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Issue 83 – September 2006

Hi Andy,

Well, you’ve done it again! Because of our earlier communication regarding my interest in work as a commissioner, a great old friend and roommate from more than 15 years ago in Boston was able to find me through you on the Internet. Thank you for being discrete and sending me his email first. Your website is doing all sorts of great things, Andy! Payson Adams Commissioner Daniel Webster Council, NH

Dear Andy,

Thank you for the great website! I’ve just been asked to become a Unit Commissioner and was surfing for some information on the position—That’s how I found you. I love your column and I’m wondering if you send out a newsletter of some sort—that is, one I could subscribe to. Great stuff! (John Woughter, Transatlantic Council, Bonn, Germany—But from a small town in western New York)

Thanks for finding me and becoming a new reader! You might like to know that my columns are read in Frankfurt, Hessen, Manheim, and several other Transatlantic Council locations in Europe! No, I don’t send out a newsletter but I do try to publish a new column twice a month. Some councils excerpt some of my Q&A’s for their own newsletters, and that’s fine by me so long as they state that I’m the source. Others print my entire columns, with my picture n’ all! Anyway, I’m glad you found me—Spread the word! (BTW, when you order my pins you’re getting a great memento and you’re helping to support the USScoutingServiceProject website!)

Dear Andy,

Returning home from a long-distance trip, our troop ended up at the departure airport six hours before the scheduled flight time. Two of our Assistant Scoutmasters considered trying to get at least some of our Scouts on earlier flights home by going standby, while another ASM and our Scoutmaster felt that we should all stick to the original scheduled flight home, and return together. The arguments for trying to get our Scouts home earlier by going standby were that so long as an adult went with each group of Scouts we’d meet the Two-Deep Leadership rule because there would be adults everywhere on the plane, and that the national tour permit wasn’t set in stone if unforeseen circumstances suggested a better itinerary. The arguments for everyone sticking to the original flight was maintaining our own Two-Deep Leadership and following what the national tour permit said was our schedule. What’s your take on this? (Kathy Foppes, Central New Jersey Council)

My name’s Andy; not Solomon. But, let’s give it a shot anyway! How about this… You’re all on your way to an airport that’s pretty far from home (or you all wouldn’t be traveling by plane), in a state you could always see more of. A simple calculation at the outset or even along the way would tell you that you’re going to have about four “bonus” hours before your flight. That’s probably enough time to do an impromptu side-trip for some extra sightseeing, and you all get to stay together as a group and enjoy your trip even more than you’d planned.

Dear Andy,

I’m advancement chair for our troop and attend most troop meetings and activities, so I have a good feel of how a Scout is progressing toward his next rank. My question is this: According to Scout Websites and Advancement Literature (, “How to Hold a Board of Review,” a BoR isn’t an interrogation or a retesting of a Scout’s competence; it’s not an examination; rather, it attempts to see that the examinations that went into getting the Scout signed off were up to standard. It’s a checkup to see that what should have been done actually was done. It’s a “friendly growth experience.” So, when would it be that a Scout doesn’t pass a BoR? I’m seeing more and more Scouts at troop meetings or activities who are unable to repeat the Scout Oath or Scout Law, who are unable to tie the most basic of knots, or who are only partly in uniform. This concerns me when they bring me a handbook that’s been signed off by the Scoutmaster or ASM or one of our troop’s older advanced Scouts, who say that this Scout is ready for his BoR. This puts the BoR’s members at odds with the Scoutmaster. If a young scout comes before the board for the Tenderfoot rank and is unable to repeat the Scout Oath or Law from memory, should the board go ahead and advance him? What if the boy is advancing to First Class or Star…Should the board even be able to ask the boy to repeat the Scout Oath or Law? I’ve read the Front Line Stuff article in “Scouting” magazine about “Encouraging Scouts Who Don’t Pass Boards of Review,” but it still left me with more questions than answers. It seems to me that a BoR’s purpose is to “rubber stamp” whatever the Scoutmaster signs off on. So why do we even have BoRs? I guess my frustration is that I really don’t understand what role the BoR really has. Can you help? (Eric Whisler, AC, Troop 275)

A BoR (Board of Review) is more a “test” of how well the Troop and the Scoutmaster are delivering the Scouting program to the boys you all are serving. If a Scout comes before a BoR for Tenderfoot rank and begins to stumble on the Oath and Law, I’d probably call it “first-timer’s nervousness” (this is, after all, his first BoR), and I’d stand up, make the Scout Sign, and say it with him to help him through. If, however, the Scout’s going for Second Class or First Class and has trouble, the first thing I’d do is remind myself that only at the Tenderfoot level is having memorized the Oath and Law an actual rank requirement and the second thing I’d do is have a heart-to-heart talk with the Scoutmaster, asking these two questions: First, why did he send me a Scout who can’t repeat the Oath and Law from memory? and second, what’s going on at Troop meetings that this memorization isn’t happening? In other words, when a Scout is having trouble with this sort of stuff in a BoR, this is a clear signal that the Troop and the Scoutmaster aren’t doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to. In short, the Troop is failing the Scout, and not the other way around!

