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Issue 141 – July 27, 2008

Gadday from Down Under, Andy —

I was a Scout Group Leader from 1989 to 1995 (I’m back at it again). Back then, I saw a movie about a patrol of Scouts (American, I think) on a hike that enters a cave and is taken back in time to Mafeking at the time of the Boer War. They’re captured as spies and have to convince B-P that they’re Scouts, not spies, and what the Movement is all about, which gives him the idea to start Scouting. I don’t remember the name of the film or who played B-P. I’ve asked our headquarters and other people about it, but no one seems to know about the film. I’m hoping you may be able to help? (Laurie Joyce, Group Adviser, First Braidwood Scout Group, New South Wales, Australia)

A big American Hi! back to you! Thanks for finding me and for writing! What a great plot! I’d love to see this movie! Unfortunately, until you wrote, I’d never heard of it!

(If any reader has any information about this movie, please write to me!)

NetCommish Comment: In looking for this movie, I ran across an interesting movie made in 1900 called Battle of Mafeking.

Apparently, my comment (see my July 21 column) that I don’t hold separate Eagle courts of honor in high regard because, in my opinion, Eagle is a rank, just like Tenderfoot and all the others, rankled some folks and caught some atta-boys from others. Here are two examples; one from of each side of the story (both edited for brevity)…

Dear Andy,

I was very upset by the recent letter concerning the Eagle court of honor.

(A court of honor) isn’t…to inspire young Scouts, but to honor and celebrate the achievements of the young men on the dais. …Even more puzzling, how can anyone assert that Eagle is only a rank, just like all the other ranks? Only Eagle has a separate workbook and application form mandated by National. Only Eagle requires the participation of the Council in the process of earning the rank (Eagle project approval), in the board of review, and the approval of the application. Only Eagle requires approval from National, and only Eagle is recorded and tracked at National. Only Eagle has a special composition for the board of review, and only Eagle incurs an oath of future responsibility for the recipient (the Charge). For someone as knowledgeable as you about official BSA policy and tradition, I can’t understand why you would make such a statement. I prefer the way our troop works. Scouts are encouraged to attend all courts of honor, whether they are getting recognized or not. They are encouraged to work on service projects even if they can’t use it for advancement. They are taught that loyalty and respect are two-way streets, and that “pay it forward” is good way to go through life. As a result, we routinely have scouts of all ranks; including Eagle Scouts, work on the Eagle projects of fellow troop members even after they have fulfilled their minimum service required for rank advancement. And at our Eagle courts of honor, we even have young men who’ve left Scouting return to share in recognizing their friend’s achievement. Friendship, loyalty, and respect are what’s in it for them. By the way, thank you for your excellent column. I’ve read every one, and I learn something new almost every time. (Kyle Hancock, ASM, Heart of Virginia Council)

Hi Andy,

Just finished you last issue and two things I wanted to make a comment on. Thanks for saying what you did about Eagle courts of honor. The separate, “just Eagle” court of honor has always bothered me and once I read what you said things cleared up for me. Sometimes the easy things are way too obvious. Keep up the good work! (Bob Carey, SM, Central New Jersey Council)

Dear Andy,

I’ve been thinking that maybe you should post a guide to evaluating a unit. You have a wealth of articles where you talk about this aspect or that, but nothing comprehensive. Having created my own “checklist” and put it into action, it became clear to me that some things are more important than others; for instance, using the patrol method seems more critical than the number of Eagle Scouts per year. As an engineer, I routinely use inspection reports that break down attributes into levels of importance: critical, moderate, and minor. Simply put, a component cannot exhibit any defects that are deemed “critical” (e.g., no patrol method), but it might be accepted with a single “moderate” like uniforms from the waist-up only, or multiple “minor” defects like no specific “feeder pack.” So, placing unit “defects” into context so that people know when to run away or when to simply remain vigilant would be a great thing. (Joe Scott)

Would you believe I actually try very, very hard to avoid building a check-list or guide along the lines of your concept? Why? Because the essence of Scouting isn’t about check-lists (except for what to take camping and such)… It’s about the opposite. When we turn Scouting into the rigid and inflexible “machine” that would certainly please some adults, we lose too many of the boys we say we’re trying to serve. Besides, it’s really all about good listening skills and sound judgment. Here’s what I mean…

“We use the Patrol Method,” you’re told, and this sounds pretty good. But how about when halves of two patrols are missing from a hike…are they put together into a “patrol of convenience”?

“We have lots of Eagles,” you’re told, and this sounds pretty good. Then you find out that almost all of them earned it at 17 years, 11 months, and 29 days.

“Our Scoutmaster’s a great guy…Been Scoutmaster for ten years, now,” you’re told, and this sounds pretty good. But, is that ten years of continuing education about boys and their needs, desires, aims, ambitions, and idiosyncrasies… or is it one year of experience repeated nine more times?

“Don’t worry about your son making Eagle–We’ll guide him every step of the way,” sounds good, too, until you begin wondering if there’s any self-direction by the Scouts, themselves.

“Our Patrol Leaders are all hand-picked, experienced Scouts,” might sound good, too, until you realize that Patrol Leaders are supposed to be elected…

You’re getting the idea here, right…?

So that’s where check-lists break down. If they covered every possible contingency, quirk, off-the-mark practice, and dead wrong notion, that list would be so tedious, so pedantic, so stultifying that no one would bother using it! They’d use their own good listening skills and good judgment instead. Which is exactly what they should do in the first place.

