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Issue 157 – December 7, 2008

This boy’s tying his very first square knot, and learning how it symbolizes his connection to Scouting. Nothing unusual, right? Except… He’s an Iraqi, in Baghdad, right now, this very moment.He was taught this knot, and lots of other stuff, too, by American Scouters in the military, giving their precious free time, and money, and resources wherever they can find them, to the youth of Iraq.

There are two groups of volunteer in Baghdad right now. The first is The Green Zone Council, now followed by The Victory Base Council. Here’s a small sample of what our fellow American Scouters are doing there…

Iraqi Scouting

If there’s something to be more proud of or grateful for, let me know…I can’t think of a thing.

Want to help them? Here’s how…

Victory Base Council Baghdad

When you buy these commemorative CSPs, your money goes to volunteers of Victory Base Council, to help provide supplies, uniforms, and Scoutcraft stuff for the new Scouts and Guides of Iraq. You do this by sending an email to Officer and Scouter Captain John Green, at – John will get back in touch with you and together you’ll make it happen! In fact, you can buy a patch for every Scout in your troop or pack—It’s one they’ll never forget!

I’ve personally met John, and he’s true-blue, so don’t hesitate getting in touch with him – Tell him Andy sent you!

Need another reason to help make a difference? Here it is…

 Campfire in Iraq


Hi Andy,

The BSA National Council offers a Distinguished Eagle Scout award, which begins with the requirement that the candidate has been an Eagle Scout for at least 25 years, and, further, has distinguished himself in his profession. In our council, we have a man we’d like to honor, except that he may not have “distinguished” himself in his profession the way the BSA might be looking for. He’s an airline pilot and he’s been landing 747s safely for year, which is of course what he’s supposed to do. Is this “distinguished” or “just doing the job”?

Our council’s Scout Executive has suggested that we can establish our own Distinguished Eagle Scout Award right here in our council. Have you ever heard of a council doing this, and if so what were their criteria for awarding it?

Any information you can share would be greatly appreciated. We’d like to make the presentation at our annual Eagle Awards Banquet in February 2009. Thanks! (Bill Casler, UC, Greater Alaska Council)

Let’s start with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. This is awarded by the Board of Regents of the National Eagle Scout Association. There’s an actual nomination form—No.58-300—that you may want to check out. Yes, NESA is looking for folks who have distinguished themselves in their careers, and you’ll find doctors, corporate executive officers, governors, professional sports players, astronauts, generals, and even a president as past recipients. But I also know of a parish priest, several retirees, and at least one manager of a pickle plant who’ve received the DESA, so keep your ear to the ground and you may find a recipient or two along the way.

As far as flying the left seat is concerned, my small experience there tells me that there are still two kinds of good landings: “good” is when you can walk away from the plane, and “great” is when you can use the plane again. So let’s not sell our pilot friend short!

As far as honoring this fellow, you have several options, at least, depending on how far you want to take this. This simplest way, of course, is to invite him to the banquet as an honored guest and present him with any one of the variety of “Eagle” commemoratives to be found in your Scout Shop or at Another approach is to create your council’s own award for distinguished Eagle Scouts, create criteria and a selection committee, and then make it happen for this chap this year and perhaps others down the road. Yet another is to establish an “Eagle Scout Hall of Fame,” and make this gentleman your first inductee and the first of many to follow, year-after-year. Just remember that, no matter what you do, if it’s from the heart you’ll never be wrong!

Dear Andy,

I’ve read your thoughts on “What’s Active All About?” and I do agree with you, in general, but I have a problem applying your viewpoint to dealing with older Scouts—especially the ones in leadership positions.

Half the time, our troop’s older Scouts just don’t show up. Not to troop meetings, PLCs, hikes, or camping trips. Their attitude’s bad and their manners poor, and this is having a devastating impact on the morale and interest of our younger Scouts.

What can we adult Scouters do to improve the program in the troop when the older Scouts are so uncooperative and uninterested that they undermine all the adults’ efforts? Does it extend to inviting the “deadwood” to go prune themselves?

Our Troop has what must be a classic problem: Younger Scouts who are fired up to go and do all the things Scouting offers, and older Scouts who don’t want to go and do anything. The older Scouts are, of course, the only ones who can hold leadership positions, since the younger Scouts haven’t reached First Class rank yet. The usual scenario works like this: We announce an overnight camping trip at least a month in advance and then start the process of preparing for it (menus, equipment inventories, activities—you know the drill) but then three-fourths of the older Scouts, including Patrol Leaders and even the Senior Patrol Leader and ASPL, refuse to do the preparatory work because they have no intention whatsoever of going! This means that the remaining one-fourth can’t commit to going until the day we’re supposed to go. Now we adults can work with the younger Scouts and get things done, but they’re like any other group of 11-year-old boys: They want to be around the older boys, and if the older ones don’t go, then the younger ones don’t want to, either! We’ve had to cancel trip after trip because of this.

