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Issue 139 – July 18, 2008

Hey Andy,

Is it possible to start working on my Eagle project before all of my merit badges are complete? I have all of the required ones complete except for Personal Management (I’m in the middle of the 13-week program). I’d like to get my project approved and started before summer’s over. (Scout’s Name Withheld, Corkhusker Council, KS)

You bet it’s OK! It’s OK to start your project the minute you’re a Life Scout! GO FOR IT!

Hello Andy,

I’m a troop committee member. Our Scoutmaster recently stepped down, and we asked an Assistant Scoutmaster if he’d take the position. He agreed, but now it turns out that his style of leadership clashes with the way the committee would like the troop to be run. Are we SOL because we failed to take our time and choose the right person and just took the only one who would do it at the time? This guy was in the military and would like all the Scouts to be “good little soldiers,” so to speak. The committee has the opinion that the Scouts should have fun, while still learning and growing into responsible young men; we have no interest in this troop becoming so rigid that we fail in both of these goals. Our new Scoutmaster is also very adamant about advancement. Up to now, we’ve taken the position that while we’ll encourage and facilitate advancement, it’s the Scout’s responsibility to complete his requirements and advance at his own pace. Up to now, we’ve had no problems in this area: Scouts are moving steadily along and keep up with each other on their own, and they help and encourage each other with the merit badges. I’ve always assumed this was the way it’s supposed to be. We have a few ambitious 13 year-old Life Scouts who are working on their Eagle service projects already, and this was all their doing. What are our choices in handling this situation? I believe we’re in danger of losing committee members and Scouts over this. Is there anything in BSA regulations that addresses this issue? Please offer your much needed advice. Thanks so much. (Name & Council Withheld)

First off, someone with a military background isn’t automatically “militaristic” to the point of causing a Scout troop to run askew. I can remember my own Scout experiences in a troop that marched in parades properly because we practiced in troop meetings, and we were darned proud of how we looked! We knew, for instance, the difference between column-right, and right-flank and could execute both in step

We also saluted one another, not because it was “the Army way” but because it was THE SCOUT WAY. More recently, I’ve seen a troop accused of being “too militaristic” because they required Scout pants to be worn with the rest of the uniform! So, in and of itself, simply having a military background doesn’t trouble me in the slightest. In fact, isn’t this sort of the next-to-ultimate “duty to country”? Moreover, you’ve been pretty darned non-specific in your “complaints” about the new guy. For instance, “being adamant” about advancement really doesn’t tell me a whole heck of a lot! So, unless you’re willing to share some specific Scouting “transgressions,” I’m thinking the main problem you all are having is that you’ve got somebody new who’s applying his own personality and it’s different from what you’ve all been comfortable with for so long.

But, if there truly are some significant problems here, the first thing you need to do is reach out to your Scout district and ask for Unit Commissioner help. A Unit Commissioner can’t make your decisions for you, but can sure help guide you along. You all do need some guidance, because, despite my not being able to identify a clear-cut problem, a few things did go wrong here…

“The first job of any volunteer is to identify his or her ultimate replacement as quickly as possible and then begin to train that person immediately.” Your former Scoutmaster apparently didn’t do this. So, instead of having an Assistant Scoutmaster who could step into the role of Scoutmaster and preserve continuity of philosophy, you have a new Scoutmaster who’s applying his own “stamp” on the troop. Apparently, your troop committee didn’t interview him beforehand, to determine where he’s coming from and to make sure that his point-of-view was synonymous and compatible with the troop’s as a whole. Instead, it sounds like they used the “P.A.N.A.R.T.” method, as in “Pulse and Not Approaching Room Temperature.” You third hiccup is that, instead of understanding that this guy works for the troop—he serves the troop at the pleasure of the committee, in fact–the troop and committee are acting like they think have no authority over him, now that he’s in the Scoutmaster role. Fourth, did you all require him to take BSA training for his position, or are we back to PANART again?

OK, if this truly needs to be remedied (which I’m personally not convinced of at this point), then here’s how… Your Committee Chair (CC) and Chartered Organization Representative (COR) need to sit down with this guy and tell him straight from the shoulder what’s expected from him, and what isn’t, and with that understanding are we all on the same page or not. If the answer’s no, then these three—CC, COR, and SM—need to decide on how they’re going to deal with this. Maybe it means he resigns. Maybe it means the troop committee settles back and sees just what results he can produce. But, no matter what, he does need to sign up for proper training and get that under his belt. If, after all of this, the troop committee is still of the opinion that he needs to be replaced, your Unit Commissioner can explain to you how to go about this to maximize success.

