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Issue 80 – July 2006

Get your own I ASKED ANDYpin so your fellow Scouters, friends, and kids know that you’re in the know! The pin is brass, 1 inch diameter, with a clasp on the back and full color on the front, with a shiny plastic overlay. Download the order form and mail it to me. Then, think about how big your grin’s gonna be when you’re asked, “Hey, where’d you get THAT?”

Remember the letter, last month, from Laura Hendrix in Shallowater, TX (South Plains Council), who was having a fire-ban problem? She asked, “Our dry weather conditions have been so bad that we haven’t had a campfire in a year! How does a Scout qualify for the Second Class “cook on an open fire” requirement when there’s a fire ban?”

Good news! The latest issue of SCOUTING magazine tells us that the BSA has waived to “open fire” aspect of this requirement in locales where a fire ban is in effect! Sounds like somebody’s listening!

Dear Andy,

Can a Scoutmaster take away a Scout’s merit badges earned at a Scout summer camp? Also, can a Scoutmaster take away a Totin’ Chip that a Scout earned at camp, because the Scoutmaster has his own 100-question standards for it? Can it be taken away if a Scout isn’t doing something perfectly, according to the Scoutmaster? My Scoutmaster does these things and I need to know if this is right. Thank you. (Name Withheld, SPL, Cornhusker Council, NE)

I’m guessing you already know the answers to your questions, so I’ll tell you straight out: No way, Jose, for all of them! It’s absolutely, positively, and unquestionably WRONG for a Scoutmaster or anyone else to try to take away ANY advancement (rank or merit badge) once it’s been earned by a Scout. There is NO reason whatsoever for doing this and the BSA does not permit this, ever. This is a POLICY of the BSA — Not just “Andy’s opinion.” If anyone did this or tried to do this to you, show this message to your parents IMMEDIATELY and tell them that I said they should contact the Scout Executive at the Cornhusker Council service center right now, today. If it was done to a friend of yours, show him this message and tell him what I’ve said to do. As for Totin’ Chips, although they’re not quite in the “advancement” category, once they’re earned, they’re owned by the Scout. The “old” way it used to be handled is that, if a Scout were seen to be misusing a knife, axe, or saw, a corner of his Chip could be torn off, and if all four corners were torn off, the fifth time the Scout did something incorrectly or dangerously with these woods tools, his Chip could be taken away (meaning that he couldn’t use a woods tool till he earned another Totin’ Chip). But take a Chip away because a Scout didn’t “pass” some sort of impossible re-test? UNFAIR! NOT RIGHT! Sounds like that Scoutmaster should have a corner torn off his own Scoutmaster card!

As far as “perfection” is concerned, neither Scouts nor Scoutmasters ever do anything “perfectly.” That’s not what we’re on this planet to do. We’re here to DO OUR BEST and Scouts occasionally make mistakes and Scoutmasters are supposed to be here to help Scouts learn how to fix their mistakes and be better Scouts. This doesn’t happen by yelling and screaming. Yelling and screaming are something a Scoutmaster should NEVER DO, EVER! This isn’t how to be a good Scoutmaster. If other adults are around when this happens, and they don’t stop it, then they’re wrong, too. In fact, this could be considered what’s called emotional abuse, and you need to tell your parents or another adult what’s happening, so that the Scoutmaster can be made to stop this stuff. This isn’t tattling or snitching. This is reporting abuse.

Dear Andy,

What happened to your Scout Trivia questions? Thanks for the great columns and how about some more trivia? (Chris Byers, Scouter, Great Okinawa District, Far East Council)

OK, I’ll see what I can come up with, over the summer!

Dear Andy,

We have an adult Scout volunteer who also “volunteers” to certify Boy Scouts in Life guarding for the BSA and Red Cross. It’s my understanding that the cost for BSA Lifeguard certification is at no cost, and the American Red Cross only charges $100 if you’re a registered Scout or Scouter (Yes, I did check this out). However, last year this “volunteer” held two classes and charged each Scout $220, and then she apparently didn’t turn in the correct paperwork to the council office, with the result that none of the Scouts who took her class received official certification. Then just recently, she held two more classes, this time charging $250 per Scout. How do I put a stop to this practice? (Scout Parent, Bogue Tuchenna District, Istrouma Area Council, LA)

