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Issue 43 – Mid-October 2004

Many books and workshops on management, personal development, and so forth, talk hard about the idea of personal best.” They often recommend
”visualizing” – “If I were the best (you fill in the blank), how would I look, what would I be doing…?”  I think this can apply to our volunteer lives in Scouting, but I think we have to change our perspective.  Instead of perhaps asking ourselves, “If I were the best Commissioner…If I were the best Den Leader… If I were the best Scoutmaster…” and so on, maybe we should be asking those sorts of questions this way, instead:

•“If my units were served by the best Commissioner in the district, what would THEY look like? What would THEY be doing?”

•“If my Den were the best in the Pack, what would my CUB SCOUTS look like? What would THEY be doing?”

•“If my Troop had the best Scoutmaster in the council, what would my TROOP look like? What would the PATROLS and SCOUTS be doing?”

When we look, not at ourselves, but at the units and youth we’re here to serve, I believe when we put them before ourselves we can get a clearer picture of what our true mission is.  And this can help us shape how we help them get there!  Think it over.

I frequently get questions about “co-leading” and I’ve offered my thoughts on this notion. Here’s an answer to “co-leaders” from a reader that I think hits the nail on the head pretty dog-gone well…

If these good folks who want to “co-lead” check any BSA adult application (“Be a Volunteer Leader”), they’ll notice there’s no Unit Position Code for “co-leader.”  There’s “DL” for Den Leader, “DA” for Assistant Den Leader, “SM” for Scoutmaster, and so on.  This didn’t happen by accident, and there are very important reasons for that: “co-leaders” (a) don’t work and (b) don’t communicate to the youth served the kind of leadership modeling the BSA has had as one of its foundation-blocks for 94 years.

Sharing leadership is a fine and respected practice—one person’s responsible for this and the other’s responsible for that, and the work is divided up.  But, in a Den, there’s a single Den Leader and in a Pack there’s a single Cubmaster, in a Troop there’s a single Scoutmaster, and among unit committees there’s a single Chair.  Everyone else is an assistant — Assistant DL, Assistant CM, Assistant SM, and so on.  This is absolutely deliberate.

Notice further: At the boy level, in a Cub Scout Den there’s a single Denner, in a Boy Scout Patrol, there’s a single Patrol Leader, in a Troop there’s a single Senior Patrol Leader, and in a Venturing Crew there’s a single President.  These, also, are absolutely deliberate.

The operational reason why the concept of co-leadership doesn’t work is that it abets the problem of “Hey, who’s in charge around here!?”  And, frequently, it also bodes for “…Oh, I thought YOU were doing that!”  No amount of assurances (e.g., “We’ve talked about this and it won’t happen with us…”) will change the fact that it is more than problematic—so much so that the BSA has no provisions whatsoever for this type of arrangement.

Moreover, co-leadership is anathema to life itself.  Take a good look around you:  Schools have one principal, homerooms have one primary teacher, churches and synagogues have one leading pastor or priest or rabbi, sports teams have one coach and one manager, school plays have one director.  Airplanes have a “co-pilot” and that’s the name for the assistant to the pilot, but airplanes don’t have two co-pilots! Ships and NASA space vehicles have one skipper or captain.  Corporations have one president or CEO.  And on, and on. Now, if you think this is mistaken, and that co-leaders can be just as or maybe more effective than a single designated leader, with assistants, then just name me a town with co-mayors, a state with co-governors, or a country with co-presidents or co-regents or even co-dictators!  Nuff sed?

