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Issue 103 – Mid-May 2007

If you’re reading this column right now and you’re in Arkansas or Montana or North Dakota or Wyoming, please stop and email me right now to tell me this! Y’see, I’ve received letters from folks in 257 councils across the country, covering all states but those four. I’m betting there are some readers in these four states, too, that I just haven’t heard from. So, think of this as a “roundup” and if you’re in one of these four, just drop me a quick message letting me know. THANKS!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster with a problem I could use some help with… I have an Eagle candidate who is simply unable to provide meaningful answers to conventional questions associated with the Eagle rank (leadership experiences, family, Scout Oath & Law, and so on). This is a Scout who has always been shy, but is reasonably sociable and does fairly well in school. I’ve known him for about five years now. During our initial Scoutmaster’s Conference it became apparent that the process would be a problem (“like pulling teeth” is a fair analogy). Even after re-phrasing and simplifying questions several ways, I didn’t get much in return. He was not particularly nervous, but he just couldn’t “get it out.” My thought was that he might just need more time to think, or he might be better at writing than speaking, so I gave him a list of clear, specific written questions to consider and respond to over a period of a few days. The result of this wasn’t much better than the first. But he’s otherwise completed all rank requirements including leadership tenure and his leadership project. I have the understanding that if a Scout does the work for the rank, he’s earned it. If that’s correct, do I sign off on his Eagle rank application and recommend him scout for an Eagle board of review, knowing his interview with the board will probably be very difficult? (Dave, Scoutmaster, Orange County Council, CA)

This young man (I have to tell you that I’m VERY curious as to his age—I’m going to guess around 16) has already had five conferences with you, and five boards of review. By now, he should fully understand the significance of both, and at the same time you and the troop committee have each had five opportunities to let him know in no uncertain terms what’s expected of him.

If he’s not completed his Scoutmaster Conference successfully, then he hasn’t met all of the requirements for Eagle rank, because the Scoutmaster Conference is the final requirement, and must be completed as a requirement in order for you to recommend this young man for his Eagle board of review. If he’s falling short of your expectations, then he needs to be told this in crystal clear language, and he must be told exactly what is expected of him, and he must be given a time-line for preparing himself. This will be repeated as many times as are needed in order for him to muster the necessary energy, articulateness, and attention to his “audience,” and begin comporting himself as if he were an Eagle Scout.

You, as his Scoutmaster, have an obligation to every single Eagle Scout who has ever gone before to make certain that this young man is in every way a true Eagle Scout, and ready for his board of review. In other words, this is not “lip service” by any stretch of the imagination, and you absolutely cannot “rubber stamp” his rank application!

If he is around the age I’m guessing he is, then he is, by nature, recalcitrant and borderline inarticulate. He’s at a stage in his young life where he’ll do everything possible to be a “minimalist”—He will give adults like yourself, his teachers, his parents, and all others the least possible effort and response, and if he can get away with that, he’s a happy camper. So, what he probably needs more than anything else is a KITA, a “wake-up call,” a “come to Jesus” talk, a “Dutch uncle,” or whatever you want to call it—He must break out of that stupor or torpor he’s in and start acting like an Eagle Scout or… He won’t be one!

He also needs to be told with utmost candor that if he goes before the board in his present attitudinal state, and that board is not unanimously positive, his Eagle medal will go flying right out the window.

It is not your job, or the board’s job, to “pull teeth” to get an intelligent word out of him. If you ask him what “Duty to God and Country” means and you get the classic, “I dunno,” you MUST sound the gong and tell him, flat out, NOT GOOD ENOUGH—That may work somewhere else, but IT DOESN’T WORK HERE. If you can’t speak up about a subject like that, I can’t consider you Eagle material, so make up your mind what you want to do, right now: You can either try again, or this meeting’s over till you come to me with the intention of acting like the Eagle Scout you want to be. And then stop talking. What happens next is up to him. If he chooses to not start articulating, end the conference right then and there. But let him know that your door’s always open, anytime he changes his mind and wants to do what he already knows he needs to do.