The American Red Cross, like the YMCA, is typically a fee-for-services organization, so paying a fair amount for specific training (life guarding, CPR, etc.) isn’t all that unusual, because in addition to covering the costs of materials and something toward general overhead, they typically compensate their instructors as well. But the Boy Scouts doesn’t do this. With the BSA, there may often be a token fee, to cover the cost of materials, or sometimes the cost of lunch in the case of an all-day training event, but the trainers are volunteers and don’t get paid. As far as obtaining certification for BSA LIFEGUARD, this can only be done by someone who is a certified BSA LIFEGUARD COUNSELOR or someone who has been certified by the BSA’s NATIONAL CAMPING SCHOOL-NATIONAL AQUATICS SCHOOL. Moreover, when there’s a fee for training under the auspices of the BSA, money is never paid directly to the instructor. It’s always paid to the council (participants in this woman’s course would have written checks to the Istrouma Area Council-BSA). All of this, coupled with the paperwork “glitch,” makes me wonder whether this was a non-authorized money-maker for this individual or a misunderstanding.

You should discuss this issue with the Scout Executive and ask that he review the circumstances. If this is a non-authorized activity, he can help communicate the issue to all volunteers in the Council and put a stop to it. If it is an authorized activity, he should be able to fix the problems. Until the issues here are resolved, prudence suggests that volunteers ought to shop around for an instructor with proper credentials who either offers the training for free or via the Council with checks for any fees paid to the Council.

Dear Andy,

My son is a member of a Venturing Crew; he’s not registered with a Troop. He’s going to Philmont with a council contingent. This has been a wonderful experience for training and he is really looking forward to it. His adult crew leader (a really neat guy) has requested him to wear a Boy Scout “Class A” uniform for travel and photos. My son has a Venturing uniform, of course, but should he be wearing a uniform of a program he’s not registered in? Our council advisor has said that since my son is a registered youth in the BSA, he can wear a Boy Scout uniform as requested. I do understand the need for uniformity and identification in travel, and I guess this shouldn’t confuse me, but both of my parents were in the US Army, and proper uniform is something I was taught. I guess I could re-register him in the Troop, but he really can’t make meetings or many weekend events, which is the reason he did not re-register this year. (Bob Stotter, Venturing Crew CC, Greater Cleveland Council, OH)

First, congratulations to your son for his upcoming Philmont adventure! I’m guessing he’s in a trek crew (not to be confused with a Venturing Crew) and will be heading for the backcountry there. I’m also guessing that this trek crew is “provisional” (i.e., made up of young people from various units; not a single unit). When such groups travel together, it’s important for uniforming to be as identical as possible. If most are wearing Boy Scout uniforms (tan shirts), then the leader correctly made the decision for all to be in tan. Had the crew been more Venturers than Boy Scouts, then he may have made a different decision. Re-registration or double-registration isn’t necessary, because this is a trek crew uniform, with a fairly short life expectancy (i.e., the duration of the trek, including travel to and from Philmont, and maybe some pre-trek orientation meetings). I do understand how your concerns would be prompted by your military heritage, but this is the Boy Scouts of America—not the US Army—and it’s OK. Take a deep breath, relax, and just go buy your son a tan shirt.

Dear Andy,

First, thanks for being there all these years. Your sage advice has helped me out many a time and for this I (and many a Scouter thinks I’m full of wisdom, when what I did was quote you!) owe you a debt of gratitude. However, I am forced to differ with you on the subject of young (make that very young) Eagles. As you stated, there is no place for a Troop to add or subtract anything from the BSA requirements, yet I can’t help but feel that many a Scout can earn all the badges, do the project, and still have no real idea of what it means to be an Eagle Scout. Case in point: We had a very smart, very focused young man in our Troop recently, who earned every merit badge with the absolute minimum amount of effort (he would even poll his fellow Scouts to find out which Merit Badge Counselors were the “easiest”). All his leadership positions were those requiring the least work possible (like Scribe and Historian and such). He completed his Eagle board or review at barely 14 years old, and then he never came to another Troop meeting again. When his SPL called him up to find out what was going on, this Scout said that he’d made Eagle, it could go on his “resume,” that’s all he ever wanted from Scouting, and that he had no intention of ever coming back. When I talked this over with another Scouter in the Troop, he told me, “I’m not really surprised. I never saw this boy go out of his way to help anyone. Not once.” At a Court of Honor long ago, a Scoutmaster said this to a new Eagle Scout: “What you have inside your Scout shirt—in your heart—is far more important than any badge you could wear on the outside.” Somehow, this lesson didn’t get passed on to this Scout I mentioned. Could we have done a better job, if we’d had more time? Would the Scout have a better understanding of what the Scout Oath and Law really mean at age 15? Or 17? I don’t mean to imply that all young Scouts are incapable of deep and profound understanding, in fact I’m often surprised by their insights, but I think there should be more much more emphasis on the values of Scouting rather than the little round badges. (Name Withheld)

