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Issue 11 – March 2003

Another month; a new set of good questions – About Packs and Troops, and Leaders and Scouts! Maybe one will prompt you to ask a question you had on your mind! Go ahead – shoot me an email, and you’ll get a personal answer in no more than 48 hours (you’ll probably see a slightly shorter version of it right here in April!) So here we go…

Dear Andy,

We’re having a real problem in our Pack! The Cubmaster never seems to know what’s going on or what needs to be done. He has trouble doing or getting things for the Pack that he’s promised, and he tries to get out of showing up for events. We do have a committee that plans everything at the monthly meetings, but anything our Cubmaster says he’ll do we can’t count on, so we end up trying to take up the slack. We need him to follow through with what he says. We lost all our Tigers from last year, and their leader, because they didn’t like the way he was handling things. I’ve suggested to other committee members that we should have a sit-down with him, but they don’t want a confrontation. We have a commissioner, but we’ve only seen him once in the past year. I tried to call him last week, but the council office said they didn’t know how to reach him. Help! (J.C., Pack Committee Member, Montague, NJ)

This sounds like a really painful experience, and I’m sorry it’s happening. But there’s some good news! First off, your committee and chair need to get over this fear of confrontation. It’s their job to provide a good Cubmaster for the Pack, and if they don’t have a good one, it’s their job to replace him! But, let’s talk about some other things first… Has your Cubmaster been to any training? If not, then he and your Den Leaders ought to do this right away, so everybody knows their job. Also, a Cubmaster really has only one main job: To be the “Emcee” at your Pack meetings. That’s it! So maybe you could stop letting him volunteer for other stuff that’s not really his job to do, especially since you pretty much know he’s not going to do it, anyway! How do you find a new Cubmaster? Your Commissioner can help you with this process. How do you find your Commissioner? Call your Council’s service center and get the name of your COUNCIL Commissioner, and go through him. He’ll “hold the Pack’s hand” while you work through your problem.

Dear Andy,

“ScoutChess” is an online program developed to teach kids and young adults the game and history of Chess. A free service of the US Chess Federation, ScoutChess is a series of workshops taught by International Masters and available only to Scouts. With world-class instructors and a program that’s tops, it’s a chance a chess-playing Scout can’t afford to miss. Go to our website at Do you want to learn chess from a Grand Master? Would you like to polish your game against an International Master? Your Scout could be taking lessons from two Grand Masters; the current and former US Champions; the current US Women’s Champion; a former US Women’s Co-champion; a 3-time Pan-American Champion; even the winner of the 1992 US and World Open, National Open, and Novag Grand Prix. Chess helps build logic skills, visual and analytic memory, and many other mental skills. Plus, it’s fun! (Thanks from the folks at ScoutChess)

Thanks! I’m sure our readers will find this interesting, and more than a few will check it out!

Dear Andy,

Our Troop is young—we first chartered in 1999. It started with a group of 8 Webelos. We now have 31 Scouts with four that are age 14, and one Eagle already. We have great adult participation at campouts & meetings, however, I’ve heard Scouts in the “Senior Patrol” wish it could be more Scout led, since they attended NJLT at Philmont last year. We do hear them talking, but they don’t seem to get the message—that if they want to lead the Troop, they need to start preparing meetings ahead of time instead of relying on the Scoutmaster. They do have PLC meetings once a month, but all I see them doing is using adults for the meeting and they, the Scouts, just run the games & songs. I’d be interested in your comments. (K.C., Troop Committee Chair)