We also have a great deal of trouble getting Patrol Leaders to just show up for Patrol Leaders Council meetings—They just don’t show up. Sometimes they tell us they can’t come from some lame excuse, but mostly they just don’t bother showing up. Then, when we have Troop meetings, the Patrol Leaders don’t know what’s been planned for the next month, and usually don’t agree with it, so they don’t come to troop meetings or other events, either.

Troop meetings are almost impossible. We try to work with the boys who want to work, but the others—including the Patrol Leaders—often just disappear from the troop meeting and we find them running around outside playing games.

Parents don’t get involved either—They think we’re the “Baby-Sitters of America.” This means we’re often very short-handed when it comes to adult leadership.

Attitude’s also a serious problem, most distinctly reflected in the lack of concern with appearance and good manners. Uniforming is haphazard at best, mumbling the Pledge of Allegiance, Oath and Law are the norm. “Yes Sir” and “No Sir” are non-existent.

There are four adults involved in the troop: The Scoutmaster, two ASMs, and a committee member-advancement chair. We’ve all done Wood Badge, and we’re about to tear our hair out trying to put on a good Scouting program for the whole Troop, because these boys are sabotaging the program by sitting on their duffs doing nothing.

Our main Assistant Scoutmaster has been struggling for more than two years to turn this troop around and make it boy-led, to no avail. My own son wants to earn Eagle before he gets to high school and gets overcome by fumes (car fumes and perfumes), but it’s no fun without the older Scouts, he says.

We’re thinking about presenting a plan to the troop committee that has two primary attendance-related features. First, any Scout in a leadership position will be expected to attend at least one-half of all troop meetings, half of all outings, and half of all PLCs or he can’t count his time-in-position toward leader tenure for advancement. Second, any Scout who signs up for an outing but doesn’t participate in its planning and preparation won’t be allowed to go.

We’re also thinking about abandoning our effort to be a Quality Unit Award-winner every year, cutting back to six outings a year so we can do more work in the troop meetings, and making the outings something really desirable and a privilege to attend.

My opinion is that we have a great deal of dead wood in the troop and, if it’s true that Scouts “vote with their feet,” then I’m prepared to ask them to take a hike. I don’t want any boy to come to a troop meeting who doesn’t want to be there. But if he does show up, I expect him to participate to the fullest.

Is this unreasonable? Would we be overstepping boundaries? How hard can the adults push to make the program desirable, when the boys have no evident desire to be there? (Name & Council Withheld)

Usually, the singlemost important thing adult leaders can do to improve delivery of the Boy Scout program is to step back. Just like someone can’t be “a little bit pregnant,” a troop can’t be using “a little bit of the patrol method” or being “a little bit boy-led.” It’s yes, or no, and there’s no middle ground. There’s certainly no satisfactory middle ground! Baden-Powell still said it best: “The Patrol Method isn’t a way of delivering the Boy Scout program; it’s the only way.”

One of the points that comes through again and again in your letter is how hard all you adults are working. To this effort, despite its being notably heroic, I’m obliged to observe that you’ve all forgotten another fundamental from B-P: “Never do for a Scout what he can do for himself.”

Now we adults are supposed to be “role models,” right? So then, what’s wrong with having the boys observe how hard we work and how creative we try to be in putting together a program of activities that we hope they’re gonna like? Well, the answer to that is two-fold. In the first place, when it comes to being role models, our job is to demonstrate calmness in adversity, the absence of panic in crisis, cheerfulness in the face of weighty tasks and responsibilities, and so on, all reflecting the values incorporated into the Scout Oath and Scout Law. But, in the second place, it’s absolutely not to loll around watching us while we bust our little picks doing for them what they should be doing for themselves.

With these thoughts as your underlying principles from now on, here are some specifics you can start doing immediately:

– Only the Scoutmaster has direct contact with the Scouts, and 90% of that is with the Senior Patrol Leader exclusively. (The remaining 10% is the Scoutmaster’s Minute at the end of every troop meeting.)

– All other adults are non-uniform-wearing committee members; not ASMs. This troop won’t need an ASM until its size has doubled, at the very least.

– Scout-led uniform inspections at every troop meeting. Patrol Leaders check their own patrols. Only positive rewards are given, and only to patrols who are most complete and accurate (never to individuals). This is run by the SPL; not the Scoutmaster or any other adult.

– Google “Troop Meeting Plan,” print multiple copies, and then develop it and follow it precisely every meeting.

– Imprint this on your foreheads: The fundamental “unit” of Boy Scouting is the patrol; it’s not the troop.

– Patrol Leaders can be elected regardless of rank. (If you had a significantly larger troop, you might consider some further stipulations, but in your case imposing a rank stipulation is hurting you. Cut it out. There’s nothing in writing by the BSA that says a Scout must be First Class in order to be elected to a leadership position.)

– The SPL calls for a PLC, and the best time to do this is in the half-hour immediately before the troop meeting, followed by a quick, ten-minute de-brief after the troop meeting’s over.

– At the PLC, the members decide—with minimal to no influence by you—where they’re going to take their next hike.

