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Issue 128 – March 12, 2008

Dear Andy,

After reading several letters in your columns about aggressive, dictator types of committee chairs, it seems that many may have experienced what we’ve just gone through. Once our troop’s long-time Scoutmaster and Committee Chair left the area, a new Committee Chair took over and began her reign. Not only did she alienate most of our Scouts and the supportive parents, but she single-handedly removed the new Scoutmaster and within a month, then forced out his replacement, too. But, instead of facing anyone, she used email as her “grenade-launcher.” We, the parents, called a meeting, but she (again, via email) declared that we could not do this—only she could. Well, we decided to meet anyway and, as might be expected, neither she nor her allies (and fellow back-stabbers) showed up. We took it upon ourselves to fire the lot of them, and so we did, and to this day she’s never shown up or made further contact with any of us again.

My point here is: If someone—anyone—is overstepping his or her bounds by playing politics, using email as “grenades,” insulting anyone—Scout or Scoutmaster or parent—in public, please step up and “clip their wings”! You don’t have to tolerate this! Don’t give them any power that they don’t have. Confront. Insist on answers. Don’t get distracted. (Mike Contreras, Scoutmaster [again], Las Vegas Area Council, NV)

Thanks for writing, and best wishes for getting your troop aimed toward True North again!

Now before all of you sharp-eyed readers start writing to me about “a committee can’t ‘fire’ a Committee Chair,” let me remind you that this scenario was about a tin-god bully. For another tin god of the worst sort, and what to do about him, read on…

Dear Andy,

Here’s hoping you can clarify some things about merit badges, Blue Cards, and quizzing Scouts on requirements. My son is a 13-year-old First Class Scout and is having one heck of a time getting Blue Cards to work on merit badges he’s interested in. Regardless if it’s for a Merit Badge University, a merit badge session at a local science center, or just one he wants to work on with a Scout buddy at home, he’s being blocked by his Scoutmaster, left and right. At last week’s troop meeting, the Scoutmaster announced that no more Blue Cards would issued until summer camp four months from now. Meanwhile, for nearly the past four months, my son’s been asking for Blue Cards for some merit badges he’d like to get started on before spring break, and the Scoutmaster’s simply said no. The Scoutmaster’s also said that there will be no Blue Cards for Eagle-required merit badges given to any Scout who’s less than 14 years old (of course, this blocks Star and Life ranks, too). Then, when my son brought Blue Cards back from a recent Merit Badge University run by our council, he was told that the Scoutmaster would be testing him on every requirement for every merit badge, even though the Blue Cards were signed and stamped “completed” by the Merit Badge Counselor. This same Scoutmaster went on to say that no Scout will be earning Eagle before age 15, and that the few Scouts who are making the effort to advance and complete merit badges better slow down, because he was tired of other Scouts’ parents complaining that their sons weren’t earning any. On other occasions, he’s stated that, at the Eagle board of review, each Scout will be tested on requirements, and that if they do too many merit badges too soon, they wouldn’t remember them. He’s also said that the only merit badges that “count” for Eagle Palms are those earned after Eagle.

I’m not involved in the troop or on the troop committee (I’m a Cubmaster), but my husband’s recently taken the position of Committee Chair (“CC”), and he and the newly appointed Chartered Organization Representative (“COR”) are on friendly terms. Because our younger son is still in the pack I serve, and also because I’m not particularly well-versed in the Boy Scout program (although I have a feeling this Scoutmaster’s been dishing out a bunch of BS), because he’s also the Unit Commissioner for my pack, I don’t want to ask about these issues at the district level, because I’m concerned that it could come back to hurt the pack, even our younger son.

Any clarification would be appreciated. It’s been a roller-coaster year of Boy Scouting after five smooth years of Cubs. (Name & Council Withheld)

Your son’s Scoutmaster is wrong, wrong, wrong on EVERYTHING–Yes, EVERYTHING—you’ve described.

There are just two ways of dealing with this tin god jerk:

One is to immediately go find another troop for your sons, because the one your older son’s in is not only totally clueless but the Scoutmaster is “playing god” in areas he has no business in. There is literally not one thing that you’ve described that’s in line with the BSA advancement goals and plan. Moreover, if your son has friends in this troop (such as those who graduated from Webelos with him), do whatever you can to get them into another troop, too. And for goodness sake do not let any boys in your present pack graduate into that troop. That Scoutmaster is poison and, since the committee is permitting him to bastardize the advancement process the way he’s been doing, they’re probably poison, too, or at the least impotent. And we haven’t even talked about what else this clown has been screwing up!

But there is a second option, if your husband’s up to it… Here’s the playbook for him on how to do it:

Number 1: Confirm that the COR and you are on exactly the same page regarding what the two of you will do together this week (that would be 2 through 6 below).

Number 2: You and the COR together talk privately to the “candidate Scoutmaster” your wife told me about in another letter. Confirm that he’s willing to take all necessary training (New Leader Essentials, Boy Scout Leader Basic, and Introduction to Outdoor Skills). If he says Yes, then also confirm with him that the troop will be run totally “by the book,” and that means no merit badges done in troop meetings (Google “Troop Meeting Plan” and you’ll see what I’m talking about), no more instructions to the Scouts directly by adults (this is the job of Scouts in leadership positions, like SPL, PL, Instructor, etc.), the Scoutmaster’s main job is to train the youth leaders of the troop, plus the stuff I’m going to mention in just a moment. If he agrees to all this, then tell him to hang in there for one more week, and keep his mouth shut.

Number 3: Having brought a fresh BSA Adult Volunteer Application with you, you and the COR now give it to the candidate and ask him to fill it out right then and there. On completion, it goes in your hip-pocket.

Number 4: You and the COR together talk privately with the current Scoutmaster. Here, you inform him that he will make the following public announcement—word-for-word—to all Scouts in the troop, to be further confirmed to all parents, too (hand him the list below, pointing out that all items on this list conform precisely with long-established BSA policies and can be found in the Boy Scout Handbook and the Scoutmaster Handbook). Do not threaten; do not “counsel” him; do not attempt to “reason” with him; do not attempt to “explain why” to him; do not equivocate; do not accept the notion that “these things can be done but they have to happen slowly;” do not accept any response except Yes or No. Here’s the list:

Effective immediately, these BSA policies will prevail in this troop:

– Every Scout can advance in rank according to each Scout’s preference for velocity, and no one will attempt to either slow him down or speed him up–this is entirely each Scout’s personal decision.

– Any Scout can apply for any merit badge any time he wants—whether Eagle-required or not—and upon informing the Scoutmaster of his preference or preferences will immediately be given a Blue Card and the name and contact information of a local Merit Badge Counselor.

– All merit badges, earned anywhere, will “count” and there will absolutely not be any “re-testing” by anyone. The Merit Badge Counselor’s signature will be the sole indicator that the badge is completed.

– Merit badges are absolutely not subject to boards of review of any kind, or even review by the Scoutmaster.

– “Holding back” on rank advancement will cease immediately. If there’s a Scout who wants to be Eagle by his 13th birthday, or 14th, or whenever, that’s his personal decision and no one else’s.

