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Issue 36 – July 2004

Hi Andy,

I’m the religion reporter at the Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle. Can you tell me the origin of the symbolism attached to the 13 folds in the flag-folding ceremony for the American Flag? There are several places on the Internet where I can find the symbolism, but nowhere can I find the origin! It must be a recent tradition, because one of the 13 points refers to “under God” in the Pledge. Can you give me some information or suggest someone else I could contact? (Virginia Norton)

Yes, Virginia, there is a Flag, and it flies still! I don’t know the origin of the “folding” litany, but I sure enjoy hearing it performed! I’ve seen it around the Internet, too, and I guess it’s a case of “Anon.”!

Dear Andy,

Our Troop’s committee members have been wrestling with an issue without success. We have some Scouts who rarely attend meetings and then come up for their Scoutmaster conferences and Boards of Review. Some of the committee members feel we should institute some sort of standard of participation to meet the “active” requirement, but in one of your columns, you seem to indicate that setting a stipulation along those lines would constitute adding to a BSA requirement, and that’s against BSA policy. Is that right? And, a separate but similar issue involves lack of attendance and/or performance by our elected junior leaders. We’ve taken the initiative to have the SPL speak with poorly attending or poorly performing junior leaders about their roles, and, in one case, we even had the SM talk with one of these leaders. In some cases, this has worked out, and the Scout improved his attendance. But, in another case, the Scout held his leadership position for six months without handling his duties as PL (while the other Scouts in his Patrol picked up the slack) and then he came forward for rank advancement. Any suggestions? (Bruce Friedman, ASM, Troop 18, Tampa, FL)

Just to get one point out of the way — and this is a BSA policy; not some “rule” of my own! — setting a specific stipulation for the number or percent of meetings or outings or activities a Scout must attend in order to be considered “active” would constitute an addition to a requirement and that’s just not permitted. The reason behind that — particularly in the arena of active participation – is twofold. In the first place, Scouting abides by the principle of “do your best.” Secondly, Scouting is the most forgiving of programs, and while other youth activities such as team sports, band, etc., virtually demand perfect attendance to the exclusion of all other activities, Scouting doesn’t do this, and never has! That’s because we’ve always considered the youth we’re serving more important than the program itself. But, let’s face it, boys of Scout age “vote with their feet.” So, when attendance has dropped off, first take a hard look at the Troop meeting program being delivered. Is it FUN? Is it EXCITING? Does it deliver LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES? Does it deliver NEW LEARNINGS in the SCOUTING (not “classroom”) STYLE? Do the Scouts, themselves, actually plan and lead the meetings? If the answers to ALL of these questions are YES, only then can you consider that the “problem” might lie with the youth.

Now, let’s take a look at absent and/or inadequate leadership by Patrol Leaders, etc. First off, I’m delighted to learn that your Scout leaders are elected and not appointed, as some Troops do, to the misfortune of their Scouts! Here, my first question is this: Is the Scoutmaster providing these leaders with TRAINING? Is he using the SCOUTMASTER’S JUNIOR LEADER TRAINING KIT (No. 34306), provided by your council through the BSA National Supply Division? If yes, then counseling is certainly necessary. And, if counseling doesn’t work, and you have one or more patrols in disarray, then it’s time for a new election — and the heck with 6 months! But if you’re not delivering leadership training, you can’t blame the Scouts! Or “punish” them for sub-par performance! The Scoutmaster’s PRIMARY responsibility is to TRAIN THE TROOP’S LEADERS. Period.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster. Yesterday, one of my Scouts called me to ask for a couple of blue cards for two of the Citizenship merit badges. I asked him which counselor he planned to contact, and he said he planned on getting these merit badges from his mother, who is a counselor. I told him that, to keep everything above reproach, he should contact a different merit badge counselor; not his own mother. Today, his mother called me to let me know that she had checked with our District Merit Badge Dean, who said she can sign off on a merit badge for her own son even if there are other counselors available. I tried to explain to the Scout’s mother/counselor that fully one-half of the merit badge process is the learning experience involved when the Scout displays and carries out the initiative required to contact an adult counselor whom he doesn’t know. Further, there is certainly more objectivity when a Scout’s work is reviewed by an adult the Scout isn’t related to. I don’t think I got anywhere with this mother. She seemed more focused on “rules” than anything I was trying to convey to her. Could you please let me know where I stand? The question is: If there are other merit badge counselors available, may a Scout get a merit badge from his own parent? A second question is: Do I, as the Scoutmaster, have any say about which counselor a Scout sees for any particular merit badge? (Andy’s withholding the names, here, for pretty obvious reasons!)

