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Issue 153 – November 1, 2008

Howdy Andy,Your October 12th column had a question about whether or not the Wood Carving merit badge required earning the Totin’ Chip. I think you may have given out some incorrect information. Req. 2a says: “Earn the Totin’ Chip recognition”. (My pamphlet’s 2002, so I may have an outdated list of requirements, and I’ll check on this the next time I’m at the Scout Shop.) (Bob Bolton, Longs Peak Council, CO)

Yup, I did say, “…the Totin’ Chip is in the ‘special opportunities’ category and not a…’requirement’ for anything” and that’s incorrect. Your quotation from req. 2a is exactly right! Thanks for your sharp eyes!

Dear Andy,

I read in one of your recent columns the letter from Lloyd Persons about charred cloth preparation for flint-and-steel fire-starting. We had a fantastic presentation by Dr. Robert P. “Doc” Rannie several years ago at a District Roundtable–He showed us how to prepare charred cloth and both F&S and fire-by-friction. You can find his notes at: and

Doc’s “words of wisdom”: There are two kinds of fire-builders–Those who’ve burned themselves, and those who’ve not burned themselves…yet! (Carroll Treacy, ASM, Three Fires Council, IL)

Dear Andy,

On making char cloth, folks can go to one of the best resources at our disposal today: Google. A quick search yields thousands of resources, many of which have pictures of how this is done. Here’s one method that works:

1-Prepare a charring tin: punch a small hole in its top and bottom.

2-Use only 100% cotton material for the char cloth. Cut to fit charring tin. (I’ve use old blue jeans and old Oxford-cloth shirts. Be sure to cut away seams and other stitching, the thread is usually not cotton and will create a melted mess. BTW, I like your suggestion about the unbleached muslin._

3-Pack the charring tin with your cotton material loosely, but full. (How full is full and how loose is loose is something learned only by practice.)

4-Place the tin on top of a good-sized pile of coals—not in a fire, but on top of coals.

5-In time, a plume of smoke will start to pour out of the hole in the tin’s top (sometimes the smoke will become a jet of fire). All is good—let the smoke pour out.

6-When the smoking stops, turn the tin over and repeat step 5.

7-When the smoking stops the second time, remove the tin from the coals and plug the holes with toothpick ends or small pieces of whittled tree branches.

8-Let the tin cool.

9-When cool to the touch, remove the wood plugs and open the tin.

10-Check your char cloth. It should still be strong—that is, you can tug on it and it won’t tear or crumble—and it’ll be totally black. If it’s not totally black, back in the tin and back on the coals—You didn’t let out enough smoke. If it’s brittle or crumbles, you let out too much smoke and over-cooked the char cloth. Back to Step 1!

Your advice about trying this before showing the Scouts is spot-on. Making char cloth is more art than exact science. After two or three batches, any competent leader should be able to demonstrate this skill to their Scouts.

I think that the best part is not in the making, but in the using of char cloth. If even the tiniest spark lands on the char cloth, you’re good to go. Wrap it up in a bird’s nest, wave it about in the air (or gently blow on it), and Voila! The bird’s nest bursts into flames! The Scouts are totally amazed by this! Especially after letting them try to start a fire using just natural tinder or a jute twine bird’s nest without char cloth!

To be totally fair, cotton balls are nearly as good as char cloth. All by themselves they catch a spark very well. Use a dab of Vaseline and work it into the cotton ball with your fingers and you’ll have something that catches sparks very well and will burn for several minutes. (The problem with cotton balls vs. char cloth is in the handling—with char cloth, you can catch the spark and still handle the material to move it to a bird’s nest, but cotton balls burst into flame as soon as they catch a spark, so put them into the bird’s nest first. (T.J. Kackowski, MC, Crossroads of America Council, IN)

Dear Andy,

A Scoutmaster wanted to know how long it takes for cloth to turn to char. There’s no need to experiment with times, whether using an Altoid tin or coffee can. After puncturing a small hole in the can, it can be placed on the coals. There’s no need for timing—the process is complete and cloth turned to char when smoke nearly stops flowing from the hole! It’s important to remove the can at that time and not leave it on the coals. The deprivation of oxygen due to the small hole means that the material never fully combusts. Only the volatiles burn off (visible in the smoke), leaving behind unconsumed carbon (char). This is done with the smoke is done. The final step is VERY IMPORTANT: DON’T OPEN THE CAN OR TIN TILL IT’S COOLED. Opening the container while it’s still hot will allow oxygen to contact the still very hot material and it might spontaneously combust. In addition to a bit of danger, the fire will consume all of the char, ruining your work! (Richard Hough, Monmouth Council, NJ)


Dear Andy,

About that question in your October 18th column about the pack that was buying uniforms and being reimbursed, I agree: If the boy is to own it, then send him with his parents to go get it! This can be an exciting experience for the boy and his family!

One thing I was able to do in our own pack to solve the “leaders without uniforms” situation was to ask them why they didn’t wear
a uniform and, when they’d say “It’s too expensive” I knew I had ‘em cornered! Our pack buys our leader their uniforms, and when they move on, we take it back and then reissue it. I also used this as an angle to have them go get trained, so we didn’t have to take off the “trained” strip! (Carl Sommer, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Brilliant, and I’m lovin’ it!

Dear Andy,

The question came up in our troop: “Why do we say ‘two’ to signal people to end the salute?” Do you know? (Bob Cent)

The salute is done to a “two-count.” The first is “Scout…salute,” which has the same meaning as saying “one” and brings the hand to the eyebrow or hat brim. The second is simply called “two,” which has the same meaning as “OK, you can put yer hand down now.”

