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Issue 112 – August 11, 2007

Y’all have inundated me with questions about “How’s our July 9th Eagle Scout candidate doing?” and the news, I’m happy to report to you, is excellent! Here’s a letter from the Scoutmaster of his former troop…

Hi Andy,

I’m the current Scoutmaster of this young man’s original troop. Having known him for over five years, I’m well familiar with his worthiness to be an Eagle Scout.

When his family first contacted me, I was furious that his new troop wouldn’t allow him to have to his Board of Review, and I immediately informed his first Scoutmaster in our troop about this situation. His reaction was similar to mine and we agreed that if there was a way to have this fine young man get his Eagle through our troop, we’d do it. We passed the question up through the chain, and the answer came back: Yes, let’s do it.

It took all of a handful of minutes to convince our Committee Chair, who also knows this Scout, to sign the application. Within a few days, I had the transfer form, his Eagle Project Workbook, and photocopies of his Handbook and “blue cards.” We also got a copy of his records from his current council and, with all this, updated our records. We then sent him a copy of the Eagle Scout rank application and in the meantime looked over his project, and was very impressed. I shared it with his first Scoutmaster whose reaction, once again, was the same as mine. We did the Scoutmaster’s Conference by phone, and I started preparing him mentally for his Board of Review. I signed the application and passed everything to our committee chair, who had the same response that I had: The quality of all of it should make it a slam dunk. Next, I personally took his transfer form to the council office and worked out an arrangement to have the council get its records updated. Shortly after this, his Eagle Application was submitted. The council has verified everything, and the complete package is now with the Eagle advancement chair of our District, who reviewed the materials as well. The next-to-final step is now official: The Board of Review is scheduled for August 15th, and the Scout’s family is flying him here for it!

Yes, I promise to let you know what happens!

Hi Andy,

When saluting the American Flag, do you remove your Scout hat or cap? When the National Anthem is sung, do Scouts salute or place their hand over their heart with hat or cap removed? (Terrence McGarty, DL, Westchester-Putnam Council, NY)

Terrific questions! Here’s what the U.S. Flag Code has to say:

“During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.”

So there’s your answer: Scouts keep their caps on and employ the three-finger (or two-finger if they’re Cub Scouts/Cub Scout leaders) salute – Right hand to brim of cap.

For more good information on flag-and-anthem etiquette and protocols, go to:

Dear Andy,

I have a Life Scout, and former SPL, who consistently tests our troop uniform policies. Our troop policy does allow blue jeans (or blue jean shorts), but 99% of our Scouts have uniform pants and shorts, and wear them. But this particular Scout likes to wear baggy black shorts, black studded belt, black high tops (no Scout socks), and a sideways black hat with his Scout shirt. At our most recent summer camp, a camp commissioner pulled me aside and asked that I address this, as it looked too “gang-like.”

This young man is very good with cheers and rallying the other Scouts, therefore he is very noticeable, and popular. His dress code, though, leaves something to be desired. At times he seems to want out of the uniform as quickly as possible, only to change into muscle T-shirts and black hoodies. I’d liken it to joining a football team but wanting to wear a soccer uniform instead.

We have many new Scouts in the troop this year and I don’t want them to get the wrong impression. “Method 8” of the Methods of Scouting is the uniform. I’m having a very hard time with this Scout (who has Eagle aspirations) to conform. He does have the regulation socks, pants, and belt, but chooses to wear them only when he has to (boards of review and conferences).

Andy, I’m at a loss for how to proceed. Time and again we’ve asked him to fix this uniform issue, but no sooner is it seemingly fixed than it crops up again at the next meeting or outing. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

Well, you do have an interesting problem here, mostly because you created your own monster! How? Simple: You forgot about, or decided to disregard, pages 12 and 13 in the Boy Scout Handbook—You somehow got the notion in your head that you can play fast and loose with the Boy Scout uniform. There’s one uniform, Sir, and it’s on page 12. But by allowing “your” alternatives, you opened the door to ANY alternative, and this Scout is challenging you. He’s saying, in effect, OK, you broke the rules and that’s OK, so how are you gonna “ding” me when I’m doing nothing more than what you’ve already done? And guess what… He’s RIGHT!

So now what? Well, for starters, neither lecturing nor begging nor attempting to “reason” with this Scout will accomplish doodley-squat. Your one and only hope is positive reinforcement. Start by giving treats to all Scouts who show up in full uniform, and ignore the others. Treats can be snacks or small candy bars, special privileges, and so on. Then, in a couple of weeks, kick things up a notch by rewarding only patrols that have every one of its members in full uniform (if one Scout in a patrol is missing something, no reward for anyone). Keep at it and never “make an example” of a Scout who isn’t fully uniformed.

Oh, yeah, one more thing… Get EVERY ADULT in full uniform first, or this’ll never work and you’ll all look like your tongues are hinged at both ends.

Hi Andy,

I’ve been told that an Eagle Scout service project is considered a Scouting event and therefore requires two-deep leadership while the project is being carried out. I’ve searched and can’t find anything anywhere that says this. Can you clear this up for me? (Joe P., ASM, East Tennessee Council, TN)

This one’s a no-brainer… Instead of driving yourself nuts, just ask the person who told you this baloney to show you where it’s written, and point out to him or her that until this happens, you’re not buying it! (And you shouldn’t buy it, by the way, because it is baloney!)

Hi Andy,

Our troop has inherited a Mom who “crossed over” with her first son and now has another one in the troop. As soon as she crossed over, she signed on as a Merit Badge Counselor for a bunch of badges, but she mostly only counsels her own sons.

When her younger son joined the troop, she told her older son—a First Class Scout—to stop coming to troop meetings until his younger brother made First Class, too.