Hey Andy,

I sent you a message a couple of weeks ago about Webelos “patrols.” You stated that they’re dens and can’t be under the patrol system until they become Boy Scouts, which I understand. But then why on the Cub Scout Uniform Inspection Sheet is there a Beaver Patrol emblem on the Webelos right sleeve. I may be assuming something, but I’d gather that there’s really no “rule” that a Webelos den can’t use the patrol method, although they’re still considered a den. Your thoughts? (Shawn Cleary, UC, Bay Lakes Council, WI)

Yes, a Webelos den may adopt an emblem that’s used by Boy Scout patrols (e.g., “Busy Beavers”) and may, using that example, refer to themselves as the Busy Beaver den… but it’s still den; not patrol. It still has a denner and assistant denner; not patrol leader and assistant patrol leader. This is the rule, my Scouting friend, and it’s to be followed, especially by us Commissioners. We are, after all, the “voice of the BSA” to the units we serve.

Dear Andy,

I’m having trouble finding documentation to answer a troubling question.

Our troop has been sponsored by a local (not not-for-profit) group for many years. Recently, some members of that chartered organization have been making noises about the troop becoming “a burden” and that it’s disrupting the sponsor’s operations. They’ve even started demanding that our Scouts and adult volunteers “give back more” to them (for years, we’ve helped improve and maintain the sponsor’s property, but this, apparently, isn’t considered enough anymore). We all do understand that it’s our duty to help others, including our sponsor, but my question lies in this regard: Is it acceptable for our sponsor to charge us “rent” for providing our troop a place to meet? (Michael Cole, SM, Daniel Webster Council, NH)

When relationships between sponsors and their Scouting units start going bad, they usually get worse. That certainly seems to have happened between your troop and its chartered organization. In all likelihood, this ship will not be righting itself anytime soon, so it would be wise for you all to start looking for a new sponsor right away. Reach out to the commissioner staff and your district executive for help in finding a new sponsor, unless they feel very, very strongly that they can help you get some positive results from your current sponsor.

At the outset, when an organization first s that it would like to sponsor a Scouting unit, its top officer signs a Charter Agreement, which among other things obligates that organization to provide a safe and appropriate meeting place for the unit it’s going to sponsor. This is a commitment on their part, and there’s no concomitant commitment on the part of the unit itself—that is, the unit is not obliged in any way to “pay” the sponsor for its meeting place through either labor or monetarily means.

So, in your case, it sure sounds like the honeymoon’s over. You need to find a new and more accommodating sponsor.

Now here’s a little wrinkle that you need to keep in mind: The sponsor technically owns the unit and all of the unit’s assets, including equipment and any banked funds. Regardless of whether you think this is “fair” or not, it’s a fact. It has to be dealt with, especially since avarice seems to be seeping through the walls here… Begin by slowly and very quietly removing any troop-purchased equipment from the premises. If you take the gear camping, when you return store it somewhere else. Don’t empty the locker entirely, but get the good stuff out and safe. Same with any checking or savings account, if there’s anything substantial in it that represents money raised by the troop’s members. Open duplicate accounts at some other bank, and move most (but not all) of the funds to the new account. By doing these things, you reduce the possibility of a nightmarish battle royal if someone starts to get greedy and stops being “a good sportsman.” Eliminates the possibility of a lot of acrimony, if not outright shooting, too! These sorts of things go one of only two ways… They end quietly or they turn into bitter shootin’ wars. There’s almost never any “middle ground.” Tread lightly.

Dear Andy,

I always seem to have trouble teaching the Character Connections to my den. I know that they’re important, so I want to make sure I’m doing them justice. I’ve been searching on the web for folks who have given their experiences on how they do it, but no luck. I just need a guide to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Any advice would be great! Thanks! (Name Withheld, National Capitol Area Council, MD)

Frankly, I’m at a total loss here… “Character Connections” are boy-and-family or -parent activities; they’re not “taught” in den meetings, at any level. My best recommendation is that you stop overstepping your responsibilities and re-orient both yourself and the parents of the boys in your den as to who does what.

