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Issue 25 – Mid-January 2004

Dear Andy,

Does a Scout have to have a Court of Honor to get his Eagle? I have Scout who doesn’t want a Court of Honor; he just wants to get it and not make a big deal over it. But he’s being told he must have Court of Honor. (Percy Shackles, Missouri)

A Boy Scout attains the rank of Eagle Scout on conclusion of his Board of Review for the rank. That’s the actual date. It’s the date that will appear on his Eagle Scout rank certificate from the BSA National Office. So, if the Board of Review has taken place successfully, this young man is ALREADY an Eagle! Consequently, if he’d like to be given the medal, etc. without the usual pomp and circumstance, that’s certainly his right. But, that said, I’m going to make a recommendation that I hope you’ll share with him. If he thinks about it, it’s the very rare Scout who attains the rank of Eagle without the involvement, support, and encouragement of others–including his Scoutmaster, his parents, those who helped him with his Eagle Project, and surely others, too. Since a great part of the “message” of Scouting is “service to others,” he may want to consider that these people would enjoy and appreciate seeing closure to their efforts on his behalf over the years. The presentation of the Eagle medal need not be a “big deal”–it can be a small, intimate deal, even done in his home or back yard (weather permitting). I encourage him to do this, not because he “owes” these people but because it’s simply the Scout-like thing to do.

Hello Andy,

I recently purchased some popcorn from a local Cub Scout, but he claims it never came. His parents aren’t interested. Any advice about what to do? This boy is from Pack 18 in Portland Oregon. Thanks! (Daniel Bohn)
Ouch! Non-delivery is one thing, but disinterest by parents when it comes to helping their son make good on a commitment is another! This family, as you’ve described them, needs some help in the “department of good conduct,” and I hope some Scouter helps them out! But, meanwhile, let’s see what we can do for you here… The area you live in is served by the Cascade Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The phone number for the council’s service center is (503) 226-3423. Call them, tell them the town you live in, and ask for the name and phone number of your area’s “popcorn chairman” (sometimes called “popcorn colonel”). Tell that person what you’ve told me here, and they’ll surely either get you your popcorn or refund your money.

Hi Andy,

I really like your column—it’s great! However, I was surprised when I saw the information about Explorers working on Merit Badges. I don’t believe that any Explorers in any Post can. Yes, a Venturer in a Venturing Crew can, and only if he’s a male member that already earned First Class in a Troop. I’ve never heard that a Venturer has to maintain his registration in the troop and crew in order to work on Merit Badges. (Joe Macone, Assistant District Commissioner, Crew 302 Advisor, and Troop 302 Committee Member, Sons of Liberty District, Boston Minuteman Council Arlington, MA)

You’re right—Explorers CAN’T earn Merit Badges. I’m including abbreviated versions the comment about Explorers and Merit Badges by that sorta misguided guy in New Jersey who thought they could—and my response—just so you and my other readers know that I didn’t say that! And, while we’re on the subject, Venturers have their own award program that doesn’t involve Merit Badges—the Bronze, Gold, and Silver Awards, Ranger Award, Quest Award, and so on. Merit Badges relate to Boy Scout ranks. So, if a young man who’s registered in a Venturing Crew wants to earn them, he does have to be a registered member of a Boy Scout Troop UNLESS he was already a First Class Scout when he joined the Crew. Here’s the actual BSA language on this point: “Any Venturer who achieved the First Class rank as a Boy Scout in a Troop…may continue working for the Star, Life, and Eagle Scout ranks and Eagle Palms while registered as a Venturer up to his 18th birthday.”

M.C., in New Jersey, wrote: “Explorers age 14 to 18 can earn Merit

And I replied: “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 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’…And this is not a discussion of ‘my opinion versus your opinion.’ Got it? Good!”