Now, on to more October letters…

Dear Andy,

In my District, we have two Scouters who’ve been awarded the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.  I’m the state coordinator for the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, so I have the neck-ribbon medal for this plus a supply of square knots (the award comes with one knot, but people who receive these awards have several shirts, so I try to have more on hand). We had the military orders read, and presented these two Scouters with their square knots. So far so good… But, what do recipients of the MOVSM wear on their Scout uniforms at formal occasions? (Wayne Sirmon, DC, Choctaw District, Mobile Area Council, Mobile, AL)

The MOVSM is a pin-on ribbon with suspended medal, and if you Google “military outstanding volunteer service medal” you’ll find a number of sites that describe it, as well as places to buy it.  Here it is…


Description: A Bronze medal, 1-3/8 inches in diameter bearing on the obverse, five annulets interlaced enfiled by a star and environed by a wreath of laurel. On the reverse is a sprig of oak between the inscription “OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER SERVICE” at the top and “UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES” at the bottom.  The ribbon is 1-3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes: 1/8 inch Bluebird 67117; 1/8 inch Goldenlight 67107; 3/16 inch Bluebird; 1/16 inch Green 67129; 5/32 inch Goldenlight; center 1/16 inch Green; 5/32 inch Goldenlight; 1/16 inch Green; 3/16 inch Bluebird; 1/8 inch Goldenlight; and 1/8 inch Bluebird.

Criteria: Awarded to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who, subsequent to December 31, 1992, performed outstanding volunteer community service of a sustained, direct and consequential nature. To be eligible, an individual’s service must (1) be to the civilian community, to include the military family community; (2) be significant in nature and produce tangible results; (3) reflect favorably on the Military Service and the Department of Defense; and (4) be of a sustained and direct nature. While there is no specific time threshold to qualify for the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, approval authorities shall ensure the service to be honored merits the special recognition afforded by this medal. The MOVSM is intended to recognize exceptional community support over time and not a single act or achievement. Further, it is intended to honor direct support of community activities.

Background: The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal was established by Executive Order 12830, dated January 9, 1993. A proposed design, prepared by The Institute of Heraldry, was submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on April 12, 1993, and the design was approved by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Manpower and Personnel Policy on June 15, 1993. The interlaced annulets emphasize the interaction of the military services with the civilian community and symbolize continuity and cooperation. The star commemorates outstanding service; the wreath of laurel denotes honor and achievement. Oak is symbolic of strength and potential. Medium blue is the color traditionally associated with the Department of Defense. Gold is for excellence and green alludes to the nurturing of life and growth.

From a purely technical point of view, this medal is probably not supposed to be worn on a Scouter’s uniform.  According to the BSA UNIFORM GUIDE, “…badges awarded by organizations other than the BSA may not be worn on an official uniform. This includes military medals…” However, the same GUIDE goes on to say, “There are, however, notable exceptions… religious emblems… historic trails medals…”  So, although this book was published for 2003-2005, and makes reference to the square knot (No. 152316) for the Community Organization Award (which category this falls into), it is silent on the medals themselves.  That said, since the medal was earned in the acknowledged performance of service to the Scouting movement, and since the GUIDE does indicate that there may be “notable exceptions,” it’s my personal belief that no one would be frowning if your Scouters were to occasionally wear their medals on their uniforms at appropriate recognition events – but, remember, that’s just me!

Hey Andy,

Just curious to know if there’s a format for placement of merit badges?  My son just earned three “Eagle” badges, for a total of 13.  Ideas?  Your thoughts are appreciated. (Jim Edmonson)

Congratulations to your son!  With 13, he’s sure well on his way to Eagle. How to place them on a merit badge sash?  Hey, any way he likes!  Most Scouts I’ve seen simply start at about shoulder height on the sash and continue in rows of three downward, usually in the order earned.  But, there’s nothing says it has to be that way!  Maybe he wants to put all the “required” badges together and the others below, or some other arrangement.  If so, that’s fine, too!  Some Scouts have the badges sewn in rows perpendicular to the sash edges; some have them sewn in rows that are about 45° relative to the edges, so that they are horizontal when the sash is worn over the right shoulder.  Actually, the hardest part isn’t in how to arrange them, but just getting them sown on in time for the next court of honor!  And, whoever sews them, be absolutely sure that they’re placed so that they’re seen when the sash is over the RIGHT shoulder!  (Yes, I’ve occasionally seen a sad-looking “reverse-shouldered” sash that has to be entirely changed for an Eagle court of honor – and that’s one nasty job when there’s 21 or more of ‘em!)

