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Issue 147 – September 10, 2008

Dear Andy,

I just read your column on the Scout program in Iraq. I can say officially that being in the same council as Captain John Green is both a pleasure and an honor.

That our soldiers are attempting to re-establish the Scout program in Iraq is nothing more than phenomenal, and I especially hope that all council representatives across the country find their Captain John Green, Lieutenant Gregory Hembree, or other highly driven individual to lead the charge to re-energize scouting in Iraq.

To Captain Green, who visited at our council’s Commissioners meeting, you have our full support through our hearts and financially, too. To you, Andy, thank you so much for making this a special edition – It raises the awareness of and allows all of our soldiers to give more than just logistical support to a country and people long ravaged by tyrants and wars. (Matthew Price, BSRTC, Occoneechee Council, BSA)

Dear Andy,

I have a problem…I’m Senior Patrol Leader for my troop, and I’m three merit badges and a service project away from becoming an Eagle Scout. Considering I’ve been in Scouting for more than ten years, it’s something I greatly look forward to. However, when given my Eagle Scout forms to look at and fill out, I hit a little snag. Among the references needed on the form is a religious reference.

I’m not an atheist. I believe in God and live up to the Scout Oath by making sure to follow His example and encourage others to do the same. However, I don’t go to church. I did when I was in preschool, but no one in my family’s gone in a long while. I don’t discourage people from going —it can be a lovely thing—but I personally don’t believe I need to go somewhere every Sunday to make sure I keep up a good connection with God—I can do that well enough on my own. I know church is a lot more than that to some people, and I can understand why others go, but I personally believe in a more personal relationship with God.

What I’m trying to say is, I know there are many reasons why church may be beneficial to others, but I have no interest and have no intention of changing my mind. I’ve gone quite a few times since preschool and still feel the same way.

So, we come back to the problem of a religious reference. My troop’s leaders suggested that I just start going to church, but I’d feel dishonest with going just so I can get a reference from someone there, and then I’d feel guilty on top of that. I just don’t know what to do. If you have any ideas for me, I’d be greatly appreciative. (Scout’s Name & Council Withheld, BUT this correspondence copied to our Webmaster, for third-party observation)

Let’s see… You believe in God, you respect the religions and religious habits of others, and you know yourself and your personal relationship with God. Hmmm… Sorta difficult to ask for more than that! If more people held your beliefs and practices, we’d be a happier country!

Now going to a church, synagogue, or temple regularly works very well for some people, but as you and your troop leaders know, the Boy Scouts is absolutely non-sectarian when it comes to religion. Moreover, regularly (or even irregularly) attending church isn’t a “requirement” for any aspect of Boy Scout advancement.

As far as that line on your Eagle Scout rank application is concerned, an ordained minister, priest, or rabbi’s name is not required. The only thing that’s required is the name of someone who can attest to your religious beliefs. This person can be a relative, neighbor, or friend. It can even be a parent!

So, don’t let this hold you back or in any way intimidate you. There’s no “snag” at all! You’re doing fine! Just wrap up those merit badges and take care of your project!

Hi Andy,

I’ve got a tough one here that I’ve never had to handle before and I’m looking for some advice… I know what the BSA’s policy is on atheists and agnostics, but I just became Scoutmaster of a troop here in South Carolina, and in the course of getting to know everyone, I was introduced to one of the older Scouts… He seemed nice enough, but later on one of the adults who’s been with the troop for a couple of years told me that this Scout’s a professed agnostic. In fact, the story went on that he’d had quite a run-in with the previous Scoutmaster, and that he might be trouble. Of course, I was curious about how he’d been able to stay in the troop, being an admitted agnostic (I’ve been a Scoutmaster in a northern state for several years, but I’d never had to deal with this situation until now).

First, I don’t want to just flat remove this young man from the troop. I haven’t had a chance to speak with his parents about this, and, frankly, right now I’m only going off what others are telling me—the Scout himself hasn’t said anything about this—but I do have a Scoutmaster’s conference with him coming up soon. It’s for First Class, and I’m a little apprehensive about this situation if it comes up. You know, we all want to ensure our youth grow up with good morals, and I don’t want to dampen this kid’s spirit. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on how to handle this. (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course you already know that it’s absolutely not your job to “remove” any Scout from the troop, and so you don’t even think about this! And you also know that a wise man, as you are, takes all “hearsay” with a huge grain of salt. The first thing I’d wonder about is why this gentleman felt compelled to tell you about this particular Scout… Is there some other “agenda” operating here? Well, no sense wasting our time with that one… Hidden agendas always reveal themselves, eventually. So let’s move on…

Scoutmaster’s conferences aren’t just for advancement. They happen all the time, at every troop meeting, with as many individual Scouts as possible.

As a new Scoutmaster, it would be totally appropriate for you to have a “getting-to-know-you” conference with this Scout, and several others, one after the other, at your very next troop meeting. After all, with the Senior Patrol Leader running the actual meeting, you certainly have time to do this!

Keep it light and simple… Tell each Scout a little about yourself, first, to give ’em a “framework” or “template,” and then ask ’em about themselves. Home… school… favorite subject (least favorite)… what they like about the troop and being a Scout… you know the rest… After you’ve done a few of these with a couple of Scouts, just to get your feet wet, visit with this Scout. But stick to the same dialogue as the others. Don’t even bring up the religious thing. Just get to know him a little, and let him feel comfortable with you. 5 minutes per Scout; 10 at the most. Cover every Scout in the troop. See where this takes you.

