Uniforming - Who Makes The Rules - BDUs
Michael F. Bowman (mfbowman@CAPACCESS.ORG)
Sat, 15 Jul 1995 03:01:39 -0400
This is another of those long posts - much to say about uniforming
starting with rule-making, moving on to encouraging uniforming and
finishing with a word on military uniform parts.
Uniforming is a method of Scouting - a tool that can be used to promote
the aims of the program, but one that can also be abused. It is for this
reason that BSA from the beginning acted to protect its insignia and to
set the standards for what uniforming is authorized. BSA authorizes
uniforms and insignia, encourages their use to further the program, and
is taking a hard look at how to promote more use of the uniform as Mike
Walton has indicated.
At the unit level, the unit committee is charged with setting the unit's
policies and rules, not the Cubmaster or Scoutmaster. It is up to the
Committee to determine whether the unit has an "all uniforms" rule. You
should note that the Scoutmaster's Handbook and the Troop Committee
Guidebook both explain that uniforming is one of the eight methods of Boy
Scouting without setting any minimum standard for uniforming. The
Scoutmaster's Handbook does offer Scoutmasters the advice that the best
way to promote uniforming is to set the example and wear his/her own
Why is this? Why isn't there a National rule requiring uniform wear?
I won't pretend to know all the considerations that have gone into the
careful wording in these publications, but I can suggest that at least
part of the reason is that uniforming is just what it is advertise to be
- a method of Scouting, not a prerequisite or objective in and of
We certainly want to encourage proper and complete uniforming because it
can and does help further the aims of Scouting - Character Development,
Citizenship Training, and Personal Fitness. It also works as a great to
recognize accomplishments through the display of badges.
Committees grapling with this issue should be careful to see uniforming
in perspective and be careful that by rule-making they are not creating a
situation that would push Scouts out that don't have all of the uniform
parts due to finances. It would be much better to start out by creating
a uniform bank and a policy on fundraising that allowed a certain amount
to be put into a Scout's account for uniform/equipment purchases, before
making the rule. Although I see nothing wrong with a committee rule that
requires uniforming, I would also encourage the committee to continually
self-evaluate whether the rule is necessary and whether it contributes to
the purposes of Scouting. You will find some rules work and some, though
initiated with good intent serve to limit or harm the unit's ability to
provide the best program.
Now if the committee hasn't acted, can the Scoutmaster establish a rule
for the Troop that uniforms are required? The Scoutmaster can try to
establish a rule, but that really is the job of the Troop Committee.
His/her job is to execute the program and to use the methods of Scouting
to achieve the aims of Scouting. He/she is much better off in this
situation to motivate, persuade and encourage uniforming.
Recognition of good uniforming examples by words of encouragement works
Some SMs have worked up leadership contracts with each newly elected SPL,
ASPL, QM, Scribe, etc. that include wearing correct uniforms and
encouraging uniforming in the Troop.
Some SMs have found that the PLC is good at finding ways of encouraging
uniforming as well (note the PLC does not make the rule, it encourages).
Some Troops use recognition beads for attending events, uniforming,
advancement, etc. This also helps.
What kind of uniforming are we promoting? The best possible uniforming
and as complete as possible.
What about military uniforms such as BDUs?
BSA's Insignia Guide states that "Imitation of United States Army, Navy
or Marine Corps uniforms is prohibited, in accordance with the provisions
of the Organization's Congressional Charter." (This was before the Air
Force was created). It seems that the wearing of military uniform parts
in imitation of military uniforms is not allowed from this rule. No
doubt a few will argue and belabor the point, so here are a few things to
* BSA is not a para-military organization and wearing military uniform
parts certainly can give the impression to the community of a connection
that is not there.
* Many of our prospective Scouts belong to families that have left
countries where a military style uniform is a symbol of oppression and
the cause of fear. Our District was fortunate to have a presentation by
Luis Gallegos, BSA's National Director for Hispanic Scouting Emphasis, on
how to reach Hispanic youth. One of the barriers that he discussed was
the fear of uniforms because of oppression in their country of origin by
the military and/or police. He also discussed the need to help
parents of these youth understand that Scouts are not part of the military,
police, etc. By wearing uniform parts from the military your unit runs the
risk of telling these prospective members or their families that Scouting is
not for them. And these are youth that could really benefit from the
program. Do we want them instead finding a home in a street gang for
want of a better choice?
* What would you think of a soccer team all wearing little league
striped pants, etc with football jerseys, bowling shoes, and top hats?
Somehow I think they'd be laughed off the field and that few coaches
would allow them on the field anyway. Face it the uniform there or here
is about belonging, not about setting oneself apart. From an outsider's
perspective does wearing military pants look any different?
* Many of you are aware that early Scout uniforms started out looking
a lot like military uniforms and that BP's book, Scouting for Boys, was
an adaptation of his earlier book, Scouting (for soldiers). Likewise the
Cub Scout uniform is still reminiscent of a blue cavalry uniform complete
with yellow scarf (neckerchief). Boys through the years have enjoyed
imagining themselves to be like military heros on TV or in the movies, as
with the pirates that we discussed earlier. And no doubt uniforming has
stimulated some imagination in this direction as with the case of pirate,
knight, and other theme costumes. So why the fuss with military pants,
jackets, etc.? I think it comes down to helping the Scouts remember that
they are in Scouting and not a para-military organization, not letting
imagination run wild by encouragement, and limiting the use of uniforming
to its purpose as a method to achieve Scouting aims.
* This leads to the question of what Scouting aims are served by wearing
military uniform parts. By wearing different uniform parts the Scouts in
such a unit are setting themselves apart as different, instead of
learning how much they are a part of a larger association of Scouts.
Seems counterproductive to me.
In any case BSA is pretty clear that military uniform parts are not to be
worn. Encourage proper and complete uniforming by taking the first step
- setting the example. Nudge others along. Persuade. Motivate.
Speaking only for myself in the Scouting Spirit, Michael F. Bowman
DDC-Training, GW Dist. Nat Capital Area Council mfbowman@CAPACCESS.ORG
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City