Dear Andy,

I’ve just changed councils, and there’s a problem. Scouters in my former council wore “square knots” with pride, and were respected for what they’d done, achieved, and been recognized for. In this new council, I get wisecracks like “Here comes the Russian General!” or “You’re gonna walk with a tilt if you get any more of those things!” or “Hey, you look just like a Mexican General!” Those “things” are square knots—I’ve earned or received 18 in my 30 years as a Scouter. What the heck is going on here, and how do I respond to remarks like I’ve mentioned? (D.H., New Jersey)

Envy is what you’re seeing, and envy can be a positive motivator—maybe these same folks who smart-mouth you will be inspired to get out there and do something, instead of demonstrating how little they know of Scout Spirit. They’re also demonstrating boundless ignorance of cultural diplomacy—Any Russian or Mexican would surely be highly, and justifiably, offended. So here’s exactly what to say in response to those dumb remarks: “Thank you. I’m going to take that as the compliment I’m sure it was meant to be.” Now, it’s also possible that your new council has a weak or even non-existent adult recognition process, and maybe this is a place where you can help them see the light. Check it out.

Here’s a question about how a Troop should handle accompanying parents when on a camping trip. The first answer to the question is by Mr. John Glockner, of the Patriots’ Path Council (he passed it along to Ol’ Ask Andy because he felt this might be useful to others—and I agree!) and then you’ll see my own response…

What do you do about parents attending campouts? Are they allowed? Do they have to be registered with the Troop? Should the number be limited? We had our first bad/learning experience this last campout. We just had two parents (I’ll call them “Adam” and “Zoe”) who were planning on going with the Troop on a campout. Adam notified me that he’s be unable to make it up Friday, but would come with his son on Saturday, and I told him that was fine, since we had enough drivers for the Friday trip outbound. Although I wasn’t personally staying on the campout over the weekend, I still was an outbound driver Friday afternoon. I then drove back to the campsite Sunday, to help get the Scouts and gear back home—this was a “fill-in for a third parent (“Jack”), who had to leave Sunday morning too early for the Scouts. But, when I arrived Sunday afternoon, Jack was still there, because neither Adam nor Zoe ever showed up! Both Adam and Zoe have been on other campouts, and should have known that parents who don’t show make a mess of the whole transportation/coordination thing! I’ve already sent out a message to the entire Troop, stating that if you sign up to attend, you need to attend, or notify me as soon as possible if something changes. I was furious, but I’ve been told my e-mail was tasteful and to the point—thank goodness! What’s a good policy on this type of thing? What standing rules should we have to keep this sort of thing from happening again?

And John replied…

Our Troop doesn’t have any “standing rules” about who can or can’t attend. The Troop does, however, follow a basic policy regarding actual leadership (that is, more than just “the wheels”) the adults that are considered leaders must be registered as such and have taken training. The trip leader will always be either the Scoutmaster (that’s me) or one of my ASMs. There is an issue of idle minds when it comes to the parents, though. We’ve run into minor issues with parents not letting the boys lead and, in general, interfering with the campout. In these cases, we usually resort to one of two options:

1. Give the parent a task around camp that will assist the adults—but not one of the Scout’s jobs.

2. The trip leader will “collect” the parent and take a walk with him or her—that’s where we explain The Patrol Method along with the idea and what to expect from a Scout-run Troop.

So far, these two methods have worked. For the most part, we’re dealing with “transitioning” the parents from a Cub Scout mindset to a Boy Scout mindset. We try to make it as painless as possible by having a parents meeting within a couple of weeks after the Scouts cross-over. If a parent should happen to “bail” on the Troop, we try to counsel that parent on the impact this can have on the entire Troop, which could include their own son, if it’s some other parent who bails out without notice. They usually catch on pretty quickly.
And here’s my own response…

Ahhhhhh, parents! Can’t live without ’em—can’t shoot ’em! And RULES—My very favorite subject! BSA policies take Philadelphia lawyers sometimes, and Troop “rules” sometimes need the same. Me, I happen to like KISMIF! But, let’s get to the question: How to handle Troop parents on outings, hikes, and overnights…