Hi Andy,

My son’s completed the merit badges, service hours, and leadership position (Den Chief, which he began prior to becoming First Class) for Star rank. His Scoutmaster Conference for First Class was on April 29th. Then, through no fault of his, his board of review was delayed until May 13th. He’s moving his residence on August 27th. To be eligible for Star requires a four-month tenure. Can he have a Scoutmaster Conference on August 26th at a regular troop meeting and then come back for a board of review on September 9th (which is the troop meeting date during the week that September 13th falls in), or does he have to wait till September 2nd for his Scoutmaster Conference and then September 16th for his board of review?

Somewhere, I read that tenure is based on the board of review date, but Scoutmasters are requiring Scouts to wait four calendar months after the board of review before they’ll do a Scoutmaster Conference, followed (on a separate date) by the board of review. I pointed out that doing it this way is requiring a Scout to wait longer than four months to get his rank.

It’s going to be a 300-mile trip to take him back and forth for his Star rank Scoutmaster Conference, and if I can’t get his board of review on the same night, it’ll require two trips (with gasoline at $5 a gallon, I don’t look forward to making one trip, much less two). I don’t suppose you’ve heard of a way where both the conference and the review could be held on August 26th and then the paperwork submitted on September 13th? Thanks for your interpretation of rank tenure and any suggestions as to how to handle the situation. I’d prefer that my son get his rank in the troop where he earned it. (Bob Phillips)

If I understand correctly, around late August you and your family will be making a permanent move that’s about 150 miles away from where you’re living now, and your son wishes to continue in Scouting in his new home and community. He’s a First Class Scout at the moment, and will be eligible to advance to Star on or about September 13th.

The sensible thing to do, I’d think, is to check out troops in his new community, so he can choose one he’d like to join. This way, as soon as the move’s completed, he can start up with his new troop. So, get your son’s current troop to make sure everything’s properly signed off in his handbook, the troop’s advancement records (which he’ll take with him) are complete and up-to-date, and that your son has all his rank and merit badge cards (including the “Blue Card” stubs as backup). Then, go ahead with the transfer. This way, your son can conference with his new Scoutmaster when the time is right, and then have his board of review with his new troop’s committee.

A few thinks you need to keep in mind as you consider this approach…

– “Tenure” in a leadership position starts with the date of the rank and not before, so that your son’s having been a Den Chief as a Second Class Scout can’t be counted toward tenure for Star rank.

– Scouting is a volunteer organization and men and women are freely giving their time, talents, and treasure to this movement in a variety of ways, so that a time interval of two weeks between a Scoutmaster’s Conference and a board of review is not unreasonable.

– The Scoutmaster’s Conference takes place as the very last of the requirements for rank advancement, after all others have been completed, including tenure in a leadership position. Therefore, a Scoutmaster’s Conference for Star at the four-month mark after completing First Class is right on the money. This isn’t, after all, a race of some sort.

– With all due respect, what you might or might not prefer isn’t quite as important to me as what a Scout—in this case, your son—wants. If your son is OK with the idea of meeting his new Scoutmaster and talking about his future in his new troop as well as his experiences in his prior troop, this makes a lot more sense that having a more-or-less “lame duck” conference with someone who won’t even see the rank presented.

Dear Andy,

What qualifies a person to be a Merit Badge Counselor? Could this be left up to the Scoutmaster? (Jan Landolt, Black Warrior Council, AL)
Scoutmasters are not “automatically” Merit Badge Counselors nor do they have anything to do with qualifying Merit Badge Counselors. Merit Badge Counselors are registered adult volunteers with your BSA council and have been qualified by your council’s advancement committee to cover specific merit badges, based on their individual experience and qualifications.

Check out page 187 of the Boy Scout Handbook for the procedure a Scout and his Scoutmaster are to follow when the Scout wishes to earn a specific merit badge. Your district or council maintains a list of registered Merit Badge Counselors, and that list is available to all troops.