Tying square knots? ANY knot? I hope you’re not including this in a BoR? It has no business there—you’re trying to “test” the Scout and that’s not your job. You’re dancin’ round the wrong campfire on this one, my friend!

Uniforms? The BSA simply says “…in as complete a uniform as possible.” Now if you know a Scout does have a complete uniform, and he’s chosen not to wear it to a BoR, then don’t even start the review till he’s fixed this. But if he truly doesn’t own all the parts, then you can’t ding him for that and your job is to collaborate with the Scoutmaster, committee, and the Scout’s parents to help him afford (and see the value in) those pants and socks!

Read my November 2003, December 2004, and Mid-December 2004 columns for more on BoRs. If, after than, you have more questions, just fire away!

Dear Andy,

Just so you understand, we are NOT asking boys to tie knots during the BoR. I was referring to troop meetings or outdoor activities where I witnessed this. We are, however, asking Scouts to repeat the Scout Oath and Law during the BoR. I also agree with the “it is not the boy failing the troop, but the troop failing the boy” point of view. However, you write in the November 2003 article, “If a Scout is considered not ready to advance, then a new Board of Review is scheduled for a later date, and the Scout is given a specific set of instructions for what he needs to accomplish between this meeting and the subsequent Board. He is also given to understand that so long as he accomplishes what he’s been asked, the next Board will represent the successful completion of the rank.”

Hence, my question: When should a boy not be considered ready to advance? How does the BoR recognize this? If the Scoutmaster has already signed off on all of the Scout’s requirements, what possible leg does the board stand on to say a Scout isn’t ready to advance at that time? (Eric Whisler)

On the strength of a successful Scoutmaster Conference and thereupon the recommendation of the Scoutmaster that the Scout is ready to advance to the next rank, there is nothing that should prevent a successful Board of Review except (a) some sort of un-Scoutlike occurrence in the time between the SM Conference and the BoR or (b) some sort of brand-new revelation by the Scout in the BoR conversation itself.

I actually had this happen to me once. While on a troop overnight, I’d just conferenced with a Scout and told the committee members along on the trip (we had three, which constituted the minimum, so we could do the BoR right then and there!) that they could schedule a BoR for him, for First Class. Ten minutes later, this same Scout started a rock-throwing fight with some other Scouts! Needless to say, after stopping the fight and getting everyone’s story, I reconvened the committee members and told them that I’m withdrawing my recommendation. I then told the Scout that he and I would be having another conference in four weeks, and what I expected from him in that time. Four weeks later, when he’d complied with my expectations, he had both a successful re-conference and BoR.

Dear Andy,

What’s the BSA policy on wearing patches on back of the sash? These patches would include camp patches, “Zero Hero” patches, and other event-type patches. Several Scouts in our troop have patches on the back of their sashes. It’s my understanding that only merit badges are allowed on the front of the sash and nothing on the back. (Tom Hager, ASM, Northern Lights Council, Bismarck, ND)

The BSA INSIGNIA GUIDE is specific regarding the front of a merit badge sash and silent regarding its back. I’ve seen the backs of sashes used for camp patches, 50 Miler patches (even though these are supposed to go on the backpack), Camporee patches, and other event-and-venue patches. And I’ve seen others that are totally undecorated. Although I’ve personally failed to see any particular harm one way or the other, as a Commissioner I’ve refrained from commenting either to condone or condemn. Your call… But beware becoming known as “the patch police”!

Dear Andy,

Can Tiger Cubs be Denners and wear a Denner shoulder cord, and then after service wear the Denner shoulder tab? Also, can a Cub Scout wear a service star on his uniform shirt at the same time he’s wearing an attendance pin with a year bar ? If so, how would you place them on the uniform? From what I’ve read, it seems they’re both placed above the left pocket, but I can’t seem to find any other information about this. (Karen Kuespert, DL, Grand Canyon Council, Goodyear, AZ)

For your first question, that would be Nope. Last time I checked, Tiger Cub Dens don’t have Denners. This position is for Cub and Webelos Scouts. For your second question, service stars are worn centered above the left pocket, with the bottom of the star’s colored circle background 3/8″ above the pocket flap’s seam. Attendance pins are also worn above the left pocket, parallel to any service stars. They mean different things. The stars are for time-in-program. The other is for perfect attendance. This means both can be worn at the same time, once earned.

