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BSA to Offer Morse Code Interpreter Strip


For many years, Boy Scouts and Scouters have been able to earn an interpreter strip to wear on their uniforms. This strip -- worn on the uniform above the right pocket -- denotes proficiency in a foreign language or sign language. Each language has its own strip (with the name of the language embroidered in that language), and some Scouts and Scouters wear more than one strip. Now those hams involved with the Boy Scouts can show their proficiency in Morse code with a Morse code interpreter strip (with M-O-R-S-E spelled out in Morse code).

According to BSA Director of Communication Services Jim Wilson, K5ND, the idea for a Morse code interpreter strip came about during meetings preparing for the 2012 Jamboree on the Air (JOTA). “One of the ideas presented was a variation on an interpreter strip for Morse code,” Wilson told the ARRL. “We played around with it a bit and then approached the BSA Awards Committee with the idea. They liked it, so we decided to explore the idea a bit more. We looked at the existing requirements for interpreter strips to see how they could be adapted for code. The BSA approved the strip in April, but we decided to wait until the strips were available before we announced it.” Wilson also serves as the BSA’s National JOTA Organizer and is President and Trustee of K2BSA, the BSA Headquarters Amateur Radio station in Texas.

The requirements to earn the Morse code interpreter strip are in line with the requirements of interpreter strips for other languages:

  • Carry on a five-minute conversation in Morse code at a speed of at least five words per minute, and
  • Copy correctly a two-minute message sent in Morse code at a minimum of five words per minute. Copying means writing the message down as it is received, and
  • Send a 25 word written document in Morse code at a minimum of five words per minute.

“Together, Amateur Radio and Boy Scouting is a wonderful thing,” Wilson told the ARRL. “The new Morse code interpreter strip is a nice recognition of the special skill of Morse code and its use in emergency communications. From my perspective, the strip gives us more buzz on things happening in Amateur Radio. In the past couple of decades, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of Radio merit badges that have been awarded. In 1991-2000, we awarded 20,000 Radio merit badges. But in 2001-2010, we awarded 54,000! The interest in this badge has grown by leaps and bounds, indicating not only a keen interest in the art and science of radio, but in technology, too.”

Beginning with the 2013 National Jamboree, Wilson said that they will be teaching the Radio merit badge in four hours: “We will be teaching the badge every hour, on the hour. Scouts will spend 90 minutes in a classroom environment, 30 minutes on the air and then back to the classroom for another 90 minutes. In four hours, they will have their badge.” K2BSA has operated at every National Jamboree since 1977 and will be at the 2013 National Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.

“The sole purpose of any interpreter strip is to serve as an immediate, visual cue to others that the wearer is able to perform as an interpreter when needed, not to award the ability to converse in another language,” Wilson explained. “This is also why it is placed on the uniform is near the nameplate. When you wear the strip, whether it say Español, Français, Italiano, Signing or Morse, a Scout or Scouter is showing to the world that he or she has that proficiency to be tapped as an interpreter when needed.”



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