– Following this decision, the “patrol meetings” portion of the troop meeting is devoted to each patrol developing its menu (including which Scout or Scouts will buy the food), what “patrol gear” will be needed (and who’s going to get it and bring it), and patrol transportation (whose parents will do the driving to and from the trailhead).

– Hold a parents’ orientation meeting concurrently with a troop meeting, but in a different room of the building in which you meet. This meeting is run by your Committee Chair, with other registered committee members present. Here, you describe to the parents what is happening with the troop and how their support of their sons is critical to their sons succeeding in Scouting. Their sons are expected to arrive on time and leave on time each week and if the troop’s meeting night conflicts severely with some major and ongoing school or church activity, then let’s get that on the table right now so that the troop meeting night can be changed so that their sons can attend without absences except for emergency situations. (I personally know of a troop that’s been strong—over 60 Scouts year after year—and well-attended for five decades because they meet on Sunday evenings, when there’s no mandatory homework or “Friday quizzes,” no school sports events, etc., and no church conflicts, either! Who’d a guessed!)

– Use the “Troop Resource Survey” form—have every parent fill one out and turn it in to the Committee Chair. No exceptions.

– Get yourselves to training, fast as you can.

Bottom line: Boys will show up when there’s something going on for them. If it’s not their program, that they built and they own, then who cares? You absolutely, positively cannot legislate enthusiasm.

Dear Andy,

Our den meetings run from 3:30 to 5 o’clock weekly and we have parents who are consistently late—not by 5 or 10 minutes but some as much as 30-45 minutes! We’ve addressed this issue on numerous occasions at our monthly pack meetings, but the problem remains consistent with four specific parents. One week, three out of the four will be on time, but the very next week it’s a different parent who’s late. One mother in particular has never, ever been on time to pick up her son; she just won’t take us seriously. How do we go about getting these parents to be on time? We thought about penalizing them for every minute they’re late, like that’s how long they have to spend at the next den meeting. Another suggestion was to “bill” late parents for the extra time we have to “watch” their son. This is so frustrating to me, because we are trying to teach these boys to be prompt and on time, to plan ahead, and manage time. How can we teach the boys to do this when we have parents who seem to be using us leaders as baby sitters? (Jen Dailey, Montana Council)

I’d like to say your tardy parent is unique, but it’s not. It’s pretty rampant and it’s been going on for decades! But it doesn’t have to continue. There are definitely ways to nip it in the bud. Let’s start here: Your den meetings are way too long. 45 to 60 minutes should be where you are. 90 minutes is risky, even for pack meetings! So, when you reduce your meetings to 45 minutes, encourage parents to simply wait in an adjoining room, rather than try to run errands. Fix this and your problems may disappear instantly!

As for the four who are consistently abusing, what in the world makes you think they’ll comply with “penalties”? Let’s wake up and smell the caffeine: Tell them each, individually (definitely not en masse and absolutely not by e-mail!), that their lateness cannot be continued, so that if they’re late again, even if by a minute, that will end their son’s involvement in this den. Then stick to it.

Yes, at least one of these parents will “challenge” you by being late and then screaming bloody murder about “unfair” when you stick to your guns. But, ask yourself this: What message are you delivering to the parents AND THE CUB SCOUTS when you knuckle under to an abusive bully? I firmly believe that, if you stick to your guns and don’t go into the “Well, maybe just this one more time…” nonsense, that parent will walk out in a huff, try to get others to quit the den because you’re so “unfair,” to say nothing of “rigid” and “inflexible” and “insensitive”…and then in a couple of weeks you’ll get word that she’d like he son back in the den but doesn’t know how to approach you. When that happens, you simply tell the “messenger” (Yes, there will be one, I guarantee it) that that mom is welcome to drop by a den meeting anytime to have a chat with you—She should plan to arrive ten minutes ahead of the normal start time.

Dear Andy,

Our two sons were Cub Scouts and they’re now Boy Scouts. Our younger (age 13) son is a Life Scout; the older (age 15) is an Eagle Scout with a Silver Palm. We’re very proud of both of them and I’ve always attended as many meetings as possible and I’ve gone on troop outings as my schedule permitted, with the Scoutmaster’s OK.

Some months ago, one of the Assistant Scoutmasters sent out an e-mail message that accused our older son of, in the ASM’s words, “gross moral misconduct” and suggested that he be stripped of his Eagle rank. That same message further stated that “the younger boy (referring to our younger son) was not as deranged as the older boy, so there’s hope for him.” This message was sent to the troop’s Committee Chair, who shortly thereafter called a meeting of the ASM who wrote the message, another ASM, and the Scoutmaster. The conclusion drawn from that meeting and discussion was that everything in the message was hearsay, was not in accordance with the facts, and therefore had no validity. Although no action was taken against the ASM who wrote the message in the first place, the Committee Chair and Scoutmaster chastised him and told him to never do anything like this again.

My wife and I found out about the message, the meeting, and the decision by accident. When we confronted the Committee Chair and asked why we were never informed of any of this, he said that it was none of our business, that it had been dealt with, and that it’s over.

I’m very upset that we were never informed of anything. How are we, as parents, supposed to protect our children, or correct their behavior, if things like this are covered up, hidden, or kept from us?

