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Issue 91 – January 2007

Dear Andy,

I’m curious as to your understanding of religion in Scouting. I’m familiar with “God” and reverence in the BSA; however, how does a leader keep Baden-Powell’s edict to be sure that Scouting be available to boys of all beliefs? I become very uncomfortable at this time of year with some of the “forced” religion, for example, the singing of secular Christmas songs at holiday pack nights when Jewish or others who do not celebrate the “birth of Jesus” as part of their holiday may be uncomfortable. I’m acting as “Tiger Coach” to our Tiger dens, and the parent who was leading the den meeting before the holiday led them in a discussion on how the “true” meaning of Christmas was the birth of Jesus and that only that tradition should be celebrated. Fortunately, the four families present seemed comfortable, and I attempted to lightly pull the discussion around to respecting or at least tolerance of other traditions as part of being “good Scouts.” The inclusion of “We thank Thee, O Lord” in a camp prayer and prayers to Jesus, the Lord, Mary, etc., I know have offended a Jewish family to the point of leaving our pack, and at least two other families that I know of. The community I live in is very diverse, though the majority is overwhelmingly Christian. What are your own thoughts and/or advice? (Sheryl Eichenlaub)

Thanks for asking these important questions. Let’s begin by re-reading the BSA’s own Statement of Religious Principle, which can readily be found on every youth and adult application. There, it states with clarity that while a belief in God is fundamental to Scouting principles, the BSA is completely nondenominational and nonsectarian in all other regards and leaves all specific teachings to be done by others, including parents and religious leaders. So it doesn’t take a Clarence Darrow to figure out that any teachings that are specific to a particular faith or denomination of a faith have no place in a Scout meeting. Period.

There are many examples of the “Scouts Own” service and in none of these that have been prepared properly will you find references to one religion in particular or to the exclusion of any other.

So, to use the word “only” with regard to faith is about at wrong as one can be, especially in a meeting of Scouts of any age. As for prayers, graces, or benedictions that are denominational or sectarian in nature, it’s definitely acceptable for a religious leader performing them to speak from his or her own faith. We cannot expect a catholic priest to refer to Yahweh or Buddha any more than we’d expect a rabbi to speak “in the name of Jesus,” but we must simultaneously keep in mind that they are speaking from their foundation and NOT on behalf of Scouting. We also need to keep in mind that Allah and God are simply different words, in different languages, that have identical meaning.

Here’s a true story…

Some years ago, while touring Washington, D.C., in preparation for attending a Boy Scout National Jamboree, my troop attended a Sunday service at the National Cathedral. Afterward, several Scouts and I sat on the warm front lawn and talked over what we’d just experienced, making comparisons (I guided, but did not lead the conversation). Among the Scouts that sunny morning were two Protestant Scouts (a Baptist and a Presbyterian), a Jewish Scout, a Buddhist, two Roman Catholics, a Latter Day Saint, and a Shinto. Each Scout in turn talked about what he’s seen and heard and how it compared to his own faith. They ended up agreeing with one another that, in the first place, in the right circumstances it’s OK to talk about religion and, in the second place, isn’t it pretty cool that despite our different faiths we are all guided to conduct ourselves the same way toward others!

Dear Andy,

We have a controversy in our Troop regarding the advancement from Star rank to Life. The Boy Scout Handbook says, “…earn five more merit badges than you already have (for Star).” We interpret this to mean that the five badges must be earned after the date of a Scout’s Star Board of Review; others say that the merit badges required for Life rank can be earned at any time in the Scout’s tenure. Which is correct? (Name Withheld)

Every merit badge, regardless of when earned, counts toward the ranks of Star, Life, and Eagle, and a Scout can begin earning merit badges the moment he’s a Tenderfoot. Let’s look at the Star requirements for a moment. Number 5 says “As a First Class Scout…” so for that one it’s clear that that means you don’t do this particular requirement as a Second Class or Tenderfoot Scout. But Number 3 simply says, “Earn six merit badges…” Now, go to the Life requirements. Requirements 1, 4, and 5 specify that they be to be done by a Star-rank Scout. But now look at number 3, where it doesn’t say, “…as a Star Scout…”—that prerequisite simply isn’t there. Why? Because rank isn’t the issue; the issue is to have earned the additional merit badges, as specified. On the strength of this, I really hope you’ll be revising your thinking on this important area, so that you can better serve, support, encourage, and grow the Scouts in your troop into tomorrow’s responsible and happy citizens.