Dear Andy,

My son, a Scout, is a 5th grader and is receiving the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. Does the BSA recognize this award? (Jim Weston, Troop 17, Burlington, NC)

The Presidential Physical Fitness Award program is school-administered and not a part of the BSA. He might, however, be interested in earning the BSA Physical Fitness Award. Learn about this at

Hello Andy,

I’m looking for a web site or other source for BSA “medal” trails and/or hikes. (I completed two as a Girl Scout myself: Jockey Hollow in Morris County, NJ, and Washington’s Crossing in Buck’s County, PA.) I’m trying to locate new trails for the Scouts I now assist with, along with a photo history or log of the medals. (Donna Donaldson, GSUSA)

It’s great to have a Girl Scout leader read and write to me! Thanks! Hey, I just Googled “scout” and “medal” and “hikes” and a whole bunch of stuff came up! Try it! I’ll bet you’ll find something in your area. If not, then try going to the BSA web site ( and track down some councils around where you live, get their phone numbers, and give ‘em a call! I’ll bet if they have any such trails they’ll be happy to help you out!

Dear Andy,

My Venture Scouts are working on their Gold Awards. One requirement says, ”The candidate must have participated in a district/Venturing division, council, area, region, or national event.” Does this mean that the event needs to be a Venturing-specific event, or any district/ division/ council/ area/ region/ national event? Right now, I have two Venturers who are in holding patterns on this. When I read it the first time, I interpreted it to mean that it needed to be a Venturing-specific event, but, when they read it, they interpreted it to be simply an event above that of a regular crew. (Jason Capone, Associate Advisor-Awards & Programs, Crew 1928, Minsi Trails Council, PA)

The BSA is excellent at precise wording of advancement requirements. Consequently, had they meant for the required event to be Venturing-specific, I’m certain that that language would be in there! Therefore, the conclusion I draw is that it is not required that the event be Venturing-specific. The intent, as I read this requirement, is that they participate in an event beyond the Crew or Venture Patrol level.

Dear Andy,

We have everything in place to start a new troop. But being in a small town is much different from being in a large town where you have many options for Chartered Organizations—churches, PTAs, businesses, parents, and so on. A new bank is moving into town and they’re willing to sponsor our new troop, because their president wants to become involved in the community. However, our council’s Scout Executive doesn’t prefer a business to sponsor Scouting units. Now, I’ve learned that the BSA national council says it’s OK for any business to charter a troop, but he says that there are “always problems” with a business chartering a troop. Of course we do have churches in town, and the Baptist church has been very welcoming for our Cub Scout pack to meet at their building, but I’m really trying to get a neutral party because the churches all compete for people, youth, etc. Are there really more problems with a business chartering, as opposed to a church? What about a parent group? (Laura Hendrix, South Plains Council, TX)

If the Baptist Church in town already sponsors your Cub Scout pack, I’ll bet they’d love to sponsor a Boy Scout troop, too, and they already have the motivation, the interest, and the facilities! So what’s the problem here? Seems like a no-brainer to me! This isn’t because I’m in any way against the business-as-sponsor idea. I’m just wondering why not take a straight and level path instead of the steep and rock-strewn one? Besides, when you have both a pack and a troop with the same sponsor, the odds favor the pack becoming the “feeder” right into the troop every February!

Hi Andy,

In official requirements for an Eagle board of review, it states that no adult Scout leader can be on an Eagle board of review; that he/she must be 21 years old, cannot be a parent or guardian, etc. Ok that’s fine by me, except, in our Troop, all of our parents are registered committee members. First question: Is this a leadership position?

Also, we have some adult committee members who hold other adult leadership positions in the troop and are officially trained, while other committee members don’t have other leadership positions and aren’t trained (their only function is to attend meetings). So, second question: Can those committee members who aren’t leaders in other capacities sit on an Eagle board of review?

I’m asking because the BSA says that an Eagle board of review member must be aware of and understand the entire Eagle journey, and I don’t know how non-Scouting adults can give appropriate input at an Eagle board of review. Even if they know the Scout, they don’t know Scouting.

