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Issue 136 – June 9, 2008



Eagles Gather at Eagle River, Alaska

Eagles of Eagle River, Alaska

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These 13 Eagle Scouts, all members of the same troop, received their rank at the same Court of Honor, presented by Brigadier General (Ret.) George Cannelos, former Commander of the Alaska Air National Guard. Troop 230 is in Eagle River, Alaska, a town of about 22 thousand just a stone’s throw from Anchorage and home of the first Iditarod Sled Dog Race checkpoint. Their Scoutmaster is John Diffenderfer. This wonderful photo was sent to me by Bill Casler, a dedicated Alaskan Scouter whom I’ve come to know and respect through our “Ask Andy” correspondence back-and-forth.

These Scouts range in age from 15 through 17. One has received a BSA Heroism Medal for saving life. Another, with Asperger’s Disorder, earned 50 merit badges on his way to Eagle.

I’ve personally participated in 181 Eagle boards of review (182 if I count my own) and I’ve attended many Courts of Honor, some for as many as five and seven Eagles at the same time. But I’ve never had the honor of witnessing 13 all at once, so this one I’m sharing with you because, in my book at least, it’s pretty unique and pretty darned exceptional!

Before moving on, take a good look at their eyes… Do you see something special there—in all of them—that transcends being “just” a young man, “just” a Scout? I sure do. What an exceptional group of young men! Bravo!


Hi Andy,

Can a Scoutmaster make rules about hair? Our Scoutmaster wants every Scout in our troop to have a military-style buzz. My own hair isn’t long or anything, but I don’t want to get a buzz cut, and neither do a lot of other guys in the troop. Does the Scoutmaster really have the privilege to make a rule like that? (Name Withheld, Los Angeles Area Council, CA)

Thanks for finding me and asking. I’ll bet you already know the answer: No way, Jose! Neither Scoutmasters nor anyone else in Scouting has either the right or the authority to tell any Scout or anyone else how to wear their hair. Tell this to every Scout in the troop, and alert your parents, too!

Thank you for the answer, but how do I stop this, because he told all of us that he has power to do that, and if we don’t like it we should get out, and I think people will believe his word over mine. Is there any way to prove this isn’t authorized, like maybe a list of BSA rules or something? Or is there any website that will help me with this? (NW)

If you want to be a bit on the gentle side, start by putting the responsibility on him, not you. Before anyone hits the local barber shop, insist that he show you all, in writing by the BSA, that the Scoutmaster has the authority to dictate hairstyle/length of hair/etc. When he can’t do this (and I personally guarantee you, he can’t), his game’s over.

If he refuses to do this, or just starts making an even bigger power play, then here’s exactly what to do: WALK OUT. That’s right, walk out and go join another troop—one that doesn’t have a jerk for a Scoutmaster. Don’t threaten. Don’t try to reason with him. Just DO IT. When you do, that ends his game, right then and there. (Remember this: The true “volunteers” in Scouting are you Scouts, and you have the right to have adult leaders who follow the rules)

Dear Andy,

During a recent committee meeting, we were discussing the leadership requirements to take Webelos Scouts on an overnight campout. I mentioned that a leader trained in Youth Protection and Outdoor Leader or BALOO is required, along with another leader or an over-21-year-old parent with their child at the outing.

To make it easier in the future, is there a manual or handbook available that has all the required guidelines, rules, and policies to refer to when questions about different actives come up? I have taken quite a few training classes that covered particular events, but a one-manual source would be very beneficial. (Bill Yoder, UC, Mason-Dixon Council, MD)

You bet there is! It’s titled, Guide to Safe Scouting, and it’s available at your local Scout shop for a few bucks or online at the BSA website for free (except it’s your paper when you download and print it, of course—the Scout shop version may actually be cheaper!).

Dear Andy,

Please settle an argument for me on Camping Merit Badge. Requirement 9 says, “Show experience in camping by doing the following: a. 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…” So, if a Scout has attended two long-term Scout camps that total ten days/nights altogether (five days/nights at each), can he count those as one week (that is, seven days/night) of long-term camp for this requirement? My wife, who is a stickler for regulations, says that he can only count the five nights camped during a “week” of Scout camp. (Ken Reynolds, SM, Mt. Baker Council, WA)

This is the province of a MBC for Camping merit badge, and it’s an easy one: The requirement says “a week,” and, last time I checked my calendar, “a week” is seven days/nights. So, adding together two sojourns that total seven days would certainly be appropriate. Five days isn’t a week; it’s two days short of a week, and, besides, we’re not in the business of finding ways to artificially “penalize” Scouts.

Hi Andy,

We live in Oregon and my son is participating in a high adventure trip to the BSA Florida Sea Base this summer. Because of an early school start, my son will need to return home three days earlier than the group. Can he fly home alone/unescorted, so long as he has the proper notifications and paperwork done? He’d be placed in the care of the airline in Miami by the group leaders, and then met by me on arrival. (Bruce Wallace CC, Cascade Pacific Council, OR)

If you have folks at Sea Base or from his group who’ll get your son to the airport for his flight home, then the further arrangements are made directly with the airline, and you can definitely do this in advance. Here’s a wish for him to have a blast!