Dear Andy,

We’ve just recently moved and my Boy Scout son is in 6th grade and has attained the rank of Star. After visiting many troops to decide which one to join, my son decided on the one where all the boys from his school attend. After the decision was made, I made the payment and filled in the transfer form. But after attending three troop meetings, I was called out to the hallway and asked if I thought this troop was the correct one for us, and was then told that I had turned off many of the adults with my “gruffness.” I responded that I could accept the fact that I was not liked and that I’d just drop my son off and pick him up after the meetings, but then I was told that they didn’t think my son was right for their troop either, and that they wanted us to keep looking for another troop, and that, if we hadn’t found another within three weeks, then I could return and we’d have another discussion about their expectations of me and my son. At this point, there’s no way in the world I’d have let my son return to that troop! If they don’t want him now, why would they want him in three weeks! (Susan Miller, National Capitol Area Council, Fredericksburg, VA)

I’m first going to guess that you’re possibly a single mom, because at you’re son’s age and rank, it’s much more common when a family moves for dad-and-lad to go in search of a troop to transfer into. If this is the case, I can appreciate the burden you’re carrying and how you’re trying to do the best for your son. It also makes very good sense, when a move has happened, to try to find a troop in which your son’s (new) schoolmates are members. So it sure sounds like you started off on the right foot here. So what’s gone wrong? From the feedback you say you’ve received, it’s pretty impossible to tell. Being told your son’s “not right for the troop” doesn’t help, because there’s nothing concrete that can be acted on one way or another. Perhaps some further inquiries are in order here? Here’s why…

If troops only accepted boys that were “right,” there’d be no Scouting! All boys have quirks, idiosyncrasies, foibles, blind-sides, and such that make them less-than-“perfect.” That’s WHY there’s Scouting in the first place! Baden-Powell got it right: “The Scoutmaster’s job is to find the good in every boy and bring it out in him.” When a Scoutmaster gets this part right, 99% of the job of Scouting is done! Everything else is just “stuff.”

Now certainly every troop has its own unique “personality.” But all of these different personalities still have just one job: “Find the good in every boy and bring it out in him.”

To reject a boy because “he’s not right” is a repudiation of everything Scouting stands for.

So, what to do… Start with a one-on-one with just the Scoutmaster (no, not by email or by phone–in person!). Ask the Scoutmaster to please give you his or her impressions of your son, including his strengths and positive qualities, and also where he might improve. If the areas for improvement make sense to you (don’t try to “defend” him—this isn’t a time for “Yeah, but…”!), then strike an agreement with the Scoutmaster: Your son will stay in the troop from now through summer camp and if, by September, things still haven’t worked out for both him and the troop, then you’ll have another conference. If the Scoutmaster still balks at this idea, then this troop isn’t the place for your son, or anyone else’s son, for that matter!

But before we sign off on this, what I haven’t heard is how your son feels about this troop! Maybe the feelings are mutual, and he doesn’t care for this troop and how it’s run any more than they seem to care for him! If that’s the case, then skip my suggestion (above) and go straight for another troop! Run, don’t walk!

Dear Andy,

I’m trying to have my wolf den earn the world conservation patch. What might be a good den (or even a pack) conservation project to do that will qualify for requirement 3: “Participate in a den or pack conservation project.” (Alan Cameron, DL, Pack 273, Otetiana Council, Fairport, NY)

First, here’s where to find the requirements…

Then, if you go to Google and enter “cub scout conservation projects” in the dialog box for “all the words” you’ll find a wealth of ideas, and even some ideas for the Conservation Good Turn recognition! Go for it!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been reading your columns for some time now and I’m always amazed at how your advice differs from what I see in real life. Here’s a great example: At my last roundtable, they were talking about how important Unit Commissioners are (and this I agree with) but the speaker then went on to say how he’s the Unit Commissioner for his own unit! Now I’ve always been told you can’t do your own unit, and this makes perfect sense to me, but when I asked somebody at that roundtable who works with our Council and is on the Commissioner’s Staff, he told me that it was OK. How is this? (Name & Council withheld)

I wrote about this question a couple of years ago, and this is a good time to revisit it. Yup, it’s perfectly “legal” for a Unit Commissioner to be serving a unit he or she may be or may have been affiliated with. In fact, to my way of thinking, there can be a lot more good than harm in this. After all, a UC is supposed to be a unit’s best friend, so who better than somebody who knows the unit and the various personalities associated with it right from the get-go! The key question, I think, has to do with effectiveness. Can this sort of UC actually help the unit get closer to the ideal of Scouting program delivery, or is he or she more prone to turning a blind eye to the unit’s faults and foibles? If it’s the former, then all’s well with the world. If the latter, then some switching around by the ADC or DC needs to be done!