First off, CONGRATULATIONS on your success! Brand new Troops revitalize Scouting and are truly the backbone of citizenship in America! A successful Troop is usually one where there’s lots of collaboration between the Scoutmaster, the SPL, and the Patrol Leaders. A major responsibility of the SM is to give these leaders leadership training, and the BSA has a special workbook for him, for just that purpose. That’s “step one.” The second is: Step back and let them do it. Yup, they might not do so well the first couple of meetings. But, after each meeting, the SM, SPL and Patrol Leaders meet briefly for a “Roses ‘n Thorns” review. That’s where the SM counsels the SPL and PLs, by asking questions like, “What went right?” “What needs to be fixed next time?” and so on. Notice that these are “what” questions and not “why” questions—they make no accusations or single anyone out—that’s the sign of wise counseling and mentoring. Going along with that, the SM and other adults have to be prepared to NOT step in and “fix things” when they go wrong (and things will definitely go wrong the first few times!). Instead, hold your breath and let the Scouts solve their own problems. Then, as it begins to dawn on the Scouts that they really do have responsibility for themselves, they’ll begin to figure out how to do their jobs. Here’s a hint for them: The key to successful Troop meetings is an actual Troop meeting plan with several short segments—opening ceremony, Scoutcraft skill (taught by the Scouts to the Scouts), Scoutcraft game (inter-patrol works best), patrol corners (for trip planning), closing with a “Scoutmaster’s Minute,” and then the “R-‘n-T” de-brief. The other thing is to have specific patrol responsibilities: The Fox Patrol does the opening, the Raven Patrol leads the inter-patrol game, the Buffalo patrol’s in charge of set up, the Owl patrol puts everything away, the Beaver Patrol leads the songs, and so on, rotated from meeting to meeting. Give it time to work, support the Scouts as they learn how, and it will work, I promise!

FLASH! CHECK THIS OUT Here, you’ll find two really cool award programs that can enhance the programs of any Den, Pack, Troop, Team, Crew, Post or Ship!

Dear Andy,

Last month, our Pack submitted the names of 5 Cub Scouts who had earned their Donor Awareness Patch, but our council Scout Shop said they’d never heard of it. How do we get this for the boys? (D.S., Den Leader)

The Donor Awareness program has been around since the early ‘80s, but in recent years it’s not been publicized much by the BSA. Nonetheless, the Donor Awareness Emblem—which is definitely an “earned item” that must be ordered by the local council—can be purchased from the BSA National Supply Service. Your Scout Shop can order them for you, and they’re in stock at National Supply (Yup, I called them up). For ordering, the Catalog Number for this item is 5152.

Dear Andy,

A Life Scout leaves Scouting at the age of 15, having earned all his merit badges, held a leadership position for six months, etc., except he’s not done an Eagle Service Project. He comes back seven months before his 18th birthday and there’s a new Scoutmaster, Committee Chairman and only a couple of committee members who hardly remember him. Our new Scoutmaster wants to assign special leadership items, specify minimum activity in the Troop for meetings and campouts, along with a couple of other things. The Scoutmaster says that he doesn’t know the Scout and has to see him perform to see if the Scout has Scout Spirit, etc. Can the Scoutmaster lay on more requirements? (B.J.J., Troop Committee Member)

Here’s a quote, straight from the BSA book titled, ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES: “No council, district, unit or individual has the authority to add to or subtract from advancement requirements.” But, this new Scoutmaster makes an excellent point—He really doesn’t know the Scout all that well. Or vice-versa! So, it sounds like a Scoutmaster’s Conference would help both the Scoutmaster and Scout. I don’t mean the perhaps more formal one that takes place upon completion of rank requirements. I’m thinking about an informal one, where these two can get to know one another (Yes, it works both ways!) a little better. This can happen at any Troop meeting. It can last a few minutes, or run for maybe ten minutes or so. It might happen more than once. This is—in addition to just observing the Scout in action—a terrific way to build a bridge between this returning Scout and his “new” Troop. Plus, since this young man will soon be 18, this is a great way to see if you have Assistant Scoutmaster material here! And let’s always remember that the purpose of such conferences is to help the Scout advance in Scouting, and to not use this as a way to hold him back! One very last thought… Here’s a young man returning to Scouting to carry out one of the toughest of all requirements for ANY rank, and this alone is certainly a positive sign of his SCOUTING SPIRIT! Onward and upward!