Dear Andy,

One of the long-time leaders in our troop says that BSA policies prohibit cell phones and other electronics on camping trips. The parent of a new Scout is giving us difficulty on this and isn’t adhering to this policy. I’d like to know if this is a written national rule or not, and—if it is—where I can find it, because having this as backup would be very helpful for our troop right now. (Debbe Malin)

The BSA has policies that relate to safety, and you can refer to the publication, Guide to Safe Scouting, for more information in that area. As for cell phones, any troop stipulating that these are not to be brought by Scouts into the out-of-doors program is well within its rights to do so, and I agree with this decision 110%.

If a parent is having some sort of problem with this, the response is simple and straightforward: Just tell the parents that, if their son’s bringing a cell phone on troop outings is something that they believe absolutely must happen, then this may not be a troop that they or their son will be happy in, and it would be better for them to look for another troop, where they’ll all be happier, because this troop isn’t about to bend this rule for any individual Scout or family, and that point isn’t open to further debate or discussion. No, you’re not “evicting” the Scout; you’re acknowledging the parents’ problem and providing a self-directed, win-win solution. If the parents would prefer that their son remain in this troop, rather than change, then of course compliance with the troop’s policies is expected. End of story.

Dear Andy,

I read your response to Brian Buck’s question (see July 7th column) with great interest because there have been incidents of bullying in my own son’s troop that have given me cause for grief both as a father and an Assistant Scoutmaster.

Mr. Buck described a Scout, 41 days from age 18, who had physically assaulted another Scout two summers before, and who last summer was verbally abusive to adult leaders and instigated a fight with another Scout. At this point the trials and tribulations of this particular thug are probably moot. I’m not sure, however, that I agree with your advice to remove the Scout now, due to his prior acts of violence, when within 41 days he’d no longer be eligible to be a Scout and there was no indication that he’d recently been violent. I entirely agree with your advice that continuing to take extra measures for this boy to get his Eagle within his last 41 days (good luck with that!) was absolutely unnecessary and undeserved, and effectively enabling this unfortunate thug to behave poorly without consequences. I entirely agree that a physical assault should be grounds for prompt removal or at least suspension, although I’m not sure a zero-tolerance policy is appropriate for teen-age boys who often act before they think. In this particular case, I don’t understand why this thug was permitted to remain in the troop after physically assaulting another Scout and apparently failing to correct his ways after that incident. After the first physical assault, had I been Scoutmaster, I’d have issued a written warning with the request that it be signed by the custodial parent or guardian, and then proceed to suspend or remove the Scout immediately following a second incident. I absolutely believe that one incident can be one incident too many if it’s egregious, in which case immediate and permanent removal from the troop may be necessary for the safety of other Scouts and leaders. In certain cases, a referral to the police or child protective services may also be in order. In the situation Mr. Buck described, I got the sense that the Scoutmaster wasn’t dealing with the problem effectively or in a timely manner.

Too often, I see teen-aged boys in Scouting acting stupid. Popular culture in many ways encourages boys to behave like thugs. The whole point of Scouts is for the boys to become responsible men. The BSA materials I’ve found seem to skirt around the issue of discipline, leaving it up to the troop. Without guidelines you end up with inconsistency and a situation like that which was described, which I believe should have been handled more effectively a little sooner.

My question: What do you think is the appropriate way to handle a Scout with a hot temper or who engages in physically violent or intimidating conduct? What BSA or similar resources do you suggest? (Name & Council Withheld)

You raise excellent points about what’s correct conduct and what will and will not be tolerated. You did, unfortunately, attribute some things to me that just aren’t on the money. Re-read what I said… I didn’t recommend “ousting” the Scout, unless the parents could not propose a mutually satisfactory solution, which opportunity the conference I recommended was intended to afford. Why? Because, in some ways, this is precisely the kind of young man who needs Scouting most! Young men who do good in the world already, who are kind to and considerate of others already, who are on their way to becoming responsible citizens already, may enjoy Scouting, but they don’t need Scouting. This young man needs Scouting. Why else, despite his fights, would he stick around? This is what Col. Buck was trying to accomplish—to somehow reach that young man where it counts. Isn’t that what we’re here to do? If this were a walk in the park, anybody could be a Scoutmaster; but it’s not, and our Scoutmasters need to be exceptional men. and women.

If a Scout is in danger of bringing harm to himself or others, then he must be removed from the situation so that no harm befalls anyone. But this doesn’t automatically mean a boot in the rear and out of the troop. This means out of harm’s way.

As you your question at the end, this is the answer: Fight fire with water; not fire.

