Author Avatar

Issue 39 – Mid-August 2004

Well, the summer’s starting to wrap up, and here we are, beginning to look forward to the start of school and the Fall Scouting programs. So, I thought I’d take a personal moment and share with you a letter I received from my grandson, Andy III. Here it is…

Dear Grampa,

Our Scoutmaster told us all to write home in case you saw the flood on TV and worried. We are OK. Only one of our tents and two sleeping bags got washed away. Lucky, none of us got drowned because we were all up on the mountain looking for Chad when it happened. Oh yeah, please call Chad’s mom and tell her he’s OK. He just can’t write right now because of the cast. Grampa, you know those search and rescue jeeps? I got to ride in one and it was real cool!

We wouldn’t have found Chad in the dark, probably, but the lightning helped a lot. Our Scoutmaster (he likes us to call him Snake) got mad at Chad for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Chad said he did tell him, but it was during the fire so Snake probably didn’t hear him. Hey, did you know that if you put a can of gas on a fire, it’ll blow up? The wet wood still didn’t burn, but one of our tents did. Also some of our clothes. My tent buddy John is going to look a little weird for a while, but Snake told him hair grows back pretty fast. Even eyebrows.

We’ll be home on Saturday if Snake gets the car fixed. It wasn’t his fault about the wreck. The brakes worked OK when we left. Snake told us that a car that old, you have to expect something to break down. That’s probably why he can’t get insurance on it. We think it’s cool that he doesn’t care if we get it dirty. And if it’s hot, like yesterday, he lets us ride on the tailgate of the trailer, cause it gets pretty hot with ten kids in a car. He let us take turns riding in the trailer till the highway patrolman stopped and talked to us. Snake had other names for the patrolman, but he said we can’t write those in our letters. He’s even teaching Terry to drive—Terry got picked because he can see over the steering wheel better than others. But, don’t worry—Snake only lets Terry drive on the mountain roads where there isn’t much traffic. All we ever see up there are logging trucks.

This morning all of the guys were diving off the rocks and swimming out in the lake. Snake wouldn’t let me because I can’t swim and Chad was afraid he’d sink because of his cast, so Snake let us take the canoes across the lake, instead. It was cool. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood.

Snake isn’t crabby like some Scoutmasters I’ve heard about. He didn’t even get mad about the life jackets or the other canoe.

We have a lot of free time to explore the caves nearby, because Snake has to spend a lot of time working on the car. Did you know bat guano tastes sorta like dry oatmeal? Or at least that’s what Billy says.

Guess what? We’ve all passed our First Aid merit badges! When Scotty dove in the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works. Also, Wally and I threw up. Snake said it probably was just food poisoning from the leftover chicken. He told us how he used to get sick a lot that way with the food they got in the “big house” (whatever that is). I have to go now. We’re going into town to mail our letters and buy bullets. Don’t worry about anything. We’re fine.

Love to you and Mom and Dad,

Andy III

P.S., How long has it been since I had a tetanus shot?

Remember the Scout who asked about US Presidents who had been Scouts, and who received the Silver Buffalo award? Well, Corey did some great work, and I’d like to share it with you…

Hi Andy,

Your question to me was a lot easier than finding out who received the Silver Buffalo Awards. Gerald Ford was the first Eagle Scout to become President, and as far as I can find, he was the only Eagle. I think that every President since 1929 received the Silver Buffalo. The first one I can find that actually mentions it is Franklin D. Roosevelt, but I’m still going to research a little more. Here’s what I put together for my Scoutmaster. Thanks for all your help, Corey Johnson

Gerald R. Ford – First Eagle to become President (38th)
Troop 15, Grand Rapids, MI in 1927
26 Merit Badges, including Civics

John F Kennedy – First US President who was a scout – Star Scout

William J Clinton – Cub Scout
George W. Bush – Cub Scout
Silver Buffalo

Silver Buffalo Award

Herbert Hoover

Franklin Roosevelt

Harry Truman

Dwight Eisenhower

John Kennedy

Lyndon Johnson

Richard Nixon

Gerald Ford

Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan

George Bush

William Clinton

George W Bush

You may also remember that, in responding to Todd Biggs about a possible Hunting Merit Badge, I said, “I never heard of a Merit Badge that had, as a requirement, the earning of other Merit Badges”? Well, I’ve got some sharp-eyed and informed readers, because right after that column came out, here are two emails I got in an eye-blink…

