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Issue 88 – November 2006

Dear Andy,

In 1999, William Stewart Ward gave me a copy of a poem that he’d written, titled “Eagles Dare to Win.” He’s an Eagle Scout (1988), Wood Badge (SC-454), and a Brotherhood member of Caddo Lodge, in the Greater St. Louis Council. I’ve lost contact with him and hoping maybe your column might be able to help me locate him. Thanks! (Charles McNeill, Past SM, Troop 115)

Dear Andy,

In your last column you wrote: “By way of a bit of history, both Texas and California were independent republics before they became American states—They’re the only states, in fact, that can claim that distinction!” Woo, Hoo! Are you going to hear it from those in Hawaii (and a few other places). Before Hawaii was part of the US, it was an independent kingdom. There are another five states (or parts) that were independent nations, including the republics of West Florida, East Florida, and Vermont.(Michael R. Brown)

Dear Andy,

About state flags, there was actually another independent republic besides Texas and California: The Free and Independent Republic of West Florida. Its flag had a single star, predating the Texas flag by 35 years. I’m aware of this because my great-great-great-grandfather was a signer of the Constitution of the Republic of West Florida Republic. (Victor Stephenson, CM, Pack 685, National Capital Area Council, Springfield, VA)

Thanks to a bunch of readers, including Michael and Victor (above), who make sure that I do my homework better! I’ll take twenty lashes with a wet lanyard!

Dear Andy,

We here in the Green Zone Council read your column. We’re a group of American Scouters, former Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts USA leaders, and other interested folks, who meet weekly with Iraqi Scout leaders as they attempt to get their Iraqi Scouting program back on its feet. (Uncle Buck, Multinational Force–Iraq)

Keep up the work you all are doing and know that we’re thinking of you every day and behind you 200%!

Hi Andy,

While at camp a couple of years ago, some joking around went a bit too far and our Scouts’ tempers flared a bit. While there technically wasn’t any real physical violence, there was some shoving and I’d heard that one Scout put another in a head lock. As a result, our Troop’s leaders developed a “no touching” rule for all Scouts. This means no touching each other in any way, including the elimination of any type of tag, wrestling, etc. But many of the parents see this as setting the Scouts up for failure. Inevitably, dodge ball turns into wrestling, tag turns into grabbing, etc. On top of all this, we have one very powerful and controlling leader (not the Scoutmaster) who disciplines the Scouts engaging in such fun activity by yelling at them (including four-letter words) and publicly humiliating them. In your experience, have you ever heard of a no-touching rule and do you think it’s actually enforceable? Also, is there any code of conduct, particularly related to disciplining Scouts, that applies to adult leaders? (B.Y.)

A “no touching” rule (a) is impossible to adhere to, (b) guarantees that “someone” (Gee, I wonder who?) will have to “discipline” the offender, and (c) about as stupid an idea as I’ve ever heard.

There is no energy-burning activity involving a bunch of teen-aged boys I can think of that doesn’t involve physical contact… except maybe tiddly-winks. I’m exaggerating, of course, but the point is this: Physical contact is part of healthy growing up. Take it away and you damage the youth. (Don’t for a minute think that, well, his school sports teams are enough, because they’re not—they teach different things than well thought-through, well run initiative, trust, and team games that we use in Scouting teach).

Your problem’s not rambunctious Scouts, it’s an ignoramus leader.

How to “evaluate” an adult leader? Simple. He’s the Troop’s primary role model for living the Scout Oath and Law in his daily life. That’s all you need to throw this nincompoop out, because no lecture will change a bully such as you’ve described. Any adult who’s yelling at Scouts and publicly (which I take to mean in front of the other Scouts) humiliating them needs to be jettisoned before he does any more damage.

Hi Andy,

Is there a BSA regulation about a Den Chief’s age and rank, or are these something decided by the Troop, and approved by the Troop and Packs that are involved? (Robin Bodnar, Advancement Chair, Troop 23B, Connecticut Rivers Council, Burlington, CT)

Here’s the BSA’s written description of the qualifications for Den Chief:

“Den Chief Qualifications: An older Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or Venturer. Selected by the Senior Patrol leader and Scoutmaster, Varsity Scout Coach, or Venturing Advisor, at the request of the Cubmaster. Approved by the Cubmaster and Pack Committee for recommendation to the Den Leader.”

