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Issue 140 – July 21, 2008

Hi Andy,

I just read your July 18th column and enjoyed it as usual. About that Senior Patrol Leader who was looking for meeting ideas, the resource you referred him to—Troop Program Featuresis available online at…,-d-,%20I%20-%20III.aspx

Of course, working with his Scoutmaster is the way to go, but many of our youth are so tech savvy, he might prefer having the online version available. And of course, being thrifty, this would save the troop the expense, as well as allowing all the members of the Patrol Leaders Council access to it! (Jamie Niss Dunn, Pack Trainer/District Training Coordinator/CSRTC, Northern Star Council, MN)

Here’s a tip of the ol’ Commissioner’s Cap and a big THANKS!

Dear Andy,

We have a Scout who has completed all of the requirements for Star and is now ready for his Scoutmaster’s Conference. One of the last criteria for rank advancement is “demonstrating Scout spirit.” This particular Scout is a great young man and a real go-getter, but the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters take the point of view that he’s “racing through the ranks at the expense of his Scouting experience.” They believe that Scout Spirit includes teamwork, being part of a patrol, and leadership. In this regard, they consider this Scout lacking in Scout spirit, because, according to them, he’ll forgo a group achievement in place of his own individual achievement. They claim that, to them, this Scout displays the attitude that it’s more important for him to be first or best at something than it is for him to be part of his patrol or troop. The Scoutmaster is considering not signing off on the Scout spirit requirement and, instead, giving this Scout a personal goal to foster advancement and leadership within his patrol over the next four to six months, the intent being that this will give the Scout the “opportunity” to learn and experience that being part of a winning team can be just as rewarding as being a winning player. Are these adult leaders off-track, or not? (Marc Strohwig)

Let me get this straight… Here’s a young man who’s just gobbling up the Scout advancement program and—at probably a pretty young age—has already gone on a minimum of 16 camp-outs or hikes or other non-meeting troop activities; earned six merit badges; performed at least seven hours of service; held a leadership position for at least four months (during which time he was personally trained by his Scoutmaster, yes?); has improved himself physically; has learned the fundamentals of first aid, map-and-compass, the Buddy System and safe hiking, patrol cooking, using woods tools, fire-building, nature, swimming and water rescue, emergency preparedness, and Internet usage safety; learned about his constitutional rights; participated in a substance abuse prevention program; had no less than three Scoutmaster’s Conferences…and his Scoutmaster and others are saying that he’s “not getting the Scouting experience.” Have they taken leave of their senses?

The Scoutmaster’s primary responsibility is to train the troop’s youth leaders. If this young man isn’t getting the leadership training he needs, geared to his own unique personality and drive, then the Scoutmaster is failing this Scout; not the other way around. Time to wake up and smell the caffeine.

What you or I or any others “believe” Scout spirit means is irrelevant; Scout spirit has already been defined by the BSA and our responsibility is to stick to that description. We do not have the authority to bend it to our own whims or definitions. In this regard, since the Scoutmaster can observe, at best, 10% of this or any Scout’s “daily life,” who is he to say he can pass judgment on Scout spirit anyway!

As for competitions, in a Boy Scout troop, these will be 99% on a patrol, and not an individual, basis. So, either the troop’s leaders don’t know how to run inter-patrol competitions, or they don’t know how to train the youth leaders whom they serve in teamwork.

DO NOT permit this Scoutmaster, or anyone else, to either add a requirement (that’s against BSA policy!) or attempt to slow this Scout down (that’s also against BSA policy). Instead, clear the pathway and let him run, and give him the leadership guidance he needs along the way.

You may have a thoroughbred here; don’t turn him into a plow-mule.

Hey Andy,

We recently had a Scout working on his Eagle project who had on of our Assistant Scoutmasters as his “Eagle advisor.” The Scout transferred to another troop following completion of his project but before he’d completed writing the final report, which he did in his new troop. He’s now ready for his board of review.

Can our own troop’s Assistant Scoutmaster serve on that review? I looked through the BSA book, Advancement Committee Guide-Policies and Procedures, and it says that unit Leaders, assistant unit leaders, relatives, or guardians may not serve as members of a Scout’s board of review, but this Assistant Scoutmaster has no ties to the Scout’s present troop, so I think he can be a member of the review.

The reason for this is that the new troop doesn’t know the Scout all that well and is having a hard time finding enough folks to sit on the review due to summer vacations. Which way do we go? (Kathy Foppes)

Everybody’s in luck, because, for an Eagle board of review, registered members of the troop committee aren’t mandatory. So long as the person understands the significance of what’s going on, he or she can be invited to participate. Knowing the Scout beforehand is the least of considerations, if consideration at all, for any board of review.

So, his new troop, in addition to inviting a representative of the district or council, can invite the head of the sponsoring organization, the mayor, police chief, principal of his school, religious representative, coach, or any troop parent! Remember that the Eagle board of review must include a district or council representative and no less than two nor more than five others. Got it? Good!

Dear Andy,

Our Cubmaster has stepped down and a new one is in place. The former Cubmaster is now a Webelos II Den Leader. Does she still need to be included in committee emails?

I’ve just became Committee Chair. Is a Pack Trainer a member of the committee, and does this person have a vote, or is this a non-voting position? (Nora Reyes, Tiger Cub Den Leader)

First, may I assume you’re relinquishing your Tiger Cub Den Leader position, because with the sole exception of the Chartered Organization Representative, individuals aren’t permitted to hold more than one position in the same unit.