– Boards of review for ranks will absolutely not include quizzes or tests on requirements for either the rank or any merit badges.

– The Scoutmaster will not be a member of any board of review, and has no “vote” in any board of review.

– If a Scout is ready to advance in rank, and requests a Scoutmaster Conference for completion, this will happen either right then and there or within one week or less of the original request. The request need not be in writing—Simply saying “I’m ready for my Scoutmaster Conference” is sufficient.

– All Scoutmaster Conferences will be held in accordance with BSA policy and will not be conducted as “final exams.”

– For the next six months, a third person—the Committee Chair or the COR—will observe all Scoutmaster Conferences as an objective third party.

– What the Scoutmaster has been saying about merit badges for Palms is incorrect; all merit badges past the 21 for Eagle count toward Palms, no matter when earned.

If the Scoutmaster agrees, then this is to happen at the very next troop meeting–no excuses. If the Scoutmaster does not agree with this list or even just one point on it, or begins to argue or express a counter-opinion, instantly tell him this: “Your resignation, as demonstrated by your refusal to comply with BSA policies, is accepted.”

That’s it. No “second chances.” No “Well, I only meant…” No “You can’t do that” because you absolutely, positively can. So, no nothing! It’s over. Finis. Kaput. Ended. He is, at that very moment, no longer the Scoutmaster. There is to be no further discussion. Walk away.

Number 5: If the Scoutmaster has resigned per the denouement of Number 4 (above), the very next day you and the COR (both of you if at all possible) go to your council service center, turn in the new application for Scoutmaster that the ASM filled out (and is in your hip-pocket), and expunge the former Scoutmaster’s name from the troop roster/registration data.

Number 6: At the very soonest troop meeting, you and the COR introduce the new Scoutmaster (be sure he’s in full and correct uniform) to the troop and all parents present, and immediately present the same list of BSA policies as per Number 4 above.

There — You’ve done it!

But you’re not quite done… You need a troop Advancement Chair (a registered troop committee member) who is willing to learn how the advancement plan established by the BSA actually works, so that he or she can make it happen for the Scouts. This includes learning what boards of review are actually for and how they’re actually supposed to be run. (Any reader who wants it can ask me to send them an excellent PowerPoint presentation on Boards of Review, sent to me some time back by a Scouter-reader who has it 100% correct.)

Greetings Andy,

I’ve found your comments to be a treasure trove in the past. Hopefully you can help me work this issue out…

I’m a committee chair for a Cub Scout pack and a Boy Scout troop. These two organizations have no formal connection (the pack isn’t a “feeder” and each unit has a different chartered organization—In fact, pack’s chartered organization also has a Boy Scout troop). At various leader training courses, we’ve been told that there are no “feeder” packs anymore, and that Webelos Scouts should be encouraged to visit a good number of Boy Scout troops in order to see which is a good fit for them. Over the years, my own pack has sent WIIs to a variety of troops in the area (our town is blessed with a good number of strong troops).

As pack committee chair, I’m very scrupulous in not advocating just the troop I’m associated with. I give contact information to the Webelos Den leaders for as many of the troops as I can. My main goal is to get each boy into the troop that will serve him best.

This year something new happened. An Assistant Scoutmaster from another local troop came to a Webelos Den meeting with a number of Scouts from that troop and gave a vigorous sales pitch for their troop. This has never been done in our pack before, and no other troop was accorded such an opportunity. I felt it was wrong to do, because a sales pitch isn’t the same thing as seeing troop meetings. Also, if a troop is supposed to be boy-led, what’s an adult doing making a sales pitch? Some of the boys visited other troop meetings, but I suspected that many had been sold on the basis of that presentation.

I’ve now found out that 9 of the 14 boys are crossing over to this troop. I’m very upset because I think true Scouting spirit has been violated in a greedy attempt collect prospects. I also question whether that large a group of boys will be served well in their new troop. Aside from telling the Den leader that I think he set a bad precedent, I’ve taken no formal action.

I’ve looked at Webelos-to-Scout Transition documents on the Internet, and they all seem to assume that there’s a feeder-type relationship between packs and troops. I don’t see any way the advice given in these documents can be squared with a situation where boys are supposed to not be locked into a particular troop by the middle of their Webelos career.

So how are things supposed to be done? Should I start having Assistant Scoutmasters in my own troop start polishing their own “road shows”? How is my pack supposed to implement the transition plan without shutting out many other worthy troops? Should we ban “road shows” in our pack and den meetings? If we don’t, how many troops do we invite to give a pitch?

Any thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

You raise a terrific point, and my top-line answer is this: Hurray for the troop that “raised the bar”!

To begin, let’s refer to the Scoutmaster Handbook (pages 136-137). There it states in plain black-and-white that a designated Assistant Scoutmaster is the way to go. This ASM is the troop’s primary liaison with one or more Webelos dens in the neighborhood, and the ASM’s primary assistant is often a Scout Den Chief!

Now, using that same reference, let’s back up and realize that “Webelos season” actually begins in September of the Webelos I (i.e., beginning fourth graders) year and not just a month or so before Webelos IIs are about to complete their Cub Scouting journey, because if we wait that long the party’s likely to be over!

As CC for a pack, what you’re doing is excellent, and the honorable and unbiased way you’re doing it is more than admirable. Please keep it up and, if possible, encourage the other pack leaders in town to do the same.

But my hat’s off to the troop that took the bull by the horns and asserted itself by directly reaching out to at least one Webelos den. I’m hoping that the other troops in town “get the message” and step up their own recruiting, too! This is how boys and especially their parents get the idea that it’s expected that Boy Scouting is next on the agenda, and that the only decision to be made is which troop, instead of “Boy Scouts or not.” This is how we present two or more positive options instead of one positive and one non-positive option.

Now just to clarify something, a “Scout-led” troop refers to program content and leadership, and in no way prohibits a responsible adult from “pitching” that program to Webelos Scouts or their parents. That said, a really smart troop will definitely bring along an enthusiastic, sharp, buttoned-up Scout or two anytime they’re pitching the troop – the boys themselves are always a troop’s best “salesmen”!

Don’t “ban” this new approach – Praise it for somebody finally thinking outside the box! Get your own troop to step up its recruitment plan and polish its own “pitch.” Let the incoming and progressing WDLs in every pack know that they should encourage all troops to send representatives to visit with them, if they wish, or, better yet, invite ‘em to special Webelos-by-invitation troop meetings!

Some years back, I was Commissioner in a town with three troops and four packs, and none of the packs was a “feeder”—all seven Scouting units had different sponsors! I can confirm with absolute certainty that, when “Webelos season” came around, the ones who benefited most were the Webelos Scouts themselves, because every one of the troops in town went after them with good-natured vengeance! In the more than half-dozen years that I served Scouting in that town, every single graduating Webelos Scout joined a troop! That’s 100% for some seven straight years! Why such a consistently high transition rate? Simple: In their enthusiasm for top-flight recruiting, every one of the three troops raised the bar on its own Scouting program, and everything was taken to higher levels! Hoo-Hah!