Note that “older” is undefined. Note, further, that no rank is specified. These things are absolutely not by accident.

I’ll add this, from personal experience mentoring three different Scouts, from different Troops, as Den Chiefs: Neither age nor rank is the critical factor; what’s most critical is the character of the youth himself. In other words, select your Den Chief based on his attitude first and foremost; you can always train for skills.

Dear Andy,

For earning the Arrow of light, one of the requirements is “With your Webelos Den, attend a Troop meeting and an outdoor Troop activity.” Can these both be done in one meeting? Some of our Webelos Scouts went to a Troop meeting and, while they were there, one of the Troop’s leaders took them outside and they worked on earning the Totin’ Chip. Then they went back inside and made some fire starters and planned for a District Campout. (Rhonda Hitt, Pack 4096, Greater Alabama Council, Remlap, AL)

The way you’re written those two requirements, it looks like one. But it’s not. Each Webelos Scout is expected to visit a Boy Scout Troop at least three times: Twice with his Den (one Troop meeting and one outdoor activity) and then (at least) once with his parents. Of course, more visits than these should be encouraged, so that each Webelos Scout can pick his preferred Troop with his eyes wide open!

Dear Andy,

When a boy joins a Cub Scout Pack for the first time, I know he’s first supposed to earn his Bobcat badge. But can he earn and receive any activity pins, or does he have to get his Bobcat before receiving an activity pin? We have a boy who joined as a Webelos. He hasn’t earned Bobcat, but he has earned the Outdoorsman activity pin. Aren’t we supposed to wait until he earns the Bobcat to present his pin? (Rhonda Hitt, Pack 4096, Greater Alabama Council, Remlap, AL)

Whenever a Scout joins Cub Scouting, at any level, the very first thing he does is earn Bobcat. That way, he’s got “the basics” taken care of. After Bobcat, he can go on to earn whatever he likes in his age/grade program. So, Yes, he should earn and receive Bobcat first; however, earning Bobcat is pretty simple and both this and the Outdoorsman can be presented at the same meeting (Bobcat first, then Outdoorsman).

Dear Andy,

Remember that “Two-Hats Commissioner” question? Maybe that Scouter saw the great article about “The Six Hats Worn by Commissioners,” in the winter 2002 “COMMISSIONER” BSA publication? If that’s what she was thinking of, here’s the link:

(Barry Nupen, DC, Kaala District, Aloha Council, Mililani, HI)

Brilliant piece of detective- and research-work, Barry! Thanks a bunch!

Dear Andy,

Regarding the camping requirements and the number of nights spent camping for the First Class requirement of 20 nights, do nights spent as a Boy Scout accompanying an Cub Scout camp-out count towards that requirement? (Laura Hendrix, South Plains Council, Shallowater, TX)

Overnight camping requirements for First Class rank and Camping merit badge are a little bit different from one another. For First Class, it’s stipulated that the minimum of three overnight camping activities (the actual number of nights is unspecified except that it obviously be no less than three; what is specified here is that it be a minimum of three separate occasions) will be with the Scout’s Troop and/or Patrol. For Camping merit badge, the total number of nights is 20, of which no more than 7 may be at a long-term (i.e., summer) camp, but the “Troop and/or Patrol” stipulation is removed, indicating that any night spent “under the sky” (i.e., in a sleeping bag) or “in a tent you have pitched” will count, regardless of venue, activity type, or companions. Consequently, if a Boy Scout camps overnight (not in a cabin or equivalent) with a Cub Scout Den (but with not his own Troop or Patrol), then this can definitely count toward the Camping merit badge requirement, but not the First Class rank requirement. Why would this be? Because each requirement has a different ultimate purpose, as reflected in its precise language.

Hello Andy,

One of our sons earned First Class and shortly after that asked one of the adult leaders if he could be Troop Historian, because he needed a position of responsibility in order to meet his goal of earning Star rank in four months, and he was told, “Maybe… We’ll talk about it later.” Later at that same Troop meeting, another First Class Scout was assigned Troop Historian, and our son was Assistant Patrol Leader. Subsequently, on all of his Scout Reports from the Troop, he was listed as holding the APL position as his “leadership position of responsibility” and was told that he’d need to attend Junior Leader Training in order for this position to count towards advancement to Star.