Dear Andy,

Are registered Assistant Webelo Den Leaders eligible for the Webelo Den
Leader Award? (Guy Kirby)

The Webelos Den Leader Award is available to Webelos Den Leaders who have served in this capacity for a minimum of one year.  There is nothing on the progress record for this recognition that indicates that an Assistant WDL qualifies.  Time to step up!  (Note: You absolutely can use your tenure as AWDL toward the two years required for the Cub Scouter Award!)

Oh, yeah…Both the singular and the plural of Webelos is… Webelos!  There’s no such thing as a Webelo, Weblo, or any other spelling.  Why? Because Webelos means WE’ll BE LOyal Scouts!

Hi Andy,

I’m a new Unit commissioner. In my fieldbook, it says that a Commissioner must not be registered as a unit leader. Does this apply to the District Commissioner, too? And does this mean Assistant Scoutmaster, Assistant Cubmaster, and Pack Committee? The person I’m asking about is all of these. The trouble is, he’s causing lots of problems within the Troop I serve. He’s always telling parents what the Scoutmaster is doing wrong, what he sees is wrong.  He says he’s trained, and uses this so no one will counter him. It’s getting to the point where the Troop’s two Assistant Scoutmasters are getting upset, too.  The other night, at a Cub Pack committee meeting, he told them that the Troop is secretive about their funds (they aren’t). I’m afraid this Troop is about to have three good leaders quit!  I can’t really talk this over with my District Commissioner because it’s him. If you could give me some insight on how I might handle this, I’d really be thankful. (UC-name withheld)

First, let’s answer that question about multiple positions for Commissioners. Yes, the policy that a Commissioner cannot hold a unit leadership position applies to ALL Commissioners—DCs, CCs, ADCs, ACCs, UCs, and even Roundtable Commissioners (there, I think that’s all of ’em!)—and the positions one can’t hold while registered as a Commissioner are: Cubmaster, Den Leader, Webelos Den Leader, and Scoutmaster, or the assistants to any of these.  Unit committee positions are OK.  So are district positions.  The easy way to remember this is: If there’s “master” or “leader” in the title of the other position held, then it’s verboten.  However, this is arguably one of most violated policies in all of the BSA, so don’t expect to “win” by trying to insist on anyone adhering to it!

The problem your unit is having (that you’re trying to make go away by invoking a policy that will be ignored—I promise you!) is that you’ve got a Commissioner with only the dimmest understanding of his Scouting job, and what light there might be is shining in the wrong direction!  In the first place, District Commissioners are specifically not supposed to have any unit-level responsibilities, so your DC’s involvement with the unit is totally inappropriate.  More importantly, the Commissioner is supposed to be working with the unit leader and committee; not chastising them or blabbing about them!  And, the Commissioner is directed to always take a positive point of view; not be “the unit’s best critic”—That’s simply not how Scouting is supposed to work!

The two people you and the unit’s leaders should immediately talk to are the District Chair and the District Executive.  Do this together—several voices are always louder than one!  Tell them that you don’t want this guy coming around anymore, and tell them why, in no uncertain terms.  Do this in-person; don’t make it an “email war.” If they don’t take action immediately, the unit has the right to tell this guy, when he shows up, that he wasn’t invited and he should kindly leave immediately.  If he refuses, or delays, pull out a cellphone—Yes, you can do this!  Make sure you, the Scoutmaster and assistants, and the entire unit committee are all on the same page.  And remember this: He doesn’t “out-rank” the Scoutmaster or anyone else in the Troop; the role of Commissioner is purely service, and has no authority over any unit or unit leader.

Dear Andy,

We like to make sure that the adults in our Troop are recognized for their efforts to serve the boys in our Troop and District by periodically nominating them for various national, council, and district awards. Each time we do this though, collecting the necessary information about their Scouting history, training taken, other awards received, and so on, gets tough. Tracking the information down without the candidate becoming aware of what we’re doing is very difficult. Do you know of any “Scouter’s Resume” type of form that we could use and simply have all volunteers fill out, and then get it updated as we move along? (Craig Cairns, SM, Troop 120 , Indianapolis, IN)

I think what you’re doing is terrific!  Unfortunately, I don’t know of any form that does what you’re looking for.  I’m sure they’re “out there,” and my best suggestion is this: Simply design one and start using it!  It’s not that hard, and it would sure make things easier for you all.

