By age 12, many Boy Scouts who've been in the program for two years are climbing the rankings ladder slowly, advancing from Tenderfoot to Second Class to First Class.

But just two and a half years after he became a Scout, Austin Nicholas Ando soared all the way to the top. At 12 years, 2 months and 9 days old, Austin became an Eagle on July 13. He is thought to be the youngest Boy Scout ever to do so.

Austin said he really enjoys the camping and other trips that Scouts make, and being an Eagle opens up opportunities for longer travel and more coveted adventures with other Scouts.

"You have to be a certain rank to do more things," said Austin, a member of Troop 20, sponsored by Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church. The Moultrie Middle School student also said reaching Eagle in record time gives him a quite a sense of accomplishment.

His mom, Wendy Ando, is sure that being an Eagle will benefit her son all of his life.

"It will definitely help him get into college and with jobs and everything," she said, adding that the challenges Austin overcame en route to Eagle "exposed him to so many things he might have never tried."

Austin's dad, Guy Ando, was not a Boy Scout himself but is an assistant scoutmaster at Troop 20. He said he relishes the outdoors and camping, sailing, hiking and whitewater rafting, just like the youths do.

"I have just as much fun with it as the boys do," he said.

Michelle Strobel, Eagle processor and program secretary for the Coastal Carolina Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said the council's records show Austin to be its youngest Eagle recipient ever. She said that nationally, however, Scouting officials don't keep records concerning who made Eagle at the earliest age.

"It's fabulous that he finished it that quickly," Strobel said of Austin. "We are very proud of him."

News accounts published last year cited former Columbia resident Truman Cerney as then the youngest known Eagle. Cerney was awarded Eagle at 12 years, 3 months and 10 days. He has since moved to San Diego, according to www.every

Guy Ando said Austin is quiet about having achieved Eagle.

"I don't think he's realized what he's accomplished yet," he said, adding that Austin's brother, 13-year-old Anthony Ando, is nearly finished qualifying for his Eagle.

"The boys have worked hard" for their rankings, the proud father said.

To become an Eagle, a Scout must have earned 21 merit badges, 10 more than needed to become a Life Scout.

The Eagle candidate must plan and carry out an approved public service project that benefits an organization other than Boy Scouting. Among the remaining requirements, the candidate must submit letters of recommendation from teachers, employers or others, and "Demonstrate that you live by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life," according to Scouting's Web page.

Austin said the hardest merit badge to earn was personal management, because it "deals with money and how to save it." The easiest merit badge, he said, was fingerprinting.

"All you had to do was put your fingers on a piece of paper," creating some fingerprints. He said he also had to learn a bit about the nature of fingerprints, the history of fingerprinting and how prints are used.

For his service project, Austin built a handicap ramp for a McClellanville woman.

Asked what's left for him to do in Scouting, Austin said he hopes to earn Eagle Palms. The requirements include demonstrating Scout spirit and leadership skills in his troop and patrol; living by the Scout Oath and Scout Law in everyday life; and earning five more merit badges.

Odds are, Austin will do it.

Reach Edward C. Fennell at 937-5560.