Four months passed. So he contacted the Troop’s Advancement Chair to verify that he now had all requirements in place to earn Star. Instead, he was told that Assistant Patrol Leader doesn’t count toward advancement. Now, he’s Patrol Leader, but he can’t advance to Star for another three months. This whole thing is discouraging to him, because he was under the impression that, as APL, he was serving in a position of responsibility and had met other requirements for merit badges and service hours. Nevertheless, he still focused on his goal of earning Star rank by the Troop’s next Court of Honor. Then, in reading his Handbook, he discovered the notation about a Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project as an alternative to holding a leadership position for four months. He’s willing to work hard on a project, but his Scoutmaster is resisting doing this because, he says, he’s never seen this done before and he can’t think of anything that the Troop really needs right now. The Scoutmaster went on to say that he’ll research the idea, but at the same time he’s concerned about the precedent that it might set for other Scouts wanting to work on a project in lieu of a leadership position. My husband and I want to support our son in meeting his goal, especially since he seems to have found an avenue to do it. For a Scout who’s motivated, has worked hard, and wants to meet his personal advancement goals, we are disappointed that the Scoutmaster is not more supportive at this time. Our son has ideas that he’ll bring to the Scoutmaster at their next meeting, including putting together the first Troop Newsletter, doing a scrapbook and/or PowerPoint of the Eagle Projects done to date, or Troop signs to use while at camp. What you can tell me about this approach to advancement and if there are any other ideas you might have for Scoutmaster-assigned leadership projects? Thank you. (Karen Smith, Omaha, NE)

This is definitely a messy situation. This seems to have happened as a result of several factors; not just one. Let’s first deal with your son. In both his BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK and also in the BSA book, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (any edition or year), the position of Assistant Patrol Leader does not qualify as a leadership position for any of the last three Boy Scout ranks—Star, Life, and Eagle—regardless of what niceties (like JLT) might accompany it, and this cannot be altered. So, unfortunately, whatever assurance may have been given to him about JLT assisting in making this position somehow qualify was painfully misguided. However, it is equally incumbent upon your son to have seriously questioned or even challenged this, since he’s apparently an avid reader of his Handbook (as all Scouts should be!)

As for your son’s idea of taking on a special leadership assignment authorized by his Scoutmaster, this would unquestionably qualify him for the leadership requirement for the Star rank he’s seeking. In fact, his thinking is nothing less than creatively intelligent, and certainly displays resourcefulness. Now, as for his Scoutmaster’s conduct over the past several months, if I were in this Scoutmaster’s shoes, I’d take your son up on his concept instantly, for two reasons: It shows youthful initiative and creativity, and would help me, his Scoutmaster, at least partially redeem myself for first having dragged my heels and then, to make matters even worse, misinforming this enthusiastic Scout! You see, I can’t hold your son entirely to blame for not challenging whoever told him that APL plus JLT would qualify him, because, as a Scout conversing with his Scouting role model, your son would have expected to be dealt with fairly and honestly, as should be between Scouts and their adult leaders, and his leaders are expected to know this stuff cold! So as far as creating a precedent is concerned, maybe it’s high time such a precedent be set, if for no other reason than it provides the Troop’s leaders with a way out of the mess they, themselves largely created!

You describe your son as “motivated, hard-working, and striving to meet his personal advancement goals,” and based on what you’ve conveyed here, I certainly get the impression that this pretty accurate. Consequently, I have this to say to his Scoutmaster: Sir, you have only one job, and that’s to mentor, support and “grow” the Scouts in your charge. It’s time to do this, equally for all Scouts in the Troop. Now, thanks to the mess you’ve created, you have another job: Fix this quickly, before it expands or escalates further. Oh, Yes, here’s a third job for you: You and at the very least your Troop Advancement Chair need to go get some current training, so that neither of you ever again misinforms or misdirects another Scout.

All of this not withstanding, there’s one more element for both your son and his Scoutmaster to consider: The ideas your son proposed aren’t “leadership projects;” they’re labor projects. Your son, with guidance from his Scoutmaster, needs to arrive at something that incorporates leading other Scouts to the completion of an objective.