Besides, sometimes we have to taste the pudding to discover the milk went sour. After all, boys don’t “marry” troops. Like dating and going steady, if the first date or two doesn’t go right, we move on till we find the one we’d like to hang with!

Dear Andy,

Our pack is looking for a monkey bridge kit that we could buy for use in our annual bridging ceremony. I’ve done research on the Net, but I’ve come up with fabulous rope buys or instructions on to make it, but not where to buy the poles. Do you know of any outlet or store that sells a monkey bridge kit that our pack could purchase? (Jim MacNerland, ADL, Greater Los Angeles Council, CA)

I’ve never seen a “kit” for monkey bridges because they’re usually built with “found objects”—But I’ll bet if you wander around a Home Depot or Lowes lumber or fencing section, you’ll “find” just what you’re looking for!

If you’re going to use it ceremonially, you’ll probably want to “scale” it to Cub Scout size, and then mount it permanently on something, like maybe a 4×8 sheet of plywood?

Dear Andy,

We’re looking into starting a new Venturing crew, and we’ve read that membership is open to all girls and boys age 14-20 regardless of whether they’ve had previous experience in Scouting. We have also read that if a boy wants to join a Venturing crew and wants to earn the Eagle Scout rank, he needs to already have earned First Class rank and needs to hold dual membership registration in a Boy Scout troop. Is that correct? Is it actually required that he remain dual-registered as a Boy Scout and as a Venturer for the duration of the climb from First Class to Eagle? (Bonnie Nelson, Lincoln Heritage Council, KY)

Double-check me on this with your home council, but so long as a young man has attained the rank of First Class as a Scout in a troop before joining a Venturing crew, he doesn’t need to maintain dual membership in order to continue to earn further Boy Scout ranks. Simply, where it says “patrol” replace that with “crew,” where it says “Scoutmaster” replace that with “Crew Advisor” (Yup, even including “Scoutmaster Conference”), and everything stays perfectly “legal.”

Dear Andy,

I checked, and our District Executive told me that, if a boy is First Class and joins a Venturing crew, he needs to be dual-registered as a Boy Scout and as a Venturer and he is required to be active in that Boy Scout troop; however, once he earns Star rank he can (if he wants to) drop the dual registration, as it’s then no longer required. But we can’t find where this is, in writing. (Bonnie Nelson)

With all due respect, I believe that DE is mistaken.

According to the BSA’s own website (, it’s sufficient to (a) hold the Boy Scout rank of First Class and (b) be a Venturer who’s still under age 18. The website contains this statement: “In order for a Venturer to be an Eagle Scout candidate, he must have achieved the First Class rank as a Boy Scout or Varsity Scout.” There is no stipulation that the Venturer must be double-registered or that he must participate in a troop. The Sea Scout Manual (Sea Scouting is a branch within the overall Venturing program) states the same thing.

I think it’s worth showing the DE this email message, so that he or she can check further. If I’m incorrect, I’d like to know it, so that I can publish it in a column for the benefit of others. However, if I’m correct, then the DE would be well-advised to correct him or herself and anyone else on the professional staff who’s providing misinformation.

Dear Andy,

Our troop went to summer camp last week with 16 Scouts. We went through the usual skunks, spiders, home-sick, broken glasses, and such. But, I was awakened one night by the Camp Director, who informed me that one of my Scouts had wandered out of camp and was presently in the custody of the Deputy Sheriff—That’s how I found out the Scout’s a sleepwalker. Later, I further learned—for the first time—that one of his brothers is a sleepwalker, too, and so is his mother. Then, today, I learned that, a year ago, this same boy did this at the Cub Scout summer camp. I’m glad no harm came to this boy either time, but I’m hurt that his family didn’t tell me about the possibility of him sleep-walking ahead of time.

Now that I’m aware of this problem, I need a plan for the next time we go camping. What can we do to work with this Scout and his parents for the future? I’ve had a range of suggestions, from tethering him to his bed and barricading him inside his tent, to using a motion sensor. His parents are asking his doctor about electronic devices that would sound an alarm. I don’t like any of these ideas. I spoke with this boy’s father about jointly working out a plan for future camping trips, but his response was, “Why? It won’t happen again.” So, I’m looking for advice. (Concerned Scoutmaster)

First, let’s get over being “hurt.” These parents outright lied to you and all others involved when they failed to check off the “sleepwalking” box on the medical forms they submitted in order for their son to go to camp.

You have the absolute right to tell these parents that their son will not be permitted to go camping with the troop until they provide a workable and non-intrusive solution to the sleepwalking problem. Harsh? Not “kid-friendly”? Then think about this: If you knowingly take a youth who sleepwalks out camping in the woods, without restraints or other means of containing this problem, and in the course of sleepwalking he’s injured, or injures someone else, just who do you think’s gonna get hung out to dry?

Hi Andy,

I’m starting to work with our district advancement committee, reviewing Eagle projects, and I have a question that may be more specific to my own council than to all councils in the BSA. First, some quotes from my council’s website:

“One of the three tasks for an Eagle project is ‘give leadership to others.’ The requirement to provide leadership cannot be taken lightly and must be evident as you lead others in completing the project.”

“Note that the manpower does not have to be Scouts, but can come from all who are able to work on your project. However, on this project YOU must be the leader for all who work on it. Just remember, it is your project and you’re the boss.”

“An Eagle Scout project is not a troop weekend project. The Eagle Scout service project is an individual matter…”

“Adults must be present to operate power equipment, and two-deep leadership must be maintained at all times.”

