Author Avatar

Issue 38 – August 2004

Hi Andy,

I’m trying to answer a question, asked by my Scoutmaster. I need to list all the Presidents who were in Scouting, and their ranks. I think I have all that, but it also mentions the Silver Buffalo Awards. All the sources I’ve found say that 13 Presidents received the Silver Buffalo; but none gave their names. Can you help me out? (Corey Johnson, Life Scout, Troop 291, Lodi, CA)

Well, let’s play “archaeologist” here… A little research tells us that the Silver Buffalo award was established by the BSA in 1925, and that the very first recipient was, appropriately, Lord Robert S.S. Baden-Powell of Gilwell, Scouting’s founder. So, if you can find out who was the American President in 1925, you’ll find out that if you count that president as “number one,” and then add up all those who have followed him up to and including our current president, the total is 14. But, that’s one too many! Now we know that President Clinton didn’t support Scouting too much, so maybe he wasn’t awarded this, and then you’d have 13. Or, maybe Mr. Clinton got it anyway, but, back in 1925, no one thought to give the Silver Buffalo to the president in office at that time, so it didn’t happen till the next president, who came into office in 1929, and then everyone since, and that would total 13. But, since you’re obviously a pretty resourceful Scout, or you wouldn’t have tracked me down to ask about this, I’m going to leave it to you to get the names of all of our presidents, starting in 1925 (actually, that president came into office in 1923), and then do your best to figure out which one didn’t get the Silver Buffalo. When you get the answer, send it to me, and I’ll include it in my column! By the way, do you have the name of the Eagle Scout who became president?

Dear Andy,

You were so full of sage advice a couple years ago when I wrote, I hope I can impose on you to try a couple of additional questions. First, the official books now confuse me about how I should run Webelos Den overnight camping. The confusion results from what seems to be a conflict between a 2003-era Webelos “Outdoorsman” requirement, and the Cub Scout Leader Book (CSLB). According to my CSLB, “Each family unit should bring its own cooking equipment, food, and utensils. Each boy works with his accompanying adult to prepare and eat meals together.” But then it goes on to say, “Keep the menu simple, remembering that each adult-youth team will cook, eat, and clean up together. This activity completes one of the requirements for the Outdoorsman badge. Suggest that similar (though not necessarily identical) meals should be planned for all involved. Everyone should anticipate at least two meals involving some cooking, such as the Saturday breakfast and dinner. Families could bring a sack lunch or a light snack to have before the return home, or it could be prepared in camp at breakfast time.”

Now, under the pre-2003 requirements, the Outdoorsman badge requirement was: “Help cook your own lunch or supper outdoors with a parent or another adult. Clean up afterward.” This wording leads me to believe than an actual “campout” (like, over night) isn’t mandatory, so I had begun to think that I understood that my Den would be cooking on a parent-son basis. But then I got to reading a new requirement in the Outdoorsman badge requirements, that was added in 2003: “With your accompanying adult on a campout or outdoor activity, assist in preparing, cooking, and cleanup for one of your den’s meals. Tell why it is important for each den member to share in meal preparation and cleanup, and explain the importance of eating together.” Den’s meals? Share in preparation? Eating together? Huh? This requirement language sounds fundamentally different to me, as well as a heck of a lot more complex, logistically, for the Den Leader! Do you think the basic philosophy of Webelos Den overnight camping has changed somewhat? Is a Webelos Den now supposed to prepare meals more like…a Patrol? What do you suggest?

Second, according to my trusty CSLB, when Webelos Scouts “…have completed the activity badge requirements, the Webelos Den Leader (or activity badge counselor), rather than the boy’s parent, approves the activity badges.” I generally interpret this to mean that unless the requirement says “parent” or “family member,” approval by a Den Leader or designee is intended. Am I OK on that, or am I being too literal? Point is, many of the activity badge requirements now include completing a sports or academics belt loop. Would you feel that completion of a belt loop (at the Webelos level) should thus not come from the Scout’s own parent in “most” cases, but instead from a Den Leader or counselor? What do you suggest? (Paul Wengert, WDL, Pack 167, National Capitol Area Council, Arlington, VA)

