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Issue 142 – August 3, 2008

In my last column, Laurie Joyce, Group Adviser of the First Braidwood Scout Group in New South Wales, Australia, asked about a short movie about a patrol of Scouts who get transported back in time to B-P and the siege of Mafeking. I asked if anyone had ever heard of this and, Lo, a response! Here it is…

Hi Andy!

I’m thinking maybe the “movie” Laurie Joyce asked about isn’t actually a movie but one episode of an old serial… Back in the 30’s, there were two that I know of: “Young Eagles” and “Scouts to the Rescue.” I’ll bet that an episode in one of those—I’m betting on “Scouts to the Rescue,” which had plot lines like that—is what we’re looking for here! (David Lloyd Merrill, DC, Gulf Stream Council, FL)

Thanks! Anyone else…?

Hey Andy,

Can you recommend a system that could help us Scoutmasters know who we can and can’t release a Scout to?

This summer at camp, we had a divorced dad show up to pick up his son (a day early, without early notice), meanwhile, mom is the one who sent the Scout to camp. Any help would be great! (Rick Jurgens, SM, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

This may no so much be a need for a “system” or “formal procedure” as it points up the need to understand your Scouts’ family situations. Let’s first agree that a “divorced dad” is still Dad, just like a “divorced mom” is still Mom. Suppose they weren’t divorced… Nothing wrong with one parent handling the drop-off and the other handling the pick-up, even if a day early, right? So this isolates “divorce” as the problematic area, because you don’t know who has custodial rights, right? Well, the good news is that that’s not your problem. If the parents themselves haven’t informed you, so long as you’re releasing a minor to the care of a parent, you’ve done what you should do. If the parents are having a problem, this is up to them to solve. In fact, I’d probably stay away from a “system” so as to not insinuate the troop’s adult leaders into a situation that, if it gets messy, will get real messy! That said, remember that I’m not a lawyer, so this doesn’t represent legal advice. I’m doing my best to apply good sense, but I could be mistaken! Is it worth further checking out? Depends on how many Scouts in your troop are in this situation, I suppose. But it’s definitely worth an eyeball-to-eyeball chat with that particular mom and dad, so that everyone’s on the same page from now on.

Hey Andy,

Is there a syllabus for Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioners? (Chuck Porter, Mississippi Valley Council, IL)

Sure is! If you want a training syllabus or 12-month program planning guide, ask your council Scout Shop for them! They’re pretty inexpensive!

Dear Andy,

My question’s a bit of a twist on the “can a boy earn Eagle too quickly” issue. An older boy—he’s 16—just joined our troop. He’s very excited about earning Eagle rank and very motivated to make it. He went from not being able to swim a stroke to being able to pass the First Class BSA swimmer test in about a month. The troop wants to help him as much as we can; however, I’m worried about some of the time requirements. As I read the requirements, he’ll have to be First Class four months before his 17th birthday and then Star right on that date, or sooner. Right now, he’s only about two-and-a-half weeks away from the First Class deadline, and still has many requirements to finish up. Our Chartered Organization head and representative are also interested in helping this young man, and they’re asking me: If he misses one of these timing deadlines by, let’s say, a few weeks, can he still get his Eagle? I’ve told them that I understood the time requirements to be unchangeable… Am I correct on that?

I’m trying to let this young man know that Eagle is a great goal, but even making it to Life, Star, or First Class is a tremendous accomplishment for anyone, especially someone starting when he’s over 16! Please let me know your thoughts. (Scott Mehr, SM, Middle Tennessee Council)

Very rare are the exceptions to a Scout’s 18th birthday made by the BSA National Council, and almost always relate to either a severe and well-documented disability or a circumstance well beyond the Scout’s ability to control (e.g., long hospitalization, or something akin). If I had to guess, joining late wouldn’t be among the considerations given latitude in this area.

This young man’s goal is commendable, and I’m hoping he extends every effort to complete his First Class requirements so that he can have his board of review several days before his 17th birthday (he’s going to need a few “cushion days” if at all possible. As with all Boy Scout advancement, this is pretty much up to him. He’ll definitely need to “hit the numbers” for tenure-in-rank, and the best support the troop can give him is to prepare for his boards of review well in advance, so that they happen right on schedule with no unfortunately delays. His board of review for Eagle, however, can take place after his 18th birthday, but his Life rank review must absolutely be at least six months before that birthday—even a day missing can cost him his tenure requirement.

