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Issue 135 – June 3, 2008

In response to the landslide of requests for that “Boards of Review” presentation, here’s a quiz to test your BOR “IQ”! The first ten readers who get ’em all correct will get their name in lights in my next column and win an ANDY Pin! Here we go…


[True or False…You Decide]

1 T F The Board of Review is the final opportunity for the troop’s adult leaders to re-test the Scout, to make certain he’s mastered the skills and learnings of the requirements for the rank he’s seeking.

2 T F It’s the responsibility of the Eagle rank Board of Review to approve the manner in which the candidate’s service project was carried out.

3 T F The Scoutmaster’s vote, in a Board of Review, carries the same “weight” as all others.thers.thers.thers.

4 T F Only registered BSA adult volunteers can be members of an Eagle rank Board of Review.

5 T F A group Board of Review can be conducted for multiple Scouts simultaneously, so long as they’re all candidates for the same rank.

6 T F If a Scout fails his Board of Review, he can re-test with the Board after 3 or 6 months (depending on rank) of active participation.

7 T F The BSA guidelines for advancement requirements represent the minimum standards for ranks and merit badges—The troop’s leaders set the final standards.

8 T F It’s important for the troop to manage rank advancements and merit badges carefully, so that all Scouts of similar age advance together, and no Scout feels “left behind.”

9 T F Scoutmasters are members of Boards of Review so that, among other reasons, their vote can break any ties among the other Board members.

10 T F The Board of Review can help to slow down Scouts who advance too rapidly, so that with increased maturity they can appreciate the significance of the new rank better.

11 T F Boards of Review cannot be held after a Scout’s 18th birthday.

12 T F Any adult who has a son registered in the troop is eligible to be a Board of Review member.

13 T F Scouts must be in full and correct uniform in order to participate in a board of review.

14 T F A board of review represents an opportunity for the troop’s committee to learn how well the troop’s adult leaders are delivering the Scouting program to its youth.

15 T F When a merit badge is earned through a Merit Badge Counselor not associated with the troop, the board of review should be sure to ascertain the extent to which the skills and/or knowledge required by the merit badge were learned by the Scout.

There you have it: 15 questions. Some are true, some are false, but which ones? You tell ’em Tenderfoot – You’re a Scout! (Remember, timing is everything—The first ten who get ’em all correct win an ANDY pin!)

Dear Andy,

I just read your column about whether Merit Badge Counselors can be counselors for their own sons. This issue has recently been discussed in our troop. Researching it, I found the following information on the official BSA site:

Q: Can Merit Badge Counselors coach their own sons or close relatives (for instance, a nephew)?

A: Yes, but only if the young man is part of a group of Scouts who are all working on the same merit badge.

This answer seems to indicate that current BSA policy is that a MBC can’t counsel his or her own son in a one-on-one situation. So, just when I thought I had it figured out, I’m confused again. What’s right? (Laurie Austin, Troop Advancement Chair, Central Florida Council)

In the first place, a “group” can be the son or nephew and one buddy. More importantly, this should be pretty much a non-issue for anyone but the MBC and his or her own son or nephew. As advancement chair, you have a lot more important things to do than monitor the behavior of Merit Badge Counselors. Here’s what I mean… If a father, let’s say, is counseling his own son, there are just three possible outcomes: The Scout fulfills the requirements, as written, just like every other Scout; the father puts undue pressure on his son to out-perform the requirements; the father is lax with his son and the requirements are under-met. The greatest of all likelihoods is, of course, that outcome number one prevails. But, let’s say one or the other of the latter two occurrences takes place. Who is the “loser”? That’s right: It’s the father’s own son. Nobody else. So, let’s replace confusion with reasonableness and understand that this just isn’t worth anyone’s time playing detective, or hall monitor.


Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster and Merit Badge Counselor. At times, questions arise as to how much discretion I have in following badge requirements. For example, I’ a MBC for Citizenship in the World, and I have two Scouts who were fortunate enough to visit the United Nations last summer. It would seem like that ought to qualify them for req. 7 of that merit badge, as their visit seems at least equivalent to the requirements that are listed under 7. So, what I’d like to know is this: When such questions come up, how does a Counselor find an authoritative answer? (Jim Rinck, Gerald R. Ford Council, MI)

Let’s start with Cit-World’s req. 7… How does visiting the United Nations match any of the five options set forth?