It’s the “two-deep” part that I’m questioning. The very first page of the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING states that all activities must have two-deep adult leadership, and further on in the first chapter it re-states this, but adds possible exclusions: “There are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when no adult leadership is required.”

So if two-deep leadership is needed for a unit activity but not needed for a patrol activity does an individual Eagle candidate need it for his project, which, I’d think, is in the category of personal activity? Conversely, can an Eagle candidate truly give leadership to others if it’s required that he have two adult overseers on his work site at all times? (Dave Mountney, UC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

What councils have to say with regard to re-describing and/or embellishing the requirements and process for earning the Eagle Scout rank, are of considerably lesser importance to me than what the national council has to say. The quotes you provided aren’t in any national council writings I’ve ever come across. As for two-deep leadership, the GTSS does not state that this applies to “every” or “all” situations; in fact, it specifically notes that there are situations where two-deep leadership is not required (You’ve already found this quote: “There are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when no adult leadership is required”—I would say without hesitation that a group of people helping a Scout work on his Eagle project is another). Moreover, the GTSS is silent on power tools largely, I’d suspect, because power tools aren’t needed for 99.9% of Scouting-related activities, and this would certainly include Eagle projects! Just use hand tools and the whole “power tool” issue goes away. Remember that the full and complete title of the GTSS includes “…for unit activities,” and an Eagle project is not a unit activity. This makes any council-developed guidelines unnecessary. The BSA has already covered these issues; they don’t need regurgitation.

Hi Andy,

I’ll be working on the Readyman activity badge for our Webelos II Scouts this fall and I haven’t found out many details of what to do in the “hurry cases.” It would seem to me that an 11 year-old would either get help or stay with the patient while someone else gets help. Other than that, and treating for shock, is there anything else they would be doing? (Kevin, WDL, Cradle of Liberty Council, PA)

Pages 372-377 of the WEBELOS Handbook describe precisely what to do in the situations involving the four “hurry cases” listed on page 371. What you are to teach is on those pages. Teach nothing less; require nothing more.

Dear Andy,

I read your other responses to the questions about the Camping merit badge’s requirement of 20 overnights and how to count long-term camp. Is there any written documentation from the BSA that spells out the interpretation you gave? Our troop has been rather confused about this and something official and in writing would help. (Lisa Warner)

The “official language” is spelled out clearly in the requirement itself. What is it that your troop is confused about?

Dear Andy,

One person at our council headquarters was saying that the requirement meant 20 separate overnight events—meaning that each summer camp week would only count as one night. Likewise, a weekend event would count as one night, even if the Scout camped for two nights.

I noted that in your columns and elsewhere, there seemed to be another variation on this debate: Whether a Scout could count every night he’s spent at summer camp, or only the first year’s nights as individual nights (up to seven) and subsequent years as only one night total per year. No one here had even thought about the latter option.

In any event, since I first asked you, the head of our council weighed in on the side of every night counting, with no first year/subsequent year qualifiers (He did say, though, that it’s not in the Scout’s best interest to just accumulate days at summer camps.) Given all the discussion I’ve seen on this requirement, it seems like someone should fully and finally define exactly how the days should be tallied up. It seemed clear to me when I first read it, but then I heard what other people thought it meant, and I can see where you could interpret it in several different ways. Thanks for your help, though. I was just hoping that the national organization may have elaborated on exactly what they meant when it was written, so that everyone could stop reading it with divergent meanings. (Lisa Warner)

This controversy is totally beyond my comprehension. How people can get this simple and straightforward requirement so tangled up is amazing to me. “20 days and nights” means 20 days and nights. It doesn’t mean 20 “events.” It means 20 days and nights, of which up to one week (a week is still 7 days and nights, last time I checked) of resident Scout camp (as in your council’s summer camp) may be credited, leaving 13 or more days and nights of camping in a tent the Scout set up or sleeping under the stars. This should be a no-brainer for which “interpretation” isn’t necessary because the language is absolutely crystal clear.

As to this “first year of summer camp versus second year of summer camp” stuff, this is total nonsense. An absolute maximum of seven days and nights of summer/resident camp can ever be credited toward the 20, regardless of when done.

A few years back, when I was a Scoutmaster, we regularly earned the National Camping Award. The “average” Scout in our troop camped in a tent he’d pitched or, on balmy nights, under the stars (which I encouraged at every opportunity) no less that 20 days and nights in a single year, excluding summer camp. That’s right: For Camping merit badge, more than half the Scouts in this troop could simply add up troop and patrol camp-outs in the past year alone, and that was all they needed to qualify on the same requirement that folks seem to be getting tangled up in their own underwear over!

Why so many days and nights in the out-of-doors each year? Simple… Because THAT’S WHERE SCOUTS BELONG!

Dear Andy,

I’m a fairly new Scoutmaster, and coming up on my troop’s first elections since I took this position. I’m thinking of asking the Scouts to give some periodic formal feedback or peer review to their newly-elected leaders over their tenure in their new positions. I noticed that some of our guys seem to be very hung-up on “position” and “seniority,” and seem to forget what it’s like to be a rank-and-file patrol member once they’ve been Patrol Leader or Senior Patrol Leader. I’d like the Scouts to give their elected leaders some feedback on their leadership style, facilitation of meetings, and accountability for getting the job done. I know that a big part of this is my own responsibility, and I’ll not fail to do it, but I think it would be valuable for them to get the perspective of the Scouts they’re leading. Are you aware of other troops that do this? Do you have any thoughts on this? (Ron Davis, SM, Gulf Coast Council, FL)
I believe you’re 100% well-intentioned; however, Boy Scout troops aren’t corporations, and you’re not the CEO, COO, or HR Director. “Peer reviews” aren’t appropriate for Boy Scouts, in this regard—certainly not without a considerable amount of hands-on coaching as to precisely how to go about this. Besides, your Scouts already know who the goof-offs, true leaders, goldbrickers, real helpers, little tin gods, and the guys they’d most like to hang with are, better than you or I could ever imagine! They’re totally savvy to this. If a Scout gets elected to some position and, because he’s not getting enough or good guidance from his Scoutmaster, turns into a little Napoleon or something else, I guarantee you he won’t get elected dog-catcher next time around! TRUST YOUR SCOUTS!