Dear Andy,

You don’t earn the Training Award as a Scoutmaster or a Commissioner; you earn the Scouter’s Key—a different award with a different knot and different medal. You may wear one of each knot that you’ve earned, with the device for the area you earned it in. The only time you wouldn’t wear the device is if you earned the Scouter’s Key only as a Scoutmaster, and you’re in a uniform with a Scoutmaster’s position patch. If you’re a Commissioner, uniformed as a Commissioner, and you earned it as a Scoutmaster, you should wear the Boy Scout device, and then when you earn it as a Commissioner, then you can wear both devices. It’s the same for the youth religious award knot—a Boy Scout wearing the device for earning the Cub award wears the Cub device; if he then earns the Boy Scout level, he adds the Boy Scout device, and if he didn’t earn the Cub one, then he doesn’t wear any device. (Curt Eidem, Everett, WA)

You’re pretty darned close to having it right!  There used to be awards called “Scoutmaster’s Training Award,” etc., but there’s been a change and now there’s one award, called the Boy Scout Leader’s Training Award (solid green “knot”) and an “A” with the universal Scout emblem pin-on ribbon medal. This award can be earned by any adult registered in the Boy Scout program with two years of tenure—Scoutmaster, Commissioner, ASM, committee chair or member.  As for the “Key,” this can be earned, just as you point out, in a number of positions, each with a “device” to be worn on the square knot insignia.  (Personally, I’ve always considered these devices “optional”—If worn, they should be worn correctly, of course; but, if one chooses not to wear them, that’s OK, so long as this doesn’t devolve into wearing multiple knots for the same award, but different positions.)

Dear Andy,

I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster, and I’m curious to know if I’m eligible to receive the Scoutmaster’s Key once I meet the tenure requirements. (Ron Shake, ASM, Troop 462, Cascade Pacific Council, Vancouver, WA)

You’d certainly be eligible for the Boy Scout Leader’s Training Award, but the Scoutmaster’s Key is for…you guessed it!…Scoutmasters! (Check the progress record for this recognition, and you can verify this for yourself.)

Dear Andy,

Is there a BSA policy regarding multiple unit memberships?  Is it a conflict of interest to hold a committee-level position with both a Troop and a Pack at the same time?  We have a member of our Pack’s committee who is also a member of the committee for a Troop in town.  We’re noticing that she seems to be “blurring” the lines of unit propriety in instances of fundraisers, camp reservations, etc.  For instance, some ideas our Pack committee has explored are suddenly put into motion over at the Troop, and she’s the only one of us who’s “connected” to both units!  (Name withheld)

According to my legal dictionaries, a “conflict of interest” occurs when someone represents or has loyalties to two entities that are in opposition to one another, or when one is clearly dependent upon another.  Two examples of the first might be an attorney who tries to represent both employer and employee in a labor dispute, or tries to represent both a buyer and seller of the same property.  An example of the second might be a corporate purchasing agent who is the owner of a business that provides products or services to the corporation he or she works for.  So, on the face of things, there doesn’t appear to be this sort of situation here, although I absolutely agree that you have a problem!  So, let’s deal with two areas: BSA policy and good sense.

The BSA policy part’s easy—There’s no “rule” to stop any otherwise acceptable adult from being multiple-registered on the committees of different Scouting units, so no one can ask this perhaps well-meaning lady to give one up in favor of the other.

Now, let’s talk about good sense.  It seems like you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t understand BOUNDARIES.  Have you seen the TV commercials for Las Vegas (the city; not the show): “What happens here STAYS here”?  It’s pretty obvious the lady hasn’t!  In your unit, the same principle prevails —what’s the unit’s business stays in the unit.  To start blabbing to other unit committees is tantamount to gossip, and needs to be stopped.  You have two choices: direct or indirect.  Direct would be to speak with her personally, explain the problem when she “gives away” ideas, and ask her to please stop.  Indirect would be to move your committee meetings to a night when you absolutely know she can’t be there, because of other commitments.


