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Issue 52 – June 2005

The Webelos Scout who didn’t visit a Troop with his Den and consequently didn’t complete the requirements for his Arrow of Light continues to be on your mind! Here are some more Scouters’ thoughts on this…

Dear Andy,

I was reading in your April ’05 issue about the concern for visiting a Troop. Is it possible that this Webelos Scout could go as a “Lone Scout,” as they have in Boy Scouts where there are limited opportunities? Is “Lone Scout” available for Cubs? (Bob Blarr, ADC, Erie Shores Distrct, Greater Niagara Frontier Council [Owl Patrol-NE III 151])

Yes, a boy can be a “Lone Cub Scout.” And, had this particular boy been one for some significant part of his Cub Scout/Webelos Scout tenure, he certainly could have visited a Troop sans Den. But, I’d be about the last person on this planet to suggest that, having consciously passed up two opportunities to correctly meet this requirement with his Den, this boy should now be reclassified as “Lone” so that he can circumvent the stated requirement and slide in via a side door, so to speak. Why do I feel this way? Simple: One of the “lessons of life” is that there are consequences to all of our actions (and inactions), and the earlier we learn this important lesson the sooner we can move on to other life lessons that we’ll need to learn!

Dear Andy,

I’m feeling the same way I did the first time I stood up in one of my college courses and disagreed with a professor, but here goes…

While I totally agree with your reasoning to “S.T.” for the Webelos Scout who made the decision to miss the opportunity to fulfill the requirement to visit a Boy Scout activity with his Den (twice) and is now unable to fulfill the requirement for Arrow of Light, I don’t think that the passage you cited in the Cub Scout Leader Handbook is pertinent. The reason is simple: Through attrition or other factors, Dens can easily fall below the preferred 6-8 member level of participation. Sometimes they’re not at this level to begin with, because of dropouts from previous years or low recruitment. Usually, by the time they’ve fallen to this level, it’s too far into the year to combine Dens, or maybe this is the only Den at that level of age/rank. So, while I believe in year-round Scouting, it’s difficult at best to convince some Den Leaders, who are eyeing the summer as a three-month, “vacation,” that they need to meld two Dens together and “disrupt” their status quo. In reality, this would be good for the summer, since now you would have twice as many adults to share the leadership with; however, it seems to fall to the leader with the most boys, while the other falls inactive, unless convinced to take on another Pack position. But this too, can be an indicator that the Den Leader whose attendance has fallen off is not doing a very good job of providing a good program to keep the boys interest. Anyway, I just thought I’d throw my two cents in. I still think your responses should be “required reading”! (Charles Wickersham)

I think your point are well made, and I, too, would have preferred that this boy and his father invested themselves in success instead of (perhaps subconsciously) sabotaging the final path to Arrow of Light. Yes, Dens can have attrition, but they can grow, too! The thing to avoid, at least in this situation, is “stretching” a fundamental beyond reasonableness just to “get a badge.”

And now, on to other matters…

Hey Andy,

The Boy Scout Handbook (edition around 1975) shows Chief Scout Alden Barber wearing his Eagle badge. What’s good enough for Chief Scout Alden is good enough for me. I wear my old Eagle Scout badge proudly. (E.B.)

The eighth edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, like the sixth, seventh, and ninth editions, contains artwork and not photographs. Perhaps you can tell me what page you’re looking at, since the only reference to Alden G. Barber, Chief Scout Executive, that I can find is on page 2, and there’s no illustration of any kind there. Of course, I’m looking at the first printing of this edition. Perhaps a later printing contained what you’re referring to? So, let me know what printing of the eighth edition you’re looking at as well as what page you’re looking at, and then let’s talk some more.

Meanwhile, why don’t you go back to the handbooks of the early 1920’s, so you can wear your Life badge before you wear your Star rank? Hey, that’s the way it was, then, and if it was good enough 80 years ago, why not today, too! Wrong is wrong, my Scouting Friend. But you already know this. To posture that some obscure, 30 year-old representation somehow justifies your resistance to what’s right doesn’t hold much water. Get with the program, Pal.