Dear Andy,

I’m an ADC and a question’s come up I’m having a tough time answering. One of our Troops has a couple of Scouts who are afraid of the water and can’t swim, and the swimming requirements are preventing them from advancing past Tenderfoot. They’ve been in the Troop for two years now, and the Scoutmaster is afraid if they don’t start advancing soon they’ll drop out. They aren’t allowed to go on some of our Troop outings that require a First Class rank or higher. Swimming lessons aren’t working. I’d like to give the Scoutmaster an answer, but the only one I can give is keep trying to get them swimming. Is there any way to waive the requirements? The Troop committee used to be able to waive them if it was for safety or health reasons, but that appears to have changed with the recent requirement revisions for First Class rank. Please help me clarify this matter. I sure don’t want to lose these boys, and I’m sure this question will come up in other Troops as well. (T.R., ADC, Sacramento, CA)

I’m going to guess that the reason the question about waiving the swimming requirements for Second Class and First Class ranks is a problem for you, personally, is that you’d like to see these Scouts succeed, and also maybe some pressure’s being put on you to “solve” the problem by making those requirements go away. So, let’s solve your own problem first… NOBODY can make those requirements disappear, or substitute something for them. Not you, not the Troop Committee, not even the Council Advancement Committee! Since “being afraid of the water” isn’t a “disability” (as defined by various published official BSA standards) and it’s not a “health or safety” issue either, the requirements stand. I’ve already checked three sources on this: ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS, and THE BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. Check them out yourself, just so you can be firm on this point. Now, with this said, let’s turn to the real issue: Boys who are “afraid of the water.” I spoke to a long-time Scouting friend who knows a lot about this (He’s completed the BSA National Aquatic School, and he’s a former Red Cross WSI and BSA Lifeguard Counselor, former Scout Camp Aquatics Director, private swimming instructor, and right now an aquatics Merit Badge Counselor for the past ten years). He tells me that being “afraid of the water” just ain’t nacherel” for any boy he’s ever known. Barring outside negative influences, any boy can learn the skills needed to swim, and size, weight, strength, and so on have very little influence on the final outcome, other than refinement of the basic skills. So, maybe there’s something you all don’t know about what may have happened to these boys, maybe when they were younger—toddlers, even. If so, then “swimming lessons” aren’t the key — the key is some parent-and-Scout conferences to find out what’s going on, or what happened in the past to make this happen today. In doing this, and also in providing lessons, the Scouts should be separated, so that they don’t “reinforce” one another, and can be dealt with one-on-one. The two key people to do this are the Scoutmaster and the actual swimming instructor. Finally, there’s the issue of motivation, and I’m wondering why a 13-year-old boy is keeping himself from being a part of his peer group by “refusing” to learn to swim? Again, this is outside the norm, and this is why individual Scoutmaster’s Conferences are the best beginning to the solution.

Dear Andy,

What’s the history and development of commissioner service? (D.M., “Somewhere Out West)

B-P himself formulated the concept of commissioners. These good volunteers roamed the English countryside to help new Troops get started and then help them get their leaders trained and keep their programs on track. The commissioner concept crossed the pond with the formation of the BSA, and commissioners—volunteers all—were the key people throughout the US, doing essentially the same jobs as in the UK and, by then, around the world. This was before there were formal “councils” and “council service areas.” As Scouting grew in America, it became quickly obvious that commissioners, being part-timers, couldn’t keep up with the demand for Boy Scouting. It would take someone who could do this on a full-time basis, and therewith the “professional” was created—a paid “full-time volunteer,” if you will, called a Scout Executive, who could help units get up and running in our most population-dense areas. In effect, there were two corps, operating side-by-side: commissioners in areas where they could still handle the job part-time, and Scout Executives who did the same job on a full-time basis and received a stipend or salary for doing this 100% of the time. As Scouting continued to grow, the ranks of “professionals” swelled, and these folks were given mostly the administrative tasks—record-keeping, registering, re-chartering, and so forth, while commissioners concentrated more and more on quality program delivery. In effect, the “professionals” were doing the tasks that the volunteers didn’t want to do, or didn’t have the time to do, while the volunteers sunk their teeth more and more into the program delivery side. This is still pretty much how it is today—the paid staffs do the “staff” work and the volunteers do the hands-on “line” work!