Dear Andy,

My review of req. 7 of Citizenship in the World indicates that the options have to do with learning about other nations or about international events. There are no particular time standards that I can determine, but the inference is that the options contemplate a visiting type of contact. While option (d) mentions attending a World Jamboree, it doesn’t specify how long the attendance should be. Thus, when I review the requirements, my thinking is that a tour of the United Nations would seem to encompass both the intent of requirement 7 as well as the type of international contact that the options of 7 contemplate. Any thoughts that you might have on this issue would be appreciated. (Jim Rinck)

In point of plain fact, “visit the United Nations” is not stated in any of the requirements for this merit badge; however, if the Scout did visit the United Nations and is able, from this visit, to describe its role in the world, then he will have fulfilled one of the two options needed to complete req. 4 (c).

A visit to the United Nations satisfies none of the options available for req. 7, or any of the other requirements for this merit badge.

As a trained and experienced Merit Badge Counselor, you already know that you are absolutely not permitted to alter a requirement in any way, for any reason, and that each requirement will be fulfilled as it has been written. To put it another way, your responsibility is not to attempt to interpret the “intent” of any requirement but, rather, to ascertain that each Scout under your guidance completes each requirement precisely as it’s described. Only in this way are the young men we serve assured that, whether the merit badge is earned in the heart of Manhattan or the beach at Waikiki, if Scouts from East to West, North to South meet, and they’ve all earned the same merit badge, they all share the same knowledge, skills and experience. If we, as Merit Badge Counselors, start to “make things up” and start “interpreting the intent” of requirements, then we do an irreparable disservice to these young men.


Dear Andy,

Aren’t you just plain too “rule-bound” for your own good—or anyone else’s? (Name & Council Withheld)

Terrific question!

Bunch of years ago, when I worked for an ad agency, another agency in town was told by their long-time client: From now on, we will run print ads in magazines only—no more television or radio—and only in business and news magazines that measure 8×10-1/2. All ad space will be bought for the right-hand side page. All ads will be one page only; no two-page “spreads.” The ads will have a headline at the top, a color photograph showing the product as you see fit immediately below that and not to exceed half the space available, body copy below that, and our name, logo, and corporate slogan in the lower right corner. Beyond these guidelines, you have total freedom. “FREEDOM?” screamed the agency, “YOU’VE TAKEN ALL FREEDOM AWAY FROM US WITH YOUR BLASTED RULES! WE RESIGN!” And they did.

The client came to my agency with the same message and the same “rules.” We gladly accepted it, and wrote great, award-winning ads for them for many years. Our creative team of art directors and copywriters adored working on this account, and others in our shop practically begged to be assigned to it!

“How can you stand all those rules?” folks from the other agency would ask from time to time. “Simple,” we said, “With those more-or-less ‘mechanical’ aspects already decided and out of the way, we can focus on our real job, which is to create great messages that our audience will respond to, instead of wasting our time deciding and re-deciding each time on framework and structure stuff that just distracts us from our main responsibility to our client—great advertising that grabs attention and motivates.”

Are you getting this? Good. Next question, please…


Dear Andy,

I’ve been told that troop by-laws are considered “illegal.” Our troop’s problems started when Scouts who had completed their Second Class and First Class requirements were being held up on the 30-day Tenderfoot requirement (once they completed that requirement, they were ready to go through for the ranks above). The committee complained that we were sending too many Scouts for boards of Review, and and they were consequently overburdened, so they created a rule that Scouts should be in for one rank at a time, once a month. Now, they want to change the rule to re-open the flood-gates. Now, rather than seven Scouts they have to worry about 18 who are nearing the end of the Tenderfoot 30-day requirement and will be starting the board of review process.

I suggested perhaps having once-a-month boards and having a sign-up for the boards, but the committee shot that down. I then suggested bi-weekly boards and they shot that down, too. So they have boards of review every week, and now and the committee is complaining that the same people are sitting on the boards all the time because of lack of participation from other committee members.

They complained about it the first round, now they’re complaining that they’re holding up Scouts, and now they want to change the rule—again. (Matt Price, ASM, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Troop by-laws are invariably a waste of time and unnecessary, because the BSA has already laid out everything a troop, pack, team, post, ship, or crew could ever need by way of policies and procedures. Plus, there’s a clear and present danger that, when a unit starts making up its own rules, deviation from Scouting’s True North begins to set in, and folks start thinking that unit rules can supersede BSA policies and procedures.

To respond to the specific issue you raise, a Scout can, of course, work on any combination of requirements for the Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks that he chooses, in any order. Among these, the only one with a sort of “tenure”-type requirement is Tenderfoot: The 30-day re-do of the physical fitness requirements, to see if there’s been improvement or not. Beyond this, the only stipulation the BSA makes is that they must be earned (i.e., board-of-review) in their correct order (i.e., can’t earn Second Class before Tenderfoot, and so on). As for boards of review, if a Scout has actually completed every one of the requirements for all three ranks simultaneously (which would, in actuality, be a pretty remarkable feat of timing), then he has three boards of review, and these can quite literally be back-to-back (yes, even on the same date).