I appreciate your example of the Eagle-for-Eagle’s-sake young man. Funny. The examples we choose always fit our own points of view and never the other guy’s. Here’s the deal: Yes, the Troop and its Scouts and adult leaders all may well have either let this Scout down or enabled a phony to begin with. But what’s this nonsense about “minimum merit badge requirements”? There are requirements, period, and a Scout either meets them or he doesn’t. There’s no “minimum.” So, when his Scoutmaster gives the name of a MBC to a Scout, maybe that Scoutmaster needs to know what kind of a Counselor he’s sending his Scouts to! Next, let’s look at the notion of “leadership positions requiring the least work possible.” By whose standards did he do “the least work” and when did you all come to this conclusion? AFTER his tenure? Sorry, mate, too late! And how did this happen? After all, the Scoutmaster is supposed to be the youth leaders’ mentor—This is the SM’s single most important responsibility. What was the Scoutmaster NOT doing, that permitted this young man to skate by (if, in fact, he did)? Yes, I agree with you that the badge is the least important aspect of any rank, including Eagle. But I’m not sure we can say that this young man didn’t “get it.” Actually, he may have been more honest that we’re willing to give him credit for. He had a goal; he made a plan; he achieved his goal; he moved on. Along the way, he spent three or more years in the Scouting program, camped at least 20 days and nights, swam, learned to tie useful knots, cooked for his Patrol, learned First Aid and CPR, learned about the government of his town, state, country and the world, became a more pro-active and contributing family member, learned habits of personal responsibility and moderation, developed himself physically, learned to improve his communication skills, and explored about a dozen different potential life-hobbies or careers he may not otherwise have been exposed to. He also learned by heart the Scout Oath and Law, Motto, and Slogan, and got to hold the American Flag. He participated in seven Scoutmaster’s Conferences and six Boards of Review, where he was encouraged to look backward as well as forward into his future life. And he led others in the completion of a meaningful contribution to his community. Are these such terrible things? And if, after doing all these, he has made a decision to move on to other adventures, is this such a horrible thing? I can assure you: Scouting has made a difference in his life, and will continue to influence his decisions and his life for the duration of it. So, don’t beat yourselves up too badly. Sure, you might have done a better job, and perhaps been a bit less enabling. But if you’d been positively awful, I can tell you this: Neither this young man nor any other would ever stay for three or more years, or achieve Eagle rank.

It’s not age that guarantees maturity. It’s not early achievement that guarantees later success. It’s not education that guarantees wisdom. It’s not team sports that guarantee a sense of team spirit and teamwork. And it’s not the rank of Eagle that guarantees a life in the Spirit of Scouting’s ideals. But, without these, the potentials for success, wisdom, team spirit, and honest, happy, responsible living as a contributing citizen are severely reduced.

Sometimes, I’ll do or say something in “civilian life” that prompts another to sarcastically say, “What are you…some kind of Eagle Scout?” And to this I’ve invariably replied, with a grin, “Yup, that’s exactly what I am.”

Netcommish Comment: In 1967, I was barely 14 years of age when I earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Was I mature enough to be an Eagle. Probably not by the standards some folks have, but that is not what was important. What was important was the wonderful set of values and lessons learned – lessons and values that I continue to live today. The affirmation of learning and achievement was what counted. The sense of duty and obligation to service that followed, led me to serve for several decades as a Scouting volunteer and for the last ten years as the webmaster for the U.S. Scouting Service Project’s set of websites. Had my Scoutmaster decided to prevent from being an Eagle Scout on the basis of maturity, no doubt I would have left Scouting and you wouldn’t see this website today.