Hi Andy,

I look forward to reading your columns as they come out, and I’ve found them very useful. I just wanted to let you know that I just read your August column tonight, and believe it to be one of the best yet, especially your response to the Scout who wanted to quit. I especially like your column because it helps me to see what other councils do. Here, they do a few things differently (not necessarily wrong, mind you). So thanks for your effort—it’s appreciated. And, you must earn First Aid to earn Emergency Preparedness, and Swimming for Lifesaving. But I’d like to learn more about this pilot merit badge program! Thanks! (Michael Morris, CC, Pack 214; ASM, Troop 25, Greater Saint Louis Council)

Hey Andy,

I was just reading through your latest column and had something to add. In regards to that new Hunting merit badge, you stated you’ve “Never heard of a Merit Badge that had, as a requirement, the earning of other Merit Badges!” Well, it’s out there. The Emergency Preparedness MB requires that you earn First Aid first. I don’t want to nitpick your great (and very helpful) column, but I felt compelled to address this. (Kortney Jendro, DC, Viking Council)

Thanks to Michael and Kortney (and probably some others, who saw my goof but didn’t write), I get twenty lashes with a wet lanyard for forgetting about that First Aid-Emergency Preparedness MB combo! But would you believe that Swimming is NOT required to earn Lifesaving? Yup, that’s right. So, only ten lashes? Naaaah! I’ll take all twenty! I can handle it!

And another sharp-eyed reader, on the subject of devices on religious square knots…

Hi Andy,

I saw your response to the question of knot devices on the youth religious knot. While you were largely correct, you missed the fact that for some religions there are TWO religious awards that Boy Scouts can earn. There is one for boys 11-14, then another one for boys 14-18 that is earned by older Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, or Venturer. So a Boy Scout could earn two additional religious awards. This is one of the reasons why there are knot devices for Varsity Scouts and Venturers. So, if I saw a Boy Scout with both a Boy Scout knot device AND a Venturing knot device on his religious square knot, I’d know that he had earned two religious awards. (Michael Brown)

Yup, Mike’s absolutely right, and my answer was incomplete! (Those lashes are beginning to sting a little – Guess I’m not as tough as I thought!)

Dear Andy,

I continue to read and re-read your Ask Andy columns. I feel you’re providing Scouters with good advice on how leaders should have the same, or better, Scout Spirit in leading units that we expect from our Scouts. Recently, after reading a Troop’s “By-Laws”, I questioned an attendance clause that stated, “If a Scout did not attend 50% of the Troop actives (weekly meetings) he could not go on campouts with the Troop. The Troop’s goal was to have strong attendance and meet the camping requirement for the National Quality Unit award. My question: If a Scout is missing meetings, is keeping him from going on campouts helpful to the Scout? Wouldn’t the better question be: Why is the Scout not active? (Don McDow, UC. Greater Alabama Council)

Thanks for your continuing readership, and thanks even more for asking good questions! Let’s take a whack at this “attendance legislation”…

A Troop can try to “legislate” participation, but what they’ll ultimately get is a spiral of diminishing returns. Let’s take a few chops at this “50% rule,” just to make sure we understand how silly and self-defeating it is…

Why 50%? Why not 20%? 80%? 75%? 90%? 45%?

How is 50% a “magic number”?

What happens when it’s an odd number of meetings?

Does the campout itself count toward the 50%?

If a Scout attends 50% of the meetings, but he’s a total goof-off while there, he can still go on campouts, right?

Suppose his parents have taken their Scout son out of town on a trip for a couple of weeks. Does this mean that, even though he wasn’t in town and couldn’t attend, he gets “docked”?

If, in the case above, the Scout doesn’t get docked, then let’s see the entire list of legitimate reasons for non-attendance.

How do we know the attendance records are correct? Who monitors and verifies them?

Finally, what about Scouts who think to themselves, “Hey, I can ditch half the meetings and I still get to go camping! Cool, Dude!”

If, by now, no one gets the idea that this is a pretty dumb “rule,” I’d better give up! The simple facts of the matter are these:


This silly “rule” of theirs tells me that they’re lazy. If attendance is falling off, it’s time to start making some phone calls and find out what the problem is. That’s the job of the Scoutmaster and his ASMs, or the membership person on the Troop Committee. Leaning on a rule instead of bucking up and doing their jobs just isn’t the way to go! When a Troop runs interesting, active, involving, and FUN Troop meetings, participation is never an issue. When a Troop runs outings that are equally fun, interesting, challenging, and involving, guess what happens: SCOUTS SHOW UP.

