The Scout Uniform

By: Bill Nelson

"But to call it SCOUTING and give him the chance ... His inherent 'gang' instinct would be met by making him a member of a 'Troop' and a 'Patrol'. Give him a uniform to wear, with Badges to be won and worn on it for proficiency in Scouting-and you got him." -- Lord Baden-Powell, Lessons from the Varsity of Life

Since the beginning of Scouting, we have been a uniformed organization. The uniform reminds us of who we are and what is expected of us. It identifies us as part of a patrol, troop, crew, council and worldwide youth movement. We can take pride in being a Scout, and in the achievements shown on our uniform. The uniform by itself cannot make a good Scout or a good unit, but its use has been proven to improve both the Scout and the unit because it is a visible symbol of Scouting and unity. Each Scout is required to have and wear, within a reasonable amount of time after joining the unit, the proper uniform.

The Uniform as a Symbol to Self

The uniform you wear represents a proud and honorable organization. It symbolizes the honor, tradition, and achievement of those individuals who have come before you and served and who are currently serving their community with pride.

Scouts wore their uniforms during both world wars, and met clandestinely during the communist era in Eastern Europe. Even young Japanese Americans who were impounded in American camps wore their Scout uniforms with pride! When you wear your uniforms, think of those men and women who so bravely wore theirs. Here is a short story of some Scouts in Holland during WWII helping the British liberate their country: "He and his brother Scouts at once offered their services, and the woods, fields, and presently the streets of Nijmegen began to swarm with boys, lads and young men wearing uniforms patched and faded, often much too large or much too small, but all with the Scout neckerchief, clean and neatly ironed, around their necks, and all with the orange band of freedom on their left arms. This youthful army went immediately into action as guides, as messengers, as spies, and the hardy American parachute troops and the no less hardy men of the Guards Armored Division noted with wonder that they all spoke excellent English. They had learned it during the dark winters of the Occupation, while awaiting the dawn of liberation. Now that day had arrived and with it the climax of Jan van Hoof's young life. Now at last he could put into practice the plans he had so often discussed, before they [the Nazis] put a bridle upon his tongue... On the next day Jan van Hoof was detailed to act as guide to a British armored car, which was taking part in the advance towards the bridge. Through the town beneath the shells it rumbled till, on reaching the Nezelstraat, it ran into a German defense post. There it sustained a direct hit and burst into flames. All inside it, Jan van Hoof included, were killed either by that shell or by the machine-gun fire that followed as they sought to quit the burning vehicle..."

His deed was one of many performed by brave Scouts. How they did so, what perils they encountered and overcame, is told in a book called "The Left Handshake." Many Scouts continue to risk their own lives to save others every year. Recently, in the high school shootings in Colorado, Scouts were shot tackling the shooters.

Who are the Scouts that will carry on this modern order of chivalry? Are they in your unit?

In active units the uniform is an outward symbol of all the achievements the unit has done, in the past, in the present and in the future.

The Uniform as Symbol to Others

When you are in uniform, you are representing the Boy Scouts of America, all Scouts, who have shed blood, sweat and tears that have come before you and all Scouts who will come after you. Always look neat and clean, never shabby or sloppy. Scouts are judged by the way that the uniform is worn, so wear it correctly and with a sense of pride. If you do not have a credible appearance and proud stature, you will lose the confidence of the public you serve.

Your uniform shows what you have accomplished. The badges (both youth and adult) are hard to earn and show all who can read them what you have accomplished. Even those who cannot read them know you must have accomplished a great deal to earn so many!

The Uniform as the Great Equalizer

In this age of $100 designer jeans, it is good to remember that Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, points out to us that "The uniform also makes for Brotherhood, since when universally adopted it covers up all differences of class and country." Lessons from the Varsity of Life

How to Get Your Scouts to Wear Their Uniform

Tell them what it means to wear the uniform, and what it represents. Involve the Scouts in setting the unit uniform policy. Once the policy is set for your unit, don't discuss it anymore. Don't ignore the fact that Scouts are not in uniform at an event where they should be in uniform. It is remarkable, how if you require it, and send them home if they are out of uniform, that they will comply and eventually show pride in wearing a symbol of their accomplishments!

Many Scouts tell us that their friends think they are a freaky for wearing the uniform. This comes from ignorance on the friends' part of what Scouting is all about. It also comes from the Scout not being proud of what they do and who they are. We can look at the local football team for an example of how to change this. Boys usually don't care what their friends think if they are on the football team, because they are proud of being on that team. We need to instill in the boys that sense of pride in their unit. The more active the unit is, the more adventures the Scouts go on. Then the more pride they will have in who they are. When their friends ask them why they are wearing the uniform, they can proudly list all the adventures they have been on as Scouts. If your unit doesn't do exciting things, they are hard pressed to come up for reasons to be wearing the uniform.

Japanese Americans in uniform:
The Left Handshake, The Boy Scout Movement during the War, 1939-1945
Lessons from the Varsity of Life