For a troop to impose a month-long waiting period between ranks is effectively adding to the requirements, and this is strictly forbidden by BSA policy. Moreover, to hold Scouts back from advancing for the convenience of the troop committee is totally backwards! The committee is there to serve the Scouts; not the other way around. If there’s an “overburdening,” then the problem is with the committee—not with the Scouts—and the committee needs to fix its own problem instead of falsely solving it by imposing artificial barriers to advancement on the Scouts.

There is no reason why committee members need to be “rotated” from one board of review to the next; having a “core group” of committee members who manage and conduct reviews on a regular basis — weekly, if needed — is just fine. Let’s remember that, for the three foundational ranks, we’re talking about a review taking maybe 10 to 15 minutes, at the most. So, inside a 90-minute troop meeting, six reviews can be carried out, at a minimum. Plus, the committee members can gather a half-hour before the troop meeting starts, and in the course of two hours can review at least eight Scouts or more at this rank-level!

For those committee members who “complain” about “others” doing most of the reviews, I have just one answer: Show up!

Now, just so it doesn’t go unsaid, since a board of review for all ranks except Eagle can be carried out by no less than three committee members (the maximum is six, by the way), if six or seven committee members all show up, two groups of three to four each can be conducting reviews concurrently!

Go for it!


Dear Andy,

I’m writing to you for a reality check. I have nearly 40 years of scouting experience; I’m an Eagle Scout, OA Brotherhood, took a Philmont trek, completed Wood Badge training, and I’ve been a Scoutmaster, ASM, District Commissioner, Merit Badge Counselor, Unit Commissioner, and (currently) Roundtable Commissioner. I love Scouting, think it’s the best thing going for young men – and good for us older Scouts, too. I learn a lot from the monthly district meetings, and I see fellow Scouters I’d like to be more like. So that part is all good.

Two and a half years ago, I volunteered to help a workplace friend with a troop. He had started the troop after dissatisfaction with another troop that his eldest son was in. Things seemed to go well, for a while. I put an awful lot of effort into arranging functions and outings that the Scouts would find exciting, and the Scouts seemed happy, They even seemed to be growing towards really using the patrol method.

This fellow had no problem delegating tasks to another Scouter, giving himself the camping weekends off so he could attend family functions, and he never really treated the other Scouters as partners, but rather like employees. His family picked up on it as well – that is, they, too, treated other Scouters as employees. The actions of his wife and both sons were rather disrespectful. I bit my tongue and looked for a gentlemanly way out—It would be difficult, because my own son was a member of the troop, and had many friends in it.

The second summer approached, and I found myself “volunteered” to take the troop to camp. The Scoutmaster said he couldn’t take the week off; with only a couple assistants who could volunteer no more than a couple of days at a time, no one who would be able to take the troop to camp. Again, I bit my tongue. It was for the good of the Scouts, right?

The day that the troop was to depart for summer camp, I found out through another party that the SM’s wife had forged my signature on an advancement report, at her husband’s urging. I was never contacted and asked for my signature; I would have signed it “per telephone conversation” had that choice been offered. But it was not offered and I considered the forged signature to be—like the word or not—a lie. I bluntly told her so.

I told the SM that I would take the Scouts to camp, but that my tenure as ASM was over. He seemed quite surprised, and asked what was wrong. I told him, and he said that “it really wasn’t that big a deal.” At that point I knew it would be an uphill struggle to try to explain what was wrong about his actions.

Other parents and committee members approached me and said that they agreed with what I had done, and if I ever started a troop, that their boys would follow. I told them that I would not do that; I had been offered the Scoutmaster position for several start-up troops in the district, and would not leave a troop just to have a badge on my sleeve. Besides, my son still wanted to belong to this troop.

Several committee members (the troop has a committee but the SM runs the committee meetings) approached me and asked me to stay as ASM: “The boys need you,” they said. I then suggested – since they had the same observation that I did about the Scoutmaster and his bossy, look down upon others attitude, that we set him down to a rather private meeting, tell him that his efforts were appreciated, but that his attitude was wrong for Scouting. All agreed, but no one wanted to be a part of it, arguing, “He won’t take that well” and “He’ll be very angry, and I don’t want to make an enemy of him.” At that point, I was certain that I no longer wanted to be active in the troop.

Some months later, my own son decided that he no longer wanted to be in the troop, so he joined another and he’s been rather happy with the new circumstances. With one exception: That Scoutmaster and his sons continually bad-mouth my own son, saying that he is a “quitter” and a “traitor.” Seems that several boys had asked him about what the new troop was like, and he told them, so now he’s being accused of trying to recruit from his old troop to the new one.

