Author Avatar

Issue 21 – Mid-November 2003

Dear Andy,

I’m in California, and I’ve heard there’s a new “Tri-Challenge Award,” sponsored by the Ventura County Council (California) High Adventure Team. I’ve not been able to find much information on how to qualify for this award. The HAT site at didn’t list any awards at all. Can you point me to any information on earning this award? (Jon Martin, SM, Troop 709)

Hey, Jon–Found it! is the URL you want to go to.

Hi Andy,

The Cubs in my Pack just won a bunch of Official Cub Scout pocket knives in our council’s popcorn sale competition. But now I’m told there’s a new regulation out that says the Cub Scouts can’t carry a pocket knife unless they’re trained and carry a card. I’m also told that leaders like me can’t carry a pocket knife unless we’re trained, too. So here’s the question – Where do we all get this training? (Jim Wilson, CM, Pack 14, Jena, Louisiana)
Well, Jim, first I’d say be sure to check this out with your council or district’s training chair – just in case there’s some new training course, like “Whittlin’ for fun and profit” or “Advanced Knifemanship 201” or something like that! Also, make sure what you’ve heard isn’t just a “tall tale.” Meanwhile, let’s have a brief look at the Guide To Safe Scouting (2003 edition) which simply says…

“…A sharp pocketknife…is an invaluable backcountry tool. Keep it clean, sharp, and handy. Avoid large sheath knives. They are heavy and awkward to carry and unnecessary for most camp chores except for cleaning fish. Since its inception, Boy Scouting has relied heavily on an outdoor program to achieve its objectives. This program meets more of the purposes of Scouting than any other single feature. We believe we have a duty to instill in our members, youth and adult, the knowledge of how to use, handle, and store legally owned knives with the highest concern for safety and responsibility.”

Sorta vague, huh!? Yup, I thought so, too! But, if you check any edition of the good old Boy Scout Handbook you’ll find some excellent stuff on the use and care of knives. So, convert these into “lessons” and then do some teaching! When I was a Den Leader, I used tongue depressors (I marked the “handle” end with cross-hatched “Magic Marker” stripes) and had one for each of my Cubs. We used bars of soap to carve, instead of wood. We all “learned” together, and then we all (Yup, me too!) got “Totin’ Chip” cards (buy ’em at your local Scout Shop – and don’t buy those silly patches! Buy the CARDS!) to carry whenever we had our folding pocket knives with us. And, yes, I made up a special hinged (use a paper-fastener through a hole you’ve drilled through 3 TDs — the two on the “outside” are the handle and the one in the middle’s the “blade”) assembly so we could practice opening and closing and passing before we “graduated” to a real knife and repeated these exercises. So there you have it! Self-trained, self-“monitored,” self-sufficient! Sounds like SCOUTING to me! Go for it!

Hi Andy,

Every November, our Troop invites Webelos II Scouts to our campout that month so they can get a taste of Boy Scouts and to help them earn their Arrow of Light. Up to now, the Guide to Safe Scouting has said that each Webelos Scout needs to have an adult with him. But the most current version says that a parent needs to be with the Scout, but then adds that a one-to-one adult-to-Scout ratio is required, without any mention of parents being required. So which is it? If the Scout has an older brother or other relative who’s willing to come along is that OK? As an aside, in the past one of the Webelos Scouts, who is now in the Troop, asked his grandfather to attend because he was in Boy Scouts as a youth. (Mark Binder, SM, Troop 15, Four Lakes Council, Madison, WI)

Good question, Mark! Let’s start out with what the “GTSS” (2003 edition) has to say. Here it is…

“…Joint Webelos Den-Troop campouts including the parents of the Webelos Scouts are encouraged, to strengthen ties between the Pack and Troop. Den leaders, Pack leaders, and parents are expected to accompany the boys on approved trips.”