But, just so it doesn’t slip through the cracks, what’s an “older Scout” still doing at only Second Class rank? Just how “old” are we talking about here?

He’s 17 (the troop, as I’m finding out, has had some problems with program delivery—for instance, in talking with our Senior Patrol Leader, it’s evident he’s never been taught even what the responsibilities of a SPL are!). (I’ve discovered that no one’s ever taken any training – That’s a gorilla in itself!) I don’t want this young man removed from the troop and, in the short conversation we’ve had so far, this religion point didn’t come up. My only concern is that, if this young man does bring up that he’s agnostic, and he’s serious about it, what steps do I take? Do I reach out to our District Executive, or turn it over to district and council, or give it to the troop committee (who have had no training)? I don’t want to see this young man out of Scouting but I’m not sure of my approach on this. I don’t remember Scouting being this hard when I was a boy.

Yup, it was a different world! But boys and young men really haven’t changed, although the world around them has changed. My wife, who taught this age-group for over 30 years, agrees that boys are still boys, but the toys and temptations have changed.

OK, now let’s get practical here…Scoutmaster to Scoutmaster. The kid’s 17… he ain’t makin’ Eagle in our lifetimes, right? Maybe he’ll make First Class, and maybe even Star, but that’ll be it. So let’s put our energy where it’s needed, and not go on some witch hunt and try to kick a kid out of Scouts after he’s hung in there for at least six years!

Does he say the Pledge of Allegiance and Scout Oath and Law at the opening ceremonies of your troop meetings? Yes? Well, brother, that’s good enough for me! The value of Scouting is that it sends torpedoes; not missiles. The torpedoes that are Scouting’s “hidden agenda” aren’t seen—they simply hit their targets when least expected. That’s how Scouting works: Those torpedoes send subtle messages about developing in mental and physical health, being a good and responsible citizen, and making the right sorts of decisions when we’re at an ethical crossroads. If Scouting is subtly doing these things for this young man, why in the world would we want to put a stop to this?

Relax… This is Boy Scouting; it’s not a corporation, the military, or a religious denomination. It’s OK to take a deep breath and relax. Besides, who’s to say next week that young man won’t decide to be something else, like a Buddhist? (No, I’m not joking—These are formative years where we test our own beliefs and we constantly test the people around us!)

Hey, that sounds great to me! I agree, and I’ll relax. You’re right: Based on his merit badge performance, being age 17, and still Second Class, it would definitely be tough to make Eagle. I’m satisfied. Thanks!

OK, and I’ll breathe a little easier now, too! Enjoy your new Scouting “job” — One of the very best there is.

I sense that you’ve got a troop that needs a bit more than Band-Aids, but less than outright surgery. Work with the youth — Get a PLC up and running, train your SPL and PLs, and I’ll bet dollars to donuts the rest will drop into place.

Hi again,

Well, just when I thought I could breath easier, I get thrown a curve. I was chatting with our District Executive last night and I mentioned the Scout you and I have been talking about, and the D.E. said, “Well don’t let any Jehovah’s Witnesses in, either!” I was floored! I understand that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, but they do believe in God. I’m beginning to think I’ve walked into some version of “Deliverance” but for Scouts! I haven’t seen any BSA policy against Jehovah’s Witnesses… Is there one?

To answer your question, of course the BSA doesn’t have any “policy” about Jehovah’s Witnesses—or any other religious group, for that matter! Scouting is FOR ALL BOYS. Just, for some boys, Scouting ain’t for them. And that’s OK, too.

But hey, what’d I say??? Let it go! You bring up stuff like this, you’re as bad as the guy who threw “hearsay” at you in the first place!

Cow poop don’t smell… unless we start kickin’ at it.

Dear Andy,

I am coming up for my Second Class board of review next week. At last week’s meeting, one of the men who will be on the board said I should bring rope, because I was going to be asked to tie knots. Is a board of review a retest? What should I do? Should I refuse to tie the knots and say that this isn’t supposed to be a retest (without trying to be a smart aleck) or do I just go along with what they want? (Scouts Name & Council Withheld, BUT Webmaster Cced)

Maybe whoever said “bring a rope” was joking or kidding with you—Let’s allow for that. What you want to do is ask. Call him up, and ask, “Were you joking with me, or are you really expecting me to tie knots for you all?” If he says he was joking, then give a little laugh and let it go at that. If he says he’s serious, then…

Print and show our emails to your parents first, and then to your Scoutmaster and your Troop Committee Chair and whoever is responsible for boards of review in your troop.

It is BSA policy that boards of review are expressly NOT for re-testing of any kind — Not for rank requirements and not for merit badges or any merit badge requirements. This is not a “troop option”—It is national policy. It has been in place from the very beginning of the BSA and has never changed.

Any board of review that even so much as asks you to tie a single knot or name a single point of the compass or show how to properly handle a knife or anything else along these lines is in absolute violation of BSA policy.

However, a board of review correctly conducted will definitely ask you about the learning process… where you learned the skill or acquired the knowledge, how it was conveyed to you, what you learned from it and what you learned about teaching others, and how you’re enjoying your Scouting experience so far.