(For a perspective on the 98 Scouts in a hundred who aren’t Eagles, please read my November 2002 column-Issue No. 6.)

Dear Andy,

I’ve been serving as an adult leader in a troop and have just received an ID card that says I’m a committee member. What exactly does that mean? I usually attend functions as an additional pair of eyes-and-ears and help out whenever needed or as assigned by the Scoutmaster.

I was a Cub Scout as a kid but want to be more involved with my son now. Should I get a Class A uniform with a committee patch on it? (Travis, Tri-State Area Council, WV/OH/KY)

Your question’s a good one and there are two ways to get the best answer possible… Get yourself a copy of the Scoutmaster Handbook or Troop Committee Guidebook and do a little reading, or—better yet—sign up for training in your specific position! That said, you may need to re-think your situation, and change your registration. Talk to the Scoutmaster about changing over from committee member to Assistant Scoutmaster.

Boy Scouting, you also need to keep in mind, isn’t about “getting involved with your son.” This is his adventure; it’s not a “Dad n’ Lad” adventure. You can observe from a distance, but this ain’t Cub Scouts or Indian Guides, and parent-to-son “bonding” isn’t what Boy Scouts is about! Share memories and compare notes about campouts and such, but don’t share the tent!

Dear Andy,

Where do you wear Palms on your uniform? (Lisa Oatman)

Palms aren’t worn on the uniform of a Boy Scout; they’re pinned to the ribbon of his Eagle medal, which is worn at courts of honor and other special ceremonial occasions and events.

Hi Andy,

I’ve gotten mixed answers but can’t find anything definite: Is it true that a Scout can do no more than three merit badges with any one counselor? (Lara Reibold)

No, that’s not true. Whoever told you that is mistaken. It is, in fact, a BSA policy that a Scout can earn an unlimited number of merit badges from the same registered Merit Badge Counselor.

(Next time you get two different answers to the same question, or something that just doesn’t seem to ring true, you have every right to ask to see it in writing by the BSA.)

Dear Andy,

I’m having an issue in our troop about Scouts working on merit badges, and I hope you can give me some advice…

In my Scoutmaster training, a question was raised about being a Merit Badge Counselor for your own son. It was clarified to me in training that you can sign on your own son’s merit badge requirements; however, BSA guidelines suggest that your son have a buddy take the merit badge with him.

My son worked for nearly two years on various merit badges. The only ones he was able to finish were those offered at a “merit badge college.” He asked his troop, he asked his buddies, but either he picked merit badges that most of the Scouts already had, or he picked ones that they weren’t interested in (even though he was). So, he wound up with a bunch of “partials” that just sat around because he couldn’t get a buddy to work with him.

So, after waiting and waiting, I went ahead and on his merit badges with him—as a counselor—being sure to photo-document everything he did, so no one could suggest we were just “pencil-whipping” the requirements.

But, when he turned in his signed-off Blue Cards, he was told that his troop wouldn’t recognize those merit badges because he didn’t work with a buddy. When I inquired about this supposed stipulation, the troop’s advancement chair at first said it was a BSA policy, but when he produced “hard copy” to quote the policy, it turned out that it wasn’t a policy after all, so the story was changed to it being a “troop policy” that you had to have a buddy. I counter-argued that doing this constituted changing a national policy—essentially, they were adding to each merit badge a requirement that “you must work on this with a buddy.”

Even when this situation was taken to an extreme, to whit, my son was diagnosed with cancer and had to be in complete isolation (giving him lots of time to work on the less physically-oriented merit badges), he was told that his work wouldn’t be honored unless he worked with a buddy, even though he couldn’t leave the hospital and was not permitted visitors in his room.