Dear Andy:

I’ve heard that only one temporary insignia at a time can be worn on the Scout uniform. What should I do about all the other patches and awards that my son earns, like the 50-Miler, World Conservation, Good Turn, and so on? I’ve heard that temporary insignia can be worn on the back of the sash: Is that right? (Sandra Perrone, Troop Advancement Chair, Westchester-Putnam Council, NY)

It’s absolutely correct that only one badge gets worn on a Scout shirt’s right pocket. Other badges can be put on a “patch blanket,” or in a memorabilia album, or on the back of a merit badge sash (except for prior rank badges, which are not put on a sash, anywhere). Thanks for asking!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster. In our troop of 30 Scouts we have one who’s home-schooled. He recently asked me about two of the requirements for Second Class rank—“participate in a school or community program on the danger of using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco” and “demonstrate proper care, sharpening and use of the knife, saw and ax”—and he was very upset to learn that I expected him, for the first of these two requirements, to find a community program that he could attend and, for the second, that he do this while on a troop campout (we have at least ten campouts a year, aside from summer camp). It seems that, for the first one, he wanted the troop to make this a part of a troop meeting program, so that he’d qualify, and, for the second, that he just tell me, with no actual demonstration. I took the time to explain to him that it’s unreasonable to expect the entire troop to do a D.A.R.E.-type program in a troop meeting when they already do this at school and, for the second, that all he needs to do is come along on a camping trip and we’ll do it as the requirement’s written. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough. His father brought this up to our Committee Chair, and, subsequently, he (the CC) told me that I was wrong. When I explained to him that the requirements state “participate” and “demonstrate,” and that’s what should be done, he said I was being “too hard” (his words) on the Scout. I didn’t budge. So, without telling me, the CC had one of our brand-new ASMs sign off on these requirements for this Scout, and then do the Scoutmaster Conference, ultimately sending the Scout along to his Second Class board of review. I’m feeling totally betrayed by the Committee Chair. When a Scout has his book signed off without meeting the language of a requirement, this is a violation of BSA advancement policies, or am I mistaken? (Name & Council Withheld)

What a Royal Charlie Foxtrot! Yes, your CC betrayed your confidence and undermined the Scoutmaster position in the troop by taking advancement matters into his own hands. Moreover, the ASM who colluded with him is equally guilty of transgressing and undermining, brand-new or not. To make matters even worse, they were both wrong in allowing that Scout to skirt both the language and purpose of the requirements. The signatures must stand, because there is a principle in Scouting that once earned, a requirement or rank cannot be rescinded—even when the adults involved were wrong and did it improperly. As for the two violations of trust and overstepping of responsibility, only you can decide what will happen next. At the very least, those two culprits owe you sincere apologies and absolute assurances that they’ll never, ever again violate the role and responsibilities of the Scoutmaster.

Dear Andy,

I have a number of Scouts working on Camping merit badge and a question has come up on the requirement of 20 days-and-nights of camping. The Scouts have been to summer camp two years a row—six days-nights camping each time. Can they count this as 12 nights towards the 20 days-nights requirement? (David Cosgrove)

Good question, and it may be the single most frequently asked question in my seven years writing this column. The answer’s the same every time. The requirement (9[a]) says “…a week…” and that’s seven days and nights last time I checked, so no, you can’t count more than seven days-and-nights of summer camp (i.e., “long term camp) toward the 20.

Hello Andy,

I’m helping a friend’s son to earn his technology badge. Well, I read all your examples for this and always steer towards construction. He‘s interested in my field of work into electronics. I’d possibly like to have him build a circuit board from nothing to something. I just want to make sure he gets the most out of it. Has anyone ever done the electronics point-of-view for engineering? I was just looking for an example on what he needs for this to work, and get the best for him. Any help on this would be great. (Mark A. Martin, Jr.)

Thanks for finding me, and for writing. I need a little help from you… There is no “Technology” badge, per se, in either Cub Scouting or Boy Scouting. In Cub Scouting, at the Webelos level, there is a group of four activity badges under the “technology” heading—Craftsman, Engineer, Handyman, and Scientist. Are these by any chance what you’re talking about? If so, then you’ll find the exact requirements in the boy’s Webelos Handbook. If, however, you’re referring to something else, please let me know so that I can help address your questions.

Yes, I’m referring to the Webelos level, for engineering activity. Do you need to go by those structured layouts? If so, that’s all I needed to know. Thanks. (Mark A. Martin, Jr.)

Thanks for clarifying. Yes, you do follow the written requirements exactly. No “interpretation” or “substitutes,” no “additions” or “subtractions”—the boy fulfills the requirements exactly as written.

Hi Andy,

Your column is an invaluable resource to those of us who are looking for answers about many of the day-to-day questions confronting us Scouting volunteers. I’ve read almost all your answers to questions about unit committees and Eagle projects, but I’ve not been able to answer a question that’s has recently confronted our committee here in Taipei…

Our Senior Patrol Leader is a Life Scout currently planning his Eagle project. He’ll be presenting his project proposal to the committee shortly. His mother is a committee member and regularly attends meetings. Our other members are mostly expat business people; many have broad regional (i.e., Pacific Rim) responsibilities, so that it’s often difficult to get a majority of them in the same place at the same time. In the context of the approval of this particular project, the following questions have arisen:

– Does the BSA have any policies relating to a quorum, or voting, required for a troop committee to approve an Eagle project? (I’ve seen your comments about the irrelevance of “quorum” and “voting” for unit committee work, but wondered if Eagle was an exception to this.)