Dear Andy,

Is there a Scouting program for a four year old? (Rebecca Johnson, Indiana)

Unfortunately, there isn’t. Tiger Cubs—the youngest of the Scouting programs— begins at first grade. Hang in there for just a couple years more! And thanks for asking!

Dear Andy,

A Scout asked me to approve assisting at a blood drive for his Star rank service hours. I don’t believe the amount of work required will meet Star standards, as most of the time he’ll be just sitting around waiting to sign people in or serving cookies. By “no more, no less,” however, I’m not sure what standards can be enforced. Do I have a basis for denying permission for these hours to count? (Alan O’Neal, SM, Troop 244, Cary, NC)

A famous baseball umpire was once asked, “How do you really know whether a thrown pitch is a ‘ball’ or a ‘strike’?” He replied, “It ain’t nuthin’ till I call it.”

“While a First Class Scout, take part in service projects totaling at least six hours of work…” If, in your judgment as Scoutmaster, a blood drive provides insufficient actual “working time,” then that’s that—that’s your “basis.” Which is why the remainder of this requirement states: “…These projects must be approved by your Scoutmaster.” “In advance” is, of course, the implication here, so you and this Scout are doing exactly the right thing. The the bottom line is simple and straightforward: You’re the Scoutmaster–It’s your call.

Dear Andy,

Your story about Manuel in Mid-June 2005 sounds like your Scouts call you by your first name. I’d like my Scouts to call me by my first name, but I’ve been counseled against it and don’t think the other adults want to be called by first names, due to respect issues. Some have said it might be OK for senior Scouts, but not younger Scouts. I feel that respect is earned; not merely mandated. What’s your counsel on first names for adult leaders? (Alan O’Neal, SM, Troop 244, Cary, NC)

My own Scoutmaster was Bill. That’s what we Scouts called him, back in the “stodgy” old days of the Eisenhower era, and that’s what he preferred. When I first met him, as a new Scout, he simply extended his left hand and said, “Hi! I’m your Scoutmaster. My name’s Bill… What’s yours?” Simple as that. There was something both honorable and profoundly approachable in this, because Bill was the only adult non-relative I knew whom I could call by his first name, and I and the other Scouts in our Troop never had anything but immense respect for this privilege.

To my own Scouts, having been a Scoutmaster more than once in my life, I’ve always been, simply, Andy. No Scout has ever shown the slightest disrespect for this, and it has helped to break down barriers that have led my Scouts to be open and forthright and, to my knowledge, always honest with me.

On a national youth training course, use of the first name wasn’t permitted, which we Scoutmasters and other adult staffers regretted but complied with. However, many of us immediately became “Mister Mac” or “Mister Dee” or “Mister Kay” to the youth staffers and Scouts, these being the first sounds of our last names, and this, while not going as far as we’d have preferred, at least wasn’t as stiff and stilted as our complete last names.

The British have an interesting way of treating this… The Scoutmaster is referred to as the Troop’s “Skipper” (as on a boat), and his nickname, used by all Scouts, becomes simply Skip.

So let’s get down to it. I agree with you 100 percent: Respect from our Scouts isn’t achieved by using formal names; it’s achieved through our own actions.

True story: I once knew a Scoutmaster who demanded respect but hadn’t earned it. Among other things, he insisted that all Scouts call him only by his last name: He was MISTER Stundel, and don’t you forget it! The Scouts, being the clever and phony-spotting Scouts that they were, instantly reversed the letters of his last name, and so behind his back he was Mr. LEDNUTS. It stuck. And no amount of hissy-fits on his part ever made it go away!

If you decide that you’d prefer your first name, then that’s that. But this doesn’t mean that all other adults must do this, too. They can make their own decisions, just as you have. But, whatever YOU decide, don’t let it create a pecking order in your Troop. Whatever you choose, ALL Scouts call you by that name.

Dear Andy,

Are the minutes of the Troop Committee meetings supposed to be only for the committee members, or are they supposed to be open to all adults in the Troop. And, who can call an emergency committee meeting, and where can this information be found? (Ruth)

A quest for bylaws isn’t much different from one in search of the holy grail: Fruitless if not pointless. Everything a Troop’s volunteer adults need to know in order to have a successful Scouting program is in the literature and training materials. (You have all taken training for your positions, haven’t you? Because if you haven’t this whole conversation is pretty darned silly!)