Ahhh…Flattery will get you everywhere! Of course you can “impose”–and it’s really no imposition at all! That’s why I’m here! I think you may be at risk of getting tied up in your own underwear here (my British Scouting friends would say, “Getting your knickers in a knot”). Let’s try to keep it simple. I know that you know that a key purpose of the Cub Scout program is to strengthen the bond between young boys and their parents, and that of the Webelos program is to prepare young boys for Boy Scouting. So, it seems to me that the shifting of the requirements you’ve described so well is the result of the realization that the introduction of the “Patrol Method” (the backbone of the Boy Scout program!) needs to begin while these boys are Webelos Scouts. To accomplish this, something had to be “given up,” and what’s apparently being given up is the “Dad-and-Lad” cooking (which is conceptually closer to the Cub Scout program). With this shift-with-a-purpose in mind, it might be easier for you to discern the direction being taken. From a practical point of view, I’d be tempted to both “qualify” any Webelos Scout who used the “old” requirements when they were in force, but from here on out point the way toward the “new” requirements. And, yes, the fact that it’s now the Webelos Den Leader who “signs off” on requirements, and it’s no longer the boy’s own parent, is an important and in fact vital part of this Webelos-to-Scout transition process.

Hey Andy,

I’m interested in the history behind the Commissioner’s Arrowhead Award. What can you tell me when was it introduced, why the white arrowhead, have the requirements changed over the years, etc.? (Red Dog, UC, Southwest Florida Council)

More than fifty years ago, when I was knee-high to a Wolf Cub (Scout, that is), my Dad wore a white arrowhead below his Commissioner’s badge. So, I know that the Commissioner’s Arrowhead Honor (its correct name) has been around a long, long time! It’s a recognition that’s quickly earned, and the requirements haven’t changed a whole heck of a lot — Its aim is to get new Commissioners to “jump in feet-first” and get going. It’s simple to earn, and it’s a great motivator for the brand-new Commissioner to start doing his or her job on “day one” and not lollygag around. It’s earned just once, and isn’t earned again, even if one goes from being a UC to ADC to DC, etc. The arrowhead itself can only be worn when a Commissioner’s badge is worn immediately above it. If one’s Scouting job changes to something other than Commissioner service (e.g., Scoutmaster, District Chair, etc.), then the arrowhead comes off the uniform along with the Commissioner’s badge. But, why it’s a “white arrowhead” is something I don’t know – Maybe there’s a reader who does? If so, write to me and I’ll put it in a column.

Dear Andy,

In our Troop we’ve found it difficult, but not impossible, to find Merit Badge Counselors. The other day, one of the mothers of one of the Scouts stated that she planned to apply to be a Counselor for all twelve of the Eagle rank-required merit badges, so that she could work with her son directly and get the work done. Is this allowed? Other MBCs are fathers of the one of boys they are helping, but I’ve never heard of a mother being a counselor. Please advise. (Angela Thompson)

First off, I’m wondering why it’s “difficult” for your Troop’s Scouts to find Merit Badge Counselors… Is your Troop in some remote, sparsely populated council? There should be a list of MBCs, provided by your council or district advancement committee, that’s an ongoing resource for you. Check that out! Meanwhile, let’s take a look at your question, which is really a couple of questions, woven together…

Yes, a woman (parent or otherwise) can be a Merit Badge Counselor, and Yes, Merit Badge Counselors can counsel their own sons—so long as the “Buddy System” is followed, this is perfectly “legal.” But, does this make sense? No, not really, and that’s because one of the two fundamental aims of the Merit Badge program itself is to help boys of Scout age learn how to initiate contact with, and follow up with, adults whom they DON’T know. This is an important life skill, and the Merit Badge program addresses this.

The third issue is the idea of a dozen or so disparate Merit Badges all counseled by the same person. Remember this: A person becomes a MBC by right of having significant experience in the specific subject matter of each Merit Badge by way of vocation (for instance, Law MB by an attorney, or Medicine MB by a doctor, or Home Repairs MB by a handyman/craftsman) or avocation (like Fishing MB by an angler, or Aviation MB by a private pilot, etc.). So, for one person to be an accomplished expert in a dozen disparate subjects is unlikely at best, and the notion of “well, I’ll just stay a chapter ahead of the Scouts” absolutely doesn’t cut it! So, you might want to consider encouraging this parent to indeed apply for MB subjects she truly considers herself an expert in, and leave the others to others! Meanwhile, get that MBC list from your district or council!

