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Issue 120 – January 2, 2008

Dear Andy,

I found the following statement in the USSCOUTS.ORG’s “Fact or Fiction” section, listed as a FACT: “It’s the responsibility of the Eagle Board of Review to approve the manner in which the candidate’s Service Project was carried out…The final signatures in the project workbook attest to the project having been completed; however, the manner in which it was carried out, and the leadership demonstrated through it, is determined by the board of review’s members by reading the workbook and conversing with the Eagle candidate.”

Where did this come from? We have a project that’s been pre-approved by the Scoutmaster, the unit committee, the religious institution, school or community representative, and the council or district advancement committee before the project was started, and then signed off by the Scoutmaster and the religious institution, school or community representative, attesting that the project was planned, developed and carried out by the Scout. Now the board of review, after the fact, will pass judgment on it? (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

You have it exactly right: The four pre-approval signatures indicate that the project, as described and planned, may be begun; the completion signature indicates the date on which the project was ended; and, finally, the board of review determines the manner in which the project was carried out.

The operative term is, of course, “manner.” This is not about what was done but, rather, how it was done. The key to this is encapsulated in these questions: Did the Eagle candidate employ leadership/leadership skills in carrying out the project? Did he truly lead his helpers in their tasks? (Or did somebody else do the actual leading while the Scout acted more like just another worker bee? Or did the Scout do everything more-or-less himself, without recruiting and leading others to accomplish the task?)

We need to keep in mind that the most important word in “Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project” is “Leadership;” not (believe-it-or-not) “Service.” Eagle projects use community service simply as a tool for the Scout to employ all of the leadership skills he’s learned along the trail to Eagle, in the same way that the Scouting outdoor program is simply a tool we use to imbue self-reliance, confidence, a sense of adventurous accomplishment, and an life-ethic of service to others!

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for the BSA’s National Strategic Plan for youth with disabilities. I’ve looked everywhere I can think of for this. I’ve talked to my council and they don’t even have a special needs committee. I was told that, if I had questions, I could refer them to a particular person, but I’m questioning this person’s ability to understand special needs.

I’m a parent of a special needs child in a local troop and I’m on the troop committee and I’m looking for some answers before he gets to the level of having to go before an Eagle board of review. I’m also with the district as the trainer, and I’ve been through their University of Scouting and went to a class there that was for special needs that was not what needed to be taught to us as leaders (it was for a tutoring program and not what special needs means). I’m just concerned that, when it comes to alternate requirements, that people won’t understand how it is with the special needs Scout.

There are different forms of special needs, and both the council and the troops need to know how to deal with each boy with special needs and not treat them all the same. I’m not only concerned for my own son but for others in the council, also.

I also want to start up a committee on the council level for this and I’m not sure that they will be that receptive to the idea. I guess I just need some guidance in this matter and would like to keep the district and council and troop names out of the answer. (Name & Council Withheld)

Did you know that James E. West, the first Chief Scout of the BSA, was himself stricken with polio? I’m delighted to tell you that for the past 98 years, the BSA has rigorously practiced inclusiveness, especially for boys and young men with disabilities. The BSA has published several booklets on this exact subject, each including an extensive listing of further resources. BSA advancement requirements take disabilities into account, and methods for developing alternate are laid out in plain English. In fact, there may be no other youth movement that is more open, accommodating, and actively interested in serving youth with disabilities.

Go here: for further information, direct from the BSA.

As for helping your council establish a special committee to focus on youth with special needs, sit down with your Scout Executive and talk it over (make this a face-to-face conversation; email isn’t an appropriate communication tool for something like this). Just one suggestion when you do this: Formulate a mission for such a committee in advance, and think about exactly what its members would do, how they’d do it, and what the goal(s) would be. Best wishes!