Does a Scout’s parent have a right and moral obligation to know when his or her son has been accused or attacked in writing by an adult? Can the troop leadership (that is, the Committee Chair) keep this kind of slander from the parents, while talking to the offending adult? Does BSA policy require and/or expect the leaders to inform the parents in such a situation? What is to prevent this from happening again in the future, to us or others, if this is how it’s handled?

This is a messy issue. I’d like to know what would be the best way to handle this. Any information or advice is appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

Based on the information you’ve provided here, the way for you and your wife to handle this is with grace and gratitude. It sounds clearly like those gentlemen read the situation for what it was, dealt with it, put a stop to it, and kept it clearly away from both your sons and you. For these actions and sound judgment, you owe them your sincere and unconditional thanks.

There was clearly nothing for you, as parents, to do, and there was no “behavior” by your sons that needed “correcting.” So, your responsibility now is to write a sincere letter (not email!) of thanks to each of the people who protected you and your sons and, in that letter, express your personal gratitude and respect. This is the only proper and graceful conclusion to this matter. Anything else will start leaning toward kicking the cow pie.

Dear Andy,

I was recently at a crew meeting where one of our Venturers is just about to wrap up his Eagle requirements, and we were discussing his progress with him. Turns out, from that conversation, that one of the leaders mentioned that our district is now requiring that one of the six Eagle letters of reference must be from a religious source, and one must be from an educational source—that is, these are mandatory. Now as a trained leader who also trains, my understanding is that neither a unit, district, nor council can alter the requirements for any rank. Upon further discussion, the comment was made that as long as a base requirement (as set by the BSA national council) is met, the district and/or council can add to it.

In thinking back to when I was a Scout earning my Eagle, I wasn’t a very religious guy, although I did (and do) believe in a higher power, and I wasn’t particularly active with my church. In short, when I filled out my application I didn’t have a “religious” reference, and yet I still qualified for Eagle rank. But, with this supposed “new standard,” I’d be ineligible! When I brought this up, the Scouters I was talking with started to get defensive, so I let it be. But that’s when I decided to check outside my district and council. Any thoughts? (Jason Capone, Minsi Trails Council, PA)

There’s absolutely no reason why an Eagle candidate who doesn’t regularly attend religious worship (regardless of faith) can’t have a reference on the “religious” line of the application. Same with “employer” and “educational.”

The “religious” aspect of a young man’s life can be observed and commented on by anyone who knows the Scout and knows enough of his religious convictions and the extent to which he lives the Scout Oath and Law in his daily life, and this person need not be ordained! Maybe it’s an aunt or uncle, or neighbor, or friend. Same with “employer”—any person for whom the Scout has ever done work or a service for remuneration (babysitting, mowing a lawn, washing a car, working at a day or summer camp, and so on) would be perfectly fine as a reference. We’re not talking about a full-time job here! Same with “educational”—any teacher will suffice, including a parent or tutor if the Scout is home-schooled! There’s nothing that says this person must be a licensed schoolteacher or a principal.

So the bottom line here is that although the concept of “must” and the concept of “can add to the BSA’s ‘base requirement’” are both in the category of absolute drivel, there’s really no practical reason why a Scout can’t list a name and contact information on any and all of the six available lines on the application.

I get the part about “on the application.” In fact, I’d encourage any Scout to find someone who can vouch for his religious beliefs, or any other reference line on the application (even including a parent: this role may not be filled by the traditional idea of a parent, but might be an aunt or uncle, a grandparent—whoever raised the boy, in fact!) However, what my district is apparently trying to do is to require the Scout to provide a letter of reference from this “religious” source. I was always under the impression (and from what I am getting from previous columns) that it’s the district’s or the council’s responsibility to contact these references to vouch for the Eagle candidate. When the candidate asks a person if he or she would be willing to be listed, they may be asked to provide a letter of reference, but I’ve always believed that this isn’t mandatory by the BSA national council. However, the person giving this information to us—our Unit Commissioner—is saying that the district may “beef up” national requirements because those are the minimum; not the maximum. Again, I’m of the understanding that it’s “no more/no less.” (Jason)

BSA rank and merit badge requirements may not be “beefed up” or “beefed down.” They may not be added to or deleted from in any way whatsoever, by anyone, for any reason. This is strict BSA policy. The notion of “well, that’s the minimum…” is utter nonsense. Whoever touts the notion of changing rank or merit badge requirements is totally wrong. It is a violation of BSA policy to do this.

This doofus of a Unit Commissioner should be removed from service to your unit—yes, you can request this and your request must be acknowledged—until he gets it right. You can absolutely refuse to have anyone in a service role to your unit removed on the basis that he or she doesn’t know squat about BSA policies and procedures.

Eagle Scout candidates are absolutely not required to provide “reference letters” from anyone. The candidate is to provide the name and contact information only; it is the responsibility of the troop, district, or council to obtain the actual reference. This is not alterable because requiring a Scout to do more than what is stated on the rank application would constitute and “adding to,” and this is strictly prohibited by the BSA.

