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Issue 152 – October 18, 2008

Hi, Andy, When I became a Scout leader five years ago I found that Morse Code was no longer in the Boy Scout Handbook, because everyone now has a cell phone. But when our Scouts go camping at remote campsites, there’s no cell phone service. So is there a good reason why Morse Code is no longer taught in Scouting? Should voice my concern to the National Council about this? (Ernie Kuhn, SM)

Not even ships at sea use Morse Code anymore, and ham radio operators aren’t required to be proficient in Morse anymore, either—It went the way of the Dodo. Pity.

Being able to send and receive Morse Code signals was a First Class Scout requirement from Scouting’s inception on this side of The Pond until 1972, when the entire advancement program was overhauled. It was dropped then, and never returned as a requirement for anything. More’s the pity.

However, that’s no reason why your Scouts can’t learn it, and—even more fun—they can go ahead and use it! It’s great for sending “secret messages” using mirrors or flashlights or whistles or the old wig-wag flags! In fact, you’ll find that it actually crept back into the handbook in 1990—It’s in the Tenth Edition!—albeit as a skill to learn if not an actual requirement, but that’s still OK! Here’s a fun website for learning it:

Dear Andy,

I’m working with my staff on earning their Commissioner awards, and I have two questions. Can an Assistant District Commissioner earn another Arrowhead Honor award or another Commissioner’s Key if he or she already earned either one of these as a Unit Commissioner? (I do know that they have different requirements and progress record cards for these, for UCs and ADCs.) Thanks. (Ed Bradley, District Commissioner, Greater St. Louis Area Council, MO)

In my experience, the Arrowhead Honor is like soloing a plane… There’s only one “first time.” If you take another look at the requirements for the AH, you’ll notice that they’re designed to get a new Commissioner up and running; they’re not really for an “experienced” Commissioner. Besides, we never, ever wear more than one Arrowhead patch! Same with the Key: Once earned as a Commissioner, that’s it. Yes, there are different requirements for the various Commissioner positions, but we’re back to the same issue: What’s the point of re-earning something you’ve already earned? For what…more “devices” on the square knot? I don’t think so! We’ve got bigger fish to fry!

Dear Andy,

I’m wondering if any other packs besides ours uses pack funds to buy uniforms for their members (boys and adults), with the intention of being reimbursed for these purchases.

The pack’s “awards” chairperson prior to me did this on a limited basis for certain people and now wants me to expand it to include all new Scouts and all new adults who need uniforms. Our committee thinks this is a great idea and I’m in the minority in thinking it’s not.

In the first place, I don’t think that pack money should be used to buy uniforms that a boy’s family, or an adult leader, is responsible for. I also think it’s going to be a bookkeeping nightmare to make sure that all the reimbursements happen (I personally sure don’t want to spend my time chasing people to pay up). Second, when a boy joins the pack, it’s part of his parents’ responsibility, not the pack’s, to make sure their son has a uniform. Now I don’t mind providing information to the parent on what constitutes the uniform and its various parts (belt, neckerchief, and so on), and the pack does provide some of the essential patches, but Scouting is a family organization and I believe that if the parents are responsible to get their own son his uniform, they’ll become more involved and will be more responsible and responsive to the program. Thirdly, I don’t think the pack needs an inventory of uniform items to keep track of (the previous awards chairperson ordered items ahead of time and there’s at least $50 worth of merchandise that we haven’t been paid back for that’s just sitting in a box). For the time being, the pack’s treasurer is doing the ordering, but I’m getting “hints” that they’d like me to start doing this. I feel so strongly that this is the wrong thing to do that I want to refuse, but at the same time I want to help the pack—I enjoy watching what Cub Scouting has done and is doing for my son, and don’t want to be wrong in my reasoning, but I can’t find anything in any of the Scouting websites that even hints that this is something a pack should be doing. I’d appreciate an objective viewpoint, since I’m one of only two people on the pack committee believing that each Cub’s family, not the pack, should buy the uniform. (Terri Miller, Longs Peak Council, CO)

In 20 years of being a Commissioner, in three different councils (which, of course, put me in direct eyeball-to-eyeball contact with well over 50 units), plus seven years of writing this column and answering many thousands of questions, by hundreds of Cub Scout pack folks, your pack’s situation has never arisen! I have never, ever heard of a unit buying uniforms, and then being reimbursed. My observation is that this is absolutely unnecessary double-work! There are money complications, size complications, growth-rate complications—the list of horrors just keeps growing as I think about it. PLUS, it deprives the boy and his parents of any sense of responsibility.