That said, it would definitely be a silly situation for the UC in such a situation to simultaneously hold a significant leadership position with that unit, too, such as SM or ASM, or CC or even committee member, because it would be quite difficult for the unit’s other adult volunteers to know which “hat” that person is wearing, or when. So, so long as he or she is a former (and not current) unit position-holder, no harm, no foul.

Finally, there definitely is a BSA stipulation (albeit a largely overlooked one!) that a Commissioner (at any level) cannot simultaneously be a unit leader of any unit.

I hope this helps you, and sets the record straight. If you’re a commissioner yourself, my hat’s off to you! Commissioner work is among the least visible yet simultaneously most influential and personally rewarding “jobs” in all of Scouting!

Dear Andy,

How does a unit go about getting itself a new sponsor/chartered organization? (We see future troubles with our current one.) (Wayne)

To identify a potential new sponsor, first and foremost talk with your professional District Executive. As you begin your search, do keep in mind that your unit’s present sponsor is the actual (and not just “on paper”) owner of the unit and its accoutrements.

Dear Andy,

As a new parent involved in Cub Scouting, I’ve come across your column numerous times while “Googling,” Scouting issues and first want to say how much I enjoy your columns. Any discussions about the do’s and don’ts of Scouting and “official BSA rules and regulations” certainly benefit from your liberal dose of common sense.

I’m writing to you today seeking your help to get a suggestion about a new award idea to the right person for consideration, and ask you to review my (wild/hair-brained) idea and then steer me in the right direction to further pursue this on my own. (Or just tell me it’s not going to work and maybe I’ll let go of this project.)

Here’s the idea… I’ve come across a program that I believe fits with Scouting and could recognize Scouting volunteers for the time and effort they contribute. We all know that recognition from BSA is an integral part of motivating volunteers, but I’m not coming up with many provided to the folks “in the trenches” who are out there in the field making the program work on a daily basis. I’m thinking about a new Square Knot, perhaps even a series of four, because I know square knots represent some of the highest levels of recognition in Scouting, and the current system probably should not be tampered with. The program I have in mind is the Presidential Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) which, as the name implies, recognizes Americans for volunteer work around the world. The website is:

One question that comes to mind is: Who actually should provide the award? Religious square knots and medals are provided directly by the individual religious organizations, with the blessing (pun intended) of the BSA. Is that how it works? In this case, I believe the awards should be presented to Scouting volunteers directly by BSA; not necessarily by the PVSA. The PVSA currently awards a bronze lapel pin (and some other things, like a letter of recognition from the President of the United States) to adult volunteers performing 100 hours of service and kids under 15 qualify with only 50 hours. There is also a Group/Family option, which only requires 25 hours each for the bronze award, but the group as a whole must earn 200 total hours. I can envision a new “bronze knot” to represent this award. At an absolute minimum, I believe that the PVSA’s Lifetime Achievement award, representing 4,000 hours, should be represented by a square knot.

By the way, I’ve signed up our pack in the PVSA program and I encourage all others—Scouts or not—to do the same. program. (John Miller, Pack 277 PSVA Award Committee Chair & PVSA Certifying Organization Representative, Fayetteville, TN)

Thanks for being a reader, and for writing and sharing your thoughts! If you’ve done your homework, you’ve discovered that the BSA National Office does indeed bestow recognitions for adult volunteers in Scouting who have made significant contributions to youth, at several levels. The highest of these is, of course, the Silver Buffalo award for national contributions (no, I don’t mean monetarily), followed by the Silver Antelope, for contributions of regional significance. Next, the Silver Beaver recognizes significant contributions at the local council level, but this is nonetheless an award by the BSA National Council (presented at the local level). In addition to these three, there is the relatively new Community Organization Award, which recognizes members of non-Scouting organizations for their contributions to youth through the Scouting program (i.e., as BSA adult volunteers). There are now ten such recognitions, each sponsored by a different organization. These are: the American Legion, AFL-CIO, Alpha Phi Omega, BPOE (Elks), Department of Defense, F&AM (Freemasons), IFSR (International Fellowship of Scouting Rotarians, of Rotary International), Ruritan, U.S. Power Squadron, and the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). (For more on these, go to In light of these, I can see absolutely no reason why the PVSA (or attendant body) cannot develop its own standards for recognition of Scouting volunteers and then collaborate with the BSA for formal status. Where does the process begin? With the PVSA first. Following agreement to proceed, the PVSA would then reach out to the BSA National Office to begin the collaboration process.