So, can you please clarify this situation? I do think that Scouts should try to work with others on their merit badges, as group dynamics and communication is a life-skill, but when the situation just doesn’t work out, or no one else is interested in Nuclear Science, a boy shouldn’t be forced to forego earning that merit badge, and credit should be given if he takes the initiative and works on it even if alone. (Stewart “Sarge” Morrison, MBC, Circle 10 Council, TX)

I’m going to assume that you’re not only a registered Merit Badge Counselor, but you’re also listed for the ones you counseled your son on. That being the case, it’s plain that your son’s troop needs some reeducation:

The BSA is very specific as to who may be a buddy for a Scout wishing to earn a merit badge—It may be any one of these three: Another Scout, a relative (e.g., parent, aunt or uncle, brother, cousin), or a friend (neighbor, classmate, etc.). This is so stated on page 187 of the Boy Scout Handbook. This is further stated in any edition of the Boy Scout Requirements books (in the current edition, it’s on page 22): “Scout Buddy System…This person can be another Scout, your parents or guardian, a brother or sister, a relative, or a friend.”

Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures (No.33088C), page 13, contains this statement: An approved Merit Badge Counselor may counsel any youth member, including his or her own son, ward, or relative.”

Number of Same-Counselor Merit Badges (this one’s “just in case…”)
On the same page as noted immediately above, this statement: “There is no limit on the number of merit badges a youth may earn from one counselor.”

Superseding BSA National Policy
No individual, unit, district, or council may establish a policy that supersedes BSA national policy.

The unhappy conclusion to be drawn is that this troop, while possibly trying to be well-meaning, is totally incorrect in its understanding of both what a merit badge buddy is and as regards setting itself above the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Because of these misunderstandings of BSA policy, this troop has done your son any number of disservices, both now and in the past. It would behoove the adult volunteers of that troop to not only offer your son an apology, but also to apologize to every other Scout who has been stymied by arbitrary “rules” set in place by ill-informed adults who have failed in their responsibility for knowing these aspects of the program they’re supposed to be delivering.

Thanks—I appreciate the clarification. Do you have time for another?

Does the BSA have a policy on what constitutes “service hours” for rank requirements? I’m asking because our Scoutmaster has said that only hours earned at Eagle projects (i.e., helping another Scout with his Eagle project) and at troop cleanups (our troop has “adopted” a creek that we clean up quarterly) can be used toward rank requirement. This “troop policy” has discouraged a lot of Scouts who have volunteered their time at Cub Scout and Webelos camps and church camps like Vacation Bible School, and other Scouts as well, who have worked on city emergency preparation projects and even fundraising and volunteer work for local charities, and who are now being told none of these hours spent in service to the community can be counted toward their next ranks. Now the rank requirement does say that the service must be approved by the Scoutmaster, but this seems different from the kind of limit that’s being put on service, with no exceptions permitted.

I’ve been looking for some clarification on this. Can you help me out again? (Sarge)

I always have time! That’s what I’ve been here for, for the past seven years!

The best definition of what the BSA National Council considers service appropriate for approval by a Scoutmaster is right on page 88 of…you guessed it…the Boy Scout Handbook. Here’s an excerpt (you can read it in its entirety by borrowing your son’s handbook): “Service…can take many forms—community cleanup; repairing a church, a museum, or the home of an elderly person; improving wildlife habitat; volunteering at a hospital or with a public safety group; organizing a recycling effort; cleaning up a neighborhood lot or park; or any of a thousand other possibilities.” Nowhere does the BSA stipulate that service hours must be only Eagle projects; moreover, only the Eagle project stipulates that this may not be for the BSA or Scouting—therefore, volunteering at a Cub Scout day camp is absolutely appropriate for all Scouts except Eagle candidates.

Once again, the erstwhile adults supposedly responsible for this troop have it wrong. As a result, they are damaging the Scouting experience for the youth they are supposed to be serving. At this point, I’m obliged to say shame on them. If they’re not willing to openly apologize to the Scouts for their stultifying mistakes, and correct their errors, get your son and every one of his friends out of that troop immediately, and help get them into a troop that’s delivering the Scouting program as written.

To give you some background, the troop’s leaders (the adults, that is) got worried because we had a huge decline in Scouts attending the creek cleanups and Eagle projects; however, I think that maybe adding an incentive to participate in these areas would be better than refusing to recognize any other service project type. And we did have a father-and-son working on merit badges a while back, and it was determined that they had “pencil-whipped” more than half of the badges instead of the Scout earning them correctly—that’s how that policy of having a buddy when counseling your own son got put into effect. So although I can see where they’ve come from with this, I think they’re taking the wrong direction and setting the wrong example for the Scouts. (Sarge)

In the first place, Scouts aren’t the only helps an Eagle candidate can have for his project, and it’s not up to the troop to recruit a candidate’s helpers, anyway—that’s part of the candidate’s job, and he can recruit friends, classmates, neighbors, anyone he wants. (I knew an Eagle candidate who recruited the entire girls’ cheer-leading squad from his high school as his helpers!) On troop service projects, this is for the Patrol Leaders Council to decide, so that the Scouts have an “emotional investment” in the project. Without this, who gives a rat’s you-know-what!?!?