Hi Andy,

I need some advice. For the second time this year I have had a Scout in our District complete an Eagle Scout Project without getting all the required signatures. They all had the Scoutmaster, the Committee, and who the project is for, but they neglected to get the approval from the District. Both Scouts have done outstanding projects (thank goodness!), and are well documented. For the first of these two Scouts, I had him add more stuff to his project, to make it more in-depth, and then I signed off his project book. But then it’s happened again! This time, I can’t see a way to add to the project, so I’m at a loss as to what to do. The unit leaders involved are trying to take the blame, and they deserve some of the blame because they’re supposed to be guiding the Scouts. But the Scout himself still has to READ, and should not escape the blame here. What could you suggest for me to be fair, but still not compromise the spirit and intent of signatures on an Eagle Project packet? (Bruce Stohlman, Eagle Advancement Chair, Mid-America Council)

I understand your situation and dilemma completely. I’m not sure I’d be inclined to “add” to an already completed project. This sounds too much like it’s flying in the face of the “no one can add or subtract from a requirement” hammerlock, and that’s a hammerlock I respect (read some of my earlier columns for more on that point).

Actually, the two Scouts in question have been darned lucky! Imagine what would happen if, say, a Scout turned 18 years old and the Board of Review rejected his project because it was deemed inadequate! Now, we have a Scout who’s out of time, and out of luck!

I agree with you that the two situations you’ve described represent shared oversights. A bunch of folks are guilty here, including the Scoutmaster, the committee, and unquestionably the Scout himself. Frankly, I fail to under-stand how a Scout could entertain the notion of proceeding with a project not signed by someone at the district or council level when the workbook itself clearly states…

IMPORTANT NOTE: You may proceed with your leadership project only when you have …

– Completed all the above mentioned planning details

– Shared the project plans with the appropriate persons

– Obtained approval from the appropriate persons

…and there’s an unsigned line! But, you’re right…We can make it foolproof, but we can’t make it idiot-proof!

If I were in your shoes right now, here’s what I’d do…

First, send a letter to every Scoutmaster and every Troop Committee Chair in your council and, in it, state, straightaway: “Effective immediately, unless an Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook has all signatures in place before the project itself is undertaken, the project will be rejected as qualifying for REQUIREMENT 5 of the Eagle Rank Application–There will be no exceptions, and ‘appeals’ will not be heard.”

You will want to state, further: This standing policy is being enforced to the letter in order to prevent the potentially disastrous situation wherein a project completed without all necessary signatures is later deemed of insufficient magnitude or significance by the Eagle Rank Board of Review.”

Send these letters by first class mail, with your personal return address on the envelope, and have them all sent on exactly the same date. This eliminates anyone from later saying, “I didn’t get one…” because any undeliverable first class letter will be returned to the return address.

Then, visit all of your Districts’ Roundtables and present a review of Eagle Service Project protocols and processes.

Finally, stand by what you’ve said. Period.

Dear Andy,

I’m working on Environmental Science Merit Badge. One of the requirements is to do a timeline on how the BSA contributed to environmental science. Do you have any idea where this information can be obtained? (Ben Denton, Troop 7, Pinehurst, NC)

The requirement you’re referring to asks you to “make a timeline of the history of environmental science in America” and then identify (on that timeline, we can assume) contributions made by the Boy Scouts to environmental science, including dates, names of people, and so on. Now I don’t happen to have the pamphlet for this merit badge in front of me, but I do know how these pamphlets are written. Usually, there’s a section or chapter in it for each of the requirements. It will be descriptive text, of course, and not a “timeline,” in this case. So your job, Ben, is to read this section and then, from it, construct a timeline, which is a very specific way of showing the “history” of something. Not as hard as you might have thought!

Dear Andy,

If a Scout goes on a mission trip with his church, can he count that trip as service hours for rank advancement? (Marty Hughes)

Starting with the Second Class rank, a Scout will “participate in an approved service project.” For that rank, it’s a minimum of one hour; for First Class, it’s skipped; for Star, it’s six hours; and, for Life, it’s also six hours. So, as long as the Scout has obtained approval from his Scoutmaster in advance, a mission trip with his church or any other group should be just fine, so long as the minimum hours are met.

Dear Andy,

Are Latter-Day Saint Troops required to adhere to the religious principle of Scouting? Specifically, the principle states that religious teaching is done at home and within one’s religious organization or church. Does this mean that a Troop cannot teach religious principles? I’m asking because it seems as though if they can, it necessitates discrimination against other boys who are not LDS. (David L. Port, Jr., UC)

I may be an Eagle Scout, but that sure doesn’t make me a “legal eagle”! I do know that, in the Annual Charter Agreement that’s signed by the head of the chartered organization and a professional representative of a local council of the BSA, it states that the organization being chartered agrees to “conduct the Scouting program according to its own policies and guidelines as well as those of the BSA.” I’ve also seen the BSA’s Declaration of Religious Principle, which states that the BSA “is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward…religious training. The BSA’s policy is that the… organization or group with which the member (i.e., the Scout) is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.” These two excerpts, noted without reference to any other information that may be available, suggest that (a) if a chartered organization is a church, synagogue, or other religious institution, it can certainly stand by its own essential principles, and (b) those principles can be espoused so long as they are presented in a universal manner and not in a way that would promote or signify any specific denomination, sect, or specific faith or belief set. But, hey, that’s just me.