Dear Andy,

During my tenure in a Troop Committee position, I discovered your columns and actually went back and read every single one! My own Troop was conducting boards of review exclusively with Assistant Scoutmasters. When I told our “Advancement ASM” about what I’d read about who actually sits on such boards, he took it to our Scoutmaster, who promptly pronounced it BULL and refused to change. But when I advised them that we weren’t following stated BSA policy, they started actually looking into the situation. When I noted that, according to BSA advancement procedures, when a Scout’s already been tested and he’s had his requirements signed off and he’s had his Scoutmaster’s Conference, and that a board of review isn’t there to “fail” a Scout, it started to sink in that maybe a board of review has another goal! Maybe the review process isn’t so much about the Scout as it is about the experience he’s having in his Patrol and Troop—The “Scouting Experience,” if you will. This started a whole new way of looking at the program we were delivering, and what were we doing to enhance the experience. When we considered what we were doing to foster advancement, we realized that we were really behind the curve. We realized that our Scouts had no idea of how they were to go about earning merit badges beyond the summer camp “merit badge frenzy.” We had Scouts approaching their 18th birthdays, none of whom had ever earned a merit badge outside of summer camp or a Camporee Merit Badge Midway, and who had no idea about how to go for the one or two or three merit badges they needed for Eagle. We started listening more in our reviews, and learned from our Scouts that our outdoor program was pretty lame—We have more than 50 Scouts in our Troop, yet we’ve had outdoor events where all of four Scouts showed up! We’re finally starting to realize as a group that our egos, our preconceptions, and our opinions may not count for all that much if they don’t contribute to the experience these boys have in Scouting—in or Troop! I’ve written to our District Executive and asked him to make your columns known to all of our Scouters, and I’ve have asked our Scout Executive to make sure all our guys know the BSA Policies. All of our changes came about and are coming about because I took the time to read about the right way for boards of review to be conducted and, even though I took some heat, I had the weight of policy on my side. So when I read the June criticism about your BOR comments, I must say they are entirely misplaced. How do we evaluate the quality of the program we’re supposed to be delivering? Through the eyes and feedback of your “customers”—and our Scouts are our “customers,” and we know this: THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT! (Name Withheld, NJ)

Couldn’t have said it better!

Hi Andy,

I’ve been our Troop’s Advancement Chair almost four years now, and I’ve never had someone ask me this particular question before… One of our parents asked if his son can arrange for a Scoutmaster Conference for Star rank before having completed all of the other requirements for this rank (the Scout needs about two more weeks of tenure in his leadership position). I’ve searched through all of the documentation that I have, including the Boy Scout Requirements-2006 book, the most current Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures book, and even the Scoutmaster’s Handbook for guidance on this. It would appear to me that a Scout must complete all of his requirements before requesting a Scoutmaster Conference, as indicated in the BSA Requirements for a rank advancement. I’ve even found an “unofficial reference” in The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which states: “The Scoutmaster Conference has several purposes: To make sure that the Scout is ready for his next rank—not in terms of retesting or reviewing but simply checking that he’s completed each requirement and that the requirements have been signed off in his book.” But I haven’t seen an official BSA policy on this. The parent’s own research (though he didn’t specify where he found it) yielded this: “Scoutmaster Conference: Each Scout must regularly meet with a Scoutmaster for a Scoutmaster Conference. This is to discuss your goals and accomplishments and is required for each rank advancement. You do not have to wait until you have completed requirements for another rank to request a Scoutmaster conference.” Any guidance that you can provide on this question would be very much appreciated. (Georgia Lewis, Troop Advancement Chair, Mid-America Council, Papillion, NE)

Turn to page 11 in THE BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK: “After you finish the joining requirements, your Scoutmaster will want to have a conference with you. He or she will also sit down and talk with you after you finish the requirements for each Scout rank.” The boldface is mine.

Hi Andy,

I have a question regarding Camping Merit Badge, Requirement 3. What exactly should a “written plan” consist of when a Scout needs to make this for his overnight trek? (Andy Lewis, St. Louis, MO)

Merit badge pamphlets are wonderful resources for questions just like this. You can buy these on over 100 different subjects for about $3.50 at your local Scout Shop or online at

Dear Andy,

We’re looking for a resource on the web for Boy Scout yells and cheers. Any suggestions? (Darrin Mackey, ASM, Troop 88, Marshfield, MO)

Go here:

Netcommish Comment: In addition to the website, you may want to look for John L Van da Walker’s All the applauses we could find in your local library or bookstore. It was last printed in 1989, but is one of the best. One copy is available at

Hi Andy,

As the “Local Council Representative” to the National Council, am I permitted to wear the Northeast Region patch? Or, to put it another way, isn’t a Local Council Representative to the National Council automatically a member of the Regional Committee and on the Area Committee as well?