Hey Andy,

Just to follow-up on that Scout we have who has a severe heart condition and alternative requirements: What’s the process for Eagle-required merit badges he won’t be able to complete, like Physical Fitness and the Hiking/Swimming/Biking? (Rick Jurgens, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

First, your troop committee and you can obtain and read A Guide To Working With Boy Scouts With DisABILITIES (BSA No. 33056C, price $2.00). In this booklet, you’ll find just about everything you’ll need to help this Scout. It would also be an excellent idea for you all to share this with the Scout’s parents, so that you’re all on the same page. Then, you all and this Scout’s parents need to discuss the eight methods of Scouting, and the fact that advancement is just one of these eight: advancement is not a goal of Scouting, and attaining Eagle rank is not an objective of the Scouting program. Advancement is available to each Scout, as he so chooses. This Scout may or may not want to make Eagle one of his personal goals, and this is entirely up to him. First Class rank is certainly an acceptable goal, as is Star, and even Life. Or, this Scout may decide that he’s not really interested in advancement, at all, and he needs to know that that’s OK! He may be very satisfied to attend troop meetings and certain outdoor experiences, including summer camp, and obtain some merit badges that he’s interested in, and that’s that. In other words, we don’t want to convey the message to this or any Scout that Eagle is the single ultimate goal. Advancement is always at a Scout’s own discretion, and his Boy Scout Handbook tells him this.

That said, if this Scout does wish to try for Eagle, that’s certainly OK, too, but we don’t want to spin our wheels prematurely since we already know that fewer than one in ten Scouts actually accomplishes this, and the Scouts that do not are hardly considered “failures.”

So, my short answer would be this: When he’s on the cusp of earning First Class, write to me again and we’ll discuss the next steps. But, I’ll take it further, right now, although not in especially great detail at this moment in time… We’ll assume that, along the way, this Scout chooses and earns nine merit badges in the “non-required” category. And we’ll assume, also, that of the 12 required for Star, Life, and Eagle, he has no insurmountable problems with camping, the three citizenships, communications, emergency preparedness, first aid, personal management, and family life. This leaves just two: personal fitness and the three-way option of cycling or hiking or swimming. We know from reading the pamphlet I’ve recommended to you that BSA policy states that requirements for merit badges must be completed as written, without exception. My own reading, right now, of the requirements for personal fitness merit badge doesn’t reveal any totally prohibitive requirement; however, this will be determined more specifically when this Scout’s physician is given the requirements to read and he or she gives a medical indication or what’s possible here. That’s down the road a piece. As for the three-way option, I’m going to guess (and this is only a guess) that cycling might be ruled out, but not necessarily either hiking or swimming, because neither one of these has a “time” aspect to it (e.g., “hike five miles in 1.25 hours” or “swim 100 yards in two minutes”), so the Scout can set his own pace. This strongly suggests that neither of these is automatically impossible. If this turns out to be the case, then Eagle is his for the earning!

So the bottom line, I think, is this: Let this Scout be a Scout. Let him enjoy the adventure, fun, friendships, and joys of being a Scout. Let him get elected Patrol Leader because he’s a good guy, conduct opening ceremonies because he’s developed “stage confidence,” help him to go on trips and outings with his Scouting friends. Encourage him as he embraces the Scout Oath and Law and lives it more and more in his daily life. Cheer his daily good turns. And above all, let him BE HAPPY.

Baden-Powell likened advancement to a suntan: It’s something that happens naturally while you’re having fun in the out-of-doors. Let this be your guiding principle.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Webelos II Den Leader, and I’ve been the leader of this den since the boys were Wolf cubs. Most of the boys in the den are nice and friendly, but I have one who’s a little odd. Many of the boys think he’s strange, and they don’t really enjoy being around him. I’ ve tried to work with the boys, teaching them patience and understanding, which can be hard, sometimes. The “odd” boy speaks out of turn, says strange things, and tends not to help the group he’s working with. Sometimes, he runs off and sits next to his dad instead of doing the activity that’s going on. The boys have come to accept him, I think, although no one really wants to be grouped up with him. Since I have ten boys in my den, I can often switch out groups, and the other boys understand that they’ll not always be paired up with this one boy.

