Pacific Boy Scout troops adapt to new rule that bases can't be their sponsors

By GREG TYLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 28, 2004

Some Boy Scouts of America troops in the Pacific are changing their charters after the Pentagon ordered military bases worldwide to not directly sponsor troops.

The Pentagon’s position is part of a settlement announced Nov. 15 to a series of legal challenges over the government’s relationship with the Boy Scouts. The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other civil liberties advocates say the organization should not receive government sponsorship because membership requires an oath of duty to God.

The Pentagon agreed to send a message to facilities warning them not to sponsor Boy Scout troops. The settlement has no impact on the Girl Scouts of the USA.

“Only a few troops” are sponsored by bases in the Far East, and they are changing their charters to reflect private sponsorship, said Guy Eichsteadt, executive director of the Far East Council headquartered at Camp Zama. The Far East Council is the umbrella organization for the Boy Scouts of America at U.S. military base and expatriate troops in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.

“We’ve known about this since being notified of the possibility last spring. Our volunteer leaders were notified and an action plan distributed,” he said. He stressed the Scouts will continue to offer all the same services and programs.

He said most troops are typically “sponsored by private organizations,” such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Navy Wardroom Association, Navy League and others.

A memo from John M. Molina, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, explained the settlement. He stated the agreement “will not affect any currently appropriately authorized DOD support to Boy Scouts activities … or preclude Boy Scout activities on DOD installations.”

“It will, however, require each local installation to review the written documents on file pertaining to Boy Scout organizations authorized to operate on the installation … to ensure that the written agreements indicate nothing more on the part of DOD than permission to operate on the facility,” Molina stated.

The rule does not prevent servicemembers volunteering to lead Boy Scout troops, and troops can hold meetings on military bases where civilian organizations are allowed, Eichsteadt said.

Troop 81 at the Army’s Camp Walker in Taegu, South Korea, is switching its chartered organization from a military unit to a private organization, said the troop’s scoutmaster, Lt. Col. Brett Weigle.

The troop, with 11 members, holds its meetings in a trailer in Camp Walker’s life support area and is allowed to store gear on post, Weigle said. The troop’s chartered organization is the Army’s 20th Area Support Group, headquartered at nearby Camp Henry.

“We are in the process of changing what’s called our ‘chartered organization’ from the 20th Area Support Group to one of a number of volunteer organizations, and we’re contacting several that reside off-post here,” including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Weigle said.

At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, officials say the recent guidance won’t have much of an impact on the 150 or so Scouts on the base and their activities.

Darrin Nicholson, lead volunteer at Misawa and the Misawa Zone commissioner, said there are five Boy Scouts of America units at Misawa. “Three of our units have military organizations as our sponsors. We have to switch those immediately, which we’re already in the process of doing,” he said.

Lt. Col. Eric Bee, 35th Fighter Wing staff judge advocate, said Boy Scouts of America requires a troop to be sponsored in its charter. The rationale “is to tie the troop to the community and give the troops some support,” he said.

“Those charters are being reworked as we speak,” Bee said. “Within days, they should be sponsored by somebody else.”

On Okinawa, the new direction won’t be a problem, according to Jay Farmer, the Great Okinawa District chairman. He said of the 23 groups on the island — 10 Cub Scout packs, nine Boy Scout troops and four Venturer crews — only three were chartered by military units.

Farmer said his district knew the new regulation was coming, so troops “took care of it before word came down from the Pentagon,” finding new charters this summer.

In South Korea, none of the troops or Cub Scout packs are directly sponsored by the military, said Peter Vieira, the executive director of the Boy Scouts organization in South Korea. “We got everybody and their brother sponsoring us,” he said last week. “But not the military.”

On Guam, officials from Andersen Air Force Base and Guam Naval Base were unsure of the specific impact on Boy Scouts, but said they would comply with the DOD direction.

“The decision does not prohibit Boy Scout units from meeting on military installations,” a Guam Navy official stated in an e-mail, “nor does it prohibit military personnel from being active in a Boy Scout unit.”

Jennifer H. Svan, Fred Zimmerman, Teri Weaver, Franklin Fisher and Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.

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