“To do my duty…to my country”

by | Dec 10, 2020

As I am writing this piece, it is exactly 1 year since the organization of Vanguard International Scouting Association. So, to each of you who have become part of this great organization providing support and opportunity to Latter-day Saint Scouts, adult leaders and Scouting families across the world – Happy Birthday!

As we begin our second year, some have asked why the CEO of Vanguard is identified as the “International Commissioner.” There is one reason: The primary purpose of Vanguard is to serve, to lift and to help its members reach their potential – which parallels that of a commissioner. The role of a commissioner in the Boy Scouts of America has traditionally been to help leaders be successful and serve more youth by (1) supporting unit growth and retention, (2) linking Scouts and individual units to BSA resources, (3) providing help and ministering support to unit leaders to help them be successful and (4) helping to achieve on-time re-chartering. In a similar manner, it is the goal of Vanguard International Scouting Association to help Latter-day Saints in Scouting worldwide to grow, be successful in their experience and help make the world a better place – as then-President Uchtdorf said, “To lift where you stand!” We have had a wonderful first 12 months of life as Vanguard, and look to providing our members across the world with resources, helps, inspiration and support to assist them in having an elevated Scouting experience and, as BP challenged us, “…to make the world a better place” wherever we go. Thanks to each of you for helping to make this possible and to strengthen the Rising Generation worldwide.

During these past months, we have seen this great country – our “ship of state” – go through periods of significant civil unrest, economic instability and political distress as we have experienced the most contentious political contests in our memory – nationally and locally. As I have watched the debates (both nationally and locally), read the papers and otherwise making sure I was informed on the issues, I couldn’t help thinking about the youth of the Rising Generation – and our responsibility to ensure that they are prepared to do what many of the current generation seem totally unable to do – lead in a way that strengthens and preserves the freedoms upon which this nation was built. It is time that we, as leaders, took a stand and did our part to help our youth arise “…and be men” (and women) upon whom this country can rely to preserve our freedoms in a courageous and yet civil way. May I suggest a couple of things our youth must understand and be able to do if they are to be prepared:

  1. Understand the issues. Prepare their minds well during their high school and college years to understand political and economic issues that face the country. Help them “do hard things” as they work on their Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation and Citizenship in the World merit badges. This is particularly important when we realize that a Scout meeting may be the only time during the week that a youth has a “patriotic moment,” and that many of our Scouts are actually first-generation Americans – and so glad to be here. After they have visited a city council meeting or a session of district court, conduct a “reflection” to give them an opportunity to process what they have witnessed and how they would have reacted if they were a member of the city council – or the judge. There is a significant reason why each of these is a required merit badge for Eagle. It is significant that these three citizenship merit badges comprise nearly one quarter of all merit badges required for Eagle. If the youth of today are to be ready to take their places in the local, national and world communities of tomorrow, they must begin today. In Alma 34:32, we are reminded of the importance of preparing now. And in Doctrine and Covenants 38:30, we are instructed that if we are prepared, “…ye shall not fear.” Therefore, to support the prophetic promises of better days ahead, we each (and especially our youth) must be prepared to do our part to improve the communities in which we live, work and serve. Peace comes from understanding – both the issues and the peoples of the world.
  2. Learn the Importance of Discussing and Resolving Issues Civilly. In a recent newspaper article an editorial stated, “I have long subscribed to the idea that America is actually at its best when it is a country of big ideas, competing visions and rigorous debate.” But the author was quick to add: “It is important to remember that the goal of public discourse and political debate has never been to disagree less. The goal is to disagree better.” I have also thought about the fact that one of the most common causes of marital discord, unhappiness and divorce is the inability of husband and wife (and children) to civilly resolve concerns and solve problems. Many are being propelled into adulthood totally unprepared with these vital communication skills. And, yet, if we will take these wonderful teaching moments we have with our youth seriously, we can better prepare the rising generation to be successful parents; successful marriage partners; successful in business, in the Church and in the Community; and to move in a more focused way to reach their potential. As they work on service projects, and on their Family Life, Communication and other merit badges, we have many, many opportunities to support the efforts of parents and their Church leaders to prepare them for the future. In prior Commissioner’s Corner articles, I have referred to a friend who sang, as he spoke to groups of youth leaders, “How will they know unless we teach them so?” As the leaders or the youth of the rising generation, we have the responsibility to model civil language and behavior; to teach them the importance of building relationships and maintaining those relationships while discussing important (and often thorny) issues. A former Boy Scout, former Arizona Senator and Presidential Nominee John McCain set the pattern for us. In 2008 at a town hall meeting in Minnesota during the presidential campaign he was confronted by a woman who asked him a question: “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, he’s not – he’s an Arab!” Senator McCain took the microphone back from the woman and, while shaking his head, responded, “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not (an Arab).” At his (Senator McCain’s) funeral, former President Obama paid this tribute to him, after expressing gratitude for “John pushing back against supporters that challenged my patriotism during the 2008 campaign”: “I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race or religion or gender.” Our youth must understand that we can disagree, without being disagreeable. George Washington put it this way, “Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign or respect to those that are present.” In a word, “A Scout is…friendly, courteous, kind…”
  3. Develop the Courage to Act. Novelist Peter Gadol stated: Here we are at the end of the century, (it was then 1998), drifting through a heroless age. We have no leaders we can trust, no visions to invest in, no faith to ride. All we have are our own protean moralities, our countless private codes, which we each shape and reshape according to our own selfish needs. We don’t dare to think too far ahead, we can’t see too far ahead. He we are, trapped by whatever season we find ourselves enduring waiting out the weather, staring at the drought sun, stupefied, helpless – or scrambling like fools to make it home before the rain really comes down and the dry river floods and the hills crash into the valley. Where do we find the courage to do what is right?” (Emphasis added!) My answer to that is “Within each of us.” Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Seventy once said, “Take the time to meditate and when the answer comes, have the courage to execute it!” There are actually four parts to that statement: (1) the importance of meditating, praying and waiting on the Lord, (2) the importance of seeking, knocking and asking – expecting Heaven to hear, (3) the ability to hear or feel and recognize the answer when it comes, and (4) the courage to promptly move ahead to do what the Lord expects when the answer comes. I have watched young Scouts develop and test their personal courage as they teeter on the edge of a cliff just before their first experience in rappelling down a sheer cliff face. It is that same fear – overcome in a Scouting activity – that will help a young man or young women believe in themselves and step out courageously in defense of their country, another human being or an important principle. Scouting, as the best laboratory I know for testing and practicing vital character traits, can give them those opportunities to develop courage and feelings of self-confidence so vital as they prepare for tomorrow.