I recommend that you confront this erstwhile Unit Commissioner and demand that he show you, in BSA writing, that requirements can be added to at will, and that, until this happens, he can go fly a kite.

Thank you! Thank You! THANK YOU!

As a younger leader, I hate it when the older leaders try and push BS (and I don’t mean not Boy Scouting!) on me because I’m younger and don’t have “their” experience. (Jason)

Dear Andy,

Is there a special way to get rid of a Commissioner who sees his position as one of “I can go to any unit I want even though I’m only assigned to a certain few and I’m not an ADC, and when I show up people have to do what I say”? Let’s add to this that he often belittles fellow Commissioners. His Scouting experience is less than two years, and whatever he’s been involved in has failed. We have a monkey on our back. Do you have a solution? (James Viser)

The solution’s simple, and requires just one thing: a spine. When a guy or gal is this much out of whack, intervention is necessary; in fact, it’s demanded, before more poison is spread. This is an eyeball-to-eyeball sit-down between the District Commissioner and District Chair, as a team, and this wayward Commissioner, in which he’s told, point blank, that what he’s been doing (be ruthlessly specific on the protocol breeches) is unacceptable and here’s what he must agree to begin doing immediately, and if he cannot agree to these immediate changes he will need to be removed from his position. If he agrees to change, he is told he’s “on probation” for the remainder of your current charter year and his conduct will be reviewed at charter renewal time, at which point he’ll either be continued or removed from the district roster, depending on his performance between now and then. You may want to also demand that he take the soonest training available, be it in your council, elsewhere nearby, or on-line, and then de-brief with one or both of you on completion. This is important because what I’m sensing he doesn’t yet understand is that Unit Commissioners actually don’t have the right to have opinions about Scouting—their sole responsibility is to help their units deliver the program as written. Finally, Do understand that the ADC position is an administrative role and, like the DC, has no direct responsibility for or contact with units.

Dear Andy,

My own kids are pretty much grown up, and I don’t have much knowledge of Scouts and what to do for a gift for my nephew, who is going to have his Eagle Court of Honor coming up, out of state. What can you suggest? Thanks. (Debra)

Congratulations to your nephew! It’s not mandatory that you send a gift, but if this nephew is close to you and you’d like to do this (Eagle Scout rank is a pretty nifty accomplishment!), then go to and enter “eagle” in the key word dialog box. I’m sure you’ll find something in a reasonable price range there. You can also use this site’s store locator and, who knows, there might be a Scout Shop nearby, where you could pick something out in-person! Thanks for finding me and for writing.

Dear Andy,

A question has come up regarding how many nights of “long-term camp” (that is, summer camp) are permitted for the Camping merit badge requirement 9.a: “Camp a total of at least 20 days and 20 nights. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. The 20 days and 20 nights must be at a designated Scouting activity or event. You may use a week of long-term camp toward this requirement. If the camp provides a tent that has already been pitched, you need not pitch your own tent.”

It says you “may use” a week but it doesn’t say that you can’t use more. The spirit of the requirement seems to indicate that the intent is “may only use,” but that’s not what it says. We’ve heard a number of opinions, mostly along the lines of “if it doesn’t prohibit it (which, they way it’s written, it doesn’t) then it’s OK to use more than one week. What do you think? (Lee Harrison, SM, Heart of Virginia Council)

Seven (7) days-and-nights, maximum. That’s a week, according to both Aloysius Lilius and Gregory XIII. For the Camping merit badge you’re referring to, it can be less, but it can’t be more.

Then one more question: If there’s a perceived “gray area” in a BSA requirement, where do you get the authoritative interpretation of it? (Lee Harrison)

Interesting question. Let’s start with what a “gray area” is… Webster defines it as: “an undefined situation or subject that does not seem to conform to known categories or rules; an intermediate area or topic that is not clearly defined.” Based on that definition, encountering “gray areas” in Scouting’s requirements, whether in the Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, or Venturing arenas just don’t really happen. Where “gray areas” do happen is among us volunteers, who maybe don’t read a requirement word-for-word but, instead, use a short-hand, or take a guess, or start applying our own meanings or re-definitions—That’s where we start wrappin’ ourselves around our own axles!


Who verifies that a Scout or Scouter has met the requirements to wear the Interpreter Strip for a language, or qualifies a person to wear the Interpreter Strip? (Dennis Hallman, UC, Bucks County Council, PA)

Pretty much anybody who can confirm that the candidate for it meets the requirements. For instance, if a Scout brought a note from his, let’s say, Spanish teacher stating that he’d carried on a five-minute conversation, translated two minutes of speech, written a letter, and translated 200 written words of Spanish, and I’m his Scoutmaster, I’d go get him that strip PDQ! If the boy were a Cub Scout, and had a note to the same extent from a parent, and I’m his Den Leader, I’d do the same! I’d follow the same philosophy with adult Scouters, too. Remember: This doesn’t go on some advancement report because it’s not an advancement.