Frankly, I’m fed up. I’d like to set the record straight, but that would simply fan a fire’s flames, and would probably be seen as un-Scout-like. So, I bite my tongue, even when part of me would like to be very honest with him and tell him that he does not set a good example as a Scoutmaster, that phrases like “On my honor” and “To help other people at all times” seem to have been forgotten by him.

Bottom line: I have given this troop a lot of my time and energy, and did it for the Scouts, and have been treated like a doormat, and seen my son verbally bullied. So my question is: How does one express the truth in a constructive manner, without hurting the Scouts? I feel like the Lone Ranger in standing up to the Scoutmaster, and I’m disappointed that the other Scouters did not choose to act on a problem they all recognized and agreed to.

In all my years of being involved with scouting, this is the most vexing situation I’ve been involved in. Could you please give some help and guidance in how to deal with this situation? (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m sorry that you’ve endured this mess, but it’s obvious to me that it was a mess from the start. Scouts select the activities (camp-outs, hikes, etc.) that they want to do; not adults. Scouts don’t “grow toward” the patrol method; it’s either in place on Day One and there’s Scouting in action, or it’s not, and then it’s not Scouting. Scoutmasters don’t run either committee meetings or troop meetings; committee chairs and Senior Patrol Leaders do, and there’s no valid excuse for deviating from this. So, the bottom line is that this hasn’t been a Boy Scout troop at all; it’s been, according to you, the private fiefdom of a tin god who enjoys trampling on people. The only way to not get trampled is to not lie down.

Hats off to your son for spotting that “the emperor wears no clothes” and getting out. He did exactly the right thing, and is–with all due respect—an example for you to follow, perhaps?

As for “setting the record straight,” I’d sooner try teaching a pig to fly.

Move on. Exit with grace and no acrimony or rancor. Just move on.


Dear Andy,

What’s the age requirement to become a Senior Patrol Leader? From what I’ve read, there isn’t one. I’d think there would be an age requirement, due to the responsibilities that a Senior Patrol Leader has. (Debbie Stansfield, MC, National Capital Area Council)

Although troops are at liberty to establish reasonable prerequisites for this position, there is just one unassailable requirement to be a troop’s Senior Patrol Leader: The Scout is elected to this position by his peers. There are no other limitations established by the BSA.

There’s just one thing that keeps a Scout from achieving his personal best: Adults who don’t believe he’s “ready.”


Dear Andy,

My son is getting ready to transition into Webelos and I’ll soon be the Assistant Den Leader. How long should a typical Webelos den meeting last? (Candace Hunter, AWDL, Blue Grass Council, KY)

Because Webelos I and II den meetings focus on the requirements of the activity badges in addition to other Webelos and (the following half-year) Arrow of Light requirements, meetings of up to an hour aren’t unusual. However, more than an hour would probably be excessive. To do what you’ll need to be doing, and still keep everything on time, takes some solid planning ahead of time, but it’s absolutely worth it!

BTW, the singular of Webelos is… Webelos. It’s the same word, singular or plural.


Hey Andy,

I earned my Eagle rank about five months ago. I’m 18 now, and my court of honor is coming up. Once I get the actual Eagle patch, am I allowed to wear it? Or have I “aged out” of eligibility for that? My scoutmaster, who is an Eagle, says that I can wear the actual rank patch up until the Eagle recognition dinner for our district. Some Assistant Scoutmasters are saying that if you’re 18, you can’t wear the patch, and can only wear the Eagle square knot. (Justin Fong, San Francisco Bay Area Council, CA)

The wearing (or not wearing) of the oval Eagle badge isn’t a matter of anyone’s opinion…including mine. The BSA is very clear on the matter of Boy Scout rank badges: They’re worn by Boy Scouts. You were a Boy Scout until the day of your 18th birthday, and you were entitled to wear the Eagle rank badge up until that date, regardless of any courts of honor (these are merely public recognitions of advancements earned). In fact, the date of your board of review will be the date on your Eagle rank certificate that signifies the date you earned it. Since you’re no longer a Boy Scout, having reached your 18th birthday, you’re now entitled to wear the red-white-and-blue square knot, as do all Scouters (that’s what you are now, by the way) who earned the rank of Eagle.

Congratulations and best wishes for a happy and fulfilling future —


Hi Andy,

I figured you’d be the best person to answer this, after my own searches failed to provide a response… Why does Scouting use the Turk’s Head knot as a neckerchief slide? Is there a special significance to it? It’s even the base of the metal slides Scouts wear—you can tell from the pattern. Why? (D.E., CM, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

A Turk’s Head knot, as used for the essential Scout neckerchief slide or woggle, is an unending knot. The knot, when correctly woven, shows neither a beginning nor an end (think “the circle of life”). B-P himself chose it!