Hello Andy,

All the publications I read state that a Venturer can still pursue the Eagle Scout rank if he’s reached First Class rank as a Boy Scout. It’s also stated that a boy can be a member of both a Boy Scout troop and a Venturing crew. So, who keeps track of advancement? Such as, if a Crew Advisor does a “Scoutmaster’s Conference,” and the Scoutmaster of the troop has a problem with it? (Rob Hersh)

Yes, a male youth can be both a Venturer and a Boy Scout at the same time, and it’s largely up to him to choose where he wants to advance beyond First Class. If he’s been in a troop since the get-go, and he’s staying in it while a Venturer, it would certainly make sense for him to continue his Boy Scout advancement with his troop of origin. In part, this leaves him free to go for the Venturing advancements with no confusion!

On the other hand, if I were this young man’s Scoutmaster, and had taken him through Tenderfoot to at least First Class, and then I learn that he’s gone elsewhere for his next rank’s conference, and I didn’t get so much as a courtesy phone call, from anybody, you can bet I’d be pretty darned exercised! We don’t “cherry-pick” in Scouting advancement. We stick to the straight and narrow. And we’re loyal and courteous (among other things) at all times. If I were this boy’s Scoutmaster, I’d be tempted to cut him loose. But, after a nice walk around the block, I think I’d pick up the phone and schedule a time to share a cup of coffee or two with the boy’s Crew Advisor.

Aloha Andy,

Besides what’s in the Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS book, are there any other guidelines regarding the service project requirements for Star and Life ranks? The official requirements only state the number of hours minimum and that the service be approved by the Scoutmaster. For Eagle, it’s specifically stated that it be to an organization other than the BSA. I have boys who want to volunteer for the day at our council’s summer camp, because the camp’s short of staff members. Of course, the Scouts would like this service to apply toward rank credit for Star and Life. I’d prefer for them to so some planning, to prepare themselves for their Eagle requirement rather than just going to camp and helping with a merit badge class or two. (Kane Kanetani, SM, Aloha Council, HI)

No, the service requirements for Star and Life are not like the one for Eagle. The only possibly confining factors are that the service (a) cannot be for a for-profit business and (b) it needs to be approved by the Scoutmaster. While it might be perhaps beneficial for such Scouts to be required to plan and carry out “mini-” Eagle-type projects, this would constitute adding to a BSA requirement, and that’s simply not permitted.

So, if your camp is short of staffers and could use some help, and you have Scouts who are willing to give up their personal time to help out, isn’t that the “Scout spirit” we’re striving to instill?

Dear Andy,

I just joined a Cub Scout pack last fall, and now I’m the Committee Chair. I’ve run into a big and ongoing fight between two committee members. One just doesn’t like the other, and there’s nothing that the new committee member can say or do without the other one spitting out BSA laws on how what the new one’s saying is all wrong. I did speak to previous committee members and they’ve all said the same thing—that this has been going on for a long time. They also informed me that the “legal eagle” only uses BSA laws to her advantage. I know now that I, as the Committee Chair needs to lay down the law on how our committee meetings need to be held, so what do I do about these two who have these personal issues with each other, and where can I get a copy of the BSA law book? (Nora Reyes)

This “fight” isn’t about “rules;” it’s about power. You and the COR (Chartered Organization Representative) need to work together on this. Take both of these two people to one side and tell them that their mutual conduct is disruptive to meetings and disturbing to people who are trying to get an job done, and must stop immediately. Tell them both that if either one persists in behaving as they have, this will be taken to signify their resignation from the pack committee, and this will happen without further discussion. Moreover, it will not be reversible.

If you read the BSA Adult Volunteer Application, you will see that you and the COR have the absolute authority to make these statements and to enforce them.

Dear Andy,

Is there is a specific time limit on a Scout holding a specific leadership position? Also, how does a Scout attain a leadership position in a troop? Is it by recommendations, or troop vote, or some other way? (No Name of Council)

The Scoutmaster Handbook (available at your local Scout Shop or at describes all of the youth leadership positions in a troop, including which are elected (Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader), which are selected by the PL or SPL (Assistant Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader), and which are appointed (Scribe, Historian, etc., etc.). The usual tenure for all positions is typically six months to a year, but not longer than a year.

Dear Andy,

Do Scouts receive leadership time credit in the summer? (NNoC)

Of course! Don’t adults???