Dear Andy,

In your Mid-October 2006 column, there was a question about the Pledge of Allegiance. I was taught a tradition that a Scout, when not in uniform, places the Scout Sign over his heart for the Pledge (I think I remember seeing an illustration of that). In uniform, of course, you always salute. But I can’t find that in any of my BSA Handbooks (7th through 9th editions, plus the 11th). It is also not in the 1930’s two-volume Scoutmaster Handbook. If I ever find support for this, I’ll let you know. At this point, it’s either “unwritten tradition” or “folklore”—your choice. I was kind of a Scout Nerd growing up, with my service stars always lined up, so I must have read or heard this somewhere. My dad became a Scout in 1940 and he was a Scoutmaster when I was born, so it might have been from him. It might be related to this, from Scouting for Boys: “The hand salute is only used when a Scout is not carrying his staff, and is always made with the right hand. Saluting when carrying a staff is done by bringing the left arm smartly across the body in a horizontal position, the fingers showing the Scout Sign just touching the staff.” (Walt Underwood, Scoutmaster, Troop 14, Palo Alto, CA)

It’s probably in the category of “urban myth,” my Scouting friend. To complete the research you began, I’ve checked every edition (and printing) of the Handbook from the first through sixth in my collection and NOWHERE is there even the slightest reference to this unusual practice. It certainly is not part of Scouting as described to some 100 million American youth, although it certainly may have been some individual’s quirk. Now certainly, some things do change. The American version of the Scout handclasp is one of these. As a Scout myself a half-century ago, I used the “extended little finger” but this was dropped in favor of the all-finger left-handed handclasp several decades ago. But three fingers over the heart? Nope. But this doesn’t mean that your memory is faulty; it simply means that someone at some time carried things a little too far, perhaps.

Dear Andy,

Who has the final say on Patrol makeup—the Scoutmaster or the Senior Patrol Leader? Our current senior patrol leader wants to align patrols according to age. He believes for example all 11 years olds in one patrol, 12 year olds in another and 13 year olds in another. He believes this is BSA policy. The Scoutmaster (and me, too, for that matter) wants to have patrols with boys of all ages. Our current system is the SPL chooses his Patrol Leaders, then at JLT they have a draft for boys in their patrol, so up to now our patrols generally consist of boys of all ages, up to Star rank. Once they make Life, they move to the Eagle Patrol. The Scoutmaster and all of his ASMs like our current patrol makeup, and most of the Scouts like it as well. It allows the younger scouts to learn from the older Scouts, in a patrol setting. Our SPL is adamant about changing, telling us that we are incorrect and that patrols should be aligned by age group. He is also adamant that if he and his fellow Scouts “vote” that patrols be aligned this way, then no adult can “veto” this, since this is a Scout-run organization. What is BSA policy on Patrol makeup? Any advice? We want to do what is right! (Andy Kraft, CC, Troop 57, Tidewater Council, Chesapeake, VA)

Well, from one Andy to another, I’m sure glad you wrote, and I hope you’ll do it again if you have more questions! Now, let’s see how I can help you all here…

First off, everything I’m about to tell you can be found in the Boy Scout Handbook, the Scoutmaster Handbook, the Troop Committee Guide, and ALL BSA training materials.

A “Scout-led troop” refers to troop program; not administrative details such as patrol formation, how patrol leaders are elected, etc. The Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders (the essential leaders making up the Patrol Leaders Council of the troop (“PLC” for short) are charged with responsibility for discussing and deciding on the overall troop meeting and outdoor program, including where the Scouts will go hiking and camping, participating in the district or council Camporee, annual fund-raising, annual service project for the troop’s sponsor, and so on. All of this is done under the mentorship of the Scoutmaster, whose role is advisor to the SPL and the PLC.

Neither the SPL nor the PLC is to make decisions regarding the structure of either the troop or its patrols; this is established by the BSA and has been in place for decade upon decade.

The only patrol that might be a patrol by age group is a “new Scout patrol,” as when an entire Webelos den graduates en toto into a troop. Otherwise, it is for the Scouts themselves to determine who is in each patrol, with the understanding that a patrol numbering about six Scouts and definitely not more than eight, is the ideal to be striven for.

Patrol Leaders are elected by their own patrol members. This is per the BSA and is essential to The Patrol Method. Baden-Powell himself said, “The Patrol Method is not a way to deliver the Scouting program; it is the only way.” To address your specific situation, it is an absolute repudiation of The Patrol Method for the SPL (or anyone else, for that matter!) to choose who will be patrol leaders. This is the absolute and unassailable right and responsibility of the patrol members themselves.