Greetings Andy,

We have an Eagle candidate who has completed all of his requirements up to his Eagle board of review. His parents are moving out of state and he may not be in-state to attend this important final step. Is there any provision to complete this by phone or by video-conference? Or can he have his review with a new troop and/or district when he gets to his new home in a different state? Surely, he’d not have to start all over with a new service project and so on… I mean, the Boy Scouts are a national organization and Eagle is a national rank, and I’d hate to see this Scout because of something that’s totally beyond his control. (Louis Bullock)

Requirements, once completed, are never repeated. Done is done. But don’t forget that the Scoutmaster Conference is a requirement, so be sure to get that done before this Scout departs. And there’s nothing that says it can’t be done by phone! Same with the board of review: Paperwork aside (photocopies solve that complication), if you can arrange a video-conference, that would absolutely work! Phone conference call could be done, too, but it’s not quite the same as seeing and being seen. There’s absolutely nothing I’ve ever seen or read (and I’ve read a lot!) that says the board of review can only be done with everyone in the same room.


Dear Andy,

Our troop has struggled for many years, prior adult leaders being “masters” rather than mentors and the Scouts really had no concept of being in a boy-led troop. We’ve changed the adult leadership for a little over a year, and we’re finally seeing the Scouts come into their own. Although it’s sad that so many missed out on this concept, it’s been an awesome experience to see it develop! But I have some questions about the Troop Guide…

Is the Troop Guide an actual member of the new Scout patrol, or does he belong to the patrol he was a member of prior to the new Scouts crossing over? Should he oversee them much like the Scoutmaster does the troop—always available for questions or guidance but not taking control? If he does remain in his existing patrol, how does he split his time at troop meetings—where does he participate during patrol meetings, patrol challenges, and patrol duties: his original patrol,or theirs? Because we’re just now becoming boy led, we didn’t have a truly experienced predecessor to ask. Everything I’ve found about Troop Guides explained the duties, but didn’t address the question of which patrol he’s an actual member of. (Chantal D., Ozark Trails Council, MO)

A Troop Guide is a coach-mentor for the elected Patrol Leader of a new Scout patrol, in a way similar to a Scoutmaster being the coach-mentor for the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders Council. The TG is definitely not a member of the new Scout patrol; he’s in the background supporting the Patrol Leader as needed. Because of this, being a TG eventually becomes less than a “full-time job,” so that the Scout in this leadership position can remain an active member of his own patrol—the one he’s been a member of from when he, himself, first joined the troop.


Hello Andy,

Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit cards are awards, but in several of your articles I noticed that Scouters talk about taking them away from Scouts, which goes against the BSA policy of once earned… So how can they be taken away? Along those same lines, I think that tearing corners off a Totin’ Chip for breaking safety rules is an “urban legend,” because I can’t find a reference to it anywhere. It seems to me that “reviewing” the safety rules “thoroughly”, taking more time (10 minutes, 15 minutes…) with each offense would be the way to go. After all, how many Scouts really want to sit with their Scoutmaster, ASM or an Instructor for long periods of time going over knife or fire safety?

On a different subject, the Troop Guide, Senior Patrol Leader, and ASPL positions are defined as not being part of a patrol. I’m concerned that our troop maybe reinventing Scouting here. Though I like what we’re doing, I’m willing to make a course correction if needed. Our troop looks at the Scouts in these positions as currently “inactive” members of their patrols for all troop events where these positions are in full vigor. Inactive means not on duty rosters, patrol meal plans except as guest for a meal, and so on.

Then, when patrol activities occur outside of troop settings, these Scouts can still do stuff with their gang, close friends, or in other words, patrol. I feel this falls in line with the SPL being able to participate in Venture Patrol activities. At district or council events like Klondike Derbies or Camporees, where the Scouts compete by patrol, the SPL and ASPL participate with their patrols instead of hanging around waiting for the others to return. When their tenure is up, they return to their patrols and go back on active status.

Also, who should present ranks, merit badges, and other awards? The documentation indicates that we should present the awards as soon as possible but not by who. Did I miss that information somewhere? It seems to me that having the Scout’s Patrol Leader make the presentations would make sense, and a PL would have his presented by his APL, and the SPL and ASPL would be presented their awards by the PL of the patrol that they’re currently inactive members of. If it isn’t, then it would be the Scoutmaster’s role. Currently in our troop the adults make the presentations. I am considering presenting the process I described above to our PLC unless there’s a BSA policy I missed or a good reason not to.