On top of everything else, it’s the job of the PATROL LEADER, and not “the Troop,” to see that all members of his Patrol are “present and accounted for” at Troop meetings! That’s part of his leadership job, and this “rule” of theirs is depriving the Troop’s youth leaders of their important responsibilities.

Most boys and young men who are active Scouts are usually active in other ways too—like sports in their seasons, extracurricular school activities and clubs, church and synagogue youth groups, and on and on. Penalizing the most active youths because they have conflicts at certain times of the year, or on certain nights from time to time, is anathema to the spirit of the Scouting movement. This Troop needs to stop being “governed” by the adults and needs to start being run by the Scouts.

Hi Andy,

I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find guidelines on where to wear the Eagle Palms. Can you help? (“JGDUNIGAN”)

Good news! The BSA book, INSIGNIA GUIDE – 2003-2005 (No. 33066D – get one at your Scout Shop), states (go to page 23) that Eagle palms are “Worn only on the Eagle Award ribbon or Eagle square knot.” So, that’s two places. If you’re a Scout, you wear your palm(s) on your Eagle ribbon (horizontally on the cloth). If you’re a Scouter, you can attach your palm(s) to the red-white-and-blue square knot that you wear above the left pocket of your uniform shirt.

And here’s a tip— Be sure to wear the correct palms for the number of merit badges earned, remembering that they’re not “cumulative.” By this, I mean that, for the first five MBs, for example, you’d wear a bronze palm, and if you earn five more for a total of ten MBs, the bronze palm comes OFF and you wear a gold palm in its place. For 15 MBs, it’s a silver palm, but not all three. For 20, you wear a bronze and a sliver. Etcetera. Now, you’ll see some guys wearing a bronze AND a gold AND a silver palm, and let’s hope that they’ve actually earned 30 MBs beyond those needed for Eagle, and that they haven’t simply continued to pin stuff on their ribbons or square knots!

Hi Andy,

Our District is looking for a Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioner. We haven’t had one for some time now. I’ve never been one. If I take the position, what advice can you give me? Also, what training should I take first? I don’t want to see our District suffer or be weak, but I just need a good focus on doing this job if I do take it. (Mike Dallago, SM, Troop 64, Sunshine District, Yucca Council, NM)

First off, thanks for being a Scoutmaster—this is one of the most important Boy Scouting volunteer positions anyone could possibly have! As long as you enjoy it, and have time for it, you may very well want to continue for at least a few more years (after about three or so years—but not much more than this!—as Scoutmaster, it’s a good idea to consider a change, because longer than that and folks in the Troop start considering you “permanent” and stop thinking about transitioning to the next Scoutmaster, so that your tenure begins to look like a “reign”). (If, at this point, you get the idea that I’m not terribly impressed by guys who take pride in having been a SM for 10 or 20 years, you’re right—the baton should be passed, I firmly believe, to new people whom the present SM has identified and trained to succeed him. This avoids “calcification” and keep Troops fresh, vibrant, and up-to-date.)

By the way, did you know that it’s actual BSA policy that Commissioners do not hold key unit leadership positions? Bet you didn’t! Few folks realize this, and even fewer abide by it, but it’s the right way to go, and the BSA recognizes all too well that a Scoutmaster can’t “serve two masters.” So, if you really want to take on the job of Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioner—whether now, or at some time in the future—be prepared to replace yourself as Scoutmaster! Trust me on this—the burden becomes too great when we start wearing too many volunteer “hats” and you’ll wind up doing no job as well as you’d like. And, don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, I’ll handle it differently…” Ain’t gonna happen!

That said, if you do decide to take the job of BSRT Commissioner, there’s definitely training available for you. Check out your council’s Commissioner College or Conference—training for all types of Commissioners. From the BSA Supply Division or your Scout Shop, get these: BOY SCOUT ROUND-TABLE COMMISSIONER TRAINING (LT34256), BOY SCOUT ROUNDTABLE PLANNING GUIDE-REVISED (LT34253A), COMMISSIONER ADMINISTRATION (LT34128D), and COMMISSIONER VOLUNTEER DUTIES DESCRIPTION CARD (LT34265B). Then, plan to recruit a STAFF as well—Roundtable leadership isn’t a one-man job. The job of BSRT Commissioner can be very rewarding. It’s more like being a Cubmaster than Scoutmaster, though. Your job isn’t to “run” the meetings or provide the training and programs by yourself. Your job is to reach out and recruit speakers, demonstrators, and others who actually put on the program every month, and then you function as the Master of Ceremonies. Do it differently, and you’ll hit burn-out very quickly. The training materials will tell you much more than there’s space for here. Best wishes!