Dear Andy,

Does the BSA have an EMT badge, or one for a camp health officer? (Jim Akin, Lead Campmaster, Last Frontier Council, OK)

Other than a Physician badge (No.00441), there doesn’t appear to be anything along the lines of what you’re looking for. In fact, there are no badges of office for any camp staffers except Ranger, Assistant Ranger, and Employee.

Dear Andy,

I’m a 36 year-old Eagle Scout who’s blessed with two great sons of my own. My older entered first grade this year and we’re actively involved with Scouts. Our pack has about 30 Cubs. I’m a Tiger Den Leader and so is another adult Eagle Scout, and we both want to impress upon the boys Scout spirit. Thus, one of the things we feel is important is wearing our full uniforms to all Scouting events. My question may seem a little trivial but I’m wondering if I can wear my 1985 National Jamboree patch on my uniform. The boys are very interested in our Scout memorabilia (red vest, etc.) and I thought it would “dress it up” a little more. Any thought? (Dave Juelfs, TCDL, Okaw Valley Council, IL)

The BSA says that “old” Jamboree patches have to be removed from above the right pocket and, if you still want to wear one, placed on the right pocket itself (in what’s called the “temporary” position, which really means “at the wearer’s discretion”). So, since you were actually there, you can legitimately wear that ’85 Jamboree patch on the right pocket of your uniform shirt.

Dear Andy,

I’ve received a recommendation letter for a Wolf Den Leader who saved a young (ten year old) girl’s life. Apparently, the girl was swimming in a pool during a party and something happen where she went to the bottom of the pool and wasn’t coming up. Someone spotted her and jumped into the pool to pull her out, whereupon the Den Leader (who had First Aid skills) began to perform CPR until the EMTs arrived. During that time, he was able to get the girl to cough up the water and she started breathing on her own. What I need to know is what type of Heroism award would this be and is there a form that needs filling out? Is their a certificate that the BSA issues in cases like this? If you can help me I’d appreciate it. (Bill Mollica, Advancement Committee Chair, Monmouth Council, NJ)

Thanks for writing, and what an outstanding demonstration of the power of Scouting skills and Scout Spirit! Yes, there’s a fairly elaborate process for having this person recognized for his act and Yes, there’s definitely a fair amount of paperwork that’s going to be involved here, including testimony from all available witnesses and with the saved girl herself! The place to start is with your council’s Scout Executive, who has been taught the process in his regular professional training.

Dear Andy,

I’m the activities chair for my district, and also Scoutmaster of a year-and-a-half old troop. We’ve received many awards for uniforming and Scout spirit, and much recognition for following the BSA program. A few other Scoutmasters have asked me how I get the Scouts to do what they do, to which I typically reply: We follow the program. We have training in Scout skills, a good Senior Patrol Leader, and we use the new Troop leadership Training.

Despite all this, I’ve just been “fired” by the troop committee and not told why, and then the entire troop was taken to form another Troop. I’m in the process of re-forming now, but I’m getting no assistance from my district or council (they can’t supersede a troop committee) and I’m frustrated. This troop was a jewel, and there’s been nothing but astonishment from other Scouters when they found out what happened. Maybe I set the bar too high? There was no abuse, or mandating anything other than follow the program as written, which everyone started out on-board with. Any thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s a mystery. I have no idea why the events you’ve described happened. Maybe it’s worth trying to find out what was going on, but maybe not. Maybe it’s better in the long run to devote your time to your district activities chair responsibilities and simply let the past be the past, especially since a reversal of the events is pretty much unlikely. Focus on the fun stuff that’s rewarding and let the bad stuff go.

Hello Andy!

Not too long ago a Scouting friend looked at my uniform shirt—above the left pocket—and asked when I received the William T. Hornaday award. I was surprised, because this award is not well-known. Our conversation continued, and he encouraged me to obtain a certificate from the BSA national council showing that I’d earned this award. I did this, but now more questions are raised, about the types of awards that were in place at the time I earned mine and why one type is listed on the certificate.

I completed the work for this in 1970 and had the honor to be presented it by William T. Hornaday’s great nephew, Attorney Gregg W. Hornaday (since deceased). Were there different levels (Bronze, Silver, etc.) of the award in 1970, as there are today? My certificate states that I received the Bronze award and that’s completely fine with me—I’m still in a nest of very rare birds. (In fact, I’ve never met another Hornaday recipient and it would be great to do so.) It would be good to help my friend solve this mystery over a very mysterious award. What light can you shed on this matter? (Rev. Dr. Michael Brady, ASM, Los Angeles Area Council, CA)

First, congratulations on having achieved arguably the most rigorous of all Scout awards (save, arguably, the Sea Scout Quartermaster rank) My hat’s off to you!

As for you and your confused friend, I’m somehow getting the impression that you’re the one doing all the work here. And now you’re asking me to go to work for him or her, too! How about just telling ‘em, “Hey, I earned it, and that’s that, and if you really want to learn more about it, for your own personal edification, or whatever, try going online and Googling it.” End of story.

NETCOMMISH Comment: We have additional information on the current award at and historical information at (this page shows all of the medals and certificates issued over time and provides additional information about each.