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for locations to take a high adventure backpacking trip in the western US, with a group of approximately 14 Scout youth and adults—a location within 1,000 miles of Indianapolis, IN would be preferred. Our troop has applied to Philmont, for a trek, but we’re 150+ on the waiting list, so I’m looking for alternatives to Philmont, but also looking for the Rocky Mountain backpacking experience. Two long days of driving to arrive at our destination isn’t appealing to our adult leaders, but they’d do it if necessary. Any suggestions? (Derek Cottongim, SM, Troop 228, Crossroads of America Council, Franklin, IN)

150+ for a trek? Ouch!!! Well, I know you said backpacking, but have you considered the Northern Tier Canoe Base in Ely, MN? That’s 765 miles from Indy, and about a 13-hour drive. If that doesn’t work out for you, then I think your best bet will be to contact specific councils in areas that would be fun to backpack out of, but remember that even Denver—which is a “gateway” to the Rockies—is 1,100 miles from Indy! Maybe you’d consider going out of Springfield, MO (460), Chattanooga, TN (420), Richmond, VA (670), or even the Adirondacks of New York State (800 miles)! I’m sure each local council will have a home-grown backpacking expert who can help you and help you plan a great trip in a brand-new area of our great country!

Dear Andy,

I was just reading one of your answers to the question about the 50 MILER award. Everyone loves to show off these patches and you stated that he can NOT wear it on his uniform. The key is ON the uniform. He could get one of those plastic hanging things that you can put the patch in and hang from the button of his left pocket, No? (Scott Despres, SM, Troop 110, Mohegan Council, Millbury, MA)

I just love guys who try to find loopholes! In your case, it’s literal. The 50 Miler goes on the backpack. What’s the problem here?

Dear Andy,

As a Unit Commissioner myself, I’ve had the Chartered Organization Rep. for a Cub Scout Pack I now cover, and their prior Unit Commissioner, both “explain” to me that the subject matter in the Cub Scout Leader Book represents “guidelines” and not actual BSA policy—That this book presents, in their words, “an idealistic situation that can be striven for, but isn’t required.” Problem is, I don’t see any mention in the text to that effect. Personally, I think these people, despite their 50-plus combined years of involvement in Scouting, have missed something very fundamental. What’s your take? (GPC)

The Soccer (“Football” outside the US) World Cup was played this summer by over a hundred teams from countries on every inhabited continent. Neither language nor culture nor geography made any difference—Why? Because every team played by the same rules. Same with Scouting. Every Pack, Troop, Team, Crew, and Post is expected to play by the same rules. Simply because a Cub Scout Leader Book or Scoutmaster Handbook or Committee Guidebook is written in a friendly manner and tone doesn’t mean that what is stated isn’t stated in total seriousness of purpose. To those who cluelessly or purposefully defy the Scouting program as described in detail for them to follow I say: Get with it or get out.

Dear Andy,

In a Pack I serve as Unit Commissioner, they have this deal where every registered leader and parent in the Pack is “a voting member of the pack committee.” I can find no reference in the Cub Scout Leader Book or anywhere else, but it sounds like it might be plausible. How about it? What’s the deal? (GPC)

Unit committee members are those adult volunteers who have formally registered as such. Parents who are not registered volunteers may of course assist the committee and this is a good thing; however, they are not committee members, they are parents. The unit committee is led by a chair, and everyone else should have a specific responsibility area (advancement, membership, fund-raising, secretary, treasurer, and so forth); however, the entire committee works together as a team to support the unit program. A unit’s program is developed by the Scoutmaster and Patrol Leaders Council in a Troop, and by the Cubmaster and Den Leaders in a Pack. There is no “voting” necessary in this committee-to-uniformed leader(s) relationship. Anyone who doesn’t understand this has obviously not taken proper training or, having done so, is purposefully recasting the relationship to suit themselves.