Once each patrol has elected its own patrol leader, that PL selects his assistant (APL) and assigns other responsibilities as well, including patrol scribe, patrol quartermaster, etc. These patrol-level positions are not to be confused with their troop-level counterparts, and do not constitute positions qualifying for the leadership requirements of the Star, Life, or eagle ranks, and do not receive “badges of office,” as do the troop-level positions of scribe, quartermaster, etc.

Patrols are best formed by the natural selections of the Scouts themselves. If a third party attempts to make this decision for the Scouts, disaster is risked. As new Scouts individually join the troop, they get to mutually choose which patrol they’d like to join. In short, the essential “unit” of Boy Scouting is not the troop; it’s the PATROL. Get this wrong at your own peril; it’s simply not the Scouting program.

Six months is the typical length of holding office in a patrol and troop. Every six months, a new set of elections is held. Usually, all Scouts in the troop elect the SPL first, and immediately following this the PLs are elected by their patrol members. Yes, a Scout may be elected to more than one consecutive “term” in the same position; however, it is always his decision as to whether he wishes to accept it or not.

Non-elected troop-level positions include scribe, quartermaster, historian, bugler, chaplain’s aide, troop guide, etc. Den Chief is not so much appointed as it is requested and agreed to by mutual consent between the Scout) first!), the Scoutmaster, and the Den leader and Cubmaster of the pack and den in which the Den Chief will serve.

If I’ve left any question or concern unaddressed, write again and I’ll cover it for you. Meanwhile, I think it’s time for you all to roll up your sleeves and get your troop aimed a little more closely to True North!

Dear Andy,

How does a Cub Scout go about earning the BSA Interpreter Strip? (Ana Pringle)

Check out the requirements (the requirements are identical, whether Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Venturer, or adult volunteer) at:

Dear Andy,

I know that it’s BSA policy that Cub Scouts may not participate in boating activities unless they’re at a council-sponsored camp; however, I also notice that Cub Scouts are allowed to participate in rock wall climbing when the wall is part of a commercial operation. We’re planning a spring campout at a National Park. This park has a 25-acre lake with canoe and paddleboat rentals run by the U.S. National Park Service itself. Can this be considered a ”commercial operation,” and therefore might it be permissible to allow our Cub Scouts to rent a canoe or paddleboat with their parent accompanying them? (We would treat this just like tent camping: No other boy would be permitted to ride with a different family in a boat.) (Carl Hyltin, DL, Pack 1100, Sam Houston Area Council)

I’m going to hazard a guess that you’re probably just fine, especially with the boy-and-family stricture you’re going to incorporate, but I encourage you to check this out directly with your own council’s risk management committee!

Hello Andy,

According to the Troop Committee Guidebook, our chartered organization (“CO”) owns our troop. This books to explain what the duties of the CO are and that part is clear, but how much does the CO actually “own: the troop…to what degree? For instance, can the CO dictate to the troop how many committee members it may have, or specify that anyone beyond that fixed number who wants to be formally involved with the troop must register as an Assistant Scoutmaster? Another example: Can the CO insist that we create “troop bylaws” even though we’ve tried to explain that BSA policies and procedures already in existence for nearly a century already cover everything that needs to be covered? (Name/Unit/Council withheld)

Yup, a Scouting unit’s chartered organization (i.e., sponsor) owns the unit lock, stock, and barrel. However, ownership and dictatorship are two different things. The CO, or sponsor, has also established a formal agreement with your local council to subscribe to the policies, procedures, and bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America (your District Executive can show you the chartering document that spells this out in detail, point-by-point). The CO does not have the authority to dictate policy to the unit beyond what the BSA states. For instance, it may “suggest” that every parent register as a BSA volunteer, but it can’t demand this because that is not required by the BSA. More specifically, it is silly to register folks as Assistant Scoutmasters arbitrarily because this means that (a) they’re now expected to take BSA position-specific training and (b) they can’t participate as members of rank advancement boards of review. In other words, this is sort of shooting the troop right in the kneecap! As for “writing troop bylaws,” this is an exercise in excess and totally unnecessary. The BSA already has bylaws for the correct operation of all Scouting units and nothing further is needed. In short, this is a total waste of time and energy that might better be used actually delivering the Scouting program to the youth the troop is supposed to be serving. Here’s the big picture: Somebody’s apparently forgotten that the troop serves the youth of the community at the pleasure of the youth, and not the other way around!

Get your District Executive involved, and ask him or her to set your sponsor’s folks straight! They’re going waaaaaay beyond where they should or need to be!