Does our compass need to be realigned on any of these topics, or is it still pointed toward True North? (Lincoln Dickerson, ASM, Great Trail Council, OH)

Totin’ Chip: In the Boy Scout Handbook (Tenth Edition) immediately before the current one (Eleventh Edition) and for the some 50 years since the Totin’ Chip was first created, there is this specific statement: “I (that is, the Scout) realize that my ‘totin’ rights’ can be taken from me if I fail to follow these requirements (that is, the five requirements to earn the TC).” In the current Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS 2008, this statement is made: “The Scout’s ‘Totin’ Rights’ can be taken away from him if he fails in his responsibility.” Based on these, a unit leader should be considered downright generous in taking only a corner as a consequence of mis-handling an edged tool. Moreover, the Totin’ Chip isn’t an award or advancement or rank; it’s a license. Just as one can lose a drivers license for misconduct on the road, so, too, a Scout can lose his “license to use and carry and edged tool” if he fails to follow the requirements of the license. This is an excellent way to teach the lesson of what licenses mean. When one loses a drivers license, it can take, sometimes, an all-day class to regain it; so what’s the problem if a Scout is expected to review the requirements once again and then explain and show them to his leader(s)? If a Scout doesn’t want the “endure” this, then he doesn’t mess up when it comes to using woods tools! To emphasize: There are important lessons in this process— They’re called RESPONSIBILITY, CORRECT CONDUCT, and CONSEQUENCES.

I really like your idea of “suspended membership” (which, to me, sounds better than “inactive”—it’s like taking a sabbatical, but not leaving the troop) in a patrol for the time a Scout is serving in a non-patrol-oriented leadership position. He’s not going to have that position forever, and this allows easy transition back to his natural “gang” when his tenure’s up!

As to a Venture Patrol, if the SPL is a member of it, and respects the Patrol Leader as the Scout elected to be in charge of it (i.e., he doesn’t “pull rank” on the PL), then participation as a Scout in that patrol’s activities when they’re separate from the other patrols of the troop sounds just fine.

It would be a splendid thing, I believe, for the three foundational ranks to be jointly presented to the Scout by his Scoutmaster and his Patrol Leader, both of whom are likely to have had a major hand in that Scout’s advancement. For Star, Life, and Eagle, a joint presentation by the Scoutmaster and the chair of the board of review would be highly appropriate, in my opinion.


Dear Andy,

What are the camping expectations for a Boy Scout troop? (Bart)

Get “out there” at least once a month, every month. Can be a combination of hikes and overnights, and the overnights can range from cabin-camping in the winter (depending on where you are, which you sorta left out!) to hike-in-and-camp in the milder months.


Dear Andy,

Regarding 13-14 year old Eagle Scouts, you’ve pointed out that if a Scout has successfully completed the requirements, then he deserves the rank, and I agree: God bless any boy who gets all that work done and can give leadership back to the troop for another three or four years or more!

Our problem is that we have a 13 year-old Scout who will qualify for Life once his six months of leadership for Star is complete (he’s serving as our Troop Librarian); however, his behavior is not what anyone would or should expect from a Boy Scout, especially one with advanced rank who is supposed to be reflecting leadership qualities. His behavior is so poor that we’ve had to insist his father come on the next camping trip to control him.

While we’re addressing his behavior problem with his father and through positive peer pressure from his patrol and Patrol Leader, his six month tenure as a Star Scout will be completed, and I’m sure he’ll want his Scoutmaster Conference at the six-month-and-one-minute mark.

Since we’re here to build character, our preference would be that he “demonstrate Scout spirit” through proper conduct and behavior on at least the next couple of camping trips before we consider that “showing Scout spirit” has been legitimately demonstrated.

Does the “show Scout spirit” requirement justify the option to not conduct his Scoutmaster Conference until his behavior is corrected? The whole timing of events is a sticking point for us. We honestly believe that good behavior must be a part of Scout spirit and a reflection of living by the Oath and Law. Are we on the right track here, or would you handle this differently? (Paul Napoli, SM, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

Regarding the Scout you’re referring to, of course there’s no way I can interpret “poor” (as in “…His behavior is so poor…”) nor do I understand what kind of “control” of his behavior you’re expecting from his father, or why his father should be needed for this. Unless this is defined or described in some manner, we’ll have to stick to principles and generalities.

My first question would be this: Is this Scout carrying out his Troop Librarian responsibilities, as defined to him by his Scoutmaster? My second question is: To what extent has his Scoutmaster provided coaching, mentoring, and teaching to this Scout and the other youth leaders in the troop? You see, a Scoutmaster’s primary responsibility and first priority is to train the youth leaders of the troop he serves.