– Assuming that the BSA does have such requirements, do these in any way preclude our SPL’s mother from being counted for quorum purposes? For voting purposes?

– Assuming that the BSA has no such policies, do you perceive any impropriety in permitting our SPL’s mother to be counted for quorum or voting purposes?

Thanks in advance. (Bill, ASM, Far East Council, Taipei, Taiwan)

Let’s cut to the chase for you here…

No, there’s no “exception” for Eagle or Eagle projects. In fact, if just one committee member sees the write-up and signs off, that’s just fine! Remember that the importance of this step, by the committee and the Scoutmaster, is not to “approve” or “disapprove” the project but to guide and mentor the Scout so that he can be successful. Our job is TO HELP YOUNG PEOPLE ACHIEVE SUCCESS. It’s not to “ding” them or make them do more paperwork and it’s certainly not to “vote” on the merits of their projects but, rather, to guide them and counsel and coach them, so that once they actually tackle the project, the odds of success are as near 100% as possible. “Quorum”? Forgetaboutit!

Doesn’t matter if mom sees it or not! Let’s get real: Mom’s already seen it! This isn’t about “swaying the vote” because there is no vote! Let’s help this Scout succeed!

Kam sia for reading, and especially for writing!

Dear Andy,

What would your advice be to a pack that found itself with only one Webelos I Scout? (Angela Bull, Central Florida Council)

How about quickly rounding up some new 4th graders!

This is a troubling question… How did this happen? Was there a Tiger, Wolf, or Bear den that shrunk or kept shrinking? Or was there just one new boy who joined up as a 4th grader, and there were no other 4thy graders in the pack this year?

We actually have four Webelos I’s right now, but if we hadn’t gone out and recruited more, we’d have had a den of just one! We do, however, have just one Webelos II Scout. He’s in the Webelos I den and that’s working out OK because he’s new to Scouting.

The question really goes back to what would have been the best path to take had we only had one. Yes, the greater issue is that the son of last year’s Bear Den Leader was the sole remaining boy from that den. They started out with 11 and proceeded to lose 10 and their Assistant DL, too. What does that tell you? Probably wouldn’t tell you that he’s now taking a Commissioner position, right? <LOL> He’s our “problem leader.” He’s taken on the position of Assistant WDL this year, and we have a new WDL in place, but as I’m sure you’ve seen, a “bad apple” can spread the rot. We’re dealing with that issue with our present Unit Commissioner and our Chartered Organization Representative as we speak. The pack leadership won’t let that happen to the Webelos den this year, and this guy doesn’t like the fact that we’re looking over his shoulder at the den, but we’re doing that with all dens that had excessive attrition. That’s our job and we should have been more proactive and less accepting of the excuses last year—Shame on us. We’re all volunteers, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept people who don’t do the job they signed up for.

Thanks for all of your great advice in your column. I check back often to see when a new one pops up. (Angela Bull)

First job: Get that loser out of your pack! Your Commissioner has nothing to do with this process “officially,” but he can sure support your Chartered Organization Representative and Committee Chair: These are the two key people who can literally fire this guy. And the best news is that, once this is done, he has no place to “appeal” or in any way try to get the decision reversed. It’s done and over. Do it, before he messes up another den. Do NOT leave it to a new Webelos Den Leader to “keep him under control”—That’s unfair to the “good” WDL and means you’re forcing him to divert his energies from the boys in his den—These should be his only focus!

In that regard, the good news is that this isn’t a business, so there’s no “three strikes” rule, and you don’t have to build a paperwork trail of misdemeanors. You just have to say, “Thanks for your services; they won’t be needed any longer,” and then just stick to your guns and don’t get buffaloed into recanting.

Then, you have the right to make sure he does NOT become the Commissioner to your pack!

Make this happen—For the BOYS!

Dear Andy,

There was recently an issue of discipline with one of the Scouts in our troop. Some members of the troop’s committee disagreed with our (new) Scoutmaster on how he handled the matter, so now the committee and the Chartered Organization Representative are trying the amend the troop’s bylaws so they can have input on individual cases and even have veto power over the Scoutmaster. As a long-time ASM and now a committee member, my own feeling is that the Scoutmaster did handle the matter properly, although he did it in a manner different from what our prior Scoutmaster (who is now the COR) may have handled it. What are your thoughts. (David Wooten)

Hmmm… A former Scoutmaster who doesn’t like how the new guy does things, so instead of conferring or collaborating with him, the old fart’s going to try to “regulate” him with “legislation.” My, how wonderfully Scout-like! So, when leadership by example isn’t an option, I guess the next best thing is brute force, yes?

In the first place, no troop has any need whatsoever for “bylaws.” The BSA itself provides all of the policies and bylaws a Scouting unit would ever need. In other organizations, where local unit constitutions and bylaws are indeed needed, the “umbrella” organization provides them. In the case of the BSA, they’re simply not needed. Consequently, no “amendments” should even be warranted, and whatever bylaws were mistakenly constructed should be garbage-canned immediately.

As for the particular incident and what’s developed since then, the Scoutmaster has sole contact with the Scouts and the committee never overrides the Scoutmaster’s decisions. If there is disagreement, then this is resolved privately, between the Committee Chair and the Scoutmaster, and no one else except possibly the Chartered Organization Representative. If resolution is not possible, then a change in volunteers may be needed. The ultimate decider is the COR, followed by the CC.

That said, if there is a serious behavioral problem with a Scout, such that there is danger of his bringing physical harm to himself or others, then the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair should absolutely be collaborating as a team!

