Scouting and the military have been closely tied since Scouting’s inception at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, Lord Robert Baden-Powell himself, the founder of the Scouting movement, was a military man! Inspired by his experiences gained while serving in the Second Boer War, he established the first Scout camp. But more on that later…
In this article, I’ll be sharing with you some of the lesser-known history that ties together Scouting and our military. You’ll even learn about a few famous military figures who were also Scouts. I had a grand time researching this topic, and believe that you’ll find what I discovered to be helpful and intriguing!
PS. This article was written by Eagle Scout, Chandler M, and edited by Cole 🙂
As I’ve already mentioned, Scouting has had a long and storied history with the military from the very beginning. Without the military, Scouting wouldn’t be what it is today, or may not even exist at all! This relationship with the military has kept Scouting relevant for over 100 years. First, let’s dive into the history.
Scouting’s Historical Military Influences
The founder of the Scouting Movement, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, was a prominent figure in the British military during the late 1800s and early 1900s. During his service, he eventually rose to the rank of Liutenant-General.
The earliest roots of Scouting can be traced to his service in the Second Boer War. During the Seige of Mafeking (this name may sound familiar to you), Baden-Powell enlisted the help of a local cadet corps of boys that were around Scouting age.
These boys, ranging in age from 12 to 15, played a crucial role in helping Baden-Powell by acting as literal scouts. They relayed messages, aided wounded soldiers, and watched for enemies while Baden-Powell’s troops continued fighting. The support of these young Scouts was invaluable in successfully defending the town of Mafeking!
This experience left a mark on Baden-Powell who used this story when writing his Scouting for Boys book that became the basis for the Scout movement we see today. To read a full write-up of this inspiring story, check out Mental Floss’s article. They do a great job of explaining the interesting details. 😀
Also, if you’re interested in how the actual Scouting movement began, and you want to learn about the first Scout camp Lord Baden-Powell held on Brownsea Island, check out my full article on Scouting’s history here!
The Scouting Uniform’s Connections to the Military
Early Scout uniforms, both in the US and the UK, were modeled off military uniforms of the time. Some similarities include the tan coloring of the uniforms, brimmed military-style hats, and patches symbolizing rank displayed. Baden-Powell chose a military-style uniform for Scouts as he described it as “comfortable, serviceable, and a good protection against the weather.”
The Scout Salute, color guards, pledge of allegiance, bugling, Scout cheer cadences, and patrol structure were also adapted from military tradition. If you’ve ever been to a Scout summer camp, you may have noticed many of these similarities already!
As Scouting and military uniforms have changed over time, the current Scout uniform does not resemble military dress as closely. However, the other influences have persisted through time and still are huge parts of modern Scouting.
For more information on the history of our Scouting uniform, make sure to check out this full article!
Rank and Structure Similarities Between Scouting and the Military
While Scouting is not as formal as the military, there are still similarities between how Scouting and the military are organized. The most obvious of these crossovers is Scouting’s rank system.
Just like in the military, Scouts must earn their rank and are presented with that rank by a leader. Higher-ranked Scouts carry some superiority over other Scouts, but not to the same degree as in the military.
Scouting is also organized similarly to the military. Scouts are divided into patrols, much like soldiers are organized into squads or platoons, and then into troops similar to companies in the US Army.
Activity Similarities Between Scouting and the Military
This may be one of the more obvious ones but the activities that both Scouts and military members participate in share a lot of similarities. This goes back to Scouting’s origins with Baden-Powell and the boys from the Mafeking Cadet Corps.
From the beginning, Scouts learned how to survive in the wilderness, cook basic rations, start fires, and learn marksmanship just like someone in the military would. Being a BSA Scout is obviously much less intense but the similarities around survival and self-sufficiency are there.
Additionally, backpacking, bugling, camping, and hiking chants are all activities you would have definitely seen in both Scouting and the military 100 years ago, and probably would still see today. Maybe this is why so many Scouts go on to serve in our nation’s armed forces.
Does Being a Boy Scout Help in the Military?
Since its founding, many Scouts have become prominent military figures. This is likely because the Eagle Scout rank holds the same weight as completing JROTC when it comes to joining the US Armed Forces. This means starting out with a higher rank, and a higher pay!
If you were to join any branch of the US Armed Forces and you’ve achieved the rank of Eagle, there’s the potential to be automatically bumped up a rank when joining. In the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, Eagle Scouts are automatically bumped up to E-2 rank, rather than starting at E-1!
If you combine your Eagle rank with JROTC you may even jump to E-3 depending on recruitment quotas. Becoming an Eagle Scout can provide you with a lot of benefits later in life, and the advantages when joining the military are definitely one of the most valuable.