As we prepare to transition to Boy Scouts, we are visiting the three troops in our area. This “odd” boy has already told my son that he wants to be in the same troop that my son chooses. This is our problem. My son is looking forward to being a Boy Scout, but he really doesn’t want to get stuck in the same patrol with this strange boy for the next six or eight years. His fear is that the troop that they join will think it’s a good idea to put all the new boys together in a patrol, and that it’s inevitable that the two of them will be together. I’m worried that, once this happens, my son will drop out.

I’m wondering what I can or should do about this situation. I’m sympathetic to the “odd” boy—I’m sure he wants to be a great scout—and I know his dad will see to it that he makes it to every event. But I’m also sympathetic to my son. He’s been with him now for four years in Cubs, and for some of those years in the same class at school. I can see how he’d want to move away from him, and not have to deal with him anymore. Part of me wants to ask my son to keep putting up with him, but I fear he’d rather drop out than be in a patrol with him. Part of me wants to ask the Scoutmaster of the troop to put the boys in separate patrols. What do you think I should do? (Name & Council Withheld)

It would sure be a wonderful world if every child “fit in”! But they don’t. And, as your own son’s world of acquaintances continues to expand with his natural growth and development, he’s going to encounter lots of others with whom he won’t really want to be best bud’s with. Same with the other boys in your den. I think this is called “life.” But enough of waxing philosophical. Let’s take a look at your particular situation…

One thing I’m noticing is that you made no mention of speaking with this particular boy’s parents. If his father comes to den meetings and stays (which, by the way, is relatively unusual behavior in itself), you have a perfect opportunity to speak with him before or after any meeting and describe your concerns about his son’s behavior to him. This would also include describing the inappropriateness of the boy clinging to his father (as well as the father permitting this) during actual meeting time, instead of remaining participatory with the other boys. In this conversation, which is considerably overdue, you may learn some important things about this boy and/or his family situation that may help you and the other boys in the den deal with him. You may also convince the father that some behavioral changes need to be made, and encourage him to work on this with his son. There’s nothing to be afraid of here, and you don’t have to be “a professional” to have an honest conversation that describes behaviors factually (and avoids judgmental remarks). You can do this! In fact, the father just might appreciate your taking a special interest in his son instead of acting like “the elephant in the room” doesn’t really exist!

Hi Andy,

I understand that when you provide service to multiple units, you need to be registered to those units so that the units can report they have trained leadership in those positions for their quality unit designations, etc. So obviously BSA permits this. We have many district volunteers who are also unit leadership, for example. But what about “proof” on dates of service, that they can’t be used to earn multiple Scouter awards? If it were stated that “tenure for this award may not be used as tenure for any other award,” that leaves this dual service question still open. (Dan)

If you ever find the exact wording, let me know and I’ll publish it. In the meanwhile, it’s a very easy step from “dates of service” to “tenure.” In fact, “tenure” means the elapsed time between one point in time and another. So, you’ve already found all the wording you’ll ever need. Of course, we’re talking about registered positions here; we’re definitely not talking about situations like, “Well, this other unit needed some help so I just visited them and acted like I was their (you fill in the blank), so doesn’t that count?” Because the answer to that question is: No, it doesn’t.

Dear Andy,

You recently said, “…For merit badges in general, the ‘rule of thumb’ is that work on the requirements formally begins when the Scout has begun the merit badge…’Beginning’ a merit badge is defined as: The Scout has (1) obtained a signed application (aka “Blue Card”) from his Scoutmaster and (2) has had his first meeting with his Merit Badge Counselor. Until both (1) and (2) have occurred, the Scout is not considered to have started the merit badge.”