The key words are “strengthen ties.” But, Cub Scouting itself, including Webelos Scouts, is specifically designed to likewise strengthen the bond between the boy and his parent(s). So, when the word, parent, is used, that’s probably what’s meant – not an older brother or an uncle, or even a well-intentioned grandfather! And certainly not for the “convenience” of the parent! The whole idea is bonding – camping, in and of itself, is merely the tool Scouting uses to develop the bond. So, unless the grandfather or bro’ or uncle is the legal guardian of the Webelos Scout, I’d strongly suggest that you help the parent (ideally, the dad) firmly understand that this is for him and his son, and no “surrogates.” This isn’t meant to be “rulebook-ish” – it’s meant to help you deliver what the Scouting program’s really all about, and not just its trappings.

Dear Andy,

I’ve been reading all your columns. Lots of interesting stuff. Lot of scary stuff, too! In one of them, someone was complaining about their Scout Shop not having enough stuff when they went to get supplies for their annual Court of Honor, and you correctly pointed out they should be doing “immediate recognition” in award stuff. When I was involved as a Boy Scout leader (I’m now mainly involved in Venturing & OA), this is what my Troop did, and I think it’s the best way to handle it:
First, at end of a Troop meeting, ALL Scouts who had completed merit badges or ranks are verbally recognized.

Then, we’d try to get merit badges, rank, and cards from Scout Shop as soon as possible (this is when we’d turn in the advancement forms).

Once we had the badges, very next Troop meeting, we’d call the Scouts up to receive them.

Finally, at our next court of honor (we always had three or four a year), the Scouts would again be recognized for their advancement, and presented with their cards. With ranks, they’d also present their mom a mother’s pin for their new rank. (Michael Brown, Southwest Florida Council)

Thanks for reading, Mike! And please pass the word to your Scouting friends – The more readers (and questions) the better! And, thanks for your comments! When I was a Scoutmaster, we did essentially the same as you – We got the badges into the Scouts’ hands (and onto their uniforms) as rapidly as possible. We found that this was a great encouragement for them to keep “going for it”! Then, we used the Court of Honor to recognize all advancements since the last Court. Even with Eagle, we’d present the badge right away, but reserve the medal for the next Court. Keep up the great work!

Dear Andy,

Recently, one of our Scouts failed his Scoutmaster Conference for First Class rank. This Scout quit the Troop as a result. According to the Scoutmaster, he failed the boy because (this really is a quote): “The boy didn’t show ‘Scout spirit’.” Andy, just what is SCOUT SPIRIT? (C.G., parent)
I’m happy to tell you about Scout Spirit, but then we need to talk about something else, right away!

“Scout Spirit” is one of the very few things in all of Scouting that doesn’t have a firm definition or explanation of what a Scout should do to be doing it. It’s described as meaning “living the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life,” but, what does this mean? To me, it means that the Scout will be seen doing his personal best in all things – including home and school – and showing his respect for his religious beliefs and standing by his country and its elected leaders, helping others wherever possible – in things small and large – and working to strengthen his body, expand his mind and thinking, and sticking to the proverbial “straight-and-narrow.” It means acting in accordance with the twelve points of the Scout Law – a set of principles unique among laws because they tell the Scout what to DO and not what not to do (like, “thou shalt not…”). This is Scout Spirit, and it is the backbone of Scouting, universally. Has been from “Day One.”

But, this aside, I’m troubled by what you’ve also told me – that this Scout “failed” and that he “quit.” In the first place, no Scout can ever “fail” anything! Perhaps he needs more work at something, or perhaps he needs to do something better or more completely. But shame on the Scoutmaster who “flunks” a Scout! A Scoutmaster’s Conference is a time of reflection and counseling – a time for the Scoutmaster to review with the Scout what he’s done and whether he’s ready to move to the next rank, and then encouraging him to do so. Some Scouts, who aren’t quite ready, are counseled on specific things they can do to improve themselves, and a new date for a Scoutmaster’s Conference is scheduled, with the understanding that, if the Scout performs as he’s been counseled, the next Conference will result in a rank advancement. In short: No “failure” is possible because the objective of the Scoutmaster is to provide guidance that improves the boy; not pass judgment on him.

