by Bethany Stone

Honoring our country is part of the Girl Scout Promise. Service Unit 172 learned more about this by holding a flag ceremony at their camporee last month. Read about what the experience meant for them, as explained by one of their troop leaders!

What do we do when a U.S. flag becomes tattered, torn, and worn out?  It’s considered disrespectful to fly a flag that isn’t in good condition, which leaves us with many flags in need of retirement.  But how do we dispose of a flag in the proper manner?

One of the most meaningful ways to retire a flag is by conducting a flag retirement ceremony, which involves burning the flag in a respectful manner. I experienced my first-ever flag retirement ceremony recently at a service unit camporee. My three Cadette and Senior volunteers joining forces with another troop of Cadettes to conduct the ceremony. The audience of Brownies, Juniors, and adults gathered around the fire, looking on with anticipation.

The ceremony started with one of the Cadettes reading an introduction about why a flag retirement takes place; the younger Girl Scouts listened attentively. It was then time to cut the flag into strips along the stripes. Each stripe represents one of the original 13 U.S. colonies. With each stripe that was cut from the flag, the name of a colony was announced, and that strip was laid across the flames by two Cadettes.

After all of the stripes had been retired, we were left with the blue rectangle of the flag. The troop laid it upon the fire in one whole piece. It was shocking how quickly each piece of fabric burned on the campfire.

After the flag was gone, another Cadette led all of us in singing the “Star Spangled Banner.”

This was the perfect activity to end the evening at our camporee. The campfire and s’mores got the girls riled up, but the somber ceremony brought them back to a calm state before they went back to their cabins one by one.

Even though we all are trained to respect the flag, a lot of our actions have become routine because they are so familiar and repetitive. This ceremony gave the troops a different way of respecting the flag that they had never experienced. It taught them how to pay respect in a completely new way.

Bethany Stone serves Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee as the Regional Executive for Williamson County. She’s also been the troop leader for Troop 427 for four years and Troop 2323 for three.