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Issue 111 – July 22, 2007

Dear Andy,

I recently found out that because I’m a recipient of the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service medal I’m allowed to wear the BSA Community Organization Award square knot (gold on purple) on my Scouter uniform. I asked my local council how to obtain it but they haven’t responded in a month. I’ve also received some conflicting information… I was told to send a letter with my paperwork and money to the BSA Relationship Division, but then someone else said to send it to “ScoutStuf” (www.scoutstuff.org). I’m stationed here in Mosul, Baghdad. (John Green, Green Zone Council, IRAQ)

The probable reason you haven’t heard from your council is that this is handled, as you correctly suspected, by the BSA’s Relations Division in Irving, TX. Here’s how to get the square knot you definitely deserve:

1. Have a copy made of your MOVS certificate; you’ll enclose this with your request letter.

2. Prepare a check, payable to the Boy Scouts of America for $1.50 x the number of square knots you need.

3. Write a brief cover letter describing your request and asking for emblem no. 152316—the Community Organization Award square knot.

4. Prepare (just to be safe) a pre-stamped, self-addressed envelope.

5. Send the whole magilla to:

Boy Scouts of America

Relations Division

P.O. Box 152079

Irving, Texas 75015-2079 USA

Congratulations, John, and best wishes. Be strong and careful and know that millions upon millions of us here at home are rooting for you and your comrades. Come back to us safe. May God bless you all!

Hi Andy,

I just read your June 29th column. Oh my gosh. How can so many people lose sight of the bigger picture? The young man in question is lucky to have a parent who will be his advocate—I can’t say that there are too many young men who would have the temerity to stand up to all these alleged Scout “leaders,” nor should they have to do so. The Scoutmaster’s Handbook has an excellent reminder. I don’t have my book with me, but to paraphrase: “The troop belongs to the Scouts; you’re only the Scoutmaster.” It’s amazing how many folks seem to lose sight of this. Thanks for all you do. (Michael Morris, ASM, Troop 25, Greater St. Louis Area Council, MO)

Yup, there are some real Bozos out there, and since I’ve been writing this column (it’s coming up on six years) more and more of them are coming to light, thanks to Scouts, parents, and other leaders finding me and writing. At times, this is frustrating for me, because I feel like an arrowhead-chipper and I can’t go hunting for these clowns myself.

Thanks for the quote – It’s something even the best among us needs to say aloud from time to time.

Dear Andy,

The mother of a new Scout in my troop has a sort of different slant on how merit badges should be displayed on a sash. I’ve tried to explain to her that her idea doesn’t exactly conform to Boy Scout standards, but she tells me that she read somewhere that this can be done this way. What should I do about this? I’ve tried to draw her idea for you as best I can—It’s actually more like a circle than I could do here. Can you help? (Everybody’s Names Withheld)

 

Well if that doesn’t just beat all. I barely know what to say (ROTFL.). Tell you the truth, I don’t think you should do anything… If that Scout shows up at a court of honor with that on his sash, I think he and his mommy will get the idea pretty quickly that this isn’t the way to go. (Do take a moment to warn your other Scouts as best you can, though, and ask ‘em to take it easy on this poor kid.)

Dear Andy,

My son is currently working on his Eagle Project. We thought it would be easier to complete the project over the summer when the other Scouts were not preoccupied with schoolwork, but it turns out that scheduling has been a problem. My son’s already had three workdays during the week, intentionally inviting only us, his own parents and siblings, because his advisor and other parents can’t attend on weekdays. However, he has had two Saturday workdays too. Although there are ten Scouts and 20 parents in his troop, only two Scouts besides himself, and two parents other us, have shown up at his weekend workdays. He has around 200 actual work hours involved in the project at this point, and the project is nearly complete. However, it will be necessary to have at least one more full workday or several half-workdays to wrap it up. He’ll be leaving for Boy Scout camp in a week, and there won’t be time to schedule another Saturday workday before camp starts. Then, when he returns from camp, we have a week-long family vacation planned. When we return from family vacation, he’ll attend a week-long soccer camp.

So my question is this: Can he schedule a workday and give direction/leadership as to what needs to be accomplished and how to accomplish this, knowing that he’ll not be able to attend the workday himself? In other words, must he be personally present when work is being done on his project? (Mother, Old North State Council, NC)

In Scouts, we don’t “phone in” leadership. Yes, your son definitely needs to be there to direct the work, troubleshoot as needed, and keep everyone on task. This is what leaders do. There are no substitutes. (Your son, by the way, is probably encountering the same scheduling problems that others have faced, too. This isn’t a terrible life lesson, you know.)