As for your own main responsibility, it’s this: TRAIN, GUIDE, AND MENTOR THE YOUTH LEADERS OF THE TROOP YOU’VE AGREED TO SERVE. This is your full-time job. Everything else comes second to this.

Dear Andy,

The Cub Scouts don’t earn the Whittlin’ Chip until they’re Bears, but in the Wolf book it lists a pocket knife in Arrow Point requirement 23b. So how do we address this? They can’t use the knife, but think they can since it’s on the list. (Shelly Rawlins, Wolf DL, Verdugo Hills Council, CA)

Yup, “pocketknife” is listed as one of the eight “essentials” when going camping or hiking. Since Wolf Cub Scouts do only family camping at organized camps and not in the wilderness, there’s no need for them to be using a pocketknife, although it’s always a good idea to have one in the family’s “essentials kit” that they bring along. Is there some problem in telling these boys this, in direct and certain terms? Now, once you’ve told them, tell the same thing to their parents.


Hi Andy,

My 13 year-old son is interested in earning his shotgun and small-boat sailing merit badges, but he was told that he’s too young to earn them. What is the correct age for these two, and what other merit badges have an age restriction? (Scout’s Mom)

“Told” by whom? It’s stated right in the Boy Scout Handbook that any Scout can earn any merit badge any time he wishes. No one has the authority to add their own “judgment” to BSA policy. Your son needs to show the statement in the handbook to whomever told him otherwise and, if that person is still reluctant to give your son the name of a Merit Badge Counselor so he can start, then you have the right to demand that that person show you in writing where the BSA stipulates age as a prerequisite for these or any merit badges.

Dear Andy,

I’ve been in Scouting for over 20 years, but this is the first year I feel I’m being backed into a corner. I’m the Committee Chair and Advancement Coordinator in a troop of 18 Scouts—Two recent Eagles, seven Life, one Star, three First Class, and the rest under that rank.

The old phrase of “being active” always concerned me, and has for at least 15 years, but now I’m really involved because of the number Scouts First Class and above in the troop. As in every troop, our Scouts are doing multiple things (band, sports, and a new one, fencing, etc), and finding time to “being active” becomes difficult. Everything I’ve read says not to put numbers on “being active,” but I can’t in good conscience tell one Scout who attends 90% of the meeting and activities that he can advance while telling another Scout who attends 50% of the meetings and activities that he should be able to advance as well.

The terms I’ve read are “do your best,” “do not stifle the Scout,” “if you have an active troop they will come,” and “have frequent Scoutmaster reviews.” We have an active troop that’s been chartered for over 40 years. We go on an activity every month, have regular weekly meetings year round, go to summer camp—the whole bit. Nowadays, if you play baseball in school it’s a year-round activity and if a team member doesn’t attend they get a grade-point marked off in school. Go figure!

With this in mind, about eight months ago I implemented a number scheme for the Scouts to attain for “being active,” and it’s worked, but many of the Scouts think it’s a burden for them to go on a campout because they now must, in order to make the numbers and become Eagle. There is always the other alternative: They’ll have to make a choice—baseball or Scouts—I guess.

What are your thoughts or what’s happening across the country? I’ve brought this up at Roundtables once or twice, but everyone says the same thing: We let it go and let them “do their best,” or we ignore the situation. (Name Withheld, Blue Grass Council, KY)

When Scouting was a mere 15 years old, there were more sandlot than organized sports, but sports nonetheless, and music lessons, and daily chores, and school and after-school activities, and did I mention there were churches then, too, and I know this because my father was a Scout in that era and no one, in their infinite wisdom, applied metrics to “active” the way you’re doing.

When Scouting was just 40 or so years old, there were organized and sandlot sports, school activities, family outings and other events, church activities, and the rest, and no one was permitted, in their infinite wisdom, to apply metrics to “active” the way you’re doing. I know this for a fact, because I was a Scout then, and an Eagle at 15, while at the same time playing Varsity Tennis and competing in local indoor Badminton tournaments, going with my friends to football and baseball games both home and away, working after school every afternoon and all day most Saturdays, running a paper route, and participating in confirmation classes at my church.

For the past almost 20 years, I’ve sat on boards of review for Eagle candidates an average of ten times a year, in two different councils several thousand miles apart. I can attest based on first-hand observation to just one thing that all Eagles I’ve ever met have in common: They’re into everything; they’re not “Scouting nerds.” And, in that entire time, not once did anyone, in their infinite wisdom, applied metrics to “active” the way you’re doing.

The world may have become more organized in the past 50 or 60 or 90 years, but it’s always held out lots of activities and stuff for boys and young men to do, and these young people haven’t changed: They’re still just as interested in sports and school and extracurricular stuff and church as ever.