As for “pencil-whipping” merit badges, the troop isn’t the watchdog; the district and council advancement committees are responsible for the quality of merit badge counseling. Besides, the only “loser” in a situation where the merit badge is a gimme is the Scout himself (he got short-changed)—no one else. So, regardless of rationale, justifiable or not, a troop simply can’t enforce its own rules in a way that supersedes national policies.

Dear Andy,

Can the service hour requirement for Citizenship in the Community merit badge count toward rank advancement service hours? In looking for the answer to this, I read some of your earlier Q&A’s and I’m confused on the merit badges needed for Eagle Palms. In my son’s handbook, there are only five spaces to write in each of the additional merit badges for the respective Eagle Palm. It also states “Earn five additional merit badges beyond those required for the Eagle rank.” On the others, Eagle is replaced by “Silver Palm” and “Gold Palm.” (Sandy Scharpenberg)

On your first question, take a look at how Cit-Community’s req. 7(c) is stated: “With your counselor’s and your parent’s approval…” Now, take a look at how Second Class req. 4, Star req. 4, and Life req. 4 are stated: “Participate in an approved…/…approved by your Scoutmaster.” Notice that the merit badge service and the rank service are approved by different people? This tells us that the Boy Scouts has different service projects and time in mind. So, it’s a reasonable conclusion that one isn’t a substitute for the other.

About your Eagle Palms confusion… Notice that there are three Palms: Bronze, for the first 5 merit badges you earn after the 21 needed for Eagle (total=26); Gold, for the second group of 5 merit badges you earn after the 21 for Eagle and the 5 for the Bronze Palm (total=31); and then Silver, for the 5 merit badges you earn after the 21 for Eagle and the 10 for the first two Palms (total=36). After the Silver Palm, if you earn 5 more (total=41), you get to wear both a Bronze and a Silver Palm, and then earn 5 more and you get to wear a Gold and a Silver Palm, and so on. Got it? OK!

Hello Andy,

It states in the Emergency Preparedness merit badge book, “1. Earn the First Aid merit badge.” The question is: Can a Scout work on this and the First Aid merit badge at the same time at camp? (In looking at the requirements for Emergency Preparedness, it doesn’t seem there’s much that requires the knowledge from First Aid merit badge in order to learn the Emergency Preparedness material.) (Bob Geiser, ASM, Golden Empire Council, CA)

Sure he can! So long as he completes First Aid and can show his signed-off “Blue Card” to his counselor for Emergency Preparedness, it’s a done deal!

Hi Andy,

My husband and I have just been asked to be the Scout leaders for the troop at our church. We’re happy to do this—we’ve raised three sons successfully—but we’re really clueless about what we need to do and where to start. We have one boy in our group right now and are expecting two more in the next couple weeks. The one boy that we have has already worked his way through the majority of the First Class requirements and will be starting on his Star requirements shortly. I have a Boy Scout Handbook and that’s it. (Karen Meyer)

I don’t know how big a town you’re in or how big a church… are you in a stake or a branch? At any rate, do have a conversation with the bishop who called you in the first place or, in his absence, your stake president. Let him know that you’re interested and willing to run the Scouting program according to Hoyle, but you’re going to need some backup till you get your legs under you. Maybe there’s a previous Scoutmaster or other troop volunteers who can help you out for a while? Or, maybe there’s someone at the district level of the local council (a district is a geographic sub-area of a council, that provides direct service to all Scouting units) who can help—ask for a Unit Commissioner who has experience with smaller troops to be assigned to you. Next, find out what the council’s training schedule is, and get yourselves signed up! This will be the most valuable and important thing you can do! While you’re waiting for your training dates, get yourselves a copy of the Scoutmaster Handbook. You don’t have to read it in page-order… Read the front-end, and then pick and choose. Read up on advancement, so you know what your Scouts are doing, then keep going! That should get you started… Take care of these items, and then write to me again. Let me know what you’ve been able to accomplish, and then we’ll take a look at what else you can do to make this work!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster with a “situation.” Here’s the scenario…

A 16 year old Life Scout who holds the Quartermaster position, attends only about three or four troop meetings over a year period and doesn’t go on any campouts or extra-meeting activities except once, for a one-night “lock-in”—basically, he put Scouts “on hold”—has reappeared for a couple of meetings, completed his merit badges, done his Eagle project, and now wants his Scoutmaster’s Conference, since he’s completed all other requirements for Eagle.