Dear Andy,

Our troop has been caught up in a very nasty situation and hopefully our stance in the matter is the right one… We have a Scout who waited right to the last minute to try to complete his Eagle Scout rank requirements. He knew that his 18th birthday was the cutoff date (that’s something we have pointed out over and over again to our Scouts, because they seem to have built a tradition of waiting till just before their 18th birthday to finish their Eagle). This Scout, when faced with a fast-approaching deadline, called the council office and told them that because his troop was gone to Philmont, there was no one to help him with his Eagle project (this wasn’t entirely accurate, since only six of the 18 Scouts in our troop were on that trip). Next, just a day or two before his birthday, he contacted our council’s Field Director and a District Executive in a district other than ours for an extension, and they advised him that, with the approval of his Scoutmaster, he could amend his project—in effect, shorten it—in order to complete it before his birthday. His proposition to our Scoutmaster was that he’d abbreviate his project: He’d do part of it prior to his 18th birthday, then the troop would take over the rest of the project—this would satisfy the service project requirement, he claimed. The Scoutmaster, however, refused to approve this change, stating that the requirement and the project plan as originally approved does not accommodate such an amendment. The Scoutmaster noted that, if there is a change to the project, it’s described in the Project Workbook, and changing it before it’s even begun would require complete approval from all four signatories (himself, the unit committee, the recipient of the service, and of course the district or council advancement committee). Moreover, he observed, truncating a project merely so it can be squeezed in before an 18th birthday isn’t an acceptable reason. The council’s Field Director supported this position, and told our Scoutmaster this.

Well, the parents went ballistic. They became very belligerent towards our Scoutmaster, claiming that it was his fault their son was in this situation and that they, themselves, knew nothing about this age 18 cut-off. So, the Scout and his father worked on and completed the Eagle Project on the young man’s 18th birthday (according to the father’s later written statement) and then continued working on it a few days later. He then petitioned the National Council and convinced our own council to write a letter on his behalf, requesting a two-day extension. No special circumstances other than the fact that this Scout waited too long to start his project was offered. Amazingly, at least in our minds, the National Council approved the petition.

As a direct result of this incident, our Scoutmaster resigned, refusing to take further part in what he considered a total miscarriage. To finish up, one of the troop’s Assistant Scoutmasters conducted the Scoutmaster Conference, after a representative of our council said that is authorized in the absence of a Scoutmaster.

But then our District Eagle Board Chair refused to grant the board of review, stating that the work, although carried out, was carried out improperly. Our council people then pressured her to give the Scout his board of review, on the grounds that he’d completed the requirements. Her response to this pressure was to state that the candidate could appear her decision to the national council. He did, the appeal was accepted, and the board of review was carried out. He ostensibly passed the review, even though one member of the board refused to sign.

Per standard procedure, the Eagle Scout rank application was sent to the national office. It was returned, however, because the date shown for the Scoutmaster Conference was post-18th birthday. Our local council then told the District Eagle Board Chair to change that date, so that the application could be resubmitted. She refused.

Now my own understanding is that the Scoutmaster Conference is held upon completion of all rank requirements—it’s the very last requirement, in fact. For Eagle rank, this is when the Scoutmaster goes over all of the requirements, including the project workbook, etc., to make sure that everything’s in order for the board of review, and so to do it beforehand just isn’t done.

Are we correct in our thinking that this Scout simply waited too long? He, his parents, and even our local council seem determined to push this through. Might the council representative(s) have told him that he’d waited too long and, with 18th his birthday just a day or two away, it’s simply too late. In the final analysis, it was the Scout himself who set his own schedule, including deciding to hold off till the last moment. It strikes us that he’d be learning a valuable lesson on making choices and the consequences of making those choices, good or bad. Unfortunately, both his parents and the council aren’t allowing him to learn that lesson, and he’s not accepting any responsibility for this mess. How do you see it? (Name & Council Withheld)

Egad what a mess! First off, that Scoutmaster needs to “un-resign.” He’s leaving too many good Scouts and other volunteers behind, based on only one “problem child” and some misguided parents and council folks. That’s giving these people much too much power! Is that Scoutmaster really sure this is the final message he wants to deliver to the boys in the troop—That, in the face of adversity and even injustice, we walk away?

Next, maybe nobody knows this but a Field Director has absolutely no say-so when it comes to agreeing with or overriding the decision of a Scoutmaster or Eagle Board Chair.

Third, your District Eagle Board Chair had it almost right: It’s OK to grant a board of review in a situation like this, because the board of review has final say-so regarding whether or not the candidate becomes an Eagle or not. The members of the board could have simply stated that they were not satisfied with the way in which the service project was carried out, and that’s the end of that. It’s over, because past his 18th birthday a Scout can’t “go back” and re-do a requirement!

However, the decision of a board of review for any rank must be unanimous; this young man’s was not, creating, in effect, a “non-passing” situation. Again, end of story.

Meanwhile, that District Eagle Board Chair was dead right that the Scoutmaster’s Conference is indeed a requirement and as such must have been completed before this young man’s 18th birthday.

But here’s the bottom line: It’s done. It’s wrong, but it’s done. And you all have preserved your own integrity. Now it’s time to move on.