Paul Wengert (had a problem a few weeks ago with the changing Cub and Webelos requirement changes) writes again…

Hi Andy,

Well, I’m taking a deep breath and untying my knickers. It’s made so much more complicated when there are updates to the boys’ books, but nothing to update the leader’s materials. I had to be on my toes to realize, for instance, that following the Webelos Leader Guide-Den Schedule (where the Citizen activity badge was part of Arrow of Light and therefore scheduled for the second Webelos year) means the boys in the Den would not have an opportunity to achieve Webelos rank in a timely manner. I sure wish that “they” would better communicate these changes to us leaders! Here’s another example: We’re told in the 2004-05 “Cub Scout Program Helps” to plan a program that will allow our boys to earn the 75th anniversary award for Cub Scouting—which is a terrific idea—but the BSA is only releasing the requirements for that award at the very end of August, and I’m already pretty well done with planning by then. Anyway, thanks as ever. (Paul Wengert)

Well, now that your knickers are untied, let’s add a little something more: ABSOLUTELY RIGID FLEXIBILITY. This means that you can “roll” with the punches, or as my Scouter-Marine friend put it (this is my all-time favorite), “SEMPER GUMBY”! Always flexible—that’s the way to be! Couldn’t plug in the 75th Anniversary award stuff when you sat down and planned things out? Well, once you get ’em, change the plan—It’s only written on paper; not chipped in granite! Scouting’s a movement, not an “organization” in the sense of a corporation, army, etc. Sure, it has its red tape, and sometimes the cart’s before the horse, but, hey, we’re volunteers here, and we’re supposed to be having fun! Which “KISMIF” do you want… Keep Inflexible Structure-Make it Fail or Keep It Simple-Make It Fun!

Dear Andy,

After reading your answer about the two same-sex couples and their sons, I was floored by your reply! After a great effort was put forth by the National BSA to assert the “right of association” all the way to the highest court in the land, you of all people should know that the BSA and its members do not approve of same-sex unions. As for them being in the scout unit, all scouts and scout leaders are bound by the National polices, which address same-sex unions as not living within nor reflecting the values of the BSA. As for their sons, they can be welcome members if they support the values of the BSA. But this would be hard to do without stating that you think the union of your two “parents” is wrong! This is one place where their life-style CHOICE does not fit the life-style choice of the rest of the group. Your reply echoes “Everyone’s doing it”, because there are a few people who wish to live this way. Scouts need to learn that it is totally W-R-O-N-G. Please provide me with any National BSA polices that support your point of view. (Don McDow, UC, Greater Alabama Council)

My reply pertained to two sets of positive-minded parents who supported their sons’ interests in being Boy Scouts. Nothing less, and nothing more. Shall we “punish” these two young men by refusing their applications to joint the Boy Scouts when they, themselves have done not a thing “wrong”? How is the BSA or anyone else for that matter permitted to “punish” a youth who is “guilty” of having same-sex parents? Is this the youth’s “fault”? Shall we exclude these young men from the values of Scouting because of their parents’ situation? There have been cases of Scouts whose parents were atheists, yet these Scouts attained the rank of Eagle. Why? Because, my friend, the BSA did not automatically assume that the Scout’s values were identical to his parents’. To do otherwise denies the right of the individual to determine and establish his own values. I stand by my answer—which is, once again, my personal opinion on the matter—100%. And I will not vary it, or waffle. I have not said “everyone’s doing it,” so kindly don’t put words in my mouth. I have definitely said that, with each passing day, alternative life-styles are becoming more apparent. You will also notice that I did NOT address the issue of such parents taking a registered leadership role on their respective Troops—that is an entirely different issue. I did address the point that they, as parents, need to and have the right to support their own sons’ interests. If you can find fault with the notion of supporting the interests of one’s children, so be it. Yes, this is an emotionally charged area. However, good sense (not “common” sense) should prevail, and the youth should ALWAYS be the WINNER!

Happy Scouting!


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

(Mid-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.