One thing obviously lacking in his work plan is confirmation of his volunteers. One can’t merely say, “Show up if you’re in town and not otherwise engaged.” That’s not leadership. Leading is obtaining agreement that his helpers will be there, and this takes phone work; not emailing (emails are the easiest things in the world to dodge.).

On a related topic, does your son know that it’s not required that his helpers be Scouts? They can be neighbors, friends, classmates, or members of his religious youth group, too. But the thing he absolutely needs to put a lid on is parents, including you and his dad. Parents are not the best folks to try to lead (they also open the Pandora’s Box of concern about just who directed the project when his parents were around all the time), so the best service you can give to your son is to back away, evaporate, and disengage from what’s supposed to be his project. The very most you should be doing is perhaps driving him to and then picking him up from the site, but if there are ways he can get there under his own sails (bike, public transportation, walking, etc.) then that’s even better.

I’m very concerned that this is already more his parents’ project than his own. Why do I feel this way? Simple: The letter I’ve just received should have come from him, but came from Mom instead.

Hi Andy,

What should be covered during a Patrol Leaders Council (“PLC”) meeting? In know this sounds kind of simple, but I’m pushing a couple of troops to get back to the basics, and I’d like to know about some things that may be in print. (Al Kramer, ADC, Dan Beard Council, OH)

The two primary sources for information about the Patrol Leaders Council (PLC) are the Scoutmaster Handbook (SMH) and Scoutmaster & Assistant Scoutmaster Basic Training (SM/ASMBT). In the SMH, fully 55 pages (that’s more than 30% of the total pages in the book) contain information on why a PLC, what a PLC does, how a PLC operates, and the Scoutmaster’s role with regard to the PLC. In Session One of the SM/ASMBT, five of the eight modules deal with the PLC, linked from various perspectives: “The Scoutmaster’s Role,” “Troop Organization,” “Troop Meetings,” “Working With Boy Leaders/The Patrol Method,” and “Patrol Leaders Council.” Session Three of this same training course contains another module relating to the PLC: “Program Planning.” Finally, there’s a form called “Troop Meeting Plan” (catalog no. 34425 and also page 25 of the SMH) that includes two activities that involve the PLC. Use all of these as your platform for getting your troops pointed more closely toward True North. Baden-Powell himself stressed that a troop that doesn’t use The Patrol Method (and, by implication, the PLC) just isn’t delivering a Scouting essential — He said, in effect, that no Patrol Method = no Scouting.

Dear Andy,

Our son is a Webelo II Scout and we’re looking forward to his crossing over into a Boy Scout troop next February. Between then and now, we plan to “interview” several troops in our area so that we can choose the best fit for him. Having read your column, it seems that a major problem has to do with troops that ignore, change, or add to BSA policies, including modifying rank advancements—this seems to generate the most frustration and hence the topic of most questions to you. When we speak with the Scoutmaster (I assume he’s the best person to talk to?) how can I probe to see if this sort of thing is going on? If you were in our shoes, what other questions would you ask and how would you go about this?

BTW, I’ve already asked or District Executive and District Commissioner for recommendations of troops, but they aren’t willing to do so, for some reason they don’t explain. They just say to visit a couple of troop meetings and decide for myself (Fat lot of good they were!). (Webelo II Dad)

(BTW, the singular of Webelos is: Webelos. It’s spelled and pronounced the same whether singular or plural.) (I’m very sorry that both your DE and Dc dropped the ball and chose not to be up front with you—They should have not hesitated an instant to give you the contact information for the superior troops in town.)

As a Webelos II Scout, your son will be making no less than three visits with troops: At a troop meeting with his den, at an outdoor event with his den, and then at a troop meeting with the two of you. If there are several troops in your area, your idea of some additional visits is excellent. In fact, you may even want to “double up” with the parent(s) of one of his den friends, along with that friend.

The first think you’ll want to do is to make sure your son’s own uniform is accurate and complete right down to the socks. Then, plan to observe, in addition to asking some questions. Here are some of the things you’ll be looking for…

Attendance: How many are in the troop, and how many actually show up. Do they show up on time, or do they drift in after the meeting’s supposed to have started? Strong attendance is a signal that the troop program is interesting and active.

Program: Does the meeting seem to run according to a plan, or do you get the sense that it’s more like “well, wadda ya think we oughta do next?” Is there a formal opening ceremony? (Google “troop meeting plan” and print a copy. This plan has been used for over 50 years. Does the troop appear to be generally following it?)