Then, just before we all went to summer camp, she announced that her younger son was doing Swimming merit badge with her and so he doesn’t need to swim while at camp. Our Scoutmaster nicely told her that he’ll have to take the swim test anyway because this is camp policy. Well, he couldn’t complete the swim test and was classified “beginner.”

While at camp, she walked into a session being held for Fishing merit badge and proceeded to tell the camp staffer that her son has completed one of the requirements with her and he needed to sign off on the blue card right then and there. After interrupting some more, she was finally asked to leave the area.

A while back, she held a group merit badge class for Fire Safety, and didn’t feel that each Scout had to do one item; instead, she thought a group approach was OK.

I recommended her to become a Commissioner, so that she can help other Scouts in our district and maybe not be so involved with our troop. (Name & Council Withheld)

Your troop has itself one very dangerous loose cannon! The only good news here is that this is a troop-level problem and has not escalated outside of or beyond the troop. It absolutely must be kept that way.

To digress for just a moment, but importantly, Commissioners have exceptional people skills coupled with a solid understanding of the Scouting program as a whole, including its aims, goals, methods, and key policies. By these standards alone, this woman is absolutely not Commissioner material. Don’t try to put out a brush fire by igniting an entire forest.

We can’t save a parent from bull-headed mis-use of the Scouting program and we can’t save offspring from their own parent. What she’s doing to her own sons is unconscionable, but they are, after all, her own sons. Our job is to prevent her from damaging the Scouting experiences of other youth. We do this by never, ever sending any other Scout to her for a merit badge; by never, ever letting her run another merit badge “class” for the troop (merit badge classes as part of troop meetings isn’t part of the Troop Meeting Plan, anyway!); by never, ever giving her an important or boy-related position on the troop committee; and by never, ever endorsing her (even by silence) for any volunteer Scouting position outside of the troop. All of this can be done in a non-confrontational manner, by simply telling her (should she offer to do something) that right now everything’s OK but if things change you’ll contact her, and then making sure that you never do.

My heart goes out to those sons of hers, whom she’s likely permanently damaging.

Dear Andy,

Is there a BSA policy prohibiting the wearing of camouflage clothing? I understand that it’s probably not OK to wear military surplus clothing, but most outdoorsmen have a lot of high-quality outdoor gear with camouflage patterns on them. Can you provide some guidance on this issue? If there are specific regulations, please provide the number so I can quote it with our troop members. This topic seems to come up often. Thanks! (Chuck O’Reilly, CC, Plano, TX)

It’s a BSA policy, conforming to the BSA’s Charter from Congress, that Scouts don’t wear clothing in imitation of military garb. Whether it’s “sportsman’s apparel” or “Army surplus clothing” is irrelevant. Scouts, by this 97-year-old BSA policy, don’t wear Sam Brown belts, don’t wear helmets, don’t carry rifles (even the imitation kind), and don’t wear camouflage. The foundational policy is found in the BSA book, BSA Insignia Guide. It’s also highly visible in the Boy Scout Handbook: Find me any photograph or drawing, in any handbook dating back to the very first one, that shows a Scout wearing camouflage. You won’t. End of story. Plus, if you turn to pages 12 and 13 in the handbook, you’ll see plainly how a Scout is to be dressed.

Now let’s take this one step further… People who wear camouflage for practical purposes (as against “making fashion statements”) are of a single type: They kill. Soldiers wear camouflage so that they can better kill the enemy. Hunters wear camouflage so that they can better kill the quarry. BOY SCOUTS DON’T KILL, OR EVEN PRACTICE KILLING, ANYTHING. (Even Fishing merit badge can be completed without ever personally killing a fish!) While I personally have utmost respect for both hunters and our military, I will steadfastly advise anyone who has a mind to wear camouflage clothing or gear to do this anytime they like, but NOT IN SCOUTING.

To those who would demand that you show them anything further in writing, stop doing their bidding and reverse it: Demand of them that they find anything in writing by the BSA that states that camouflage is acceptable garb for a Boy Scout, with the understanding that until they do camo’s are out. End of story.

To those whose life just isn’t complete unless they’re wearing camo’s: Go find a para-military group to play out your fantasy. Stay away from Scouts.

Hello Andy,

Some of my Den Chiefs are asking if the time they spend helping at Cub Scout events like bicycle rodeos and so forth count as service hours. (Melinda Williams, ASM, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

Good question… That’s their Scoutmaster’s call (type of service needs to be approved by the Scoutmaster, and this is always better done beforehand). I can tell you this, however: If I were their Scoutmaster, I’d observe to them that this is part of what they signed on for when the became Den Chiefs…that being a Den Chief sometimes involves more than helping out at den and pack meetings! And of course I’d encourage them to do this and have fun while they’re at it!

Dear Andy,

I’ve just recently moved and the church I now belong to has a very small and poor troop, with just seven Scouts, some of whom live in low-income housing projects. I’ve been asked to be Scoutmaster, but with very little adult help, if any, for me to draw on. I’m lost… How do I get started? These boys deserve to have a good Scoutmaster. All help is appreciated. (Aaron Ariss, Greater New York Council, Staten Island, NY)

My hat’s off to you for considering becoming a Scoutmaster! I was an “inner city” Scout myself (although at the time we didn’t know we were “underprivileged”!) and there’s tremendous and lasting value to youth in this sort of situation when Scouting’s available!

To get started, the very first thing to do is insist on help! Yes, you do have the right to expect support, in the form of a committee of equally dedicated parents who are willing to show up and roll up their sleeves. Keeping a troop afloat isn’t—it can’t be!—a one-man job. They need to understand and accept that if you’re willing to give your time, energy, and resources to their sons, they must be willing to match your efforts or the deal’s off. Get this before you start. If you don’t, you’re not likely to ever get it!