Dear Andy,

Is there an expectation that Scouts and Scouters remove their old unit’s Quality Unit badges from their uniforms when they join a new unit? All I could find from the Insignia Guide was “Only the most recently earned Quality Unit emblem may be worn.” Nowhere does it mention that the “most recent” award be from your current unit.

I’m Scoutmaster of a new troop and I believe in a “nothing more or less” approach to the BSA programs, and that includes the uniforms we wear. But I don’t want to make up rules that don’t exist. I have no intention of being a member of the “patch police” but do think that if I see Scouts wearing the uniform incorrectly that I’d gently point that out, perhaps during his next Scoutmaster Conference.

Actually, I plan to encourage our Senior Patrol Leader to, in turn encourage our Patrol Leaders to do this as part of their normal troop responsibilities. So, with luck, perhaps I’ll never have a conference with a Scout wearing his uniform incorrectly, but want to ask for your opinion on this, and I’d appreciate your insights. BTW, we intend to make this little wrinkle go away by earning our Centennial Quality Unit award this year—Then the Scouts will have a newer award to wear! (J.W., Transatlantic Council)

Some things just can’t be found in the BSA Insignia Guide. Usually, they’re in the “B-F-O” category, otherwise know as “Blinding Flash of the Obvious.” QU emblems that correspond to one’s troop numeral are one of these B-F-Os. A QU emblem that doesn’t match the unit one’s a member of should without question come off. I wouldn’t make a big stink about this but I’d sure mention it on a one-on-one basis when a new Scout or uniformed adult joins my troop.

On uniforming in general, it’s usually worth pointing out with increasing emphasis that the full uniform is what we wear… Beginning lightly at the Tenderfoot board of review and upping the emphasis as Scouts move onward in rank, so that by the time they’re approaching Star and Life, they’ve got the message and meet expectations.

When it’s a case of affordability, many troops have a stash of “experienced” uniforms from Scouts who have aged out, or some funds available to help out as appropriate.

Baden-Powell put it like this: A boy can be a Scout without having a uniform, but what boy with Scouting in his heart wouldn’t have one?

If you watch the wonderful Fred MacMurray movie. “Follow Me Boys,” carefully, you’ll observe that, in the beginning of the movie, the Scouts in the troop formed by his character were pretty haphazardly uniformed, but when the plot moves forward a few years, uniforming becomes virtually complete across the board. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely there! (Somebody really paid attention to details!)

Hi Andy,

We’ve been working on a new Webelos-to-Scout transition program. Two of my friends have done this as part of their Wood Badge ticket. Basically, as the boys advance in Webelos, the Troop begins to help out with advancement, incorporating the boys much more quickly and fully than we ever have in the past. It’s a great program, and this year for the first time all five of our Webelos II Scouts are going to move on to a Boy Scout troop as a patrol!

This got me to thinking, “What if we could get more Scouts involved with our younger Cubs?”

Of course, there’s the Den Chief position to do this already. But most of the Scouts who will seek leadership positions in the troop look at this as a second-class leadership opportunity. (It was explained to me that in almost 12 years our troop had never produced a Den Chief, and we’ve now encouraged two Scouts to get training, and one actually became a Den Chief this year.

My question: Can a Scout hold more than one leadership position at a time?

At first, we looked at how this applied to Scouters – You can have only one registered position within a unit, but you can register with more than one unit and are allowed to have two positions that way. (We do that here for example with unit and district positions for training chair and membership chair for example.) But that doesn’t really make sense with Scouts, since they are youth members anyhow.

On the other side, Den Chief is a troop position, not a pack position, so the service is to the same unit, even if it’s being carried out in a different unit.

So, can a Scouts who’s, say, a Patrol Leader also serve as a Den Chief if he wishes?

The troop just isn’t large enough to provide our two large packs with enough Den Chiefs to even cover our Webelos programs if those who are willing to lead can’t do both. Obviously we’re struggling with some transition issues, with large packs and a much smaller troop. We think more boys will want to move up if we can have them gain more exposure with our Scouts! (Dan Gross, “I used to be a Bear, and a good ole Bear too…”)

A Scout can absolutely hold more than one position! Although I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone but the most organized and delegation-minded Senior Patrol Leader, I’d absolutely recommend this to most every other Scout! Patrol Leaders are elected, of course, but he might also be the troop’s Scribe at the same time! And, certainly, any Scout, regardless of troop leadership position held, can volunteer to be a Den Chief too (his “one big decision” will be which badge to wear on his left sleeve, since he can’t wear both!).

What most Scouts don’t get is that Den Chief is one of the most challenging leadership positions in all of Scouting! In the first place, he’s responsible weekly and at pack meetings, too, for a bunch of wild n’ wooly kids who didn’t elect him! On top of this, he reports directly to an adult and not another Scout! Plus, he’s got to be “The Perfect Scout”–He can’t so much as pick his nose once without some little blue-shirted squirt seeing him and calling him on it! He’s got to know his stuff! He can’t ever whine, shirk, grouse, complain, or in any way show less that 100% enthusiasm, because he’s the “Ultimate Role-Model” for these boys. For the same reason, he’s got to look sharp all the time, right down to his shoes! And, he can never become “one of them”–He has to maintain his position as “Chief-of-the-Den” at all times! Show me a great Den Chief, and I’ll show you a youth who can lead anyone!

In my own tenure as a Den Leader/Webelos Den Leader, I had three different Den Chiefs. I hand-picked all three of them. I visited their troop meetings (in uniform) and stood to the side, just observing all the Scouts in action: How they were dressed, how they comported themselves, how they related to their fellow Scouts, and so forth. It never took more than a few minutes for the one I wanted to stand out from the rest. So, I’d then approach the Scoutmaster, point to my “target Scout,” ask for his name, ask if he already held a leadership position in the troop, and then ask the Scoutmaster if I could speak with that Scout for a few minutes about being a Den Chief for me.

In speaking with the Scout, I put it right up front: I’m looking for a Den Chief (and told him what I told you two paragraphs above), and he’s my candidate if he wants the job. With this promise: If he takes the job, I’ll train him and always be there for him, and I’ll help him earn the Den Chief Service Award, if he’s interested. But, most of all, I talked about the fun he’d have if he joined me in leading my den.

All three times, the Scouts I’d picked said yes. Not two of them were the same. Totally different backgrounds and personalities. One had problems with “adults in charge” (his dad was a cop and his mom an assistant DA, so maybe this had something to do with it) but with guidance and understanding on my part, including treating him as my equal and not my “go-fer,” he “got it” and we worked together like a well-oiled machine. The next one, I discovered, had a learning disability (could barely read, at 13 years old!) and so he and I found ways to work around that when it came to special ceremonies (turned out anything he heard he could play back word-for-word, so we dispensed with written scripts and talked through just about everything). The third Scout was a master of protocol and decorum who could still give the Cubs lots of fun–but as “the straight man.” He was probably one of the most “buttoned-up” young men I’ve ever had the delight of working with, with the most adult-ly wry senses of humor I’ve ever encountered! My Webelos Scouts absolutely looked up to him, despite his being shorter than several of them, even at age 14!

By the way, even though each was from a different troop in town, all three sailed right through Boy Scout advancement, straight to Eagle!