Next, Cubmasters do not lead the pack; they lead pack meetings. The Pack is ultimately led by the Pack Committee Chair, and the Cubmaster serves at the pleasure of the CC and committee. A Cubmaster is not a member of the committee and therefore does not need to receive committee-related messages unless they specifically relate to the pack’s monthly theme and upcoming pack meeting. Den Leaders, similarly, are not pack committee members and do not receive committee messages.

Pack Trainers are committee members.

As for “voting,” let’s not get carried away here. Pack committees have virtually nothing to “vote” on! The responsibility of the committee is to support the Cubmaster and Den Leaders; there are no “policy decisions” to be made, because the BSA has all the policies you’ll ever need already in place.

Greetings Andy,

At our troop’s events, we always try to have a “lead Scout.” Often, it’s the Senior Patrol Leader, but sometimes other Scouts take the lead. At one of our upcoming summer camps, our Senior Patrol Leader won’t be able to attend. We’d normally look to our Assistant Senior Patrol Leader to be acting Senior Patrol Leader for the event, but he’s unable to attend this camp, too. Is there a BSA succession plan for these cases? Some of the Scouts think the Quartermaster is the next in line; others think it’s the Troop Guide. Perhaps it should just be an older Scout of high rank, after consultation with the Scoutmaster. Can you help me out? (Maurice Aufderheide, San Francisco Bay Area Council, CA)

The Senior Patrol Leader, with the approval of the Scoutmaster, selects Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders, and there can be more than one of these in a troop. So, one option is for your Senior Patrol Leader to appoint another Scout, who will be attending camp, as Assistant Senior Patrol Leader. The other option, if we’re talking only about a week or two at camp, is for the Scouts who are attending (and only these Scouts) to select from among themselves the Acting Senior Patrol Leader, specifically for camp. I like option two.

Dear Andy:

I don’t want to reinvent the wheel… any idea where I can find a troop evaluation form for parents and Scouts to fill out, to see how the troop did and is doing? (Ray Hartley, SM, Blue Ridge Mountains Council, VA)

Parents don’t fill out “evaluation forms” because they’re not actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the troop; moreover, the best barometer for something like this is their willingness to pitch in and help out on the committee, as drivers for camp-outs, etc., etc. As for Scouts, they “vote with their feet.” If your troop is retaining members and growing with new Scouts, you’re probably delivering a quality program. Moreover, this is what boards of review are for!

If you really want an objective evaluation of the quality of the Scouting program you’re delivering, ask your Unit Commissioner to share his or her observations, including ways to improve, with you.

Dear Andy,

Our Council Advancement Chairman (“CAC”) wants to take back my son’s Arrow of Light rank. My son turned 10 years old in October 2007 and finished 4th grade and earned it in May 2008. The CAC says my son has to finish 5th grade or be in a Webelos II den for six months before he can earn the Arrow of Light. I asked him to show me where it says this, and he claimed that it’s in the Webelos Handbook, so I looked again and all I can find is: “1. Be active in your Webelos den for at least six months since completing the fourth grade (or for at least six months since becoming 10 years old), and earn the Webelos badge.” Am I reading this right? He turned 10 in October, so six months later would be April. He earned it in May. This same man has already taken the Arrow of Light away from another boy. What do I do? I’d greatly appreciate any advice. (J.L. Nicholls, Northeast Georgia Council)

To begin with, the BSA has a standing policy that, once legitimately earned (as your son’s Arrow of Light rank apparently was), an advancement can never be rescinded. So, my first piece of advice is: Don’t give it up to the guy! Especially since he’s wrong, as you clearly demonstrated. (Advancement Chairs or other folks who go on “witch hunts” like this simply have way too much time on their hands and have forgotten how to be positive and constructive!) Second piece of advice: Get your son into a Boy Scout troop. His having earned the Arrow of Light makes him eligible right now!

Dear Andy,

I recently took on the position of Venturing crew committee chair. This crew is made up of young men from two different troops. The Crew Advisor is an experienced leader (20+ years) and devotes much time and effort to the crew. He helps the crew raise money, and plans all the activities, including a significant annual trip.

A few months ago, one of the crew members mooned (exposed his backside) a group of boys, including my son. My son let it be known that he found the action of mooning offensive. A few weeks later, the same boy and my son were on an overnight canoe trip. On the way home, the crew stopped for dinner and after dinner in the parking lot this same boy specifically exposed himself to my son, in my presence. This was directed at my son specifically. I did nothing. We were riding in separate cars and parted company. Another six weeks pass and my son and I are leaving for a crew trip with twelve other boys and adults. When my son sees this other boy, he gets angry and says something like, “I don’t want that kid on this trip.” The Crew Advisor is under pressure; he’s packing vehicles and doing many things at once. He looks at me and I say, “This kid mooned my son and he didn’t like it.” The Advisor responds, “Well, that’s a ‘tradition’ of that other troop,” and then proceeds to tell my son to “deal with it.” On the trip, we travel in two separate crews. My son is in one and the other boy in the other. All’s well. Four days later, after both crews set up camp in the same general area, the boy approaches from the water in a canoe and moons our whole crew. Now my son hates this boy. A short while later, my son throws the boy’s hat in the river and it’s lost. The Advisor lets me know in no uncertain terms this is not acceptable behavior on my son’s part. The crews part company on the river. Three days later, the two crews manage to find campsites next to each other. With all to see, including the Advisor, my son spits on the other boy. The Advisor gets angry and tells my son if he wants to act that way he can stay in his tent. The other boy returns to his site. I spoke to my son and had him apologize and tell him he will pay for the hat, and he reluctantly does so. At that point, the mooning stopped. The boys coexisted from that point forward, although my son avoided the other boy as much as possible. It was very stressful for my son to be around the other boy.