Dear Andy,

I have an Assistant Scoutmaster gets too involved with the Scouts, directly, and tries to “lead” them by yelling and shouting at them. (The Scouts have no respect for him and largely ignore him, which only makes things worse!) I’ve talked to him over and over about this, but it goes in one ear and out the other. I am at a point I want him out—He’s hurting the troop as a whole (I’m the one who started the troop, in the first place!). I don’t need this aggravation any more! I’m going to bring this up to our troop committee and suggest that either I go or he goes. Or, can I just “fire” this guy? Have you run across a situation like this before? What do you advise, Andy? (Carlo Miceli, SM, Troop 455, West Central Florida Council)

It’s definitely not in the cards that YOU leave the troop… Do you really want to desert your Scouts and leave them to this apparent doofus? Here’s the deal: The Troop Committee Chair and the Chartered Organization/Chartered Organization Representative are the usual people who appoint Scoutmasters and ASMs, and so they are the ones who can remove people from these positions if it’s not working out. If, on the other hand you appointed this guy (with the committee’s and CO’s blessing, I’m going to assume) then you can un-appoint him. In doing so, whoever does this might want to offer him another position (like, on the committee and away from the Scouts themselves) where he can still contribute while doing less direct damage. If he won’t take a position that has no direct contact with the Scouts, he’s history. End of story.

Hi Andy,

In one of our recent council newsletters, it talked about a “conclave.” What’s a conclave? Can you explain? (Cheryl Trent, Troop 493, Springcreek, VA)

A “conclave,” in general, is a gathering of Order of the Arrow members from OA lodges in the area (i.e., from multiple councils).

Hi Andy,

I’d like to know how to go about finding out about Merit Badge Colleges in our area. Can Scouts attend Merit Badge Colleges in a different council? I have four sons—triplets about to bridge into Boy Scouts and an older son who needs to complete a few merit badges. I’ve been a Den Leader for the past seven years and plan to work with our troop once the triplets bridge over. Thanks for all the great information in your columns! (Deborah Spears, Longhorn Council, TX)

Your older son’s BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK describes how to earn merit badges on page 187. All your son needs to do is read up on some merit badges he thinks he’d like to earn next, and then go talk with his Scoutmaster about them, getting the name of one or more registered MB Counselors. As for “Merit Badge Colleges,” these aren’t mandatory or even necessary; however, if your son does attend these, it’s not required that they be in his own council, so long as the counselors there are duly registered in their own council.

Hello to Ask Andy,

Our Troop just held elections and my son was elected Den Chief. Just what is a Den Chief? I know that he goes to Cub Scout meetings, but what would he have to do? Is there a web site that would explain more on this position? (Mark Miller, Troop 192, Buffalo Trace Council, Tell City, IN)

Your son’s situation seems a bit out of the ordinary. Den Chiefs aren’t elected; they’re appointed! A Boy Scout who has an interest in maybe being a DC asks his Scoutmaster, who puts him in touch with a Cub Scout Pack and the boy then visits with a Den Leader (an adult who is in charge of a Den of Cub Scouts), learns what’s expected of him, and decides whether he has the time and interest in doing this. In other words, it’s the Boy Scout’s decision, and he has the right to do it or not, depending on his time and interests (and “transportation”!). If he decides to go ahead, he can get a copy of the DEN CHIEF HANDBOOK, which describes pretty much everything.

Dear Andy,

Big, big fan! Love your columns! This is a quick follow-up question to an earlier question about the leaders’ square knot recognitions. Is my reading of the Tiger Cub Den Leader knot correct? We have three Tiger Cub dens; each den has two Den Leaders. There’s no place on the application or anywhere for an Assistant Tiger Cub Den Leader—In fact, the position doesn’t seem to exist: the only Assistant Den Leader patches sold by the BSA and marked on the application form are the Cub Scout and Webelos Assistants. For those ranks, I can understand that ADLs and AWDLs can’t earn the DL award, and are better off being recognized with the Cub Scouter award. But I see nothing wrong with two leaders being awarded the Tiger Cub DL knot, even if they were both from the same den, so long as they were registered that way and they honestly fulfilled the requirements. (Even a glance at the requirements seems to back this common-sense application, as it doesn’t require “meeting with your ADL,” as the other knots do.) Your thoughts? (Barry Rozas, CM, Evangeline Area Council, LA)

Square knots that recognize the contributions of Scouting leaders are just that… they’re not the Medal of Honor, or a Doctoral degree, or a Nobel Prize, Oscar, Emmy, or Purple Heart (well, maybe the are like a Purple Heart!). If you’ve got two folks who are equally handling Tiger Cub den leadership, and they’re honestly fulfilling all requirements, as you state, my own call would be go ahead and get them recognized for this! Now some folks might disagree with this philosophy (read my column on “fruit salad”) but it seems to me that a little piece of embroidered cloth is a small price to pay for the hours upon hours of devoted service to the youth of our nation, who are our nation’s future, that folks like these are willing to give!