Long-winded way of saying: Go for it!

Hi Andy,

I’m about to cross most of my den of Webelos II Scouts over to troops in our area, and I have a couple of questions…

First, they tell me that the crossover ceremony is done at the district level at a Boy Scout Camporee in April. That’s where all the Webelos crossing over will be called up and sent over to their new troop. I haven’t seen anything like this in any of the research I’ve done on crossover-related issues. Is crossing over really something done with the troop and not with the pack?

Second, I had three boys join my Webelos den this year (they hadn’t been Cub Scouts). They’ve done all of the requirements for the Arrow of Light rank, except earning the Webelos badge. I explained to them when they joined that, if they wanted to earn the AoL, they’d have to do work at home on the Citizen and
Fitness badges, because our den just didn’t have time in our overall schedule to do those badges again, while working on other requirements). Two of the boys are working on these two activity badges and should have the requirements met by the pack’s Blue & Gold banquet, so they can receive their Webelos badges and the AoL on the same night. Is this OK, or do they need to get the Webelos badge on a different day from the AoL?

The third one of these boys hasn’t been interested in working on either of the two “missing” badges. But he’s missed only one regular meeting this entire year, gone on all of our campouts, visited all of the troops, and earned five other activity badges (just not Citizen or Fitness). He won’t be 11 until June, and he won’t graduate from fifth grade until June, either. What do I do with him when all the other boys have moved on? I can’t have a den of one. Do I send him to a Webelos I den for the remainder of the year?

Third, I have two boys who missed a meeting last March, when we were working on some of the Engineer requirements. These boys really want this badge. With the Blue & Gold banquet looming, I just don’t have time in my own schedule to redo the missed Engineer requirements until the week after the B&G. Can I do it then, and get them that badge that they want so badly? Since, as I’ve said before, the troops in our area have this strange crossover in April policy, does that actually give me an extra month to work with the boys? (If so, I suppose we could repeat the Citizen and Fitness requirements with that one boy, and get him his AoL, too.) But it just feels wrong to get them the AoL and then hold them back for a month before they join a troop.

What do you think? I’m with a revitalized pack, and we haven’t had any Webelos II Scouts (or leaders) for years, so I have no one to ask, and no example to follow, and I feel very confused. (Tamara Snyder, Westark Area Council, AR)

I appreciate your confusion and consternation—It’s great to hear from somebody who’s working hard to “get it right”! Here’s the good news: Everything’s going to be OK! Here are the details…

Various packs, districts, and councils might handle cross-overs a little differently. Mostly, they’re done in a February pack meeting (usually the annual Blue & Gold Banquet), or, sometimes, March. Sometimes, it might be done a little differently. Sounds like your district has something special in mind here! Of course it’s “legal,” so don’t fret! The big point is to make certain that every Webelos II Scout in the den has, indeed, selected a troop he wants to join!

On your second question, Yes, it’s definitely OK for those boys to receive their Webelos badges, followed by their Arrow of Light badges, at the same pack meeting!

About the boy who won’t be earning his Arrow of Light… Interesting situation! If you place him with a Webelos I den, he’ll be bored out of his mind. If you let him “drop,” till he’s 11, he’ll likely be lost to Scouting’s biggest adventures! I think I’d get “creative” here… Assuming he’d like to stay with his buddies and become a Boy Scout, I’d have a conversation with the Scoutmaster of the troop the other boys in the den will be joining. I’d describe the situation, just as you’ve described it to me, and ask if the troop will take the boy on, and place him in the new patrol with his buddies, as an “invited guest” of the troop (this give insurance coverage, and all that) until his 11th birthday, at which point he can become an official Boy Scout in the troop.

And for your third, of course we don’t want to present a rank before the work’s done—Sends the wrong message! So, no Arrow of Light at the B&G, unless the work’s done. But, when they complete the work the following week, maybe hold a special den meeting, with all the den parents as well as all the boys, and make the presentation then and there, and still ahead of the April district cross-over. And, yes, if you have any other “stragglers,” they still have a little time to wrap things up. Would that work?

Hello Andy

I have a question about what to wear with your Cub Scout and Boy Scout uniform. My two sons—a Bear and a Webelos—were born and raised in Germany, where boys wearing earrings is absolutely normal. Recently, an America-raised “helping parent” actually ordered my sons to take off their earrings. They are Cub Scouts with the BSA here in Germany for a year now, and their Den Leaders have never mentioned anything about this. Can you help? (Heike Delaney)

Your sons can wear all the jewelry they want, anywhere they want—even to the point of looking like Johnny Tackle-Box if they choose to! The only thing anyone can comment on (and even then, comments are of dubious value, at best) is whether they’re correctly wearing their uniforms or not. That “helpful” parent needs to be told—politely, of course—to buzz off.

Hello Andy,

My son’s pack is about to have our Pinewood Derby; this year’s theme is “non-vehicle” cars. We’ve decided on what we’d like to build, but we need to know what the height limit is. Our pack’s track is the “timing tower” type, but it’s packed away someplace where I don’t have access to it to measure. Do you happen to know, or of a place I might find the height dimension? (Mel, Cub Scout Dad, California Inland Empire Council)

Sounds like this may be a problem for every dad n’ lad in the pack! Since there are lots of PWD tracks out there, there’s unlikely to be a “standard” to follow. I’d recommend somebody dig out the track and let everyone know what the maximum measurements can be (heck, you’re gonna have to dig it out anyway, or there’s no race!).

Dear Andy,

Do you know of a website or phone number for a company that specializes in BSA troop flags? We need a new one and with our sponsor and troop number lettering. (Charlie Harrison, Heart of America Council, MO)

There’s only one place for purchasing troop flags: the BSA’s National Supply Division. You can get their phone number online by going to Or, your council’s Scout Shop probably has a form you can fill out to order a new flag.


Dear Andy,

We have a boy who has been registered with the Pack since first grade. He went camping the first spring he was in the pack and then not again until about a year ago—January of his Webelos I (4th grade) year. After this campout, his Webelos Den Leader turned in a report stating that all boys in the den had earned their Outdoorsman activity pin. The other boys in the den have all attended Webelos summer camp and a couple of Camporees. At our recent Blue & Gold, we awarded these boys their Arrow of Light. But the one boy I’m asking about wasn’t called up because it’s my understanding that they need three outdoor activities as a Webelos, with at least one being with Boy Scouts. So, since he had only attended that one campout as a Webelos, and it was counted towards his Outdoorsman activity badge requirements, that meant he couldn’t use that toward qualifying for Arrow of Light.