However, if the committee and COR persist in their misguided attempt to legislate the Scoutmaster into impotency if not subservience, my advice to that Scoutmaster would be really simple: Walk away from these self-important Dodos fast as you can.

Hi Andy,

Our pack has a family campout coming up and I’m hoping you could help me find a campfire story I read a while ago that I’d like to do at our campfire. It went something like… There’s a scary man from the woods who loses some of his body-parts in the story…When I tell about how he lost his fingers, I pass around a bag that has pieces of carrots in it for fingers that the boys reach inside and feel… Then a bag of grapes for the eyes… Chiclets for teeth… Something for brains, and so on. Would you happen to know this story and were I could get a copy? (Al Cameron, WDL, Otetiana Council, NY)

I don’t know the story, unfortunately, but it won’t take much to fill in the pieces and give it a proper ghoulish ending! Don’t forget cold spaghetti for intestines, some hot dog ends for toes, and anything else you can dream up! Have a ghoulitely scary weekend!

Dear Andy,

I’m just curious to know if certain of the merit badges (specifically, Citizenship of the World and Personal Fitness) can only be earned after a Scout has reached First Class rank. Our troop has offered a couple of merit badges recently, both of which are required for Eagle, but the Counselors have said participation is only opened to Scouts who are at least First Class rank. (Chris Carstens, National Capital Area Council, VA)

Unfortunately, some folks like to substitute personal idiocy for BSA policy. Usually doesn’t work in favor of the Scouts. Ever wonder why that is…?

On page 22 of the BSA publication Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS (No.33215) there is a clear statement that any Scout can earn any merit badge any time he chooses. Nuff sed? No…? Well, how about this: It goes on to say, on the same page, that a Scout doesn’t need any sort of rank advancement to be eligible for any merit badge. So, those so-called counselors can either mend their ways or go find another job—there’s no half-way on this and, when it comes to advancement policies, the BSA always supersedes what some yokels want to do arbitrarily. Yup, always. No exceptions.

Dear Andy,

For Cub Scouts to earn any badges, pins or awards, does their Den Leader need to have any training? (Mary Holdren, Columbia-Montour Council, PA)

For Tiger through Bear, “Akela” is 99% the parent (the Webelos program is different) and the “training” for parent-as-Akela is described in the front sections of every Cub Scout handbook.

As for Den Leaders, all need training, or else how will they know how best to deliver the Cub Scouting program to the boys in their dens!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Life Scout working towards my Eagle. I’ve completed the Golf merit badge, but I’m having trouble locating a Counselor it. Can you help me? (Name Withheld, Northern New Jersey Council)

Hmmm… When’s the last time you got out your handbook and read page 187? That’s where it describes how a Scout like you goes about earning a merit badge. Notice how you start by visiting with a Merit Badge Counselor? That’s what happens first; not last. So, while I wish you the very best of luck, I can tell you that, if I were a Merit Badge Counselor for Golf, and you came to me, you’d be starting from the beginning. Why? Because the responsibility of the Merit Badge Counselor is to impart wisdom, knowledge, skills, and insights. It’s not to “check-off boxes” on a Blue Card. And, speaking of Blue Cards (the more usual name for a merit badge application), do you have one of these, signed by your Scoutmaster?

Try to get the horse and the cart in the correct order. You’ll get a lot more out of Scouts that way!

Dear Andy,

Where would I find it written about Den Leaders not having a vote on unit committees? Also, what about rules on fundraising by dens instead of the pack? (Charlie O’Connell, Minsi Trails Council, PA)

For your first question, how about using the BSA adult application. One can only register in one position in a unit, and DL is DL and MC is MC. Then, get out the trusty Cub Scout Leader Book and look at the Pack Organization chart: DLs aren’t members of the committee, plain as day. Plus, a little more reading will reveal that DLs don’t even attend committee meetings! This is fundamental stuff! So what I’m really hearing is that these people either haven’t read or haven’t gone to training, or both.

On “why get trained,” let’s try this: How about loaning your car to someone with no driver’s license who’s never taken any classes in driving, and has never driven a car, but who has watched lots of cars driven by other folks. If you’re not OK with this, then how is it that, as a parent, you’re OK with lending your son to someone with no training and no credentials as a leader-instructor-caregiver of children?

Second’s a no-brainer: What for? Dens have no need to raise money.

Thanks Andy, I knew the answer; looking for page reference. I do the training in our district and agree a thousand percent on trained leaders being essential to the quality of the program delivered! (Charlie)

Check out page 2 of the application, and page 3-1 of the CSLB.

Dear Andy,

My son is about ready to have his Eagle court of honor and my neighbor said that when his son got his Eagle he found a bunch of addresses on where he wrote and got letters from leaders all of congratulations for his son. I don’t see where he found this. Do you know or have any ideas? Thanks. (Shelley Taylor)

Good news! If you simply Google “eagle recognition letters” you’ll get more citations and links than you can possibly deal with! Enjoy!

NetCommish Comment: The website is one of the family of U.S. Scouting Service Project websites. We have about 20 or so. The material you were seeking can be found at:

and other locations on our site. They all point to the same page. We update this page frequently because various people write to us to ask to be added or removed from the list.

One note – please pick a few of these to write to — ones that will be meaningful to your son. I’ve seen people try to make it a contest to see how many letters that they can get and then present the new Eagle with a huge book of letters that is opened once or twice and then shelved to collect dust. Remember that each of these people is taking a little of their time to help Scouting by sending a letter. Each month we lose a few who are just overwhelmed by too many requests for the time they have available. Too much of a good thing can spoil it for Scouts in the future. Thanks.