Yes, this one may slip through the cracks. But the one who has to live with this for the rest of his natural life is that young man. Not you. Not that Scoutmaster.

Not your District Eagle Board Chair. For you all, there’s a lesson here: Know your stuff. Promise yourselves that this won’t happen like this again. Learn what the policies and procedures are, right down to the fine print. Then, as a team, work together to make certain everything from here on out is 100% per policy and stated procedure.

Is this something that should be brooded over, or brought to the attention of “national,” or something that you’ll all hold a grudge about forever? I sure hope not. There are much more important things to do for the youth of your community. You have the dedication, the spirit, and the devotion to excellence. Now, you just need a little chrome-polishing on the details. Then roll up your sleeves and put your hearts back into the movement. That’s where you’re needed most.

Right now, that young man’s application seems to be in “Limbo.” Leave it there. You’ve said your piece and you’re right, but now it’s not your “fight” any longer. Move on.

Hi Andy,

Our district is having a Pow Wow and I’ve been asked to teach a class on Webelos Activity Badges and local resources. I’m wondering if there’s a timeline/schedule available on the path a leader should take to help the Webelos Scouts earn all 20 badges. (Vicky Goldberg, ASM)

What you’re looking for is outlined very well in the WEBELOS LEADER BOOK. In fact, three different plans, geared to when Webelos I is started, are provided.

Hi Andy,

I’ve been reading your columns for some time now and always find them interesting, informative, and insightful. After reading a couple of them from back in November 2006, there were a couple of points in your replies that kept nagging at me and which might possibly be the same with other readers.

I don’t think any of us ever want to see a Scout awarded a rank, merit badge, or other award that he hasn’t earned; yet mistakes certainly can and will be made. On one hand I understand where the Scouter was coming from who was trying to make sure that the Scout had “properly earned” some merit badges, albeit Eagle-required merit badges. At the same time, I, and I’m sure many others, have heard in our training that once earned, something can’t be taken away and if there is a dispute between adults over right versus wrong, any error should always be in favor of the Scout. I’ve always taken these statements to mean that we should learn from the mistakes we have identified and work to not repeat these same mistakes with other Scouts, but not to retroactively penalize a Scout by attempting to take away something he thought he’d earned or completed.

The one part of your response that I wished more advice had been given was on the question of who can sign-off on merit badges. Clearly, if you’re a registered Merit Badge Counselor and work with a Scout from beginning to end, it’s pretty cut-and-dried. It’s the “partials” where the problems seem to come creeping in. With the growing trend toward more and more troop and district “merit badge clinics,” I think a lot of leaders are going to be facing more of these issues.

Frankly, I’ve come across a lot of mixed thoughts among fellow Scouters on this subject. Some feel that any registered MBC can sign-off on any MB or MB partial; but I’ve heard others say that a Scoutmaster can initial any MB requirement and sign-off on any “Blue Card.” In my own troop, I’ve seen Scouts, unregistered parents, and even Assistant Scoutmasters who aren’t Merit Badge Counselors initial “partial” to complete remaining requirements.

For partials, the most frequent problems we seem to wrestle with are…

1 – Who can initial a MB requirement to indicate that it’s been completed?
2 – Who can sign a Blue Card to indicate that all requirements have been completed?
3 – What do we do when a Scout has a partial and there’s no registered MBC for the subject available locally to help him complete the remaining requirements?
4 – What do we do when the MBC’s contact information section on the Blue Card is filled-in by the person who started working with the Scout but isn’t the one who’s going to sign and date it, maybe months later when, the last requirement is completed? (Larry Gallagher, Three Fires Council, IL)

Let’s see if I can help with those questions of yours…

1&2 – These are the responsibility of the selected Merit Badge Counselor; no one else. No one but a registered MBC is authorized to sign off on a requirement or a merit badge. Let’s say that again: NO ONE BUT A REGISTERED MERIT BADGE COUNSELOR CAN SIGN A MERIT BADGE APPLICATION AS COMPLETED. EVER.

3 – Go find and recruit one. (But how did this Scout get a “partial” in the first place?) Anyway, if finding and recruiting a new MBC proves particularly difficult, it’s possible to reach out to a neighboring council (or district) for help. There’s no BSA “rule” that says the MBC has to be registered in the Scout’s home council; only that he or she be duly registered.

4 – Whoever’s is the final signature is the one who provides his or her address and phone number. But, this is not a troop responsibility. Good MBCs already know exactly how to handle this.

With your questions answered, here’s my own “two cents” on partials… I think they’re baloney. There’s hardly any reason why a Scout should be given a “partial.” Even at a Jamboree Merit Badge Midway, all MBs are set up to be COMPLETED. When councils or districts run their own MB fairs, clinics, colleges, or whatever they’re called, shame on them if their objective is to give out a bunch of partials. This is a pointless waste of Scouts’ valuable time.

Merit badges themselves are “toe-in-the-water” affairs. Even merit badges like Lifesaving are meant to provide a taste of the subject—They’re absolutely not designed to make any Scout any kind of expert in any subject. They were first designed—and this hasn’t changed one iota since Day One—to stimulate interest in a subject, with the goal that a Scout may choose to pursue it further, vocationally or avocationally. So, that would make a “partial” a half-toe in the water, and that just doesn’t hack it, to my way of thinking. Sorta like digging “half a hole.” Besides, there are so many MBs that can be done in a couple of hours that there’s just no rationale I can think of that justifies partials.