Dear Andy,

I’ve been researching a “tradition” related to service hours… Our troop has always maintained the idea that we need to perform service for our sponsor, but the Scouts are never awarded “service time” for this work. Similarly, in our troop, Eagle projects can’t be done for our sponsor. Are both of the ideas true? (Name & Council Withheld)

Unless your troop is sponsored by a for-profit business, based on what you’ve described, your troop has a tradition of being wrong.

Of course there are “service hours” for performing service! This is fundamental to Scouting principles. Likewise, it is absolutely common across America that Eagle Scout candidates can and do carry out Eagle service projects for their troops’ sponsors! This is equally fundamental.

Frankly, this is one of the more misguided if not totally nonsensical “traditions” I’ve ever encountered!

Dear Andy,

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our troop performs many service projects for our sponsor, and these are well-attended by our Scouts and Scouters alike. We were just under the notion that rank “service hours” and Eagle projects were above and beyond our obligatory service to our sponsoring organization.

Thank you for the clarification in this matter, and I will try to spread the word to other troops in my area, in case they have the same “traditional error” in their philosophy. (N&CW)

Thanks for the clarification, but I didn’t get you wrong. I did understand that your troop performs service projects for your sponsor. Your troop’s error is in not crediting Scouts with this service and not permitting Eagle projects to be performed for your own sponsor!

As for “spreading the word,” the most important thing you can do is fix your own troop, so that no more of your own Scouts are damaged by this quaint “tradition.”

Hi Andy,

I was told recently that the Paul Bunyan Woodsman patch as well as other types of pins can be worn on the back of the merit badge sash. I don’t recall every hearing this before, so is it something new, or is it a local custom? If it is true where can the information be found? (D. Vega, AZ)

Yes, “temporary” patches may be placed on the back of a merit badge sash. The only “illegal” patches in this location are badges of prior rank. Check the BSA Insignia Guide.

Dear Andy,

In a Wolf den, please tell us how this should be run… Does the Den Leader plan and run each den meeting with the parents dropping the boys off and coming back to pick them up, or should the parents stay at the meeting but off to the side so the Den Leader can run the meeting? (Dora Anne Gramly)

Den meetings are planned and run by the Den Leader. The DL may, from time to time, enlist the aid of one or more parents for a particular den meeting. Den meetings at the Wolf level should last about 45 minutes but definitely not more than an hour. If the meeting place can accommodate parents sitting in another room or off to the side (so they don’t interfere with the den meeting), that’s fine; if there isn’t room, or it’s not practical for other reasons, parents can drop off their sons and then pick them up at the end of the den meeting. In any case, parents are absolutely not part of den meetings unless specifically invited by the Den Leader.

Dear Andy,

I’ll be moving into the Den Leader slot for a Webelos I den. In reading some of your columns last night, I noticed that you said den meetings aren’t the place to work on achievements or advancements. Is this true for Webelos? I don’t see any program helps for the Webelos program. (Brian Freeman, ACM, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

Webelos is a transitional program that gets boys ready for Boy Scouts. There’s a big three/ring binder book called WEBELOS LEADER BOOK that describes in detail exactly what the program should be. Get it and read it! It’ll be your best friend!

Dear Andy,

Who signs off new Scout requirements in the handbook? We’ve always had the “not parents” rule, not that they would lie for their scout, but they would lie for them. We always had the scout leader, assistant scout leaders or the SPL. The requirement book says parents may sign. Any suggestions? (Name & Council Withheld)

Please help me out with two things…

– On what page and paragraph of the Boy Scout Requirements book does it say that parents may sign off on Boy Scout rank and/or merit badge requirements?

– On what page and paragraph of the Boy Scout Handbook does it say that parents may sign off on the requirements for “Scout” (which, technically, is not a rank)?

Dear Andy,

I’m 15 years old and I’m trying to write a mission statement for my Eagle Scout application, but don’t know how to get stated. Could you please tell me what exactly are they wanting to know? Should I write, “I started Scouts when I was a Tiger…” or “My ambition in life is…” or “Scouting has helped me by…” or what? Thanks. (Name Withheld)

NOTE: I wrote back to this Scout’s parent; not the Scout who wrote to me. I then removed his name from all email files. As an adult, I do not correspond directly with Scouts except via their parents’ email address or with a cc to the parents.