Have you ever rented a car? OK, you have. And you paid the car rental company for its use, right? Just like a “reimbursement,” right? OK, next question: Have you ever washed a rented car? No? Why not? Simple, you say, I DON’T ACTUALLY OWN IT, SO WHO CARES!

Your pack needs to be devoting its time to delivering program content; not acting as a “buying agent” of some sort. This is, to be blunt, silliness and a total waste of energy. Plus, it puts other families’ funds in jeopardy.

Dear Andy,

What’s your take on boards of review requiring a “proper uniform,” to the point of refusing to review a Scout who wasn’t wearing red-topped green socks (that’s it—everything else about his uniform was letter-perfect). Our committee has seen a training guide for boards of review that said, “A board can expect a Scout to be neat in appearance and properly uniformed,” and they’ve taken that to the point where they actually did refuse to review a Scout whose uniform was “missing” the red-topped socks.

Now my reading of the Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures (No.33088), page 29 shows this: “The Scout should be neat in appearance and his uniform should be as correct as possible, with the badges worn properly,” and page 30 shows this: “When a Scout has completed all requirements for a rank advancement, including the Scoutmaster Conference, he may not be denied a board of review.”

In this specific instance, the Scout didn’t have the proper socks because his divorced parents have shared custody, and his mom didn’t have the official in her home on that particular evening. That situation apparently didn’t matter to the members of the review board. Your thoughts? (Ed Marks, ASM, Gulf Ridge Council, FL)

About that troop committee, it sounds like their well-deserved motto is “No Nit Too Small To Pick.” What a bunch of clueless folks! Obviously, they either had no understanding of that Scout’s situation, or understanding of the BSA advancement policy that, as you accurately quoted, does not demand perfection in uniforming, or both. The stupidity of the review board is compounded when we realize that to meet their exorbitant demand, that Scout could have swapped socks with another Scout right then and there!

I’d start looking for somebody else to head up advancement in that troop—the present advancement chair sure doesn’t get it!

I’m also concerned that the Scoutmaster, learning of this rejection, didn’t raise the roof right then and there! What’s going on, that he’s not coming to the support of the Scouts he’s declared are ready to advance?

NetCommish Comment: Scouting uses uniforming as a method for getting to its goals of character, citizenship, and fitness (and by the way advancement is a method of Scouting – not a goal). Perfect uniforming is not a goal or a method. We encourage uniforms because it is a method that helps us get to the goals of the program; e.g. development of character. Refusing to allow a Scout to have his board of review because his uniform is not spot on perfect does not contribute to the end-goal of Scouting and instead leaves the young man thinking that the board members are a bunch of nit-picking ninkompoops instead of respected mentors helping him along – and he would be right. The end-game is character, citizenship, and fitness. Success is measured in whether the boy reaches the goal of improving these three things about himself, not whether he can stand up to some arbitrary fiat.

Let’s look at this from the perspective of the Scout. All of the expectations are in the Boy Scout Handbook. It tells the Scout what is required for a rank advancement. It does not say “when you go to your board of review, you must be in a complete uniform or you will be sent away” and for a good reason. The board of review is not a uniform inspection board. Now as an adult, how would you feel if you called for example the DMV and they told you all you needed to renew your license was to bring your old driver’s license, passport, birth certificate or other legal form of identification and then when you showed up you were told to go home and come back when properly attired with a shirt and tie or skirt (for the ladies)? Why you’d be totally outraged. You would likely have some not very nice things to say about the folks that mislead you and then imposed a ridiculous and arbitrary requirement that wasn’t in any of the books or literature. You’d probably call somebody to complain. Well, that’s the way this Scout is being treated. It is every bit as silly and ridiculous.