“Even Lifesaving is a ‘toe-in-the-water’ merit badge?” you might ask. Sure it is, and I’ll use my own experiences as an example… I earned Lifesaving at Scout camp when I was maybe 12 or 13. But, when I was 19, I really got serious about it. Earned ARC Senior Lifesaving, then WSI, went on to be a Scout Camp Aquatics Director (went to National Aquatic School at Schiff—Course Directed by Al Cahill, who’s still around, I’m told—and was the youngest in my class), and then taught beginning swimming while in college, where I also was a swim meet “starter,” and later gave private lessons through most of my 20s. Then, at age 50, I got myself certified as a BSA Life Guard COUNSELOR (on a lake at 7,200 ft. elevation that at its warmest never hit 50 degrees Fahrenheit), and I’m still a MBC for Swimming, Lifesaving, Rowing, Canoeing, and Small Boat Sailing! All because, as a young Boy Scout, I earned Swimming and Lifesaving. Hoo-Hah!

Hello Andy,

When were the square knots developed for adult recognition? (Kevin Smith, ADC, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

Go here:

Hi Andy,

First, who’s the “NetCommish” who answers some of the questions along with you?

Next, here’s the hard question…

I recently received a call from the new Scoutmaster of a troop I’m the Unit Commissioner for. The troop itself is long-established, with about 50 or so Scouts, and he, himself, is upbeat and shows enthusiasm. The troop’s done a lot of fun things in the past: canoeing, climbing, winter camping, Philmont treks, plus local camps and summer camp for all. They do training to prepare for their trips, and the committee’s helped organize fundraising events. In addition to active, I’d have said they’re a happy troop, too…until I got this call.

Apparently, the older Scouts recently “loaded the ballot box” to get a new Senior Patrol Leader elected who does exactly what they want, which is nothing. This same group of Scouts has turned troop meetings into mere “social events.” They apparently want nothing to do with mentoring the younger Scouts. They show a total lack of respect toward the adult leaders, including the Scoutmaster. The new SPL is saying that adults can’t do anything about this stuff—“We’re a Scout-run troop, right? So this is what we want.” The Scoutmaster’s talked about respect in his Minutes, and he’s held conferences with all the Scouts, but these have changed nothing and now the younger Scouts are beginning to get “infected.” I should also mention that these same older Scouts went to the troop committee a while back and convinced them to remove the prior Scoutmaster because, they claimed, he was “taking over” and that it was no longer a boy-led troop, and the committee did this. Now, they don’t know which way to turn, and the Scoutmaster’s at his wit’s end. To overcome these problems, here are some of the things the troop is considering…

– Start a Venturing Patrol within the troop, to “isolate” the older Scouts, and so that the younger ones can move back to the right direction.

– Encourage the older Scouts to join a Venturing Crew (there are several in our area) in addition to being in the troop.

– Organize patrol campouts (essentially bypassing the PLC) and make them fun enough so that other patrols want to join in (in effect, reverse engineering).

– Send the older Scouts to NYLT training.

– Wait the SPL out, then move on. (This is a not-good bad option in the Scoutmaster’s mind, as there’s too much time for the younger Scouts to begin to go down the same path before the next election and, after all, he’s the one who has to put up with this do-nothing SPL!).

– Find out the dynamic between the Scouts, leaders, parents, and the committee (to reveal the underlying problem).

Then, there’s the issue of “Scout spirit” that the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair have to sign off on for boards of review – This might be used to warn these older Scouts that advancement isn’t assured. They’ve tried Troop Guides, but this hasn’t worked out, at least recently. Maybe there’s a way to inspire them in some way, but how? Are there any resources you can point us to, for working these issues? What do you think of the list so far? Can you elaborate on pitfalls they may encounter? (Holly Pierson, UC, Northern Star Council, MN)

The easy one: Our NetCommish is the USSSP webmaster. He’s a former Scouting Commissioner and has successfully and honorably held a bunch of other Scouting volunteer positions. I immensely value his occasional forays into my columns and commentary.

The hard one may not be so hard after all. I like quite a few of your ideas; just not the “wait it out” one. This troop needs fixing immediately, or there’s gonna be no troop left to fix! So here’s one of my own…

The Scoutmaster’s most important job is to train the youth leaders of the troop so that they run PROGRAM (and only program!) correctly, meaning by the Patrol Method and through the Patrol Leaders Council. If these young (and highly impressionable) boys and young men don’t “get it,” then it’s time to train ‘em. There’s a troop-level Youth Leader Training Course that should be available at your council’s Scout Shop. Your Scoutmaster needs to pick up a copy, schedule a weekend day for it, and then make it happen (maybe he can reach out to some members of the district training team to help staff the day). He can definitely insist that ALL youth leaders—SPL, ASPL, and Patrol Leaders—attend this event or lose their positions (I normally don’t take things that far, but this appears to be a triage situation, and in triage the rules change). Don’t overlook the fact that The Scoutmaster Handbook specifically states that “the troop determines the requirements…for patrol leaders” and the SPL and ASPL, too! This means that you all—the troop’s adult leaders—can set standards of age, rank, and BEHAVIOR and ATTITUDE if you so wish, and you can MAKE THE TRAINING MANDATORY if you wish to. The (unspoken but very present) consequence of not meeting the troop’s standards is that a qualified “position of leadership” won’t be happening, and rank advancement comes to a screeching halt! “No training, no position, and no Eagle medal in your future, my young friend,” is the clear message you’re sending, and you have every right to send it. Time to kick some butt here and let these juveniles know that if they’re gonna be Scouts they’re gonna do what Scouts do, and no two ways about it!