As advancement chair, it seems to me that one would want or need an adult over 21 who is familiar with Scouting and who has either helped or observed the Scout demonstrate leadership to be on his Eagle board of review. But if our adults know the Scout because they’re committee members, but they can’t sit on an Eagle board, then who can? (Nick Grimley, Minneapolis, MN)

You have a few errors of fact that need to be straightened out first…

Here’s the BSA policy: “The board of review for an Eagle candidate is composed of a minimum of three members and a maximum of six members, 21 years of age or older. These members do not have to be registered in Scouting, but they must have an understanding of the importance and purpose of the Eagle board of review. At least one district or council advancement representative shall be a member of the Eagle board of review… (boldface by BSA)”

It is also a BSA policy that, while a unit leader (e.g., Scoutmaster or ASM) may be present at any board of review, including Eagle, he or she is not a member of the board and has no vote in the board’s decision.

Further, it is a BSA policy that no parent or guardian may be a member of any board of review for his or her own son.

Finally, it is also a BSA policy that, except for the COR position, no adult is to hold more than one registered position within a Scouting unit (that would be the troop, in your situation).

(Note that “training” is not included in any of these policies.)

Assuming that we’re now on the same page:

– Yes, troop committee members may sit on Eagle boards of review, just as they must comprise the boards of review for all other Boy Scout ranks.

– You’re making a hugely incorrect assumption with regard to members of an Eagle board of review who are not registered BSA volunteers. The BSA policy states that such a person, whether ever having been a Scout or Scouter, need only have “…an understanding of the importance and purpose of the Eagle board of review.” For instance, the head of your CO would be an highly appropriate Eagle board member, as would your town’s mayor, police chief, school superintendent, and so on. And who’s to say these types of people weren’t Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts themselves or even Eagle Scouts or Gold Award Girl Scouts, or weren’t BSA volunteers at some time in the past. And, even if they weren’t, that certainly doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be invited to participate, at which time an “understanding of the importance and purpose of the Eagle board of review” can be given them.

Nick writes again…

Hi Andy,

In the official policies and procedures for Eagle rank from NESA it states that the Scout must use BSA Publication No. 18-927D to record his Eagle Project work. Also on the site there’s a link to download the workbook in “word,” “rtf” and “pdf” format. Now, the pdf format can be typed in, but not saved. Why is that? (The Word format can be saved.)

A typed format is far easier and a lot neater and easier to read than handwritten, in many cases. Our district advancement chair doesn’t allow Scouts to use any downloaded version of the workbook, citing the ability of the Scout to change something after it’s been approved (if cheating is or might be an issue, then requiring a signature on each page would solve that).


A recent Eagle candidate downloaded and typed his project out in the workbook. When it was presented to the district advancement chair, he told the Scout was to physically cut and glue his typed report into a pre-printed No. 18-927D workbook. This, to me, is ridiculous. If it’s an official document on the NESA web site, a Scout should be able to use it. In this case, technology has hindered Scout advancement!

I also have a question about Eagle Scout reference letters. As troop advancement chair, I’ve received all required reference letters for an Eagle candidate, except for an employer reference letter. The Eagle candidate is not currently employed. The Eagle application states, in regard to reference letters: “Employer (if any).” Now, the same district advancement chair is insisting on an employer reference letter. Why?

More, I recently downloaded some sample reference letters from the official BSA website. Some have “Yes-No” answers to questions asked of the referrer. Once again, the district advancement chair will only allow written statements by the referrer; not downloaded formats of reference letters.


I find this all very frustrating. I’ve talked with him about this stuff but have got nowhere. He doesn’t seem to be following BSA policies and procedures, and he doesn’t seem to be interested in changing. (Nick Grimley)


I’m going to try taking your questions one by one…
Some folks use Adobe to create and/or edit documents, thus the pdf file. Others use MS Word, and so that format is there for these folks. Simple as that.
Your district advancement chair is pretty stupid and certainly not Scouting-minded. To insist on a cut-and-paste approach when direct entry is available to the most techno-savvy generation we’ve had yet is philistine at best. To use the horrible assumption that some Scout will “cheat” is about as un-Scoutlike as it gets, and besides, who’s to say cut-and-paste can’t be pasted over, which makes this whole argument silly.
I absolutely agree that what your DAC is demanding is pedantic, antiquated and even possibly mean-spirited, and I’d definitely bring this to the attention of the council advancement chair for correction.