This troop, in addition to a Scoutmaster, needs a Troop Committee! The Troop Committee needs to have, at a minimum, (1) a chairperson, (2) someone to manage and track advancement, (3) a secretary/treasurer, and (4) someone to handle arrangements (finding places to go, getting tour permits, arranging parent transportation to outings and events, and so on). Without these people in place and committed, you’re going to wind up overburdened and headed for burn-out much too quickly!

You also need a Commissioner to help guide you! Contact the GNY Council and find out who your Unit Commissioner (another volunteer like yourself, who provides direct service and support to Scouting units) is and if they don’t know tell ’em you need one right away! Don’t take “we’ll get back to you bye-and-bye” as an answer!

Next, pick up a copy (Scout Shop or online at of the Scoutmaster Handbook (start reading it!) and get yourself a full uniform (get the necessary patches sewn on), and check out the Greater New York Council’s website (there’s a Staten Island section in it) and find out when training for Scoutmasters is running. If there’s nothing happening right away, check out the Northern New Jersey Council’s website (they’re right across the Arthur Kill) and see what training they have coming up. Next, get a Boy Scout Handbook and read it to learn what the BSA tells boys about the experience they’re going to have as a Boy Scout—read the first couple of chapters, then jump around as your curiosity takes you. Also, pick up a copy of the BSA’s Guide To Safe Scouting and read it carefully (it’s also available online).

The training courses you’ll want to take are: New Leader Essentials, Scoutmaster Fundamentals, and Introduction to Outdoor Skills. Simultaneously, insist that every parent registered on the committee, plus any other available parents, along with you take Youth Protection and Risk Zone training (these are one-shot deals—a couple hours each).

Then, sit down with the Scouts and, if necessary, help them get full uniforms, so that they look and feel like Scouts (this helps them act like Scouts and not just boys hangin’ out). Make sure you have two patrols of at least three Scouts each, and one Senior Patrol Leader. Patrol Leaders and the Senior Patrol Leader are elected by the Scouts; not “assigned” by adults.

Now, here’s the most important part (but you do have to do the other steps first): GO DO SOMETHING! EVERY SCOUT! IN UNIFORM! Keep it simple at first. A day hike, a visit to the Statue of Liberty, visiting a nearby Sea Scout ship (there are two in Linden, on the Arthur Kill, on the Jersey side), visiting Pouch Scout Camp…you get the idea. On that trip, sit down with the Scouts and ask them what other kinds of things they’d like to do, then GO DO THEM!

Once you’re underway, have an “open house” (“pot luck” food supplied by the parents) and each Scout invites at least one non-Scout friend! At the open house, DO STUFF, have GAMES, and be sure to pass out flyers telling the visitors and parents that they’re welcome back!

(That’s enough for now… We can stay in touch if you like; this doesn’t have to be a “just one letter and that’s it” situation!)

Dear Andy,

I just saw a news release about an man who finished his Eagle Scout requirements many years ago and just received his rank at around the age of 80. I think only a former Scout could fully appreciate how this gentleman must feel.

I had to stop my Scouting advancement at Star because we lost our lease on the old boarding house where my family had rented rooms and served meals for many years. My mother and we three kids moved to Georgia, where she and I both went to work in the cotton mill, and that was the end of my Scouting days. All my life I’ve felt somehow incomplete because I never had a shot at Eagle. Seeing the old Scout brought back those pains, along with a tremendous sense of joy for him.

I know there are probably millions of former Scouts who’d give anything to be able to complete the advancement program, if only for their own personal satisfaction. Such men might even be assigned to a troop as a helper in order to work on their advancement, thereby becoming a real asset. Even if they just did it on their own, I feel like these men would become a tremendous help to BSA because they’d be more aware and help boys get started in a local troop; possibly even becoming volunteers themselves. I feel like there’s a real opportunity here, if only we reach out to it. I realize this is only the basis of an idea. The rules might need to be changed for adults on some merit badges, etc. But I feel it is a new program that could add tremendously to the original concept of General Baden-Powell and later, William Boyce. Perhaps it could be a reaffirmation of the character-building of boys, to the American men who, in many cases, seem to have forgotten the roots of their training.

Please think about this idea and tell me what you think. I’m retired at age 63 now, and have the time, skills, and desire to help in any way I can. (C. Wayne Lammers, Memphis, TN)

First, read my column #6 – November 2002.

I, also, was a Scout in the early 50’s. It wasn’t easy to advance, then, and for every merit badge we wanted to earn we had to track down the counselor and then figure out how to get to him, because in that era no dad ever drove his kid anywhere! We used bikes, public transportation, and our feet, instead! Anyway, we had some guys who made it to Eagle, others to Life, a few more to Star, and most made it to First Class and that was about it. But we all had pretty good times in Scouts, and some of us are still in touch 50 years later and we still remember our Scoutmaster and even our Patrol Leaders and Senior Patrol Leader! I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money, so I never got to Philmont as a Scout—I was 47 years old before I ever got to see the Tooth of Time from its summit!

But Scouting’s not about being one rank or another; it’s about having fun, challenging ourselves, learning new stuff, and—most of all—giving of ourselves to others (remember “Do a Good Turn Daily” and “Help other people at all times”? I’ll bet you do!).