The BSA Insignia Guide tells us that we can wear the regional insignia on our right uniform sleeve if we’re a regional officer or regional committee member, if we’re a local council professional staff member, if we’re a national professional staff member with regional responsibilities, or if we’re a regional jamboree contingent staff member or leader (to be worn while at that national or world jamboree). So, if your position is one of these, then go ahead and wear it. As to whether or not the Council Representative is automatically a member of the regional or an area committee, you’ll probably want to ask someone in the Northeast Region office in Jamesburg, NJ. I’m sure they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Dear Andy,

I’d like to know where I can find a Venturing Crew Ranger Court of Honor ceremony. I’ve only been Advisor for the past six months and this will be the first Court of Honor for my Venturing Crew. (Nancy Ernst, Bogue Tuchenna District, Istrouma Area Council, LA)

Check this out:

Dear Andy,

My father was very active in the Boy Scouts back in the 1920s and I believe up through the 1940s. I have a small amount of Boy Scout memorabilia that I’d like to donate for display in his memory (I would not want these articles to be sold). Do you know if there’s a Scouting museum in New Jersey that I might contact? (Melissa Chambers-Patteson, Troop 1, Mendham, NJ)

What a kind and thoughtful thing for you to consider doing. I have very good news for you. There is indeed a Scouting Museum in New Jersey, and its name is—you guessed it—the New Jersey Scout Museum. Their website is: And their curator’s email address is:

Dear Andy,

I have been contacted by the niece of an elderly Scouter and OA Vigil. He has been very ill and his time is growing short. He told his niece that he’d like a Boy Scout funeral, and so she contacted me. I need to know of anything that might cover this subject. Also, a long-time Scouter told me that there’s an OA ceremony called “The Broken Arrow.” Do you have anything at all about either of these? (Barbara Harrison, CC, Troop 223,Longhorn Council, Killeen TX)

This is from

Scout Funeral Services

On occasion, a Troop may experience the loss of a Scout or leader. It is a difficult time for everyone. At the request of the family or with the permission of the family and religious leader, Scouts may participate in the funeral and memorial service to celebrate the life of the Scout or leader. Some things that may be appropriate include: attending in uniforms, sitting together as a unit, serving as honorary pallbearers or ushers, serving during the service by doing such things as reciting the Scout Oath or Law. The primary concern is for the family and its preferences. The involvement of the troop or Scouts in the troop is at the discretion of the family and its religious leaders.

Funeral Service for Scout or Scouter

This outline is merely a guide. The wishes of the family and spiritual advisor take precedent.

  1. Processional
    • Color Guard brings in US flag and Troop flag
    • Pallbearers follow
    • Scouts and Scouters in Uniform follow
  2. Opening Prayer
  3. “Almighty Father, as we grieve the loss of (Name of Deceased), help us to remember his involvement with Scouting. Show us how he lived the Scout oath and law. We ask that you comfort us as we will miss his friendship and fellowship.
  4. Pastoral Comments
  5. Highlights of the Deceased’s life and accomplishments
  6. Song
    • “On My Honor”
  7. Readings: (Listed below are some suggestions)
    • Psalms 23:1-6
    • Psalms 37:5
    • Jeremiah 29:11
    • I Corinthians 15:54-57
  8. Comments from friends.
  9. “Scout Vespers”
  10. Closing Benediction:
  11. “May the Great Scoutmaster of all Scouts be with us until we meet again, and may our footsteps lead unto Him.”
  12. Taps


Some additional notes, from me…

– “On My Honor” may be heard on one of the Philmont CDs available through this website:

– When my troop lost our Assistant Scoutmaster (and I lost a dear friend), the Scouts asked if some of the moms could get together and sew solid black neckerchiefs for the pallbearers and honor guard.

– The Broken Arrow Ceremony is at:

Dear Andy,

Here is a timeline for the fast route to Eagle:

Cross over at 10 years, 6 months – Scout rank

Receive Tenderfoot, Second and First Class at 10 years, 7 months (30 days for physical fitness requirement and 10 quick outings)

Star at 10 years, 11 months

Life at 11 years, 5 months

Eagle at 11 years, 11 months

The bottom line is that the only time requirements on the road to Eagle total one year and five months. Now whether it’s a good thing or not, or even if a Scout could pull it off, it’s definitely possible and totally “legal” to reach Eagle by one’s 12th birthday. (Curt Eidem, ACC, Mount Baker Council, WA)