Now if anyone “challenges” you, or what I’ve said here, they may take instruction from these words: “The review is not an examination. The Scout has already learned his skill and has been examined. This is a review. The Scout should be asked where he learned his skill, who taught him, and the value he gained from passing this requirement…The review also reveals what kind of experience the Scout is having in the troop” (Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures, pp. 27-28).

Dear Andy,

At my son’s troop meeting last night, the Scoutmaster asked why the word “two” is said after the Pledge of Allegiance. No one there knew the answer. Do you? (Chris Emler)

Ya gotta start readin’ more of my columns! “Two” is simply an abbreviation. “Two” means, “OK, y’all can put your hands down now.” Before we raise the flag, or say the Pledge of Allegiance, whoever’s leading the ceremony will say, “Salute,” which is the first of a two-count procedure, and all will do so. Then, on the flag reaching the top, or the completion of the Pledge, he’ll say, “Two,” which is the second count, and everyone drops their hands to their sides again. Mystery solved! Go to the head of the room!

Dear Andy,

Can a Scout wear the Eagle rank badge before he has a court of honor, but after final approval has come back to the council from the national office? Or, another twist to this question, what if the Scout decides not to have a court of honor—When would he be allowed to wear the Eagle rank badge? (Jeff Kern, SM, Gulf Coast Council, FL)

A Boy Scout can wear the oval Eagle rank badge as soon as it’s confirmed that he’s earned the rank. He can wear it until his 18th birthday.

On Eagle courts of honor: These certainly aren’t “mandatory” and, IMHO, the Eagle rank (as in, the medal) can and should be presented at a “normal” troop court of honor, right along with the other ranks, and merit badges, and so forth. But this in no way prohibits the rank badge from being worn beforehand, any more than all of the other ranks have a prohibition attached to them — Every rank’s badge, beginning at Tenderfoot, should be given to the Scout as quickly as humanly possible! And that’s not my opinion; it’s a BSA procedure!

Dear Andy,

We’re looking into starting a new Venture Crew in our area. We’ve read that membership is open to all girls and boys, ages 14 through 20, regardless of whether they’ve had previous experience in Scouting. We’ve also read that if a Boy Scout wants to join a Venture Crew and still wants to earn the BSA Eagle rank, that he needs to be a First Class Scout and hold dual registration as BSA and Venturer. Our question: Is it required that the Scout remain dual-registered as a Boy Scout and as a Venturer for the duration of the climb from First Class to Eagle rank? Please advise ASAP. (Name & Council Withheld)

Double-check this with your home council, but so long as a young man 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 advance in Boy Scout ranks. Simply, where it says “patrol” replace that with “crew” and where it says “Scoutmaster” replace that with “Crew Advisor” (Yup, even including “Scoutmaster Conference”), and everything stays perfectly “legal.”

Our District Executive says that if a Boy Scout is First Class rank and then joins Venture Crew, he needs to be dual-registered as a Boy Scout and as a Venturer and he’s required to attend his Boy Scout troop meetings and activities; however, once he’s Star rank, he can choose to drop the dual registration, as he no longer has to attend troop functions.

With all due respect, your District Executive is mistaken. According to the BSA website ( information, it’s sufficient to (a) hold the Boy Scout rank of First Class and (b) be a Venturer who is 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 the activities of a Boy Scout troop. The Sea Scout Manual (Sea Scouting is a branch within the overall Venturing program) states the same thing.

I still get the same answer from our District Executive: You must be a Star Scout before you can drop the dual registration. But all the books (Boy Scout Handbook, Venture/Ranger Handbook) say that if a Scout is First Class he can continue to Eagle whether he’s is with a troop only, dual-registered with a troop and crew, or is a Venturer only. Our District Executive says that Scouts need to stay dual-registered in their first year (which would be through the First Class rank). I believe he’s saying this because we need to ensure we don’t “hurt” the troop by taking away the older scouts that can help teach and mentor younger scouts, and because the crew may not have the same agenda to ensure the opportunities to earn the Eagle badges still needed to obtain the Eagle rank, and also in case a Scout transfers over to Venturing and discovers that he’s not that adventurous and would have rather just stayed with the troop.

That District Executive is seriously misinformed and, consequently, is not only misleading you, he’s misleading everyone in the district with questions similar to your own. This is reprehensible: This is not what we volunteers are paying for. Even if he’s promulgating misinformation for any of the reasons you guessed at, he’s still wrong, and is more wrong for misleading volunteers. Moreover, the reasons you expressed don’t happen to fit very well with the Venturing program. In the first place, every Venturing award requires teaching, and this is a perfect fit with the idea of younger Scouts learning from older youth in the program – There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Venturers visiting troop to teach skills to Scouts; in fact, the program encourages this. Second, if you’re referring to merit badges, these are earned based on the individual initiative of the young man; these are not part of a troop’s program. And, as for a Scout making a mistake and wanting to transfer back to his former troop, an application and a dollar are all that are needed.

