Can youth wear the NESA Life Member square knot?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?Justin’s an Eagle Scout in Connecticut and a life member of the National Eagle Scout Association, or NESA.

(Important side note: Congratulations, Justin!)

He still has time to enjoy Scouting as a youth member, but Justin wrote Ask the Expert wondering whether he can wear the silver-bordered NESA Life Member square knot in addition to his Eagle Scout rank badge.

Justin writes:

My name is Justin. I’m an Eagle Scout from Troop 474 in Connecticut. So, I still have time as a youth, but I’m a lifetime member of NESA, so am I allowed to wear the NESA lifetime square knot?

It’s oftentimes debated, as square knots are usually for adults only. But there is the youth religious square knot.

Please give me some clarification on this matter. Thanks!



The answer comes from the BSA’s Awards and Recognition Committee, of which Larry Cunningham is the chairman. This committee controls the BSA Guide to Awards and Insignia. They respond:

nesa life member square knotJustin, congratulations on achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, and thank you for becoming a life member of the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA).

You are correct that square knots are not reserved for adults, as youth are eligible to wear square knots representing several awards, including youth religious emblems, the Hornaday silver or bronze medal, the Medal of Merit, or the Venturing Leadership Award.

However, the Guide to Awards and Insignia also indicates that two badges representing the same award should generally not be worn. In the case of the Eagle Scout rank, a youth member should wear the oval cloth badge signifying your rank. The square knot with or without the silver border is reserved for adults who are no longer authorized to wear the rank badge.

As an aside, the Boy Scouts of America has so many awards represented by knots that many observers don’t know the meaning of most. Wearing the badge of rank of your uniform is a much more effective means of showing that you have achieved the highest rank available!

So there you have it. Hold off on that NESA Life Member square knot for now, and wear that Eagle badge with pride!

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  1. An obvious follow-on question is regarding the new Venturing program where a rank patch is part of the uniform. Eagle Scout Venturers have so far been able to wear their Eagle rank patch on their Venturing uniforms. The logic expressed here would suggest that when they earn their first Venturing award (new program) where a rank patch will now take that pocket space they would be able to wear either the non-NESA knot or the NESA knot?

    The only exception that I can think of is if Venturing allows participants to wear some other representation of the Eagle Rank on the Venturing uniform similar to how the Cub Arrow of Light is worn on the Boy Scout uniform??

    • If they are in Venturing, and have earned the Rank of Eagle, I allow them to choose what to wear, however, once they are fully in the program, the choice is no more. Once they start earning the Venturing awards, I expect them to wear the knot, and the appropriate Venturing Award. They can still wear their AOL until such time as they are considered a youth in that program. Once they age out of that program, then I expect them to advance that to a knot as well.

  2. That’s a shame.
    I would think that even though he is still a youth, the fact that he is also NESA Life, could start a conversation, when somebody asked him, “why are you wearing the Silver Bordered Eagle knot?” Justin would then have the opportunity to explain the benefits of NESA to the questioner. Great promotion for NESA and NESA Life. Maybe an exception could be made here.

    I speak as a NESA Life myself. I joined NESA at 2001 Jamboree, and went Life at 2010. Until that time, I had not really heard much about NESA. The more promotion and education the better I say.

  3. How about a silver mylar border available on the Eagle badge for youth life NESA members like the border on the life member knot? I know the volume would be low, but might be an item that even the adults might want to collect.

  4. Lou, we’ve had silver Mylar borders on our Eagle cloth badges off and on for some time. It is a consideration, however, as we move forward with a way to recognize our NESA Life members who happen to be still youth members of the BSA.

    Nanmwarki, in the days when we had both Exploring and Scouting ranks, the two were worn side-by-side on the shirt pocket. I don’t see a problem with this continuing when we see the new Venturing rank. There’s enough space on the shirt pocket for both rank emblems AND the Arrow of Light.

  5. Mike– I wouldn’t be too quick to state that they be worn side by side. We haven’t even seen the final version of these awards to know what sort of space they will take. With that said, I realize that you have a tight relationship with the community at National. So are you aware of final design information to suggest that there would be room for side by side rank patches? Or are you simply expressing your opinion? The phrasing you have used suggests more of a casual opinion than a definitive response. Personally, I don’t think that the Venturing program would be completely excited to have side-by-side rank patches. I think a more diminutive approach to displaying the Eagle rank would be more accepted to maintain uniform emphasis on Venturing. Sure it has been accepted so far but that may be because Venturing didn’t have anything competing for the visibility of that space.

    My personal vote is to allow venturing youth to wear the Eagle knot which in turn would shift some of the viewpoint of knots to a current/previous program perspective versus a adult/youth perspective. Meaning, previous program awards would move to the knot “shelf” providing the pocket space for the current program. The adult/youth perspective is that this shelf is utilized primarily once the youth becomes an adult (with exceptions, of course).

  6. Hi Nanmwairki!!

    Earlier, I stated in part: “in the days when we had both Exploring and Scouting ranks, the two were worn side-by-side on the shirt pocket. I don’t see a problem with this continuing when we see the new Venturing rank.”

    You wrote in reply “Mike– I wouldn’t be too quick to state that they be worn side by side.”

    I didn’t. I stated that I don’t see a problem with wearing both the Venturing and the Boy Scout/Varsity Scout rank side-by-side as we used to do with the Exploring and Boy Scout rank back in the 40s and 50s.

    You also stated in part: “We haven’t even seen the final version of these awards to know what sort of space they will take. With that said, I realize that you have a tight relationship with the community at National. So are you aware of final design information to suggest that there would be room for side by side rank patches? Or are you simply expressing your opinion?”