Please provide me with some advice. I didn’t confront the Advisor because we were on a ten-day trip, which all had paid for with time and money and I didn’t want to ruin it for the others. I tried to advise my own son, but certainly his trip was not completely pleasant and he got an excellent education for which you can not pay tuition. I don’t blame the other boy, but do blame the leadership and the willingness to accept unacceptable behavior as a tradition of the other troop. I told my son I would deal with this strategically by getting advice when we got back home.

I think our options are to quit the crew and find another one, or resolve the issue with the current crew. I’m not sure how to resolve the issue with the current crew and this is where I need your advice. I think at this point I want an apology to my son and the troop from the Advisor. I also want the Advisor to put a halt to this behavior. (Name & Council Withheld)

Go find another crew. And tell your son that a physical response to a non-physical affront, regardless of the affront, is not only inappropriate but will land him in the slammer.

Dear Andy,

Which merit badge is most often earned by Boy Scouts? (S.C. Stark)

Great question! FIRST AID! (Number 2 is Swimming.)

Dear Andy,

During our pack’s Spring recruiting drive, a couple of fifth-grade-in-September boys expressed interest in joining up. One had been a Bear with us in third grade, but then took last year off for sports, especially football; the other boy is new to Scouting.

Our Webelos II Den Leader feels uncomfortable taking them into his den, because all his boys already have their Webelos badge and he’s now aiming at the Arrow of Light. He thinks these two boys, even though they’re going into fifth grade, should be in a Webelos I den this Fall so that they have a shot at getting their Webelos badge. I’m inclined to agree with him, but I’m not sure if there are any guidelines that would force us to put these two boys in the Webelos II den. (Terry Nani, CC, Santa Margarita-Imperial Council, CA)

Looking toward the future, boys in the Cub Scouting program (Tiger Cub through Webelos II) never, ever move backwards. Whenever they join, the grade they’re in determines their level. First grade is Tiger Cub, second grade is Wolf, third is Bear, fourth is Webelos I, and the first half of fifth grade is Webelos II, so that they graduate into a Boy Scout troop by February (March at the very latest). So, this means they should definitely be with their own age/grade group: Webelos II.

Dear Andy,

So, put them into the Webelos II den, even if it pretty much kills their chances for getting their Webelos badge? (Terry Nani)

Keep this in mind… Starting at Webelos II also “kills” their chances to earn the Tiger, Wolf, and Bear badges, and that’s just fine, because what we want to do is get these boys ready for Boy Scouting! Arrow of Light is the ONLY Cub Scouting rank that can be worn on a Boy Scout uniform, and it even has a “square knot” for adults, so I’d hardly worry about the others. Moreover, starting at Webelos I effectively puts ’em back a whole year, and that’s pretty unfair, don’t you think?

Hi Andy,

I saw on the news that some companies and even Washington is trying to help employees with the gas use and cost problem. Will we BSA leaders receive the same help? The districts in my council want to have the district committee meeting and roundtable the same night, to save driving. The district committee meeting would be for the following month, giving us a full month ahead to prepare for our programs, roundtable, etc. But we’ve been told by council that we have to meet different nights, like it’s a national rule. If it is a rule, it needs to change ASAP! I have to drive 25 minutes one way to get to any district meetings, and some of us drive longer. Our other districts are spread out even more than we are.

(I’d like to give you my name and council but a volunteer from another district in this council was called in to speak with the Scout Executive after she wrote to you, so please keep me anonymous.)

Well, you’re going to have to get specific here. “We’ve been told by council…” doesn’t cut it. Who “told” you all? “Council” is way too broad a term. Then, when you’ve identified the “who,” ask yourself: Does this person actually have some sort of “jurisdiction” over the operational arms of the council? Have you considered that there’s no one at the council level who “out-ranks” the District Chairs, the District Commissioners, or your Roundtable Commissioners? So just who is this that’s supposedly pushing you all around?

Now, as to doubling up, are you contemplating back-to-back meetings, so that a person who may need to be at both can do so? Or are you thinking concurrent, and folks might have to choose?

Each district can do a quick analysis… Work from a list of your district committee members and check off those who wear more than one “hat” and would also have to attend the Roundtable, too. If the proportion is small, you can go ahead with virtual impunity. If it’s large, then maybe separate meetings isn’t such a bad idea after all, or back-to-back?

Thank you so much! You gave me what we needed to know! We’re going to have next month’s district committee meeting at 6 o’clock and then our Roundtable at 7, so we can attend both meetings.

Great solution! Go for it!

Now, let’s address just one more little issue here…

When somebody writes to me, and says “keep me anonymous,” I do so, even when they provide name and council (that way, I know I’m not reading stuff from cranks). But, when somebody says, “Keep me anonymous because my Scout Executive might get mad if he reads that Andy’s point of view, or Andy’s research into the issue, is contrary to his own, then I’d have to say: Grow a spine.