“Technology” isn’t hampering Scout advancement; a Luddite is.
Who says “letters” are required references for an Eagle Scout candidate? That’s not on the rank application, nor is it anywhere else as some sort of policy. A Scout’s references can be contacted by phone, email, or even in person. Although letters are a usual way, they’re certainly not the only way.
The Eagle rank application says nothing about “current” employer; it simply says “employer.” So, if an Eagle candidate has been employed at some time in the past (yes, mowing a neighbor’s lawn for pay counts), then this would certainly be appropriate to include.
But, with regard to the above, and beyond this, it’s time to read the flippin’ rank application. There is absolutely nothing that says every one of those lines must be filled in, or even that every one of the references listed must respond!
As to why your district’s advancement chair is demanding an employer letter, my guess is the same as I’ve already stated: He’s a pedantic jerk.
For Eagle candidate letters of reference, my personal position is that “yes/no” and other “report card” formats are anathema to the Scouting way and spirit. Personal letters, written in whatever style or manner the author chooses are far more revealing than checking off some stupid boxes. What are you going do with those—Give the kid a bloody grade?
Here are two model letters—one a reference request and the other for scheduling the candidate for his Eagle board of review—for your use, if you care to:




(See Eagle Req. 2 – From Advancement Chair to All Persons Listed)


Dear (Recommender):
(Scout’s Full Name) is applying for the rank of EAGLE SCOUT – the highest rank a Boy Scout can earn. (Scout’s First Name) has been working toward the rank of Eagle since he first became a Boy Scout and, if he is successful in his quest, he will have earned a nationally recognized achievement that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. To accomplish this, he has already completed an extensive set of requirements that demonstrate his mastery of specific skills, accomplishing of significant service to his community, and leadership of others.


Very soon, he will be called before an Eagle Scout Board of Review – a group of citizens representing his community, his Scout Troop, and the Patriots’ Path Council of the Boy Scouts of America. In this review, we will be speaking with him about what he has accomplished, and where he sees his life goals leading him in the future.


An important part of this Review will be to understand how well he has lived his daily life by the principles of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. The Scout Oath states: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight;” and the Scout Law states: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”


(Scout’s First Name) has submitted your name to me as a person he knows personally and would be able to comment – from your own unique perspective – on how well you believe he has lived up to the Oath and Law in his daily life. Consequently, I am asking you to write a letter on his behalf, offering your perspective on these important matters. This letter can be as long or as short, and as candid, as you choose. I will ask you to send this letter to me using the stamped, pre-addressed envelope I’ve enclosed. Your letter will be treated in total confidence and will be seen only by the members of the Board of Review and not ever by either this Scout or any relative of his.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns. Otherwise, please accept my thanks in advance for your cooperation and helpfulness to this Boy Scout.

Yours in Scouting,

(Your Name), Troop XXX Advancement Chair


(Final Step – From Advancement Chair to Candidate)

Dear (Scout’s First Name),

You have completed all requirements for the Rank of Eagle Scout, and we have received certification from the Patriots’ Path Council-BSA that, according to the council records, all information provided on your Eagle Scout Rank Application is correct. Now it is time for the very final step – Your Board of Review.

Please be prepared to present yourself before your Eagle Scout Board of Review at (Time) on (Day), (Date), at the (Location). Please bring your Handbook, and please wear your full, complete and correct uniform (refer to page 12 of your Handbook, or call me, if you have any questions about this).

We are looking forward to meeting you, and to a most enjoyable conversation about your Scouting experiences.

Yours in Scouting,

(Your Name), Troop XXX Advancement Chair

Dear Andy,

I read your comment on how elections SHOULD BE popularity contests and I question whether you have considered all the consequences.