You make the statement, “Everything I’ve read says not to put numbers on ‘being active,’” and yet you, in your own misguided sense of self-importance and warped sense of wisdom choose to violate what you know to be BSA policy. Conclusion: The only one you’ve described who is violating BSA policy is you. How dare you, sir, to apply your own so-called “standards” when you know perfectly well that this is prohibited. You owe a profound apology to every one of the Scouts whom you’ve mistreated for the past eight months. Do it. Then cut it out.

Hello again from Germany, Andy!

I read with interest your comment about Scouts signing off other Scout’s books for lower ranks. Why only the lower ranks? I’m Scoutmaster of a new troop, and the Scouts were quite interested in my answer to their question, “who can sign off rank requirements?” Knowing that many solutions were possible (I believe the handbook only says something to the effect of “leader signature”—or “initials”) and there’s a lot of room to define “leader.” My answer was, “What do you Scouts recommend?” They talked about this after a recent meeting and came up with the idea that Life Scouts and higher can sign off. I was a “fly on the wall” for that conversation, and their conclusion seemed to be based primarily on “That’s how we did it in my last troop.” I wanted them to dig a little bit deeper, so my next question was, “Why? Let’s say you have two patrols, one with a Life Scout and one with a Star Scout as Patrol Leader. Are you saying that one Patrol Leader can sign off requirements for Scouts in his patrol, but the other one can’t?” They talked about it some more and came back with, “OK, we want to follow the patrol method, so it’ll normally be the Patrol Leaders for boys in their patrol, or the SPL or ASPL if the patrol leaders aren’t around for whatever reason. The SPL and ASPL will monitor what the Patrol Leaders are signing off, to make sure that the Scouts really have acquired the knowledge, and if not, talk to the PL about raising his standards. Then, the SPL will sign off the PL and ASPL’s books.”

So far, it’s worked brilliantly. We even had a new Scout beat me to the punch and tell his dad that he couldn’t sign off his book (we were on a campout and finished a compass hike) because he had to go to his Patrol Leader for that.

In any event, my model could lead to having some Scouts signing off rank requirements for Scouts more “senior” than themselves. By “senior” I mean older. What are your thoughts?

Also, here’s a question on the “Scout spirit” requirement (I believe it’s part of each rank advancement). I find it a bit odd that the Scoutmaster signs off on this one (when you think of it, it’s kind of a “Catch-22”). You conduct the Scoutmaster Conference when all the other requirements are
complete, but if you don’t sign off the Scout spirit requirement, then not all requirements are done, so a Scout isn’t ready for the Scoutmaster Conference! It’s odd to me in the sense that I feel as Scoutmaster that Scout spirit is part of my Scoutmaster conference anyway, and if I thought a Scout didn’t have Scout spirit (sufficient to be signed off in his book) someone (ideally the PL or SPL, or Scoutmaster as a last resort) would be talking to that Scout about long before his Scoutmaster Conference for a rank advancement. (John Woughter, SM, Transatlantic Council, Boeblingen, Germany)

On sign-offs, if you take another look at the requirements, there’s really nothing one Scout can sign off for another, for Star, Life, or Eagle. The requirements for these three ranks largely involve the Scoutmaster, directly, or perhaps the troop’s advancement person. But, for the foundational ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class, Scouts helping Scouts is right on the money, providing you have Scouts with the skills necessary to teach others as well as sign off others! Teaching a skill really cements that skill in the teacher! (In fact, that’s why, in the back pages of the handbook where requirement completions are initialed, it says “Leader…” and not Scoutmaster or Unit Leader.)

Your PLC approach to having the Scouts think this through, and then pushing them for a well thought-through decision was positively brilliant. This is precisely what Scoutmasters do! Our job, as Scoutmaster, is to get the young men in our charge to think, and we use Scouting as the method to do that!

On “Scout spirit,” let me throw you a real curve-ball… The only one who can truly assess whether or not he’s lived by the Scout Oath and Law in his daily life is: The Scout himself. The Scoutmaster, who sees the Scout only four times a month plus perhaps a weekend, which is less than 10% of a month’s total time, is hardly “qualified” to make this call. So, the true key here is to ask the Scout and let him be the judge of his own conduct. How’s that for a concept!

Hi Andy,

I’m wondering when the oval cloth Eagle badge should be given to the Scout… at the next troop meeting after I get it, or do I hang on to it and wait till the court of honor? (Mike Borsos, SM, Gulf Stream Council, FL)

If the next court of honor is going to happen within a week or so, then I’d be tempted to present the badge at that time, right along with the rest of the Eagle accoutrements. But if the court’s a couple of months away, then I’d present the cloth badge to the Scout at the very first troop meeting after being given word from your council that the National Office has approved the application.

Dear Andy,

Great columns! In 2007, my son joined a Cub Scout pack and a Webelos II den that had boys at several levels of advancement. Some had not earned their Webelos Badge as a Webelos I, and the pack wanted to try to bring all of the boys along if possible. We appointed an Assistant Den Leader to work with those who hadn’t advanced as fast as the rest, and that leader worked with them to identify what each needed to do to earn his Webelos badge. The Scouts had to put in the effort to get the badge, with appropriate assistance of their leader and parents. Some of the requirements for the necessary badges say, “with your den…” but many didn’t. For the “with your den” requirements, the whole den pitched in and helped the other Scouts to get the requirement done. The more advanced Scouts showed true Scout spirit by doing a “Good Turn” for the others, and they all earned their Webelos badge. All of the Webelos Scouts then went on to earn their Arrow of Light. Finally, of the six in the den, five are now active in their Boy Scout troops. Seems to me that any den with both “new” and “experienced” Webelos Scouts could use a similar plan. (Lauren Johnson-Naumann, MBC (former ADL), National Capital Area Council, MD)

Thanks for sharing a wonderful story about getting creative within the bounds, and making it work. Especially the part about five of the six being Boy Scouts today!