Later that same evening, his mother asked me why her son wasn’t called up to receive his Arrow of Light rank along with the others, and I informed her that he hadn’t met all the requirements (I’d told her on more than one prior occasion that he needed to get these in, but there was always a reason he couldn’t make an outing). She responded by saying that the January camping was for his Arrow of Light. I, in turn, pointed out that it couldn’t be used for both, as stated in the book. She then said that since he only had to do two of the four camping-related requirements for Outdoorsman, and he’d actually done all four, that the camping was to be used as his Arrow Of Light requirement. Then, when asked about a day hike, she told me she wants to me count as a “conservation project” that they cleared weeds on a bike trail for an hour and then rode bikes for a bit on the trail. In my book, this isn’t a day hike. I went back and counted, and, from my memory, since this boy became a Webelos, there were at least 14 outdoor opportunities for him to use towards his Arrow of Light; however, they didn’t fall on Monday meeting time. I also asked this mother to give me the dates that he’d earned the Outdoorsman badge, if not on the January campout, which I never got, but she thinks that requirement 4 of the Arrow of Light is only meaning requirement 4 of Outdoorsman. My question: Do you feel this boy has earned his Arrow of Light? I know this is a short description but I hope it’s clear. (Terry Tucker, Stonewall Jackson Area Council, VA)

Although you haven’t told me your position, I’m guessing Cubmaster based on your descriptions of others. One of the big keys to this mess is, of course, this boy’s Den Leader. Referring to pages 10 and 15-16 of the Cub Scout Webelos Handbook, we note that, at the Webelos level, it’s the Den Leader who would most usually be signing the various pages as requirements are completed. So, the conversation here should really be between this mother and her son’s Den Leader, and not with you. You are a mediator, perhaps, but as Cubmaster you’re not “inside” the controversy.

It looks like this controversy comes down to this: What is signed off in this boy’s handbook, and what isn’t. With the boy’s Den Leader and parent, look at pages 344-345 in his handbook and see what’s signed off. If more than two of the first set of four requirements are signed off, and one of these is the fourth (…camp overnight with a Boy Scout troop…) then yes, the overnight with the troop can be used to satisfy one of the two parts of requirement 4 for the Arrow of Light provided that this activity was done with his den (i.e., not with parent alone).

As you do this, keep in mind that it’s the Den Leader who’s supposed to have been signing off, recording, and reporting progress to your pack’s advancement person; not the parent! If this means you’ll need to fix how your pack and Den Leaders are handling advancement, then make it happen!

In all of this, remember that while we don’t want to get pushed around by moms-on-the-warpath, we’re here to help boys succeed and to feel good about themselves!


Dear Andy,

Thanks for your insightful and honest applications of Scout policy. Every few months I take the time to re-read all your columns; I find them inspirational in reaching for Scouting’s “True North.”

I have a question on tenure for the Den Leader awards…

It clearly states: “Complete one year as a registered Tiger Cub (or Cub Scout/Webelos) Den Leader.” Though my question applies to all of these, it’s most evident for the Tiger Cub Den Leader. If the den is formed and a leader recruited in August or September (start of the school year) then it’s impossible to complete this tenure when, at the end of the school year, a den “crosses over” to the next grade.

In a similar manner, though a different application, a Cub Scout who joins as a Tiger and crosses over to a troop as a Webelos in February will only be eligible for a four-year pin (not five). If this were read literally, a boy who joined as a 5th grader and crossed over eight months later wouldn’t be eligible to wear a one year Cub Scout pin (even if he earned the AOL?) at all.

I respect the rules as written, but I also understand that there’s a certain “intent” to them. Can you offer your take on tenure, as it applies in these situations? (Doug Parker, Pack Trainer-District Training Committee, Gulf Coast Council, FL)

My own personal and unofficial “take” on this is don’t sweat the small stuff… A typical “Scout year” at the Cub Scout level is August or September through June (or so), and I’d think this would be more than acceptable for tenure for an adult recognition, “star,” etc. In the Boy Scouting program, which is absolutely a year-round program (troops may cut back on the number of meetings during the summer, but there’s also extended stay summer camp!), by comparison to Cub Scouting, I might feel differently. But, for Cubs, no prob!

Dear Andy,

Back in the mid-90s I took Webelos Outdoor Leader Training and was told by a training staff member that the tents the Scouts used had to have a minimum of “xx” sq. ft. per Scout. I don’t remember the amount of square feet necessary per Scout, but I’ve never heard that it was a requirement in any of the outdoor training I’ve taken since then. I’m now on our District’s adult leader training staff, and asked around about it, but I’ve never been able to find it in print or anyone else that had heard that. Is this (or was this) a real requirement, or just something that some old Scouter made up? (Doug Swift)

Made up. Tent square footage is determined by the manufacturer, and then the manufacturer specifies if they’re two-person, three-person, and so on…

Hello Andy,

Just want to thank you for your column. I’m a faithful reader and almost always find something in each column that helps me as a Scout leader. Can Cub Scouts (after they earn Tiger rank) work on Boy Scout requirements—merit badges and ranks—with the Scoutmaster’s approval? Our Cubmaster says they can, if a Scoutmaster approves, but I disagree. I don’t think this fits the age-appropriate guidelines of Scouting. (Marsha Perkins, WDL)

You’re absolutely correct and for exactly the correct reason. The Cub Scouting program is age/grade-specific (as will be discovered as the boys move to Wolf, Bear, and so on). Moreover, Boy Scout ranks and merit badges can ONLY be earned by Boy Scouts, and no one (not even a misguided Cubmaster) can overrule that BSA policy.

Dear Andy,

When requirement 9a. of the Camping merit badge states that “…you may use a week of long-term camp toward this requirement…” does that mean that only one week of long-term camp (e.g., summer camp) may be used to meet the 20 days and 20 nights camping requirement, or do all long-term camping trips count towards this? (Patrick Kukura)

Yup, that’s what it means. One week: That’s it.

Dear Andy,

For Camping Merit Badge, the requirement states: “Camp a total of at least 20 days and 20 nights. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. The 20 days and 20 nights must be at a designated Scouting activity or event. You may use a week of long-term camp toward this requirement. If the camp provides a tent that has already been pitched, you need not pitch your own tent.” It appears that you’re only able to use one summer camp towards the credit of days. Is that correct? If a Scout has gone to multiple long-term outings, such as summer camp, can they use any of those days towards credit? (Ty, Chelsea, MI)

Long-term (i.e., “summer”) camp—at a Scout camp—can account for a maximum of seven days and seven nights (“one week”) toward the 20 for Camping MB, and that’s it.


Dear Andy,

We have conflicting opinions on the intent of the phrasing of Camping merit badge—req. 9a. Specifically, the concern is with the statement: “You may use a week of long-term camp towards this requirement.”

Given just this verbiage, it’s not necessarily clear if this should be interpreted as meaning (a) only use one specific week of long-term camp towards the overall total of 20 days and 20 nights or (b) use one week a year of long-term camp toward the overall total of 20 days and 20 nights or (c) use any and all weeks of long-term camp towards the overall total of 20 days and 20 nights.

Many veteran Scouters interpret this requirement differently. Can you shed any light on what the global consensus is here? (Joe Barreca)

The BSA is pretty good about getting the “language” of the various requirements for ranks and merit badges right. There’s typically no or very little ambiguity. Camping MB req. 9(a) says: “Camp a total of at least 20 days and 20 nights…at a designated Scouting activity or event…You may use a week of long-term camp…”

Just to get this out of the way, “a week” means up to 7 days and 7 nights; no more. It also means at a Scout camp; not YMCA, private camp, etc. And it means “a” single week; not “one or more weeks.”