Dear Andy,

Recently I’ve been hearing people say that merit badges have to be completed in two years or must be started over from scratch. I’ve seen two different references online that say there’s no time limit except that a merit badge must be completed by a Scout’s 18th birthday. Please tell me what the real deal is, and I’d appreciate it if you’d list your reference, for future use. Thanks in advance for your help. (John Smith, ASM, Transatlantic Council, Vilseck, Germany)

The real deal is that it’s age 18 and not before. Now, let’s reverse this on those dingbats… How about THEY show YOU, in writing, that the time limit on merit badges is somehow something other than a Scout’s 18th birthday. Let’s make THEM do the work, and until they do, they can go pound sand down a rat hole.

Dear Andy,

We had troop elections tonight but one of our patrols was unable to elect a Patrol Leader. It’s a patrol of our, and three Scouts were there. All three decided to run for the PL position, and each voted for himself. Stalemate. When I asked them how they thought this should be handled, they said that the absent Scout shouldn’t get to vote, since he wasn’t there, and that the other patrol’s PL and the newly elected SPL vote and elect one of these three. They also suggested the adults present—most are registered committee members—should vote for the Scout they feel is best qualified, but any parents of these three Scouts couldn’t vote. What do you think? Our Committee Chair suggested drawing straws, which idea I didn’t like, but I do want to be fair. As Scoutmaster, do I have the authority to appoint a Patrol Leader in a situation like this? Any help would be great! (Rob Hayes, SM Crossroads of America Council, IN)

OK, three Scouts each voted for themselves, which is not incorrect except that it resulted in a stalemate. Now that they have that out of the way, how about asking them to vote again, and this time they must vote for someone other than themselves?

Adults absolutely do not vote! Not ever!

Dear Andy,

I have an Eagle Scout candidate who would like to do a service project for our local Girl Scout Council. I know that the book states that a project cannot benefit the Boy Scouts, but I’m not sure if this would include all types of Scouting, such as the Girl Scouts. Any thoughts on this? (Bill Mollica)

Perhaps the best question to start with here is: What is it that he wants to do? How about we take a look at that, and then incorporate the GS issue into the whole.

Here’s the information I received on this Eagle service project proposal. Do you think I should let this fly, or speak with someone at the national office before signing off? (Bill Mollica)

“The Scout is planning on doing renovation work on a 16’x16′ craft house at Sacajawea Girl Scout Camp. His project includes removing the old shingles from the roof and reroofing it. He is also going to remove and replace the screens on the windows (which are really just holes in the walls with shutters over them). He is going to make new Plexiglas window coverings and shutters that will allow light in even when they are closed, and they will be hinged so they can be easily propped open to let air flow through in hot weather. There are about eight windows. The job also includes painting parts of the building. He is also planning a fundraiser, to raise the money to buy the needed supplies to do the project. Our troop committee and Scoutmaster think that this is a great project, but we want to make sure that doing something for the Girl Scouts qualifies. The Scout has already discussed this with a Girl Scout representative and he is practically finished with his write-up. Our Scoutmaster gave him the okay for the project a couple of months ago. Let us know if you need more info. I really just wanted to check to confirm that the Girl Scouts are a qualifying organization. (It is different from the BSA, but it is Scouting.)”

Thanks for the additional information. Yes, this project sounds perfectly “legal.” The restriction for Eagle service projects is that they may not be done for the BSA. The GSUSA is a separate organization. That said, my own take one this (and this is an unofficial opinion-of-one) is that while it’s technically permissible it’s so very close to what the BSA steadfastly avoids (that is, projects that give the appearance of being self-serving) that, had I been the Scout’s original mentor, I would have tried my best to aim him in a different direction. This is because, to the majority of the general public (and even to many otherwise knowledgeable volunteers in both movements), the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are part of the same overall organization, so that a headline in the local newspaper that says something along the lines of “Boy Scout Refurbishes Girl Scout Camp Building” won’t be seen as any different from “Boy Scout Refurbishes Boy Scout Camp Building,” and that’s what we’re trying to avoid here. But that’s just me. If the Scout wants to do this, and it’s OK with everyone involved, including the Girl Scout council, then there’s no technical reason why he can’t proceed. In soliciting donations and contributions, he will, of course, have to be absolutely specific that this is being done for the Girl Scouts and he will have to provide very specific information to donors and contributors regarding the fact that the BSA and the GSUSA are two entirely separate organizations.

Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll take this under consideration when looking at this project. I do agree that the two organizations are different and then again others may see them as the same. But in my role in this process I cannot add or detract from the requirements and the requirement clear states that an Eagle project cannot benefit the BSA, so, with that being said, I’ll make the decision. Thanks for your help. (Bill Mollica)

Hello Andy,

I’m a parent of a Webelos I Scout, and I’ve been both a Den Leader and a Cubmaster. For my son’s next pack meeting, the Cubmaster wants all boys to bring a pocket knife, to practice whittling. I’ve had Baloo training and my understanding is that there are no knives at Scouting events unless the boy(s) had earned the Whittlin’ Chip, and only at the Bear level can a boy earn it, because it’s age- and ability- appropriate. The Cubmaster said that there are no real rules and if they’re with their parent the boys can use a knife. He said he’ll have the parents help hold the knife, to help the younger Cubs, but doing this violates the “blood circle.” Do you have a resource that I can show to him? I want to prove my point because it’s such a safety issue—They’re not earning the chip, they’re just playing with knives! I’ve emailed my council about this, but I’ve heard nothing so far. (Deborah Todd)

Let’s begin with this: There’s absolutely no reason for “whittling practice” in a pack meeting. This is totally outside the Cub Scout Monthly Theme and Program Guide. For this reason alone, I’d say the Cubmaster’s off-base.