We have at least two very strong cliques of boys in our troop, who openly exclude or quietly demean other troop members. These cliques include some of the more popular kids. We also have several Scouts who aren’t part of these cliques who are excellent Scouts. These not-so-popular Scouts attend all meetings, participate in most outings, are hard workers, are liked by the adults, nice, polite, respectful, honest and physically able young men. They may be a little different (One is very intelligent but on the quiet side; another has a language disability that makes it hard for him to communicate; yet another is dyslexic). These unpopular Scouts are routinely excluded by their peers; sometimes they’re told outright to get lost or verbally assaulted. As they get older, some kids are learning how to use these unpopular Scouts to do the work, while they, the “popular” leaders, take the credit. The leadership opportunities available to these unpopular kids are limited to positions not wanted by the others, yet these kids are still working hard and trying to be involved and be accepted. Meanwhile, the good opportunities routinely go to the popular kids who may or may not be putting in the effort. As with any troop, we do have some slackers, but they’re evenly distributed across the popular group and the Scouts who are excluded. The opportunities don’t seem to be based on desire, work effort, respect for others or getting the job done—only popularity. I’ve had multiple parents observe this behavior and lament for the excluded boys, but no one seems willing to take a stand on it. I’ve spoken to the parents of a couple of the “popular” scouts about this and their response is that “Scouting is about friends and the friends want to be together,” but “being together” means they get to exclude those they don’t want around. I’ve spoken with our Scoutmaster, too, and his response is that “these things usually work themselves out.” In other words, he won’t do anything. Meanwhile some half-dozen years have gone by and nothings “worked itself out.” At least two ASMs have made it a point to talk to the Scouts who are doing this, but they turn around and deny that they have a problem and attribute any discord to those who aren’t popular. The only way it will work out for the unpopular Scouts in this situation is for them to leave the troop. I find it appalling that this sort of behavior is being condoned or met with silence; but, one lone voice in a large troop goes nowhere. Looking at the Scout Law, I find it hard to believe that popularity and cliques trump helping others and respect.

Although I believe the Boy Scout program is great in theory, and have seen it work well in the past, in this situation the program is being used to the advantage of small groups and I believe the adults are being used to support an unhealthy environment.

Maybe you have a suggestion on how a Scoutmaster, ASM or committee person should handle a situation such as this, without singling out boys and without dictating leadership positions? How should parents of the Scouts who are excluded address the issues? I’d love to hear any ideas. (Name Withheld)

First, let’s get our language in order: Boys don’t have “cliques;” they have “gangs.” No, I don’t mean “Crips” or “Bloods” or “Sharks” or “Jets” (the latter two borrowed from “West Side Story”). But fundamental to Scouting—Baden-Powell spotted it and put it to good use a hundred years ago—is the method of keeping boys in small groups (we call them “patrols”) because this is where boys thrive, interact, and ultimately learn how to become men.

These boy-gangs we call patrols work out best when the Scouts themselves arrange themselves into their own groups; they function less well when we well-meaning adults “assign” Scouts to various patrols, as if we’re filling up a bunch of stew-pots.

Some boys can definitely be mean and bullying, if permitted to, and this is why a laissez faire approach by the Scoutmaster and his ASMs usually doesn’t work very well (read: Not at all!). Certainly, “boys will be boys,” but that’s not the objective of the Scouting program. “Boys, under our guidance and role-modeling, will become happy, productive, responsible citizens” is the job we have to do.

Baden-Powell put it this way: The job of the Scoutmaster is to find the good in every boy, and bring it out in him. No one’s ever said it better. Which brings me to the next point… It’s all about the Scoutmaster.

If, as you say, there are factions within the troop and certain of these contain individual troublemakers, it is up to the Scoutmaster to counsel these boys on what the Scout Oath and Scout Law mean and, even more important, what it means in rank advancement when the requirements state that a Scout is to “live the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life.” You see, if in the Scoutmaster’s judgment, based on his observations, a Scout has not been doing this, the Scoutmaster has an obligation to advise that Scout that rank advancement will not be forthcoming until he sees some positive changes in attitude and behavior.

The cold fact is that these so-called “popular” Scouts aren’t really popular, they may be bullies and grabbers, though, and they sure seem to be in love with smelling their own exhaust. It’s high time somebody stepped in and set them straight. Remember: Elected or appointed, all youth leadership positions require approval of the Scoutmaster. If he’s been allowing these Scouts the “easy path” then somebody may need to apply the boot to his butt before he’ll get the notion that he has a real job to step up to. If he’s not willing to do his job, it’s time for him to start packing.

B-P put it this way:”Any adult who can’t make his point to a keen boy in under ten minutes should be shot.” He sure got that right!

The Scoutmaster also needs to counsel the Scouts who are being put-upon, giving them the support and the tools they need to deal with their taunters. This, likewise, is his job. In fact, it’s one of his most important jobs!