We all know that the BSA doesn’t prohibit parents from accompanying Troop outings, and this is a good thing, because this is where the next generation of active unit-level volunteers will come from. Being registered in the BSA isn’t required, and even YP training isn’t required of all. Both of these are OK, but they don’t supercede some basic guidelines and policies, like no alcohol, and no use of tobacco visible to any Scout. To this I’d add some of the stuff we expect of the Scouts in the Troop—like Buddy System always, No Trace camping and hiking, and so on. I’ve been a Scoutmaster twice—the first time, ‘way back in the 60’s, and then again in the 90’s. Things haven’t really changed all that much, and the Troops I was SM of (one was an “inner city” Troop and the other a very suburban one) followed the same few, simple, and basic principles, that went like this…

  • · ALL adults camp (or hike) at a distance from the Scouts.
  • · Adults can interact with any other adult(s) of their choosing, any time (get my drift here?)
  • · Parents can sleep alone or with any other “consenting” adult (get it here, too?)
  • · All adults (including SM and ASMs) will “do what Scouts do” when it comes to the Buddy System, carrying/using bladed tools, beverages …and language.
  • · ALL campers get to go to sleep when it’s “lights out” time, and we ALL get to enjoy the morning when Reveille sounds (no exceptions).
  • · ALL faces are clean by breakfast—Unless you came with a beard and/or moustache, don’t expect to leave with one.

And, Yes, we were prepared to “send home” anyone who wasn’t happy with these principles. (Guess what… It never happened!)

Now “drop-outs” are another situation, and that’s all about “accountability.” Just one time, when a Troop Dad didn’t show up to be my “second” on a day hike, I cancelled the hike on the spot and had the parents (whom I had asked to remain at our gathering point until we actually were to depart) re-collect their sons and take them home again. You bet some folks were furious with me! But…this never happened again (and it was the Scouts who made sure of that)!

So, KISMIF, folks. Keep your “rules” to a minimum, keep ’em simple, and—maybe most of all—keep ’em POSITIVE! Like the Scout Law—Tell them what to do; not what to not do.

Hi Andy,

I’ve never been a Scoutmaster and don’t know all the details about it but from what I’ve seen it’s the leader of a Boy Scout Troop, just like a Cubmaster’s the leader of a Pack. I’ve seen a lot of Cubmasters go on to be Scoutmasters. Although you’ve clarified for me what you mean when you refer to a Cubmaster’s job as “mainly an emcee,” I’m suggesting that if you publish your idea of the Cubmaster’s role again, you just say it differently, such as, “The main job of a Cubmaster is to plan and carry out the pack meetings and be a role model.” It so happens that I happen to agree with the Cubmaster’s job that’s described in the BSA literature, and you don’t. So I guess we can “agree to disagree.” (B.H.)

My most important job is to listen, and I really like how you described the Cubmaster’s role in the Pack—I think I’m gonna use that, next time around! It’s a little longer than my “shorthand” version, but it very nicely captures the role.

That said, let’s clear something up that over the years confuses many, many well-intentioned people like yourself—”Cubmaster” and “Scoutmaster” are absolutely NOT the same jobs in different Scouting programs! There’s little resemblance between the two jobs at all, except in the area of this position’s relationship to the unit’s committee. In a well-run Troop of Boy Scouts, the Scoutmaster has very much of an advisory role—he’s advisor to the Patrol Leaders Council, which is the team within the Troop made up of the Senior Patrol Leader (a Scout) and (in some Troops that use this position) the Assistant SPL (another Scout), and the Patrol Leaders of the Patrols in the Troop. It’s the Patrol Leaders Council (PLC, for short) that decides what the Troop’s activities will be, when they’ll be, and so on. The PLC is also responsible for the programs within the Troop meetings themselves, and it’s the Senior Patrol Leader who runs the Troop meetings—definitely not the Scoutmaster! There’s much more to this, of course, but if you remember the questions (and answers) in my columns about “The World’s Oldest Patrol Leader,” these relate directly to folks who don’t get it, and who think the Scoutmaster and not the Scouts are “in charge.” So, the bottom line is that I’m absolutely in line with the “job descriptions” of both the Cubmaster and the Scoutmaster, and the only thing we’re sorta not on the same page with is my use of “shorthand” to describe in abbreviated form the essential aspect of one of these. This is hardly a “disagreement”!