Now this probably sounds a bit over the top, and it is. Most troops never have to take these sorts of measures. However, I’m not a believer in fighting fire with fire—I fight fire with water. The water is this case is simple: The games stop. The Scoutmaster’s going to have to lead the way on this, because that one example you gave me about dumping a Scoutmaster tells me the troop committee has the spine of an éclair.

NETCOMMISH Comment: Hi Holly! You can find out more about The NetCommish at

Your situation is not unique and this isn’t the first time it has happened. I’ve seen similar things both as a Commissioner and in many years working with hundreds of Troops in a camp environment. This is where you earn your pay as the Unit Commissioner by helping to educate the Troop Committee and supporting the Scoutmaster in trying to turn things around.

Your Scoutmaster is going to need the support of the committee and to have the confidence that he is not going to have the rug pulled out from under his feet. As the “outsider” coach, you are in a great position to talk with the committee about the difference between youth leadership led program and adult supervision of the operation of the Troop to assure that it is using Scouting methods. Coming to a meeting room to shoot the breeze and goof off before or after a meeting may be fine, but for meetings and outings the committee needs to understand that the methods of Scouting need to be employed and by coincidence two of them are adult association and leadership development.

In coaching the Scoutmaster, I’ll share with you some advice that I gave many years ago to a Scoutmaster with similar challenges and some very bright young leaders that had him backed into a corner with the idea he couldn’t interfere with a “Boy-led program.” There is a difference between talk at or even to a person and trying to understand a person. Behaviors require understanding and a good “talking to” is not going to work when the other person has already decided to reject your leadership. You need to get out of the cycle of conflict over who is going to win the argument and it starts with the adult. Instead of telling or suggesting, ask for an evaluation of the Troop’s program. Ask hard questions that can’t be answered with a yes/no. What do you want to get out of Scouting? What things are fun? What things don’t you like? What do the younger guys like/dislike? What can we do to have more fun things? How would you change the program so that it better meets your needs? What kinds of things do you think the younger guys would like to do? What did you like to do when you were a younger Scout? How can we make that happen for the younger Scouts? You may get the brush off, but ignore it. Shrug it off and don’t get rattled or irritated. Try again later. You are going to have to earn some trust and come to be seen more as a partner/coach/counselor/friend and not as the director/straw boss/etc. The conversation has to be two way and it may take time.

As Andy has advised, serious thought needs to be given to youth leadership training. Remember one of the methods of Scouting is Leadership Development and this needs to be given special attention in this case.

Dear Andy,

About Webelos activity pins, can you use, for instance, making a wood item, if there are two pins that ask for the same thing, can you count one item for both pins? (Rhonda Hitt, Pack Advancement Coordinator)

Advancement, in Scouting, Cub Scouting included, isn’t about “earning pins and badges;” it’s about trying new things, and gaining competence and personal confidence. The pin or badge isn’t the goal; the boy’s sense of personal accomplishment is. Using that principle as your guide, what would you do?

I’d personally say do two different activities, so the boys have more experiences. But we have some leaders saying, “See how many pins this can count towards!” (Rhonda Hitt)

Stick to your guns—You’ve got it right! Get those leaders to understand the philosophy underpinning advancement, and that “how many” stuff will go away!

Dear Andy,

Can a troop committee bar a parent from attending troop meetings or from participating in troop camping, etc.? Related to that, can a troop committee ask a Scout to leave the troop? There’s lots of baggage here that I won’t go into. I’m told that since Scouting is a “private organization” these types of decisions can be made by a committee. Is this accurate? (Guy Wills)

Sorry… Not enough information for me to be able to comment. I suggest you re-read the section in the Scoutmaster Handbook section on behavioral issues. That said, I’ll offer this thought: How much time have you all devoted to counseling the Scout? Counseling the parent?

It’s a parent issue. We’ve constantly talked with this particular dad, even to the point of removing him from the troop committee six months ago, because of his personal conflicts with both Scouts and other adults. The problem stems from what appears to be his personal goal for his son to earn Eagle before he’s 13 years old. (The boy made Star in his first six months!) This father looks for every possible advancement opportunity and then directs his son to do these activities, events, and requirements. Then, he stands in the background to make sure his son does them, and that he gets credit, or a signature in his handbook. If his son doesn’t do it, the father sends him back to talk to the adult and/or accomplish it. He also writes intricate emails to adults and then signs his son’s name to them (we call it “Webelos III Syndrome”).