What about the Camping merit badge? If a Scout starts this merit badge at, say, age 13, does that mean his camping nights prior to then don’t count toward the 20 nights required for the merit badge? I’ve asked many people about this, and I get as many different replies as people! If no work prior to beginning a merit badge is counted, then shouldn’t we automatically sign up every new Scout for Camping merit badge? This same line of thinking might apply to other merit badges too! (Bill Ewing, CC, Santa Fe , NM)

Great question! This is without doubt a “gray area”—Of course, at the outset, camping is not so much of an issue, because the Scoutmaster is keeping track of his Scouts’ camping days-and-nights for Second and First Class ranks. However, as these approach fulfillment, the wise Scoutmaster will encourage these Scouts to obtain “Blue Cards” from him for Camping MB, so they can continue their camping without concern for the “pre-” versus “post-” starting point. As for others merit badges, the MBC will make the wise decision.

Dear Andy,

I have a bit of a problem. Right now, our Webelos I patrol of eleven Scouts is in the process of earning their activity badges. We have a group of over-achievers. The boys have made it their goal to finish all 20 activity badges by the end of their first year.

The five leaders in our patrol do not sign off on slipshod work. For example, our boys are not just doing Readyman, they are working towards their American Red Cross First Aid and CPR Certification. They are learning to cook outdoors complete with packing their own gear in and packing their own gear out, planning their own menus, learning the patrol method, learning their knots, etc.

Each year, the Scouts have earned a slew of Cub Scout Sports and Academics Belt Loops and Pins—In some cases, all of them! Ever since their Tiger year, these boys have earned: Emergency Preparedness, Outdoor Activity Award, Cub Scout World Conservation Award, Good Turn For America, and Leave No Trace, in addition to all the electives and achievements! The average “arrowhead count” per boy was eight silvers each. Last year, we’ve added the Conservation Good Turn and Award, the Crime Prevention Award, and the American Heritages Award, plus, a couple boys did the BSA Family Award.

This year we have: Scouting-the-Web Award, International Activity Badge, the Donor Awareness Patch, the BSA Physical Fitness Award, and the Internet Scout Patch, not to mention the boys’ respective religious knots. We do Scouting for Food and participate in pack and council events.

Here’s our problem: We’re running out of things to do, and our boys want to do more! We want to work on the Hornaday Award, but to earn this as a Cub Scout we have to have 60% of our unit contributing! For us, that’s 84 Scouts! What other types of long-term conservation projects (with an award attached, besides the ones we’ve done and still do) can our patrol of eleven earn? The boys really want to do a big conservation project. Any ideas? How do we go about getting our boys recognition for their committed efforts to such a project?

At the rate our guys are going, we’ll be out of things to do by the end of their Webelos I year! (Name & Council Withheld)

A “patrol” of eleven, with five adult leaders? I’m not sure I understand what you’re doing. In the first place, Webelos Scouts belong in a den. Patrols are for Boy Scouts. In the second place, two dens of five to six each, each with one Den Leader and one Assistant Den Leader, makes much better sense and allows for much more individual attention.

You say you’ve all taken training, and I’m sure you’ve all also read the Webelos Leader Guide. Why you’ve chosen not to follow the program is beyond my understanding. The BSA has laid the entire 18-month program out for you all, on a (literally!) month-by-month basis. I don’t understand why you’re choosing not to follow it.

The goal is not the proverbial mountaintop; it’s the journey. You’re attacking the Webelos activity badges like storm troopers. You’re sprinting through the experiences that need to be savored. It’s like you’re gulping your food down as fast as you can, tasting nothing and getting bloated, instead of savoring each bite and letting its flavor linger enjoyably and memorably.

This is not supposed to be “whoever dies with the most badges wins” for goodness sake!

Teach your boys to take time to smell the roses along the way. You’ll be doing them a far greater service than the way things are going now.

No, I don’t have any suggestions for a “conservation project” for you, because I believe you all need to re-read what it is you’re supposed to be doing and cease this hell-bent-for-leather approach to the program. Besides, “advancement” is merely a tool for learning; it is not an end in itself, and there should be two bona fide Webelos dens and not some sort of “mini-troop.”