To your questions:

In Scouting, nothing is secret. If you keep minutes or notes of your committee meetings, this is available to everybody involved with the Troop, including every parent of every Scout in the Troop.

If an “emergency meeting” is needed (such as, because somebody forgot to set plans for an upcoming Court of Honor, or the tour permit for a hike wasn’t filled out or sent in) then call the meeting and get as many folks together as possible. In Scouting unit committee work isn’t about “quorums” and “votes.” It’s about getting the job of supporting the Scoutmaster, the Scouts, and the Troop program as established by the Patrol Leaders Council done!

Final point: A Troop committee is absolutely, positively, unquestionably, unarguably NOT some sort of “executive committee,” or “executive board,” or “board of directors,” or even “governing body.” You’re all there to do jobs that help the Troop move forward. Do anything else and you’re way off base!

Hi Andy,

Our Troop sent two crews on a Philmont Trek this past summer. Each crew performed community service while there. Crew 1 chose a service project at their campsite and worked for three hours. Crew 2 chose for their service project one that was a one-hour hike away, thereby adding two hours to their three hours of labor-in-service. First, can our Scouts count this as service hours for rank advancement? Second, does the crew that spent time hiking to and from their project site get credit for their travel time as well as the three hours spent working on the project? (Casey Quinn, Troop 695, Northern Lights Council, Eden Prairie, MN)

First off, congratulations on sending two trek crews to Philmont and congratulations to them for completing their treks and handling a service project along the way!

To your question: Why is there a “great debate”? To my way of thinking, Scouting’s about giving; not taking away. Here’s your choice: If you give “credit” for just three hours to both crews, you’ll be discouraging these and future Scouts from doing anything that doesn’t “count toward advancement”—the equivalent of “clock watchers” and the “hey, don’t work too hard” mentality. Is this the kind of “happy, productive, responsible citizens” that Scouting is here to produce as our “end-product”? If, on the other hand, you give three hours “credit” to the crew who decided to work in their campsite and not extend the extra effort to “get out there” (which is OK, by the way) and five hours credit to the crew who decided go and find a project needed doing that wasn’t necessarily in their back yard (which is equally OK), then you’re fairly honoring the commitment and effort each exhibited.

Dear Andy,

My neighbors’ son has just earned Eagle, and has invited me to his Court of Honor—reception and dinner following. Do guests typically present gifts to the honoree for reaching Eagle Scout status? If so, please provide examples of suggested gifts. Thank you. (Cathy Walma, Illinois)

How very thoughtful of you! No, it’s not “mandatory” that there be a gift. Your presence will be enough for this singular event in a young man’s life. However, if you feel absolutely compelled to at least check out options, go to and then type “eagle” in the keyword or item # dialog box (top right side of screen). This will take you to a bunch of special items for Eagle Scouts, in all sorts of prices. If the ceremony is happening very soon, go to the Scout Shop at the local Boy Scout Council’s service center. They usually have a variety of Eagle items in stock.

To find the Scout Shop, Google “BSA” and “council” and the name of your town, and there’s a good chance it’ll take you to where you need to be.

Dear Andy,

Where do Scouts wear the “Good Turn” and yearly segments? Can they be worn on the uniform, or are they just temporary patches? (Diana Dozier, ACM, Greater Alabama Council, Anniston AL)

These and other similar patches (Pineweed Derby, Conservation Award, Cub-O-Ree, etc.) are worn in the “temporary” (meaning that the Scout can change it or not, at his discretion) position in the center of the right pocket—Just one at a time, though. Or, if there’s a patch already on the right pocket and the Scout doesn’t want to change it, then the new one can go on the Cub/Webelos Scouts’ red patch vest. Or, it can be put in a collection book or box.