As for Scoutmaster’s Conferences, these are not a “rite of passage;” they are ongoing. Every week, the Scoutmaster should be conferencing with the Scouts in the troop. In a well-run (aka “Scout-run”) troop, the Scoutmaster has ample time for this—at least an hour, usually more, each and every week at troop meetings that are being run by the Scouts. (The Scoutmaster has all the time from immediately after the opening ceremony right up till the time he delivers the Scoutmaster’s Minute at the close of the meeting to sit down with Scouts one-to-one and conference with them). At, let’s say, ten minutes each, a Scoutmaster can conference with at least 20 Scouts every month. With a troop of, let’s say, 40 Scouts, this means that no Scout goes more than two months without having a personal conversation with his Scoutmaster!

So, this Scout should have had at least three Scoutmaster’s Conferences in a six-month period, as a minimum. And, as a troop leader (i.e., Librarian), probably more than this. Moreover, if there have been behavioral issues, then I’d wonder why this Scout would have had any fewer than six such conferences.

We don’t “hold back” Scoutmaster’s Conferences; we increase their frequency when there are issues to be resolved. This is how boys and young men of Scouting age learn from their role models. So your situation may not be so much about “a Scout failing a troop;” it may be more about a troop failing a Scout!

Your ideals are sound, but your methods need a good oil n’ lube job!


Dear Andy,

My son completed his last Eagle Palm requirements, including his board of review, on May 30. He’s earned five more merit badges for an additional Palm, and he’ll be 18 years on June 17. It’s my understanding that he can have his board of review after he’s 18 if he completed his merit badges before his 18th birthday. Is this correct? Does he qualify for an additional Palm? (Marisol Garcia)

In addition to earning five more merit badges, there is also a three-month tenure requirement between Palms. If your son’s last Palm board of review was on May 30th, and his 18th birthday is only 18 days later, it’s impossible for him to meet the tenure requirement, and it can’t be waived. Nevertheless, congratulations are certainly in order for earning Eagle and then going the extra mile!


Hi Andy!

Election Day is coming down the pike and I can attest first-hand that the Boy Scouts is all about participating citizenship, especially citizenship in the nation! But a few election cycles ago, I witnessed a uniformed Boy Scout front-and-center at a rally for a candidate running for an elected office. I think that the Scoutmaster Handbook explicitly encourages adult leaders to not wear a uniform at a partisan political rally, to avoid the appearance of a Scouting endorsement-by-association, and that the youth application for membership states that citizenship-related events are A-OK so long as they’re not partisan events. Is there any other text (perhaps something in the BSA by-laws) that prohibits Scouts-in-uniform from being used as “props”? (Name & Council Withheld)

You seem to be saying that, recently, you observed a youth member of the BSA in uniform on the stage or dais of a candidate holding a rally to run for office, who gave to you the impression that he was present there in some official capacity (other than as an onlooker).

The BSA does state in various places within its rules and regulations that it and its members both youth and adult shall remain non-partisan and non-political with regard to public appearances and dealings; however, without precise details, it’s impossible for me to comment one way or the other on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of this particular Scout.

Do understand, that Boy Scout uniforms are relatively easy to acquire (showing membership cards is not longer required, as it once was), so that you may have observed a non-registered youth in the garb of a Boy Scout. (Believe it or not, about 20 years ago, Michael Jackson, the sometime rock star, produced a self-aggrandizing mass-distribution calendar using just such a ploy, even to the point of putting himself in a BSA uniform!) So, it’s actually quite impossible for me to be certain of what you may have observed. You may, in fact, wish to direct your question to the candidate in question rather than to the BSA or even someone in an unofficial capacity, like me.


Hello Andy,

Our Scoutmaster is in belief that the troop committee should have on-the-spot boards of review whenever he’s signed off on the Scoutmaster Conference. The program that we run has the Scouts working on their rank requirements as soon as they start in the troop. (Our older Scout patrol is amazing in that they take the new Scouts out on an orienteering course within the first three camping trips, and most if not all of the Scouts are ready to advance within eight months!)

The troop committee, conversely, wants to set up a “by appointment” situation. The committee chair refers it to the advancement chair who, when she tried to come up with an equitable solution, got a “that’s not fair” response no matter what was suggested…the “by appointment” approach got a “not fair” because we’re holding the Scouts back who are ready but have not signed up. The Committee Chair likes to sit in on the reviews and agrees with the Scoutmaster most of the time—even when parents want to sit in on troop meetings over in the corners, to watch their sons have fun (what parent doesn’t), only go get tapped for a board of review! Our concern is that we’re going to have five or more reviews to go in, and someone is going to complain about fairness. What do we do? (Matt Price)

Boards of review are for the benefit of the Scouts; not the troop committee. If the troop committee has too few members to support the number of boards of review required by happy, enthusiastic, goal-oriented Scouts, we increase the committee size—we don’t withhold boards of review, or make them so complicated to request that everyone gets tangled up in the wrong underwear!