The Scoutmaster’s role is not that of sergeant-like disciplinarian, or teacher-cum-headmaster, or parent, or pastor—it’s that of being a “big brother” to all Scouts in his troop. Big brothers don’t let their kid brothers get beat up, and they sure don’t stand for their kid brothers beating up on some other kid! The Scoutmaster does this by talking, drawing out each boy, and pointing the way to becoming a decent human being.

So, what to do… Start by assembling enough parents of like minds, enlisting the aid of members of the troop committee, and have a heart-to-heart with this under-performing Scoutmaster and tell him what needs to happen for this troop to be a success for all its Scouts. If he shuffles his feet on this, replace him, immediately. When you do this, don’t walk small around the central issue. This is NOT about the Scouts, who are, in fact, behaving normally. This is about the Scoutmaster, who is NOT behaving like a Scoutmaster should.

Finally, when it comes to elections, a brief admonition can be given the Scouts, like this:

”When you vote for our next Senior Patrol Leader, think carefully about who you want to lead this troop. Do you want someone who picks on you or other Scouts, or do you want someone who will help any Scout in the troop? Do you want a slacker, who disappears when there’s work to be done, or someone who is the first to roll up his sleeves? Do you want a guy you’d never, ever want to have to share a tent with, or a guy who you’d enjoy having as a tent-mate? Do you want a guy who, if you were in trouble in the water, would laugh at you, or someone who you believe would jump in and help you? THESE are the ways you choose a Senior Patrol Leader!”

Unnamed writes again…

Dear Andy,

I think our Scoutmaster is extremely well intentioned. But there’s a lot of ignorance about how to handle situations like dealing with kids from different schools, dealing with disabled kids, or kids who walk to a different beat, especially when the cliques who are excluding them contain boys who are generally seen as “nice” kids. Although I believe that our Scoutmaster can have some influence, I also believe that it’s limited if Scouting parents (including ASM’s and Committee members) aren’t on the same page. Currently, many of them truly believe that Scouting is about being only with their friends; not about expanding their group of friends or being a “big brother” to all members of the troop. My hope is that there would be a strong statement about the intent of the BSA program as well as some pointers and/or positive suggestions that our Scoutmaster and other adult leaders could use to work towards a solution. I’m one of those optimist that feel if people are made aware of a problem and a strategy can be defined or outlined, well-meaning intelligent people will jump on board. It’s the awareness-and-thinking part of coming up with the solution that appears to stump people.

I think your clarification hit the mark as a strong statement of what the Scouts are about. We also definitely need strategies and/or activities requiring troop leadership (both boys and adults) to actively think about this and understand that it’s part of their responsibility as leaders—both youth and adult—to support this. I believe that there are many adults and Scouts (not just in our troop) who translate the concept of “patrols work out best when the Scouts themselves arrange themselves into their own groups” to mean that within Scouting activities boys don’t need to work with or include anyone who is not their immediate friend. When they divide themselves, they’ll be in one patrol or group together, and everyone who isn’t one of their friends will always be in another.

Bullying is hard to spot when it’s exclusion, because all that’s seen on the surface is that kids are playing with their friends. Unfortunately, anyone not within one of the groups of friends is perceived to be the person with the problem.

If you have a large troop, I don’t believe the Scoutmaster can go this alone—he’d need the support of the ASMs, and committee members. I believe he might be able to get that, with the right strategies and your strong statement. Right now, the literal interpretation of the “patrol method” is used as justification to support exclusionary activities, and I don’t believe that was Baden-Powells intention. I think your response clearly states the meaning of the patrol method, and will go a long way.

Thanks for writing again. Here are some points that seem to need further emphasis…

Scouting in America is INCLUSIVE; not exclusive. Handicapped, ADHD, MD, epileptics, learning disabled or challenged, and on and on, are welcome through Scouting’s doorway. THIS is where they find unconditional acceptance! Anything less than this is flat-out WRONG.


When boys are given the opportunity to form their own groups, and all become members of their own groups—which we call patrols—NO ONE IS EXCLUDED because each is a member of his own patrol.