Hi Andy,

I’m sure all packs go through issues regarding new leader retention and recruitment. I hope you can offer some advice to me. We have two Bear dens in our pack. I’m the leader of a den of seven; the other den just lost their Den Leader (the family moved out of town), leaving three boys. (Both dens started with about the same number as Tiger Cubs; mine has held together.) Our Committee Chair approached the fathers of the three leaderless Cubs, hoping one of them would step up—of course, they were all “too busy.” Now, there’s talk about merging that den into mine, creating a new den of ten boys. In my den, we have good participation from parents, so I guess the feeling is we’d still be able to provide a good Cub Scouting experience, but my feeling is that a den shouldn’t go over eight Cubs or the program suffers. Any thoughts? (Tony Salgado, Green Mountain Council, VT)

No dice! Don’t take those three boys, period, end of story. You’re not obliged to and no one can in any way twist your arm to. Instead, the Committee Chair needs to simply round up the three families of the other den and tell ’em straight out: Unless one or more of you steps up to the plate, your sons will have no Den Leader and therefore will not be Cub Scouts any longer. These parents need to be told point-blank that this is their own responsibility and no one else’s. To shirk their responsibility to their own sons while having no qualms about creating a burdensome situation for you is double-bad news!

Dear Andy,

I’d like to commend you for all the effort you devote to your column. My question pertains to one of the requirements for Citizenship in the Nation merit badge. A large number of our Scouts returned from camp this summer with partials this one, so I agreed to register as a Counselor for it, to facilitate those who wished to complete it.

The Scouts are doing great with the remaining requirements; however, I’m finding myself in a dilemma. Requirement 8 says, “Name your two senators and the member of Congress from your congressional district. Write a letter about a national issue and send it to one of these elected officials, sharing your view with him or her. Show your letter and any response you receive to your counselor.” My take on the last sentence is that the requirement’s not complete till the counselor is shown a copy of the response.

I discovered this before I was contacted by any of the Scouts. I asked several of the troop’s leaders what they thought, and the majority felt that as soon as the Scout’s letter was presented to me that the requirement was met, because there’s no guarantee that the Scout will receive a response. To this, I disagreed—I feel that the representatives would respond, but it might take some time. I understand the “no more and no less” rule, and fully agree with it. I feel that signing off after a Scout sends his letter would be accepting less than what’s required. I also feel that I’d be adding to the requirement if I were to determine that a reasonable time had elapsed and sign the requirement off, because I don’t feel the Scout should be penalized for a representative failing to respond. After all, the requirement doesn’t say anything about what might constitute a reasonable time.

Right now, I have several Scouts who have done absolutely everything required except that they haven’t received a response to their letters. The Scouts feel they’re finished and I’ve received feedback from a parent who feels that way, too. I personally feel that it may take some more time to receive a response (it’s been three weeks for one Scout and five or six for the other). I know that as a counselor, I have to satisfy myself that all the requirements have been completed. I don’t want to hold the Scouts up, but I want to do what’s right while maintaining my own integrity.

I’ve considered that the fact that they haven’t received a response is a lesson in and of itself—that politicians are busy people who receive a lot of mail, and that it takes time to answer that mail and sometimes one may not get a response the first time attempt to make contact.

I’d appreciate your advice on this matter. (Jim Wolf, MBC, Gulfstream Council, FL)
Thanks for asking a very intelligent and boy-sensitive question!

Yup, you’ve quoted the requirement accurately. And yes, when the Scout shows you a copy of the letter he sent, assuming that it meets the criteria of the requirement, then he’s completed that requirement. It would be pointless to wait for a response because (a) that’s not a mandatory aspect of the requirement, (b) it’s impossible to accurately predict when a response might be forthcoming, and (c) it’s impossible to predict IF a response will be forthcoming.

It is important, of course, that the Scout’s letter meet the requirement. This would include proper format, correct spelling and punctuation, and any other aspects that are a normal part of the Scout’s public or private education (yes, correct letter-writing is taught in school, beginning in the lower grades). This is where your guidance and judgment come into play—to help young men properly think through the “national issue” they are going to discuss on paper, and then the proper language, sentence construction, etc., to convey the thought(s).

Now, here’s something you might want to do, on your own, right there in the Florida panhandle… Call up all three offices—Congressman Jeff Miller’s, Senator Mel Martinez’s, and Senator Bill Nelson’s—and speak with an administrative assistant at each office. Describe what you’re doing as a volunteer, and explain what the requirement for the Scouts is, and then ask what, if anything, a Scout who writes might anticipate in response, what the process is, how decisions on whom to respond to are made, and what sort of time-line there is. You might ask if it makes a difference if the Scout identifies himself as a Boy Scout when he writes. In other words, have a true dialog and find out as much as you can about what will happen to their letters, so you can provide your Scouts even better insights, as their counselor!

Dear Andy,

My question relates to Eagle Scout projects, the Guide to Safe Scouting and the BSA stance on youth and the use of power tools. We err on the side of caution and tell folks that if there’s a motor, an adult should operate it. I would love to get your take on this issue. (Gary Kemp, Eagle Board of Review Chair, Allohak District, Gulf Ridge Council, FL)

My take: Use hand tools.