Dear Andy,

Having completed Commissioner Basic Training recently, I’m now a Unit Commissioner. I’ve just been told that I can expect to be responsible for at least five units, maybe more (our district has over 55 units and just two active UCs, one of whom is me!). My plan is to follow the Annual Commissioner Service Plan, but the notion of five units makes my head spin! I’m considering telling my District Commissioner that if he insists on assigning me that many units I’ll simply be unable to serve on his staff. But there’s a further complication (isn’t there always!)… I’ll shortly be attending Wood Badge training and, as a UC, I’ve crafted my “ticket” around my position’s responsibilities. If I wind up resigning as UC, I’ll be unable to complete the goals of my ticket. I’m thinking I should talk to my DC prior to Wood Badge so that if I do resign as a UC I can redo my ticket in time. Does that sound reasonable? What about having five or more units? Is that as much of a burden as it sounds? (GPC)

Regarding unit service, the national goal has historically been for there to be one Unit Commissioner for every three units in a district and council. The most important responsibility of the District Commissioner and any Assistant District Commissioners is to identify, recruit, and train Unit Commissioners or, in their absence, function as such. If, in your district, there are but two active UCs, that is a problem for the District Commissioner to solve; not you or your counterpart. Nor are you, as a UC, to be expected to pick up the shortfall, which is the shortcoming of the DC, not you. You have the right, and the obligation to yourself and your family, to stipulate exactly how many units you’re willing to service. No one has the right to insist on anything other than what you’re willing to do—YOU are the volunteer, after all. If your preference is, let’s say, two, then simply state this and stick to your guns. No one can force a volunteer to do something he or she isn’t willing to do. Anyone who tries simply doesn’t get it! Don’t get pushed around on this. For a beginning UC, two units is just fine. If you want to take on more at some later date, you’ll be doing so with solid experience behind you and with your eyes wide open. Which leads to… Admittedly, my own Wood Badge course was some 17 years ago, and things may have changed with the introduction of 21st Century WB, but one’s “ticket” was written during the course and not beforehand and it couldn’t relate to one’s present position in Scouting—It had to reach beyond that. Besides, doesn’t one develop a ticket with the guidance of a coach-counselor? So, I have a feeling that either I’m way behind the times or you’re way ahead of yourself!

Hi Andy,

A while back I was browsing the web and came across your site. I remember reading an answer that had to do with citizenship and “rules for Webelos dens”. What I remember was that the boys signed a document similar to the Declaration of Independence, agreeing to the den rules that they helped establish. It started out something like…”We, the Webelos Den (number) of Pack (number)…” But that’s all I can remember of what it said. Can you shed some light on this? (Doreen Norbert)

Don’t worry about the formal language—It’s not important! What IS critically important is that the rules are (a) few (b) simple and (b) come from the boys and not you. Scouting is the ONLY place where it’s not an “us versus them” environment. In school it’s “us versus the teacher;” at home it’s “us versus our parents;” in sports it’s “us versus the coach;” and so on. By keeping the rules few, simple and from the boys themselves, you’ll create an environment of mutual respect, self-described boundaries, and no “punishments.” Go for it!

Dear Andy,

I saw on mention of a new merit badge recently added to the Boy Scout Requirements book, but I can’t find the name of the badge they were talking about… I think it may have had to do with shooting or guns? Does this ring a bell? (Sandy Hill, CC, Troop 110, Stokesdale, NC)

I think you’re asking about Hunting Merit Badge, which is, I believe, still being “pilot-tested” by the BSA in one or more councils in the Great Lakes vicinity. I’m not aware that it’s been formally released on a national basis. One of the interesting aspects of this badge is that the actual shooting of an animal is not a requirement! I think this is pretty cool! It’s about learning the rules, protocols, safety aspects and skills of hunting without actually going out and killing anything! YeHa Scouts! We keep getting it right, despite the ACLU and that bunch!

Dear Andy,

We’ve just had a Scout transfer into our troop (we’re in Kentucky) from a troop in the Patriots Path Council, NJ. I need to get his advancement records transferred here right away, because he’s ready for a Board of Review. I guess in the move he has misplaced them…go figure! If I give you his name, can you help him and us? (Shirley Uhl, Troop 30, Lincoln Heritage Council, Louisville, KY)

From checking out the website for Patriots’ Path Council, I think the two people there who can help you would be Ms. Jeanine Baker and/or Mr. Dennis Kohl, Scout Executive. Of course, the best source for what’s been done, when, will be found in the back of the Scout’s HANDBOOK plus his “blue card” stubs.

Dear Andy,

Thanks for the information. I called the council and they forwarded a copy of his advancement records. However, the troop had not sent in any updates, so the council records show only three merit badges. Also, if he has any open partials, that would be nice too. This Scout has been trying to have a BoR for the past two weeks and we really didn’t know what to do without his records—We definitely don’t want to have him start over. (Shirley Uhl)

The council folks you spoke with can put you in touch with the Scoutmaster of your new Scout’s former Troop. But, again, your best resource should be the Scout’s own HANDBOOK, beginning at page 438 (that’s where all necessary dates and initials go), and he should be able to show you his portion of the “blue cards” for all merit badges he’s completed. In addition, if he has any “partials” for merit badges, he should have the full blue card or other slip for these.