NetCommish Editor: See:

Dear Andy,

The Troop my sons are in is in real trouble! We have a dictatorial Scoutmaster that even the committee’s afraid of. The Troop’s lost three-quarters of our older Scouts—including 4 Star Scouts, 5 Life, and 2 Eagles—within three months after this guy took over as SM. The SPL finished his term and refused to stand for election again. He put it like this: “I didn’t come this far to be treated like a little Cub Scout!” In fact NO ONE wanted to “run” for the SPL position, so the SM “promoted” the ASPL to SPL – we now have a 12-year-old Senior Patrol Leader, and this Troop is going under! (J.K., Mt. Airy, MD)

I’m hearing the sound of sirens for a three-alarm fire! The first alarm is for a Scoutmaster who seems to have forgotten that “Scoutmaster” doesn’t mean “Master of the Scouts”! The second alarm is for a vacillating Troop committee, who should have fired this guy a long time ago (like, “day two”!). The third alarm is why you’re not reaching out for Commissioner help! Now, let’s go in reverse order here… First, track down your Council Commissioner, who can put you in touch with your District Commissioner. Make contact and tell your tale—including how your Troop is imploding in true “black hole” style. Your DC will want to help, and will get a Commissioner assigned to you immediately. Assistance will start with a visit to your Troop meeting, and a committee meeting, followed by a “prescription” for the Troop to follow. Second point: your Scoutmaster. In 3 words: REPLACE HIM IMMEDIATELY. This guy is bad news, if what you say happened actually did! 75% drop in membership? Losing Eagles? SPL won’t do the job again? This is one sick puppy! FIRE HIM. The Troop Committee has this responsibility, and it’s time they stepped up to the plate. If they continue to “play ostrich,” all that’ll be left is a buncha dead ostriches! This is “bite the bullet” time! (By the way, did the Troop at least help the Scouts that refused—and rightly so—to put up with this nonsense any longer find another Troop to join, or were they allowed to drop out entirely? If the latter, track ’em down and help ’em find a Troop that’s healthy—You owe it to them!) Your Commissioner can help you change SM’s (it’s part of the job!), and you need to move fast before your whole Troop is gone! And a final side note to the Committee: If you had a tumor, would you “play nice-nice” with it, in the hope it’ll decide to become a “good” tumor instead of a “bad” tumor, or would you cut the darned thing out!?! I know these are tough words for tough times. You can’t waste any more time here. And here’s the good news—It will take about 6 months for word to get around that the Troop’s OK again and you’ll see a turnaround. When that happens, I guarantee you’ll never let this kind of thing happen again!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been in Scouting 20 or so years, and in the OA for 10 of these, but this one has me stumped. Last year our Troop’s new Scoutmaster deliberately held Troop OA elections late so that none of the Scouts could take part in our District Call-Out or the Ordeal. This led to some very frantic parents calling me, and some fancy footwork by our OA Chapter Advisor getting the Scouts into Ordeals in other Chapters of our Lodge. Meanwhile, this new Scoutmaster thinks that “summer camp is the place all Scouts should be ‘called out’” and refuses to do anything different from what he remembers from when he was a Scout (he never got elected, by the way). On top of this, his “solution” to any of our Troop’s Junior Leaders questioning anything he says is to (literally!) eject that Scout from the PLC meeting! Plus, he insists that adults cannot be elected to the OA! Help! (K.J., Troop Parent & OA Member)

Sounds like a Scoutmaster with some “sour grapes” issues, since he wasn’t elected by his own Troop when he was a boy. Someone has to deliver the message to the Troop’s committee that it’s their JOB to see that Troop OA elections are held, and in a timely fashion, because the OA is Scouting’s “Honor Society,” and by not holding OA elections in time for the elected Scouts to participate properly, they’re depriving the Scouts in the Troop of this honor. Since the SM reports to the committee and not the other way around, the committee can definitely make elections happen. Also, the committee is EXPECTED to nominate an adult (1 adult for every 50 Scouts in the Troop—a Troop of 5 to 50 registered Scouts can nominate 1 adult, a Troop of 51 to 99 can nominate 2, and so on) and this does NOT have to be the SM or any other position-holder. No “courtesies” here (like, “well, it should be the SM ’cause he’s the SM”) and no “Aww, shucks, we’re not worthy” either! Now, as far as ejecting a Scout from ANY meeting, it’s time someone “counseled” this man on what “Scout Spirit” means! That’s for the Committee to do, and I hope they buck up and do their job!