Dear Andy,

My 16-year-old son recently received his Eagle Scout rank. I’ve been searching the web, trying to find out when or if he can wear the actual Eagle medal. He thinks that as long as he’s not yet an adult, he can only wear the cloth patch, and that once he’s an adult (age 21?), he then can’t wear the patch but can wear the pin. But if they can no longer wear the patch, there are situations that a pin would be impractical. So how would anyone know he is an Eagle Scout? (Diane Turczynski, Illowa Council, Davenport , IA)

First, congratulations to your Eagle Scout son, and your family—the Quad Cities rule! There are three Eagle Scout indicators: The oval cloth Eagle Scout badge, the cloth red-white-and-blue “square knot” badge, and the Eagle medal itself. The oval cloth Eagle Scout badge is worn only by Boy Scouts (and not ever by adults). It’s centered on the left pocket of their Scout uniform. The “square knot” is not worn by Boy Scouts, but only by adults (age 18+) Scouting volunteers who have earned the rank of Eagle. The medal itself is worn on special occasions, such as Courts of Honor. It’s pinned just above the uniform shirt’s left pocket flap, centered over the pocket, or at the top of the left breast pocket of a blazer, sports jacket or suit jacket. It’s definitely not worn to regular Troop meetings, hikes, campouts, and so on.

Dear Andy,

Does the Scouting literary award, The Golden Quill, still exist to be earned by Scouts? A friend of mine got it back in the 60’s, and I’ve learned it was a Lone Scout award ‘way back. (Don Schultz, ASM, Troop 326, Northeast Georgia Council, GA)

My amateur research efforts suggest that the Gold Quill Award was discontinued quite a few years ago, but for absolute confirmation, I’d suggest that you write directly to Mr. Terry Lawson at the BSA National Office—Terry’s the BSA’s National Boy Scout Advancement Director.

Hi Andy,

There’s lots of information and resources available for Unit Commissioners and Cub Scout Roundtable Commissioners but not a lot for Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioners. I was told at one time there was a publication for Boy Scout Roundtables, but it’s been discontinued. Why are there so few resources for Boy Scout Roundtables? (All I’ve been able to locate so far is a sample goal-setting plan and a sample schedule for a year’s program.) In that same vein, if Boy Scout Roundtables are part of continuing Scouter training and dissemination of information, shouldn’t there be a basic outline, manual, or syllabus on how to conduct Boy Scout Roundtables and/or at least suggestions of what is to be presented? (Donald Scott, Boy Scout RTC, Wabash Valley District, Anthony Wayne Area Council, IN)

My own short answers are: I have no idea, and I agree with you 150%! I’ve seen what you’re talking about in more than one council—they’re all pretty much the same in this regard. There’s virtually no information available, and Commissioners Colleges often give this subject lip service at best. This is a real pity. We’re supposed to be encouraging the units we serve to come out to RTs every month, but the dedicated RT Commissioners and Staff that have accepted the challenge of putting on, for all intents, a big birthday party every month, month after month, are given virtually no solid information or resources for doing this important job—not even a template for meetings! I’m guessing the question that needs to be asked by every RT Commissioner is this: What can I do that will make my RTs the most successful in the council? And then go out and do it!

Dear Andy,

According to Scout websites and BSA advancement literature on how to hold a Board of Review, it’s been said that it’s not an “interrogation,” not a “re-testing” of a Scout’s competence, 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 “check-up” to see that what should have been done actually was done; it’s a “friendly growth experience.” So, then, when should a Scout not pass a Board of Review?

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 Scout knots (even the simple square knot), or who are only partly in uniform. This concerns me when they bring me a Scout book that’s been signed off by our Scoutmaster or ASM or one of the older Scouts, who says that the Scout is ready for his Board of Review. This puts the Board of Review at odds with the Scoutmaster!

If a young Scout comes before a BOR for the Tenderfoot rank, and can’t say the Scout Oath or Law from memory, should we go ahead and advance him? What if the Scout is advancing to First Class or Star? Should the BOR even be able to ask the Scout to repeat the Scout Oath or Law?