Dear Andy,

In a perfect world the Scout would have all this info…however, he can’t find his HANDBOOK. I’m sure it will surface once everything from his family’s move is unpacked. Is there anything we can do in the meanwhile? (Shirley Uhl)

This is an opportunity for some teaching. This young man needs to learn right now (without being lectured to) that HE is responsible for his own records, and everything else is just “backup” (Yup, even the council records are backup!). This is an important “life lesson” and I encourage you to make it happen. If there’s a BoR delay because he can’t find his own records, well, then there’s a delay.

Dear Andy,

I was just reading the letter in your mid-January 2006 column about secondhand uniforms. I agree that it’s a shame that the BSA’s national office is “anti-reselling uniforms” and I really don’t understand. Isn’t it really all about making sure the boys join and participate in Scouts? eBay is an excellent source for second-hand uniforms at a reasonable price and considering that there are at least a hundred on there at any given time I’d say they’ve not received the same letter. Of course, those are actually individuals reselling shirts that they own, so maybe the same rules don’t apply. At least that’s a source for those who’d like to be part of scouts but can’t afford a brand-new uniform. (Susan Yenne, Bay Area Council, TX)

Remember, first of all, that that the story behind the anti-reselling letter wasn’t mine—It came from a reader. I can’t verify its accuracy. If it turns out to be true, I also think it’s a darned shame, for the same reason you do. I also agree with you that eBay is one of a number of terrific sources that can be utilized!

Dear Andy,

You’ve been so helpful with my past questions, I hope you can point me in the right direction again… This question’s in regards to merit badge counselors. Is there any say a Troop or Scoutmaster has in whether a merit badge counselor can sign off on merit badge requirements if that counselor has met the requirements in the BSA advancement guide—approved by District or Council, etc.? Can a Scoutmaster refuse to sign a “blue card” if he dislikes the MB Counselor or doesn’t feel the person is qualified, even if the District or Council has approved them? Finally, who is qualified to sign on a blue card’s “unit leader” line? (I’ve always assumed it had to be the Scoutmaster.) Any publications you can point me to that state these guidelines would be extremely helpful. (Charles Wickersham)

I have the funny feeling you already know the answer to your question. Let’s first take a moment to review…

A Merit Badge Application (aka “Blue Card”) has one and only one “sign-off” line: The one for the Merit Badge Counselor. This line is present on the unit segment and also on the applicant’s record segment of the card. Also present on these two segments is a line for the unit leader’s initials (unit segment) and signature (applicant’s record); however, these two lines are there to signify that the unit leader has received and recorded the completed and Counselor-signed card. In short, the purposes of the lines for the MBC and the unit leader do not serve the same purpose—only the MBC’s signature is the indicator that the Scout has completed the requirements for the merit badge; the unit leader’s signature simply indicates that the information has been received and recorded, and nothing else.

This means that it’s literally impossible for a Scoutmaster to in any way reject a merit badge application (blue card) that has been duly signed as completed by a registered Merit Badge Counselor—and shame on anyone who tries to pull this sort of malarkey!

But this begs the question: How did the Merit Badge Counselor get chosen in the first place? Take a look at page 187 of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. It’s the Scoutmaster himself who collaborates on the Counselor selection! This makes this whole situation you’re alluding to pretty nonsensical.

Yes, “unit leader” typically refers to the Scoutmaster (it says “unit leader” because Varsity Scouts, who are members of a “Team” instead of a Troop, and have a “Coach” instead of a Scoutmaster, can earn merit badges, too); however, in the absence or unavailability of the SM, he (or the Committee Chair) can designate an ASM. Remember, this is not about “approving”—This is about making sure that no Scout starts a merit badge without anyone knowing about it.

I sure hope that that misguided Scoutmaster gets to read this, and mends his “too big for his britches” ways!

Dear Andy,

As a Unit Commissioner and a member of the American Legion, I seem to be having a dilemma. It seems that the Scouting program has gotten away from some flag etiquette. When I was a Scoutmaster some 20 years ago, when the American Flag was presented, we saluted until told “two;” then placed our right hand, formed in the Scout Sign, over our heart when we said the Pledge of Allegiance. According to flag etiquette endorsed by the American Legion, that’s the proper way of doing it. In the Scout Handbook, it’s taught that you salute while saying the Pledge of Allegiance. How can this be corrected? (Richard Barden, UC, Glaciers Edge Council, Madison, WI)

I first joined Scouting in 1950 and in all the time from then till now I’ve never heard nor come across the type of salute you describe. Members of both Boy Scouting and the military, when in uniform, salute with the right hand to the brow (or cap-brim, as the case may be) and the hand remains there through the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve also looked through every Boy Scout Handbook and Handbook For Boys that I own, going back to the beginnings of Scouting, and no such salute as you describe is in any of them. So, I did a little more research, and here’s an excerpt from the official U.S. Flag Code (boldface mine):

“The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag…should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should… render the military salute.”

