Mike Walton (blackeagle)

Eagle, Smegal: Give me a First Class Scout!
By: Posted On: 2020-08-31

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(In the American Boy Scouting program, First Class is the rank after Boy Scout, Tenderfoot and Second Class; but before Star, Life and Eagle. The BSA estimates that more than a half-million boys earn First Class each year; unfortunately, we lose a significant number of those Scouts soon afterward mainly because their units do not recognize that important "fully trained Scout" in a lot of cases.

A friend of mine explained it this way: "When the First Class rank is attained, a scout has learned all the basic camping and outdoor skills of a scout. He can fend for himself in the wild, lead others on a hike or campout, set up a campsite, plan and properly prepare meals, and provide first aid for most situations he may encounter. A First Class scout is prepared."

As many of you are aware, I do a lot of traveling, mainly on my "own dime and time" to support Scouting around the nation and overseas.  On a recent return road trip, I encountered a fellow Scout while walking into a national fast-food outlet.

(okay, I had to use their restroom, clean up, and then get something to eat.  It was a Wendy's if you really want to know...*smiling*)

Other than my red and green Scouting ball cap (which I modified by replacing the gold and red Scouting Fleur-de-lis with an earlier version of the BSA's hat emblem which I liberated...er...took off from one of those many "flat hats" I had lying around the home a decade or so back), there were no other "indications" that I was anything but a hungry and little tired old aged guy walking in to get some food.

I held the door open for him and walked in after him. Together we took our places among the other people requesting something from the menu board above the workers at the store.

"Were you in Scouts?" he asked, pointing to my hat.

"Still am. How about you?" I answered. There were four people ahead of him, and I was behind him in the serpentine line.

"Well, um. I used to be in Scouts. I didn't get very far, though and I dropped out of it. Lots of things going on in town back then, so Scouts wasn't as important as I thought it was..." he responded, moving forward in the line.

He waited until another person made their order request and provided the money to pay for it, then turned back to me and asked, "How about you...I bet you you're one of those who went all the way...Eagle right?"

I nodded my head as I answered, "Eagle with Silver and Gold Palms.  One merit badge shy of getting the second Silver Palm."  We both moved forward and waited for the person in front of the two of us to place their order.

Some people are very slow decision-makers.

The man in front of me turned to me and extended his hand and introduced himself to me: "Dennis."

"Mike." I accepted and shook his hand. I then asked, "How far did you get?"

That's where the discussion turned into another direction.

"First Class...I'm not happy about it, I was a failure at Scouts."

He then took his place and placed his order with the young lady and accepted his card for the ordered items.

Dennis shuffled to his left as I moved forward and ordered my chili with cheese, add onions, my cup of coffee, and my loaded baked potato with extra sour cream. 

He motioned for me to follow him, and I did.

"Failure you're not, I bet," I started while placing my tray and its contents on the tabletop.  "I bet you learned and remembered a whole lot from Scouting." I then sat down and while he ate, I fed him information about the rank he was ashamed to say out loud about earlier.

"Did you know that even after Eagle was introduced, the BSA pushed the idea of a First Class Scout being the "it" thing to earn?" I stated. "Eagle  -- and Life and Star were afterthoughts -- an overachiever thing.  The BSA thought so much of First Class that they based everything else on it."

"Like what?" Dennis asked. 

"Like for one thing, the designs of the ranks after First Class. Star and Life both have a First Class badge in the center. Eagle took parts of the First Class badge -- the scroll from Second Class and the eagle and red, white and blue ribbon from the shield -- that's how they did it..."

I took a bite of the over creamed baked potato.

"And the position patches...they had a first-class emblem over them because to hold those positions -- like Senior Patrol Leader -- you are supposed to be a First Class Scout."

I then shut up long enough to blow and then swallow down several spoonsful of the chili and two drinks from my coffee.

"I'm guessing...you're in your 40s, right?" I asked.


"55", I said, pointing to myself with my spoon. "Remember that to do anything cool...like get to go to Philmont or the Jamboree; or to earn a religious medal or the Hornaday medal, you had to be a First Class Scout? Doesn't sound like a "loser award" to me, Dennis..."  I let that sink in while I continued to eat.

"So why didn't my Scoutmaster or someone else tell me how important getting to First Class was?  All I got was the patch and a little card..."

"You should have gotten a wall certificate.  I'll find you one and send it to you...send me an email with your mailing address, and I'll find one and send it to you." I reached into my wallet and pulled out a business card. Making sure it's got the right address at work -- we have recently moved from one side to the other side of the building -- I then slid it across the table to Dennis.

"So First Class is something to be proud of, is what you're saying..."

"Not me...the BSA says it. Everyone wants to get to Eagle. When I was a Scoutmaster, I told my Scouts, "I want a Troop of First Class Scouts. You can go after Eagle...I'll help you get there...but you've got to earn First Class in THIS Troop first. That's on you." It sounds like while you didn't make it to Star, you had a great time getting to and being a First Class Boy Scout!"

We sat there for another 30 minutes or so, swapping Scouting stories about camps and families, children and bug bites, and our Scoutmasters.  It was clear that he had a great Scouting experience even though he didn't get the "highest thing."  I got back on the road, heading back toward Kentucky and Tennessee after having a great break for lunch and meeting another fellow Scout.




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