Dear Andy,

I was told, 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. After a scout has completed a requirement and has had it signed off, then he could let me know (I’m the Troop Advancement Chair) so I can record the information. I know that in the Advancement Committee Guide that it states that a Patrol Leader and Committee Member may sign off on requirements, but in order for this to happen, does the Scoutmaster specify that, or does that come automatically. My thought is that they should be able to automatically, because the Scoutmaster will confirm if the Scout has indeed completed the requirement at the Scoutmaster Conference. A Scout has mentioned to me that he’d rather go to someone else first, before speaking with the Scoutmaster at the conference, as he has a hard time meeting with the Scoutmaster. This goes for members of our Venturing crew as well. As advancement chair, I’m not allowed to talk with Scouts about where they are in advancement, or present them with opportunities, or sign off on any of their advancements.

Secondly, several of our Venturing crew members have spent time working at a local Scout camp during 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, the camp sends notices out to previous staffers to ask for their help in running the programs (as volunteers—no pay). 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 Venturer holds a leadership, they 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 the right to tell 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 the same weekend as one of these other events, then no crew members should be helping the camp, because they should be at the crew outing, despite their having advancement opportunities at both events. It seems to me that crew members should be allowed to choose which outing they’d wish to attend.

Thank you for your thoughts (Troop Advancement Chair, Orange County Council, CA)

Thanks for asking very intelligent questions!

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 occasionally called upon by one of these leaders, to assist, but that would not necessarily be a regular occurrence. The responsibility of the unit’s advancement chair, or advancement person as the case may be, 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 completed which requirements or earned which ranks is communicated adult-to-adult (e.g., Scoutmaster-to-advancement chair) not youth-to-adult.

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, with direct and timely collaboration between you and the unit leader.

If some youth are experiencing difficulties in communicating with the front-line adult leader, then it is your responsibility to have a conversation with that leader about this; it is not—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. Did you notice that I said YOUTH planning 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.

How can our unit move to more youth-planned activities? The PLC is used to help plan what happens at the weekly meetings, but as far as what occurs at an outing, or even when outings are scheduled and where the troop goes, it’s the Scoutmaster with help from the activities chair who does that.

Getting the adult volunteers to training for their positions would be a huge help. Also, reading the appropriate sections of the Scoutmaster Handbook would go a long way toward fixing this problem. Because here’s the bottom line: If there’s no Patrol Method and there’s no PLC decision-making for the annual calendar, you all may think you’re delivering the Boy Scout program, but you’re not. That’s right: You’re not delivering the Boy Scout program. You’re delivering something that might look like it, but it’s not it. Simple as that.

Hello Andy!

Scouts who complete the Den Chief Training Conference may wear the “trained” emblem, but only if they’re actually Den Chiefs—is that correct? Also, if the Scout later earns the Den Chief Service Award, he removes the “trained” emblem—is this true? Thanks! (Heather, Mt. Diablo-Silverado Council, CA)

That TRAINED patch stipulation applies to everyone; not just Den Chiefs. If you’re serving in the position for which you earned it, then you wear it; otherwise, it comes off.

We have a dozen or so Scouts who have gone through the Den Chief training, but they haven’t applied to be or have no interest in the actual Den Chief position—so they shouldn’t wear the trained patch on their uniform, correct? (Heather)

Why in the world would Scouts who have no interest in being Den Chiefs go through DC training?

Our council is offering a four-hour Den Chief training course next month, and our troop pushes the Scouts to take it. “Even if you’re not going to be Den Chiefs, we’d still like you to go, just to get the training—just to get the leadership skills,” is what they announced the other night. “…And if you go, you get this cool ‘trained’ patch to wear!” So I’m still confused. Sure, they go through the class, but do they really rate wearing the trained patch, if they’re not Den Chiefs? (Heather)

We already know the answer on wearing the TRAINED patch, and we know that it applies to everyone.

Taking a training course for Den Chief when you have no intention of becoming one sounds sorta like taking SCUBA lessons before heading off to the Kalahari! But if the troop wants to dangle the idea of wearing a trained patch as the “carrot” for wasting a half-day or more at a meaningless training course, and can “sell” it on that basis, I guess we’ll let ’em get away with it. There are, after all, bigger fish to fry! Such as: Does this same troop offer leadership training for their Patrol Leaders Council? Now there’s one that is important!

Hi Andy,

Is there a specific amount of time a Den Chief must serve in order to receive his Den Chief patch? (Doug)

Good question! How about two seconds…the time it takes him to say yes I’ll do the job. That’s right: He gets the DC position patch immediately. It’s not an “award”–it’s a badge of office.

Now I sure hope there’s no “back-story” on your question, like your troop withholds Patrol Leader, SPL, QM, Scribe, and so forth badges till they’re “earned,” because this is total baloney!