The next thing you told me is that this boy quit Scouting. How can this have happened? What went wrong? No Scout should ever be quitting Scouting! Not, that is, for a reason like this! Even when the Scoutmaster’s made a mistake, the boy doesn’t just up and quit all of Scouting. (Yes, this is a very large part of that thing called “Scout Spirit”!) But, he sure ought to be finding a new Troop, where Scouts don’t “fail.” Is there another Troop nearby? Remember: A boy can be a member of ANY Troop… and neither he nor his family should tolerate a Scoutmaster that “fails” boys!

Hi Andy,

Our Cubs have been together since Tiger Cubs, and earned their Bobcat badges last year. Now they’re working on their Wolf badge, but out of the old books that they already had. But now there’s a new Wolf book coming out. Do we have to re-do what they’ve already done, since there are now new books and some requirements have changed? Or can we finish up with the Wolf books they’ve already started? (Michael & Dawn, DL & DL, Pack 341)

Good question, Mike and Dawn – Let’s see if I can give you an equally good answer. Here it is – Once the “official” start date’s been set, the usual procedure is to use the most current requirements for rank and badge completion, with no “grandfathering.” But the BSA also provides a pretty long “lead-time” before that start-date actually hits. In this case, that date’s nearly a year away. So, here’s the way it’s going to work…

The enhancements to the requirements in the new Wolf Book ( No. 33450) won’t affect the advancement trails of Cub Scouts who are using the current Wolf Book (No. 33106). They can continue using their current book until they’ve completed all requirements in the book (or have advanced to the next grade and started on a new rank).

Based on availability of the books, new Cub Scouts may use EITHER the old Wolf Book or the new one if their Scout Shop has them. (It’s even OK to “mix” books in the same Den and Pack.)

As new boys enter the Cub Scout program or advance in rank by the changeover date, they’ll be using the new books.

Only boys who will become Wolf Cub Scouts after August 1, 2004, will be required to use the new book.

The activities in the Wolf Book – even the new activities – are primarily done at home with the Cub Scout’s parents, and then signed off by the parents after completion. Then the Cub shows the signed Wolf Book to his Den Leader (that’s YOU), who in turn records the progress and also signs the book.

That’s it! Not horrible, and pretty straightforward.

Hi Andy,

I’m trying to find out who the youngest Eagle Scout is, or was. Any chance you have some info on that? (W.B., Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

I guess there may be no single Scout who can claim that distinction! If you use the “Google” search engine, you’ll find a half-dozen or more. They include Zac Bell in Gillette, WY and Brian Burns in Chicago, both of whom apparently earned their Eagle at the age of 12 years, 4 months. Others who were also 12, but no months specified, include Bill Martino, also of Chicago; Shawn Garner, of Halifax, NC; and Neal Fosseen, of Spokane, WA. Interesting to find a whole bunch of entries for L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer and later the founder of Scientology, who has been claimed to be the youngest. He earned his Eagle rank at the age of 13, it says, so this makes him definitely not the youngest, anymore. But that was in 1924, when a boy had to be 12 to just be a Scout, so we know he did it in no more than two years. But we also know that, in 1924, all a Scout had to do was earn 21 merit badges after becoming First Class. So, the late Mr. Hubbard actually took about the same amount of time, it would seem, as those possibly younger Eagles who came later! And if any of my readers has more information on this fascinating topic, please write, and I’ll publish it in December.