Yup, you’ve got the timeline in the cross-hairs, and you’re on the money that earning AoL and crossing over at age 10 is now “legal” and could produce an even younger Eagle Scout, if he set his mind to it and stuff dropped into place just right. What this says to me is that, since Eagle rank is achievable before a boy’s 12th birthday, maybe what needs to be said to folks who want to artificially and arbitrarily “stall” a Scout is this: WHAT IS YOUR THINKING BEHIND FORCING A SCOUT TO TAKE UP TO SEVEN LONG YEARS TO DO WHAT CAN BE DONE IN LITTLE MORE THAN ONE? Let’s look at this another way: As a boss, employer, sergeant, or manager, would you actually tell someone, “This job can be done in an hour, but I want you to take an entire work-day to complete it.” Think it over…

Dear Andy,

I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster (and soon to enter the unit commissioner ranks) in the Midwest. We have an active Troop of 11 to 15 boys, the new Scoutmaster came on board about a year ago, but we’re lacking in boy leadership. We have two Scouts, both age 14,who are SPL and ASPL, five who are 13, and the rest are 12 or under. Right now the Troop is functioning as a single patrol. I’d like to split out the SPL and ASPL into a new “senior” or “leadership” patrol. That would leave 11 to 13 Scouts who could form two additional patrols. Our problem is lack of leadership for what would be those two new patrols. Should I assign the SPL and ASPL each to a patrol, to mentor and train a Patrol Leader? On the other hand, I don’t know if they’ve received any leadership training themselves (My guess is No, based on what I’ve observed for a few months). I’m torn between holding an election right away to pick a patrol leader and then teach them what they need to know, or do we appoint a Patrol Leader for each patrol to get things going? (Name Withheld)

Right now, you don’t have a SPL and ASPL—you have a Patrol Leader and his Assistant. With just one patrol, there’s no job for an SPL to do, and so it sure can’t “count” as a leadership position, because you’ve made it impossible for him to carry out the duties of a SPL. Same goes for that ASPL. So, Yes, this Troop absolutely needs to be split into multiple patrols—It won’t survive unless this happens. Boys need patrols and patrols need competition and room to grow. Patrols can continue year after year, you know! The Scouts may change, but the patrol lives on! A Troop is merely the “holding tank” for its Patrols – The Patrol is the essential unit of Boy Scouting; NOT THE TROOP!

First off, forget that “senior leadership patrol” idea. With just two slightly older Scouts, one of whom will likely be elected SPL, that leaves just one Scout, because the SPL isn’t a patrol member to begin with! So, if you have 15, that’s about three patrols of four to five each, plus one SPL (a troop this size hardly needs an ASPL!). Here’s how you and the troop’s Scoutmaster will team up to do it (and you’re absolutely NOT going to pick their leaders for them!)…

Announce an “election night” to happen one or maybe two meetings from now. ALL Scouts need to be there, no exceptions (then, through the committee and parents, make sure this happens). Then, go and buy one Senior Patrol Leader Handbook and 3-4 copies of the Patrol Leader Handbook to bring to that meeting.

On that night, first have all of the Scouts elect their Senior Patrol Leader, just like it says in the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. Then, the remaining Scouts are told: Divide yourselves into three groups of no less than four Scouts each. Then you, the SM, and the SPL walk away while they do this. If, after five minutes, they’re getting nowhere, go back and assist them, but don’t tell them who goes where and don’t change the rules. They WILL succeed, if you don’t let them off the hook, and you convey to them that you know they can succeed at this.

Then, when the groups are formed, tell each group that they need to elect a leader, and give them 5-10 (but not more) minutes to do this. After their elections, the SM tells them that they’re now patrols, with patrol leaders, and they now need (1) an assistant patrol leader picked by the PL, (2) a patrol name, and (3) a patrol yell. Give them maybe 10 minutes, maximum, to do this.

Then, the SPL (who now takes charge) lines them up and asks each patrol leader to announce the name of his patrol and lead the others in their patrol yell.

After this, there’s an inter-patrol competition of some sort (you can figure this one out, right?), and then maybe some refreshments (juice boxes and small candy bars work just fine). End the meeting with the announcement that the new SPL and PLs should remain after the meeting, then the SM delivers his Minute and sends ’em home.