Dear Andy,

Is it acceptable for a Den Chief to wear his merit badge sash at pack meetings? My older son is a Den Chief and he wore his sash to a recent pack meeting because he and I thought it would be a good example to the Cub Scouts. However, several other Den Chiefs who were there, as well as several parents, told my son that it’s not correct to wear the sash to pack meetings because it’s only for special occasions… (Guy Coniglio, TMC & WDL, Southeast Louisiana Council)

For a Den Chief to wear his merit badge sash at a pack meeting is a wonderful idea! And your son is 100% on the money: How better to convey the “Be a Boy Scout” message to the Cub Scouts who look up to him than to wear his sash! Moreover, pack meetings, unlike a Scout’s week-in-week-out troop meetings, are definitely special occasions and deserving of the wearing of this sash, so your son did the right thing. for exactly the right reasons! And shame on those nay-saying parents for having no vision of what the big picture’s all about! As for the other Den Chiefs, that’s nothing more than “I forgot mine, so I’ll get the other guy to take his off.” They can go get it right, next time!

Thanks! Can I ask another…

If both Swimming and Hiking merit badges are earned, can both be used as Eagle requirements? For example, Swimming for Star rank and Hiking for Life rank? My oldest son is a First Class Scout and has earned 11 merit badges (5 required and 6 elective), among them are Swimming and Hiking. He’s thinking of plugging Swimming into the Eagle-required slot and having Hiking be an elective. Has he got that right? (Guy Coniglio, TMC & AWDL, Southeast Louisiana Council)

Yup, your son plugged in those merit badges just right! Good for him! If he uses Swimming as the “required” merit badge, then Hiking can be used as an “elective.” Or vice-versa, of course. And, if he earns Cycling, that can be used one way or the other, too. The final result will be one of the three in the “required” column and two in the “elective.”

Before we move on, here’s a tip… When I ask 17-year-old Eagles what one piece of advice they’d give to a Scout just starting out on the trail to Eagle, they ALL say exactly the same thing: Do it before you get to high school, if you possibly can, and, if not, then before your junior year starts! I hope this might be useful to your sons.

Dear Andy,

What are the procedures to appeal a decision made by a troop committee? Can you point me to any written guidelines? Our troop committee recently made an uneducated, misinformed and overly harsh disciplinary decision concerning the Assistant Scoutmaster without seeking out or substantiating the facts surrounding an incident. As the victim of a textbook bully’s intentional, malicious act against my former-husband (the ASM), myself, and our son, I’m outraged and embarrassed by the committee’s action in this matter. What the committee has done is essentially validate the serious and continuing misbehavior of one of the boys in a troop of already unruly and disrespectful Scouts. Certainly, there has to be some way to appeal decisions made by a unit’s committee, to protect the interests of everyone involved in the Scouting program.

The disciplinary action the committee took against the ASM (my former husband) is that he’s not permitted to participate in any troop campouts for the next six months. The reason for the action was that while at camp this past summer one of the Scouts surreptitiously took my son’s cell phone and sent me a highly inappropriate voicemail message (To the Reader: This writer shared the actual message with me and I assure you that “inappropriate” is the gentlest of all possible descriptions. Andy) on the day before I was to undergo a serious medical procedure (that’s the reason our son had the phone in camp in the first place). My ex, learning of this was (God love him!) so angry that he momentarily “lost it” and yelled at the violator, calling him an “S-O-B,” at which point the Scoutmaster jumped in and took over with some less volatile yelling. (I should also point out that the boy who did this is a known troublemaker in the troop, his school, and even in the neighborhood.) My husband was more than willing to apologize and certainly doesn’t routinely yell at or swear at Scouts (or anyone); moreover, the Scout himself called my husband a “S-O-B” in public (which does not make it right, and I know this).

In reviewing the incident, the committee used only one side—that Scout’s mother (who wasn’t there)—and spoke with no one in my family. The boy’s “punishment” was a delay in receiving his Star rank. He’s since quit the troop anyway.

Meanwhile, if my ex is prohibited from going on campouts for six months, then not all of the planned campouts will happen, because the SM and he are the “team” that goes camping! This will be a loss for the Scouts, especially since my ex and the Scoutmaster were really making headway converting this troop into real Scouts. Thank you for your any thoughts you may have. (Name & Council Withheld)

Just to get this out of the way, “going to council,” as the expression goes, isn’t an option, because the chartered organization (i.e., sponsor) owns the unit; not the council or the BSA!

