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Issue 24 – January 2004

I started this column just over two years ago, and since then, my notoriety’s been spreading. A number of councils around the country are reproducing this column or parts of it on a regular basis on their websites or in their printed newsletters. I’m honored that this is happening. Here are two of the more recent requests…

Hi Andy,

I’d like to run your column as a regular feature in our Council’s newsletter. I think it could prove to be a great asset to our leaders. (Tony Vogl, Senior District Executive, Connecticut Yankee Council)

Dear Andy,

I just read my first ever “ASK ANDY” column, and I want to give you a big round of applause (hands clapping in circular motion)! This is a great column, and I’d like to include parts of it in my monthly Commissioner’s Newsletter. Thanks for taking the time to do this! (Richard Kusmierczyk, District Commissioner, Osceola District, West Central Florida Council)

To both Tony and Richard…and others who have asked and have been doing this for a while now—THANK YOU! Please spread the word in your councils, because the more readers, the more good questions, and the more help we can all be for one another! “Borrow” whatever you’d like. But…do keep in mind that this is original material and I do expect to be credited, including my name and email address.

For those who may have done some “borrowing” without asking, you need to know that the drawing of me is not “clip-art”—that is ME—and the words of the answers are mine as well, so if you’re going to borrow, then ask! Heck, I’ll always say Yes. Let’s just all respect this symbol—©—as much as we do the Scout Emblem!

(Publisher’s Note – In Scouting we lead by example and our example is what we expect our Scouts to see as the right way to do things. We expect Scouts to respect the property of others, not to steal, and not to cheat – A Scout is Trustworthy. When using the web we need to make sure that we give the right example by always getting permission to reprint or ‘borrow’ material. We need to credit original authors and not make it look like our own work. And we need to remember that instead of ‘taking’ material that isn’t ours, we should instead link to it on the website of the original author. Scouts will learn from your example and be less likely to engage in plagiarism, software piracy or music piracy. — Michael F. Bowman – The NetCommish) Back to Andy . . .

Now, let’s take a look inside this month’s mailbag . . .

Dear Andy,

I’m confused. Yes, I know the title of our organization is “Boy Scouts of America,” yet I find that our written, verbalized and practiced profession seems to suggest a division between the terms: Boy, Scout and Scouter. What’s the difference between these three terms, and why do so many of us take personal advantage of our perceived positions-ranks? (Cecily Garnhardt)

“Boy” commonly refers to a male youth (i.e., under age 18) who’s not a member of the BSA. “Scout” means a youth who is a registered member of the BSA. Commonly, and more particularly, if he’s a Cub Scout, he’s often called a “Cub” and if he’s a Boy Scout he’s often called a “Scout.” “Scouter” refers to an adult volunteer registered in the BSA, and includes everyone—both men and women—from Commissioners to committee members to Den Leaders and Cubmasters/Scoutmasters. But there’s more… “Explorers” are male and female youth members of Explorer Posts; “Sea Scouts” are, well, Sea Scouts (actually, they’re also older youth, and they’re members of Sea Scout ships); and “Venturers” are youth members of Venturing Crews. And as to the second part of your question, I’m guessing the same kinds of people who try to “pull rank” in Scouting do it elsewhere in their lives too.

Dear Andy,

I’m the Unit Commissioner for a Troop with a “problem Scout” – he’s a 15-year-old who can’t keep his hands off of other (mostly the younger) Scouts. No, I don’t mean in a sexual sense. I mean he likes to grab kids from behind and squeeze their chests and lift them off of the ground. The Scoutmaster’s yelled at him, but this doesn’t stop it. Every time the SM turns his back, this Scout’s at it again. What the heck do we do about this, short of calling his parents and having them take him home? (B.E., New Jersey)

I’m going to give you the exact words to use that will make this Scout stop instantly. Here they are: “(NAME), if you like hugging other Scouts, I’m sorry but you’ll have to do your hugging after the Troop meeting’s over.” Do this exactly this way, with sufficient volume for your voice to “carry,” and it will never happen again – I guarantee it!

Dear Andy,

I’m a new District Commissioner (I’ve been an ADC for a couple of years), and I have a confusing contradiction from what you’ve stated and what our Assistant Council Commissioner has stated about Commissioners sitting on the Troop-level Boards of Review. The ACC recently stated that if there aren’t enough committee members to fill a BOR, a Commissioner can fill in as a member. I contested this with him, having just read your words to the contrary. He said that a Commissioner can sit in, but has no vote. Is this correct, or is he mistaken? Is there a resource for this information that I can access?