So, I’d have to say that the Boy Scouts’ flag etiquette is just fine, and whatever it was that you may have been shown 20+ years ago may have been a bit off the mark.

Dear Andy,

Thanks for the information. I also did some research after I received your email and now have a copy of “The Code” on file so that I can use it when the discussion comes up. I guess the old adage is true…”You learn something new everyday.” Thanks again. (Richard Barden)

I’m delighted that you took what I had to tell you so well. Some guys get a little grumpy when they learn that what they’d thought was correct wasn’t! Sounds like you’re a “Semper Gumby” kind of guy, and that’s great!

Dear Andy,

As long as we’re talking about flag etiquette, what’s your take on the part that states, “remain silent” during the Pledge? The guy that I’ve had this discussion with has pointed that out and uses it as the reason for the hand over the heart and not saluting during the Pledge. Is he splitting hairs? (Richard Barden)

I don’t think he’s “hair-splitting;” I think he’s NUTS! But he’s not alone! I’ve got a Scoutmaster who thinks that everyone should do a military salute, whether or not in uniform! He uses as his “support,” the classic photo of John-John Kennedy, at age three, saluting with his right hand at his brow, while JFK’s funeral carriage went by, as if this is some sort of “universal edict.” Stuff like this, to be blunt, is a waste of time and energy. We all know what to do. Let’s just do it. And quit trying to one-up the other guy with minutia.

Dear Andy,

I’ve recently been recruited to teach basic training for the Cub Scout Roundtable Commissioners at our upcoming College of Commissioner Science. It’s been about ten years since I last taught this subject, so I dug out my old basic training manual and went online to “ScoutStuff” to determine if there might be a newer version available. But, instead, I found out that the manual is no longer published and all supplies are currently exhausted. Since the manual is no longer available, what, if anything, is currently recognized as basic training for CSRTCs? Every website that I visited including “netcommish”refers you to the old manual! (John Schaub, ADC, Kittan District, Illowa Council)

There’s nothing at all wrong with the “old” manual. Go ahead and use it! Then, for current theme information, go to Baloo’s Bugle at and

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for a fun way to teach my Webelos Scouts the Boy Scout Oath or Promise and the Scout Law. Do you have any ideas? (Brenda Johnson, WDL)

Make two games. Start by getting yourself a bunch of large index cards. Write each point of the Scout Law — Trustworthy – Loyal – Helpful – etc. — on separate cards, and make two or three sets of these. Then break up the Scout Oath into phrases — On my honor — I will do my best — to do my duty to God and my country — etc. — and write these phrases on two or three sets of cards. Now you’re ready. Meanwhile, the Scouts in your Den will have been doing some “homework”–reading the Oath and Law aloud a few times before coming to the meeting.

Now, divide your Den into two or three teams of three to four Scouts each (depending on the size of your Den). They line up, one behind the other, on a “start line.” On the other side of the room (maybe 8 to 10 feet away) is a stack of cards — face down, and in random order — for one or the other of the Law or the Oath (each is a separate game). On “Go,” the first Scout runs to the stack, turns over the top card, and puts it in its “place” (if it’s “Reverent,” it goes way down the bottom, for instance) in the area designated, and runs back, tagging the next in line. The next runs to the cards and can either (a) turn a new card over and place it or (b) move one of the upturned cards already turned over. They do this until they think they have the cards in the correct order. You declare the winning team, and give them a prize (a piece of candy works just fine).

Play this game, no more than twice at any meeting, in your Den meetings till they all nail it, alternating between the Law one meeting and the Oath the next meeting.

By the way, although it’s called “The Scout Oath or Promise” in the book, just about everybody I’ve ever met simply calls it “The Scout Oath.”

Hi Andy,

I’m a first-year Webelos Leader. Where can I find information on a ceremony for presenting a religious award? Our pastor is looking for a short presentation and I was hoping to help him out. Is there a presentation out there somewhere? This would be for “God and Me.” (Cathy Heath, WDL, Pack 327, Glaciers Edge Council, Delavan WI)

I haven’t seen a particular “ceremony” or “presentation” for this, but I’m sure if the Pastor briefly reviews what earning this means, and involves you and your husband in the “pinning on,” (one of you pins on the medal and the other pins on the square knot badge—use a safety pin) that that will do the trick very well!