People who want to run Scouting their way instead of The Scouting Way don’t read my columns, anyway! Those who are working hard to get it right read these columns by the tens of thousands each and every month. Moreover, there are any number of councils throughout the country that reproduce excerpts from my columns for their council newsletters, Roundtable discussions, “Commissioners’ Corner,” and on and on. Finally, both District Executives and Scout Executives are among those who write to me, as well! When you write, you’re in good company!

Hi Andy,

I just attended an Eagle court of honor for two Scouts (close friends who chose a single ceremony) in our troop. In the four months since my son and I joined the troop, I’ve seen these two Scouts maybe three times (I had to look at the program several times to reassure myself as to their names). During the ceremony, they each talked a bit about the “long, hard road” they had just traveled; in both cases, they described that the experience “sucked” at times and that younger Scouts can expect for things to seem “pointless” from time to time. Now I do understand that not every single moment in Scouting (or anywhere) is destined to be a euphoric experience; however, they certainly didn’t encourage any of their younger brethren. They appeared to be winging it, with no prepared notes, and that probably contributed. The ceremony was, in short, about the most unimpressive I think I’ve ever witnessed. There was no effort to make it at all special and distinct from ‘non-Eagle’ courts of honor.

Apparently, these two Scouts planned it themselves. Hurray for them! I have several questions here. First, the fun part: Can you describe the most impressive Eagle court of honor you’ve ever seen or participated in? Now the not so fun stuff: What advice do you have in case these new Eagles come around looking for a board of review for Eagle palms? If I sit on that review, is it reasonable to require them to clarify their court of honor statements and to explain why I don’t see them very often? (Name & Council Withheld, because: “This may be better off anonymous, because I’m sure it would cause some awkward moments if someone else from the troop ran across it.)

Personally, I don’t hold separate courts of honor for Eagles in high regard. Eagle is a rank, just like Tenderfoot and all the other ranks in-between. It deserves to be acknowledged, certainly, but right along with other ranks, merit badges, and so forth. Too many times, I’ve seen these special Eagle-only courts of honor turned into nothing less than mini-coronations, and that’s not what Scouting’s all about. Moreover, when only one Scout (or, in this troop’s case, two) is being recognized, it’s really pretty much a drag for all the other Scouts in the troop, and their parents, who are subjected to being a “personal audience” without ever once taking center stage themselves. Boring, boring, boring. Or, what’s even worse, is that the other Scouts ditch the event entirely, since they’re not gonna be recognized for anything. Talk about “playing to an empty house”! Dismal, dismal, dismal!

Now, some admonitions… Show me a slip-shod troop and I’ll show you slip-shod adult leaders; show me disrespectful Scouts and I’ll show you adults who command no respect; show me bored, no-fun Scouts who think parts of Scouting are sucky and I’ll show you uninspired, uninspiring adult leadership.

As for your contemplation of bird-dogging these two Scouts over the next three months or so, have you forgotten that they’re products of their troop? They’re products of the troop “environment.” If you want to change these Scouts, you’re going to have to change the troop, first. Which I don’t recommend trying. But do ask yourself: Is this really the sort of troop you want your own son to “grow up” in?

Dear Andy,

We’re a new troop, one that was put together with Scouts who had lost interest in two other troops, plus some new Scouts. We have three Life Scouts, a Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class Scout, and a couple brand new to Scouting: A troop of nine, altogether. Our problem is finding the way to keep all Scouts interested. The Life Scouts want to work on merit badges; the others on the early requirements, yet we still need to get new Scouts excited and moving along. Do you have any ideas or examples of how to accomplish all of that and still make meetings fun? (Tammy Hayden, Troop Advancement Chair, Southwest Michigan Council)

Has your Scoutmaster completed training?

Yes, our Scoutmaster, both Assistant Scoutmasters, and all committee members have completed their training.

I’m mainly worried about the brand-new Scouts who walk in the door—keeping their interest and excitement and getting them started on the ranks. If everything we do only revolves around say Tenderfoot ranks though, then the highest ranking Scouts are bored. Thanks for any suggestions. (Tammy Hayden)

Scouts work on advancement at their own pace and largely on their own time. Merit badges don’t occupy troop meeting time or troop camping time anyway! Advancements of the Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class variety can be coached by the three Life Scouts, and they should be encouraged to do this in a way that’s interesting, enjoyable, and challenging to them.

Stay on the plan: The Patrol Leaders Council decides on program, the Scoutmaster guides (but never steps into the role of) the Senior Patrol Leader, minimum two patrols (otherwise, you can’t play games!), committee supports PLC decisions, etc., etc. All this stuff has been part of your training, so everybody should be on the same page. Now just put it to use!


On the subject of how old a Boy Scout must be to be able to pick up trash along a road, you completely missed the point. Wrapping yourself in the pages of Guide to Safe Scouting while the police are documenting the scene of a traffic fatality is more than a day late and a dollar short. Are you competent to advise a volunteer managing children regarding traffic management plans consistent with DOT guidelines? My experience as an expert witness at trial suggests your posting opens the door for liability to accrue to you personally beyond that anticipated by BSA coverage. Given that it’s about $70,000 to the courthouse steps, you may wish to modify and/or retract your response. Kindest regards. (Eric Augustine)

You might try understanding the difference between right and righteous.