I hope you’re getting this.

Dear Andy,

Thank you for your reply. It does seem to come across as a little harsh. So, I will give my apologies up front if my response to you comes across as “b****y.” It’s not my intent.

Our pack set the policy of allowing Webelos Scouts to choose a name for their den and thus become a patrol. Our patrol’s leadership did not set this precedent, nor will we be the ones to say it’s not appropriate. The Scouts view this as a right of passage, setting themselves apart from the younger ranks via a different uniform (tan-and-olive) and identity, (name instead of a number).

Secondly, I agree with you that in a perfect world of Scouting we’d be two separate dens with two leaders each; but here in the real world, our pack doesn’t operate this way.

As for the number of boys in our patrol, this came about because of multiple dens folding due to a lack of trained leaders and parental involvement. We tried to dissuade dens from merging with us, only to hear, “Our boys want to come into your den or they may drop out.” In order to keep these boys active in Scouting, the patrol’s leadership polled our Scouts on whether or not to take the new Scouts in. The individual attention given to our boys is always considered long before requesting a show of hands. Following their direction, a vote is then put before our parents. Nine out of ten times the boys’ overwhelming response is to take them in versus loosing them forever to the daily influences eroding our society’s morals. Please, don’t get me wrong, our boys have chosen not to bring others in due to known discipline problems at school. They are the first to say if they think or feel it will be detrimental to the group’s cohesiveness. Regrettably, some redirected Scouts eventually dropped out of the program.

As for taking training, yes, we’ve done so. And, apparently, we have chosen not to follow the Webelos Leader Guide to the letter. Our patrol does follow the BSA Guide to Safe Scouting, maintains two-deep leadership at all times, and remains current on all training requirements and certifications. We feel we’re providing a quality Scouting program for our boys and their families.

You stated that we should be following the 18-month Webelos Leader Program Guide. According to this “guide,” Webelos are to go camping all of twice: one district and one pack event. In 18 months, our council offers ten camping opportunities. This doesn’t include the weekly summer camping plus ten camping weekends with our pack. Our leadership’s poor judgment skills encourage our Scouts to participate in other district’s camping events, also! So, instead of just smelling the roses within our own backyards, we encourage the Scouts to smell the roses in the entire field!

It’s our opinion that not following the 18-month program verbatim is a matter of interpretation. Plan A in the Webelos Leaders Guide applies to us as far as months of service are concerned. We, too, completed Traveler in June, along with all the Character Connections and required learning involved with preparing the boys for Boy Scouts. Also, we request our boys to prepare and review requirements at home. We also teach our Scouts to seize opportunities as they present themselves.

“Opportunity one” arrived last July. Our Scouts attended a four-day, council-sponsored Webelos camp, where they each earned Fitness, Naturalist, Citizen, and Showman. Yes, Fitness requires charting and Citizen a mandatory belt loop. This is where knowing our handbook and being prepared comes in: Our Scouts completed these requirements prior to their attending camp. So, within five weeks of starting their Webelos year, our Webelos earned five activity badges–Something the 18-month program guide doesn’t account for.

One of our Scout’s fathers is a geologist. In August, he taught the boys their Geologist activity badge. It was a highly interactive meeting with everyone having fun while learning about geology. Two of our moms taught Readyman the following month. Who better qualified to teach CPR and first aid, than registered nurses? Subsequently, each meeting we review and continue to prepare our scouts for taking their ARC First Aid/CPR certifications. Again, something not specified in the program guide. Heaven forbid if we should actually turn out a Scout that honestly knows how to help someone during an emergency.