I’ve had a bunch of letters that end with the request, “Please don’t say where I’m from – It could be embarrassing!” So, protecting both the innocent and maybe the not-so-innocent, here are some “anonymous” questions, and my answers…

Dear Andy,

Requirement 9a of Camping Merit Badge states the number of days and nights the Scout is to camp, in order to earn this badge. But it doesn’t say whether these are under the Scouting “umbrella” or not. So what’s the deal? If a Scout camps with, let’s say, his family, can this count, or can we stipulate that all days and nights have to be with his Troop or Patrol? (Council Advancement Committee member)

There are two answers, I think, to this question – the long one and the short one. I’ll do it in that order… First, there’s no specification or notation I’m personally aware of that says where this camping is to take place, and keeping in mind that Boy Scouting encourages and strives to strengthen the bonds between boys and their parents and other family members, it would interfere with some of Scouting’s objectives to say that Scouts camping with their families can’t count those experiences toward advancement requirements. We do know that some requirements (including several others in Camping merit badge itself) very specifically stipulate that certain activities are to be done with the Scout’s Patrol or Troop, and I’m absolutely not suggesting that these should be bent to accommodate an alternative. So, where the requirement is silent on a particular aspect, let it remain silent. Now, here’s the short answer: Imposing a further stipulation to an advancement requirement is absolutely not permitted by the BSA National Council, and should never be considered by any person, unit, district, or council. And that’s the story!

Dear Andy,

A former Scoutmaster, I’ve just become a Venturing Crew Advisor. We have several former Boy Scouts in the Crew. One’s already an Eagle, and two others are working toward this rank as well. I contacted our Order of the Arrow Lodge, to ask when they can come out for a unit election, but they say that Venturing Crews can’t have elections! This seems patently unfair, because the former Scouts in the Crew meet both the rank requirement and the days-and-nights of camping requirement, and I’m wondering if our Lodge is off-base, or is it really true that there can’t be OA elections in Venturing? What’s the story?

Unhappy news here – According to the National OA, Venturing Crews aren’t eligible for elections. Period. Now, I happen to agree with your reasoning, and I personally don’t see any clear reason why a Crew can’t have OA elections. But, no go, despite what you or I might happen to think. They say OA is for Boy Scout Troops and (get this!) Varsity Teams only. Go figure!

Dear Andy,

There’s a controversy in our Troop. Some committee members are saying that a Life Scout’s Eagle Project can’t be done until he’s completed his merit badges. As Scoutmaster, I’m saying the Scout can start his project anytime, beginning the day after he becomes a Life Scout. Who’s right?

You are, my friend–100%! Once the Scout’s Life Rank Board of Review is concluded successfully, he can start his project for Eagle the very next morning, if he likes (by “start,” of course I mean begin the planning process; not actually doing or leading the labor).

Dear Andy,

Our Council’s Advancement Committee wants to limit the number of Merit Badges a Scout earns with one Counselor to six. They also want to limit the number of Merit Badges any one counselor covers to six, as well. Can we do this? (District Advancement Chairman)

Nope, you sure can’t! Check it out yourself…The BSA National Policies and Procedures clearly state that there is no limit on the number of Badges-earned-per-Counselor and that there’s no limit on the number of Badges-per-Counselor, and local councils don’t have the luxury of making “rules” that supercede the National BSA. Whether you happen to agree or not with policies like this is a different matter entirely, but until you mount a campaign for change, and get the change in place, I sure hope you don’t “bad-mouth” the National Office or the policies – this just doesn’t show Scout Spirit very well! That said, let’s look at it another way for a moment… If you’ve discovered a really radical situation, like a Troop parent who’s running all the Scouts through a bunch of merit badges by staying two pages ahead, then you definitely have an educational problem on your hands that you need to step in on and fix, because whoever this is doesn’t understand the “hidden agenda” of merit badges, and needs some significant help from you. And ultimately, there is something you can do to shut down behavior like this, because the advancement committee does have the right to pass or not pass on who counsels what badges, and you have the absolute right to expect counseling to be based on specific knowledge and experience gained by vocation or avocation (that is, a lot more than just “reading the book” before the Scouts do!).

Godspeed, and Happy Scouting!

Happy Scouting!


Have a question or problem? Got an idea that will help others? Send an email to – be sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!

(Mid-November 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

Comments are closed.