Very few people have any real appreciation of what it takes to work safely in a road right of way. Safe Scouting is silent on the specific point offering guidance only for walking, bicycling and skate boarding. Construction workers are killed inside closed lanes. Even the people in orange jumpsuits are protected by lane closures and appropriate signage. I have attached three files from the Adopt-A-Highway program. The mandatory safety release is an interesting read. What level of participation would you imagine if the parents were required to sign a second similarly worded release for the Troop and BSA National? Again, rethink your answer. (Eric Augustine)

Are you still not getting this…? I said, “Properly supervised, with obvious safety precautions in place, there’s no age restriction on youth in the BSA program that would prohibit them from providing service by way of picking up trash anywhere. Read the BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting for everything you ever wanted or needed to know about safety and safety standards.” The big point was that this isn’t a part of BSA safety standards and it’s time to check out what’s a standard or policy and what some joker’s makin’ up. That was my point. My point wasn’t a safety point—that’s what you have a council risk management committee for.

The point to all this isn’t your esteemed experience, or mine, or your quotes from a DOT program. I have nothing to do with DOT programs or county, city or other safety standards and I’ll be darned if I’m gonna pretend I do by startin’ to spout stuff I know nothing about. So let’s do a little reality check here. Start by re-reading the question in that June 13th column. Perhaps, then, you’ll understand why I restricted my answer to what Scouting has to say (or doesn’t) and didn’t start pontificating or waving credentials.


To put this thing to bed, I’ve drafted an alternative response that gets my point across. The takeaway is different and gives the questioner a defined path to follow. And no, I am not volunteering to ghost write the column. (Eric Augustine)

“The BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting does not specifically address trash pickup along a pubic road; nor does it address it in terms of age appropriate activities. State and local laws control work on public roads. As you are in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has established safety guidelines for its Adopt-A-Highway program. These apply to state and interstate routes. This guidance limits participants to 12 and older, so much for Cub Scouts working on a state route. I would have to assume similar safeguards are established for such work on county and municipal roads. The 14 year old age limitation mentioned may be a specific county or municipal requirement. The person you reference could very well be correct. Alternatively, the person may also be making an assessment of his unit’s characteristics and the inherent risks associated with work on a public road right of way; a leader’s prerogative given the Guide to Safe Scouting is silent on the matter. It seems your best course of action is to pick a stretch of road, identify and contact the controlling agency, then develop and carry out a plan that meets all governmental safety requirements and your unit’s needs. By the way, those safety green highway vests are a real fashion statement.”

Now that’s a nicely written piece. No angst, posturing, or anything else that might get in the way of a clear message.

Oh, yeah, one more thing… My column’s not for sale.

Dear Andy,

Our son is a Star Scout and has secured a Den Chief position with a pack at his school for the 2008-09 school year. He asked his Scoutmaster if this would be an acceptable position, since it’s listed as a leadership position available to use to advance to Life rank, and his Scoutmaster told him that, as long as he could find a pack, he could do the Den Chief position. So my son confirmed this with the pack and then went back to his Scoutmaster and identified the pack and their leaders’ contact information, but at that point his Scoutmaster told him that although he could be a Den Chief, it wouldn’t count as a leadership position for rank advancement, that he’d rather our son wait until January 2009 and then run for Assistant Senior Patrol Leader.

Bottom line question: Can a Scoutmaster keep a Scout from advancing, if he’s sought approval and has secured a qualifying leadership position?

We’re going to follow up with the Scoutmaster, to make sure our son got the story straight, but it doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of Scouting to keep a boy from advancing. Our son pursued other leadership positions in the troop, but was told all were filled both last May and again this past January 2008, and he didn’t want to wait another six months yet again without moving forward. Please advise as to what we should do. (Kim Day, Capitol Area Council, TX)

Thanks for finding me and for writing, and congratulations to your son for taking the initiative for a leader position among the most challenging and rewarding in all of Boy Scouting!

To answer your direct question directly: No, neither a Scoutmaster nor anyone else can arbitrarily or artificially restrain a Scout from advancing at a pace he’s chosen or deny him “credit” for a legitimate leadership position. This is not open to debate; this is a BSA policy.

By way of further background, if you’re telling me that, for more than a year, your son’s troop has had every elected leadership position filled and every one of the more than ten appointed leadership positions filled, and then on top of that his Scoutmaster didn’t offer your son the option of taking on a leadership project to help the troop, then it sounds to me like something’s seriously amiss. While a troop is not obligated to provide a leadership position for every Scout who needs one; when a Scout is pro-active about pursuing this, the troop is definitely obligated to meet the Scout more than half-way. This is, after all, what Scouting is about. The Scouting program’s ultimate goal of producing skilled leaders for our country’s next generation is defeated when a Scoutmaster or other adult finds ways to keep Scouts from taking on and learning from leadership positions.

Further, being a Den Chief absolutely qualifies as an advancement-appropriate leadership position. This is stated in the Boy Scout Handbook, the Scoutmaster Handbook, Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS-2008 (and every other edition), and Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures. It’s also stated on the Eagle Scout Rank Application. This BSA policy; it’s not subject to discussion, debate, or anyone’s personal opinion. No unit, unit volunteer (e.g., Scoutmaster), district, or council can override a BSA policy. Period.