Dear Andy,

What should a Commissioner do when he finds that a Pack has given their Webelos Scouts the Arrow of Light award, but these boys had never visited a Boy Scout Troop meeting (Req.4), never went to a Boy Scout-oriented outdoor activity (Req.4), and never had a conference with a Scoutmaster (Req.6)? To top it off, they haven’t completed a Boy Scout joining application or crossed over into a Troop! (Dave Hudson, UC, Ojibwa District, Clinton Valley Council)

Well, the first thing you do is grit your teeth and SMILE. Can’t “take away” the boys’ badges—that’s a BSA policy!—even though that Pack sure screwed up! Resist the temptation to become the “council cop,” and keep on being the Pack’s BEST FRIEND. Then, consider that the Webelos program and the Arrow of Light award are both aimed at helping these boys transition into Boy Scouting. So, hook up with a nearby Scoutmaster, give him the names and contact information for these boys, and help him recruit these boys into his Troop before they’re totally lost to Scouting. Once this is done, go back to the Pack in September and encourage their leaders (Webelos Den Leaders in particular!) to get some training. And, if they “can’t” attend a district or council CSLB course, bring a qualified trainer to them, and train ’em on their home turf.

Dear Andy,

I’m a member of my district’s advancement committee, and sit on Boards of Review for Eagle Scout candidates. One of the things we review, of course, are the letters of recommendation that the Eagle Rank Application asks for. But, I keep encountering three odd things. First, some Troops have the Scouts themselves request the letters. In other Troops, the advancement chair sends the letter, by asking the Scout to select three names from the list of six (or five, if there’s no “employer”). Finally, some Troops use a “report card”-type form, with check-boxes for “excellent,” “good,” etc. on certain behaviors and/or values (for instance, “Does the Scout show respect for the religious beliefs of others?”) Are these sorts of things OK, or what? (Don P. [council withheld by request])

First, the Scout absolutely does not send out the letters requesting a referral response. This is the advancement chair’s responsibility. Period. Any chair that doesn’t do it this way needs to re-read the Advancement Committee Policies & Procedures book.

Second, the application asks for five to six names of people who would be willing to comment on the candidate, and not sending letters to all of them is just plain silly. If the Scout (as he should) has asked them to be a reference for him, they’re expecting to receive such a request. To not do so is to do a disservice to these people.

Third, those “report cards,” in my opinion, are worthless. They provide little opportunity for personal remarks, and personal remarks are what this is all about. Here’s a “model letter” you can share with these Troops, so they can start getting it right:

Dear (Recommender):
(Scout’s Full Name) is applying for the rank of EAGLE SCOUT – the highest rank a Boy Scout can earn. (Scout’s First Name) has been working toward the rank of Eagle since he first became a Boy Scout and, if he is successful in his quest, he will have earned a nationally recognized achievement that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. To accomplish this, he has already completed an extensive set of requirements that demonstrate his mastery of specific skills, accomplishing significant service to his community, and leadership of others.

Very soon, he will be called before an Eagle Scout Board of Review– a group of citizens representing his community, his Scout Troop, and (Name) Council of the Boy Scouts of America. In this review, we will be speaking with him about what he has accomplished, and where he sees his life goals leading him in the future.

An important part of this Review will be to understand how well he has lived his daily life by the principles of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. The Scout Oath states: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight;” and the Scout Law states: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

(Scout’s First Name) has submitted your name to me as a person he knows personally and would be able to comment – from your own unique perspective – on how well you believe he has lived up to the Oath and Law in his daily life. Consequently, I am asking you to write a letter to me on his behalf, offering your perspective on these important matters. This letter can be as long or as short, and as candid, as you choose. I will ask you to send this letter to me using the stamped, pre-addressed envelope I’ve enclosed. Your letter will be treated in total confidence and will be seen only by the members of the Board of Review and not ever by either this Scout or any relative of his.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns. Otherwise, please accept my thanks in advance for your cooperation and helpfulness to this Boy Scout.