Dear Andy,

My question is about the election of our troop’s Scoutmaster. My husband is one of three candidates; each has been asked to prepare a 15-minute speech to the committee and all interested adults, and then they’ll be the subject of a Q&A session following. Our committee chair thinks that spouses shouldn’t be present for the other candidates’ speeches or Q&A, as it might make some uncomfortable. I don’t understand this rationale and disagree completely. I believe that, as a committee member myself, I have the right to hear all speeches and how each candidate responds to questions. My guess is that the chair believes that we spouses would automatically vote for our husbands and shouldn’t need to hear anyone else’s thoughts. What do you think? (Name & Council Withheld)

My hat’s off to any troop that’s running such a great program that not one but three men want to be its Scoutmaster! However, Scoutmasters aren’t elected; they’re appointed by the Chartered Organization Representative in concert with the Committee Chair (says so right on the adult application!). So what I think is that this whole idea of voting by the committee should be 86ed immediately, for several reasons including this one: It potentially gives the committee members a false sense of “power” over the Scoutmaster—it can lead them to incorrectly believe that “they” can “hire or fire” him! And of course they can’t.

So, either the COR and CC conduct personal, private interviews with the erstwhile “candidates” and then make a selection, asking the other two to be ASMs, of course, OR the three “candidates” tell the COR and CC how they plan to distribute the work load, including who’ll be the SM and who the two ASMs will be. To pursue the current inappropriate path could lead to further possible deviations from the Scouting program as written, and this would be a pity. You all might want to re-visit the Troop Committee Challenge BSA training!

That out of the way, as a COR or CC, there are really only three primary assurances I’d want to hear from a Scoutmaster candidate:

– The BSA’s Boy Scout program will be followed, with particular attention to The Patrol Method and training the troop’s youth leaders.

– The BSA’s outdoor program will, of the eight methods of Scouting, be given particular emphasis.

– The Scoutmaster will immediately take all of the training for the position available.

Dear Andy,

Can you clear something up and tell me what you mean by “RT*H”? (Art)

Read The Handbook”

Hey Andy,

On the subject of Scouts and political campaigns, I found this statement on a council website: “The Boy Scouts of America policy prohibits Scouts from participating in political activities. Uniformed unit members and leaders may participate in flag ceremonies at political events and may lead the Pledge of Allegiance; however, they should retire after the ceremony and not remain on the speakers’ platform or in a conspicuous location where television viewers could construe their presence as an endorsement or symbol of support. In addition, photos of candidates or Scouts in uniform or BSA marks and logos are not allowed in political campaign materials of any kind. Leaders must be alert to situations that would imply that the BSA favors one candidate over another. Strict observance of our long-standing policy against the active participation of uniformed Scouts and leaders in political events is mandatory.” (Clarke Green)

Thanks for the citation! It’s clear and it makes good sense.

Dear Andy,

About starting toward Eagle rank at age 16 (your August 3, 2008 column), it strikes me that Venturing’s Silver Award or Ranger are more appropriate goals for a 16 year old—they’re actually tougher than Eagle and better challenges. So go ahead and get First Class—every boy should be First Class—but most of the merit badges won’t be all that interesting or challenging—a 16 year-old should be learning Wilderness First Aid (a Ranger requirement); not First Aid merit badge. (Walter Underwood, SM, Palo Alto, CA)

Great idea! Thanks for thinking of it!

Dear Andy,

My son will be crossing over to Boy Scouts in just a few months, and I’ve been reading up on Scouting. As I look at the ranks and merit badges, I’m wondering, can a Scout do any advancement on his own, or is it all through the troop? (Cindy Cali)

The Boy Scout program isn’t “Cub Scouts, but in tan.” Where your son earned Wolf and Bear and Arrow Points 99% with you, his parents, this began to change as your son entered the Webelos program. It changes again in Boy Scouting. As a Boy Scout, he’ll work within the troop and with his patrol leader (a boy, like himself) and his Scoutmaster. Read a BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, especially the front dozen or so pages, to get a good handle on this. The underlying reason for the change is to help and guide boys and young men from “dependence” to independence and, ultimately, to inter-dependence. Best wishes to you, and your son — a great adventure lies ahead!

Dear Andy,

I’m our organization’s COR (Chartered Organization Representative) and I regularly attend meetings and activities. The pack has a mom whose husband is the Cubmaster and she’s constantly interrupting meetings—not only is she very disruptive, she’s also using profane language and talks about sex quite often in front of the boys. She tries to take charge of the meetings and she hollers at the boys. Her husband is totally the opposite of her and is an excellent Cubmaster. She has been talked to several times about this issue and will calm it down for a couple of weeks and then starts up again. I’ve had several parents remove their children from meetings and even leave the pack entirely, as a direct result of her actions. What can I do to solve this problem? I don’t want to ban her from the meetings, but I will if I have to. The last time she got upset and didn’t attend meetings for several weeks, and her husband kept coming and doing his usual excellent job.

Related to that, are there supposed to be separate committees for a pack and a troop? On paper, we have a troop committee and a pack committee, but everybody’s the same, on both, including the Committee Chair, and her husband is the troop’s Scoutmaster! This is a mess and I don’t know where to start. The pack and troop aren’t used to having an active COR, and I’m challenged at almost every meeting. But, meanwhile, parents are complaining about the leaders and pulling their sons out of both the troop and the pack. Where do I need to start, to get these units on-track? (Bob Rice, COR, Alapaha Area Council, GA)

First, get yourself a copy of the BSA book, Troop Committee Guidebook, and see if there’s a comparable book for Cub Scout packs. You’ll find “job descriptions” for all positions there, including your own as Chartered Organization Representative (COR). At the same time, pick up a copy of the BSA book, The Chartered Organization Representative. Third, read page two of the BSA Adult Volunteer Application. Next, show the key pages to the head of the organization you represent and get his or her agreement that things need to be fixed and you have 100% responsibility and authority to do so—In other words, what you do will be completely backed, with no equivocation and absolutely no “reversals” (unless you clearly have these assurances, don’t waste your time or energy).