Hi Andy,

One of the Troops I serve as Commissioner has a “feeder” Pack, and the Pack’s about to graduate some Webelos Scouts into Boy Scouting. About eight boys will be “crossing over” into the “regular” Troop, but one of them wants to join a different Troop, because he has some school friends in it. So that the “regular” Troop isn’t offended by this, the Pack wants to have this boy “join” the regular Troop along with the other Webelos, and then just start going to the Troop of his choice afterwards. I’m not so sure about this. What do you think? (H.D., Commissioner, Berkeley Heights, NJ)

Isn’t this sort of like marrying one bride in the church, then showing up at the reception with a different bride? How do we teach our sons honesty and forthrightness when we’re having them “sneak” through a back door somewhere? If this boy wants to join a different Troop from the usual, that’s his choice and it should be honored by his Pack and BOTH Troops, with no acrimony. So, I hope BOTH Scoutmasters show up at the Bridging Ceremony, and treat this boy’s decision with total respect!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Philmont Trek Crew Advisor. In our home Troop, when we go hiking or camping, we fill out a local tour permit for our council, and these are signed by a Troop Committee member. But what about a “training hike” for an upcoming Philmont Trek, when we’re from several different Troops? (S.D., Basking Ridge, NJ)

It’s not as complicated as you might think. Any two Advisors accompanying the crew on the training hike can sign the tour permit, regardless of what Troops you’re registered with. Then, when you’re ready to go to Philmont, you’ll get a NATIONAL permit, and your local council service center can help you with this. These tour permits guarantee that the trip is sanctioned by the BSA, so that all associated rights and privileges, such as accident insurance, extend to all participants, both youth and adult.

Hi Andy,

Why is the District Award of Merit knot (on the badge) a single-rope knot, when all of the other award knots are two-rope knots. Is there a interesting story behind this ? (G.J.)

Here’s what I’ve guessed on this, and it’s surely not “official”… All “square knots” represent national awards or council-level awards “endorsed” by the BSA National Council. Eagle Scout (red-white-blue square knot) is, for example, a BSA National recognition. The Silver Beaver (white-and-blue square knot) is a council-level award presented by BSA National (The certificate actually says, “Upon nomination by the ___ Council and approval of the National Court of Honor…”). So that would make the District Award of Merit one rung below (so to speak) national-/council-level awards, and so the “knot” has one less loop, making it an “overhand” instead of square knot.

Dear Andy,

In internet discussion groups, and elsewhere I keep seeing questions about BSA policy (like, can you be a Scoutmaster and Cubmaster at the same time?). The usual answer to a questions is a barrage of conflicting assertions that the policy is this or that. Is there any place on the Web, or location at BSA National, or whatever, where a leader can get a definitive answer to a policy question? (R.G. ASM, Trappe, PA)

I just went to Google™ and plugged in “BSA Policies.” Up came some 1,800 sites! Wow! If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, let me know! But, nope, I haven’t found an “official” BSA National internet location. If you take a look, the BSA’s “Official” Website is really pretty small. I’m guessing that’s because actual program delivery is through the 300+ councils that cover the country. However, what I did see is that, of the several sites among the 1,800 that came up, there wasn’t “discussion/chat room” stuff so much as there was actual insertion of the BSA language from the various publications on Policies & Procedures. So, if you’re looking for some sort of “ultimate source,” I’d say your best bet is to check out the various BSA publications with “Policies and Procedures” in the title. There are several of these, and they should be available at your local council’s Scout Shop (or they can order them for you). A couple of examples for you are: GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING-A UNIT LEADER’S GUIDE FOR CURRENT POLICIES AND PROCEDURES TO SAFE ACTIVITIES and ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES, and I know there are more of these, on any subject for which there are formal P&P’s.

And last for this month…

ANDY’S “SCOUT TRIVIA” QUESTION: In the movie, “Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade,” “young” Indy’s wearing a red, heart-shaped rank badge on his Boy Scout uniform. What’s the next rank he’ll earn?


Happy Scouting!



Have a question or problem? Got an idea that will help others? Send an email to (Include your town and state, please)


(March 2003)


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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