You’re definitely not “somehow inadequate” or even “unfinished” if you still have Scouting’s ideals in your heart these many years later. And now you have a unique opportunity: The chance to help boys and young men realize their personal goals, whether it be in rank, or taking a Philmont trek, or getting to a Jamboree, or whatever their personal vision for themselves happens to be. If you have the time and desire, I’ll bet there’s a troop in your Memphis neighborhood that has some Scouts who could use a bit of guidance from a guy who’s himself been a Scout! You’re in the Chickasaw Council, and their address is 171 South Hollywood Street, Memphis 38112. The phone there is (901) 327-4193 and their web site is

How about giving them a call, asking about a troop nearby, and then getting in touch with that troop and asking if they could use an “extra hand”? And while you’re at it, how about asking the council service center if they need any merit badge counselors for whatever your career was or hobbies happen to be?

Yes, a rank is perhaps important, but ultimately it’s a piece of cloth and metal. But helping a boy to grow into the man he wants to be just might be the finest “reward” one might hope for in life! A badge fills a shirt; helping our next generation fills the soul. Consider it.

Dear Andy,

Some of our Scouts just got back from summer camp in another council, where they offered “hoax” merit badges like Duck-taping and Underwater Basketry. I’m looking for requirements for these because they sound like fun. Any suggestions where I could find this? The summer camp they went to isn’t available. (Debra Breaux, MC, Southeast Louisiana Council)

Those badges sound like fun! Being phony-balonies, I’m not sure that they need any “official” requirements—Why not just ask the Scouts what they did and then put together some requirements of your own? “When in doubt, ask the Scout!”

Dear Andy,

For at least the past four years, our Troop has “reviewed” (retested) Scouts on the merit badges they earned at summer camp. I’m ashamed to admit that I went along with this practice, first as advancement chair then as Scoutmaster. I changed my mind at last year’s summer camp, after discussions with the Camp Director and reviewing BSA advancement policies. It’s now haunting me as I’m working with a Scout to assist him through a hump in his advancement. He’s First Class and days away from his 17th birthday. If he doesn’t earn Star in the next few days, he’ll effectively age out of being able to earn Eagle, since Life and Eagle both require six months of active tenure in the troop. It turns out that he’s been discouraged by our troop’s summer camp merit badge process, and as his former Scoutmaster, I feel some responsibility for that. Can you validate my understanding of this situation? As I understand it, if a registered counselor or BSA summer camp staffer reports through blue cards or other accepted means (such as an advancement report) that a Scout has earned a merit badge (or partial requirements), then the troop cannot revoke that badge or require retesting. (Alan O’Neal, Occoneechee Council)

You have my respect for discovering your troop’s error and taking steps to correct it.

Once a merit badge application (“blue card”) or other document generally accepted by the local council has been signed by a duly authorized Merit Badge Counselor (registered with any council or a member of any BSA summer camp staff) IT’S A DONE DEAL. The merit badge is earned and considered completed on the date the Merit Badge Counselor has given final sign-off. There is never a board of review and certainly not any sort of inquisition or re-testing by anyone, because it’s earned. NO ONE supersedes the Merit Badge Counselor. All of what I’ve just stated is BSA POLICY, which may be found in the BSA book, Advancement Policies and Procedures.

On language: The MBC is not “reporting” on a merit badge; his or her signature constitutes an official statement that the requirements of the merit badge have been completed satisfactorily. Moreover, the purpose of the unit leader’s signature on conclusion does not signify any sort of “final approval”—it merely means that completing of the merit badge has been duly recorded.

Once a rank or merit badge has been earned (whether formally presented or not) it absolutely cannot be revoked. This is BSA policy.

Finally, if your troop’s violations of proper procedures in this area have put this Scout’s attainment of Eagle in jeopardy, you would be obligated at the very least to write a letter to the council advancement chair and committee admitting your errors and requesting an extension for the young man the troop’s impropriety has damaged.

Hi Andy,

I found your column about two years ago, caught up on all the back issues, and now eagerly await each new installment. I’ve seen letters from Scouts in my troop in your column several times, and your responses to them have been right on the money. I’ve become very familiar with the procedures, policies, rules, and regulations of Scouting, and you were a big part of that education. So thanks for that! And that’s why I’m writing to you today…

I have a couple of Board of Review questions that I hope you can address for me:

The Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures book says the following about the composition of a non-Eagle Board of Review: “This board of review is made up of at least three and not more than six members of the troop committee.” Are there any other BSA policies that specify conditions that permit non-committee members to serve on a BOR?

Can a Scout’s parent or guardian attend a non-Eagle Board of Review, not as not a member of the board, but as an observer? (I thought that it’s BSA policy that there are no secret meetings and that a parent could attend any meeting where his or her son was present. But you recently posted that there actually is a BSA policy that parents do not attend boards of review for any rank, so I’m a bit confused.) (NJ Scouter)

Let’s first understand that a policy is just that: a policy. It’s not a guide-line, recommendation, suggestion, or anything else that’s potentially equivocal.

It’s BSA policy that board of review members for all ranks except Eagle are to be members of the unit committee. There are no provisions for “extenuating circumstances” because a unit cannot be chartered or re-chartered without having three unit committee members. Thus, there is consistency across policies. There is no further profitable discussion on this point and policy.

Neither unit leaders nor assistant unit leaders, relatives, or guardians may serve as members of a board of review. This is also a BSA policy.

Occasionally, unit leaders and sometimes assistant leaders will appear before a board of review to introduce the Scout candidate for the rank at hand. This doesn’t conflict with policy and is generally considered an acceptable practice. Less occasionally, a unit leader or assistant unit leader will remain present at a board of review as an observer and to address any questions that may arise. This, also does not conflict with BSA policy and because it is for the benefit of the Scout candidate it is generally considered an acceptable practice.

Relatives, however, are another matter entirely. Relatives are not to be present at a board of review, following the same philosophy that serves as the foundation for the practices of not permitting Eagle rank candidates to see the contents of any letters written to the board by his references and of destroying such letters immediately upon conclusion of the Eagle rank board of review.