As COR, you represent the sponsor of the Scouting unit(s) it supports. As COR, you have ultimate say-so regarding who is in which volunteer positions. In short, you have “hire-fire power.” However, this must be done with utmost discretion and sensitivity. To take you through every step you need to accomplish is beyond the scope of this column, so I recommend that, after you’ve done your reading, you request that a local Commissioner (another volunteer, like yourself) work at you side to help guide you through your current problems. Everything is soluble, with diplomacy and a spine! I believe you have both!

Dear Andy,

I’ve returned to Scouting after a 20-year hiatus and I’m loving it! My son is a Tiger Cub and I volunteered to be the Tiger Cub Den Leader. I had obviously filed a lot of my Scouting memories in the back of my brain, and all those memories are coming back fast as I watch my son, our den, and our pack go through the Scouting experience.

I have a, hopefully, very simple question for you: When it comes time to have our annual Blue & Gold Banquet, is it appropriate for adult leaders to wear the medals they earned as Scouts? I’m under the impression that the B&G is considered a formal event, much like a court of honor, and I believe it would be good for our young Cub Scouts to see what they can achieve if they stick with the program. Also, when I earned the rank of Eagle, the American Legion presented me with a citizenship medal. Is this medal authorized for wear on the Scout uniform during formal events? Thanks! (Bruce G. “Buzz” Graler, Maj.-U.S. Marine Corps & Tiger Cub Den Leader, California Inland Empire Council)

For that B&G, tuck the Eagle medal in your pocket and make your decision that evening, on the spot. As for the American Legion medal, unfortunately the BSA stipulates that only Scouting medals, ribbons, etc. should be worn on a Scout’s or Scouter’s uniform. That said, I’d bring it along anyway—It would be a great thing to bring out of your pocket to show to your Cubs!

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for a Webelos Ceremony that can be done with in a gym. We have Indian costumes and a bridge, and the Boy Scouts will be doing the ceremony with the Scoutmaster. We did something a few years back and painted three lines on the Webelos’ faces… I can’t remember what it was and can’t seem to find anything on the Internet. Can you help? (Sandy Aviles)

Try the Cub Scout Fun Book, and there’s also a book for ceremonies. Both should be available at your local Scout Shop.

NetCommish Comment: We have some ceremonies at

Hello Andy,

I’ve been recruited to teach three courses at our Commissioner’s College and I’m looking for information for Roundtable Displays, Ceremonies & Morale Features, Roundtable Games, and Leader Recognition. At the site there are some Commissioner College courses, but these aren’t listed. Do you know of any other places I can look to find information before I start compiling my own information? (Susan Wilson, CSRTC, Mississippi Valley Council, IL)

There’s a BSA publication called Continuing Education for Commissioners and I believe that’s where you’ll find what you’re looking for. Check with your local Scout Shop.

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for training opportunities for rock-climbing and rappelling as one of my Wood Badge ticket items. I’ve been certified for the climbing tower, but I’m looking for a more advanced course for rappelling on rock faces and certification as a climb director. I’ve not had much luck in finding this training. Any suggestions? (Mark Walters, ASM, Circle 10 Council, TX)

Have you checked with your local Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop or other outdoorsy stores? I’ll bet they can put you in touch with clubs and courses!

Dear Andy,

I’m a fairly new Scoutmaster, after spending about two years as an ASM (trained). With that short amount of experience, I know it takes some gumption to write you on this, but every time I look at the “be active in your troop…” and “serve actively” requirements for Star, Life and Eagle, it hits me. In your previous columns—several of them over the years—you’re actually subtracting from these requirements, I believe, in certain situations (for example, when a basketball coach’s demands force a Scout to miss meetings for several months). Now you’ve explained well why numbers and percentages are the wrong approach, and, in these types of situations, you’ve said that if the Scout “did his best” to be active during the required tenure period, then that’s enough, even though the Scout wasn’t truly active in the troop for the required amount of time. Now according to my Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the definitions of “active” that apply are: (8a) Disposed to action; energetic, and (8b) engaged in an action or activity (as in active in the club).

The troop and patrol actions and activities take place, of course, at troop and patrol meetings and outings. The leadership service occurs at these meetings and at the JLT, PLC and annual program planning meetings and outings for leaders. So these definitions from Webster’s mean that the Scout has to be there (not every time, but probably more often than not) and participate in order to be active. That doesn’t mean a rigid 50% rule; it means that you know who’s there and active, and—more importantly—the Scout knows: Just ask him, “Have you been active…” or, “How have you been active…” If it’s a close call and the Scout thinks he has, then it’s his. Sometimes he’ll say, “Well, probably not completely.” Then we’ll some up with something like talking to his PL about being cheer master for his Patrol for the month, and then we’ll conference again.