Uniforming: The best troops are fully uniformed; not just “shirts only” or less. And don’t forget the Scoutmaster—is he fully uniformed too? Keeping in mind that there’s no such thing as a “troop uniform” I can tell you from practical experience (I’m a working Commissioner) that there’s a strong correlation between good uniforming and fundamental strength in a unit’s program, advancement, etc.

Leadership: Who’s leading the meetings? Is it a Scout—like the Senior Patrol Leader—and does he do this by working through Patrol Leaders (are there obvious patrols?); he doesn’t give “orders” to the entire troop. Or is the Scoutmaster or some other adult actually running the meeting? If so, this is a huge danger signal.

Parent Involvement: Are parents—like troop committee members—in the room (on the sidelines)? Or is this a “drop-and-run” operation?

Scout Behavior: Do the Scouts generally seem to be following the requests of their youth leaders, or are these leaders generally ignored? Unlike Cub Scout dens and packs, Boy Scout troops are designed to be 100% Scout-led, with training given to both the leaders and the led so each knows his role and responsibilities.

“Scout Spirit”: Do the Scouts look like they’re having fun? Do they seem to be having a good time? (This is your best overall “signal.”)

Now, some questions to ask (in no particular order)…

– How often does the troop committee conduct rank advancement boards of review? (The best answer is: Whenever a Scout has completed the requirements and is ready to advance. The worst is some sort of inflexible schedule.)

– How do you all feel about 13 and 14 year-old Eagle Scouts? (The best answer is TERRIFIC. The worst is along the lines of Scouts aren’t mature enough at that age and we make sure we hold them back till we believe they’re ready.)

– How often does the troop go camping and hiking? (The best answer is at least once a month.)

– What are the names of the patrols in the troop? (The best answer is when they give you the names, like Hawk Patrol, Buffalo Patrol, and so on. The worst is when they don’t really have formal patrols.)

– Do you elect or appoint your Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders? (The only answer you want to hear is elect. If you hear “appoint,” run like blazes.)

– How many of the adults associated with the troop, and registered in positions like Scoutmaster or committee member, have taken training? (The best answer is, of course, “all of us.”)

– What are the troop’s annual dues and what does this cover?

– Does the troop go to summer camp as a troop? (The best answer is yes, for two weeks; and one week is still OK. Anything less is significantly problematic.)

– Does the troop run “merit badge classes” in troop meetings? (This is a “catch question.” If the answer is yes, keep looking, because Troop meetings aren’t supposed to be “Scout school”.)

– How often do you have courts of honor? (The ideal answer is minimum four times a year. Once a year is severely problematic.)

– If a Scout advances in rank at a board of review in October, and the next court of honor is in, let’s say, December, when does he receive his new rank badge? (The answer is: At the very next troop meeting. If you hear “not till the next court of honor,” know that this is wrong.)

– What kinds of service projects does the troop do for the sponsor each year? (If nothing, ask why not.)

– Does the troop go to Camporees? (“Yes” is what you want to hear. “No” tells you that this may be a “Lone Ranger troop.”)

Before you do all this, get your hands on a Boy Scout Handbook and read the first couple of chapters—the ones that tell a boy what to expect when he joins a Boy Scout troop and patrol. This will be your very best guide, and you’ll want to see how closely a troop comes to delivering what Scouting promises the boy that he’ll get.

You asked a wonderful question, and I hope this is helpful to you. Please share it with as many other parents–Webelos and beyond–as you can.

NetCommish Comment: You can find out even more about what to look for in a good Boy Scout Troop at http://usscouts.org/cubscouts/goodtroop.asp.

Hi Andy,

Can I ask a couple of more questions…?

– Is there a specific requirement to attend three meetings and, if so, where can we find that? Do the visits have to be with his den or can we go it alone?

– What are your thoughts on troops where leadership has been in place for literally decades? Is that necessarily a danger sign? (One troop we are considering looking at supposedly has a high number of Eagle Scouts coming out of it, but the Scoutmaster hasn’t changed in 20 years or more.)

– Our son has been keenly interested in the Venturing program ever since he learned about it a couple of years ago. Are there any tangible benefits to joining a troop that also has a crew and pack under the same sponsor? (I suppose that that indicates a strong commitment to Scouting—anything else?)

– Finally, we’re wondering whether it would be OK to get involved in the troop our son joins. As a father, I was involved with his pack for a little while, but didn’t fit in with the mostly female leadership and so I let things slide. In a Boy Scout troop, I’d like to be there with my son, to stay informed and to help support him on the trail to Eagle. But his mom and I have mixed feelings about this, because we realize that our son needs to start developing as a person away from mom and dad too.