Dear Andy,

I have a Cub Scout who is in the 4th grade but will turn 11 in March 2007. I know that boy who turns 11 should be moved to Boy Scouts; however, he hasn’t finished all the requirements for the Webelos badge. Is it possible to hold him for another year to keep him with his friends and help him to earn the Webelos badge and the Arrow of Light? This boy isn’t my son; he’s my nephew. He and my own son are in the same class at school, and he’s just recently joined our pack and den. I’d really like for both of them to motivate one other to stay on tasks to earn their badges. (Joyce Couch, North Florida Council, FL)

Yes, a boy is eligible to become a Boy Scout when he turns age 11. Or completes the fifth grade. Or earns the Arrow of Light. Any one of these makes him eligible. But this doesn’t mean he must. The real question is: Is he ready? Is he ready emotionally and physically? Is he ready to leave his den—a group of peers he shares the same school grade (and maybe even classroom) with, and may have been in the same den with since he was seven or eight? Or, would he rather stick with his friends for another year, so they can all transition into a Boy Scout troop together, and remain as a cohesive patrol in that troop? These are the sorts of considerations that only he, with his parents’ wise counsel, can evaluate. Let him be the decider. That’s what Scouting’s all about! This sort of decision really has to be your nephew’s decision, and his alone. Your motivations are honorable for your own son, and I think you have concern for your nephew as well. But we can’t either push or hold back a boy for reasons of our own, no matter how well-intentioned.

Dear Andy,

We just went on a day trip to an open space area to teach the younger boys scout skills and to take a five-mile hike. Can adult leaders take other children, who aren’t Scouts, on an outing along with Boy Scouts? One leader, for instance, brought along his five-year-old daughter. Another leader brought along an 11 year old boy who’s interested in joining the troop. While I was very uncomfortable with the little girl, I was OK with the boy because of his interest in and eligibility for joining the troop. I did call our Council, and they told me that, on a day-trip, it’s acceptable, but not recommended, as long as that leader (who is the parent) takes total responsibility for that child and doesn’t ask any other adult or Scout to look after the child, but that it’s not acceptable if the outing’s an overnight, although there are no formal policies in this arena; just recommendations. (Jan DeBona, Troop Advancement Chair)

Boy Scouting is an opportunity for boys to share adventures with their peers. It’s sorta difficult to experience this when someone’s “little sister” is tagging along! Now another boy—a guest of the troop—who’s the same age as the Scouts (and maybe will join as a result of the experience!) is a wonderful recruiting idea! But a “little sister”? Not hardly! Baaad idea! (This isn’t about “policy;” It’s about understanding what Boy Scouting’s supposed to be about!)

Dear Andy,

Our district’s Scouts (and Scoutmasters, too) complain about our Camporees always being “the same old thing.” Do you have any suggestions on where we could get information on ideas we could use to jazz up our Camporees? (Gene Henderson, Westark District, Buckeye Council, OH)

Let’s start out with what “the same old thing” means. The ideal Camporee is the ultimate annual patrol competition, with patrols from across the district or council coming to compete, much like Olympic teams.

Here’s a quick overview…

The competitive events, in my experience, are best run when run by Scouts—often the OA lodge or district chapter—wearing their sashes, which identify them (it’s an aspiration thing) both as OA brothers but also as event and Camporee staffers. There are a few adults, but, like a good troop, they’re in the background; not “out front.” Patrols hone their skills (those learned at the Tenderfoot, Second, and First Class levels), and come to win.

Full uniforms are worn throughout, except for the patrol competitions, when uniform dress shirts (only) may be exchanged for patrol (or troop) tee-shirts or something akin to this. (Uniforming is graded, too.)

Each patrol hikes in together (usually a short ways) with everything they’ll need on their backs except for maybe food and tents, which patrol parents are allowed to drive in, and sometimes there’s a separate hike-in for patrols competing at the “high adventure” level with literally everything on their backs. The hike in is a competition, too, and each patrol is checked for individual “10 essentials,” first aid kit, identical uniforming, map to their site, etc. All meals have invited guests, who evaluate each patrol based on presence of duty roster, how the tents are pitched, the teamwork involved in the cooking, the quality of the meal, saying grace, and so on. This all happens Friday later afternoon to early evening. Then, there’s a welcoming campfire put on entirely by the youth staffers. On Saturday, “let the games begin.” There are first aid (usually a pre-staged “situation”), map-and-compass, nature (flora and fauna identification, or something like this), “get the message through,” and on and on… Each patrol has a “score card,” and if any controversies between patrols and the “judges” (the Arrowmen) occur, there’s an adult ombudsman to assist in resolving the issues. In the afternoon there are some strictly-for-fun events, and in late afternoon each patrol turns in their patrol flag for a “best flag” judging (announced later, at the evening campfire).