Most common, and the type of examples you’ve used, is the Scout who has a conflict for a month or two or three months because a school sport’s required practices conflict with the meetings and its games conflict with the troop’s weekend outings. These Scouts “get it.” When they come for the “time in rank” sign-off and you ask them, “Have you been active for the required ‘X’ months?” invariably, sometimes with a gentle reminder, they’ll say “Yes, except for that month-and-a-half I had to miss because of (sport, choral group, band, etc.).” When asked what they think would be necessary to meet the requirement, they almost always come up with something like “Basketball is over, so I can make meetings and go on outings again. After a month and a half, will that do it?” You betcha! Good answer! Some will even add, on their own, “Yeah, because that wouldn’t be fair to so-and-so who didn’t have to miss meetings and campouts because of (sports, etc.).”

A few boys, after asking about the month and a half, will add (in a disheartened voice), “…Or do I have to start the time months all over?” To that I answer, “Nope, six months active is six months total, whether it’s in one-month chunks spread over a year or six months straight in a row. You don’t have to keep starting over until you get six months straight.”

I think the Scouts “get it.” They know what active is. I think I get it too. But you have much more experience than me, and I want to get this one right, because the boys who are active in the previous ranks often have their merit badges completed ahead of time, so the “active” and “serve actively” time requirements decide when they’re eligible to advance beyond First Class.

Almost forgot: Thanks for the columns. I’m a new reader, but I’ve read through all of your back issues and learned a lot from it, including to go back to the Scoutmaster Handbook, Troop Program Resources, etc. Lots of reading and “Ah-Ha” moments over the past couple of months while getting ready for the Scoutmaster role. You’ve really helped on what should be obvious (for example a Scout can start on his Eagle project the day of his Life board of review… read it many times, but it never dawned on me… it says “while a Life Scout,” not “a Life Scout with all his merit badges…” and the not-so obvious (like Scout spirit requirements, and how to coach Scouts who aren’t quite there yet). I know I’ve got a lot to learn, but I think I’ve got it right on this one, let me know if I’m pointing True North on the “Be active in your troop…” requirements. (Bill Cox, SM, Buffalo Trace Council, IN)

I admire and totally respect your sincerity and sensitivity, as well as your desire to keep pointed toward Scouting’s True North. My only concern is your apparent differentiation between “active” and what you call “truly active.” I’m concerned that this sort of hair-splitting is one of the things that gets otherwise reasonable Scouting volunteers into deep water.

Most all of your letter sounds to me like you’ve got the big idea here. The key is this: Don’t nickel-and-dime on this stuff. You know, and Scouts know, too, when they’re just goofin’ off and not bothering to show up, and when they’re truly engaged in other activities that, unlike Scouting, demand that they be there or they’re dumped. Frequent and to-the-point Scoutmaster’s Conferences keep this in the forefront. But to try to keep track of this sort of thing, or to challenge it, is going just a bit over the edge. It would be nice to find our answers in Webster’s and I’ve used that sours myself on occasion, for clarification. But not for a BSA-designated definition. The BSA’s definition of “active” isn’t the same as Webster’s or any other dictionary.

I can tell you with no equivocation that I never have and I am not now suggesting the notion of subtracting from any requirement. I can also tell you that your top Scouts—the ones who make it all the way to Eagle—will have just one thing in common: They’ll be INTO EVERYTHING! In nearly 200 Eagle boards of review, I’ve never, ever met a “Scout nerd”—a young man who is just into Scouting and nothing else.

Thanks for reading… and thanks for writing!

Dear Andy,

I have a parent who has been coming on campouts with our troop, but seems to have just one objective: To observe and then complain about everything that goes on! For instance, on a trip to a nearby military base, while we were on a catwalk, one of our Scouts stood on one of the lower rails. We spotted him right away and told him to get down, and he did. Meanwhile, we had a Webelos II Scout along on the trip, and he managed to wander off (without his parent-buddy), but we noticed his absence and tracked him down (he’d only earned “Scout” and didn’t learn the Tenderfoot “Buddy System” yet, so we had to be a little lenient). But now, this parent is complaining that we’re “not safe.” On another trip, we camped with another troop (we each had about a half-dozen Scouts) and all she talked about was how that other troop was “better behaved” than our Scouts, even though the tour guide we had complimented us on being one of the best groups he’s ever had! Never mind that, on the first night she slept in her rec. vehicle the first night and then pulled her son out and left, the second night, so both she and her son missed out on the Scouts’ campfire, doing skits and songs with the other troop.

Boys aren’t “robots.” I don’t know what she’s expecting, but she keeps saying she’s worried about “safety.” I’m not sure what to say to this parent. She’s on the troop committee, and brings her complaining to them. (Scoutmaster, West Central Florida Council)

Training is usually a good solution to over-protective or over-complaining parents. I’m going to assume, for instance, that your troop has a basic requirement that only adults who have taken Youth Protection Training, and are “current” with this training can go along on camping trips with the Scouts. I’m also going to assume that you know you all can and should take some supplemental courses, like Climb On Safely, and Risk Zone, too. Then there’s New Leader Essentials and position-specific training, such as Scoutmaster-specific and Troop Committee Challenge. Are you insisting that all of your registered adult volunteers get trained for their positions? Or are you one of those troops that’s simply happy your volunteers have a pulse? Bottom line: Get everyone properly trained and this “situation” will most likely go away. Also, does your troop do its own “new parent orientation,” so that parents who have just “graduated” from Cub Scouting are helped to understand that Boy Scouting is an entirely different program, in which parents are expected to back off and stay away from their kids? If not, you should! Finally, in the training area, have you and your key leaders recently read each and every page of GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING? If not, don’t waste another minute!