So, you don’t need a consensus; just a straightforward reading of the requirement, and a keen eye for what’s in plain sight. No multiple interpretations necessary, because there’s nothing ambiguous.

Dear Andy,

I’m having difficulty finding a Leader’s Minute that contains information about how Scouts turn out later in life… about them being less likely to end up in jail and that sort of thing. Do you know of something like this? I’d like to use it at our Blue & Gold banquet. Thanks for any help you can provide. And thanks for making Scouting easier for countless leaders. (George “Baloo” Siddall, Dan Beard Council, OH)

IMHO, Cub Scouts are too young to talk to about things like “jail.” Stick with the positives about Webelos Scouts on the cusp of becoming Boy Scouts, and how Boy Scouts are astronauts like Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and Neil Armstrong (“The Eagle Has Landed”), and John Glenn (First American to orbit Earth—”The Right Stuff”), and MOB players like Hank Aaron, and even U.S. President, Gerry Ford.

Hello Andy,

This is a question that has stirred a lot of debate here over the years, that mainly deals with service projects for Second Class, First Class, Star, and Life ranks. (I’m quite “old school” in the matter: Earned Eagle in 1981, have been in Scouting since my kids were Cubs, have two Eagles and the third on the way, been Scoutmaster for going on nine years, and did the Cub Scout tour prior to the Boy Scout hitch.) Here’s the issue: Several parents and some of our council and district folks too feel that “anything goes” for the non-Eagle rank service projects, meaning that “service time” can be helping out at basically any Scouting activity. Our council is behind it because they need the help. I’m not for it because, to me, the idea is to get the Scouts engaged in providing service to others outside of Scouting and to foster that into a lifetime of giving to others; whereas if they only give to the Scouting organization they’ll eventually leave as Scouts and never give a second thought to others outside of Scouting. I don’t mean to sound cynical, it’s just what I observe with kids today. I have taken this philosophy to our Unit Commissioner, and he’s admitted that he’s on the fence on the issue. So, is there a rule or guideline published by BSA? I can’t find a good consensus on the topic, and any feedback would be appreciated. (Jim Len ell, SM, Pacific Harbors Council, WA)

As Scoutmaster, you have final say regarding how and where service time is expended for the Second Class, Star, and Life ranks (there is no service requirement for First Class). We know that, for Eagle rank, the service must be done for an organization other than Scouting and other than a for-profit organization, but there’s no stipulation for the other three ranks. Nor is there anything further written about service by the BSA, that I’ve ever come across. So, one could take guidance from the Eagle service project requirement (no. 5) and specify that service for the three other ranks, too, should be for non-Scouting, non-profit-making organizations, and this would hardly be considered unfair or unreasonable. Or, one could take the position that, under certain circumstances, service to Scouting is more than OK! This might include a clean-up project by a troop, for their council’s summer camp, or perhaps something done at their council’s service center. Or, it might include “crowd control” for a neighborhood pack’s pinewood derby, or perhaps traffic and/or parking management at a district Camporee. Would these be so terrible? Personally, I’d think they’d be just fine! But this is a personal observation, let’s not forget.

The idea of “service to others,” or “to help other people at all times,” doesn’t engender cynicism, in my view, simply because some time was put in to improve BSA-owned property or helping another Scouting unit. Cynicism creeps in when we tell Scouts to “show up for the thus-and-so service project so you get your service hours.” That’s the part that’s baloney! Scouts’ hours should be recorded, but not so they know about it! Then, there’s a happy surprise when they “discover” that the service they gave comes back to benefit them!

Let’s suppose that a Scout came to you and asked, “Mr. Scoutmaster, my brother is a Cub Scout and his pack is going to go on a short day-hike, and I’d like to be the one who shows him and his den all about “The Ten Essentials” and “The Buddy System” and “The Right Way to Signal for Danger or Help.” Would you really turn him down? Would you really not consider this “service”? Somehow, I don’t think so!

The thing to remember, I believe, is to keep it fun. When I was a Scoutmaster, the firefighters in our town held a pancake breakfast every year, in a town park. They set everything up (except the food) the night before, and our troop would camp out in the park overnight to “guard the grills.” Yeah, right…<wink> The park was fenced, and the gates were locked every night! No way the grills could be stolen, or even tampered with! But the Scouts didn’t know this. They truly thought they were “performing a valuable service” when we camped, cooked hot dogs and marshmallows on the grills, and generally had a blast, right in the middle of town! Well, guess what… They got “credit” for this “valuable service”… and the firefighters and we became fast friends! Now that’s “creative service” of the highest order, for boys of this age!
So, keep smiling’ and keep your sense of what’s fair and right, and I believe this small gnarl will take care of itself just fine!

Hi Andy,

My son is currently a Wolf. He played basketball last fall with our local Boys & Girls Club. Does that qualify him for a special pin or badge or segment or anything? (I’m still learning the rules, as is my husband, who’s looking into training to be a co-leader for our son’s den.) I asked our pack’s person in charge of badges and she wasn’t sure. (Noelle Crain, Blackhawk Area Council, WI)

For your son, check out:

For your husband: There’s no such position in Scouting as “co- ” anything. If you or your husband are interested in being, let’s say, a Den Leader or Assistant Den Leader, that’s wonderful. You can also be members of the Pack Committee (pack committees support the pack in a whole variety of ways!), but please, please forget the notion of “co- “!

For example, “copilots” are assistant pilots! They don’t “share” equal responsibilities with the pilot. The pilot’s in charge. Just like the Den Leader.

Dear Andy,

My son is working on his Wolf badge right now. Achievement #11d says he should find out how he can help in his church. My son is Catholic, and we took his handbook to the CCD instructor, who said he should attend CCD and contribute to the offering. That wasn’t quite the answer we were looking for. So we asked the priest. He said my son should go to CCD. Since my son has been doing that all year, does that mean this requirement is satisfied or should we go elsewhere for answers? (Jen Haubrich, Cornhusker Council, NE)

Yup, that’s what 11d says, for sure! Unfortunately, neither your son’s CCD instructor nor his priest “got it.” That happens sometimes… But it’s not the end of the world! On Sunday, arrive a little early, or maybe stay after mass just a little (after the church and sanctuary have cleared out a bit), and have a look around. Are the hymnals in good condition, or could some use a little library tape to put them in better shape? How about pencils in the backs of the pews (if your church has these)? Are they all sharp, or could some of them use a fresh sharpening? How about outside… Do the shrubs need a little cleaning underneath them, perhaps, that a little time with a rake and leaf bag might improve? You’re getting the idea, right? Keep it small, keep it simple, and maybe just do it. And forgive those two folks for the very minor “sin” of not quite understanding that Cub Scouts “Help Other People”!

Hello Andy,

Thanks for your column! I’m a Merit Badge Counselor. I wish to attend an upcoming event in uniform. Please confirm that the appropriate uniform for me is silver loops with no unit numerals and no position patch. (Paul Reins, Aviation MBC, Tidewater Council, VA)

Yup—You’re right on the money!