Hi Andy,

I’ve been a Red Cross Lifeguard and a Marine Combat Safety Swimmer. It’s been some time since I qualified myself and refreshed my skills as a lifesaver. These things change over time, and in addition to that, these skills are perishable and must be kept fresh. The more qualified leaders a troop has in different areas, the better. I could take a Red Cross course, but I think it would be fun to take the BSA Lifeguard course. As an adult, can I do this? (Joe Leilich)

In light of your aquatics background, I’m going to make a slightly different suggestion: Go for BSA LIFEGUARD COUNSELOR! This is definitely right up your alley! I don’t know how old you are, but I’ll tell you that I did this—and qualified!—when I was 50! And that was on a lake at over 7,000 Ft. elevation, and water less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit! Go for it, my friend!

Dear Andy,

What’s with the new Unit Health Surveys that National is all hot and bothered to get every unit filled out? Some of the unit leaders in our area are slow in responding and now they’re being threatened that they could loose their charter for not cooperating. Tell me all you can about this new thing… Who developed the form and why can’t most of this information be automatically recovered from existing BSA ScoutNet data. I’ve actually been told that if I can’t force these leaders to fill out the Unit Health Surveys I’ll be removed as a Unit Commissioner because I can’t do my job right. This all sounds like something out of the “Twilight Zone.” Can you enlighten me? (Robert C. Poyner, UC, Chowanoc District, Tidewater Council, Virginia Beach, VA)

I wish I could enlighten you, but in all frankness I’m clueless here. I’m simply not familiar with the “Unit Health Survey.” But, if it’s just more paperwork—which the world in general is famous for, not just Scouting—I’d probably just get ’em done, turn ’em in, and then get back to the real job: Staying in touch with my units and helping them improve the program they’re striving to deliver. If some Yo-Yo actually threatened your removal, go find another job in Scouting that doesn’t involve ’em… They’re not practicing Scout Spirit.

Dear Andy,

For me as an experienced Scouter, and a retired USAF NCO, I find an array of knots on a Scouter’s uniform a valuable tool for evaluating experience or experience areas, especially for someone I’m meeting for the first time… Arrow of Light tells me we was a dedicated Cub Scout; Eagle means a dedicated BOY Scout; any of the senior Scouting advancement knots says dedicated Sea Scout, Air Scout, or Explorer; yellow background knots tells me he or she has a good solid background in Cub Scouting; a Scouter’s Key or Training Award tells me they’ve served successfully for quite a while (I check for the devices, if any, for areas of expertise – I look for the small circular ones to indicate Commissioner or District experience). (Dave Loomis, Portsmouth, NH)

Yup, you’ve got it! Smart Scouts and Scouters like you learn how to “read” uniforms. This is both efficient and enlightening. It tells both you and the person you’re meeting for the first time where each of you is coming from, what kinds of experiences you’re likely to have had, and what you can generally expect from one another. Maybe more of us will learn how valuable a “communicator” our uniforms really are!

Hi Andy,

With the many recent changes in merit badge requirements, is there a certain time in which the Scout may complete the old requirements to earn their merit badge? Or, are they to follow the new requirements as soon as they’re printed? (Andy Hebner)

The usual procedure for merit badges that have requirement changes is that if the Scout has actually begun work per the preexisting requirements he can continue using those, but he has the option of converting to the newer requirements if he personally chooses.

Now, let’s clarify two important points:

– Having begun a merit badge specifically means that the Scout has (1) received a signed merit badge application (AKA “blue card”) from his Scoutmaster and has met face-to-face at least one time with his Merit Badge Counselor.

– The choice of which set of requirements to use is strictly the Scout’s—Not the Merit Badge Counselor’s or the Scoutmaster’s, or anyone else.

That said, it’s always worth checking with your own District or Council Advancement Chair—Do this for the sake of the Scout, because this isn’t a good place to have a “hiccup”!

Hi Andy,

If a Scout goes on a High Adventure Trip for seven days, can he use that experience for Backpacking, Hiking and Camping Merit Badges? Also, would it then also count for nights camping? (Mary, Troop 42)

Sure, he can use that trip for Backpacking OR Hiking OR Camping. But not the same trip for all three. The idea is to gain in experiences; not grab badges.

Dear Andy,

We’re having an ongoing discussion about the BSA’s policy on smoking. Where can I find the official wording of this? (Dennis Kamin, SM, Troop 300, Yukon, OK)

Get your hands on the BSA booklet, GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING (Cat. No. 34416D) and go to Section IV: “Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use and Abuse.”