Famous Scouts With Military Connections
Many Scouts, after aging out of the program, go on to achieve success as members of our armed forces. Many of the skills they learned as Scouts, such as leadership, perseverance, and survival later support their careers in the military. Regardless of branch, our US military still holds Scouting in high regard, and vice versa.
There are many Scouts who joined the military and went on to hold important positions in defending our country. Some may have become known for their heroic actions and others may have risen the ranks and become influential in our modern military.
Many of these service members who were Scouts credit Scouting as being a formative experience, and some even go on to become leaders in their local troops. Below, I’ll share with you a few Scouts who became famous for their service. You most likely have heard of a few of them already!
John F. Kennedy
While he didn’t reach the rank of Eagle Scout, JFK did become a Star Scout before leaving the program. After his time in Troop 2, he went on to serve in World War II before later becoming the first U.S. President who was a Scout.
Before his presidency, JFK served several positions in his local district and council before becoming National Honorary President during his term. He continued his support of the program throughout his term.
“I strongly believe in Scouting, I think it is a source of great strength for us… I would recommend it to the sons and daughters of every American family” – John F. Kennedy (February 8, 1962)
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, JFK was an influential figure in the Scouting movement. His efforts have helped shape the modern Scouts BSA program. Without his influence, Scouting may not have grown to the scale it has today.
One of only 12 people who have ever walked the surface of the Moon, Charles Duke was an Eagle Scout class of 1946. Like many other astronauts, Duke also was a member of the US Air Force, serving as a fighter pilot during the height of the Cold War.
Duke had the opportunity to walk on the surface of the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission. This mission was conducted in 1971. Fun fact, Duke nearly missed this opportunity due to being sick with pneumonia but recovered just in time to participate in this historic mission.
Before Duke returned to Earth, he is known for leaving a picture of his family on the surface of the Moon. He also donated a moon rock that he collected to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Arthur Rose Eldred
In addition to being the first ever Eagle Scout in the Scouting program, Arthur Eldred was also a distinguished member of the US Navy. Eldred even earned a Bronze Honor medal for saving the life of another boy while on a trip with his troop!
Not long after his time in Scouts, when the US joined World War I, Eldred enlisted in the Navy serving aboard transport ships in the US and France. He also served in Italy and Greece before returning back to the US at the end of the war.
Because of his influence in Scouting, Eldred has been honored in a number of ways. In Rockville Centre, New York there is an Eagle Scout Park that has been dedicated in his memory. More than 100 years later, his descendants continue to be a part of the Scouting program to this day.
General Charles H. Bonesteel III
This may be a name that only a few history nuts will know. Charles H. Bonesteel III, who earned the rank of Eagle in 1925, was a General in the US Army during the Korean War and also served in Europe during World War II.
During the Korean War, he served as the Commander of U.S. Forces Korea and was instrumental in preserving South Korea from North Korean invaders. He later retired from service in 1969.
One of Charles H. Bonesteel III’s most notable achievements was his proposal to split Korea at the 38th parallel into North and South Korea. Still to this day, North and South Korea are at a permanent ceasefire and split with a DMZ line (demilitarized zone) marking the border between the two.
The 38th President of the US, Gerald Ford, was not only an Eagle Scout — he was also a veteran of the US Navy during World War II! He is, as of now, the only president who has earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
Ford enlisted in the Navy as a direct result of the attack on Pearl Harbor. After completing his initial training, he was deployed to the Pacific where he worked aboard the Monterey. During his time on the ship, they were able to push back enemy positions from islands in the Pacific.
“My early years as a Boy Scout were invaluable in helping to shape the course of my later life. Throughout my public service and extensive travels around our country, I have seen firsthand evidence of the immeasurable worth of the basic values taught by Scouting programs.” – Gerald Ford
Even after his service in the military and public office, Ford and his family continued to support Scouting. At his funeral, there were 400 Eagle Scouts who participated as the color guard. Today, there’s a statue of Gerald Ford dressed in Scout uniform in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Scouting and the military are deeply tied together thanks to the values inspired by Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s experiences during the Second Boer War. From building self-sufficiency skills to teaching leadership, the path to Eagle will always help Scouts to succeed should they pursue a career in military service.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed learning about Scouting’s lesser-known connections to the military, I’d highly recommend also checking out any of the following articles if they spark your interest:
- The Essential Camp Packing List: A Scout’s Trek Gear Checklist
- The Fleur-de-Lis And Its History In Scouting
- 67 Epic Scouting Quotes To Keep Scouts Prepared And Inspired
- Scouting Around The World: Facts, Countries Involved, And History
- A Brief History and Timeline of Scouting
Before you go, I challenge you to share at least one fun fact you learned with one of your fellow Scouts or Scoutmasters. Did you know that the local local cadet corps of Mafeking was the inspiration behind Scouting, or that you could join the military at a higher rank if you earned Eagle? Now you do! That’s all for now, best of luck in your Scouting adventures. 😀