Hey Andy,

I need some help—Directions on how to make a flag stand for our campsite for a Jamboree in June. I need it to be as simple as possible. We have an American flag, council flag, and troop banner. Any help you can give would be a help. (No Name)

What an opportunity! How about turning this into a patrol competition, with a prize for the patrol that “wins”! Set some rules or guidelines, such as it must be portable and carry-able by a patrol as if they’re backpacking, it must be able to be assembled or built in no more than 5 minutes, and it must be stable enough to hold the flags and their staffs upright even in a strong wind. Then, stand back an let ’em go! Give ’em two or three weeks and then have the “competition” as the main portion of a troop meeting!

Hey Andy,

When I asked for help it was because I didn’t have any Boy Scouts to tap into. You’re talking to a Girl Scout leader here! I have no idea where to begin to make a simple flag stand for our Jamboree. At our last Jamboree we stayed in dorms, so no need for flags. Could you please help this Girl Scout leader? Thanks.

Since you didn’t provide the backgrounding, I had no idea I was talking with a Girl Scout leader! Thanks for finding me, and for writing!

I think, though, that I’d still make the same suggestion… Let your girls get creative here! Isn’t this part of what Girl Scouts is all about? (Yeah, you could spoon-feed ’em, but then you do all the work, and they learn squat!)

Hi Andy,

I’m a district advancement chair. At our council’s advancement committee meetings, there’s much discussion of when Eagle rank applications need to be turned in to the district chairs. Is there a deadline for having the Eagle application completed, and where it needs to be at a particular time? (K.B. Wood, Erie Shores Council, OH)

Good question! This is issue usually becomes important to some folks when they’re looking at a Scout’s 18th birthday. At any other time, it’s as soon as the Scout can fill out his portion of the application, and his troop can complete the remainder. So, wouldn’t that same “policy” apply to the Scout on the cusp of or even past his 18th birthday? The BSA certainly makes no stipulation, and it would be dangerous to add in some sort of deadline as a “requirement,” because doing so would violate BSA national policy. Besides, since we all follow the principle of Scout’s honor, any question about when stuff was completed, if the application is “turned in” after an 18th birthday says more about the asker than the Scout! (Are you getting my point here?)

Dear Andy,

How far in the past can a Scout use something they did to fulfill a merit badge requirement? For example, in the Citizenship in the Nation requirements, req. 29a) says to “Visit a place that is listed as a National Historic Landmark…Tell your counselor what you learned about (it)…and what you found interesting about it.” Is it OK for a Scout to use a family vacation that he took four year ago, when the boy was age 7? (J. Miller)

Although we’d always like Scouts to complete all requirements with the guidance of their Counselor at hand (which is why they get signed Blue Cards first and then come to see us, a situation like this may require a “judgment call,” because—depending on where one lives—sometimes it may not be all that easy to travel to a National Historic Landmark or Historic Place, state capitol, federal facility, or national monument. Among other considerations, at a minimum this takes a parent-driver or perhaps a patrol or troop destination-outing of some sort. So, in your shoes, I’d probably consider the second part of that requirement as the more important aspect. Can the Scout describe his experience clearly and with good memory, including what he learned and what he found interesting? If he can do this to the satisfaction of the requirement, then I’d probably say OK. If his memory is vague, unfocused, or simply unintelligible or incoherent (I’d probably not be too happy with stuff like, “The house was nice,” or “The statue was big”), then I’d say he needs to do something more currently—like, now instead of then.

Dear Andy,

Our pack’s Cubmaster, who happens to be a lay minister for the church that’s the pack’s sponsor, has planned out and announced a series of “God and Me” classes, and she’s made attending these classes a requirement in order to earn the God and Me Cub Scout religious award. Must we parents adhere to this, or do we have the option of doing this with our own son, at home? In a similar regard, a family we know that’s also in the pack is Buddhist—must they follow along with this Cubmaster or can they work with their own son, at home, for their own faith?

The Cubmaster has also made it a requirement to attend church during God and Me classes. Can she do this? If we, as parents, can complete this requirement at home, where do we get the workbooks? (Shawn & Jen Dailey)

Good questions, by caring parents! Go to to track down the booklet(s) you and your Buddhist friends need, and then read through them (check with your local council’s Scout Shop—they may have these, too). I think this will clear things up.

(I’m personally not a fan of “classes” for Scouts of any age—they get enough classes in school!—and although I appreciate organized people, I don’t have a particular fondness for apparent “dictators.”)

Dear Andy,

My question is about letters of recommendation (“LORs”) for Eagle Scout candidates.

Upon my son’s return from the World Jamboree last summer, he surfed the Internet to determine what was needed for a LOR (he was never assigned a mentor from within the troop nor received any guidance from anyone). He had enough initiative to select several LOR’s he liked off the Internet, as submitted by numerous other councils, and assumed they met the BSA requirement. He then tailored them into a single LOR he believed suitable for his own use, and printed a copy of the letter for inclusion in his Eagle Book, along with a two-page list of references that it was to be sent to. His Book was reviewed for the first time by the troop advancement committee in August 2007, as part of obtaining approval for his service project. Nothing was mentioned of the LOR contained in his book, except that those pages did not have to be in it. Assuming approval, in September 2007 he sent the LOR requests out to a multitude of people.

It’s now February 2008 and he’s just been told by the troop advancement chair that the completed LORs the council received on his behalf are inadequate. In disbelief and in consideration of my son’s time and effort, I asked our council Scout Executive to take a look at the LORs submitted and provide an opinion as to adequacy. He replied that he’d seen similar letters previously, but deferred the acceptance decision to the council advancement chair (“CAC”). The CAC called my son a few days later and asked him if he’d ever received an Eagle packet. When my son said no and went on to say that he didn’t know what that was, he was told to call the council office to obtain one and it would contain a LOR example. We haven’t heard yet if the LORs on file are acceptable or not, or even if they were reviewed by the CAC to determine what the deficiencies are. The silence, however, suggests that they’re not acceptable, I guess for some reason still not stated, and here we are.

What is acceptable for a LOR? Who decides this? Can the BSA standardize a LOR so everyone uses the same thing and no local interpretation can be made and the standard letter is available for everyone in case they, too, are left in the dark? While looking over my son’s shoulder for LOR examples, I noticed that the content is all over the map. While the one my son used is very explicit, that of our council is very general, takes a lot of effort, and is not tailored to evaluate BSA values the non-Scouter may not be familiar with. (Jeff Buehrle, Great Western Reserve Council, OH)

Wow! What a MESS! I’m really sorry that this has happened to your son. The process is so very simple, and this has become so bloody complicated, convoluted, and generally messed up that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s begin here: Although I’m a volunteer and don’t serve the BSA National Council in any official capacity as an employee or designated representative beyond my position as a Commissioner, I have served on district advancement committees of three different councils for more than a dozen years and have sat on nearly 200 boards of review for the Eagle Scout rank, including having reviewed all of the necessary protocols and paperwork in every instance. So, although what I’m about to say cannot be construed as “official,” it is hardly without significant in-depth, hands-on experience. That said, I do want you to also be aware that the sourced quotes I’ll provide in just a moment are absolutely official!

With that established, let’s review…

According to the Eagle Scout Rank Application, req. 2 simply states: “…List the names of individuals who know you personally and would be willing to provide a recommendation on your behalf.” That’s it.