Dear Andy,

Is it OK for a female board member wear a patrol emblem on her uniform? It’s a Beaver patrol medallion, yet this member was not in any part of any patrol and her son is not a part of any Beaver Patrol. There’s no Beaver Patrol in the troop. Also, if she does choose to wear the female uniform, does she have to wear it as a “Class A,” meaning socks and pants at all times, just like the Scouts in the troop, or can she wear just the shirt? As a committee member for advancement, she is taking part in this for a Scout who is presenting his Eagle project proposal. She’s refusing to accept the changes made to his proposal, in which he’s tried several times to present to her in hard copy and disk form. At this point, is it possible to request a new advancement counselor, because this member is not performing her duties as requested? (Name & Council Withheld)

By board member, do you mean member of a troop board of review for Boy Scout advancement? If so, then this person also needs to be registered as a member of the troop’s committee, and in no other position in the troop (e.g., “Assistant Scoutmaster,” etc.). Any registered adult volunteer in Scouting is permitted—encouraged, in fact—to wear the Scouter’s uniform. Of course, it is intended that the uniform be worn in its entirety; not piecemeal. As an adult invested in setting the example this woman should certainly be wearing a complete uniform; if it’s not complete, it sends the wrong message to the youth of the troop. If she cannot afford to purchase all of the uniform’s parts, then she can be instructed to not wear pieces until full uniforming can be accomplished, and she should understand and comply with this instruction. If she doesn’t comply, she can be advised that her volunteer position in the troop can be terminated at any time by agreement of the Committee Chair and the Chartered Organization Representative, and there is no “higher authority” to reinstate her. The troop being a volunteer organization, not a business entity, no “three strikes” or “full documentation” or anything else is necessary other than the Committee Chair saying, “Thank you for your services—they are no longer needed,” and then having the council service center remove her name from the registrar’s file of the troop’s roster.

As for a wayward patch, have you checked to see if this woman participated in Wood Badge training? If so, then she may have been a member of the training course’s “Beaver Patrol,” which would explain, perhaps, why that patrol medallion is there. If not, have you considered simply asking her why she wears it? This strikes me as the most straightforward and expedient avenue. Of course, since adults aren’t members of patrols (other than during WB training), you can ask her to remove it, so as not to confuse the Scouts. However, IMHO the overall uniforming issue is larger than a patch issue. Do what you need to do; just don’t walk small.

As for the third question, about this woman’s refusal to accept a Scout’s revised project proposal, who died and put her in charge? Let’s take control and help this Scout, please.

Dear Andy,

Over the past several months my son has become very frustrated with the Eagle Scout project proposal process. His Scoutmaster didn’t approve his first project. He didn’t want to create waves, so he moved on to a different project. He received a verbal OK to go ahead with the second one, but now, even though he’s re-written his proposal four times, he’s still being told it’s not acceptable to go to council. Meanwhile, the head of the not-for-profit organization the project would be done for already signed off on the initial write-up! Despite this, his Scoutmaster is still saying that the write-up isn’t complete, and that my son has to follow the Eagle Guide, including detailed instructions on how everything should be put together (like a recipe) even though he has already provided CAD drawings and descriptions in the write-up. Then, the Scoutmaster gave my son a list of additional questions to be answered and incorporated into the write-up, such as “How will you demonstrate leadership?” and “What will you do if…?” and on and on. Is this normal? Is there some written proposal format or template or guide available, that a Scout can use as a reference? Thanks for your time and help. (Angie Gerrein)

First understand that the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project Workbook (No. 18-927E, go here for three versions: is mandatory, in order to propose and plan the project. For this, which can be filled out online, or on a computer at home or library, or even in writing, the questions are the same for every Eagle candidate. They are, essentially, What is it? Who is it for? Who will benefit, and how? Who is your contact? and What are the details? The general principle applied to the answers is simply: If someone else were to carry out this project, is there sufficient detail in this description for it to turn out as envisioned? If the answer’s yes, then the description’s sufficient. Questions like “How was leadership demonstrated?” come after the project’s completed; not before it’s started. Forcing a Scout to answer questions like that constitutes “adding to a requirement” and this is strictly forbidden by BSA national policy, and no BSA policy can be superseded. Then, to actually start the work, the candidate needs four signatures: The head of the organization the project is for, his Scoutmaster, a troop committee member, and a representative of the district or council advancement committee.

I know from your letter that your son has the most important first signature, and he doesn’t have the second yet, but I can’t tell what the situation is with the third—the unit committee member.

Based on what you’ve told me, it appears that the Scoutmaster, by being excessively demanding, is in violation of BSA policy, but I don’t know if anyone else among the troop’s adult volunteers is aware of this. Moreover, I don’t know if any conversations have taken place yet between your son and the district or council advancement committee. Nevertheless, I can see at least three options for your son to pursue as he sees fit. These are not in any particular order:

-Talk this over with the troop’s advancement person or advancement chair and see if this person can’t collaborate with the Scoutmaster to encourage him to get things moving along.

-Inquire and identify the district advancement person responsible for signing off on Eagle projects and have an in-person meeting with him or her to clear things up and get things moving.

-Do as the Scoutmaster asks, as quickly as possible, so the project can get the rest of its signatures and get started.

As parents, you and his father may want to quietly and unobtrusively show this communication exchange to your troop committee chair; however, do this only if your son and you discuss this option in advance and he agrees.

Hi Andy,


In BSA adult training I’ve learned that a troop’s Senior Patrol Leader serves in that capacity at all troop functions and activities during his term of office (except if he’s absent and an ASPL serves in his place), and this tracks with my own long-ago experience as a Scout. However, in this troop the SPL runs the troop and PLC meetings, but not the campouts, troop service projects, or any other activities. For these, other Scouts “volunteer” (with some Scoutmaster input) to be the “Acting SPL,” and each event has a different Acting SPL. They say this way of doing things started way back, to give all the Scouts leadership experience. I’m wondering if any other troops do this sort of thing, and if you know of any guidelines to use for this. (John Japs, ASM, Northern Star Council, MN)
Bottom line: This is malarkey and it undermines the SPL; plus, it deprives him of his responsibilities and the learning that goes along with that. This little ritual needs to be shot and buried as fast as you can. Scouts “get leadership experience” when they’re elected Patrol Leader or Senior Patrol Leader, or asked to be ASPL by their SPL, or they’re appointed Scribe, QM, Instructor, Troop Guide (for new Scout patrols), etc. Your folks need to go back and RT*H!