In a slightly different, but, I believe, germane arena, I’m aware that, when one delivers an invocation or prayer to a mixed group of people, it is perfectly acceptable for it to be specific to the faith of the speaker; it does not have to be “universal” to the point of losing all color.

Combining all of these points leads me here: It would seem OK if, in an invocation or prayer at the beginning or end of a Troop meeting, the faith of the speaker is revealed via content; but, the actual teaching of a specific set of religious beliefs or principles has no place in a Troop meeting, because this would violate the “nonsectarian” principle of the BSA program.

It further seems to me that, even if the entire Troop were made up of youth of the same faith, such teaching would still be inappropriate, because “teaching religion” is simply not part of the Scouting program. If the Troop is composed of youth of a variety of faiths, such teaching would be much more than merely inappropriate–it would be flat-out wrong.

But, like I said, I’m no legal eagle. Check this out with your own council’s Scout Executive.

Dear Andy,

A question from a Troop came up recently, about if wearing the BSA “Class A” uniform was allowed or appropriate when the Scouts are participating in service activities such as collecting food for a food drive or collecting worn US flags for proper retirement. We know that the uniform should not be worn for unit fund raising activities, but is wearing them to sell BSA popcorn OK? (Al Metauro, DC, Raritan Valley District, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

I’ve always personally believed that the more visibility Scouting can give itself, the better! That’s why, when I was a Scoutmaster, our Troop did just about every gosh darned thing in full uniform! Camping, hiking, traveling to and from activities, you name it. And, yes, we absolutely wore our uniforms when we performed service for our sponsor, community and council. I wasn’t alone, either. Virtually every one of my fellow Scoutmasters did, or attempted to do, the same thing! Same with Cub Scouts. The BSA thinks this way, too. That’s why there are just three instances when a uniform wouldn’t be worn: If doing so would imply an endorsement (of, say, a political candidate), if the activity could dishonor Scouting in some way, or if selling something is involved. So, for selling a product or service, even for unit, district, or council money-earning purposes, we followed that BSA stipulation of no uniforms. The popcorn that Scouts sell would fall into this category: It isn’t “Scout popcorn”–it’s TRAILS END popcorn, sold by Scouts.

But, since activities such as collecting food for a food drive or collecting worn American flags for retirement are clearly in the service area and don’t involve selling or endorsing anything, and clearly bring credit to Scouting, you’re 100% in the clear!

One more thing: Encourage your Scouts to wear their FULL uniforms. This presents to the public a much more cohesive impression. Besides, anyone ever seen Michael Jordan go into on a B-Ball game wearing his jersey with jeans or cut-offs? Or the Yankees without their pinstripes head-to-toe?

Dear Andy,

Recently, you said something about there being three national “lifesaving” awards, suggesting that the three other meritorious action awards are for “non-lifesaving” situations. That’s not consistent with our experience. In our District, a Troop recently performed a wilderness rescue when one of the leaders collapsed. One Scout treated the victim for shock and applied CPR while other Scouts either stayed at the site to assist or hiked out to call for a “medevac.” The National Court of Honor bestowed the Medal of Merit on the Scout doing first aid and CPR (“saving the life”), and the other Scouts received National Certificates of Merit. I had first thought that the “life-saving” aspect of this incident would yield a Heroism medal; instead, I was told that the top three awards must involve some degree of risk on the part of the rescuer as well as threaten the life of the victim. The criteria for the Heroism medal call for “minimum risk to self ” but “minimum” is a slippery word. It could be interpreted to say “little or no risk to the rescuer,” which would apply to this rescue. But it could also mean “the rescuer should face enough risk to exceed some (undefined but small) minimum amount.” In this incident, it looks like the National Court of Honor used the second interpretation. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not angling for a better award for these Scouts; they’re rightfully proud of the recognitions they’ve already received. I’m just trying to understand how things are supposed to work. (Rick Smith, Council Advancement Chair, Eagle Bluff Council)
Thanks for writing, and sharing this incident and thoughts. What I described comes from BSA literature, as I pointed out. I didn’t “say something” in any general sense. I described precisely what each award is for. Nor did I say what you’re describing. So, I’ll say it again:
There are two National Court of Honor award categories. The first is in the area of saving life, and the second is for meritorious action that does not involve life-saving.