It is also troubling to me that this Scoutmaster doesn’t know that an Assistant Senior Patrol Leader is selected by the elected Senior Patrol Leader; Assistant Senior Patrol Leader is not an elected position.

I’m going to recommend three actions:

1. Your son should definitely sign on as Den Chief, with a specific den in the pack he’s contacted, and ask the Den Leader to record the specific start-date.

2. Your son should get himself a copy of the Den Chief Handbook and review it with his new Den Leader, so that they’re on the same wavelength.

3. Both you and your son’s father should, together, show these two letters—yours and mine—to your son’s Scoutmaster and Troop Committee Chair, so that there is a clear understanding of the error made, and so that both your own son as well as future Scouts aren’t subjected to this sort of mis-information.

Dear Andy,

The heart of Scouting is The Patrol Method, as envisioned by Baden-Powell. While it’s great in concept, there are many times when the classic six-to-eight Scout patrol gets perturbed by realities. For example, for an upcoming campout, only three Scout boys each from two patrols can go, and so everyone decides that it makes sense to combine the two for that campout, in order to have an effective patrol leader and have a unit that’s a large enough group for meals and the duty roster. There are dozens of variants on this general theme (weekly meetings and summer camp come to mind). When is it OK to “ad lib” on the patrol method, and are there any working techniques for troops to better manage patrols when “situations” arise? Also, who is responsible for enforcing the patrol method, and who has the authority to make any changes in patrol configuration?

I’m looking for techniques to help troops chart a course back toward the patrol method and to be able to communicate to troops where they cross that magic line from practicality to irresponsibility in implementation of the Scouting program. (Mitch Erickson, UC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

The three fundamental questions you’re asking are: When can we deviate from the Patrol Method? When may we combine two or more patrols into one, for our “convenience”? When can we “ad lib” The Patrol Method? All three questions intertwine, of course, and all have precisely the same answer: NEVER.

Ouch! you say. Isn’t that harsh and unrealistic? you ask. How can even part of the patrol idea work, if we can’t exercise some flexibility? you’re wondering.

Well, let’s start with B-P’s insights on The Patrol Method: “The Patrol Method isn’t a way of delivering the Boy Scout program; it’s the only way. Without the Patrol Method, it’s simply not Scouting.”

Let’s next add this undeniable but easily forgettable fact: The fundamental “unit” of Boy Scouting isn’t the troop; it’s the patrol.

When a troop, for instance, goes camping, it’s really not the troop that’s going camping—the patrols that comprise the troop are going camping. Everything that happens—from arranging transportation to the trailhead, to developing the menu and purchasing the food, to establishing the duty roster, to deciding who brings what—is done at the patrol level. If it’s done any other way, it’s not Scouting. The only thing “the troop” actually has to do is file the tour permit. Consequently, if a patrol of six to eight has a couple of members who can’t make it, then the rest of the patrol goes ahead without them (this helps assure that the drop-out Scouts won’t want to miss the next trip!). If it turns out that only three members of the patrol plan to go, they’ll need to disperse the necessary gear amongst themselves, and this will put an extra burden in their backpacks that they’re not gonna like so much! So, the next time there’s a hike or campout, you can be sure that that Patrol Leader is going to do everything he can to get his entire patrol there, so that the burden’s distributed more evenly.

When we undermine this learning experience by creating “artificial” patrols we undermine the most fundamental element of Boy Scouting.

When a patrol shows up in force, and does their own cooking, tent-pitching, clean-up, and so on, and then, in patrol competitions cleans the clocks of the short-handed patrols by sheer numbers, you can bet that these other Patrol Leaders won’t let this happen again!

When we undermine this learning experience by creating “artificial” patrols we undermine the most fundamental element of Boy Scouting.

When a “troop” of 20 or 30 or 50 or more Scouts goes camping or hiking, no one really notices that one or two or even ten Scouts are missing. When a patrol of six to eight loses even two Scouts, you can darned well bet it’s felt!

When we undermine this learning experience by creating “artificial” patrols or ignoring patrols altogether, we undermine the most fundamental element of Boy Scouting.

As a Commissioner, I’ve provided direct service to about a dozen different troops in several councils, and in every case where The Patrol Method has been in place I’ve seen Scouting at its finest. Concomitantly, wherever the Patrol Method is absent, truncated, “ad-libbed,” or otherwise subverted, I’ve seen Scouting at its weakest.

I’ve also been a Scoutmaster (I’m mentioning this so you don’t think, as a Texan would put it, “I’m all hat an’ no cattle”) on three separate occasions and in each troop I’ve either inherited a working Patrol Method troop or I’ve converted the troop to one that delivers The Patrol Method. In each case, we were (or became) a top troop in the district–our patrols won Camporee competitions, we went to summer camp with intact patrols, we earned the National Camping Award and National Quality Unit Award based on our patrols, and on and on. So I can say first-hand and with no equivocation that “ad-libbing” simply isn’t the way to go, because it only detracts from and can’t possibly add to the Scouting experience of the boys and young men we’re here to serve.

But now, you might wonder, what about “new” patrols of “new” Scouts? They can’t possibly do things for themselves! We have to “blend” them in with patrols of “older” Scouts, so that they learn how! And my response would be NOPE! No way! This is the fastest way to keep otherwise perfectly capable boys in diapers.