Scoutmasters need to have the backbone necessary to get every one of his ASMs on the same page as he is, and if they won’t or can’t do this, he replaces them without hesitation or delay. There cannot and must not be factions among the uniformed leaders.

As for committee members and parents in general, in a properly run troop they have no role that places them in contact with the Scouts during troop meetings or outings.

It sounds like it’s time for a whole bunch of folks to get some decent training.

Hi Andy,

Our troop has a long-standing policy that bans radios, CD players, and videogames on campouts. Some old Scouters and committee members say that I should now forbid MP3 players and cell phones too. I agreed to add MP3 players to the list, but I disagree with banning cell phones. My reasoning is that Scouts could carry their phones for emergencies, and have limited use between 10 pm and 11 pm (when “lights out” is at 11). I’ve explained that middle and high school boys have cell phones at school, so if they had them in an emergency, or if they’re lost in the wilderness, etc., it could be a good tool to have. The others, however, claim that the phone can be lost or damaged, and my response to this is that it’s the boy’s responsibility. As a parent, I require my son (14 and a Life Scout) to always have his phone with him. Our committee is going to discuss this further and I’d like to know what are the best practices or current recommendations. (Jose Lepervanche),

I agree that, when camping and hiking, Scouts need to leave their iPods, MP3 players, GameBoys, radios, CD players, etc. at home, simply because (a) they’re not useful in a Scouting environment and (b) they’re too susceptible to damage in the kind of rugged (and wet!) outdoor environment that Scouting offers.

I’ve also heard all the arguments advocating cell phones for Scouts on campouts, for supposed “emergencies” and such, and to me they’re all malarkey.

As a diligent and intelligent Scoutmaster, in a sensible troop, you would already be doing these things, at the very least, on all campouts:

– Buddy system at all times.

– No Scouts ever go anywhere that’s out of line-of-sight without telling the Scoutmaster (a) where they’re going and (b) when they’ll be returning (and when they return, they “report in”).

These alone obviate the need for cell phones.

Now, you can take this a step farther: In your troop meetings, start teaching basic signaling. Signaling? Right! With whistles (three whistle blasts means “danger” or “help,” etc.), and with mirrors (CDs and DVDs that are no longer useful are excellent signaling mirrors! They even have the “sight-hole” pre-drilled!).

Then, when you go hiking or camping, apply the ground rule that, to go out of sight, at least one of the buddy pair must have a whistle with him, and at least one must have a mirror. No exceptions.

As Scoutmaster, of course you would have a cell phone, plus one as backup, specifically for emergencies (that is, you absolutely cannot be seen “chatting” on a phone yourself—you’ve gotta walk the talk!). But those two are the only phones on the trip. Period.

Since 1910, over one hundred million Scouts have gone hiking, camping, caving, backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, boating, and mountaineering without cell phones. I somehow think your Scouts will survive!

Dear Andy,

How do you properly hoist the American flag in the woods without access to a pole? What knots do you use? What’s the proper flag etiquette? Can the flag touch the tree? Can it be at an angle? How do you hoist it in the woods using a tree? (I can’t find anything by Googling and no one I’ve asked seems to know.) (Terry McGarty, Wolf DL, Pack 28, Westchester Putnam Council, NY)

To bring an American flag along on a camp-out or other outdoor activity is a terrific idea that many Scouting units forget! Good for you, for remembering!

Just throw a light line over a tree limb (tie a small rock to the thrown end, so it has some “carry,” then remove the rock after you’ve recaptured the thrown end), and tie that end to the flag’s top grommet. Tie the other end to the bottom grommet, so that you have a loop, with the flag completing the loop. Hoist the flag in the normal flag-raising manner (standing at attention, with salutes), and then tie the line off around the tree’s trunk or a low branch.

Of course the flag can touch the tree, or another branch, or whatever. It can even touch the ground, briefly, if by accident. None of these incidences means that you have to destroy the flag!

Dear Andy,

I’m an amateur astronomer and current president of an astronomy club. We do frequent outreaches with Scouts, where we bring our telescopes and teach Scouts how to explore the night sky. I’ve been asked to again this year to do this for a local troop, for the Astronomy Merit Badge. They asked me if I was a certified counselor. What is a certified counselor, and what would I need to do to obtain this certification? Thanks. (Jerry Truitt, President, Delmarva Stargazers)

First off, my hat’s off to you for reaching out to youth! And also for finding me! (Yes, you came to the right place!)