Oh, by the way, back when we did his Life rank Scoutmaster Conference, I asked him to show more leadership skills for an additional three months before I signed him off. (Previously, his attitude and language weren’t Scout-like and he picked on other Scouts, leading some to leave the troop and Scouting). He was counseled on those things.) As a result, he was stellar for three months and got his Life. But soon after that he stopped coming to meetings, until just recently. He’s told people (myself included) that he won’t be asking any of the leaders for a reference and some of the more veteran leaders have said he’s “not Eagle-worthy.” His parents really want him to be an Eagle Scout, and he does too, since he may apply to a service academy and it would look good on his resume. Several issues such as leadership, being active, and even legalities are in question. Also, the younger Scouts are watching the situation, too. Your advice? (Joe Johnson)

Let’s start with the Scoutmaster’s Conference for Life. It happened, it’s done and passed. Can’t re-live it. Can’t use it as a torpedo to sink this Scout’s ship now. It’s water under the bridge.

Then, for his next three to four months, he was a “model Scout.” But somebody let him slip away, back into his “old habits,” perhaps. Was that his Scoutmaster? Maybe. Because Scouts don’t conference with their Scoutmasters only when it’s time for rank advancement. The conferencing process is continuous and continual. Conferences can last up to 15 minutes, but sometimes just a couple of minutes is all that’s needed. They don’t have to be at troop meetings, either. There’s nothing wrong with the phone, to say, “Hey, we need to yak a bit… Come on to the next troop meeting so we can get together for a little while.” Then there’s also the Assistant Scoutmaster (or Scoutmaster if there’s no Assistant) to whom the Quartermaster reports and works with… What happened to him? What happened to the mentoring and guidance this Scout’s supposed to be given on an ongoing basis? Can’t use “well, the Scout didn’t show up” as an excuse for not reaching out to him and keeping him actively involved in the running of the troop!

You see, what you’re telling me here, also, is that, for an entire year, nobody in the troop ever reached out to this young man, either.

What others might think of his “worthiness” is, of course, irrelevant. If this young man has duly completed the requirements for a rank, then he’s earned that rank. The purpose of the Scoutmaster’s Conference is to prepare the Scout for his board of review; it’s not for the Scoutmaster to be “the gatekeeper’s last resort.”

As for “the legalities” of his eligibility for rank advancement, I’m assuming you’re referring to the consideration of “active.” The long and short of it is that so long as this Scout is duly registered as a dues-paid member of the troop, he’s considered active. (Don’t try to use this as a way to defer sending this Scout to his board of review, and the board of review cannot “ding” this Scout on the basis of whether or not they happen to consider him active—If this should happen, the Scout has the right to appeal the decision, and that appeal will succeed.)

As for references, whatever names he lists on his Eagle application should be adhered to, and should be invited to comment by a totally neutral party, in my estimation, lest there be unintended backwash or innuendo.

All of the forgoing not withstanding, you and your troop’s adult leaders, and the members of his board of review, have the absolute right (if not actual obligation) to ask this young man about “Life after Eagle”! In other words, what are his plans and goals, as a potential Eagle Scout, to contribute to his troop and his fellow Scouts after he’s an Eagle Scout? On this, you have every right to expect specifics from him, such as, “I’d like to be our troop’s next Senior Patrol Leader,” or, “As a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, I’d like to take on the special assignment of…” Now you can’t demand that he do this, but you can certainly alert him, in your Scoutmaster’s Conference, that the board of review will be listening carefully to what he says here in order to assess whether or not he’s truly “Eagle material in spirit and commitment.” (Are you getting my drift here…?)

