In 2019 during her sophomore year of high school, Girl Scout Amber Durst was helping move the heavy, portable fire pit into her troop leader’s truck — her troop would be performing another flag retirement ceremony at the Piedmont Area Veterans Association in Piedmont, Oklahoma. That’s when her father asked, “Why don’t you build a permanent fire pit at the veterans center?”
That same month, a local newspaper covered Amber’s troop and their recent flag retirement.
The front page of the newspaper incorrectly stated they had hosted a “flag burning ceremony.” Amber knew at this moment that she needed to do something to spread awareness about flag retirements and prepare her community to perform the ceremonies after her troop members had gone off to college.
“At the time, it was enough just to be featured in the paper, but it also made me realize that while my troop, as Girl Scouts, had learned a lot about flag retirements in the past, we had never truly shared that information with other people,” Amber said. “I wanted to make flag retirement and flag etiquette information available to those who want to know more.”
These moments inspired Amber to create a permanent flag retirement ceremony location at the local veterans center in her hometown of Piedmont. She would also use this opportunity to educate members of the community about what a flag retirement means.
“My troop had always hosted our flag retirement ceremonies at the veterans center, so I felt like this was an excellent intersection between serving the community as a whole, while also directly benefiting Girl Scouts and the veterans center,” Amber said.
Amber first went through the steps of the projects logistically, and decided a stone fire pit would not be the right option because the flags’ ashes must be collected after they cool.
A local metalworker, Terry Mueggenborg, donated his time and helped Amber create a metal fire pit. Once it was complete, Amber cleaned and painted it before attaching a concrete base to the fire pit.
Another community member donated a commemorative plaque, and the fire pit was complete. On June 14, 2021, Flag Day, Amber and her troop held a ceremony to dedicate the flag retirement area at the Piedmont Area Veterans Association.
Lastly, Amber created pamphlets to help educate the community on flag etiquette and flag retirements. She distributed the final copies to various veterans associations and other Girl Scouts in the area.
“Flag retirements were always important to my troop and the veterans we performed them for,” Amber said. “In Oklahoma, especially Piedmont, we face strong, fast winds that can tear a flag to shreds. The veterans center was receiving numerous flags per month, and since my troop has disbanded, it was important to me that I help those in my community and let my troop leave a lasting mark.”
There are very few set rules or laws about flag retirements — the flag code states once a flag is no longer usable, it should be disposed of in a respectful manner, preferably through burning.
“Typically, you burn your fire down to coals, and then place each red and white stripe in the fire one by one, and save the blue field of stars for last,” Amber said. “After you have finished, it is tradition to bury the ashes.”
Amber has now passed the torch to a younger Girl Scout troop. They will help maintain the flag retirement fire pit, perform flag retirement ceremonies, and have all of Amber’s materials to help educate others.
Amber, along with other girls receiving their Gold Awards, was honored with completing her Gold Award during a ceremony in June 2021. She was also one of three recipients the council selected to receive the Gold Award Scholarship for college.
Gold Awards can help teach girls project management, leadership, community involvement, and so much more. It can even help girls in their personal development and learn how to take charge in challenging situations.
“I believe that the Gold Award project teaches Girl Scouts how to forget to be shy,” Amber said. “It provides a unique experience that both allows us to be in charge of our own project, while giving us a strong support system.”
Amber believes through her Gold Award project, she bettered not just the community, but herself.
“I am extremely shy, but this project has helped me, for the most part, learn how to take up space and ask for the things I want,” Amber said.
Amber has some advice for other girls earning or who want to earn their Gold Award one day.
“If any other girls who want to earn their Gold Award are reading this: know that it’s okay to ask for help,” Amber said. “I could not have done this project without my family and volunteers, and I think it’s incredibly important for girls to understand that it’s not weak to ask for help.”
Congratulations to all the girls who have earned their Gold Award this year, for working hard to better the community around them, and reaching the end goal!