Yes, that ASM was out of line in his language. Yes, the extenuating circumstance you described, while not forgiving the language, certainly makes its use more understandable. However, there’s no such thing as “punishment” anywhere in Scouting, for either youth or adults, and that committee is totally wrong in thinking they have that sort of “power.” They don’t. Period.

So, here’s a question: What would actually happen if this ASM simply ignored the committee and went about his business as usual? Would they “fire” him? Maybe. And, if so, then just go find another troop—where the Scouts and leaders are a bit smarter, and understand the program better. But, I’m guessing they’ll do nothing, especially if the Scoutmaster and ASM are a shoulder-to-shoulder team and they stick up for one another. Which leads me to ask… Where’s the Scoutmaster in all this and why hasn’t he told the committee to go pound sand?

Now here’s something personal… I noticed how you kept switching between referring to that ASM as your former and ex, and husband. Are you two really sure you can’t make it work? Is there no way to give it another try? Just a thought…

Dear Andy,

My son is a nine year old, 3rd grade Cub Scout who has just completed all the achievements for Bear. Now the pack wants to test my son before he gets his Bear badge. I thought Cub Scouts weren’t supposed to be tested. I don’t like the insinuation that I cheated for him; I have nothing to hide and we are proud of his hard work. Can you direct me to the appropriate BSA policies, procedures, or statements addressing this situation? (Name & Council Withheld)

“Akela” is you, your son’s parent. To “review” or “re-test” a Cub Scout is absolutely forbidden by the BSA. If you, as Akela, have signed off on your son’s achievements and/or electives, your signature stands, and cannot be questioned or challenged. If these mean-spirited people don’t get this, and lay off your son, go find another pack, but don’t overlook the fact that you have the right to report them to your pack’s sponsoring organization: They’re right on the edge of emotional abuse of a minor child.

If they’re challenging you to show them in writing that they can’t test/re-test your son, reverse it on these insensitive jerks: Demand that they show you, in writing, where it says it’s OK for them to do what they’re doing. That’s right: DEMAND IT. Don’t let them near your son till they spit up or shut up.

Dear Andy,

Is a Scoutmaster allowed to ask a family to leave a troop? If so, are there certain conditions that need to be present, in order to validate that request? (Name & Council Withheld)

If one or more family members is disrupting, short-circuiting, or otherwise impeding the proper providing of the Scouting program to the boys and young men in the troop, then it would not be inappropriate to ask the family to find a place where they’d be happier, particularly if, despite attempts at resolution, there appears little hope of rapprochement between this family and the troop. More usually, this is done by the troop’s Committee Chair, with the direct support of the committee and the Scoutmaster and the agreement of the chartered organization head or COR. This is, by the way, a contained matter: Neither the district nor the council has any direct jurisdiction over such unit-level matters. Further, if an adult is in clear violation of a BSA policy in such a way as to potentially endanger a youth member, that would certainly be grounds for immediate removal from the unit’s roster.

Now that that’s out of the way: What’s the question behind the question?

Well, let’s see. Where do I begin? How about: I’m the mom of four boys: two Boy Scouts and two Webelos. All started as Tiger Cubs. The oldest, almost 14, is a Life Scout who has earned 23 merit badges and is currently working on three, one of which is Personal Management—last in the “required for Eagle” category. My second oldest is finishing up his First Class requirements and also has earned merit badges.

The Scoutmaster, however, has twice turned down my oldest son when he’s asked for a “Blue Card” for Personal Management and, when he asked why he can’t go for this merit badge, the Scoutmaster told him that he wasn’t old enough and that he needed to have a job. When I stepped in (after the second turn-down) and asked the Scoutmaster what’s going on, he allowed as how the Scouts will get more out of the merit badge when they’re a little older and if they have a job. In response, I noted that the merit badge had no prerequisite that a Scout have a job, just that he have a source of income, which, I explained, my son has, and I described the various revenue sources in detail. The Scoutmaster nevertheless remained intransigent. When I called our district and asked about this, they said that the Scoutmaster cannot add to or take away from the requirements of a merit badge.