The other question to ask, of course, is “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a definite yes and 1 being a definite no, what number best describes how well you’re living by the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life?” If the number’s less than, say, 7, you might want to ask him what he’s going to do in the next 30 days, 60 days, whatever, to change that number to a 9 or 10. Then, stick with him closely, so that he succeeds, because our “job” is to help young men like this succeed.

Dear Andy,

My son will be staying out-of-state for most of the summer, but he’ll be connected with a troop while he’s staying there. Can he have his Scoutmaster Conference and board of review for his next rank with that troop instead of his “home troop”?

I have a copy of his individual progress report and his history, showing that all he needs signed off are Scout spirit and Scoutmaster Conference, then he’ll be ready for his board of review. At his last meeting with our home troop before he left, he was busy getting a Blue Card signed off by the counselor, and getting the ones he wanted to work on while away signed by the Scoutmaster. He wants to get this rank finished so that he can get working on the next one. I’ll check with his home Scoutmaster and make sure he’s OK with this first (I don’t want to step on his toes), if you say it can be done. (Tricia Barber, Longhorn Council)

I’m guessing you’re talking about Star rank. First, this is definitely not for you to do—this is for your son to do. This is how boys grown into young men—by taking responsibility for their own destiny. If he’s away already, he can call his home Scoutmaster and describe the situation. His Scoutmaster just might be willing to do a conference over the phone, and the board of review might be done over the phone, as well. But this is between your son and his Scoutmaster, and the troop committee. If the answer’s no, it’s not the end of the world. At the most, your son will “lose” maybe a month to a month-and-a-half of possible “tenure in rank,” and this certainly isn’t horrible. Meanwhile, he can start earning the merit badges he’ll need for Life! Trust me, please… Let your son grow up a little more when he does this for himself! (It’s tough to not do this yourself, but it’s worth it!)

Hello USSSP and Andy,

I have a uniform question that, even after much research, I can’t find an answer to. I hope you can help!

I have been told two different answers regarding Cub Scouts saluting the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance. I know that if a Cub Scout is not in uniform, he places his hand over his heart while saying the Pledge. What about a boy who’s in full uniform, except for his hat? A fellow Scouter said that as long as he’s either wearing the hat alone or the rest of the uniform (everything complete except hat), that he may salute, but the other Scouter said that the boy must be in full uniform, including his hat, in order to salute.

The confusion came about during a flag ceremony at school. All the Cubs were asked to come in uniform, except for hats, due to school policy. Half thought they should salute; he other half thought they shouldn’t.

Please clear up this puzzle so I can teach the Cub Scouts and leaders the appropriate rules. (Holly Ciani, CM)

First, here’s what out Netcommish had to say…

You have a question that I’m sure is asked often in Cub Scouting. Whether or not a person salutes the U.S. Flag is determined by the words in the federal law—sometimes called the U.S. Flag Code at 2 U.S.C. 172. The code specifies:

“The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, ‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’, should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.”

In Scouting, we’ve historically interpreted the “should” in “should remain silent” as a recommendation; not an absolute. Scouts not in the color guard generally will recite the pledge. Whether or not the color guard does so varies from place to place in practice.

The only thing the law says is “Persons in uniform” with respect to uniforming. It does not say military uniform, Boy Scout uniform, etc. or “complete uniform.” Had Congress intended to say “complete uniform” it could easily have done so, but it did not. Similarly, Congress did not define what constitutes a uniform.

Generally, I think we should encourage complete uniforms as a Scouting method, but as to saluting the colors, it seems to me that the important thing is to encourage citizenship through participating in the salute and learning respect. If I had a pack or troop of poor Scouts who could only afford a hat and neckerchief, I would have them salute because the act of participation instills citizenship values.

My own commentary is…

I’ve developed a different approach to stuff like this—It’s come about because I’m becoming an impatient curmudgeon when it comes to Scouters spouting off to other Scouters about “stuff” they purport to be ultimate gospel when for all we know they could be absolutely clueless. So, when we hear something that conflicts with either good sense (not “common” sense), or what we’ve known to be that way pretty much forever, or what we’ve actually read about in BSA literature, then instead of getting all confused or befuddled, and instead of either digging in to prove or disprove what was said, or trying to get someone else to do our work for us, here’s what we do: We say to the person who has just expressed his or her infinite knowledge of all things Scouting and shared it from the bottom of their pea-pickin’ li’l heart: “Oh, really? That’s sort of interesting. What’s your source? Say, why don’t you show that to me in BSA literature or some other authoritative writing, so I can see it for myself. Oh? You can’t/won’t/whatever? Well, then I think I’ll just keep on keepin’ on, and thank you for your time.”