October found us working on the Leave No Trace Award, along with the Scientist belt loop. Again, proper planning, knowing our council’s schedule, and being prepared is something we do. Some boys went camping with our surrounding Boy Scout troops and while there worked on the Outdoorsman activity badge. Those not camping with the troop worked on Outdoorsman when they went camping with our pack. Seeing how the leadership of our patrol attended three of the four camping events available to us, it wasn’t difficult to utilize what we learned from the Boy Scouts and presented it to our Webelos Scouts.

All our boys attend the same school. Heeding advice from the Webelos Leader Guide, we solicited the help of their physical fitness teacher, provided her with the requirements to the Athlete and Sportsman activity badges, along with the various sports belt loop and pin requirements. The boys are working on Athlete and Sportsman while at school, during the early-morning Fit Kids Club and during their bi-weekly PE classes. Their PE teacher e-mails us regularly with the completion dates for their activity badges and belt loop and pin requirements. Seeing how their PE teacher has agreed to work with them on their BSA Physical Fitness Award, we had her fill out the proper paperwork required to be a “mentor” to the boys.

In their school’s first trimester, our Scouts completed the Scholar activity badge. One of our leaders and a second Scout’s mom are teachers who educated the boys on the requirements. Someone must have done something right, because all eleven of our Scouts made the honor roll, all have perfect attendance, and none of them has any discipline problems. Oops, the bad leaders forgot: Their Scouts aren’t capable of doing more than one activity badge at a time.

Recently, all eleven of our Scouts attended our council’s Scout Advancement Weekend. Again, they were prepared and completed both the Engineer and Scientist activity badges. My husband and I are friends with the scientist teaching Scientist. I know for a fact that he did indeed provide a quality program to all Scouts. Our boys brought back a lot of terrific memories, and everyone had a great time. So much so that they want to do Scientist over again!

Soon, all our Scouts will be attending another council/district- sponsored camping weekend. Here, they have the opportunity to work on the Forester, Citizen, and Geologist activity badges, not to mention various belt loops and other activities. Then, on the afternoon following camp, most of our Scouts will be joining their pack in performing their civic duty by marching in the town’s holiday parade. Our patrol completes this weekend with our patrol’s holiday party and family barbeque. No memories to savor, friendships to strengthen, or short-term experiences to build upon.

By your account, our patrol’s leadership completely drops the ball because we chose to do what the boys (and families) like doing: camping, church, school and community service, and having good old-fashioned family fun.

Our patrol takes a two-week hiatus in December, as we leaders start preparing for the Pinewood Derby. Our patrol’s leader is a professional woodworker and fully values teaching the importance of shop safety as he lends a hand to everyone with his or her car. Seeing how our patrol has the largest number of Family Division entries in the pack’s Pinewood Derby, it shows the entire family is having just as much fun working on their car right alongside their Scout. No lingering one-on-one time or family togetherness happening here; only gulping and gorging!

Shortly, we’ll be attending yet another council-sponsored event: Webelos Woods. Again, two more activity badges will be available. The one or two boys that may need to work on these activity badges will have the opportunity to do so. Provided the parents and Scouts having previously taught/completed the activity badges haven’t worked with them personally during our scheduled make-up meetings. Those having already earned these activity badges are requesting service hours at our council camp by way of work projects such as building a bridge, planting trees, and repairing camp pavilions. Guess the leaders dropped the ball again by teaching our boys to actually want to do something for someone else instead of themselves. Bad leaders… Baaad leaders!

I’m sure you will have nothing but negative words to say if you knew our boys elect to have three-hour, bi-weekly patrol meetings; instead of the one hour-and-15 minute run-through that training directs of us. And I’m certain you’ll only trash our efforts, because we cover more than “snacks and games” at our meetings. Just keep in mind that our “mini-troop” has the best parent-and-Scout attendance, are flexible in our planning, and have the most family-oriented fun in the pack. We the leaders are thankful to our parents for the opportunity to work and influence not only the lives of their sons, but their siblings also. We have five girls entering Ventures next year.