I also have a Troop that has an advancement chair who allows anybody to sit on the board, including ASMs and non-registered adults. The Troop’s Committee Chair is on my side, and tries to insist that Troop have only registered committee members sit on Boors. The response we get is, “I’m the advancement chair and you should butt out.” This guy’s been doing this for years, he says, and he knows what he’s doing. (Ty Roshdy, DC, Golden Empire Council, Sacramento, Ca.)

To your first question: Your ACC you refer to is technically correct, but so what? So a Commissioner “sits in” as an observer for a B-O-R… what of it? Since the Commissioner is an observer only, and has no vote, his or her mere presence doesn’t satisfy the requirement for a quorum – The Troop still needs to provide a minimum of three folks, and unless it’s an Eagle board, all three need to be registered committee members of that Troop. Whatever point your ACC is trying to make with his notion of Commissioners “sitting in” on Boors is beyond me! And you bet there’s a resource! Get your hands on a BSA publication called “Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures.” It’s all spelled out with excellent clarity. Here’s what it says about boards of review (national policy, we know, can’t be changed for the convenience of any unit, district, or council)…

– B-O-Rs from Tenderfoot through Life, plus Eagle PALMS: No less than 3, no more than 6 adults, all registered members of the Troop committee and specifically EXCLUDING SMs AND ASMs and relatives of the Scout. One Scout at a time.

– Eagle B-O-R: No less than 3 nor more than 6 “adults who understand the importance of the rank” – this is the one and only time they don’t have to be registered in the BSA (they can be, but they don’t have to be) — but with the SAME EXCLUSIONS AS ABOVE.

– About that SM exclusion—The SM may sit in as an observer at ANY BOR, but without either a voice or vote.

– If a parent’s the SM, the “SM rule” doesn’t apply; the parent rule does.

As for that advancement chair, what he’s been doing “for years” is so wrong as to be comical if it didn’t affect the Scouts. Sounds like “one year of experience, repeated 20 times” instead of any true experience or growth. Replacing him with Jo-Jo, The Dog-Faced Boy would be better than keeping him, especially with the attitude he’s showing his Troop’s Chairman and a Commissioner!

Hi again, Andy,

As always, your advice is just as I thought it would be. Sometimes I just need that second opinion and shot in the arm. Thanks for the encouragement. When the units and district are working well, that’s my reward! Thanks so much! (Ty Roshdy)

Let’s talk a little more… The Commissioner’s job is one of the most rewarding and simultaneously one of the most difficult in all of Scouting. A large part of this is because it’s 100% responsibility with 0% authority! You can’t be the “council cop” or “program police” or “Scouting’s SWAT team”—You’re a diplomat and ambassador, rolled into one. This means your job is to convince more than correct, persuade more than push, refine more than reinvent, refocus more than reform. This requires utmost gentleness and minimal force. It’s the equivalent of a feather and the antithesis of a battle axe. And the most important quality of a good Commissioner is patience—patience with people who just aren’t getting it, and patience to understand that re-aiming a person or unit closer to the True North of Scouting takes more than a moment of argument. It’s like turning the wheel of an oil tanker and then knowing you’ll have to wait a while before you begin to see the bow move a little bit toward the new course.

Dear Andy,

As Scoutmaster (and a fairly new one) of a pretty established Troop, I’ve had to advise our Troop’s Senior Patrol Leader and the Patrol Leaders in our PLC that, sometimes, their ideas for Troop activities need a little redirection. Last week, the PLC wanted the Troop to spend a Saturday “paint-balling.” I had to tell them that, while this would be fun, it’s not an “approved” Scouting activity, so they’ll need to come up with another idea. In another case, about a month ago, we were car-camping and a bear wandered near our Troop’s campsite. Without checking with me first, the SPL immediately ordered the PLs to drop everything, clear the campsite and move all of the Scouts back down to where the cars had been parked. The result was that the bear had a field-day ransacking a couple of tents that had food in them, tore up a couple of sleeping bags with “stashes” of candy, and then continued to wander around the campsite. I called for a PLC right away, and told the SPL and PLs to reassemble the Troop, grab up the pots and pans, form a bunched-together line, and make all the noise they could by banging the pots and pans and shouting. The bear meandered off, and I quickly called for the SPL and PLs to inspect every tent and gather all “smellables” for removal to the cars’ trunks (there was a ton of them—from GORP to Gummy Bears!). The rest of the weekend proceeded without further incident. But, now, the SPL has convinced the PLs (and some regular Scouts in the Troop, too) that I’m not “letting” this be a “Scout-run Troop,” and they’ve called for a meeting of the Troop Committee to demand (Yes, “demand”) my removal as SM. Although I’ve taken all the training required for my position, no one’s ever talked about anything like this! Are they right—am I out-of-line here ? Or not? Help! (Sign me: Confused SM in New Jersey)