“War story” – In 1993, my jamboree troop used The Patrol Method for everything, right down to Patrol Leaders responsible for their own patrols while touring Washington, D.C. Our second jamboree troop had a Scoutmaster of a different persuasion. He ran everything as a troop, which of course instantly made him “the world’s oldest Patrol Leader” (interesting “demotion,” wouldn’t you say?). The next thing that happened was, after the first morning’s “troop breakfast” the cooking utensils weren’t cleaned thoroughly, so that after the “troop dinner” that evening literally every Scout and every leader in the troop—all 40 of ‘em!—wound up with dysentery, and they were down for the count for three straight days. Now had this happened at the patrol level, yes, a patrol would certainly have been in trouble, but at least 24 other Scouts would have been OK! Finally, since there were no patrols in that forlorn, low-spirited troop, there were no operational youth leaders, and this nut of a Scoutmaster had to deal with 32 bright, active, smart Scouts who knew he couldn’t keep track of all of ’em at once! Would you like to know which Scoutmaster at the jamboree had the Riot Act read to him by the jamboree staff?

Bottom line: Deviate just one degree from The Patrol Method and you’re on your way toward undermining the Scouting experience for every Scout in the troop!

Hi Andy,

Scouting’s easy on paper and difficult in the real world. Hey, same for my job, your job, and life in general! Maybe that’s why we have Scouting! Ya think? (Mitch Erickson)

I’ve got a sorta different take on Scouting: It’s easy on paper, and it’s even easier when we do what’s on the paper! Unfortunately, many Scouters follow the old “engineer” joke about “if it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features yet,” and try to re-invent or re-create Scouting according to their own infinite wisdom, as if that’s somehow easier and better than delivering the program as it’s been written for the past 98 years.

There used to be a wonderful training module called “The Lazy Scoutmaster.” It was a scenario in which a “visitor” came to a troop meeting and found the Scoutmaster sitting over on the side, relaxing. “What aren’t you doing anything???” demanded the visitor. “After all, YOU are supposed to be in change!” he went on. “Nope,” said the “lazy Scoutmaster, “I’m not in charge. Our Senior Patrol Leader’s in charge, and the Patrol Leaders take their direction from him.” “What about showing the boys how to tie knots–You’re not even doing that!” the visitor continued. “Sorry to disappoint you, but that’s the job of our Patrol Leaders and Instructors,” replied the lazy Scoutmaster. “Well, what about ADVANCEMENT? You should be working with these Scouts so they get Eagle!” said the obviously perturbed visitor. “Oops,” replied the lazy Scoutmaster, “I guess you never read the handbook, where it says that advancement’s the Scout’s responsibility. We get ’em all to First Class, of course, so they have all the fundamental skills and knowledge a ‘first-class’ Scout should have, and then we point ’em toward the mountaintop and support ’em when they decide to climb toward it, but we sure don’t ‘spoon-feed’ anyone around here.” And so on… You get the idea, right?

Scouting’s simple when we keep it simple. When we keep responsibilities where they belong. When we never, ever do for a boy what he can do for himself. When we cut a man-sized job down to boy-sized and let ’em run with it. When we provide an environment for healthy growth and advancement, but never treat these two like inoculations and never, ever turn our troop into “Scout school.” When we step back and let The Patrol Method flourish. When we recognize that “Scoutmaster” doesn’t mean “Master of the Scouts.”

Yeah Andy,

But it’s soooo hard to be lazy and let the kids screw up. It’s much easier to just let the adults do it so it gets done right. The hard part is sitting on your hands and resisting urges. Whoops, there I go again, echoing age-old bad management techniques! There was a similar parable about the successful corporate executive with all the time in the world on his hands… all of his plant managers had it under control and knew they had their lanes of responsibility, so need to bother the CEO. (Mitch Erickson)

Scouting’s a safe place for boys and young men (and young women, too, in the Venturing program) to learn life-lessons and grow as a result. If we keep our kids from ever making mistakes, they don’t learn how to cope. It’s not what happens to us that matters so much as how we respond to what happens to us, and perhaps there’s no finer example of this than the Scouts of Little Sioux.

Dear Andy,

I’ve noticed that since I’ve been involved in our troop no adults have been awarded any Scouter “square knots.” We have a new Scoutmaster taking over for our previous Scoutmaster, who was in the position for as long as anyone remembers. Nothing’s ever been mentioned about Scouter square knots and we’ve found no one who can shed any light on the subject. Like who approves these? Is it the Advancement Chair or someone else? Are these awards filed with our local council, or somewhere else? Any information would be appreciated, because we have a number of volunteers who likely qualify for the Scouter Training knot at least, and I believe they should be recognized and encouraged. (Cary Trout, ASM, Greater Niagara Falls Council, NY)

Your Unit Commissioner can be of great help with this, and point you toward the forms necessary.

There are two types of awards for unit-level Scouters: Those that are earned and those that are by nomination (only). In the first category are the Boy Scout Leader’s Training Award and the Scouter’s Key, both of which have progress cards that help each individual keep track of requirement completions (just like Boy Scout merit badge “blue cards”). The second category includes the Scoutmaster Award of Merit and the District Award of Merit, and your Unit Commissioner can show you the nomination forms for these. Good luck with this!

NetCommish Comment: You can see these awards at: Click on the links to the left for more information on specific awards.