The boy’s a good kid, but he still just 11! He doesn’t even know he’s allowed to mess up occasionally, dust himself off, and try again, for himself. Our Scoutmaster, all our ASMs, and even our advancement chair have taken the time to explain to this father how things should work for his son, but he continues to ride herd on all of his son’s efforts.

Summer camp is just around the corner, and we’re going to tell this dad that he can’t come. I’m expecting major explosions. Any thoughts? (Guy Wills)

Yes, the troop absolutely does have the authority to determine which adults go to summer camp, and which do not. So, in light of what you’ve described, I’d sure do everything in my power to keep this father from totally dominating (and ultimately ruining) his son’s summer camp experience.

In Scouting, we can save kids from gangs, drugs, crime, lives of listlessness, and on and on, but we can’t save them from their own parents. Pity. This is sure a case where I wish we could!

Try hard not to punish the boy for the sins of the father, even indirectly. I know that that’s no easy task, but I’m hoping you’ll give it your best shot!

I’ve known at least three others who, as grown men, remember how their parents pushed them to earn Eagle by age 13 (or sooner) and every one of them reflected back on how much they resented the fact that that Eagle wasn’t really their own—it “belonged” to the pushy parent (whom they profoundly resented, even many years later) and these men didn’t really consider themselves Eagle Scouts; just victims of parents (usually fathers) who used their sons in this way to compensate for whatever they perceived to be their own shortcomings. Here’s an actual quote:

“I earned Eagle rank at 13. I wish I could honestly say I was self-directed and motivated. My father made it to Life Scout—he was ‘one merit badge away from Eagle.’ He always regretted failing to make Eagle, and I’m sure he lived it vicariously through me. My father introduced me to Scouting from infancy. I was a Cub Scout, and had arrow points running to the tail of my shirt. We worked on my Boy Scout advancement plan well before I was even 11 years old. The ‘youngest’ idea was often talked about. It was important to my father, and I focused on that goal to please him, but the Eagle really belongs to him, not me. I guess he got what he wanted, after all. I sure didn’t.”

Maybe you can show this to that dad?

Dear Andy,

When is a Scout considered an Eagle… When he completes his board of review at the troop level, or when he completes his board of review at the council level, or when he gets his letter from national?

We have a Scout who’d like to have his Eagle badge to wear by the time we go to summer camp in a few weeks. He’ll have his troop board of review the week before we go to camp. (Maggie Guglielmo, CC, Buckeye Council, OH)

I’m compelled to say that your board of review procedure for Eagle rank is unusual. The two usual modes for Eagle-level board of review are: (1) it’s done at the troop level with a council representative attending, or (2) it’s done by the district or council. In other words, it’s done only once; not twice.

At any rate, if the final determiner, in your council, is the council-level board of review, then that will be the date that’ll be printed on his rank certificate by the national council, so that’s the key date. Some folks wait till they’re sure that the national council has stamped approval before acknowledging that the candidate is indeed an Eagle Scout. Others permit the oval badge to be worn sooner than that—often right after the board of review’s been conducted, regardless of when the court of honor is held (a court of honor is, after all, not a “confirmation” but, rather, simply a public ceremony acknowledging the earning of the rank).

So here’s the bottom line: Because your situation regarding boards of review is outside my own experience and is not consistent with any of the research I’ve done on this subject (which is a great deal), I really don’t think I can give you a 100% clear answer here. Talk with your council’s Advancement Chair and see what he or she has to say—I think that’s going to be your best option.

Hey Andy,

Do you have anything on the TLT for Scouts? It used to be JLT. I’m looking for training aids. (Erick Hudson, SM, Gulf Coast Council, FL)

There used to be a three-ring packet of materials called “Scoutmaster’s Junior Leader Training Kit” (Catalog No. 34306). I don’t know if it’s still available or not. If not, check to see when your council is offering the new NYLT (National Youth Leader Training—replaced Council JLT) course and send as many Scouts as you can to it—It’s a good course!

One step further: If you have Scouts who have already completed Council JLT or NYLT, consider sending them to YSDC (Youth Staff Development Course). This is a regional-level course for superior youth leaders. It’s the successor to NJLIC.

Dear Andy,

If a Scout is working on a merit badge and the requirements are modified while he is working on it, does he complete the new requirement(s), or does he stay with the one(s) he started with? (John Froio, CC, Yankee Clipper Council, MA)

The 2008 Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS book describes all merit badge requirements as of January 1 of this year. If a requirement or set of same has changed since that book was published, the Scout has the option of using either the original requirement(s) that he started with, or the new requirement(s), but not a blend of the two (it’s either-or; not cherry-picking).

Now my question: Why is a Committee Chair (who is, presumably, not a Merit Badge Counselor, or you would have identified yourself as one, instead of as a CC) interested in this? This is the exclusive province of Merit Badge Counselors.