Meeting, now, with the SPL and PLs, give them their new handbooks and tell them that you want them to read chapters X and Y between now and the next meeting, and to arrive a half-hour early next week, to go over what they’ve read. Also, next week they are each to bring (1) a stave or broomstick no less than 6 feet long and one inch in diameter and (2) the receipt for it (the troop will pay them back for it) — NO “FORGETTING” ON THIS!!! They are also to call each member of their patrol, to make sure everyone shows up (give them the phone numbers they need right then and there) — PHONE CALLS; not emails, im, or tm!

In preparation for the next meeting, bring materials for them to make patrol flags, including a way to attach these to their patrol staves.

At the pre-meeting meeting, the SPL teaches the PLs the Scout Field Signals (see As Scouts arrive for the meeting, their PLs teach these to them. Then, they’re used to start the meeting (and every meeting thereafter), and during the meeting as needed (from then on). The patrols make their flags, repeat their yells, have another inter-patrol skills competition, and they’re off and running.

Use the seven parts of the TROOP MEETING PLAN at every meeting. Teach leadership skills at the Patrol Leaders Council meetings. Get an inter-patrol competition into every meeting (plus maybe another game that’s on an individual basis–there are dozens of ’em). Start converting the PLC meetings into meeting planning meetings as fast as possible, and guide the PLC into planning a day hike right away — This isn’t a “troop hike” it’s by patrol! In fact, from now on, everything’s done by patrol! This includes transportation, food planning, equipment, etc.

Also, start incorporating complete uniforming right away—no “half-uniforms” anymore. Hike in these, go everywhere in these. No exceptions. Along with this, go out and buy patrol patches that come as close to their patrol names as possible (or buy “blanks” and each patrol draws their symbol on them).

Finally, don’t look back! Keep everything focused on moving ahead. This can be a success only if you already believe it will succeed!

NW writes back…

Dear Andy,

Thanks for your response. I just became the ASM a couple weeks ago. Prior to that I was the CC of the Cub Scout Pack that feeds into the Troop. There was a always a good amount of contact and cooperation between the two units. The SM asked me if I’d come over and help him when my time as the CC of the Pack expired, and it did, and so I did.

I rejoined Scouting in 2005 after an absence of ten years. I had been in Scouting from 1966 to about 1974, and then again from about 1980 to 1995. To say that the boys we’re trying to reach and serve are a whole different breed from back then is an understatement. After observing the Cubs & Scouts the past year I kinda felt like a fish out of water. We have many single parents (in both units), low income issues, funding issues and uniform issues. What’s going on now with kids today and what I remember from the past seem light-years apart.

So, knowing how a Troop should run, and coming into an existing reorganization project is new to me. The Troop definitely has its strong points as it does lots of community service projects and community-type events. The big problem is organization and getting them into advancement. Many of the Scouts seem happy with their “Monday night social club”—This is what frustrates me and I don’t want to overreact and come “clamping down” and start losing boys.

I really like your idea of giving the SPL, ASPL, PL’s APL’s the position books for them to read. I do need my ASPL at this time as he opens the meetings because my SPL has football commitments. I am also going to have to get the Troop planning sheets as I have not seen any at the Troop meetings. I’m planning on getting all my training redone and up to date, but from what I remember in the 80’s & early 90’s that was not much help either.

So, how do I help facilitate the needed changes within the Troop without turning off the boys? The SM seems very open to any ideas, the committee members seem OK so far. I just don’t want to drive any boys out, but something needs to happen.

Along the way, don’t accept any baloney about how “crowded” these boys’ lives already are, and how they’re “too busy” to get into uniform, or show up, or bring what they’re supposed to, and on and on…

Boys are still boys. I was a Scout, over 50 years ago, and then a Scoutmaster in the early 1960s, and a Scoutmaster again in the 1990s. Then an NJLIC (youth leadership) staffer for three years in this century. The boys aren’t really different. Yes, the world around them has changed, and there are many more and different sorts of distractions and competition for a boy’s time and interests. And the “age of innocence” (if there really was one) is sure gone the way of buggy whips, soda fountains, and soda pop for a nickel a bottle. But boys themselves haven’t changed. They still crave adventure. They’re still fascinated by the unknown out there in the woods. They still like to group up by sixes and eights and not much more than that. They’re still all arms n’ elbows, teeth and messy hair, skinned knees (they get skinned, nowadays, from rollerblades and skateboards instead of from climbing trees or playing stickball in the street) and dirty faces, big grins n’ as much mischief as they can muster before getting caught. They still have messy rooms, little interest in homework, and a fascination for the electronic (used to be Grandpa’s wireless; not it’s videogames). They still try to ditch household chores, skip Sunday school, check out their older brother’s sleazy photos (they’re on the Internet now, instead of magazines), and give their dinner vegetables to Fido.