I earned my Eagle when I was 15, and my brother did it when he was 14, so I’ll tell you right off not to get intimidated by it or any of its requirements!

Requirement 6 on the Eagle application asks for two things: (1) a “statement of ambitions and life purpose” and (2) a “listing of positions held in your religious institution, school, camp, community, or other organizations during which you demonstrated leadership skills (including) honors and awards.”

The second is easier than the first. This is a straight, point-by-point list. It might include being captain or “MVP” of a school team, or being a “CIT” at summer camp, or vice president of a school club, or acolyte at church, or other things along these lines. It might include making the Honor Roll in school. Whatever things there are, just list them out (use a computer word processing program to do this, so that it can be edited and added to, as needed). Do this one first and the other will, I think, be easier for you, because you’re not staring at a blank page anymore!

The first one isn’t all that difficult either. Just start by answering that famous question: “What would you like to be or do when you ‘grow up’?” Just remember that this isn’t a commitment to do this and no one’s ever going to check. So, if “astronaut” is stated now, but ten years from now the candidate’s a fire-fighter (or maybe it’s the other way around), no one’s gonna take away his Eagle badge!

The whole key to this is simple: START WRITING. Probably, a couple of drafts will be written, and that’s OK. This is hardly the kind of thing that gets written 100% right the very first time.

After a draft of both of these is written, they should be shown to the Scoutmaster or the troop’s Eagle candidate adviser (some troops have an adult on the troop committee fulfill this role), and get some feedback. The Scoutmaster is there to help; not “judge.” He’s a resource; not an “examiner.” So reach out and get some help! It’s absolutely OK to do this!

Hi Andy,

Our troop recently introduced a new policy that, when starting a merit badge, a Scout must notify the Scoutmaster who thereupon assigns which Merit Badge Counselor that Scout has to work with. It then becomes the Scout’s responsibility to contact the counselor and set it up. I’ve been involved with several troops, and I’ve heard of asking the Scoutmasters permission, but I’ve never heard of being told specifically which counselor the Scout has to work with in order to earn the merit badge. Is this the norm? (Name & Council Withheld)
To your question: Read page 187 of the Boy Scout Handbook. Further, the providing of a MBC’s contact information is not in the “mandatory” arena; it’s done that way for the convenience of the Scout. If that MBC should not work out, for any reason, the Scout has the absolute right to ask for another name and be given one on the spot.

Hey Andy,

I’m a Senior Patrol Leader and I NEED HELP! I’m running out of meeting ideas. Do you have any? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, go on-line and make yourself some copies of the Troop Program Plan. Go to:

Next, ask your Scoutmaster for the “Troop Program Helps” inserts that are inside his copies of “SCOUTING” magazine.

Then, ask your Scoutmaster to get the three books titled Troop Program Features at your local Scout shop.

Make copies of the stuff you like. Then, meet with your patrol leaders (in your Patrol Leaders Council or “Green Bar” meetings), show them this stuff, and get ideas from them as to what they’d like to be doing in upcoming troop meetings.

Troop meetings aren’t “rocket science.” They’re built around events that are coming up. If there’s a Camporee coming up, then have games and patrol competitions focusing on knot-tying, compass use, and so on. If there’s a canoe trip planned, build some meetings around water safety, paddling strokes, and the Buddy System. If an overnight, maybe try some “tin foil cooking” out in the parking lot (have some adults bring charcoal and grills ahead of time), with each patrol bringing their own ideas for a dinner meal – Then cook and munch! Are you getting the idea, here? Good! Go for it!

Oh, some other things… Do you have a “spirit patrol” assigned weekly, to do your troop meeting’s opening ceremony? How about a “service patrol” that does setup and put-away? How about an inter-patrol competition on complete uniforms, with a prize for the winning patrol – the one most completely/correctly uniformed?

Whatever you do, DON’T invite “speakers”! This is usually boring, boring, boring! Scouts want to DO STUFF – Not just sit around and listen, like this is sort of “Scout school.”