There should be no confusion on your or anyone else’s part on any of these points. With regard to the last one, has any relative of a Scout ever asked (or insisted) to be present at a board of review? No? Then let’s not engage in “What if…” scenarios.

Thanks for asking. These are important questions and their answers need to be broadcast.

Dear Andy,

I have some questions about “Scout Spirit,” the Scoutmaster’s Conference, and rank advancement. In the case where a Scout is showing up at troop meetings and campout events but refuses to help with any troop chores, such as he’ll happily go on a troop outing but will refuse to help with any troop duties such as setup and tear down of troop equipment, camp site sweep for trash, packing the gear, and so on. Other scouts are expressing some frustration, and this Scout is developing a reputation as the laziest in the troop. I’m looking for a motivating point—just talking has fallen on deaf ears. My thought was to try and use the “Scout Spirit” component of the Scoutmaster’s Conference to suggest that this Scout may not be quite ready for the next rank, citing the lack of any attempt to even approach the “a Scout is helpful” component of the Scout Law. Perhaps you have some wisdom on how to address this? Our Unit Commissioner says to just let it slide, but I don’t feel like I’d be working in the Scout’s best interest or that of the other Scouts if I did this. (Marc)

About that “problem Scout,” I’m assuming he’s a patrol member and, as such, he should be being encouraged to carry his fair share by his Patrol Leader. Is this happening, that is, is his Patrol Leader encouraging him to pitch in? If so, and still nothing’s happening, I’m sort of surprised that peer pressure in the form of his fellow patrol members hasn’t kicked in. Is he being given specific tasks to do, or just asked to help out along with everyone else? If merely the latter, then his Patrol Leader needs to put him in charge of something specific and when he doesn’t perform, then he doesn’t get to do the fun stuff. What is his rank? If he’s First Class or higher, then he might be counseled on the issue of how does he expect to advance further if his fellow Scouts prove unwilling to elect him to any position of leadership, based on their appraisal of his spirit of cooperation. If, on the other hand, he’s not yet First Class, then you might want to hold a Scoutmaster’s Conference with him and ask him to tell you how he’s living the points of the Scout Oath and Law every day and, when you get to obedient, helpful, help other people at all times, and such, ask him how he’d rate himself. In other words, the more you can draw him out, instead of lecturing to him or “laying down the law,” the better opportunity there is for him to self-correct. But your main focus should be on the youth leader he is directly under, because it’s this Scout who needs the most coaching on how to get the most from every Scout he’s responsible for. This is one of the ways we teach leaders to lead.

Dear Andy,

Which merit badges can a Scoutmaster sign off on? I’ve been told that the Scoutmaster, by right of his position, can sign off Camping, Cooking, and Hiking. Is this true? (Stephanie Ferrin, Advancement Chair, Ventura County Council, CA)

Great question, and one that’s surrounded by myth and mystery. Here’s the BSA’s direct answer: NONE. The Scoutmaster may provide records of Scouts’ accomplishments in these areas to a duly registered Merit Badge Counselor, and may provide a duly registered Merit Badge Counselor with testimony confirming a Scout’s having completed some requirements, but a Scoutmaster is absolutely not authorized to sign off on any merit badge or any merit badge requirements if he’s not a registered Counselor for that specific merit badge.

Scoutmasters aren’t supposed to be Merit Badge Counselors in the first place! Doing so defeats literally 50% of the purpose of merit badges!

Hi Andy,

After a Cub Scout receives his Bear Badge, does he still wear the full Progress-Towards-Ranks badge with the four yellow and four red beads, or does he remove it from the right pocket?

Also, when Bear Cub Scouts become Webelos Scouts, do they still accumulate patches and wear the red vest or do they do something different? (Chuck Sedey, Tiger Cub DL, California Inland Empire Council)

After earning the Bear badge and becoming Webelos Scouts, your boys will soon be wearing the Webelos Compass Points emblem suspended from the right pocket button, so that when it’s time to remove and save the old P-T-R piece.

The red vests are for Webelos Scouts, too! No reason why your boys can’t continue to wear them, and continue to earn “extra” patches.

Dear Andy,

My youngest son is a Second Class Scout, and he has a question on merit badges: If he gets a “partial” at summer camp, does he have to complete it within the year, or will he have to start the merit badge over from the beginning? (Scout Mom)

Merit Badge “partials” expire on a young man’s 18th birthday and not before. That said, I’d encourage your son to complete his summer camp merit badges while in summer camp, because the basic idea isn’t to get a partial; it’s to finish.

Hello Andy,

A discussion in our troop committee came up about revoking a Scout’s Eagle rank after it’s been awarded. What circumstances are needed and is it documented in any BSA materials about the required process? What started this conversation was, “How do you formally remove a Scout from BSA because of a criminal record”? You see, we have a Scout who was “busted” for having a “bong” (for smoking contraband) in his car. I don’t know if he actually has a record as a result of this incident, but we just said he’s automatically out of Scouts. But then we started exploring our options and we’re wondering what formal documents are required. (Name Withheld, Montana Council, MT)

Philosophical conversations aside, I’m most concerned about that young man with the bong. I do understand that possession of “paraphernalia” may or may not be a chargeable offense, depending on the jurisdiction. A bong is, after all, not an “illegal substance” in and of itself. However, regardless of whether it is or isn’t, I think the key may be that THIS YOUNG MAN NEEDS SCOUTING NOW MORE THAN EVER.

How are we to inculcate in him the ideals of the Scout Oath and Law if we boot him out at the very moment he needs these the most? How are we to make a difference in his life from now on if we kick him out, thereby guaranteeing that we’ll not have further contact with him?