Further, the Scoutmaster won’t give any Scout a Blue Card for Family Life merit badge unless the boy’s completed or mostly completed 6th grade. My oldest son started Family Life over the summer, prior to starting 6th grade and then completed it sometime in the early Fall, so when son number two started into the program, he asked for a Blue Card for Family Life and the Scoutmaster gave him one, but when he called the Merit Badge Counselor to schedule his first meeting, to get started, he was told that the Scoutmaster shouldn’t have given him the card and that he can’t start. Again, I stepped in and both the Scoutmaster and Merit Badge Counselor told me that, several years ago, they’d reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” that “boys would have to be ‘a little older’ before they could start Family Life.” Of course, I was told that they had “the best interests of the Scouts” in mind and “the boys will be better able to comprehend the content of the merit badge when they’re older, especially things like holding the family meeting and the discussions about alcohol, drugs, and sexuality.”

A friend of ours joined our troop. Her youngest and my second son are good friends. She was told the same thing about Family Life. She researched this further and was more successful than I was. She took this to the district level, who in turn took this to the national level, and then the district then reported back to her. Then conversations were held between her husband, the Scoutmaster, and the District Representative, but to no avail: The Scoutmaster continues to claim that there’s a “gray area” that gives him the right to withhold a Blue Card. He believes that he has the right to counsel the Scout and/or the parents about which merit badges a Scout can earn, when.

My friend and her family have left this troop and joined another (they also have two Eagle Scout sons). My own sons, on the other hand, didn’t have another troop to go to, as all of their friends are in this troop. We elected to stay. My oldest son got a part-time job and was finally given the Blue Card for Personal Management. My second son worked out a schedule with the Family Life Merit Badge Counselor, with the condition that req. 6 be completed some time next spring. I like to think of this as they adapted, they overcame, they moved forward. We have used this as a life lesson. There is no “utopia troop” out there—each troop has its own kinks, as will each class they’ll take or job they’ll hold.

I don’t agree with the Scoutmaster in these two situations. This “gray area” and “unwritten policy” has all the earmarks of adding a requirement. It is one thing for the Scoutmaster to say he has the discretion to withhold a Blue Card because he feels that a Scout can’t meet the physical demands of a merit badge, even that the material would be far more advanced than what that Scout would be able to understand (even this I’m not sure about and I’d appreciate your interpretation). But it’s totally different to say that he met with a Merit Badge Counselor and they agreed that no Blue Cards would be given out to Scouts until they completed the 6th grade, or, as in the case of Personal Management, saying that a Scout needs to be older and has to have a job.

The night I sent you my first question was the same night that the Scoutmaster requested if I had a minute. He told me that he had heard that I was telling other troop parents that he was in violation of BSA policy, and he stated that he’s not. He said that new troop parents were asking about these issues and questioning him about BSA policy. After about a 15 minute conversation, I finally said that we’d have to agree to disagree. (I’d told him in the beginning that my boys would “work the program” as he demanded, but that I in no way agreed with how he was approaching these two issues.)

So, am I allowed to express this to other members of the troop, if I’m asked? If questioned about what I think about the troop, am I allowed to say what I like and discuss those issues that I don’t? What if I’m not asked? Am I allowed to give my opinion? The troop survives via its members. Over the summer, several families have left to go to other troops. I felt somewhat responsible when my friend took her son out. Yes, that was their decision, but I feel like our troop let them down. I’d rather not have to go through that again. I have two Webelos. Parents will look to families that already have ties to a particular troop. They’ll want to know about the troop—what am I allowed to say? (Name & Council Withheld)

That little tin god of a so-called leader is full of beans.

Whoever represented your district or council either didn’t know his or her stuff, or had no spine.

Where is the troop committee, Committee Chair, and advancement chair in all of this? They should have put a stop to this clown years ago! Or thrown him out on his ear.

The family that walked away from this sorry mess did the right thing and anyone who sticks around deserves no sympathy.

This isn’t a case of “adapting and overcoming.” This is a case of knuckling under to a petty dictator who’s hiding behind other people’s ignorance and spinelessness.

There is no “gray area” here. This misinformed and self-important so-called leader is in clear violation of BSA policy. In addition, any MBC who colludes with him is equally in violation.