Dear Andy,

I’m the mother of a 17-year old Scout and I’m looking for an outside opinion on my son’s current situation here…

My son will be 18 in a few months. He’s working toward Eagle and has to complete his project and two merit badges (he’s already done one except for the summary of it and then he needs to do Swimming). At a troop committee meeting last night, I walked in to find the committee discussing the fate of my son’s Eagle rank. My son’s extremely active in the church (our troop’s sponsor) and his school. He is very musically talented; he’s in the “show choir” at his school, which is also class he takes. Show choir takes a lot of his outside time and unfortunately the competitions that they’re in fall on weekends when our troop does most of its camping. The bottom line of the conversation last night was that my son has 31% participation in camping trips and 72% participation in meetings (excluding fund-raising activities, which he’s assisted in, most recently working at the NSRA races for 4 days and thus helping the troop to profit almost $2,000). Also, he participates in every Scout Sunday and has never missed a summer camp. So, as I see it, the basic problem that they have is that he isn’t “participating” in the troop because he’s not going camping. It’s not because he’s laying around and doing nothing—He’s either on a church or school function, or a choral competition. They were also complaining about his lack of “service hours” (which are not a requirement for the rank of Eagle, according to the handbook). Now my son has done tons of service hours, but he doesn’t want to turn them in because he did them through or for the church and doesn’t feel like he should get “Scout credit” for them.

In sum, both the committee and the Scoutmaster are trying to deny my son the ability to earn the rank of Eagle, and I need to get clarification if they can, in fact, do this. I’m at a loss for what to do. He’s come so far since Tiger Cubs to be denied this goal. I’d appreciate any thoughts or help you may have. (Name & Council Withheld)

Thank you for finding me, and for writing. Your son should absolutely NOT be denied Eagle rank based on what you’ve described to me. He has had, to date, at least a half-dozen Scoutmaster’s Conferences and boards of review (for his prior ranks) and so his Scoutmaster and the troop committee and chair should already be amply aware of his broad interests and activities. (I can also tell you, based on having personally sat on nearly 200 Eagle boards of review, that the one thing ALL Eagle candidates have in common is that THEY’RE INTO LOTS OF STUFF BESIDES JUST SCOUTING. This means YOUR SON’S 100% NORMAL!)

The requirement being challenged here is “Be active in your troop…” “Active” is deliberately not defined by the BSA and it is a BSA policy that no person, unit, district, or council can add to or subtract from a stated requirement. This effectively means that your son’s troop cannot apply a “metric” to what “active” means — They cannot and must not apply percentages. This is a violation of BSA policy. This isn’t “Andy” speaking — This is BSA policy.

The BSA understands that a youth such as your son will be as active as he is able to, taking into account his other activities (in your son’s case, singing). This MUST be taken into account. If it isn’t, it not only violates policy but it guarantees that all this troop will produce are “Scout nerds.” So, what is the “rule”? you might ask. It’s simple: DO YOUR BEST. So long as your son has done his best to attend as many meetings and camp-outs as he’s able, again taking into consideration his other activities and interests, no fault can be found.

Show this letter to his troop’s leaders. If they need further clarification, or want to know where the policy on requirements can be found, I’d be happy to point them in the right direction. I believe that they probably think they’re doing the “right thing” here, but they do need to modify their thinking so as to not permanently damage this Scout, or any others down the road.

If they’re not willing to adjust their thinking to the reality of the situation and the consequence of their own possible violation of BSA policy, let me know and I’ll tell you exactly who you’ll talk to next. This will prevail. That’s a promise.

Dear Andy,

Exactly what is the committee’s role in a Boy Scout troop? Does the committee plan fund-raisers, courts of honor, outings, etc? I know that, in a Cub Scout pack, the committee handles many of these things, but I thought that in a Boy Scout troop it’s the Scouts themselves who plan out everything with the Scoutmaster, and the committee in only there for the support. (William Dorr)

You’re spot on! Every bit of BSA literature and every BSA training syllabus says exactly the same thing: The troop committee is there to support the program decisions made by the Patrol Leaders Council of the troop. The troop committee is itself not responsible in any way for program decisions, including fund-raisers, outings, troop meetings, courts of honor, etc., etc., etc. Nor does the troop committee have the power to “veto” any program the Patrol Leaders Council has agreed upon, except suggestions can be made for the PLC to consider, if there is an issue of safety (see GTSS).

Unless a troop operates in this manner, Scouting isn’t being delivered. (Read my column, “Are We Really That Smart“)

Happy Scouting!


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(July 18 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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