Anybody—Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs, the YMCA, religious groups, etc.—can “steer” a youth who has already got his or her moral and ethical compass pointed toward True North. In fact, there’s almost no work to be done at all! But the YOUTH IN TROUBLE is the one who really needs us. THIS is where we truly roll up our sleeves. I’m urging you to reconsider how a youth in or on the cusp of trouble should be handled. This is true “life-saving.”

Dear Andy,

I recently took the BSA Lifeguard course. We didn’t receive a book to review or have any practice tests or exams—the course was mostly practical—so most of us didn’t pass the written exam. Last year, I completed Lifesaving merit badge and got my CPR-First Aid certification. I want to go back and re-take BSA-LG, but I want to be prepared this time. We didn’t cover any of the tested information in the classes, so is there a book I can study from that has the information that will be on the exam? (Michael)

Yes, the BSA Lifeguard course is mostly practical, but there is a Final Examination (req. 5). There is, however, no “book,” akin to a merit badge pamphlet. The objective, of course, should have been to assure that you COMPLETE all requirements (including the Final Examination), and I’m sorry this didn’t happen for you, especially since this course requires 30 hours of instruction! So let’s not let this happen again. Buy the BSA booklet, BSA Lifeguard Counselor Guide (No.34536B), from your council’s Scout Shop (they can order it for you if they don’t have it in stock). In it, you’ll find the exam with all the questions, and all the answers. Use this information as your study guide, so that when you go for it this year, you nail it!

Dear Andy,

Our troop is losing a lot of our older Scouts. I don’t know for sure if our advancement chair harassed the older Scouts out of the troop or not, but I do know she likes to get the parents alone and tell them that their son will never advance. Our son and my husband recently went together on a camping retreat for our son to complete the religious he’s been working on, and he was struck by how good and helpful the leaders there were! My husband and I had to explain to him that it’s just our troop… (Alice Wilson, Nashua Valley Council)

Your advancement chair, by telling folks that their sons “will never advance,” is 180 degrees away from where she’s supposed to be. Only total blockheads do stuff like this. The responsibility of the advancement chair is to encourage advancement, not play “judge and jury” and a road-block as well. It’s really hard to believe someone could be so utterly clueless… But, then, maybe it’s not so hard! On top of this, the committee chair and Scoutmaster are just as guilty by allowing this blockhead to continue. She needs to be replaced, unless she’s willing to instantly turn herself around and fly right. But this isn’t your battle. Your challenge is simple: For the sake of your son, go find another troop.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Star Scout and I just went to summer camp and earned two more Eagle-required merit badges. I only need three more before I have my 21 for Eagle. But now the District Advancement Committee is saying that, in this council, 11 of the 21 merit badges for Eagle have to be earned with Merit Badge Counselors from outside my troop. Is this Correct? Can a district do this? (Name Withheld, Simon Kenton Council, OH)

No! They absolutely, positively cannot make such a stipulation on merit badges and where/with whom they’re earned. The BSA considers all merit badges equal and, once earned, they all count toward ranks, as needed, regardless of where/with whom earned. If they take a moment to read requirement 3 on the Eagle Scout Rank Application (which they can obtain easily at, they will see that there is no such stipulation there. They do not have the authority to make such a stipulation because it is a BSA policy that no council, district, unit, or person has the authority to add to or subtract from any requirement for any rank or merit badge.

This, however, is not your battle. The people who must stand up for you, and probably every other Scout in your council, are your troop advancement chair, troop committee chair, and Scoutmaster.

Dear Andy,

There’s a question that keeps coming up during Eagle Scout project write-ups and approvals. We know that a Scout can’t begin work on his project until it’s been approved by the proper people all the way up to the district. The problem relates to acquiring any materials or supplies needed to complete the project as planned. The position of our District Eagle board is that an Eagle candidate can’t ask for donations from anyone before the district approves the project plan, but this means that the Scout may come in front of the district board not knowing if the benefiting organization is paying for anything or not. But the district board also says that if the benefiting organization just happens to mention that it’ll be funding the project or providing the materials, then it’s OK to mention this in the write-up.

I’ve looked for clarification on this and can’t find anything. What can you tell me? Can a Scout ask about donations for a project before it’s approved by the district, or not? (Dave Wermers, SM, Sioux Council, SD)

Here’s the deal: It’s correct that work can’t begin on a project until all pre-approval signatures are in place. But there’s nothing in writing that stipulates that a Scout can’t sound things out as he’s developing his plan, and this would certainly include determining whether or not the recipient of his work will be providing the materials or the funds for same (assuming, of course, that the project is of a construction nature and not a service). If, let’s say, his plan is for a construction of some sort, or involves planting, or requires any sort of material, the best plan will be one that identifies where these materials or plants are going to come from, or how they’re going to be acquired!

Now you mentioned something else that’s a little peculiar: You talked about the Scout having to “come before the board” for final approval of his Eagle project. Are you serious on this point? Is there, in effect, a “board of review” of some sort for approval of an Eagle project? I hope not, because this sounds like an abuse of authority.

Dear Andy,

We’re in process of reviewing our Troop Standards and Policies and we have are some conflicting opinions on what should be said in our advancement policy. For instance, the BSA states: “There is no deadline for earning merit badges except the Scout’s 18th Birthday. Once a Scout has started working on a merit badge he may continue using those requirements until he completes the requirements for the merit badge or turns 18.”

Some of the people in our troop think this is this just a note indicating that while the BSA requires no deadline, the troop can enforce its own stricter requirements. Others think that the troop is required to adhere to this as a policy.