If, somehow, “whittling” has been made into a monthly theme for the pack as a whole, then instead of actual knives use tongue depressors and bars of soap—the depressors substitute for knives and the soap for wood, and no one gets cut! Simple as that! And, it’s a win-win: The Cubmaster gets to “do his thing” and everybody’s safe.

Is there a reference I can show him? I didn’t see anything specific in the Guide to Safe Scouting or the Bear Handbook. I thought there was a rule that said something about only at the Bear rank (and not lower) and you have your Whittlin’ Chip to use a knife at a Scouting event, and you have your card available if it’s asked for. (Deb Todd)

This isn’t about slinging quotations back and forth—This is about exercising good sense. A bunch of knife-wielding Cub Scouts, with untrained parents hovering over them (while tending Little Sis and Baby Fargus at the same time) is simply not the safest thing to do in a pack meeting, and this should be discussed in person, eyeball-to-eyeball and not by lobbing emails at one another! Round up a bunch of Den Leaders and/or a bunch of parents and all of you simply tell the Cubmaster no, these are our boys and we’re not going to do that.

Hi Andy,

You were recently asked, “For the Sportsman activity badge, does the Webelos have to earn two more belt loops that he’s never earned before, or can he just re-earn ones that he earned as a Bear or Wolf?” and you replied that “Belt loops are virtual slam-dunks! There’s absolutely no reason to re-earn something that’s already been earned. This isn’t what Scouting’s all about. Scouting’s about learning and doing new stuff; not repeating what you already did!”

Aren’t you “adding to the requirements” here? There is absolutely nothing that says a Webelos must work on a new belt loop. In fact, the Academics & Sports Program allows for the boys to re-earn the same belt loops each year! By your answer, it sounds as if you’re suggesting the right way is to earn a new belt loop. While I agree with you that it may be in the best interest of the boys to branch out and try something new, we have no right to tell them that they must do this. (Lisa Titus, CM, Daniel Webster Council, NH, “I used to be a Bear…”)

I used to be an Owl…The other white meat. Of course a boy can re-earn something he’s already earned, so we’re not talking about “adding to requirements” here, or “must” or anything other than expanding one’s horizons. If a boy truly has no desire to do something new, and would prefer to repeat something he’s already done, well then that’s that! Meanwhile, let’s say it again: Scouting’s about learning and doing new stuff!

Dear Andy,


I need advice about The Patrol Method. Last year, I became Scoutmaster of a troop whose youth membership had plummeted from 50 to 20, and now we’re re-chartering with just 12 boys. The Scoutmaster immediately before me didn’t do much with patrols other than organize cooking groups on campouts.

Of our dozen boys, nine are age 14 or more: One is 17 and nearly Eagle, two are cutups who show up only because their parents insist they do, two are in band and consequently not around much for four months out of the year.

Patrols, weak when I came in, are now almost nonexistent. On camp-outs, I often have one boy from one of the patrols and four or five from the other. One Patrol Leader is in band and doesn’t show up for anything until the spring. I can’t seem to get the boys to come to PLC meetings—it’s often just me and the SPL.

My goal for the coming year is to bring it back. I need to reorganize the patrols and I want the groupings to make sense to the boys, to establish patrol identity. I need to do two things: First, to group the boys into better patrol groups (we’re getting too used to just not having them), and second, to put forward some good Patrol Leaders (as in: boys who will actually show up.)

Do you have any suggestions on to how to do this?

I also need to recruit, but that will be another request. I have not found that boys will bring their buddies.

When I brought my first son to the troop back in 2000, the Scoutmaster was 25, not married, an Eagle Scout who had been in Scouting since Tiger Cubs. The troop at that time was 20 boys, and he had a solid cadre of three or four dads working with him. Two of my three sons were in this troop. This scoutmaster went to all the area Webelos dens and recruited. His mom was a teacher at a local elementary school, and sent other boys our way. I joined up, since I went to most events with my boys anyway. I took Wood Badge in ’01 and that’s where I saw The Patrol Method in action. Meanwhile, our home troop, although adult-led, still used patrols for meal planning and for cooking together, and it grew to 50 boys. But then the Scoutmaster had to leave town for work in 2001. One of the ASMs signed on as Scoutmaster, but he didn’t seem to come away from Wood Badge with the same “patrol vision” as I. Then another guy took on the Scoutmaster job, but his work changed and he couldn’t come to troop meetings, and his participation at campouts was sporadic. By the time I was asked to take the Scoutmaster slot, the troop was down to 20 boys (the two before me didn’t do any recruiting), and then dropped further.