Dear Andy,

My son is a Life Scout. He’s preparing for his Eagle service project. It will benefit the Humane Society in our community. However, the troop my son is a member of is not only in a different town, but it’s across a “dividing line” and actually in another council from the one we’re geographically residing in. To have greater participation from his fellow Scouts, can part of his project be built at the property where the troop meets? Then, the project would be delivered to the Humane Society. He would also like to hold a donation collection for items that the society needs, on the same day. Could this also be done at the troop’s location? (All of this would be done only after getting the proper permissions.) (Name & Council Withheld)

If I have this right, your son intends to build something that would then be placed on the Humane Society property for the benefit of animals or something like that. If that’s the case, then where the thing is built is sort of irrelevant, so long as it winds up on the Humane Society property. It could be built in your own back yard, for that matter. Furthermore, your son’s “helpers” need not be limited in any way – They can be Scouts from his troop, of course, but they can also be friends from school or church, or neighbors! Best wishes to your son!

Dear Andy,

I’m the Scoutmaster of a relatively new and small troop. We’ve grown to two patrols of six Scouts each, and the Scouts have just elected their first Senior Patrol Leader. Is the Senior Patrol Leader still part of his original patrol? Does he still wear the patrol emblem, even if just to know where to return to, once his tenure’s up? Also, can a Senior Patrol Leader be a Patrol Leader at the same time? Is any of this written somewhere in the leadership materials? (Mike Buck, SM, San Diego-Imperial Council, CA)

Senior Patrol Leaders are not members of any patrol. But your newly elected Senior Patrol Leader won’t have that position forever. He may return to his patrol in, say, six months, or (more likely) he’ll move to another leadership position in the troop that would keep him “outside” the patrol, just as he is now. So, your best bet would probably be to treat him as an “inactive member” of his original patrol for a while, and see what develops. Meanwhile, leave the patrol emblem in place unless it causes confusion.

A Senior Patrol Leader can’t be a Patrol Leader at the same time. After the Senior Patrol Leader election, and his “temporary removal” from his original patrol, that patrol can elect a new Patrol Leader if the Scout who’s moving up held that position.

All of this is covered very well in the Scoutmaster Handbook. Also, if you attend your district’s Roundtables, you can pick up a lot of good, useful tips from your fellow Scoutmasters!

Hello Andy,

I just saw the new “When Tradition Meets Tomorrow-100 Years” patch at a summer camp trading post—It’s a neat logo. Is the patch meant to be worn on the Cub Scout uniform anywhere? If so, where is the correct placement? (Ken Roush, WDL, Susquehanna Council, PA)

Yup, that’s a cool patch! It can be worn on the Cub Scout or leader’s uniform shirt centered on the right pocket. That’s the only place it can go. If you have a patch already in that place, then it’s decision time—which one do you want there?

Dear Andy,

I was at our local Scout house today and I asked about getting a 15-year veteran unit bar. The employee there said they start at 25 years, and even looked it up in a catalog to confirm. Is this true? These used to be available in 5, 10, and 15-year increments. Were they discontinued? (Craig Turner, San Diego-Imperial Council, CA)

For Scouters who are “veterans,” (not the military kind) there are veteran pins in increments of 5, starting at 10 years, but for the veteran unit bar that gets sewn just above the unit numeral on the left sleeve, I’ve never seen anything less than 25 years. So, I guess it’s safe to say that the BSA catalog that the Scout Shop staffer showed you was correct!


Dear Andy,


An issue has come up about Eagle Scout letters of recommendation. The issue is: What happens to them before and after the board of review? One council says that the Scout never sees them and they get destroyed after the board of review; another council says that the Scout never sees them before the board of review, but can see them afterwards. Is this an issue that’s mandated by national, or is it mandated by different councils’ policies? If it is mandated by national, please tell me where, or provide the actual statement. Thank You. (Mark Pettie, District Commissioner)

To begin with, “letters of recommendation” are not actually required. It’s the recommendation itself that’s sought, whether in-person, by phone, letter, email, or carrier pigeon. The candidate is asked to provide up to six individuals who can provide a recommendation that he “lives by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law in his daily life.” While the request for a letter by the advancement representative of the troop, district, or council is certainly common practice, there’s absolutely nothing in BSA policy or procedures that says it must be done this way. So, sans something in writing, there’s hardly any way the candidate would have direct knowledge of what might have been said about him by any of the individuals whose name and contact information he provided on his rank application. Thus, when letters have been requested, the further common practice is for the members of the review board to read however many letters there may be (there’s no “minimum” by the way) and then, after the review’s completed, destroy the letters (just as there would be no record of a non-written recommendation). One of the things destroying the letters without the candidate ever having seen them assures is that no individual is ever held accountable for anything he or she may have said. So, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, the BSA National Council makes no “policies” regarding these letters, because letters aren’t specified in the first place!

(Personal comment: Anyone who chooses to show letters like these to candidates had better be sure to tell the named individuals in advance that their letters will be read by the candidate, because to do otherwise is inviting trouble. IMHO, destroying the letters immediately following the review, after having been read by board members only, is the safe practice.)