Hello Andy,

Our troop is having a situation with a parent. It’s become problematic. Originally, this man was quite involved in troop activities. He was an ASM, a Merit Badge Counselor on dozens of merit badges, and even set up our troop’s website and then hosted it on his home computer network. But some stuff started to not go well for him at the district level—someone got a position that he’d had his hat in the ring on—and things changed. He resigned as ASM and also discontinued hosting our troop’s website. (Meanwhile, his son earned Eagle rank.) Then, he organized a Venturing Crew, chartered by another organization in town. No problem so far—but then our Scoutmaster noticed that this man was accessing the troop website and entering merit badge completions into his son’s advancement records. The family then shows up at the troop’s court of honor, expecting that the newly completed merit badges, and their accompanying Eagle Palms, will be presented to their son.

Several things annoy us about this. In the first place, this Scout seldom shows up at troop meetings and activities now, since he became a Venturer. Further, he’s being awarded Boy Scout merit badges and ranks (the Palms) through the troop, even though he’s in a Venturing crew.

In our troop, we don’t issue “Blue Cards” for merit badge documentation, and our troop’s merit badge counselors aren’t involved in signing off on completions (this father claims that that’s not how it’s done in Venturing —He’s the crew’s Advisor and he apparently signs off on his son’s merit badge completions).

We tried to stop this by canceling this man’s access to the advancement sections of our “Troopmaster” software. Now he’s screaming bloody murder that it makes no sense to have separate Troopmaster accounts, since his son is registered in the troop as well as the crew. He’s also complaining that he, as Venturing Advisor, should have complete access to all advancement records in Troopmaster.

We have no way of verifying his son’s completion of merit badges other than this father’s “word.” The Scout has proudly stated that he plans to earn every merit badge offered by the Boy Scouts before he turns 18. And our troop has to pay for them? Isn’t there a way for Venturers, if they certify completion of merit badge requirements, to award the badges and ranks themselves? Is he doing anything against the rules? (Name Withheld, CC, Chief Seattle Council, WA)

Let’s review a couple of “reality check” items here…

– If this gentleman resigned as a volunteer with the troop, he should not have access to the inner workings of the troop website or Troopmaster software, for any reason, because he’s, in effect, and outsider. Even if you have to go so far as to shut down that site entirely, do it. A good computer resource (even if you all have to pay for the services) can show you how to remove all of the pertinent data and files and then install them in a new url.

– A troop website is not the place to keep Scouts’ advancement records. The BSA’s “Scoutnet” program does this, and so does the independently produced “Troopmaster” software, which you’re already using, and these can be managed off-line.

– Using Merit Badge Applications (aka “Blue Cards”) is critical, otherwise, how do you know what Scouts are working on what merit badges? These have been around for over a half-century. High time you all got with the program here.

– What is this absolute nonsense about Merit Badge Counselors not signing off on completions? What sort of lame-brained program are you folks running? Time to start doing things the right way instead of “the troop way.”

– No Venturing Advisor is automatically a Merit Badge Counselor (with signing authority) any more than a Scoutmaster is a de facto Merit Badge Counselor.

– A Venturer (youth) can earn merit badges as a Venturer, so long as he earned the rank of at least First Class Scout before joining the Venturing crew. It is not necessary for the young man in question to return to the troop for merit badge credit. Sounds like you’ve got some folks who need to get themselves trained, or re-trained.

– Two separate and distinct Scouting units (e.g., a troop and a crew) do not share advancement records or any other records. They are separate entities.

– Stop allowing yourselves to get pushed around by a bully. You wouldn’t allow your sons to take this nonsense. Think of the example you’re all setting.

Let’s wake up and smell the caffeine, shall we?

Hi Andy,

I just got done reading you June 1 column and the question about mixing old and new uniform parts set me on edge. Great answer you gave. It never ceases to amaze me why adults want to find ways to take the fun out of it for the Scouts. We’ve been using older rank and position patches since we started the troop four years ago. The whole thing got started because I wear the old green Scoutmaster patch that just has the BSA emblem and “Boy Scouts of America” around the outside edge. I put it on my uniform for two reasons. The first is that it gets Scouts to ask me what it is, so I can talk about Scouting and “Scout-run.” The second is to tell them that I’m not crazy about the term, Scoutmaster, even though it’s the proper term for the position I hold—I don’t feel I’m a “master” of them because, ultimately, they’re in charge of their own program. From this, the Scouts started looking for old position patches because they liked the look and then they found the old rank badges, too. They just love the old patches, hats, and gear. Not a big surprise: We don’t have any issues at all about them not wanting to wear uniforms.

The best story I have on this is this: We have a Scout in the troop who saw a Star, Life and Eagle patch at a Trade-O-Ree, and he asked me if he could borrow some money to buy them. Knowing he comes from a single -parent family where money is a bit tight, I told him I’d be happy to buy them for him if he’ll commit to earning them. We shook hands on it and so far he’s earned both Star and Life, and I’m looking forward to his earning the Eagle in the coming year. I don’t think for a second that buying the patches had a large impact on his advancement enthusiasm, because he was moving in the right direction already, when he asked. In fact, if you could have seen the smile on his face and light in his eyes as he received the patches, you might say I was being downright selfish because it made me feel so good!

You do a great job and how you keep your blood pressure in check sometime is beyond me. Thanks for all your hard work! (Bob Carey, SM, Central New Jersey Council)

I love your story, Bob — Thanks for sharing it! THAT’S SCOUTING!

Happy Scouting!


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(June 9, 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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