Is or is not a troop within its purview to require that a merit badge be completed in a designated timeframe, such as one year? (Name Withheld, CC, Great Southwest Council, NM)

I wish you were pulling my leg, but I know you’re not. So here’s the straight skinny on whether troops can arbitrarily override BSA national advancement standards and policies: No. Absolutely not. Not under any circumstances, or for any reason or rationale.

It is a further BSA policy that no person, unit, district, or council is permitted to impose the kind of stricture you describe. This is BSA policy. This cannot be done, should not be done, and if it has been done needs to be un-done and needs to go away immediately.

Everyone associated with the stricture you described to me needs to immediately read my column: “Are We Really That Smart”! The also need to read the BSA publication, Advancement Guidelines-Policies and Procedures.

(The next letter’s from the same troop—different Scouter)

Dear Andy,

Where can we get a copy of the BSA Rules and Regulations? (Name Withheld, Great Southwest Council, NM)

I sure hope you guys aren’t still trying to make up your own “troop regulations”, ‘cause YOU DON’T NEED ‘EM! The BSA’s done the work for you. The BSA’s policies are already in place, and any unit trying to write its own is more likely to violate an already existing BSA policy than create further clarity. Besides, the last thing we need in Scouts is more rules!

That said, there are books on BSA rules and regulations and various policies that you can buy at your local council’s Scout Shop. But, the policies aren’t necessarily accumulated all in one place, neatly, like the Ten Commandments were all on just two tablets! So, why don’t you pose your questions to me and let’s see if I can help you with some answers, since I’ve already had to track down most of the stuff you’re likely to ask about.

(Who writes again…)

Dear Andy,

Do you think BSA will ever post their rules on their web site? It sure would be a handy, searchable reference. Here are some more question we have…

1- Are troop committees, Scoutmasters (or their assistants), or the Scouts allowed to establish any local policies (for instance, Scouts must travel to camping events in full uniform)? Well page 9 of the Senior Patrol Leader Handbook states that the troop can set the qualification standards of the SPL, so I guess the answer to this is yes. (Some background: Our troop leadership says that uniforms are required during travel for liability reasons. I think wearing uniforms is a great idea; however, when a new leader takes the initiative to research the basis for this rule online and discovers that it has none, it tends to create a sense of distrust, cynicism, or lack of confidence in the local administration. So I’d rather see us say that uniforms are required by local troop policy for the reason that it helps to identify us as a group when on travel and should we run into problems, like vehicle trouble, the public is more likely to give us a hand when they recognize our uniforms).

2- How do we know which of our local policies are permissible under BSA rules? Some of these policies may go back 50+ years and many of our (absolutely fantastic) senior leaders believe our troop’s long-term success is attributable to these local policies and remain rigid in their support for them.

3- Does the BSA require all local policies to be documented?

4- If a scout is working on a merit badge like cooking, camping, backpacking, hiking, or wilderness survival, and participates in a Fifty Miler, are there any events that took place on the Fifty Miler that the Scout can use to fulfill a merit badge requirement, or must all Fifty Miler events be solely attributed to the Fifty Miler achievement?

5- Does BSA policy address serious issues such as the impact of a Scout’s road to Eagle when that Scout has committed a serious transgression?

6- What recommendations do you have for Scouts who never get voted into leadership positions or the OA because they lack popularity with Scouts in the troop?

7- We have some Scouts who have great attitudes, energy, and creativity, who prefer to learn by doing rather than reading merit badge books and completing written requirements. They feel like they get enough book-work in school and want a more hands on approach to learning. The BSA merit badge policy says that the requirements must be precisely followed. Getting such Scouts to complete these written requirements turns what might otherwise be an enjoyable experience into a nightmare chore for them (and their counselor). How do we help such boys to fulfill these merit badge requirements without making it be a daunting experience for them and without violating the BSA merit badge policy?

8- Does the BSA allow their rules and regulations to be posted on our local web site for our troop use?

9- Is there a limit to the number of event-type insignia that can be displayed on the back of the sash?

10- Has anyone really ever started a fire with bow and drill, or just polished a bunch of wood? Seriously though, it seems like the Wilderness Survival merit badge should focus on fire starting using only materials found in the wild. If one is going to carry around some sort of manufactured fire-starter, why not select a modern-day, optimal device?

No, I don’t think they’ll ever be published on the BSA website, and there’s really no need since virtually everything you need to know is in the Boy Scout Handbook, Scoutmaster Handbook, Troop Committee Guidebook, and so on. In these, the policies are written clearly, and in a reader-friendly way instead of in legal mumbo-jumbo.

Now, let’s see if I can help out with your ten questions…

1- There’s one policy: “The Boy Scouts of America is a uniformed organization.” So, actually, any time a member of the BSA is engaged in a Scouting activity and is not in the uniform shown on page 12 of the Boy Scout Handbook or the alternate shown on page 13, or an authorized variation thereof (e.g., page 12 uniform but with official shorts and socks), he or she is in violation of a national policy. Period.

2-3- I have no clue as to what a “local policy” might be. If it’s anything along the lines of what your colleague wrote to me about a while back, then you guys with your “local policies” are…how shall I put this…full o’ beans. (Yeah, that works…)

4- Your concern, I’m guessing, is about how to avoid “double-dippng.” That’s easy here… Read the requirements for the Fifty-Miler. If a Scout does something that’s not stated as a requirement, then he can “use” it elsewhere with absolute impunity.

5- Uh-oh, “mystery word” here! What does “transgression” mean? And, while we’re at it, what’s a “NON-serious transgression”? If you want a specific answer, then you need to ask a specific question.

6- Get popular. Be a friend to all Scouts, pitch in and help even when you’re not asked, you know the rest… And, if you’re not willing to do this, well, then you’re outa luck. No one “owes” you membership in the OA just like no one “owes” you an elected leadership position in the troop. The best way to become what you wish to become is to act the way you would if you already were.