Stick to your guns—you’re not out-of-line at all! And if this SPL doesn’t have the brains to realize that part of your job as Scoutmaster is to be the Troop’s “safety net,” well, it may be time for another Troop election! Same goes for the Patrol Leaders. When it comes to issues of safety, health, and following BSA national policies, the Scoutmaster has to absolutely be the final word. Otherwise, chaos reigns and the program goes astray in major ways. So, get with your Committee Chair right away, to make sure you’re both on the same page here (he’d better be, or this is a really messed up Troop!). Let the SPL and PLs make their “presentation,” and be sure you’re there to hear it, too. Then, you and the CC can both set these young men straight, and help them start focusing on their own jobs instead of yours. Once this has settled down, your next job as SM—actually, it’s the most important job you have!—is to run a Troop Junior Leader Training program, so that everyone’s on the same page, and understands why.

Hey Andy,

I’ve asked this question of many Scouters and can’t get an answer: What type of knot is tied to the bottom of the Scout badge? When you look at one, it appears to be a hangman’s noose, but I know it’s not that. Some have said it is an overhand knot. What do you think it is, and how is it tied and affixed to the bottom of the badge? (Pat Gargan, Scoutmaster, Troop 469, Madison, NY)

Easy! Here’s what my own “Handbook for Boys” says: “The knot at the bottom of the badge—a simple overhand knot—is a reminder that a Scout does a good turn to someone daily.” So there you are!

Thanks, Andy, but I did know what the handbooks said. Here’s the real problem: How can it be a simple overhand knot when it has a loop and what appears to be no ends? My problem is not that I don’t believe it’s an overhand knot, but how do you tie it the way it’s pictured so that it comes out the same as it appears? (Pat Gargan)

Well, that’s a different question, and you may be looking for “reality” in a place of symbolism. The “stars” on the Scout badge certainly wouldn’t be approved by Carl Sagan, nor the Eagle by Audubon, but there they are, anyway! So, stick with the symbolism of the knot, and teach your Scouts to appreciate it, but don’t try to have them duplicate it in a knot-tying contest!

Dear Andy,

I found your column while doing a search for some information on Eagle Palms. I always hear that 2% to 4% of Scouts reach the rank of Eagle. Are there any statistics about the percentage of Eagles that reach each of the Eagle palms? (What percentage make Bronze, etc.) Is there a resource that might have this info? (Dave Mason)

That’s a great question, but I don’t have an equally great answer for you. Here’s what SCOUTING Magazine has to say on the subject: “The Boy Scouts of America does not keep records, nor do councils, on Eagle Palms…” Too bad, because that’s the kind of information that’s useful in encouraging Scouts to keep on keepin’ on! If you ever do find anything on this, send it in and I’ll publish it, for all my readers.

Dear Andy,

When my son became Cub Scout age, he joined a Pack at his school and I was recruited to be Assistant Cubmaster. That was OK with me—I was a Scout myself as a boy. But then last year, just as I too on the job of Webelos Den Leader, our Cubmaster’s son “aged out” and I got recruited to be Cubmaster, too. Meanwhile, I’d been asked to be a member of the district’s Roundtable staff, which I had said Yes to. Now, with three Scouting “jobs” I’m not home as much as I’d like, my son isn’t as enthusiastic as he once was (I’m getting worried that he might not want to be a Boy Scout), and my wife’s not exactly thrilled with my nights out. Plus, our daughter’s started complaining that, thanks to the Boy Scouts, she never sees her Daddy anymore. How can I juggle these jobs and get my family back on track? (B.H., Middlesex, NJ)

