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Issue 48 – Mid-January 2005

Dear Andy,

I’m a Webelos Den Leader, and I’d like to find a Den Chief poem so I can make him a plaque to present him at our Blue & Gold. Can you help me in locating some poems about Den Chiefs, or anything that might be along that line. (Laurel Downer, WDL, Pack 7, Berthoud, CO)

Well, I don’t know about poems, but I do know that your local Scout Shop has some pretty nifty “Thanks” plaques that you can buy at a reasonable price. Those might do the job nicely. OR, a photo of the whole Den, and signed by every Cub, is often a big hit and something your Den Chief will hold onto for a long, long time!

Dear Andy,

As a Unit Commissioner, I feel part of my job is to make sure the Scouts I’m involved with wear the correct insignia in the right places. But, when I politely ask someone to remove a patch that’s incorrectly worn, I usually get a “mind you own business” reply. Last summer, while at Scout Camp, I saw a young Scout wearing three (!) purple youth religious award square knots. After I stopped chuckling, I went to his SPL and informed him that this display wasn’t in line with the BSA’s insignia guidelines, and politely asked him to take care of the situation. But dealing with adults is another matter. I suppose that the bottom line is that adults will wear what they want to wear, come hell or high water. Any thoughts about this? Also, there a couple of older Scouters (over 60…maybe closer to 65) who wear the Explorer Gold Award square knot, when, according to Mike Walton’s website, that award wasn’t created until 1976. I’ll probably not ask them about it, but what’s the lowdown on wearing this knot After all, these guys were a lot older than 21 in 1976! (UC, Indianhead Council, MN)

As a Commissioner, the only thing worse than being known as “the council cop” is making a reputation for yourself as “the patch police”! Why? Because it’s petty. So, here’s my recommendation: CUT IT OUT! As a Commissioner, your dealings are with unit leaders you serve—Scoutmasters, Cubmasters, and Committee Chairs—and not directly with Scouts. Your primary job is to help these leaders deliver the best possible Scouting program to the youth they serve. You provide the big picture, the vision, the guidance—and you leave the details to them. If you want to help in the uniforming and badge/badge placement areas, the best you can do is be a shining example, and let it go at that. As for those guys wearing the Explorer Gold Award square knots, remember that, until 1959, this red-white-and-blue striped badge with the silver knot on it also represented the Explorer SILVER AWARD, and they’re sure old enough to have earned that one. One way you can legitimately help your units improve their uniforming is to conduct the annual uniform inspection that’s part of a Commissioner’s “job” with regard to the units he serves. And, when you do this, be sure to keep it positive—don’t ding the delinquent so much as reward the right!

Hi Andy,

I’m a long-time reader, but this is my first time to ask a question…because my son’s troop has an issue that’s tearing it apart. This troop is in a district and council where a particular wide-spread sponsor-type dominates—It’s troops outnumber all others ten-to-one. While most district events run fairly smoothly, our district’s winter Klondike has problems because this dominant sponsor’s leaders run it and have a tendency to “favor” their own troops. As a result, the PLC (Patrol Leaders Council) in my son’s troop (and other troops, too, we learned) voted to have their own campout rather than participate in the Klondike, because it just wasn’t fun anymore. Our troop and others as well reserved space at our council camp for the same weekend as the Klondike, and lined up some events of their own that they decided would be a lot of fun and would offer a lot of new skills. But then, the COR (Chartered Organization Representative) for my son’s troop, who happens to also be an ADC for Cub Scouting in our district, stated that she’s opposed to any “division” between our troop and others like us and the dominant troops in the district. At a recent meeting of our troop committee, she made it very clear that, as the COR, she would not “allow” our troop to have its own “Klondike-style” campout because, as she put it, “This would ruin the troop’s reputation and cast it as a rebel.” The result of her diatribe was that the committee voted against the event the PLC chose and was prepared to carry out. Our Scoutmaster, who originally abided by the committee’s “vote,” has now changed his mind and really wants the troop to have its own event. But, when he brought this up again, he was shot down, mostly by committee members who happen to also work with the COR-cum-ADC on the Cub Scout side. Now, so as not to incur the wrath of this woman, the Scouts who want to go to their own campout are literally sneaking around to get the information for this camp, so they can pretend to attend as “visitors,” and not as a troop. Our troop’s “reputation” now is that we’re under the thumb of this COR-ADC. I’m not being “sexist” here—I’m a mother, for gosh sakes—but, as a parent, I want my son to have fun and learn skills, and “politics” like this shouldn’t be a part of Scouting, and I’m livid that it’s reached the point where his Scouting activities are becoming stifled. So, I’m hoping you can help me understand whether a COR really has that much “power” over a troop’s activities? Does a troop have any say, if it feels the COR is overstepping bounds? And, if so, what steps can be taken? Also, what do you do in a committee meeting when one gender outnumbers the other and then starts dictating what the Scouts can and can’t do—despite the wishes of the actual leaders of the Troop and the Scouts themselves? I’m seriously thinking of removing my son from this troop because of this incident, but I’m hoping to find a way to resolve these issues before I make such a drastic move as this. (Scout Mom & Former Cub Scout Leader/Unit Commissioner)