To me, this sounds suspiciously like a former Cub Scout Den Leader who hasn’t gotten over it! So, to our “Mom/Counselor,” I have this to say: BOY Scouts ain’t Cub Scouts, and it’s time for these young men to begin testing their wings with as many different adult role models other than their parents as possible. That’s how “life lessons” are acquired and how life-learning occurs.

Now, if the Scout has one or more buddies concurrently earning the badge from his Mom, that’s certainly acceptable per the policies of the BSA. But any wise parent knows they’re putting their own son at some risk when they’re the counselor. Others – incorrectly or not; it doesn’t matter – will frequently assume that the parent is either “too soft” or “too hard” on their own son. Neither is necessary, of course. And the absolutely most simple way of preventing this is for the Scout to have a counselor other than his own parent. This way, ALL of the aims of the merit badge program are fulfilled, and not just one-half. To the parent who truly wants to see the son grow and mature and gain and practice new and important skills, the reward of watching him succeed out of the nest far outweighs the brief enjoyment of having him in their own merit badge group.

You, as Scoutmaster, can help make this happen, and it’s very simple. Take another look at page 187 of the current BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. It’s absolutely the Scoutmaster, and not either the Scout or the Counselor (parent or otherwise) who makes the MB Counselor selection. So, if mama wants “rules,” there’s one she can’t ignore. That’s what the Scoutmaster’s job is all about – directing the Scouts in their charge to the most optimal resources for their personal growth.

Dear Andy,

I’m research coordinator for Troop-and-Pack 139 in Jerome, Idaho, and I’m looking for a skit that’s called “Quick-Draw McGraw,” or at least that’s the name given to me. We’d like to put this on at an upcoming Scout function. Any suggestions or assistance would be very helpful and greatly appreciated. (Tom Roberson)

Well, you have me stumped! But maybe some of my readers have an answer for you! (Readers – Can you help Tom out?)

Dear Andy,

What’s a good source for appropriate CPR training for Scouts, that satisfies requirements found in most of the physical activity type merit badges. I’m officially trained and certified by the Red Cross but not as an instructor. What is the intent of instructing boys if they cannot be certified to perform CPR. This isn’t something you can afford to do wrong! (Jesse Ellington, ASM, Troop 209, Apex, NC)

A while ago, CPR “certification” was mandatory for a Scout to meet some specific advancement requirements. For instance, through the 1980’s and into the 90’s, Lifesaving merit badge, requirement 14, stated, in part: “…show evidence of having completed a minimum of 3 hours instruction in CPR skills by a recognized agency,” and the two “recognized agencies” were the ARC and the AHA.

But, requirements inevitably change, and so you’ll need to take a very close look at the particular language used in various requirements in use today. For instance, requirement 6a for Second Class rank (“Show what to do for ‘hurry’ cases of stopped breathing…”) doesn’t specify that a “credential” from some “certified” course or instructor or agency is needed. Same for requirement 8d for First Class — no “certification” needed. Same with requirements 2a and 2b for Swimming merit badge. And even requirements 13a and 13b for Lifesaving merit badge don’t require a “certified” instructor or course, other than a qualified merit badge counselor! If you’d like to be a merit badge counselor for badges that allow you to use your knowledge in instructing Boy Scouts, that’s wonderful! If not, then you needn’t worry, because all merit badge counselors are pre-approved by your district and/or council!

Hi Andy,

How can I get a copy of the 2004-2005 roundtable planning guide? (Rick Gimbl, Council Commissioner)

If your council service center can’t give it to you, or order it for you, you may want to contact the BSA National Supply operation (1-800-323-0732 or ““) directly, and request item number LT34253A.