The first campout I went on as Scoutmaster, we had four boys attend. My first foray into turning the troop into a boy-led one came when I had the boys come up with the camping schedule for the year… We took a troop meeting, I had a board filled with 20 camping locations, another with activities (backpacking, canoeing, fishing, etc.), and the boys chose where to go and what to do. We always elect an SPL, and I had him plan games for the meetings, and gave him topics for the PLC where decisions needed to be made.

I sort of hoped I’d get more advice from the district, but that didn’t happen. If I hadn’t asked the District Director for stuff from time to time, I would never hear from him, except for FOS support and OA elections. I know we’ve not had a Unit Commissioner in a long time: No help there.

So, I search the net looking for advice. I have learned from you that some of our troop procedures aren’t official BSA policy, but we have followed certain practices since that first Scoutmaster laid them down. We used to think that a Scout had six months to finish a merit badge or he had to start over, and we used to think that merit badges were what you worked on in troop meetings, just as two quick examples of getting off base.

Handling patrols is one area I’ve not made much headway in. I plan to talk to Patrol Leader candidates, and tell them that if they can’t show up, they shouldn’t run. I may turn troop meetings into patrol meetings for a while, to kick-start the process. I really believe the primary unit should be the patrol, not the troop. But I’m not there yet. Any ideas? (Name Withheld in Oklahoma)

Sure, I have lots of ideas. How about starting by referring to these “boys” as Scouts – 100% of the time. They sure can’t feel special if they’re merely “boys”—they’re “boys” everywhere else, in school, at church, in the playground, in band (since you mentioned it) and at home, too. Start helping them feels special. This is the one and only place they’re not “boys”!

Next, The Patrol Method is the only way to deliver Scouting. No patrols? It’s not Boy Scouts. Simple as that.

Show compassion. Remember that there are possibly a few of these Scouts who were there when the troop had 50! How do you think they’re feeling right now? The fact that they’re showing up at all should give you heart! They sure don’t have to, in this sad little band on boys.

Band? Baloney! I’ve had a son in band, a son in chorus, and a son who went out for every sport in the school, and they all attended troop meetings virtually every week. Sure you lose some on game weekends, so have a hike on Sunday so they all can show up! Nothing says you must do over-nighters when Saturdays are game days! Help the PLC get creative and do a work-around.

A troop of a dozen has a Senior Patrol Leader and two to three patrols. After the SPL’s been elected, the remaining Scouts are asked to divide themselves into no less than two groups and no group can have less than four Scouts in it. When they do this for themselves, they’ve created their own natural patrols. These patrols elect their own Patrol Leaders after a very short speech from you about the importance of picking a PL who “gets” what it’s all about. Then leave ‘em alone to do it, and accept their decisions.

Soon as you have two or three PLs, and your SPL, play an inter-patrol game, where the SPL’s in charge of the game and the “winning” patrol has to rely on their PL for guidance. Have prizes for both patrols. Small candy bars work—bigger ones for the “winning” patrol.

Invite some cool Merit Badge Counselors, who do some cool merit badges (like Aviation, or Truck Transportation, or Electricity) to come visit troop meetings—NOT to do the merit badge requirements but to PUT ON A SHOW or DEMONSTRATION to excite the Scouts about maybe asking for blue cards and calling that Counselor!

Dear Andy,

In our council, boards of review for Eagle candidates are handled at the troop level, with a representative from the district advancement committee attending. Recently, we in the troop had some problems. In one case, when our candidate was talking about his school and sports activities, the district representative asked him, “You’re a senior, playing JV soccer? Why are you wasting your time?” In another review, the district representative asked, “You’re an Eagle candidate and you’re almost 18 years old…What took you so long?” In both cases, the Scouts were embarrassed and very upset, and later told their parents that, although they “passed” their review it was not the pleasant experience they’d been told it would be. What, if anything, can we do about this? (Name Withheld in Watchung Mountain District, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Yes, there are at least two things you can do. You can tell the chair of the district advancement committee what happened and who the specific representatives were, and ask that some re-training be done, to prevent any recurrence of wrong-headed questions like the ones you cited. This will, of course, help every troop in your district and may actually serve to confirm what other troops have been saying, as well. You can also refuse to have a representative who asks questions like to ones you’ve cited attend your Eagle boards of review—Simply tell whoever does the district scheduling who you’d like to have come, and—as necessary—who you wouldn’t.

But won’t that be insulting to the advancement committee people and the representatives they send out, and won’t that mark us as an uncooperative troop, which could make things even more difficult for our Eagle candidates? (Name Withheld)

Establish your own priorities here. Which is more important to you: The so-called “feelings” of a pompous, misguided blow-hard, or the future and the permanent memories of the young men you’ve been nurturing for the past three to seven years or more?
Happy Scouting!


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(December 7, 2008 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2008)

Letters to AskAndy may be published at the discretion of the columnist and the editor. If you prefer to have your name or affiliation withheld from publication, please advise in your letter.


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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