– Yes, it’s three (minimum) visits, just as I’ve described. Check out your son’s WEBELOS Book—it’s right there in the requirements for the Arrow of Light. Substitutions and alterations of requirements aren’t permitted by the BSA. This, however, in no way prevents you all from making as many additional visits as you like.

– Length of service as a Scoutmaster—Is this good or bad? This entirely depends on the individual. I’ve seen some absolutely awful troops that had had the same Scoutmaster for 20 or more years. We call this “one year of experience repeated 19 more times.” But I was myself in a troop that had a long-term Scoutmaster and he remains the best Scoutmaster—in the true Scouting tradition—that I’ve ever known. He knew his job and he got it right. So, don’t use this alone as your litmus test—it’s the quality of what’s being delivered that counts most.

– Venturing begins at age 14, so your son, of course, has a few years to wait for this. If there’s a single sponsor of all three Scout unit types—pack, troop, and crew—this can be an advantage because of friendships that will naturally develop for your son as a Boy Scout that can carry over into Venturing. However, becoming a Venturer does NOT mean he has to give up being a Boy Scout. He can be registered and active in both a troop and a crew at the same time, if he wishes. Again, I think the primary criterion for Venturing is going to be the quality of the program.

– Your understanding of your son’s growing need—which will evidence itself most clearly in about two years or so—to individuate himself is right on the money. But, this doesn’t preclude parental involvement in a son’s Boy Scout troop. In this regard, I’d highly recommend that the upcoming troop visits be “Dad n’ Lad” trips. Why? Because beginning very shortly, the role model Jacob will need more is that of the male parent and other men associated with the troop.

Dear Andy,

A Scout just transferred into our troop from another troop and council, where he was a member of Mic-O-Say. Can we consider a one-for-one transfer of his Mic-O-Say membership to our Order of the Arrow Lodge? (David DeVeydt, Greater St. Louis Area Council, St. Louis, MO)

Although they both use native Americans as the motif for their programs, the Mic-O-Say and Order of the Arrow programs are markedly different from one another. Neither one is the automatic equivalent of the other, in ceremony, structure, or values taught. Consequently, membership in one doesn’t instantly result in membership in the other. The Scout who is Mic-O-Say right now certainly can stand for OA election the next time this is done, and if elected participate in the OA Ordeal and beyond. But it would be a disservice to the Scout to simply sign him up as if he’s already learned the lessons the OA teaches, because he’s learned other stuff in Mic-O-Say. These two groups also serve different ultimate purposes, and while similar are absolutely not ciphers of one another. Finally, this Scout may well have no desire to abandon his Mic-O-Say tribesman status.

Hello Andy,

My question is about placement of the World Conservation badge for Boy Scouts. I read that it can be worn temporarily in a plastic sleeve on the right pocket. After that, where can you wear it permanently? The hat? Red jacket? Somewhere else on the uniform? (Mike Martin, Orange County Council, CA)

The World Conservation badge may, as you described, be worn on the right pocket, or hung in a plastic sleeve from the button of the right pocket. That’s it. There is nowhere else on the uniform that it can go. If the Scout doesn’t wish to wear it there any longer, it can go in a memorabilia box, on a “patch blanket.”

Dear Andy,

Long ago I was a Boy Scout. I am now a Senior Engineering Geologist with the California Seismic Safety Commission. We would like to help young people learn about earthquakes and other natural hazards and how to be prepared for surviving them. I am interested in finding out if Scouts would have an interest in learning about earthquake hazards and preparedness as options for existing merit badges, such as Geology MB or Emergency Preparedness MB. What do you think? If Scouts are interested, what’s my next step to make this happen? (Robert Anderson, P.G., C.E.G., Senior Engineering Geologist, California Seismic Safety Commission, CA)

Once a Scout… well, you know the rest. Your idea is truly wonderful. Yes, there are definitely some paths you can take here.

Your telephone number tells me you’re in the Sacramento, CA vicinity. The local organization there is the Golden Empire Council-BSA, 251 Commerce Circle, Sacramento, CA 95815 (916) 929-1417. The web site is at: http://www.gec-bsa.org

Ron Foronda is the Program Director there. He’s on the professional staff of the council. Give him a call and describe what you and your colleagues are interested in doing. If he doesn’t leap at this opportunity, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Thanks for remembering your Scout heritage and for your initiative.