Hi Andy,

I found the Guide to Safe Scouting section you mentioned; however, I was rather disappointed with it. A policy that uses words like “should” and “may not” in my mind isn’t strong enough to be policy. Words like “must” and “will not” are what’s needed. (Dennis Kamin)

When it’s an absolute No-No, policy states that; when it’s something to be managed with discretion and sensitivity, the wording reflects that, too. So let’s not “should” on each other. That’s not the Scouting way. I’m sure that, in time, “may” and “should” will become “must.” Be just a little patient, my friend!

Hi Andy,

I promise I tried to find the answer by researching before I came to you! I know that Webelos can wear patrol patches in lieu of den patches, so if a Webelo group wears patrol patches are they called a Webelo patrol or a Webelo den? The insignia guide says, “Patrol emblems (optional for Webelos Scouts if Webelos dens are named.)” I have no idea what that means! (Amanda)

Hey, it’s OK! This what I’m here for! (If you stop asking questions, and I’m out of a job!) First of all, the singular of Webelos is… Webelos. And the plural is Webelos, too! There’s no such word as Webelo, or Weblo, or anything other than Webelos. In the overall Cub Scouting program, boys are grouped as dens. In Boy Scouts, it’s patrols. It’s not the patch that decides this; it’s the program. This means that even if a Webelos den decides to use a patrol patch (like with an animal on it), instead of a den numeral, they’re still a den (as in Screaming Eagle Den); not a patrol.

Hello Andy,

I’m a Scout parent and do the newsletter for our troop—two issues a year. When I was first trained, one of the trainers said something along the lines of, “When I speak to groups of city mayors or chief executive officers, I always ask for a show of hands of who here in this room were Eagle Scouts or who grew up on a farm? I always see most of the audience with their hands up,” and then he went on to talk about leadership lessons learned. I wonder if you have heard this yourself and if you can direct me to who said it or where you read it. I’d like to quote a direct source.

Also, my son is a Scout and also now that he’s in high school, he’s involved in the group, Future Farmers of America, and I also do a newsletter for them. Do you know where I can look for leaders, dignitaries who grew up on farms? Modern leaders I mean, not Lincoln or George Washington. (Janet Ghanem, Troop 581, Santa Clara County Council, CA)

For that hand-raising or “stand up” exercise, I done it and seen it done many times at gatherings of Rotarians, Masons, businesspeople, and on and on. I don’t know that anyone “owns” this particular technique for getting audience involvement. For an excellent list of famous Scouts, go to but of course you’ll need to do a little more research (or guessing) to figure out who might have grown up on a farm!

NetCommish Comment: If facts you can’t find, perhaps a short trip into fiction may be of help. One of the most well known and inspiring fictional characters on the silver screen was raised on a farm on the desert planet of Tatooine. That character is none other than Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. It is interesting that two of the characters made famous by George Lucas were a Jedi that grew up on a farm and Indiana Jones, who started his adventures as a Boy Scout.

Hi Andy,

Just out of curiosity, do you think there might ever be a return to the Ace Award in Air Scouts and a return in the G.O.L.D. Award in Explorer Scouts? And, what is the Denali Award? (Ray Lundy, Cherokee Area Council)

The Air Scout/Air Explorer Ace Award was discontinued nearly thirty years ago, along with the AS/AE program itself. The Explorer G.O.L.D award was discontinued when the Exploring program was transferred into the Learning For Life (LFL) organization (meaning that it’s no longer an official program under the BSA masthead). I personally doubt that we’ll ever see these two again, but who knows — After all, the Silver Award (at least the general motif of the medal itself) has come back to life in the Venturing advancement program! For more information about the G.O.L.D. and Ace awards, go here:

The Denali Award is for Varsity Scouts. You’ll find the requirements here:

Dear Andy:

Why can’t I find out more information on Varsity Scouts and news items about them? I’m going through Wood Badge training right now and one of our patrol’s projects is to relate stories on Cubs, Boys, Varsity and Venture Scouts around the world. We’re not having much luck on the Varsity part. (Wanda Brown, MC, Pack 98, Oklahoma City, OK)

Probably because Varsity Scouting is a pretty tiny part of the overall Scouting program. There are only about 67 thousand Varsity Scouts. That’s less than 7% of the more than 10 million youth aged 11 and older who are registered in the BSA. There are some 45,000 Troops in the US, but only about 8,000 Teams—again, a very small percentage. Venturing (for a similar age-group) membership is approaching 300,000, and this program is only about a half-dozen years old! By comparison, Varsity, which has been around a lot longer, is only about 20% the size of Venturing membership.

Try— This might help a little. Then there’s always Google!

Happy Scouting!


Got a question? Send it to me
(Please include your Council name and home state)

(September 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.

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