As leaders, we’ve been asked by our parents to prepare their boys for Boy Scouts. This is something we take seriously. We require our Scouts to know how to tie knots, learn their first aid, know how to safely conduct themselves, to be responsible for their actions (and handbooks), and to be good family members and citizens. Our Scouts are learning that “honesty” and “trustworthy” are words to live by, not just something to parrot at pack meetings. We receive great satisfaction in helping our boys learn good values and worthy skills along their way to becoming adults.

All in all, I feel it was a mistake to seek advice from someone who views our Scouts’ eagerness to do for others as a “hell-bent-for-leather” approach to the Scouting program. It’s my impression that you think boys shouldn’t try to do their best, for fear it will make other Scouts, and leaders, look bad. As children, they are not capable of learning at a faster pace than the prescribed BSA guidelines recommend. And, as leaders, we have all failed our Scouts/children because we choose to teach them to want to do more for their God, fellow man, and their country because that’s what we were taught to do.

It appears your interpretation of a good leader is to teach our Scouts not to set obtainable goals; nor should we be helping them reach these goals. As leaders, we should be teaching our Scouts healthy competition is a bad thing. Your version of a good Scout leader is someone teaching that the buddy system only applies to swimming and not all aspects of life; that it’s okay to become bored with the program because you’re to travel as fast as the slowest member in the group; as leaders, we should rein our Scouts back, stifle their desire to see something through to its completion; and, heaven forbid, don’t ask to do more!

If this is the case, then our patrol chooses to remain full of bad leaders. We choose to continue teaching our Scouts to help and mentor not just fellow Scouts but anyone needing it. We will continue to teach them that all of us are responsible for being productive by lending a hand and giving kind words and encouragement, that its not OK to leave anyone behind, and you are to always try to do you best. In essence, we are preparing good future leaders.

It is this leader’s opinion that the Webelos Leader Handbook contains the BSA guidelines to a memorable learning experience for its youth. These guidelines are just that: Guides, not hard-and-fast rules, regulations, and timetables. I don’t think it’s the BSA’s intent to box in its leaders, but allows them the opportunity to think outside those little boxes! The last time I looked, Andy, all my Leader’s Handbooks are printed on flexible paper, not chiseled in stone. (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s doubtful you’re going to enjoy hearing what I’m about to impart, and it’s even less likely you’ll do anything to change your ways; however, it’s definitely time for a reality check, so here it is: Your responses to my concerns about your having seriously departed from the program you’re charged to follow is, in a word, classic. In the seven years I’ve been writing this column, plus the 20 that I’ve served as a Commissioner in several councils, every single renegade leader I’ve ever encountered has followed your format of (a) “It’s not us…it’s what ‘the boys’ want,” (b) “That’s the way our unit does things, so it’s not our fault,” (c) “The parents (even though they have no training and little if any understanding of the true purpose of the Scouting program) want us to do it this way,” and (d) “That BSA stuff is just guidelines, anyway,” followed by finding fault with and accusing the Commissioner as a way to deflect focus on all the stuff you’re knowingly doing wrong.

Hi Andy,

Is there a process to electing/choosing a Scoutmaster? In other words, if you have more than one person who wants to be Scoutmaster of a troop, how is the Scoutmaster chosen in that situation? (Wanda Clapp)

Two people who want to be Scoutmaster? What a happy situation! It’s not a “vote.” Scoutmasters are selected by the Chartered Organization Representative and the Troop Committee Chair, working together, and with the agreement of the troop committee (but note that the troop committee doesn’t have “right of veto”–this is the COR’s and the CC’s ultimate decision). If there are, indeed, two equally viable candidates, then a personal conversation among these four people—the two interested parties and the COR and CC—is definitely in order.

Dear Andy,

Per official BSA by-laws, does a Scoutmaster have a vote at a committee meeting? Where is this referenced? (Michelle Iler)

Scoutmasters don’t vote in unit committee decisions because they’re not members of the unit committee. Simple as that.

