like the high-school band, the traveling soccer team, and the infamous fumes (perfume and gasoline). But they are actually part of Scouting and can be partners with you in turning ordinary boys into extraordinary men.

A Scouting friend told me recently that the OA and Venturing represent the last two cards in our deck when it comes to older Scouts. I hope you’re playing those cards well.