We adults have been increasingly programming them and coddling them, over many years, when the last things they need are programming and coddling. We drive them to soccer and swimming practice and matches or meets, violin lessons and recitals, confirmation classes, CCD, Hebrew school, and just about everything else, as if they’re captives in the back of our erstwhile parent-police cars. We praise them when they merely do what they ought to, and give them emotional medals for simply being civil. We buy everything their little booger hearts desire, for fear that they won’t love us if we don’t. We send them to band camp, basketball camp, fat camp, computer camp, and on and on. Wherever they turn, there’s us adults running, coaching, and supervising every minute of their so-called lives.

Let ’em go.

Let ’em be boys.

Do what I’ve told you to do. Don’t weenie out. Don’t think you’re gonna hurt their little feelings n’ crush their little spirits—everything else that we adults do does this just fine!

Now, some of your specifics…

This Troop doesn’t need an ASPL. When the SPL’s got football practice (or anything else), one of the PLs opens the meeting and becomes the acting SPL, and he has his own APL take over the patrol that night. And you rotate PLs in the acting SPL position. This way, the PLs get to understand how to do the SPL job, and the APLs get to understand how to be PLs. Use an ASPL instead and nobody gets trained! Duh!

Do a fund-raiser to buy the uniform parts that are needed, and check out “used uniform” websites, your own council’s uniform exchange, whatever, but get your troop in full uniform as fast as you can! The uniform is one of the eight methods of the Scouting program — It’s not an option, an accessory, or a “suggestion.” Uniforms help the boy feel a true part of something bigger than himself — a new and important FAMILY. It’s also a place to show his individual accomplishments.

I once met a Scout who was discouraged about his fund-raising for his Eagle project. It seemed that businesses and stores gave him only half of what he’s asked for, time after time, he told me. “What were you wearing?” I asked. “Well, my uniform,” he told me. “ALL of it?” I followed up. “Oh, I wore my shirt, and a pair of jeans,” he said. “Maybe,” I pondered, “You got half of what you asked for because you looked like half a Scout.” “Y’know, that might be what happened,” he considered

There have ALWAYS been single parents. These parents need to know that the Scouting experience is even MORE important for their sons, and you want them, the parents, to get involved more in the troop, because this is their one shot (maybe their last) at aiming their son toward the True North of life. Don’t be shy about this, and don’t walk small around the topic of their family situation. Get it out in the open and talk about it—It’s a fact of life and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

There have ALWAYS been families with less money than others. This is no reason to “make allowances.” This is the time to help these boys succeed, despite whatever adversity life may have thrown in their way.

Yes, advancement is also one of the eight methods of Scouting, but unless it’s challenging and interesting and involving, who cares! B-P put it this way: “Advancement is like a suntan; something that happens naturally whilst having fun in the outdoors.” He got it right! We don’t push and prod Scouts to advance—We build a program of activities that, if participated in, guarantees advancement without even knowing it! Example: Your patrols go camping, and set up tents that require guy-lines and stakes, and they cook their own meals, and one of the Scouts in each patrol does the meal planning. Do you realize how many Second- and First-Class requirements just happened? But never, ever tell the Scouts, “Come on this outing to advance.” That’s deadly! Just tell ’em, “Hey, we’re gonna have FUN on this outing!” Then, when it’s all over, just initial their handbooks in the places you’ve pre-planned. (And make it feel like the most natural thing in the world.)

None of this is “clamping down,” and none of this is “turning off” these Scouts…These BOYS! This is what they want (although, if you asked them, they couldn’t articulate this—it’s non-conscious) and need. Stop trying to “please” these boys—That’s NOT the adults’ job! The adult’s job is to be a role model, mentor, guide, and, yes, big brother (that’s straight from B-P, by the way). But, try to appease, try to do this gingerly, try to put just your little piggy toe in the water and these boys will instantly brand you as a waffler and pushover!

Last item: Training for YOU and the troop’s other adults. Simple… Read the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK. Cover-to-cover. It’s all there.

In “Star Wars,” Yoda put it this way: “Do, or do not; there is no ‘try.'” But I like Napoleon’s admonition more: “If you’re going to take Vienna, TAKE VIENNA!”

Happy Scouting!


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(July 2006 – Copyright © 2006 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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