They meant to say “registered” Merit Badge Counselor (“MBC”); not “certified.” Each Boy Scout Council (there are some 300 of these councils across the US, each contiguously covering a service area) maintains a list of registered MBCs, who can sign off on Boy Scouts who complete the requirements for merit badges (there are over 100 of these, all on different subjects). To learn what an MBC does, go to…

For a standard MBC application and a BSA Adult Volunteer application, go to and

The specific council you’d want to register in is the…

Del-Mar-VA Council-BSA

801 N. Washington Street

Wilmington, DE 19801-1597

302-622-3300 • 1-800-766-SCOUT (7268)

and their website is here:

Signing up is pretty painless, and for MBCs, there’s no annual registration fee!

Finally, to see all of the requirements for Astronomy merit badge, go here:

Have a blast!

Dear Andy,

One of our Boy Scouts believes in Shamanism, and I’m wondering if there’s an existing Boy Scout Religious Award for this. (Bob Stotter, Chaplain, Troop 662, Shaker Heights, Ohio

The BSA does not administer the religious award programs that are available to Scouts through various religious organizations, but the BSA does accommodate and recognize them. The best resource I’ve found for the wide variety of such programs is an organization called P.R.A.Y.—Programs of Religious Activities with Youth. Check them out at

Dear Andy,

Do all adults need a Class 1 Medical Form, if just going on a camping trip of less than72 hours? (Donna Wiesner)

The BSA says yes. In fact, that’s the specific purpose of the Class 1 Medical Form. For detailed information on the three classes of medical forms, refer to page 49 of the Guide To Safe Scouting.

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for information on how to be a good (great) Scoutmaster. Previously, I was a Den Leader at every level, Assistant Cubmaster, and then Cubmaster. I’ve just trained for Assistant Scoutmaster. It’s the suggestion of our troop’s committee chair that I get a little “time off” while my son has just earned Scout rank and will be moving along to First Class. After that, they’ve asked me to commit to the position of Scoutmaster. So, from now till then, I want to “do my homework.” (Barry Roa, ASM, Troop 615, Mission Viejo CA)

Congratulations on standing up, rolling your sleeves up, becoming a Scouting volunteer, and sticking with it! This is maybe the most rewarding endeavor you can do with your free time, and will pay off in dividends you can’t even begin to imagine! Stay the course!

Here’s your homework…

– Read your son’s Boy Scout Handbook. Read it with his perspective in mind, being sensitive to what this book is promising your son and his friends, about Scouting, so that, when you’re Scoutmaster, you can be sure to deliver what’s been promised.

– Read the Scoutmaster Handbook, which will give you lots of details on the “how” of Boy Scouting, which you’ll want to know.

– For the true “why” of Scouting, read Baden-Powell’s Aids to Scoutmastership (you can download it for free at, for instance, Written in 1919, it’s underlying principles are as true today as then, because although the world has changed, boys haven’t.

– Finally, read my column, “Are We Really That Smart.”

Then, take your “job” as Scoutmaster seriously; never take yourself too seriously.

Dear Andy,

I’ve read numerous letters to you from committee members expressing frustration at not having the ability to approve or disapprove a Scout’s advancement during a board of review. I’d like to point out what I think is one of the most important benefits of boards of review. In my “day job,” I have the privilege of supervising several of the finest U.S. Air Force officers—They’re in positions that require advanced degrees, for which the selection process is highly competitive. Recently, I was talking with two of these fine officers about the process they went through to be selected. One mentioned how nervous she was meeting the various boards that make the selections. The other, an Eagle Scout, said that he didn’t have any problem! He said that after having had positive experiences with his boards of review on the way to Eagle, he was quite comfortable meeting the Air Force boards that selected him for the Air Force Academy and for an advanced degree program. I think that folks who think a board of review is a “meaningless rubber stamp” need to look a little further down the road! (I very much enjoy reading your column. Please keep up the great work.) (Ed Hess, Council Training Chair, Tecumseh Council, OH)

Happy Scouting!


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(Please include your council name and home state)


(Mid-May 2007 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2007)


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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