In the first category–saving life–there are three levels: (1) the Heroism Award for saving (or attempting to save) life at minimal personal risk, (2) the Honor Medal for saving (or attempting to save) life at considerable personal risk, and (3) the Honor Medal With Crossed Palms for saving (or attempting to save) life at extreme personal risk.
In the second category–for meritorious service–there are also three levels: (1) the Council Certificate of Merit for an act of service for which the council advancement committee does not feel qualifies for national recognition, (2) the National Certificate of Merit for an act of service that is deserving of special national recognition, and (3) the Medal of Merit for an act of service of a rare or exceptional character that reflects an uncommon degree of concern for the well-being of others.
As for your Troop’s experience, the National Court of Honor made a decision, based on long historical criteria. I think what’s most important here is not whether you and they agree or not on definitions but, rather, the fact that someone benefited from your having taken action. We don’t do this stuff for medals, you know. We do it because that’s what Scouting inspires in us.
OK, Andy, I phrased my thoughts poorly – let me try again…

I’ve had to review a half dozen different “meritorious action” incidents since I started as advancement chair this year. I’m trying to understand how the standards are applied in the real world as opposed to what the literature says. Of course I’ve talked with people in our council about this, but I thought it would be interesting to see what you had to say. As you described, the published BSA regulations imply a strong distinction between “life saving” awards and “meritorious action” awards. In practice, I see the line is drawn a little differently. The Medal of Merit and Certificate of Merit may be intended for non-lifesaving incidents, but they’re also awarded for lifesaving incidents. It seems best to think of these awards as all being in a single category of “meritorious action awards” with “lifesaving awards” a special sub-classification of those. Clearly, the National Court of Honor believes that saving a life is a “meritorious action,” since they will award the Medal and Certificate for lifesaving incidents. In my own (albeit limited) experience, the “lifesaving” awards are bestowed on individuals who face some degree of risk when trying to save a life, while the Medal of Merit may be awarded in less extreme situations. In our council, when we investigate a possible award situation, we interview witnesses and participants in the incident as well as the nominees. Then, when discussing the nomination, we try to call it a “meritorious action” even if lifesaving was involved, and we try to avoid saying “lifesaving” or “heroism” since we can’t predict what level of award the National Court of Honor will decide on, if any. I’ve never heard of anyone being disappointed about “only” receiving a National Medal of Merit instead of an Honor Medal, but I’d prefer to avoid the question entirely. We do our best to follow the standards and regulations, but the National Court has a broader view of the awards than we do. No, we don’t train scouts in first aid and lifesaving just so they might win a medal. Personally, I’m not sure what a meritorious action award really says about a particular Scout who received it, aside from showing that the Scouting experience produced the right result. But the recognitions are important because they illustrate the value of Scouting in a very simple and eloquent way. (Rick Smith)

It sounds like you have a pretty darned good handle on how all of these recognitions fit together, and your heart sure seems to be in the right place! Keep on keepin’ on —

Dear Andy,

I’ve recently been asked by our new District Director to become our District’s Training Chair. While I appreciate the vote of confidence, I’m wondering exactly what my responsibilities may be before I say “yes” or “no.” I’m already pretty committed in Scouting: Cubmaster and Webelos Den Leader, also ASM in a Troop in which my older son is an Eagle Scout (with 2 Palms!), and I’m also on the OLS training staff. So, while I’d love to be involved at the District Committee level, I’m pretty well strapped unless I can get a good understanding of the Training Chair’s duties. The last thing I want to do is to commit to doing something and then failing to get it done. (Charles Wickersham)

You can get a handle on the district training chair responsibilities by checking out the BSA booklet: LEADERSHIP TRAINING COMMITTEE GUIDE ((No. 34169E). But, it think there’s a more important issue here…

Let’s see…you’re already wearing FOUR “Scouting hats.” Are you seriously trying to see how many you can stack on your head before they all fall off (or your wife knocks ’em off)?!

Stick with Scouting jobs that keep you close to your sons. Unless you can devote countless hours to Scouting without fear, you’re going to find yourself in the midst of a house of cards crashing down! These years with your sons are precious, and will fly by all too quickly. After they’ve moved on is the time to take on other Scouting jobs. For the next bunch of years, make your Scouting moments count, and give yourself and your sons memories you’ll cherish with them in the decades ahead. And, when new positions are offered to you, understand that it’s OK to say, “Thanks, I’m honored, but not this year…ask me again in a couple of years.”

Remember my Bruce Springsteen story: “He can sing, and he can play the guitar, and he can even blow a harmonica…but the minute he straps cymbals between his legs, he becomes something else entirely.”

Happy Scouting!!


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


(June 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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