    Neither. I saw the proposed designs during a couple of meetings including the National Annual Meeting; and I recommended a set of designs as well. No, my relationship with those serving on the actual national workteams doesn’t extend to knowledge of the *final approved designs*. Whatever they may be, it is my *personal hope* that both the Venturing and the Boy/Varsity Scouting insignia be of a size and design that both could be worn — at the wearer’s option — on *either the “Universal” or the “Venturing” field uniform shirts. I am fairly confident that both could co-exist on a shirt pocket — now as back then.

    The designs which were announced and posted online were small enough that they can share a pocket with the oval Boy Scouting/Varsity Scouting rank emblems.

    What I *do not advocate* is youth members wearing the Eagle Scout (or the NESA Life Member Eagle Scout) square knot emblem for the same reason that we don’t allow youth members to wear the Arrow of Light square knot emblem (and as was stated here by Larry): there is already a cloth emblem which symbolizes this — and youth should wear the cloth emblem and leave the square knot emblems for us adults. Only when there exists no cloth emblem — as in the case of youth religious emblems, the William T. Hornaday awards, the heroism and meritorious service awards, and a couple others — should the square knot representation of those medals and medallions be worn.

  7. The only thing I dislike on both of the Eagle Knots is the background color. Here is a huge accomplishment, and it blends in with the shirt. I would love if it stood out. I could always find a patch trader that has an olive drab green color backdrop to the tan shirt, but you get the idea.

  8. Personally, for the Venturing program and the new award patches that are coming, I would like to see an Eagle, at any age, wear the Eagle Knot on the Venturing uniform when the Eagle Award patch is not on the Venturing uniform. I personally do not wear my OA Lodge patch on my Venturing uniform because I view the OA as a Boy Scout only program. I wear my lodge patch on my tan Scouter uniform. Yes, Venturers and Advisors can wear the OA flap patch on the Venturing uniform. Likewise, I would like to see the Arrow of Light badge only wear on the Cub Scout uniform and in Boy Scouts and Venturing, the Arrow of Light knot be worn.

    Some will say, having these other program patches worn on other program uniforms help promote unity, I don’t. Knots help show others that yes, I earn this in another program, but does not push it into someone else’s face. This is even greater when in the Venturing program when the girls have no way to earn these awards (Arrow of Light and Eagle) and do seem a bit put off by seeing the youth badges from other programs that they can not earn.

    In the end, all these top program awards are important and love seeing those that have an Arrow of Light, Eagle, Silver/Summit, and Quartermaster award knots on their uniform….Great Job!!!

  9. Maybe I’m off base, but if a youth wants to wear the NESA-Life Eagle Squareknot – as long as he doesn’t wear the badge on his pocket, I don’t see a problem!

  10. My few tidbits are going to address the Eagle knot (and Arrow of Light knot,) for those under 18 and in which programs it is needed to be worn because of other program recognitions that take up the same space on the shirt.

    This question about square knots regarding Eagle for youth under 18 came up during the week 1 PTC 2014, Venturing the NEW vision official roll out. The question came after the presentation showing the name, design and placement of the new Venturing award patches and that they “took over” the uniforming area where the previous Boy Scout advancement patches were placed. There were over 40 people in the class participating from all over the country and they frankly wanted to figure out the best solution. After a break I asked for permission to speak and addressed this issue by stating that we had a case that already had the answer and a historical scouting precedent established.

    The answer was to look at Sea Scouting and go back decades to when scouting rank pins were more actively used. In Sea Scouts, on the uniform they have program specific rank patches, so the Arrow of Light and Eagle knots are worn instead by those under 18. Now that Venturing was replacing the Bronze,Gold,Silver program with cloth award patches, “taking up the same real estate” that the Sea Scouting Apprentice, Ordinary, Able & Quartermaster would, it made perfect sense to adapt to wearing appropriately earned knots. The next part of the equation was, “what about those not yet to Eagle in Venturing?”

    The answer I gave was according to already established procedures in Venturing uniforming. I told the class that the left pocket flap had finally been officially designated so that Girl Scouts could wear their Bronze, Silver or Gold Award pin there. All we had to do was encourage and allow our scouts who are working towards Eagle to wear their rank appropriate Scout pin there. (The Scout rank pins get overlooked many times or get confused with the smaller “parent’s pin.”)

    So basically a Venturer in the new program would be wearing their Venturing award patch or Discovery, Pathfinder or Summit award patch while wearing the Arrow of Light knot and if NOT at Eagle rank, then wearing their Scout rank pin on the left pocket flap in between the Venturing awards and the knots and all parties are satisfied.

    It is truly that simple.

    I believe that the Eagle knot has been authorized since then in a program update to be worn by Venturers under 18. Also I can tell you from first hand knowledge that the young men in my Crew were excited about wearing the Arrow of Light knot and the Scout rank pins, whether First Class, Star or Life.

    Basically to them it represented “progress and recognition or completion of the other programs” in the Scouting community and now opened up and freed that spot on the Venturing uniform to focus on Venturing advancement, like they did with our Sea Scout Ship.

    A “side effect” of this is that the young men and women of the Crew & Ship have now started asking what other awards or recognitions are they eligible to earn that are represented by knots? It has now started opening up discussions about the Hornaday awards besides Quartermaster and Religious among others and I think it is wonderful that this way of displaying the different programs is also encouraging those that could become “Life for Life” to finish their Eagle and the others to get moving on to Star or Life because they want the “novelty” of being able to wear the official pin.

    The use of Scout pins by the Venturers also helps (for once), increase revenue at the Scout shops by being purchased instead of just sitting in stock because people didn’t know what to use them for.

    Concerning the NESA “life membership” Eagle knot, the exception would be in Venturing and Sea Scouting for those under 18.

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