Dear Andy,

We need to know the color of the Scoutmaster’s scarf. (Kevin and Phyl)

The Scoutmaster wears the same color scarf (called a neckerchief in America) as the Scouts in the troop do. If he or she is Wood Badge-trained, there might be a special occasion to wear that neckerchief.

Hi Andy,

Could you give me a general time-frame for how long it should take a Scout to earn First Class rank, starting from the time he joins a troop? (Susan Renner, Parent, Dan Beard Council, OH)

Tenderfoot has one specific 30-day requirement (for physical fitness); neither Second Class nor First Class has a requirement with a time-line, and no “tenure-in-rank” is required for any of these three. The time it takes to complete all three is dependent on two things: The interest of the Scout himself (in the Boy Scouts, advancement is “at liberty” and it’s the Scout’s decision), and how actively outdoor-oriented both he and his troop are (meaning: How often does the troop go camping and hiking, and how often does the Scout go on these outings). For some Scouts, a couple of months is all that’s needed; for others, it might take a year (the BSA encourages all troops to help their new Scouts get to First Class in their first year in the troop), for others, it might not even happen.

As a Scoutmaster, I encouraged and expected a Scout who’d joined the troop in February or March to have earned First Class rank before we went to summer camp that year. Most did; a few finished up while at camp.

Hi Andy,

Our Cub Scout pack’s committee members have decided to work on the Emergency Preparedness Award for our Scouters, and we have a question: One of the possible requirements is to take a basic “First Aid/CPR” course…What does the slash mean? Would an American Heart Association CPR course qualify, or does the BSA have a more specific course in mind? (Iggy Ferguson, CC, Potsdam, NY)

A slash (“/”) usually means either-or. If that’s the case here, it would mean that either a First Aid course or a CPR course may be taken. However, in your shoes I’d call my Scout Executive or District Executive and ask, just to be certain.

Hi Andy!

One of the mothers in my son’s Wolf den had a great idea that we’d love to implement but aren’t exactly sure how we would go about doing so. She suggested we come up with real, live, old-fashioned pen pals from a Cub Scout-aged Scouting program overseas (UK or Australia, probably, so that language isn’t a barrier). This way, the boys could learn from each other about each other’s cultures, how their Scouting programs differ and are the same, and could just look forward to a letter in their mailboxes addressed just to them, with exciting stamps from foreign lands. This would also give the boys a little bit of insight about their World Crest patch, and the idea that we’re all one big happy Scouting family! Do you have any idea how we would be able to find an overseas unit to exchange letters with? (Julie Merchant, CA, Chief Seattle Council, WA)

What a wonderful idea! Several years ago, the den for which I was DL was contacted by a Scout group in London who wanted to do this with American Scouts, and we made it happen—Every one of my Cubs had a Cub “pen pal” (in the true tradition of pen pals—no email!) and the exchanges were wonderful! They even included exchanging photos of their home lives, pets and parents, and badges.

I went to the British Scout Association’s website and to “directory” at and chose Greater London-North This gave me the names and email addresses of the volunteer coordinators in the area. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that if you do the same, and pick a couple of folks to write to, they’ll put you in touch with a Scout Group that would love to join up with you! Have FUN! Your boys will love it and so will you—I promise!

Dear Andy,

How do we retire a state flag? Do we do the same as for the American flag? (Margaret Chapie)

The U.S. Flag Code (Google it for everything you’ve ever wanted to know about flag practices and protocols) says that we should retire the American flag “in a dignified manner.” I’d strongly suspect that it would be an act of gallantry to retire a state flag in an equally dignified manner. One thing: As the American flag is always first or uppermost relative to state flags, I’d reverse this ceremonially by retiring the state flag before the American flag, so that the American flag is the final.


Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Idea? Suggestion? Thought? Something that works? Just write to me at (Please include your COUNCIL or your TOWN & STATE)


(January 2, 2008 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2008)


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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