Dear Andy,

I need your help. While at my council’s summer camp, in the weekly leaders meeting we were discussing the things we needed to know for the week. I was there as the District Camping Chair, and I was shocked to learn that, according to this camp’s procedures, when a Scout goes for First Aid merit badge and completes all requirements, he then must take a test, and if he doesn’t pass it, he gets a partial, even though he’s completed all of the requirements, per the merit badge pamphlet. Returning home, I checked out the current Advancement Committee Polices and Procedures, so I could find this in writing, but I found nothing that directly addresses this. The only thing that seems to apply is the policy that “no individual, council, or unit has any authority to add, delete or alter the requirements.”

Do you have a direct quote that references this problem? I’m thinking about calling the national office and talking to them about it. I’m trying to get this solved. In my mind, this is not right. I’m willing to get this resolved; to go before the district and the council to change this. I also wonder if they even follow the book on other issues (i.e., “advancement in summer camp”). I hate to do this. I don’t like being a “By-The-Book Charlie,” but this isn’t right and this problem needs to be fixed. Any ideas you can provide will be a big help. (Name & Council Withheld)

The key people to speak with are your council’s advancement chair, plus the camp director and program director, because these latter two people are typically responsible for the delivery of the merit badge programs at BSA summer camps.

The fundamental principles you’re looking for are the one about “no retesting” and perhaps also the one about “adding to requirements,” and both of these are in the book you’re using as your reference. Here’s why: If the Scout has already completed a requirement or set of requirements, then a subsequent test of the same constitutes a re-test and, by BSA policy, this isn’t permitted. The other way to look at this is that each requirement is done twice, and this would be considered adding to requirements, which is also prohibited by BSA policy.

The fundamental problem, I believe, is that the camp staff has forgotten that merit badges are not intended to make Scouts experts on a subject. They’re intended to expose Scouts to a wide variety of subjects and skills, with the ultimate goal that the Scout will choose one or more to pursue further, perhaps as a vocation or life-long hobby or personal interest. In short, earning First Aid merit badge doesn’t “qualify” a Scout to be an EMT or anything else; it’s simply an exposure to common treatments. Even Lifesaving has the same underlying philosophy. So do all merit badges.

Hello there Andy,

I’m new to a committee position in a pack where trustworthy advice and answers are hard to come by. Can you tell me the best place to find information on what the responsibilities of the positions in a pack are? I’ve read some in the Cub Scout Leader Book, but so far not anything very specific, and a general Web search can get you in trouble fast! If you just point me in a reliable direction, I’d be very grateful. (Stephanie Davidson)
Training is the key. Your district or council offers training for all adult volunteers associated with Cub Scout packs, and you all need to sign up right away. All your questions will be answered, and everyone will be on the same page.

Hey Andy,

We have a Scoutmaster who believes that Scouts should show their exercise records for 30 days, for Tenderfoot. Some of us think this is a good idea; others believe it’s adding a requirement that isn’t “in the book.”

Service to others, for Life rank, has also become a battleground. This same Scoutmaster is only approving service time that’s for another Scout’s Eagle project, and not anything else (for instance, service time at a soup kitchen, or a battered women’s shelter, etc.)

Can you say anything about either of these practices? (Matt Price)
Of course this Scoutmaster’s got it wrong. He’s unquestionably adding to the BSA’s stated requirements and this is a policy violation. He needs to stop these practices immediately. This is not open to further discussion or debate—it’s policy violation and must stop.

Whether you or I or anyone else thinks some arbitrary variation on a requirement is a good idea, bad idea, or anything else is totally irrelevant. Requirements are not subject to opinions. They are. Period.

As for the stricture he’s putting on service time, this is totally counter to the spirit and intent of the worldwide Scouting movement.

Time for a serious conversation with this Scoutmaster. He needs to be reminded that his responsibility is to deliver the Boy Scouting program as written; and not to arbitrarily make things up. If he’s even slightly reluctant to get on-program, and immediately cease these practices, he needs to be replaced immediately, without further discussion, debate, or hesitation.

Dear Andy,

We have a nine year old Cub Scout grandson who has just earned his Whittlin’ Chip, entitling him to carry a pocket knife. With a Whittlin’ Chip, should he be able to carry the knife on his belt to meetings? What do you think? (Mom says No and Dad says Yes.) He also has a younger brother, age four, who’s quite inquisitive (probably the reason Mom says No).

Is there a book that explains more carefully the safety issues involved with carrying a knife at such a young age. We told our grandson that it’s up to his parents—they have to agree on things; we can’t take sides. Our grandson is quite upset with this disagreement and wants to have a Boy Scout knife. We’d appreciate your opinion. (Kay and John Leyden)

Pages 146 through 151 of your grandson’s BEAR Handbook describe exactly what he did in order to earn the Whittlin’ Chip. The next time you’re together, ask him to show you his book and tell you about what he did to earn it. There should be a parent’s signature several times on those pages, and hopefully you’ll see that both Mom and Dad have worked with your grandson in this section of the book.

In those pages, it explains very carefully that a knife is a tool and than it is to remain at home unless “Akela” says it’s OK to bring it along. “Akela” is Mom or Dad, so they need to review these pages, too, and decide together. I can’t make this decision for them, and neither can you, unless we like getting beat up by both of ’em! <wink>

Happy Scouting!


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(July 21 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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