Hi Andy,

When a Scout comes home from summer camp and hasn’t completed all of the requirements for a merit badge requirements from which he was working on, does he call another merit badge Counselor and finish his requirements, or can the Scoutmaster sign his card when he has finished the requirements? And, related to that, when a Scout does complete all the requirements for a merit badge, but instead of getting a signed-off “blue card” from the summer camp, he’s instead given a report that says he’s done all the requirements, then who signs it? I’ve been asking these questions, and I’ve received different answers. Can you help? (Bill, new Advancement Chair in Central Florida Council)

No, a Scoutmaster isn’t a surrogate merit badge counselor, and doesn’t “finish” a Scout who has a “partial.” The Scoutmaster’s job (see page 187 of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK) is to refer the Scout to a qualified merit badge counselor in his home district or council. That merit badge counselor will then see to it that the balance of the requirements are completed, and then sign the card.

On your second question, if a Scout summer camp uses something other than the standard “blue card” to signify completion of a merit badge, then one would assume that there’s a signature on it, or at least a stamp of some sort from the camp itself. In either case, a report such as that, signed and/or stamped, should be sufficient documentation for your Troop’s advancement chair to fill out a standard advancement report and submit it to your council’s service center.

Dear Andy,

I’ve been re-reading some off your previous columns and I came across the question from C.G., a parent, who had asked what Scout Spirit is. The premise of C.G.’s question was a Scout who had “failed” his Scoutmaster Conference for First Class rank, and quit the Troop as a result. According to the Scoutmaster, he “failed” the Scout because (this really is a quote): “The boy didn’t show ‘Scout spirit’.” I don’t think you went far enough when you “shamed” the Scoutmaster. Where was the committee in this situation? And what are they seeing as this boy “speaks with his feet”—the bottom of his shoes? I totally agree that 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 encourage him to advance. But I don’t think the Scoutmaster should wait (while the boy continues to demonstrate unacceptable Scout Spirit) until rank advancement is on the line. The Scoutmaster Conference can be held at ANYTIME. And my practice was to hold them for the GOOD as well as the NEEDS IMPROVEMENT reasons. If the Scoutmaster intervenes early, the Scout has ample time to improve, and ample time to understand exactly what Scout Spirit means in action. This way, there shouldn’t be any Scouts who “aren’t quite ready,” unless they willfully fail to follow the advice of the Scoutmaster. The conference for rank advancement should NOT SURPRISE the Scout. Generally, those I’ve counseled early, and often if necessary, still have other requirements to meet before their rank advancement is complete. Plus, they come to the conference armed with the knowledge that they’ve done what was asked, and much more confident (if not downright certain) of earning the rank. And, because they’ve improved, my part of the conference becomes reviewing what is now the good performance of the Scout! Since we volunteer in “BOY” Scouts and not “MAN” or “WOMAN” or “ADULT” Scouts, there is something fundamentally wrong when boys quit because of an adult. Troop Committees need to step forward and expect (demand) positive, supportive, mentoring behavior from every adult leader. When boys quit under these circumstances a big red flag should be waving in the face of every committee member. We don’t know the Scoutmaster’s history or training, but if he’s not performing, the Committee should have their own Scoutmasters’ conference. Review his performance and explain what he needs to do to improve—with the understanding that if he doesn’t improve, he’ll be the one looking for another Troop!


It’s fun reading your column. I like the attitude (and the information). Good, practical, SENSIBLE advice. Keep it up! (Dave Hudson, Unit Commissioner, Clinton Valley Council)

Very well said! These are exactly the kinds of thoughts we need to be sharing with one another. Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to write. And thanks for the “PS” – We Commissioners need an “Atta Boy,” every now and again, too!