Practical Patriotic Activities

To help your Scouts develop deep feelings of patriotism, you might consider including some of the following in your program:

  1. “Fly the Flag” Activity – Learn to respect, properly display the American Flag, and properly fold and care for the Flag. Have the older Scouts teach the younger Scouts how to fold the flag, how to conduct a flag ceremony, etc.
  2. Veteran’s Night – Invite men and women in your community to a Scout meeting. Have them tell about their experiences and their feelings for their country. Have your Scouts make homemade awards for each of the veterans.
  3. Political Debate — Have a mock political debate, with your Scouts either taking one side or the other of an important issue in your community; or have one of your Scouts be a candidate for office and another his/her opponent. Have them debate several key issues, using appropriate debate principles and courtesies. Hold a reflection with your troop or pack to see what went well and what could be changed
  4. Patriot’s Night – Learn about our founding fathers. Perhaps highlight comments or events in history through a “Reader’s Theater”; or have one dressed as Patrick Henry give a part of his speech “The War Inevitable 1775.” (“Give me Liberty…or give me death.”)
  5. Meet the Mayor Night – Invite your local mayor to join you (and perhaps several other troops or packs) to honor the mayor and have him/her tell about some of the exciting (and challenging) responsibilities of the job – and how best to prepare for public life and public service.
  6. And there are a million more. Send your suggestions to commissioner@vanguardscouting.org and we’ll add them to this article.

As a final thought, another way of preparing our Scouts for the future and helping them learn their duty to country is to acquaint them with the Congressional Award, the highest recognition Congress bestows on young people. To qualify, a young person must meet certain goals in four key areas: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration. Several years ago, while serving as National Commissioner, I had lunch with Senator Mike Enzi of Colorado, who is an Eagle Scout, an avid fly fisherman and a great supporter in the U.S. Senate for Scouting. As we spoke about the Congressional Award, I was impressed with the additional opportunities available for Scouts – just by being Scouts and doing those things Scouts do on a regular basis.

For more information on the Congressional Award, see Bryan on Scouting, July 1, 2020 at https://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/2020/07/01/the-congressional-award-an-impressive-honor-scouts-can-earn-just-by-being-scouts/.

Next Commissioner’s Corner: The Importance of Selecting Personal Heroes and Becoming Someone’s Hero – Helping Our Youth Build a Hall of Heroes.


See 2 Nephi 1:21.
Matheson, Boyd, Here’s how America should disagree better, not less, Deseret News (October 25, 2020) at G1.
From an article in the Deseret news: Stathis, Steven, “What John McCain taught about civility is especially relevant now, Deseret News (October 25, 2020) at G4.
GAdol, Peter, The Long Rain (New York: St. Martin’s Press, Picador, 1998), as quoted in Forni, P.M., Choosing Civility (2002) at 3.
See Commissioner’s Corner Article No. 3 on Heroes and becoming someone’s hero.