One of the problems over the years has been the position titles themselves – “Cubmaster” sounds like it means “Master of Cubs” and then “Scoutmaster” sounds like it means “Master of Scouts.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Did you know that, in Canada, Boy Scout Troops DON’T have Scoutmasters? That’s right—the position is called “Troop Scouter.” There are no “Scoutmasters” in the UK, either—the parallel position is called “Troop Leader” (and the British Scout Handbook immediately points out that “The Troop Leader (runs) the Troop through the Patrol Leaders Council.” Maybe it’s time for the BSA to fix the semantics that have caused problems for generations!

Dear Andy,

Our council just started up an organization they call the Eagle Scout Alumni Association. Do you happen to know the difference between a council’s Eagle Scout Alumni Association and a local chapter of NESA (National Eagle Scout Association)? (R.D.)

This simple answer’s this: There aren’t any local NESA chapters. Yes, in some councils, they call their local association a “chapter,” but it’s really not. No local council association has any connection whatsoever with NESA, which continues to be a “national-only” organization.

Dear Andy,

First off, great series of Q&A’a in your articles. As a “new-bie” volunteer for my son’s den and pack, I’ve been on the watch for good scouting-related information in the net, and yours is surely on that list. My question relates to the wearing of a National Jamboree patch by a Scouter who attended a National Jamboree as a Scout. I attended the Jamboree in “More-Rain” State Park, Pennsylvania, then left Scouting shortly thereafter. Here I am 27 years later; now a Scouter with my son. I’ve had other volunteers tell me I can wear the NJ patch in its rightful place (above the right pocket), and I’ve had others tell me that doing so would be against the spec’s of the Insignia Guide. The Guide states that a current NJ patch, as well as a World Jamboree patch (until it’s superceded by a more recent event) can be worn—the NJ patch above the right pocket and the WJ patch on the pocket itself. Does that interpretation mean that only the most recent chronological event patch can be worn (2001 NJ in this case), or is it to be interpreted that the current patch is the most recent NJ one has participated in? Plus, since I attended as a Scout, am I eligible to wear it as a Scouter? I’m looking for some kind of semi-official pronouncement on the topic, and since you seem to have the inside scoop from HQ, you might be able to help out here. BTW, one of the fallback ideas given me by one of the individuals against the wearing of it in the “honored location” is to instead wear it as a temporary patch on the right pocket, instead of above it. That could serve the same purpose in the long run, and save me the time of swapping temporaries throughout the year. But then again, what fun is that? (SAW, Assistant Den Leader, Three Fires Council, St. Charles, IL.)

No “inside track” here—just a little reading (followed by—You guessed it—an opinion!). The BSA INSIGNIA GUIDE (2003-2005 Edition) has four citations for National Jamboree emblems (same as what we call “patches”), and all show a current NJ patch above the right pocket, just as you correctly noted. And, YES, the word “current” does appear pretty much throughout. And also YES, you can properly wear an NJ patch—current or otherwise, so long as you were actually there—in the “temporary patch” position on the right pocket. So, if you want to be absolutely, perfectly “legal,” you’ll wear your “old” NJ patch in the “temporary” position. But what fun is that?

Now, here’s my own little opinion: I’d absolutely wear it with pride ABOVE THE RIGHT POCKET! I agree with you that the “temporary” position should be more fun—a Camporee patch this year, a summer camp patch next year, and so on. Heck, you’re “doin’ the time” so enjoy this little “perk.” Besides, my friend, I can tell you that I’ve see a lot of Scouts and Scouters in my travels, and I’ve never, ever seen a NJ patch in the temporary position. Plain fact is, most folks are pretty clueless when it comes to the “above-the-right-pocket” position—many think any sort of round patch can go there! I’ve even seen “Commissioner College-PhD” patches above the right pocket. And that’s among the very people who ought to know better! So, if I were in your shoes (Oops! I mean “shirt”) I’d sew that NJ patch above the pocket and then LEAVE IT THERE! Heresy? Yup, sure is.

Happy Scouting!


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

(Mid-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.

Read Andy's full biography

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