Dear Andy,

In your October 12th column, Chris Byers asked about “Green Bar” Bill Hillcourt’s Eagle Scout Award.

I’m a Wikipedia editor and a member of the WikiProject Scouting team dedicated to improving the Wikipedia Scouting. The William Hillcourt piece is one of our recent featured articles representing the best work found on Wikipedia. After reading your column, I revisited that article and looked at the Eagle Scout question; we’ve now updated it to show that the Eagle Scout date is in question. When or if Hillcourt earned the Eagle rank is uncertain. The BSA Distinguished Eagle Scout Award list, just recently published on the web, shows Hillcourt earning it in 1918 (the year also attributed to his earning the Danish Knight-Scout rank), but he did not arrive in the U.S. until 1926. So, did he earn Eagle after arriving here, or did the BSA recognize his Danish rank? Someone with BSA archive access would need to dig in to answer this. Regardless, Green Bar Bill remains an icon of Scouting and Scoutmaster to the World. (Ed Palmer)

One of the things we sometimes overlook is that, for many years, Eagle (along with Life and Star) wasn’t considered a “rank”—It was called a “merit badge,” in fact. Anyone could earn it—He just had to earn 21 merit badges and he got the medal. Yes, there was a pretty intense board of review in those days, and it certainly didn’t follow today’s principle of “no re-test.” But that was then and this is now. I suspect that Eagles may have been awarded perhaps a little more freely then, because they didn’t have quite the same heft—imputed or otherwise—that they do today (college and employment applications, military accord, etc.). So, maybe Green Bar Bill earned it, and maybe he didn’t, and maybe he was justly awarded the DEA and maybe there was a wink along the way, but the point raised for which this became—justifiably or not—a litmus test had to do with whether we provide BSA ranks (or, more accurately, rank badges, such as “square knots”) for “equivalent” accomplishments in other Scout organizations or not, and I am of the personal opinion that we don’t. I hold that position because I further believe that it’s within the “wiggle room” the BSA policies provide to wear the actual rank you earned elsewhere, be it Knight-Scout or Queen’s Scout or whatever, and you don’t have to make an apology for wearing a “foreign” Scouting recognition, rank, or award, and—Bill Hillcourt aside—that’s the point.

Dear Andy,

Our Senior Patrol Leader just resigned. Do we hold an immediate election, or give the position to the Scout who came in second? (Jim Campbell)

If you hold another election, the Scout who came in second should probably be elected, and if he’s not, then so be it. What’s really troubling me is the unanswered: Why did your SPL resign, rather than complete his term? Do you not consider this unusual?

Dear Andy,

Is there a certain age for any Scout to work on a Merit Badge? (John Diorio)

Any Boy Scout can elect to work on any merit badge any time he, himself chooses to. That’s in the handbook, by the way.

Some Merit Badge Counselors won’t let Scouts work on a badge until they reach a specific age. I can understand this for Personal Management or Environmental Science, but not many others. Your thoughts? (John Diorio)

Any MBC who restricts any Scout for any reason should not be further utilized. They’re not following BSA policy. Instead, they’re making arbitrary decisions based on their own sense of self-importance. They’re full of beans. If you “understand” this, for any merit badge, I’m sorry to say you’re off-base, too. RT*H!

The best way to keep Scouting pointed toward True North is to check the handbook, because ninety-nine percent of what we need to know to deliver a quality Scouting program is right there, and the other one percent isn’t worth bothering with if we get the first part right! Our biggest challenge and our most important responsibility is to deliver what that book tells boys they’re gonna get when they join Scouts!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster with a problem I need some help with. Out troop is new and our Committee Chair acts like her son is the only Scout in the troop who matters. At summer camp, which she comes to, she won’t leave her son alone—following him to all of his merit badge sessions, helping him with his waiter duties in the dining hall, and tracking me down at the end of every day to make sure I signed off on his advancements. On another campout, this same mom had her son share a tent with her, and when asked about it her rationale was that her son doesn’t like other boys to mess his stuff up, in the tent. We’re not starting our fall fund-raising to purchase troop equipment, and this same mom is taking the position that since her son sold thousands of dollars of popcorn last year he doesn’t need to participate in this year’s event. If this one weren’t enough, we now have another mom who wants to help all the Scouts get their merit badges, so she’s signing them all up at other councils’ merit badge fairs.

How can we effectively tell these moms that this is supposes to be a boy-run program, and that the Scouts are supposed to ask for conferences and reviews on their own and not at their moms’ prodding and their moms can’t make the requests for them, and as for merit badges, if the Scouts are interested in them they should be the ones to take the initiative and not have things spoon-fed to them? (Name Withheld in Wisconsin)

These “Webelos III Moms” are only part of the problem. This entire troop of boys and parents is screwed up. Whoever has avoided telling these parents to cut it out is the “enabler” and the ultimate culprit. This isn’t about “effectively telling moms.” This is about fixing the whole dang mess. Somebody has to grow a spine, get up off the ground, and stop being the parents’ doormat. I recommend that the Scoutmaster, with a new Committee Chair at his side, deliver the following procedures, to be put in place immediately and without further discussion, or this troop can go find itself another Scoutmaster:

– Parents may come to and from hikes and campouts as drivers only; they aren’t permitted to camp with or spend time with the Scouts. Only the Scoutmaster and his chosen ASM will interact with the Scouts. No exceptions for any reason.

