Delay in Obama Administration Recognition of Eagles Scouts Rankles Many

U.S. presidential recognition has been a traditional part of the inspiration for many Boy Scouts striving to attain Scouting’s coveted Eagle rank.  The rigors of becoming an Eagle are such that only 4 to 5 percent of all Boy Scouts per year (52,000) attain the rank, a Boy Scouts of America spokesman said.  Universities, employers — including the U.S. military, church and civic leaders — and many others recognize the value an Eagle Scout delivers to them and to society.  Delayed recognition of Eagles by the Obama Administration, however, has many Scouts and Scoutmasters believing that it does not support Scouting.

Scouts and Scoutmasters say they have not seen Eagle certificates or recognition letters signed by the President, leading many to believe that the Obama Administration does not support Scouting.

“No Eagle recognition letters have been received this year from the President,” said Richard Meyers, assistant Scoutmaster for troop 162 in Arlington County, Virginia, who attained his Eagle rank in 1957 during the Eisenhower presidency.  HIs certificate was signed by President Eisenhower.

Meyers made the observation at a Chain Bridge District 2010 Life-to-Eagle Seminar held Jan. 30 during a snowstorm at the Charles Wesley United Methodist Church in McLean, VA.  The seminar is held to help Scouts who have attained Scouting’s Life rank prepare for their last hurdles to Eagle.  He made the statement to help manage the expectations of prospective Eagles who might delay their Courts of Honor pending the receipt of recognition letters from public officials.  Recognition typically comes when an Eagle Scout invites the President and other public officials to his Court of Honor, the ceremony during which the rank is conferred. 

In many cases, public bodies and officials ranging from local town councils to U.S. senators send their congratulations without any solicitation on the part of the Scout. The Alexandria, Virginia, City Council issues proclamations to recognize Eagle Scouts, an assistant scoutmaster for Troop 131 said. 

Scouting ideals, in addition to preparedness, are embodied in the Scout Law, which Scouts repeated at every meeting:  “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty brave, clean and reverent.” 

André Towner, Scoutmaster for Troop 505 in Arlington County, said his troop manned first aid stations, helped direct traffic, and passed out fliers and flags at President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.  Towner said his Scouts were especially excited about the possibility of recognition from the President Obama.  Unfortunately, it came late for one Eagle and never for the other.  Nor does the President’s signature appear on the Scouts’ Eagle rank certificates.

Troop 104, Arlington, the County’s oldest Scout troop, and one of the few Troops in the country to be continuously chartered for 94 years or more, is in a similar situation.   “Eight of our scouts achieved Eagle rank during the last year, but the first scout who sent an invitation through the White House Web site on April 11 did not received a response,” said Scoutmaster Robin Stefan.  (The Boy Scouts of America, incorporated on Feb. 8, 1910, celebrates its Centennial this year.)  A second Troop 104 Scout tried unsuccessfully to use the Web to contact the White House, Stefan explained.  

 “The President and First Lady are supportive of Scouting and are proud to serve as the honorary chair of the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America, respectively,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest wrote in a February 9 e-mail.

“The President has mailed more than 13,000 letters to Boy Scouts in the last year congratulating them on attaining the rank of Eagle Scout,” Earnest said, adding that the President’s signature has been appearing on Eagle Scout certificates since late last year.

“President Obama’s signature does appear on the Eagle certificates, Michele Bisceglie, director of communications and information for the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).  He is the honorary president of the organization, she said.  John Gottschalk, chairman of the Omaha World-Herald Company, is the current BSA president, a voluntary, two-year position.

 “The BSA works with the current administration to facilitate the [certificate] signing process and with each new President there is typically a delay,” BSA National Spokesperson Deron Smith said in a February 5 email statement made in response to a telephone query to BSA Marketing and Communications Director Stephen L. Medlicott in Irving, Texas.  Smith is a vice president with the Edelman Southwest public relations firm.

Those signed certificates, however, have not been getting to all Eagle Scouts.

 Five Scouts of Troop 116 associated with the First Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming, have recently achieved Eagle rank, according to the Frontier District office in Cheyenne. However, Scoutmaster Kevin Yarbrough while reviewing certificates for the new Eagles during a February 8 telephone interview said that none of the certificates bore a signature or stamp from the President.  Yarbrough said his own Eagle certificate, obtained in 1985, bears the signature of President Ronald Reagan.

 Scott Arrington, representing the Circle 10 Council in Dallas, TX, said that President Obama’s signature began appearing on Eagle certificates there seven to 10 days ago.

 Towner said BSA officials have told him that his Eagle Scouts could attain certificates with the president’s signature, but they would be required to pay for replacement certificates and postage.

Earnest did respond to a question about when the administration began sending recognition letters, but offered to look into specific instances of Scouts who have contacted the White House, but who have not received the letters.

“Any letter sent to local or national leaders is handled by individual Scouts and leaders,” BSA spokesman Smith said.  “We are unaware of any such letters not being issued or when the practice began, as sending a letter would really be at the discretion of the letter’s recipient.  However, I can say that Scouting has long enjoyed the support of local and national leaders.”