I read the Front Line Stuff article in “Scouting” magazine about Encouraging Scouts Who Don’t Pass Boards of Review, but it left me with more questions than answers. Also, within our home Council, I know of a District Board of Review that didn’t “pass” Scout for the rank of Eagle because of his attitude and because he hadn’t been in attendance for over six months; however, on appeal to the Council, they awarded him his rank “…because the Scoutmaster had signed off on the requirements.” Hence it seems to me that a Board of Review is simply there to “rubber stamp” whatever the Scoutmaster signs off on. So why do we even have Boards of Review? I guess my frustration is that I really don’t understand what role a Board of Review really has. Can you help? (Eric Whisler, Troop Advancement Chair)

A BOR (Board of Review) is more a “test” of how well the Troop and the Scoutmaster are delivering the Scouting program to the Scouts you all are serving. If a Scout comes before a BOR for Tenderfoot rank and stumbles on the Oath and Law, I’d probably call it “first-timer’s jitters” (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: (1) Why did he send me a Scout who can’t repeat the Oath and Law from memory? and (2) 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 necessarily the other way around!

Square knots? ANY knot? Why are you including this in a BOR? It has no business there! This is tantamount to “testing” the Scout and that’s not your job. You’re dancin’ round the wrong campfire on this one, my friend!

Uniforms? All BSA literature simply says “…in as complete a uniform as possible.” Now if you happen to know with absolute certainty that 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, the Troop Committee, and the Scout’s parents to help him afford (and see the value in) those pants, belt, and socks (these are usually what’s missing)!

Read my November 2003, December 2004, and Mid-December 2004 columns for more on BORs.

Dear Andy,

For quite some time, our Troop had been holding “Merit Badge Nights” once a month. The format for these was: Parents who had volunteered to be Merit Badge Counselors would sit at tables in our meeting hall, Scouts would go talk to a counselor for a merit badge they were interested in, then get a blue card from the Scoutmaster, and in following months spend time with the counselor again to get requirements signed off. In this way, a number of Scouts would earn merit badges like Collections, Pets, Reading, and so on. But parents who had offered to do Law, Salesmanship, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, Aviation, etc., would be idle the entire evening. I also observed that only a few Scouts were actually working on merit badges that interested them. Most were milling around aimlessly, chatting, or otherwise killing time, and a few would inevitably get into mischief. A year ago, I became an Assistant Scoutmaster, and talked this over with the Scoutmaster, who was himself also new in his position. He and I agreed, so we raised the issue with the PLC, suggesting that these Merit Badge Nights were not an efficient use of the Troop’s time. The PLC agreed, and the Merit Badge Nights were removed from the calendar. Now, nine months later, the Committee Chair wants so see them resume because “the Scouts haven’t earned many merit badges in the last nine months.” She urged the PLC to reconsider this at last night’s PLC meeting, and they’re ready to acquiesce. I know how the merit badge process is supposed to work and what benefits the Scout is supposed to get from earning them through his own initiative, but what can I say or do to convince the committee that the purpose of a Troop meeting is not to help Scouts earn merit badges? (Greg Buliavac, ASM, Troop 186, San Francisco Bay Area Council, CA)

You, your ASM, and your Patrol Leaders Council have it RIGHT! DON’T CAVE IN ON THIS! Instead, you need to tell your committee chair one thing, and show her two things. Here they are…

– Tell her in no uncertain terms that the seeking out and earning of merit badges is based on the initiative of each individual Scout, and that “spoon-feeding” merit badges is the antithesis of the merit badge program, process, and goals.

– Show her page 187 in the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. Here, it describes precisely how merit badges are earned, beginning with selection by the individual Scout.

– Show her the standard Troop Meeting Plan. None of its six parts—preopening, opening, skills instruction, Patrol meetings, interpatrol activity, and closing—includes merit badge instruction. If she suggests that merit badges can be substituted for the “skills instruction” part, point out that this part is to learn and expand on the skills included in the ranks up through First Class, because these are the essential skills of Boy Scouting; merit badges are not. She needs to be informed that the “skills instruction” part is focused on Scouts teaching Scouts; not adults teaching Scouts.

Hello Andy,

I’m searching every site I can find for a list of job descriptions for our Pack Committee. Do you have any suggestions? I’m looking for what roles the Committee Chair, Cubmaster, and so on, play. (Jennifer Pickering, CC, Pack 399, San Diego Imperial Council, San Diego, CA)

Get yourself a copy of the CUB SCOUT LEADER BOOK. It’s available at your council’s Scout Shop or online at Everything you’re looking for will be there!

Happy Scouting!


Got a question? Have an idea? Found something that works? Send it to me
(Please include your Council name or your town & state)

(November 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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