Yours in Scouting,


Troop Advancement Chair

Dear Andy,

An adult from my previous Cub Pack who wants to transfer to my current Pack—no problem here. But, while this adult was in the other Pack, a letter was sent to the Cubmaster stating that this adult had to severe all ties to scouting. My District Executive has told me that this adult is not allowed in my new Pack (not even with his Tiger Cub son!), because of this letter. I don’t have a copy of the letter, and I’ve never seen or read it, so I don’t know who wrote it or what it says. As for myself, I have no problem with this adult, and in fact I was his trainer and know his volunteer work outside of Scouting as well (he volunteers for the Sheriff’s Department as one of their Citizens-On-Patrol). I know this man’s whole family. His sister and her husband even transferred to my new Pack, and they’re wonderful volunteers, too! What can we do to appeal this? (Chris Cherrington, COR, Pack 106, Manatee District, Gulf Stream Council)

Based on what you’ve told me here, it’s difficult to know if your friend is or is not aware of a problem. Perhaps he isn’t and simply wants for himself and his son to be in a unit you’re personally involved with. Perhaps he is, and that’s what’s motivating him to seek new registration in your unit. But, whichever it is, this is his problem, and not yours in any direct sense, it seems to me. It’s he who needs to initiate a “discovery-and-appeal” process with the council; not you. He needs to speak with the Scout Executive, determine what the contents of the letter you refer to are, and then proceed with a response to whatever allegations might be contained in that letter. The council should have a process for this. What you can do, however, is to inform him of the DE’s directive to you, so that, if your friend is unaware, he can be made aware and then decide whether and how to best pursue a remedy. If you choose, you (and others, it sounds like) can certainly act as a “character witness” for him, should the occasion arise. In the meanwhile, there’s no reason why this man’s son can’t join your Pack immediately – this is not about the boy, and he’s free to go where he wishes!

Hi Andy,

I’ve been following your column for a long while now, and I finally have question: As a Commissioner, I’m aware of two sets of parents of boys who’d like to join Scouting, and both sets of parents are the same gender – One set of parents is female; the other’s male. Both sets of parents are concerned that their personal orientation might get in the way of their and their sons being accepted by the Troops their sons want to join. As parents, they completely endorse what Scouting teaches (both of the men were Scouts in their youth!), and support their sons’ decisions to join, but they’re concerned that their own lifestyles could have a negative impact on their sons’ Scouting experiences. Any thoughts on this one? (Hal Daume, UC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Let’s take a look at the situations you’re describing… Here, we have two boys, from two different families, who want to be Scouts, and their parents endorse this. On that alone, I’d say GO FOR IT! As for the parents, whether they choose to become registered adult volunteers, or active, involved parents, is their own personal decision. If the latter, I don’t think I’d be shy about the situation—after all, alternative lifestyles, are becoming more and more apparent in today’s world. So, I sure wouldn’t suggest that, for a Court of Honor, let’s say, or a parents’ night, that one parent stay home so as to “protect” something that doesn’t need protecting. SHOW UP—they’re the PARENTS, for goodness’ sakes! And the fact that they’re raising their sons to the best of their abilities, including supporting their interest in Scouting, says a tremendous amount about where these parents are coming from. Now, if I were the Commissioner for the Troops involved, I’d keep a sharp eye out, because anyone in the Troop who has a “problem” with this has a problem that they own, that has nothing to do with Boy Scouting!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Scout (please don’t print my name or Troop) and we have a problem with our Scoutmaster. Nothing we ever do is right, or good enough for him. Like, he always finds something wrong with our uniforms, like you can’t wear a Philmont belt or buckle because it’s not in the Handbook (I went on a trek at Philmont for the first time this summer and it was great). Or a neckerchief slide has to be the metal one and you can’t wear one you carved at camp. Or, if we go camping, and a Patrol’s cooking, he comes over and tells us that we’re not cooking something right and then he takes over and shows us the right way so we don’t get to do our own cooking. Or we pitched our tents in the wrong place, so move them all, right now. Or we don’t raise the American flag quick enough in the morning flag ceremony. Or we put too much salt in the stew and it tastes awful. Or we didn’t close our pocket knife right, before we passed it, so he takes our Totin’ Chips away. But he never shows us how, to begin with. All he says is “It’s in your Handbook—go read it.” I’ve been a Boy Scout in this Troop for three years (I’ll turn 15 in October), and its taken me all three years to earn First Class because he makes us do the same requirement over and over till he’s satisfied we have done it his way. I’m ready to quit, and so are a lot of my friends in the Troop. Before we do, is there anything we can do to get our Scoutmaster off of our backs, so we can have some fun as Scouts? My Dad reads your column and told me, before I quit, that I should write to you first.