Aren’t boards of review nothing more than rubber stamps?  If the dates are on the Eagle application, and the signatures are there, short of a felony conviction, the candidate WILL be an Eagle Scout. So why all the bother? I’m running district training soon, and teaching Eagle stuff at our University of Scouting and I want to do it right.  (Bruce Stohlman)

Boards of Review are hardly “rubber stamps,” and definitely have “teeth.” This is particularly true of Eagle boards, so let’s concentrate on that level…

But, before we begin, let’s see if we agree on a few things first:

•Leadership “tenure” (req. 4) can be any single period or combination of periods that adds up to six months during which time the Scout was Life rank.

•Merit badges, once earned, cannot be “challenged” so long as the counselor is approved by the council (on the council’s counselor list, or a “vetted” member of a BSA summer camp staff).

•The Eagle project plan (req. 6), once approved to proceed by the receiving entity, the Troop’s leaders, and a representative of the district or council, requires no further signature except that of the receiving entity, to signify that it has been completed, on a specific date, to that entity’s satisfaction.

•If the Eagle rank application is complete, with dates, merit badges, signatures, etc., and has been verified by the council service center, then it’s a legitimate application for proceeding into an Eagle B-O-R, and will be accompanied by the Eagle Project Workbook, the statement of life purpose (req. 6), and—arriving from a different source—the letters of reference (up to six letters) in sealed envelopes.

•This particular board of review is the only one that does not require—except for the representative of the district/council—any registered adult Scout volunteers.

•The final vote to approve must be unanimous.

Now, let’s get down to it…

The Eagle board has the right and responsibility to:

•Determine the merits of the Scout, based on the letters of reference (or their absence!).

•Determine whether or not the Eagle Project Workbook, as written, is of sufficient quality and quantity for the rank of Eagle.

•Determine whether or not the project itself, as described, is (a) the project that was originally approved and (b) one that clearly demonstrated that the Scout used leadership skills to accomplish it (for instance, building birdhouses when the project plan called for building observation blinds in a wilderness area is not the project that was initially approved; and a “one-man show” is not an Eagle project, because no leadership of others took place).

•Determine the extend to which the candidate understands what Scout Spirit means, and can demonstrate to the board’s satisfaction how he lives the Scout Oath and Law in his daily life.

•Determine the candidate’s understanding of the meaning of “duty to God and country,” and how he sees himself as living up to these obligations.

Notice that none of these areas has been previously “signed off” on the rank application itself, and it is up to the members of the board to determine the answers and the extent to which these answers are acceptable to all members of the board for final approval of the candidate’s application.

If any of these or any other aspects appear wanting in quantity or quality, the board has the obligation to suspend itself until specific corrective actions can be taken (this is described in specific detail in the BSA publication “Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures”).

Based on these alone, I’m hoping you can see the value of boards of review, and the immense power they ultimately have.  Along with that power comes enormous responsibility, for, once approved, that approval cannot be rescinded; and if not approved, the board is obliged to state in absolutely specific and concrete terms how and why they reached that decision, and provide the opportunity for a response to their action and thinking.

Hi Andy,

Which sign do junior Webelos use…two-finger or three-finger? (Heather Osborne, Dahlgren, VA)

I first have to tell you that there’s no such thing as “junior” Webelos.  There are there are first-year Webelos and second-year Webelos.

Now, to your question…Because Webelos Scouts are still a part of the Cub Scout program, they would typically use the two-finger, hand raised with arm straight up, sign.  But, as we know, they ultimately learn the Boy Scout sign of three fingers with upper arm horizontal and lower arm and hand vertical and perpendicular to the upper arm.  However, in the typical Pack meeting, which they’ll continue to attend until graduation, they’d more than likely use the regular Cub Scout sign, just like everyone else in that meeting.

Happy Scouting!!


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

(Mid-October 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

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