Dear Andy,

My question concerns Merit Badge Counseling. Towards the bottom of the form it asks, “Would you like to be a counselor for only your Troop, or, would you like to counsel for all Troops?” Does “all Troops” mean all Troops in a district, all Troops in a council, or all Troops in BSA? (Dale Mellor, MB Counselor & Unit Commissioner, Kickingbird District, Last Frontier Council)

In most councils, MB Counselors serve at the district level, and each district will have its own MB Counselor list for Scouts to contact. In this instance, “all Troops” would mean “all Troops in the district.” In the case of a council-wide MB Counselor list, where no distinctions are made between districts, for MB Counselors, then “all Troops” would mean “all in the council.” The best bet is to check with your district or council advancement chairperson, and ask how it’s handled. One thing I will add to this is a personal commentary — I try to DIS-courage folks from becoming “Troop-only” Counselors. This sort of in-breeding actually conflicts with one of the two fundamental purposes of the Merit Badge program, in my estimation, and although it’s “permitted” by the BSA, I sure wish it weren’t! Having Troop-only Counselors also “encourages” the Troop to run “Merit Badge CLASSES” in Troop meetings, which turn the whole thing into “Scout School.” Crumby idea, as far as I’m concerned — Boys didn’t join the Troop so they could sit in classes and be spoon-fed Merit Badges; they joined to HAVE FUN IN THE OUT-OF-DOORS!

Dear Andy,

I’m the new Committee Chairperson for our Pack, and I’m trying to fill out the our tour permit application, which I understand is a mandatory form for Pack to fill out before they go on trips. My questions are: 1) Do I need to do this for ALL trips? 2) Where can I get a copy of “Guide to Safe Scouting”? 3) What if there isn’t a youth protection or risk zone trained person signed up to accompany the Pack on an outing? (Heidi Michelsen)

The “short answers” are…

1) Yes.

2) Your local Scout Shop

3) You don’t go.

But, there’s more to it than that…

I’m getting the feeling you haven’t gone to training yet. Otherwise, I’m sure you’d have been given the GUIDE you’re looking for, and you’d know that tour permits get filled out and submitted every time a Pack or Den goes somewhere other than their normal meeting place. So, what you’ll want to do is round up every new volunteer in the Pack and — together! — go to your council’s or district’s New Leader Essentials training course. This will help you all immensely, and will put you on the best path to delivering the kind of high-quality Scouting program you want your sons to receive. Check with your council service center, find out when the next training opportunity is, and then GO FOR IT!

Dear Andy,

I’ve heard and have always followed the guidelines to wear full “Class A’s” when traveling on public transportation, like a train or airplane. Is this the National BSA policy or is it just a good idea to do so? (Al Metauro, District Commissioner, Raritan Valley District, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Wearing the full Scout uniform is always an excellent idea, whether traveling or at a summer camp, or even hiking or Troop camping. After all, that’s what the uniform’s original purpose was, and still is. Besides, just like certain tatoos, buffs, do-rags, and so on, the uniform gives the young man a sense of belonging, acceptance, and being special. Embarrassment, by the way, only happens when the Scout is alone in wearing his uniform in public; put him, in his uniform, with his entire Patrol or Troop of a dozen to several dozen, and that shyness goes away. BUT, only the full uniform works (trust me on this, ’cause it ain’t “in the book”) and only when every Scout is doing his best to have and wear the full uniform. Is this a “national policy”? Not really in the sense of your question; however “Scouting is a uniformed organization” definitely is a policy of the Boy Scouts of America. But, even if there weren’t a policy, it’s the right thing to do, for the reasons I’ve mentioned, at the very least. And, it’s more than “common sense” — it’s GOOD sense. Further, it can be made into a tradition (personally, I like “traditions” more than “policies” anyway) for any Troop or Scouting group that’s going to be “out there” — even if it’s a brand new tradition!

Dear Andy,

Our National Commissioner for the past five years, Rick Cronk, did a great job serving the BSA. Who is the new National Commissioner and do you have the “scoop” on him? Any ideas what his priorities are? (Tom Boeckmann, Council Commissioner, Hawkeye Area Council)

It’s just been announced that DON BELCHER is our new National Commissioner. Don’s a terrific guy and an excellent and highly experienced Scouter! He’s going to do a great job, and you have my word on that! To learn more, go here —

Happy Scouting!


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

(July 2004 – Copyright © 2004 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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