Dear Andy,

You’re correct: There’s no mention of the use of letter in the actual requirement—no means of acknowledging how an individual would give a recommendation for the candidate. So I guess it’s up to each council to make this policy clear. Thanks. (Mark Pettie)

Tread lightly… It’s not a policy; it’s a procedure related to an advancement requirement. We already know that, per BSA policy, a council is not permitted to add to or detract from any advancement requirement, so it would follow that no council, district, unit, or individual can make a stipulation that a recommendation must be in letter form. This can be a suggestion or guideline, but cannot be insisted upon. This is important, because we don’t want to request letters of six people, get less than six letters in response, and then be tempted to “ding” the Scout for this!

Dear Andy,

I’d have to disagree with you that letters of recommendation are not required. The Eagle rank application, req. 2, says that recommendation letters are required (just like req. 3 says that you must have 21 merit badges).

Not quite… read that requirement again, and then tell me where it says “letter.”


I am a long time reader, dedicated Scoutmaster and Commissioner, but first-time writer. I can’t seem to find any real rules about wearing the “Good Turn for America” patch; that is, I can’t seem to find mention of this specific patch. I’m wearing the patch (with the years surrounding) centered above the right pocket, equally spaced between the top of the pocket and the shoulder seam. My understanding is that only certain types of patches (e.g., National Jamboree) in that location. I’m proud of the work put into earning that patch, and that’s one reason I wear it. The other is to promote others to take the time to do it, too. I only wear the patch(s) on my Boy Scout uniform; not on my Commissioner uniform because I’m not sure of where it’s proper and I don’t want to take a chance with that uniform! The short version is: Can this patch be worn as a permanent patch in the location mentioned? Also, since I earned the award as an individual, is it proper to wear it on my Commissioner uniform? (Lee Mooty, Gulf Stream Council, FL)

Interpreter strips and National or World Jamboree patches go above the right pocket of male Scouting uniform shirts. That’s it. Your patch and its segments belong on the right pocket. Simple as that! (Check out the BSA Insignia Guide.)

With that taken care of, I’m obliged to mention something you’re probably not gonna like hearing… Did you know that there’s a BSA policy that says being a unit leader and Commissioner concurrently is a No-No?

Dear Andy,

I have something bugging me. Our pack committee recently decided to change the way that we do raffles at pack meetings. They decided to have one prize per den and to separate the raffle tickets per den. Then, when the prizes are picked, each den is guaranteed to have a winner. The big problem is that this is being done without the Cubs’ knowledge. I feel this is dishonest and stinks of “political correctness” along the lines of “no losers and everyone is a winner.” What, if anything, does BSA policy have to say and what do you think? (Eric Teague)

What sort of raffle, with what sorts of prizes are we talking about here? How is the raffle done? That is, names out of a hat, or what? And, what’s it for?

Dear Andy,

We give the Cubs who show up on time for pack meetings a raffle ticket. Then, during the course of meeting, we raffle off items of varying values —pinewood derby cars, canteens, trinkets, themed items, etc. The tickets are picked from a can, at random, and everyone who arrived on time had the same chance to win. The new plan is one prize per den: As each on-time Cub gets his raffle ticket, his den number is written on the stub. Then, each Den’s stubs are put in separate containers, so that during the pack meeting, a den container is chosen and one ticket from that container is drawn, thereby guaranteeing that one (and only one) Cub in each den wins a prize. The Den Leaders are in on the fix, but the Cubs aren’t—They think that the raffle’s being done as it’s always been done, where each on-time Cub has an equal chance of winning each draw of a ticket. (Eric Teague)

Just to get this out of the way, no one in Scouting is permitted to sell raffle tickets as fund-raisers. (Yes, I know that that’s not what you’re doing here, but it’s worth mentioning, just so there are no misunderstandings.)

Raffle tickets and prizes for Cubs who arrive on-time for pack meetings is an interesting idea. Maybe it encourages on-time starts. Games during a “gathering time” work very well, in my experience. Especially when they’re quick, simple, and easy. They save money, too! Anyway, of course the Cubs should be told in advance exactly how the new raffle will work—Anything less than that is in the category of “lying by omission,” in a sense, and, after all, they’re going to find out the first time it happens, anyway, so it’s not like some deep mystery here. In your shoes, I think I’d just sit back and let the Den Leaders handle this—saves getting my own clothes muddy when the slinging starts! Meanwhile, I think I’ll stick with gathering-time games, where nobody loses and everybody who shows up early is a winner.


Hi Andy!


I’ve been unable to locate through any local means the current version of the Cub Scout Roundtable Commissioner & Staff Basic Training Manual. I have a very poor copy of the 33013A Revised 2001 version. Any and all guidance as to where I could order or, better yet, find on-line the current version would be greatly appreciated. (Ann Cooper, CSRTC, Longs Peak Council, CO)

The Cub Scout Roundtable Commissioner and Staff Basic Training Manual is available through for $12.99. The catalog number is almost the same: 33013.

Dear Andy,

Someone told me that he learned how to make a hangman’s noose when he was in the Boy Scouts (he didn’t say when he was in the Boy Scouts, but he’s in his late 30s now). I have several questions about that particular knot:

– Does the BSA teach Scouts how to make a hangman’s noose?

– If yes, what purpose is taught for making a hangman’s nose?

– If no, did the BSA ever teach how to make a hangman’s noose?

– When did they stop teaching that particular knot?

– Why did the Boy Scouts stop teaching that knot?

– Is the answer different for Boy Scout troops based in Puerto Rico?

Thank you for any clarification that you can give me. (Linda Behrmann)

Thanks for finding me and asking! I guess the secret’s out… The Boy Scouts has never, ever included the hangman’s noose among the knots a Scout should know how to tie, and what they’re for. Read any Boy Scout Handbook, from the current one all the way back to the first edition in 1910 and you won’t find a hangman’s noose anywhere.