Does your troop have any basic camping “rules of the road,” such as all adults except for the Scoutmaster and one ASM stay clear of the Scouts throughout the camp-out, including cooking and tenting? If not, you should!

You also seem to be keeping your Scouts from advancement and learning opportunities. For instance, using the excuse for a Scout wandering off by himself that “Well, he hasn’t done Tenderfoot Buddy System yet” is pretty darned lame! Just when did you intend to teach him this? AFTER he gets lost? The Buddy System is drilled into the head of every Scout EVERY TIME YOU GO HIKING OR CAMPING. Have your “older” Scouts teach newer Scouts. That’s how it’s done! There are troops across the country in which a Scout goes NOWHERE without a buddy, including to the wash-house! Get with the program, my Scouting friend!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Webelos Den Leader with a pack located on a military base. Nearly every military parent in my pack has earned a MOVSM. I understand that we can recommend our Scouters with MOVSMs for a BSA award but I’m unable to find the form or directions to make this happen. I’d appreciate whatever assistance you can provide—I’d like to see some of these folks acknowledged before they move on. (Kelly Sanders Catalina Council, AZ)

Congratulations to you and your other leaders on receiving the MOVSM! That’s pretty powerful stuff and entitles you all to wear the Community Service square knot! As for BSA recognitions, this will depend on the particular positions held, tenure, training, and performance criteria. There are BSA recognitions for Cubmaster, committee members, and all Den Leader levels, and you can check these out by going to:

Hi Andy,

I’ve enjoyed reading back issues of your column. I’m a new Tiger Den Leader this year, soon to advance my boys to Wolf in March. Early in the year, my den and another decided to operate as one larger den. We have 11 Cubs between the two dens, and each den has a leader and an assistant. All of our families are very involved, and we ask each to host the activities of a meeting at least once this year. Our expectations have been very high, and we’ve decided to meet more frequently (weekly instead of twice monthly as our Pack suggests) and pursue more recognition opportunities. We’re having a great time with Scouting!

But it sort of ends at our den. Our pack is less involved. It shuts down after March, and won’t really start until late September. Sports are much more important in some of the pack families and take precedence.

Is it possible for a den to go after things like Quality Unit status even if the pack doesn’t? We’ve decided to pay for our own awards and things the pack has told us they’re not interested in, like Belt Loops and so on.

We don’t want to be confrontational or try to take over the pack. We just want to be free to succeed, and sort of wish we had some more support at it. Do you have any suggestions? (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m honoring your request to “withhold identification as I don’t want this to reflect badly on our pack,” but I’m wondering why… Do you not want folks to “wake up and smell the caffeine?

The next thing I’m noticing is that you all need to either get to training for your positions, or review your materials and the CUB SCOUT LEADER BOOK. For example, combining two dens into one of 11 boys is definitely not the way to go.

Keep those dens separated. The best configuration would be one den of five and the other of six. But even if it’s four and seven, that’s a whole heck of a lot better than one of 11! Why? Because if you have dens of less than eight, you and your Tigers/Cubs will want to add friends of these boys and get up to eight per den, but if you have a single den of 11, there’s no room to add boys! Adding boys is part of your mission…your covenant, if you will. In fact, pretty soon you’ll be hoping that not every boy shows up, and so you’ll actually allow some to drop-away, so that by the time they’re Webelos Scouts in just a few years, you’ll have lost anywhere from three to five boys, and that would be a major loss for the boys and for Scouting, too. So divide up again, and get back to where you need to be.

Further, meeting once a week is the norm, not the exception. Dens and the den program are designed around weekly meetings, particularly at the Wolf level and beyond. You’re definitely on the right track here, and anything you can do to diplomatically suggest to other den leaders that they do this, too, will help the boys instead of holding them back.

You can (and should!) definitely continue beyond March. In fact, stopping in March and not starting up again until late September is definitely not the norm. Keep going all summer, and earn the “summertime pack award” for your two dens, even if the pack doesn’t get with the program. The Cub Scout Sports and Cub Scout Academics belt loop programs are just about perfect for this!

Although dens can’t independently earn the National Quality Unit award, because this is for packs to earn, you can definitely help qualify your whole pack! Talk to your local Commissioner (another volunteer, just like yourselves) about how to do this.

But the “big idea” here is: GO TO TRAINING! That’s where you’re going to get answers to the other questions you’re going to have as you and your boys move through the program.

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for a current list of who I can write to, to get a letter of recognition for my son, who just became an Eagle Scout. This used to be at // Thanks! (Donna Knight)

Try this one:

NetCommish Comment: We remodeled our website in June 2007. Our pages changed from .html to .asp. The page you had bookmarked is now at

Dear Andy,

I recently discovered that our Scoutmaster has a Facebook (a MySpace equivalent) profile. Now I understand that having a Facebook page is not a red flag, nor is it my business. What’s really bothering me is his “friends” list: 90 percent of his friends are kids under the age of 18, and several are boys from the troop. Before I get too excited, I want to get your opinion on this, and I wonder if you can tell me if there’s a BSA policy covering this subject. Thanks for your thoughts. (Scout Parent, Greater St. Louis Council, MO)

With all due respect, I believe you’ve already hit upon the exact and best answer to your question.

Happy Scouting!


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(August 30, 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.

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