The procedure for obtaining a merit badge application (aka “Blue Card”) is described on page 187 of the Boy Scout Handbook, and the Scoutmaster is not permitted to withhold this from a Scout, especially in light of the fact that, on page 22 of the Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS book it is clearly stated that any Boy Scout can earn any merit badge any time he chooses.

The district maintains a list of all MBCs for all merit badges. Get that list and select MBCs other than the ones who have been denying Scouts opportunities they have every right to.

Meanwhile, this nonsense needs to stop before more Scouts are damaged. The troop families can bring this to a halt overnight, if they choose to.

Dear Andy,

My son crossed over from Cub Scouts to the pack sponsor’s Boy Scout troop in about a half-year ago; however, because of physical abuse by the same boy on different occasions and lack of attention to this by the troop’s leadership, my son started visiting another troop, and wants to join it. While in his first troop, he completed quite a few requirements toward Tenderfoot and Second Class, and completed all but a few for First Class at Scout Camp this past summer. In the past several weeks he’s completed all of the requirements for each of these three ranks. He is about to officially transfer to the new troop, where they’re preparing for the First Class boards of review for the first-year Scouts, including my son, but, because he missed some meetings with the old troop (because of the bully), he never had his boards of review for Tenderfoot or Second Class. Since the other Scouts are scheduled for their First Class reviews, and my son has completed all requirements for all three ranks, can he do the First Class review without having done the first two? Or can they do all three at one time? (Bill Yoder)

I’m going to assume that the rank-related pages in the back of your son’s handbook are signed and dated, so that there’s no controversy over what’s completed. With that consideration, here’s the good news: Your son can do all three boards of review, back-to-back. First he does Tenderfoot, and the review members excuse him while they vote, then they call him back in to tell him he’s now a Tenderfoot Scout (and they sign his handbook, of course) and then they say to him, “Say, as long as you’re right here, how would you like to do a review for Second Class?” and your son replies, “You bet!” And so on, through first class. This whole process should take maybe a few minutes longer than a half-hour, so there’s no monstrous “marathon” involved here!

Dear Andy,

Perhaps I’ve missed it in a previous one of your columns, but I’m going to ask anyway: I’ve been encouraging my Commissioners to set the example and wear the new uniform, and this has brought up the question of where does the Commissioner’s Arrowhead go, on the new uniform? On a short sleeve shirt there’s no room at the bottom of the sleeve, so I’ve suggested placing it where the unit numerals would normally go. Do we have the final word on this yet? (D. Scott Fortner, KRD Commissioner, Sequoia Council, CA)

Rather than making up an arbitrary rule, such as you’ve done, why not just be a little patient and wait till the next Insignia Guide gets published, or the website for it gets updated. Your method of making decisions about stuff like this, even though you have the best of intentions, is how the Scouting program starts veering away from True North. May I implore you, kindly, to ask those whom you’ve told to just hang in there a little bit… No one’s gonna live or die based on whether an Arrowhead’s been sewn on or not!

Dear Andy,

I’m a troop advancement chair. I’ve been, along with others at a recent committee meeting, that only our Scoutmaster and Crew Advisor were allowed to sign off on requirements, and possibly the Assistant Scoutmasters and/or Assistant Crew Advisors. I know that in the Advancement Committee Guide it states that a Patrol Leader and troop committee member may sign off. In order for them to be able to sign off, does the Scoutmaster have to specify that, or does that come automatically? My thought is that they should be able to automatically, because the Scoutmaster will confirm that the Scout has indeed completed the requirement at the Scoutmaster Conference.

One Scout in particular has mentioned to me that he’d rather go to someone else than speak with the Scoutmaster at the Conference, because he has a hard time meeting with the Scoutmaster. This goes for members of our Venturing crew, too. As advancement chair, I’m not allowed to talk with Scouts about where they are in advancement, or present them with opportunities to advance, or sign off on any of their advancement.