I’ve also grown weary of the “I’ve been told…Blah, blah, blah” routine, without identification of the “authority” who did the original blabbin’ —
As to the actual question, let’s spin it even further… Suppose there’s a slight dent in the hat: Would this constitute a “non-hat”? Or what if a boy’s socks aren’t “official” socks… does he not salute? Can we possibly get more petty?

Here’s the real deal: SALUTE! This is the American Flag, and we’re American Scouts—the backbone of the country. End of story.

Dear Andy,

As a District Commissioner, I’ve been asked about conduct policies—specifically, are conduct policies or a code of conduct established and adopted by unit leadership a violation of BSA policy?

I’ve found that many units have a code of conduct or conduct policy of some type. I have a unit that’s looking to put a policy in place to deal in a consistent way with some issues they’re having, and to let the boys and more importantly their parents know how the unit will go about dealing with disciplinary problems that may arise. There’s one leader who vehemently opposes any such policy and is making many seemingly outlandish claims, including: It’s a violation of BSA policy, it nullifies and voids BSA insurance, it represents a contract which opens up the unit and BSA to law suits, it cripples the ability of unit leaders to deal with disciplinary problems creatively, it undermines the Scout Oath and Law, it will drive Scouts out of the unit and out of Scouting, no one else is doing this.

I’m relatively new to my position, and this issue was never addressed in my training. I can’t seem to find any policy statement from BSA on this subject. I want to give people accurate facts, so they can make a good and informed decision. Could you please help me out. (John Heimann, DC, Daniel Webster Council, NH)

This is one excellent question, and here’s the good news: The BSA has already written all the policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and bylaws that any unit could ever possibly need, and so there’s absolutely no purpose in developing more of these by any unit, for any reason. If these good people simply turn to Chapter 11 of the Scoutmaster Handbook, and re-read it, and then follow it, all of their concerns should evaporate.

I recall the Scoutmaster of a parallel Jamboree troop, some years back, who issued edict after edict, including the “disciplinary action” that would occur for each type of “infraction” and “incident.” The Scouts loved it! They loved it because they immediately set about doing stuff he hadn’t though of, and when he tried to “apply discipline,” their retort was, “You didn’t say we couldn’t do that!” and he was totally flummoxed! We in our troop watched him tear his hair out for a couple of days, and then wandered over, sat down and chatted with him. We convinced him to simply announce to his troop, “The only ‘rules’ for the rest of the Jamboree with be these: Follow the Scout Oath and Law.” All of his supposed “discipline problems” immediately evaporated and the troop was just fine from then on.

Ever heard the story about the new Scoutmaster who met an old Scoutmaster at a crossroads? “Where ya goin’?” asked the old Scoutmaster. “I’m gonna meet up with my new troop,” the new Scoutmaster said, “But I’m a bit confused on which path to take… I’m told that if I go one way I’m gonna find a troop of wonderful, cooperative, happy Scouts, and if I go the other way I’m gonna run into a troop full o’ scalawags, nuisances, trouble-makers, and heck-raisers, and I’m not sure which way is which!” To which the old Scoutmaster responded, “Whichever way you go, you’ll find what you expect.”

Hello Andy!

I’ve always understood patch location rules to be the same no matter the gender inside the uniform (more precisely, I’d never considered that they would be different for any reason). Two of our female Commissioners proudly wear their National Camping School insignia above the Boy Scouts of America strip that’s above their right pocket. I’ve not said anything about this until recently, as while I’m a big “proper uniforming” guy, I am also not “the patch police,” and if Scouters are well-uniformed and have fun wearing what I’d call “reasonably placed” patches, I’m not going to be a curmudgeon. However, since we’ve got the new uniform coming out, I wanted to share with everyone some of the finer points of rules, so I boldly mentioned that, despite what the NCS folks might have told them, that patch doesn’t belong over the right pocket, but should be in the “temporary” location on the right pocket. Later, I came upon the following policy regarding temporary patches for women, which tells me that I have erred, and that there is a different placement for temporary insignia on women’s uniforms—they don’t go on the right pocket at all, but actually above the pocket. Here’s the excerpt, straight from the website: “Temporary Insignia: Female leaders wearing either the traditional yellow Cub Scout leader blouse, the optional tan leader blouse, or the Venturing blouse, may wear one temporary insignia centered above the Boy Scouts of America strip.” I also note that this is supported by the Adult Uniform Inspection form as well, and that I’ve missed it this entire time! So in addition to needing to letting our distaff Commissioners know I was wrong and they’ve got it spot-on correct, I thought I’d share this hyper hair-splitting hallmark of hilarity with you and, if you deem it worthy of note, your readers. (David Lloyd Merrill, DC, Gulf Stream Council, FL)