Let’s begin at the beginning: Scouting is a movement more than an “organization” in the corporate sense, and when its program is carried out largely by volunteers and not employees, the “chain of command” and other corporate structural-type standards can become muddled. But the bottom line is this: Scouting’s not about camping or Klondike derbies or such—those are its tools, but not its goals—it’s about gently and positively teaching life lessons, largely by example, while boys are having fun together in small groups (we call these boys Scouts and the small groups patrols). When this aspect is lost, gets muddled, or becomes subverted, it’s not Scouting any longer; it’s something else entirely. You’ve told me not about one problem, but about many, and I’ll try to deal with all of them, beginning with the Klondike derby…

A Klondike derby, like ALL other Scouting events that bring Scouts together —whether from several patrols within the same Troop or many patrols across many Troops—should most importantly be fun. If an event, like your District’s Klondike, isn’t fun, the Scouts should absolutely “vote with their feet” and either not go at all, or attend another district’s Klondike, or have an event of their own, which CAN be fun. Your Troop chose the third option and there’s no reason in the world why they shouldn’t proceed with it. BUT, at the same time, the adult volunteers in the Troop should be voicing the Troop’s discontent with how things are being handled at the Klondike, so that perhaps some changes will ultimately happen to bring the fun back. The venues for this include conversations with your Troop’s Unit Commissioner, your District Commissioner, and even your District Executive. This way, it’s all out in the open and there’s no skulking around the back alleys.

As for your COR she’s clearly overstepping her role. BSA basic training literature says this about the role of the Chartered Representative: “The representative supports the needs of the troop as they (that is, the troop) carry out a planned program.” Nowhere does it say that the COR influences, much less tries to control, the Troop’s program itself. And, if she’s claiming power on the strength of being a parent of 3 Eagles, that’s called “reflected glory”—It has nothing to do with her at all! Clip her wings, fast!

Remaining with Scout leader training fundamentals, the Troop’s program is decided by the SCOUTS — The Patrol Leader’s Council (made up of the Patrol Leaders, with the Senior Patrol Leader in the role of Chairman, and the Scoutmaster sitting to one side as an advisor) generates program ideas, makes decisions on what activities the Troop will engage in, and places these events on the Troop’s annual calendar. The Scoutmaster then brings this plan to the Troop Committee, not for their “vote” but for their support in the form of filling out tour permits, making reservations, providing for transportation, collecting any necessary monies, securing the necessary equipment, etc. Further, in a BSA booklet titled TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK, it is clearly stated (the italics are in the book!): “The Patrol Leader’s Council, not the adult leaders, is responsible for planning and conducting the Troop’s activities.” The book further states that, when the PLC submits its plan to the Troop Committee (through the SM), the Troop Committee “approves the plan or makes alternative suggestions for the PLC to consider”. Notice that is absolutely does NOT say that the Troop Committee can “reject” or “veto” a plan; only that it can offer suggestions.

So, not only is your COR way out of line, but your Troop Committee needs to grow a spine! Moreover, if your COR is trying to throw her weight around by wearing her Assistant District Commissioner hat as well, the Committee needs to remind themselves and her as well that commissioners have no power or authority over units whatsoever. The role of commissioner is purely that of support and counsel—it’s a diplomatic role only; units to not “report to” commissioners. Ever. No exceptions. A commissioner can advise and counsel, but that’s all. And, if a unit, for whatever reason, chooses to reject that advice, that’s the end of the story. Units are autonomous. So, who gives a flying fig about “incurring the wrath” of this woman! How darned lily-livered is this Troop Committee of yours! Think about it this way: When you deny these Scouts something they really want to do, because one person is buffaloing a bunch of adults (including the Scouts’ primary role model, the Scoutmaster), what life lesson are these boys being taught?

Now, for your personal situation. How’s your son feeling about all of this? Is he unhappy with his Troop? Is he unhappy with Scouting? If so, then letting him know that he can change Troops anytime he wants is definitely the way to go. But, let it be his own decision; not yours. The main thing is this: Changing Troops can be done anytime, for any reason, and is always preferable to simply dropping out of the Scouting program.

Dear Andy,

What do the bands on the Arrow of Light mean, so I can tell the parents of the Webelos Scouts? And, on the arrow that you make to give to the boys, what do the different bands on it mean? Are there different colors for ranks and such? (Kenneth Kimmel, SM)

The seven rays of the Arrow of Light represent the seven virtues of wisdom, courage, self-control, justice, faith, hope, and love. Go to the MacScouter website (it’s inside the USSSP site) and you’ll find a whole bunch of different ceremonies that you can borrow exactly as written, or modify to fit your own situation. As for the bands on an actual arrow, you can have them stand for whatever you like! Ranks are a nice idea. You could include arrow points, too, and even CS Sports/ Academics identifications (if they’re into those programs, of course). In other words, be as creative as you’d like, and it’ll turn out just fine!

Dear Andy,

Just a quick note to say “WOW” and “HOW-HOW!”! I didn’t know your column existed until this morning and what an interesting, informative, and direct source of information! I just want to say “THANKS!” and keep up the good work. I intend to recommend read you to ALL our unit leaders. (Charles Wickersham, ASM, Troop 520, Cedar Hill, TX—Permanent Patrol Leader, Magnificent Antelopes, Wood Badge 70)

THANKS MUCH! The more good readers, the more good questions! Spread the word! (PPL-Owl Patrol-WE4-58-89)

Happy Scouting!!


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

(January Mid-2005 – Copyright © 2005 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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