Now, to know for certain that the people named “would be willing…” the best way is to call ’em up on the phone and ask ’em. Like, “Mister Jones, I’m applying for the Eagle Scout rank and I’m asked to give names of people who would be willing to provide a recommendation for me… May I put your name down?” When the answer’s Yes, your son writes down that name. Then he does this five more times. That’s it. That’s the full extent of what the Eagle candidate is supposed to do.

Notice that the BSA National Council does not require an Eagle candidate’s references to write a letter. The requirement says “provide a recommendation;” it doesn’t say “write a letter.” Now, letters are pretty common, but that’s the reference’s choice (it is distinctly not a local council’s choice, because this would constitute an addition to the requirement and BSA national policy strictly forbids this). Maybe he or she just wants to get a phone call from the inquirer and then to tell that person, “Yup, I’ve known Billy for about ten years and he’s a great kid, always helping his family, his neighbors, and his classmates.” Over and done with, and that’s the end of that story.

I have gone to the Greater Western Reserve Council’s website, unearthed the “Life-to-Eagle Packet,” and downloaded some of the materials there. IMHO, in the apparent interest of establishing an evenhanded platform, they have (inadvertently, I would hope) created one of the most tedious, pedantic, stultifying, paperwork-for-the-sake-of-paperwork processes I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering.

The “LOR Sample” request you attached is found in the council packet. It’s totally wrong-headed. The BSA book, Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures (No.33088C) specifically states: “Candidates should not be involved personally in transmitting any correspondence between persons listed as references and the council service center.” This book of policies and procedures further states this: “The council advancement committee or its designee contacts the person listed as a reference on the Eagle Scout Rank Application either by letter, form, or telephone checklist.”

For your son’s council to insist that Eagle candidates carry out these two tasks is in total violation of long-established national procedures.

Moreover, not even the so-called “Eagle Scout Coordinator” is permitted to have access to these letters unless he or she is a member of the candidate’s board of review: “Reference checks that are forwarded with the application are confidential, and their contents are not to be disclosed to any person who is not a member of the board of review.”

Thus, if anyone who will not be actually sitting on your son’s board of review has read even one incoming letter, this is a major violation of BSA national policy.

Next, there is no “minimum number of letters” any more than there’s a “minimum number of hours” for your son’s service project, and any council or district that places a “minimum” on either of these is in violation of national policy.

As for the “check-box” forms your son found, modified, and sent out: These should never have been sent, and certainly not by your son. (I know he did his best, and gravitated to what’s familiar to him—a “report card”—but this was not for him to do in the first place and limiting and without the opportunity for “texture” in the second place.

So, what to do… Well, I don’t recommend raising the roof, because the object here is to get this process over and done with, so your son can have his board of review and receive the rank he’s earned. The council’s packet provides a pathway for this. Check out page 4: The Eagle Project Partner. Have your son find a knowledgeable, kind, and boy-minded adult on the troop committee—someone other than you or his mother—and ask him or her to be his mentor. This is the person who can review what’s happened up to now, review the council’s Eagle packet, make some phone calls (eschew email!), and get this thing back on track and over with. It’ll take some patience, some diplomacy, and some smarts. Find the right person, and let’s make this happen for your son.

I’m sorry these people don’t seem to understand that we adults—volunteers and employees alike—are supposed to be supporting our youth; not treating our youth like supplicants.

Dear Andy,

I’m a registered Merit Badge Counselor for Cycling. I’d recently learned about a supported, organized bicycle tour that would qualify as one of the rides for the merit badge. I sent a notice about this tour to one of the troops in the area, and the response from the troop adult leadership was that I’d over-stepped, that I shouldn’t have done this because it interfered with the Scouts doing what they needed to do for the badge. My intention was to introduce the event to Scout who might be interested; not to “push merit badges”—but that’s how it was taken. The leader went so far as to say that he could never consider referring a Scout to me for the merit badge because—as he took it—I’d said that anyone who rode in the event would qualify for the merit badge, which is not at all what I’d said!—I simply had notified them of the event and said it was a qualified ride for one of the Cycling MB requirements.

I’ve had a pretty long affiliation with Scouting, as a parent, leader, committee chair, Chartered Organization Representative, and currently as a MBC. I think I may now be “over the hill,” Scouting-wise. (Name & Council Withheld)

When God created the earth, he created plants, animals, fishes, birds, insects, rocks, people, and…jerks. That leader, based on what you’ve told me, was waaaaay over the top in his reaction. Forget him. Write him off. And just keep on doin’ what you’re doin’ – Understanding, of course, that it’s only the Scoutmasters who would be contacted and not the Scouts directly.

Dear Andy,

I was elected Patrol Leader around Christmastime, but I’ve had to put extra time in to my homework and feel that I don’t have time to make every troop meeting. I asked my Scoutmaster if I could step down from my position, since I’ve majorly exceeded the tenure required for Eagle rank (my application went into our council office a couple of months ago), and our troop has many other scouts who could use this tenure to meet their goals. My Scoutmaster pulled me to the side and told me this was not good leadership. I stated that I’d thought it out, including the consideration that others need the tenure—nine months left—and this would go a long way with another Scout reaching his goal for Eagle. I also explained that I have no intention of dropping out and that I’d be glad to help when time allowed. I enjoy Boy Scouts. I’m “the Scout who’s always there.” The only meetings I have missed are when I was sick or out of town in the summer at summer camps. When that least election was held, many of the eligible Scouts didn’t volunteer for the position, and I felt somewhat pressured into the position, despite saying all the while that I didn’t need more tenure. I’m very concerned that my Scoutmaster might give me a bad review on my Eagle Board. Advice? (Name Withheld, Georgia-Carolina Council)

From what you’ve told me here and in other correspondence we’ve shared, your election to Patrol Leader had nothing to do with any Eagle requirement. So, if your Eagle rank application is turned in, this means you’ve had your Scoutmaster Conference, too. Now, you need to know that Scoutmasters are not members of boards of review; they have no vote. But this doesn’t solve the immediate problem…

Your Scoutmaster does have a point: You already knew about your homework load before you became Patrol Leader, so unless there’s been some huge change, that’s not a very solid reason for abandoning a job you agreed to do (admittedly under a bit of pressure, perhaps, but I have to point out that you didn’t stick to your guns, either). You have a point, too: This position could be “used” by another Scout to fulfill an advancement requirement. So, let’s ask this question: What would an Eagle Scout do?

And here’s the answer: An Eagle Scout would keep his commitment—”creatively.” How? By delegating. That’s right: He’s use his Patrol Leader position to train members of his patrol in leadership! OK, so you can’t make every meeting! Then coach your hand-picked Assistant Patrol Leader on what to do and how to do it, in your absence. Then maybe train someone else in the patrol to take over a specific task that happens at most troop meetings, and have him team up with the APL to get the jobs done. Keep recruiting and training other members of your patrol, until they all improve and they all have jobs to do! Then sit back and watch ’em do it! Even when you’re there! You see, the sign of a good leader is when he leads, but the sign of a great leader is when others are leading!

Happy Scouting!!


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


(March 12, 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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