Howsomever… In the category of “boys will be boys,” it’s not uncommon for “the smart kid” to show “the new kid” how to tie one, but the Boy Scouts has no “exclusivity” in this arena… I remember being shown how at a YMCA camp, when I was ten years old. I remember thinking it was sorta cool to know how, but I didn’t tie one after the first, because there’s really nothing you can do with it!

Are you feeling better now? I hope so!

Hello Andy,

My troop wants to do a high adventure trip next summer—We want to go to a non-BSA high adventure company. What training do we need to have to do this? I do know that it all depends on the chosen activity; however, my understanding of the GTSS is that any water-related activity must follow the Safety Afloat and Safe Swim Defense mandates, and it doesn’t matter where you go. But, in asking my council, I’m told that since we’re contacting with a commercial high adventure company, we’ll be literally signing a contract and we do not have to follow BSA policy if we’re using their guide (if there’s no guide provided, then we do stick with BSA policies). I’ve asked for this in writing because it goes against everything in the GTSS, The Tour and Expeditions book, the Health & Safety Guide and the Camp Health & Safety Guide. Of course, council couldn’t back this up in writing—They said it’s “out there somewhere” but didn’t know where to find it in writing. What’s your take on this? Is my council giving me totally wrong advice? To me, it is setting up a troop for trouble if I follow my council’s advice. (Name & Council Withheld)

The reason you won’t find this “in writing” in any of the literature you examined is that it’s clearly outside the realm of BSA activities. You’re signing on with a commercial operation, the way any group would, be it Scouts, the YMCA, Joe’s Fishing Club, a group of buddies, or whatever, and all BSA guidelines and policies are supplanted by the operator’s, just as all liabilities accrue to the operator.

Dear Andy,

My twin sons are about to have their Eagle boards of review, and I’d like to something special for their invitations. I’m wondering if the Eagle Scout logo clip art on the USSSP website is copyrighted, because I’d like to use it at and have custom stamps made up. Is that something that can be done? (Leslie)

I’m guessing that you mean court of honor (the event where they actually receive their medals). Yes? If so, you can purchase some very nice Eagle invitations at your local Scout Shop or at The stamps are a cute idea! Just pull what you need in the clipart section (that’s why it’s there) and go to–No one’s gonna get arrested! Congratulations to your sons!

Dear Andy,

My Webelos Scout son will be crossing over to Boy Scouting soon, and I’ve been reading up on Scouting. I’m wondering about advancement and merit badges: Can a Scout do these on his own, or is it all through the troop? (Cindy Cali, Otetiana Council, NY)

The Boy Scout program isn’t “Cub Scouts, but in tan”—There’s no “Webelos III.” Where, as a Cub Scout, your son earned Wolf and Bear and Arrow Points 99% with you, his parents, this changes dramatically in Boy Scouting. The Webelos program gets him ready for this, because in this program 99% of the advancement for the Webelos and Arrow of Light badges, and the activity badges, are done in his den, with his Den Leader. When he becomes a Boy Scout, he’ll be working on advancements within the troop—with his Patrol Leader, his Senior Patrol Leader (boys, like himself), and his Scoutmaster. Read your son’s BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK—especially the front dozen or so pages—to get a good handle on this. The reason for this change is to help and guide boys and young men from “dependence” to independence and, ultimately, to inter-dependence. Best wishes to your son — a great adventure lies ahead!

Hi Andy,

I’ve read the book. Thanks, but, as a Boy Scout, is he able to do the advancement part on his own. I understand that they do merit badges together as a troop at summer camp, but can he advance on his own? For instance, if he’s out sick or has another commitment, and the troop goes over some kind of advancement at their troop meeting, can he catch up with something simple, like “native plants,” or something else that’s already covered in the handbook, so that he can catch up to the rest?

The very best bet, once he’s joined the troop of his choice, is for him (not you) to speak with his Scoutmaster about advancement and fulfilling rank requirements.

Dear Andy,

It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve been to a Boy Scout summer camp. Now I’m taking 19 Scouts for fun and adventure in the Colorado mountains. What would be the “Top Ten” tips for a Scoutmaster to have or bring or do for camp, to “Be Prepared.” I tried looking for tips on the Web with no luck. This is my first big trip with these Scouts, and it’s a week long! I’m feeling in the dark, and some words of advice would be greatly appreciated. (T.A. Rosko, SM, Western Colorado Council)

That’s one tall order you’re asking for here! But, I like challenges, so here goes—Here’s my own personal “Top Ten Things to Bring” for summer camp…

1. A good sense for what’s safe to do and what’s not.
2. A sense of humor and good fun, and “boy-spirit.”
3. A well-trained Senior Patrol Leader, who will be in charge of the troop at all times unless there’s a safety issue or emergency, at which point he instantly defers to you.
4. As few other adults as possible (this isn’t a “Dad n’ Lad Outing”).
5. The “Ten Essentials” with a well-sharpened knife.
6. A weather radio (with earplug).
7. Extra rope (nylon or other flexible synthetic), a pulley, and a small American flag.
8. A pillow you’re comfortable with.
9. Big batches of inexpensive patches, small candies, etc., as prizes for patrols when they win campsite inspections and other inter-patrol competitions.
10. A Boy Scout Handbook (and the old, brown-covered FIELDBOOK, if you can find one).

Happy Scouting!


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(July 27 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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