The Saturday night campfire is, again, Scout-run, but this time it’s time for the patrols to show their stuff, with songs, skits, talent, etc. These are all pre-arranged (and pre-screened for content) by the youth staff (with an adult present as an adviser, if needed). The patrol flag competition winners are announced, along with some “fun” awards—best meal overall, best dressed, best patrol spirit, and so on.

Sunday morning, right after breakfast and “Scouts Own,” the winning patrols for the year are announced and prizes awarded (importantly, including ribbons for their patrol flag staffs), and the Camporee comes to a close with a brief ceremony celebrating this year and anticipating next year.

Ideally, this isn’t done somewhere out in the woods, but in a town park or other highly visible venue, so that passers by (and the media—which are invited in advance) get to see SCOUTS IN ACTION.

Dear Andy,

One of my sons received a certificate last year as recognition of Tiger Cub rank from the State of Michigan. But his name was spelled incorrectly on it and his mother would like a correct one. Our Cubmaster as well as our council office say they can’t get a new one made because its from the State and not the Scouts, even though it was presented at the graduation pack meeting. Who do I talk with about getting this corrected? (Don Pilon, DL, Pack 3309, Lake Huron Area Council, MI)

Sounds like Mom needs to contact whomever it’s from or whatever state agency printed it! (Not the Council’s job, by the way, or the Pack’s or even the Cubmaster’s, since it didn’t come from any of them! Not your job, either, unless you want it to be.)

Dear Andy,

My son took “fast-track” Den Chief training run by one of the ASMs in his troop and was told on completion that he could immediately begin to serve as a Den Chief. Two months later, while serving actively as a DC, he took his formal DC training at our council’s “Scout University.” Now, his Scoutmaster is telling him that his first two months don’t count, so he can’t advance in rank for another two months. Can you tell me if this is correct or not? I should add that my son took his new leadership position quite seriously: He was prepared for every meeting, he attended all den meetings, all pack meetings and outings, and even a pack camping trip. (Kathie)

There are three people who should be justifiably furious with that little tin god of a Scoutmaster: You, your son, and that ASM who provided the training in the first place! In fact, I’m wondering why that ASM is allowing himself to be repudiated. What happened to his spine? Does he need a transplant? Another puzzlement: Where’s the Troop Advancement Chair in all of this? And where’s the Den Leader? Why hasn’t she or he stood up to this miserable little Scoutmaster and demanded that this Scout be recognized for his work?

If these registered leaders don’t have the chutzpah to do what’s right, there are two people you can go to: The District Commissioner (a volunteer Scouter with solid experience) and/or the council’s Scout Executive (the highest-ranking paid employee of the council, and effectively its Chief Operating Officer). Tell them exactly what you’ve told me. If you’re feeling a little shy about doing that, try this first: Tell the Scoutmaster, “My son and I will back off on what you’re trying to pull here, on one condition: YOU show ME, in writing, where the BSA says that a Scout’s leadership position “clock” doesn’t start ticking until he’s received formal, council-level training for that position. If you can’t do that, then give my son what he’s earned. Period.” If he can’t prove his point-of-view, and still refuses to have those two months count, then make that appointment and head straight up the food chain.

A Scout begins his “term of office” in a leadership position on the day he’s elected or appointed to the job. Period. Sometimes, Scouts start their leadership positions with no training at all, and pick it up along the way—Being trained is NOT a requirement for holding any leadership position and it’s certainly not a prerequisite for “tenure” (as in, for rank advancement).

Dear Andy,

I’ve kept my oldest son’s Scout uniform for the past 20 years (he’s now 28) and I have it displayed in a shadow box in our game room. I recently found two pins that he’d received—I think they’re year pins. They’re small with a yellow background and a star in the center. One as a “1” and the other a “2” on it. I don’t know where to place them on his uniform. Can you help me with that? Thank you. (Still a proud mom, Tammi Betz, Sam Houston Area Council, Houston, TX)

Wow! Super Mom! Yes, those are your son’s Cub Scout “year pins” and they go above the left pocket by just about a 1/4 inch, centered.

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)

(January 2007 – Copyright © 2007 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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