Thanks for writing, and DON’T QUIT SCOUTS BECAUSE OF ONE GUY WHO’S GOT IT WRONG! Ouch! That Scoutmaster of yours is in real need of some good old Scout Spirit! I think he’s forgotten (or maybe never knew?) what Scouting’s supposed to be all about. But, before going into what you, the Scouts, can do instead of quitting, I want you (and your parents – show this to them!) to think about a few things first…

I think, when someone can do nothing but focus on stuff that shouldn’t matter at all (like what belt or neckerchief slide you’re wearing), maybe they focus on all of this small stuff because there’s nothing “large” in their life? Like their own family, or their career, or their goals for their own future.

I think, when someone spends all their time and energy “correcting” others, there’s a deep-seated need to “fix” themselves that all this attention on others’ faults saves them from having to deal with their own stuff. Deep inside, they know how very imperfect they, themselves, are. But this constant focusing on the faults of others means they don’t have to deal with their own issues.

I think, if someone’s afraid to show the “real me,” out of fear of rejection (He’d rather be nasty and guarantee rejection than discover that no one likes him when he’s nice!), it’s much easier to prattle on about unimportant stuff, like how to properly cook a camp meal, or how to pitch a tent the “right” way, and so on.

I think your Scoutmaster is a very afraid person, who doesn’t know how to form friendships, or be a friend, and has no clue that true leadership lies in being the Troop’s servant and not it’s “master.”

But, it’s absolutely not your job – or anyone else’s, for that matter – to “fix” him. That’s his job, and only his. So, that said, what can be done…

The only way to “fix” this sad Troop is to replace the Scoutmaster. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. This is the job of your parents and other parents who are seeing the same problem and are willing to stand up and deal with it even if it “upsets” this Scoutmaster. They not only have to ask the Troop’s sponsor to replace him, they have to provide the replacement. If one of the other parents is willing to take the job of Scoutmaster, then it’s time for a group of parents to go to the sponsor, describe the problem and how long its been going on, and identify the person who will take the job. It’s a wise idea to get the Troop’s Commissioner involved, so that clear-headedness can prevail, and rancor and resentment can be minimized.

If the parents can’t (or won’t) do this for you and your Scout friends, then there is still something you Scouts can do. This is a last resort, but do it, because this is your Scouting life, and you deserve to enjoy every minute of it! GO FIND ANOTHER TROOP, CHECK IT OUT, AND THEN JOIN IT. You’re not being “disloyal” or “a deserter” or anything else like that. This is a choice you have the absolute right to make, and don’t ever let anyone tell you different! GO FOR IT and DON’T LOOK BACK OVER YOUR SHOULDER—LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD!

Hello Andy,

I picked up the August edition of “Outdoor Life” magazine and found an article and photo in it indicating that a new Merit Badge—Hunting—is available for Scouts. The article said that this badge is undergoing a “pilot program” that was started in Michigan. The program is supposed to last for two years; however, I couldn’t find anything that stated when the program started or is supposed to end. After reading this article and doing some research on the internet I found out a Scout must do a few things to earn this badge such as learn and write about the history of hunting; take a hunting-safety class, earn either the Archery, or Rifle Shooting, or Shotgun Shooting Merit Badge; earn an outdoor skills Merit Badge, such as Camping or Wilderness Survival; and finally, stalk an animal, take a photo of it, and then have his film developed. I can’t find anything on the Scouting web sites I frequent that indicates the pilot program has ended or that the prerequisites listed above are the actual Merit Badge requirements. I’m trying to find out if this has been approved and accepted by the BSA, and I’d like to know the specifics of the final requirements. Any help you can provide is appreciated. (Todd Biggs, Committee Member, Troop 305, Sumter, SC)

Well you know about 1,000% more than I do! Never heard of a Merit Badge that had, as a requirement, the earning of other Merit Badges! But, hey, what the heck! Do we have any readers who know some more about this? If so, write to me, and I’ll publish your letter in my column.

Happy Scouting!


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

(August 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.

Read Andy's full biography

Comments are closed.