– Parents will remain in another room during all troop meetings and may enter the troop meeting room by permission of the Scoutmaster only.

– Advancement is 100% done through and with the Scoutmaster, only. Only by special invitation of the Scoutmaster will any other adult have anything to do with advancement or requirements.

Make these three stick. Once these are in place, the Scoutmaster can start getting other things right, like having PLC meetings, etc. Remember this: You must be prepared to walk away, or this’ll never happen.

Can a council’s paid professional also hold a Scoutmaster position in his or her own council? (I’d been under the impression they can’t.)

Can a married couple hold key positions in the same troop, for instance, Scoutmaster and Committee Chair? (Isn’t this a conflict of interest?)

Can a Committee Chair sign off Scouts’ advancements, or should she be directing Scouts to their Scoutmaster, explaining that a member of the committee sits on boards of review only ? (Jim Meinert)

Yes, a professional can be a volunteer, too, although that’s pretty rare because the Scouting profession typically doesn’t offer much in the way of “free time.” How a “professional” spends what little free time he or she has is, of course, up to them. If they wish to volunteer in the Scouting program, or the YMCA, or the Red Cross, or any other organization of any kind, that’s their personal decision, wouldn’t you think?

The BSA makes no rulings on the relationships between volunteers; this is a decision to be made by the unit’s chartered organization head, or its COR. That said, the combination you describe can be wonderfully healthy and efficient, or horribly power-mongering and debilitating to a unit. As in all things, it always comes down to the individuals and what their motivations and ultimate goals are.

The handbook’s pages for requirement and rank sign-offs say “Leader.” This is intended to mean Scoutmaster, Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, etc.; it’s rarely if ever for anyone on the troop committee to sign, because these people effectively have no direct contact with the Scouts of a troop unless invited to do so by the Scoutmaster.

Dear Andy,

I just found out that one of our new Tiger Cub Den Leaders never completed his Eagle service project, due to the untimely death of his father. He’d apparently finished all the other Eagle requirements. Does the BSA have any allowances for contingencies or extenuating circumstances like this in awarding Boy Scouting’s highest rank? (Dan Gorski, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Of course we don’t know how old this gentleman was when his father passed away. It may have been close to his 18th birthday; but that should be merely presumed. If he were a year or so younger than 17 and a some number of months, then that death may or may not have been the road-blocking cause of not completing his project for Eagle. So, the first question one would need to ask is: Has this gentleman, himself, gone to any lengths, at any time between that unfortunate event and now (which, I’m guessing, has to be at least a dozen years; likely more) to pursue a remedy for himself? If not, then it’s probably better to leave it alone. But, if there’s a special reason to pursue this, then by all means he should reach out to his council’s advancement committee, present the facts, and see what they have to say!

Hi Andy,

How do Cub Scouts go about getting the information on earning the religion medals. I know the information says to talk to the individual churches, but no one at my church seems to know what I‘m talking about. Do you have any other advice or information? It’s a United Methodist Church. (Laura Baker, Wolf ADL, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

Go here: — P.R.A.Y. has online answers available and an “800” number you can call to get any question about the religious awards programs for youth answered!

And to wrap up this issue, here’s a story that began almost a year ago, with a letter in November 2007…

Dear Andy,

It’s never really occurred to me that I may have been among the youngest Scouts to attain the rank of Eagle, but after some random Googling, I think I may be… Maybe even the youngest. I’m trying to locate my Eagle certificate, but I’m reasonably sure that it’s dated December 1959. I was born on March 24, 1948, so that would have made me eleven years and nine months old. I’m trying to make the numbers add up, because on the surface that seems impossible. There are a couple of factors that may have some bearing on it. First, I started Scouting in Hawaii, when it was a territory, and completed my Eagle requirements after it became a state. Secondly, I completed the fifth grade at the age of ten years and two months, and was a Webelos Scout (and earned the Webelos badge—now called the Arrow of Light). Was I the youngest that you know of to make Eagle? (Ellis M. Jones III, Memphis, TN)

Let’s begin here: In 1959, there was just one way to become a Boy Scout: Be 11 years old. That means you would have been eligible on March 24, 1959. If your Eagle rank certificate indeed carried a date in December 1959, this means you would have had to complete all requirements in nine months. But, at that time, whether you were using the requirements as printed in the Fifth Edition of the Handbook For Boys or the Sixth Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, the tenures-in-rank for First Class to Star, Star to Life, and Life to Eagle add up to 12 months (3+3+6=12), so that, if the requirements were indeed followed, the earliest possible date for you would have been in late March 1960. However, this doesn’t take into account the time it would have taken you to complete the various requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks, so that it’s more likely, when all is said and done, that the date you’re searching for will prove to be sometime in December 1960, making you 12 years, 11 months old.

Check with the BSA National Council office…Call ’em up, give ’em your name and the time-line you think is correct, and they’ll find the date for you! They’re very helpful, so don’t hesitate. That’s the fastest way to clear up your “mystery.” It may turn out that you’re the youngest, or it may not. I wouldn’t fret about it, either way. You see, Ellis, the most important thing is how you’ve lived your life by the Scout Oath and Law for the last 48 years!

That was the end of the trail until just a few days ago, when this letter arrived:

Dear Andy,

You were right. I found my Eagle certificate. It’s dated December 29, 1960, making me 12 years and 9 months old.

I agree with you on the value of the Scouting program and making Eagle at any age. That, along with my four years in the Navy, helped make me the person I am today. I’m pretty comfortable with that person on most days. (Ellis)

Not always, but most times, all’s well that ends well…
Happy Scouting!


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(November 1, 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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