Several of our Venturing crew members have spent time working at a local Scout camp over the summer–this camp also runs programs in the off-season, such as merit badge weekends, Webelos partner and pal, family camp, etc. As these events come up, they send notices to previous staffers, asking for volunteers to help run the programs. A few of our crew members have volunteered in the past, and plan to do so in the future, but these weekends may correspond to a crew activity. I understand that if the crew member holds a leadership position such as president, he or she should be at the crew outing; however, if they’re not presently holding such a position and choose on their own accord to help with the camp activity as a volunteer, does the crew Advisor have a right in telling them No? It was said to various people that a crew outing comes first, then district, then council, then camp. Which means if a crew outing is occurring on the same weekend as one of these other events, then no crew members should be helping the camp, since they should be at the crew outing, despite having an advancement opportunity at both events. It seems to me that the crew member should be allowed to choose which outing he wants to attend. (Name Withheld, Orange County Council, CA)

Advancement is a part of the unit program; therefore, advancement is managed by the Scoutmaster, Advisor, Den Leader, or Skipper, depending on the type of unit. Committee people may be called upon by one of these leaders, to assist, but that would be occasional and not usually a regular occurrence. The responsibility of the unit’s advancement chair, or advancement person, is to keep records, report advancements to the local council, schedule boards of review as needed, perhaps chair boards of review, and other more-or-less administrative tasks. Communication as to what youths have accomplished what is communicated adult-to-adult (for instance, Scoutmaster-to-advancement chair) not youth-to-advancement chair.

If you are the advancement chair, then your primary responsibility is to support the Scoutmaster, Advisor, Skipper, etc., and not to take matters into your own hands or to interact directly with youth. Yours is an adult-to-adult support role. However, you are at liberty to schedule boards of review among Scouts or Venturers who do not seem to be embracing the advancement aspects of the program, as well as those who do, so long as you do this in total collaboration and cooperation with the unit leader. To do otherwise would be to undermine the direct youth leadership and therefore the Scouting program the unit as a whole is working to deliver.

If some youth are experiencing difficulties in communicating with the front-line adult leader(s), and have spontaneously spoken with you about this (that is, you have no initiated this subject matter in conversation), then it is your responsibility to have a conversation with that leader about this; it is absolutely not to short-circuit the process by taking on a role or responsibilities inappropriate to your position as a volunteer.

As regards your unit-versus-district/council scenario, your thoughts on this should be discussed openly in a unit committee meeting, but not for the purposes of “taking a vote.” I have the very strong feeling that this is more a problem of scheduling, and perhaps the district’s or council’s calendar should be taken into greater consideration when the youth plan their various weekend activities. BTW, did you notice that I said YOUTHplanning their activities? When they do this, then no “edicts” from Advisors, Scoutmasters, etc. become even remotely necessary! I have the strong feeling that this is where course correction is most needed.

Dear Andy,

I took the “hazardous weather” test on-line at our council website. In the “lightning” section it said that, if you’re caught in the open, to “assume the lightning crouch” and to spread out 100 feet away from each other. But in the “Guide to Safe Scouting” it says to spread out at least 15 feet apart. That’s a big difference, but I’m sure the greater the distance, the safer. What’s the correct distance if you’re limited for space? (Karen Nye, North Florida Council)

Lightning, of course, holds no prejudices… It’ll hit anyone, anywhere, anytime. Or not. The actual statistical odds of being struck by lightning are pretty tiny. Some estimates are as low as one in three million; others say .0002%; but, of course, if you’re the one hit, it’s instantly 100%. Which means there’s no “perfect” answer to your question, just as there’s no “perfect” procedure to follow when lightning’s about, although there are certainly some pretty dumb procedures, like huddling under the steel camp flagpole, or “assuming the position” under an ironwood tree <that’s an attempt at a joke…>. But, to stick with your question, one might say that the “correct” distance “if you are limited for space” is whatever you can get. Bottom line: If no one gets hit, you did it correctly.

And our NETCOMMISH adds:

We have a section on lightning safety on our site and recommend a 15-foot minimum. Check out

True story: Wife was a summertime cadet at a military academy many years ago. On the way to the parade ground one day, lightning struck and instantly killed a fellow cadet a mere ten feet away, while those around her were untouched and unharmed.

Our recommendation and the story are for situations with dry ground. The Florida area may present different requirements for wetlands, and so I’m inclined to say follow your council risk management committee’s advice as much as you can, because they’re more familiar with your area and what works best than we here in cyberspace could ever be!
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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