Hello Andy,

A question came up about proper etiquette while placing flags (American and unit flag). In a meeting, are Scouts allowed to walk in-between the flag stands and cut them off, or should we promote walking around the outside of the flag stands? (K.C. Moebius, Greater Yosemite Area Council, CA)

Briefly, there’s nothing in the BSA site or the U.S. Flag Code site stipulating that one must walk around and/or behind the American Flag, or that one cannot walk between the American Flag and another (e.g., a unit flag).

For some basic information on American Flag etiquette, go here:

http://www.Scouting.org/media/flag/index.html

For even more, go here:

http://www.usflag.org/uscode36.html

Dear Andy,

In our Cub Scout pack, we’re considering writing bylaws or guidelines for pack operations to simplify the transition of pack leaders every couple of years (I’ve been Cubmaster for five years and have had three different committees). Each year, it takes approximately three months to get the new committee into shape, with a good understanding of how things work. Now that I’m stepping into the Committee Chair job, we’ll have a
new Cubmaster when we next re-charter. In the past, our Pack Trainer and Committee Chair have attended only about one-eighth of our committee meetings, and I’m considering linking voting privileges to both position and attendance. (Really the only two things we have to vote on are activities and budget matters, but those two can make for huge discussions, as I’m sure you know.) Another method I’m considering is to “weight” the voting rights to meeting attendance. For instance, people who attended six meetings so far in a year would have six votes, those who attended only one would have one vote, etc. Do you know if any other packs have any such guidelines?

Also, along the same lines, is it recommended to let a Pack Trainer have voting privileges on the pack committee? (David Bastock, Great Trail Council, OH)

Are you really, truly sure you want bylaws and all that? And formal voting? Which means making and seconding motions. And all the other stuffy stuff that sucks the life out of a Cub Scout support group, which is what a pack committee really is?

I’m going to suggest an alternative: If folks aren’t showing up, and/or aren’t doing the jobs they committed to doing when they signed on REPLACE THEM. That’s right… If they’re missing a bunch of meetings and not holding up their end of the bargain, it’s time to ask them, eyeball-to-eyeball: “Can you start showing up and doing what you committed to, or do you simply want out?” If they don’t get with it following this conversation, then find and recruit a replacement, and replace your dead wood. This is how you keep your pack and its adults vibrant and moving forward; not by imposing “voting rules.”

The unit’s COR (Chartered Organization Representative) has the authority to replace anyone, anytime. The COR does this, typically, based on the Committee Chair’s recommendation. The committee chair is the CEO of the pack; not the Cubmaster (he or she is more like toe COO, ultimately reporting to the Committee Chair and COR).

About the Pack Trainer, according to the BSA, this position is a voting member of the pack committee.

In my experience, when a questions like these are asked, it’s often a signal of some sort of discord among the adult volunteers. May I urge caution, diplomacy, and bridge-building here?

NetCommish Comment: Over the last 35 years of watching Pack and Troop Committees function as a member, unit leader and Commissioner in seven different Councils, my experience has been that whenever somebody started to tinker with linking committee votes to participation, financial support, or some other criteria to fix a problem (real or perceived), the rest of the folks in the unit got upset with the tinkering and it ended up making the problem worse and not better. It probably feels more comfortable to have rules, but creating rules that will likely not achieve their desired ends is no substitute for directly talking to each person whose support you need. You’ll have a lot more luck talking to somebody over a cup o’ joe than trying to rule ’em down. An old Commissioner back in Indiana once had a chat with a Troop Committee Chair that was determined to set down more by-laws than you could shake a stick at. He took the over-enthusiastic fellow aside and asked if he had ever tried to catch flies? The Chair said, well no he hadn’t. So the old Commish asked him to come with him out to his truck, because he had something for him. Out at the truck the old Commish handed the Chair a jug of vinegar and a jar of honey. He said now, Bill them leaders and parents are like flies. You try out both of these and see which one works best okay? Rules can be like vinegar and a pat on the back is like honey.

Hello Andy,

I am a Scoutmaster in Poland and I found your very interesting article about fun, challenge, and reward. It helps me a lot and I would like to share it with my no-English-speaking friends.
Can I translate it, and show the translation to my Scoutmaster friend in Poland?

Be Prepared in Polish is Czuwaj. You can read something about my organization in English at www.en.zhr.pl (Janek Pastwa)

It would be my honor for you to do this. With keeping my name as the author, Yes, please proceed.

Dzienkuje.

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Got a question? Send it to me atAskAndyBSA@yahoo.com.

(Please include your council name and home state)

(July 22, 2007 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2007)

 

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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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