Buddy, your family’s not off the track—you are! Personally, I’m really not thrilled with the “hats-piled-high” approach to volunteering in Scouting. Fact is, I think it’s a great killer—of people and units, too. Especially the Cubmaster-Den Leader dual role. And, let’s face it, brother, nobody put those “hats” on your head except YOU. So, it’s time to shed a couple, because the other three members of your family—your wife, your son, and your daughter, too—are absolutely right! But, Scouting’s not to blame—you are! Time to grow a spine and say, “Thanks, I’m honored, but NOT RIGHT NOW.” If you were just the Cubmaster, or just the Webelos Den Leader (take your pick), you reasonably should be looking at just three to at the most four evenings a month: One for the Roundtable, one for the Pack committee/Den Leader meeting, and one for the Pack meeting itself, plus maybe one evening at home, for “prep” work. That’s only once a week, and that leaves lots of time for you to spend with your own son. And your wife. And your daughter. THEY are the ones who need you most! When folks insist on wearing several Scouting “hats,” the ones who lose the most are the very children we’re supposed to be doing this for. So, I encourage you to focus your energies where they’ll do the most good—on your own son, and then his friends in his Den. Now, you’re gonna tell me, “If I don’t do the job, no one will stand up and the job won’t get done at all.” Well, go ahead and say that, if you like. But I’m going to tell you this: The best leaders of volunteers—in or out of Scouting—are the ones who can get others to volunteer, too. If you’re going to “rescue” your Pack by taking on multiple jobs, who’s going to rescue you, when your family throws you and your uniform into the doghouse? Ask yourself this: How will my own son appreciate what Scouting has to offer if I’m never home to share the vision with HIM? Besides, if your wife isn’t exactly overjoyed with your spending so much time on Scouting stuff, how’s that workin’ for you? You’d better start remembering: “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” Think about it!

Hi Andy,

In the 2002-2004 Insignia Guide there’s no information on where to wear the Risk Zone and Youth Protection emblems on the uniform shirt. Are these actually “official” and where can information on the placement of them be found? Dennis Vega

My local Scout Shop experts told me all about these two. These “trained” patches for RZ and YP are treated as patches in the “temporary” category—this has to do more with location on the uniform than permanence. Insignia in the “temporary” class go on the RIGHT pocket ONLY. For these two small ones, either or both can be placed at the bottom of the pocket (but not below the bottom seam of the pocket), and below any other temporary patch (such as a summer camp or camporee or other patch). Or, if there’s no other temporary patch, they may be centered on the pocket itself (but definitely NOT on the flap—this location is reserved exclusively for OA “flap” patches). Unlike the red-bordered “TRAINED” insignia that’s worn on the left sleeve, signifying unit leadership training, these are definitely not placed in a similar sleeve position, even though they, also, say “trained.”

Dear Andy,

Where can I find the list of current Merit Badge Counselors for my home council? (Bill Baldwin, Troop 1, Mendham, NJ)

Merit Badge Counselors are typically approved by your council’s advancement committee and registered through your council’s service center, but the actual lists are more usually maintained by each of the districts in the council. So, I’d start by asking your district’s advancement chair for the current list. If there’s no answer there, I’d reach out to the council advancement chair. As a last resort, your council service center might have the list you’re looking for. Good luck!

Dear Andy,

Please send me a Merit Badge Counselors list—I’m in the Patriots’ Path Council, in New Jersey. (M.C., Explorer Post Advisor)

Seems we have a misunderstanding here. I answer questions; I’m not in the “fulfillment” business. Check with your district’s advancement chair or committee for a list of Merit Badge Counselors—they’re the folks who are usually charged with updating and publishing this. Or, as an alternative, check with your local council’s service center—someone there might have the list and can send it to you. Now I have a question for YOU—Explorers don’t earn Merit Badges…So why would you need a list of MBCs?

Explorers age 14 to 18 can earn Merit Badges. It’s an unusual situation, because girls can be explorers and as such can earn Merit Badges. In my Post, we have none earned by girls yet. (M.C., Explorer Post Advisor, Assistant Scoutmaster, & Commissioner)

NOOOOOO, Sir! Explorers do NOT earn merit badges. Young men, who are dual registered as both Boy Scouts and Explorers (which is perfectly OK), can earn merit Badges, because they are registered Boy Scouts. Do NOT (repeat: NOT!) suggest to anyone that a youth who is registered only as an Explorer—whether male or female—can earn Merit Badges. They can’t. This IS “in the book”—it’s not my “opinion.” And this is not a discussion of “my opinion versus your opinion.” Got it? Good! This is something you need to know, as an Advisor, an ASM, and most importantly as a Commissioner!

Happy Scouting!


Got a question? Send it to me sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!

(January 2004 – Copyright © Andy McCommish)


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.

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