Yup, you got it right… And I agree with you on hair-splitting, especially since there are many women who staff National Jamborees, and now what do they do with their Jamboree patches? Oh the wonderful webs we weave, as if this were the most important topic of the day. Say, what about female Venturers who aren’t adult leaders—where do they wear their temporary patches? Whenever you open a can of worms, it always takes a larger can to get ’em all back in!

But, this stuff aside, my Commissioner cap’s off to you for one thing in particular: One of the most important qualities of a Commissioner is his or her ability to fess up when a mistake’s been made!

Dear Andy,

I while back, we discussed the issue of one of our Scouts wearing an old Boy Scout “garrison cap” with the current uniform and how our troop’s Committee Chair was giving him a hard time about this. Well, I talked to the Committee Chair and told him about your reply—How you said that, according to the BSA, any uniform part of any age is considered “official.” He still doesn’t believe me that it’s OK to mix the old with the current uniform, so I’m wondering if you can point me to where I can find this policy in writing, or who I’d contact, so that the Committee Chair would stop telling this Scout that he can’t wear this hat. (Amy Bosma)

It’s time to fight fire with water. Let’s turn the tables on this stick-in-the-mud: Insist that he shows you where the BSA says you can’t do this! And, until he does, the Scout wears what he wants. If he refuses to “cooperate,” he’s just lost all credibility, because in Scouting, it’s not a game of “because I say so.” Then, but only after you’ve presented your challenge, suggest that he call the local Scout shop. Duh!

Thanks, I’ll try that. Funny about contacting the Scout shop, because I just had a conversation about when the new uniform shirts are coming out, so we’ll effectively be mixing and matching old and new uniform parts anyway! I don’t get what he’s trying to prove, but I intend to get this guy off this Scout’s back! (Amy Bosma)

Talk about clueless when it comes to boys and what turns ’em on—and off! The guy’s breathtaking!

Dear Andy,

I’m the Advancement Chair for our troop and I’ve been asked to find a Merit Badge Counselor for Rifle Shooting. My candidate is a state-registered Certified Firearms Instructor and teaches the state-mandated gun safety classes for hunting licenses. But here’s the problem: The MBC requirements say he must be NRA-certified. Wouldn’t a certification by the state supersede the NRA? (Bob Shepard, Narragansett Council, RI)

Let the council advancement chair/committee solve that one—that’s their job! Ask your candidate to fill out the paperwork and submit it to your council service center. I’m gonna bet you dollars to donuts right now he gets approved!

Hi Andy,

My son’s a life Scout and was just elected to the OA this past year. Our OA lodge offers three ways to take the Ordeal: at the Spring Fellowship, at the Fall Fellowship, or at summer camp during one of the weeks that its being offered. Here’s the problem: My son is working on camp staff at another council, in another state! He missed the Ordeal at the Spring Fellowship because it coincided with his first day of work. Then, he’s also going to Philmont after his camp staff job wraps up, and will miss the Fall Fellowship. But the camp he works at offers an Ordeal every week, and his camp staff supervisor has given his OK to do this. What I’m wondering about is if the OA has a national policy that Ordeals need to be taken in the home lodge. Any ideas? (Jeff Kotz, ASM, Blackhawk Area Council, IL)

There’s no “national policy” like that that I’ve ever heard of, so if your son has permission, and the option to do this, he should definitely go for it, because there is a national policy that says if he doesn’t do his Ordeal within one year of the troop election, he’s forfeit and has to stand for election all over again. However, it would also not only be the proper courtesy but also in the Spirit of Scouting for him to have his own conversation about this with the chief of his home lodge.

Happy Scouting!


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(August 3, 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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