7- It’s not a “merit badge policy” that says that all requirements are to be carried out as written. It’s the BSA’s ADVANCEMENT POLICY that specifies this, and it applies to all requirements for all merit badges, all ranks, and all special, earnable recognitions (BSA Lifeguard, etc.), in short, for everything in the advancement category. If you want to help Scouts who don’t want to follow the rules of the game, do it by helping them understand that there are only two options: Do it as written and earn it, or don’t and don’t earn it. End of story.

More, you folks seem to be missing the point on this issue. Scouting teaches stuff without lecturing about it (that’s why we avoid anything that begins to resemble “Scout school”). Scouting, without saying so, teaches boys and young men how to organize their thinking and write, present, give talks, carry on conversations with adults including adults they don’t know, develop plans, conceive designs, research stuff, think creatively, and on and on. I had a Scout whom I counseled a while ago for Communications merit badge tell me just the other day, “Andy, in our civics class each of us had give a brief talk on the day before’s lesson, and I took what I learned with you, stood up—I was the only student who stood—looked ’em in the eye, spoke up, and sat down, and my teacher gave me a “B” for my thoughts but an “A++” for my delivery, which she averaged out to an “A”! THIS, my Scouting friend, is what we’re here to do, as Scouting volunteers!

8- I don’t know what you mean by “allow.” All of the necessary policies are in the books I’ve previously mentioned.

9. Yup: When you run out of material; then you go to a patch blanket. Let’s exercise some discretion here, OK?

10- Yup. Me, for one. Tom Brown, of “tracker” fame, for another. Most of the folks on the TV show, “Survivor.” And every single Scout in the troop I Scoutmastered a few years ago. I think you’re forgetting that the name of this merit badge is “Wilderness SURVIVAL.” It’s not “Wilderness Survival with a Bic, Rambo knife, flashlight, cellphone, and four cans o’ Spam.” Time to start watching “Man Versus Wild”!

Again, you seem to be missing the point. The point has less to do with survival skills per se and much more to do with instilling a sense of confidence and quiet self-reliance in the boys and young men we’re all here to serve, mentor, coach, and be a Big Brother to.

NetCommish Note: That sense of confidence and self-reliance becomes a lifelong habit when successfully taught in Scouting. Baden-Powell often called Scouting a game with a purpose and it is. Too often we get caught up in details and trying to carve out rules where none are needed. We need to step back and understand that we can do the most for the youth we serve by using the methods of Scouting to best advantage. When Scouts master skills through the advancement program and outdoor adventures, Scouts will, aside from learning the particular skill, gain confidence and become more self-reliant if we provide them with the opportunity and if we first rely on youth leadership, we use the methods available like the Patrol Method, and if we as adults serve more as counselor/coaches instead of as rule executioners.

The question about whether anyone has really started a fire by friction, shouldn’t we get back to only material found in the wild, and why not just use today’s technology focuses on the technique/technology, which is less important than the experience of the Scout in learning self-reliance.

But since you asked, the answer is that many Scouts today still learn fire-by-friction as part of their summer camp program. At age 13 or 14, it is a pretty big challenge too. Those of us who did this in our youth still remember it and what a wonderful feeling it was to finally succeed. How-to information on this is located at where you’ll find a picture of a real fire-by-friction set that was used some 36 years ago in my youth.

While doing fire-by-friction is a wonderful challenge, it is not always possible for a Scout to use this technique. In many backwoods areas, we are encouraging Scouts to follow Leave No Trace guidelines to preserve the wilderness areas they visit and reduce impact from camping. In those areas the emphasis is on leaving the wilderness area as untouched as possible. BSA fully supports this program and it also has changed requirements for some areas of advancement as a result. That is why today for the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge, a Scout can use things that he has packed in as opposed to disturbing the area he is visiting by chopping down trees. There is still a challenge factor, but at the same time another lesson about wilderness preservation. More information on Leave No Trace is available at

Time for a jolt of Scout Spirit to wrap up for today…

Dear Andy,

I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster for our troop. I met a boy, we’ll call him John, when he crossed over from Webelos to Boy Scouting about three years ago. He’d earned his Arrow of Light, “swept” all 20 Webelos Activity Badges, and had earned his religious award, too.

In his new troop, John advanced rapidly to Life Scout, served as Senior Patrol Leader and was later appointed Troop Guide, and then about a year ago he just up and disappeared. Now I’d heard that he’d had an injury, but this was unconfirmed, and it saddened me to think that John had just quit when only four merit badges and a service project short of Eagle. Then last night, out of the blue, John and his parents showed up at one of our troop meetings. It turned out that his injury was a concussion and he’d been out of school for an entire year. He was just now returning to sufficient health to begin getting his life back, including reconnecting with his troop. I sat down with him for a few minutes, and like I do with all of our senior Scouts, helped him chart where he was and where he wants to go on the Eagle trail. He got the right signatures on three more merit badge cards last night and has only two more weeks to go to finish Personal Management. He already has in mind a solid Eagle service project idea, so we took some time to discuss the steps for that.

John was a bit subdued in his manner, compared to the way he was before, and we talked about the strains of trying to return to a normal life after you’ve had a major injury (he knows I’m a cancer survivor, so he knows that I know where he’s coming from). Bottom line: We’ll soon have a new Eagle Scout!

So, what about “being active” in the troop? No problem! He did much of that before his injury and during his recuperation, he was as active as he could be. None of our troop’s adult leaders is so much as batting an eye about “active,”—not like those dunderheads in your column a couple of weeks ago! (Jim Eager, ASM & Thunderbird District Advancement Chair)




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(August 11, 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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