Following a successful Scoutmaster Conference, the Scoutmaster informs the troop committee (or a particular designate, like the troop advancement chair) that a board of review is necessary, and it’s scheduled ASAP—That night, if three to six committee members are present. Period. Boards of review are not for Scouts to request. This is the specific responsibility of the adults who serve the youth of the troop.


Dear Andy,

My son just bridged up to Boy Scouts and, after having served in several pack leader capacities over the last five years, I’m joining his troop’s leadership team. Since I’m new to the troop, my tendency is to watch and learn, to first understand how things are working. But, after several experiences in Cub Scouting with leaders whose good intentions were contrary to BSA policy, I’m sensitive to these types of issues. So when the troop announced its Totin’ Chip training program for the new Scouts, consisting of three one-hour sessions plus homework projects, my radar alerted. While I know that specific training for the Totin’ Chip is pretty standard, and knives represent a easy target for “safety” issues, this seems a bit excessive, first, because obtaining the certification requires only that the Scout “understand his responsibility, ” and second because of the prohibition against adding requirements to awards and badges (since the Totin’ Chip is required for the Wood Carving merit badge, the lengthy course this troop runs could be interpreted as adding to the existing requirements).

My initial inquiry to the Scoutmaster and committee member coordinating the training gave me the sense that the troop committee is very safety-oriented, maybe to the extreme. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, there are some indications that the committee may be restricting activities normally considered normal for Boy Scouts. So what do you think? I don’t intend to go in and try to change things, but I would like your view on this Totin’ Chip training. If my initial impression is on-target, I may consider suggesting changes to tone it down. (Geoff MacDonald, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

If this troop is requiring three hours of “instruction,” plus “homework” for something as straightforward as a Totin’ Chip, which merely requires some reading and understanding plus a relatively simple demonstration of knife, ax, and saw care, I’d be concerned—very concerned! Because this is absolutely over-kill! And, if they’re doing this for Totin’ Chips, what the heck are they doing for actual rank requirements!

If you notice that they’re applying this same pedantic mentality to other aspects of the Boy Scout program, start lookin’ for another troop!


Hi, Andy!

My Webelos I Scouts are wrapping up their first year and have selected an animal that’s not on the list of existing patrol emblems (they want to be The Piranha Patrol!). How do I go about getting their animal emblem? (DiAnne Kelly, WDL, Southern New Jersey Council)

Oh Boy Oh Boy, do I have a solution for you! Go to and knock yerself out!

I’ve received a variety of questions about the new Leave No Trace program, and I’m sure not an expert in this, so I’ve turned to a Scouter who is an expert. Maybe you can use his information in your own council, district, and unit. Scott Anderson is a member of the BSA’s national Leave No Trace Task Force, a Leave No Trace Master Educator, and a Master Educator Instructor. Here’s what he has to say…

In 2005, the BSA Camping & Conservation Committee formed a Leave No Trace Task Force to oversee the broadening of Leave No Trace programs throughout the Scouting movement. The task force set a goal of having one Master Educator in every council and one Trainer in every District. To achieve this goal, we’ve been supporting Master Educator courses in all four BSA regions. At this time, there are no stated requirements or plans to establish requirements for councils and districts to meet this quality standard.

There is, however, a Quality Standard for BSA Summer Camps: At least one staff member has been trained as a Leave No Trace trainer (two-day course). A Leave No Trace awareness workshop is offered to leaders and campers.

The task force has received National Council approval for a new optional position—Council Outdoor Ethics Advocate—scheduled to be rolled out to Scout Executives at an upcoming “All Hands” meeting for professional council staff members.

If you want to stay current with what’s happening with LNT, consider subscribing to the Yahoo Group “bsalntme”

In addition, a new leadership position for Scouts (will qualify for rank advancement) will soon be available: Troop Leave No Trace Instructor (don’t quote me on the final name—it could be revised).

If you have a LNT background, or interest, after the new council-level position is formally announced, stop by your Scout Executive’s office and talk over the level of commitment you’d like to make to support Leave No Trace in your council (I’m talking time and energy; not dollars!), and discuss with him or her the appropriate “home” for a Council Outdoor Ethics Advocate. Your local Scout Executive will be in the best position to determine which standing committee would provide the greatest support without hindering the goals, objectives, or strategic plan of the your Council.

Scouting moves slowly and carefully, so don’t expect overnight results. I’m convinced, however, that, with the help and hard work of dedicated Scouting volunteers, we in Scouting will make positive and significant changes in how American citizens treat our precious wildlands and resources into this new century and beyond.



Happy Scouting!


You can write to me about any Scouting-related subject or concern at:

(June 1, 2008 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2008)

Letters to AskAndy may be published at the discretion of the columnist and the editor. If you prefer to have your name or affiliation withheld from publication, please advise in your letter.


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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