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Issue 167 – March 22, 2009

Hello Andy,

I’m taking over as a new Cubmaster, and this is my first leadership position in Scouting, and my first official pack meeting is just around the corner. I recently took the basic leadership course and the Cubmaster-specific training, as well as the online training. Here’s a problem: My son’s Tiger den, which started last September with eight new boys has six among them who are in kindergarten and not yet seven years old. There’s no question but that the new Tiger Den Leader and the pack leadership at that time were in error allowing that. As of right now, all eight have earned their Bobcat pins; their Tiger badges, achievements, and electives. I think the best plan of action is to temporarily not allow the six younger boys to participate in any more pack activities until this school year ends a couple of months from now. But do they keep their pins, badges, and beads? If this were a couple of months ago, I wouldn’t hesitate to say start over, but I hate to take away the boys’ ranks and advancements because of other people’s mistakes. I also planned to have these six boys repeat Tigers next year, but I’d work with the Den Leader so they have some new adventures for their meetings instead of it being an exact duplicate of this year. Thanks for any guidance. (New & Overwhelmed CM, Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s start here: We never, ever, not for any reason, take badges, pins, or anything that a boy has earned away from him. The boy always-always-always gets the benefit of the doubt, especially when it’s the bozo adults who messed up! The boy never, ever gets punished for the sins of adults! (Gee, I guess I’m a bit emphatic on this point, ya think?!?)

Let the boys alone. Let ’em participate, or you’re more likely to lose ’em forever, and that would be a crime! Again, we don’t want to ding the boy when it’s the adults who have messed up.

This is the best possible example for why EVERY REGISTERED LEADER NEEDS TO TAKE FORMAL TRAINING. Sign up together, do it together, and then get on with the business of giving the boys you’ve committed to serve the very best possible Cub Scouting experience you can deliver!

BTW, the more training you have (and the more often you read my columns and attend your district’s Round-tables!), the less overwhelmed you’re going to feel!

Now, let’s address the other issue: When you “hold back” the six boys and make them repeat what they’ve already done (whether disguised as something new or not), just what did you intend to do about the two boys whom you’re not sending to the back of the line? Planning on a den of two, are you? Or are you going to put them in a den of eight, and thereby overwhelm next year’s Wolf Den Leader? Or are you going to split up two friends, and send one to one den and the other to another? Plus, what will you do next September, when these already-Tigers are technically eligible to work on Wolf achievements come June? And what about brand-new Tigers next September, joining for the first time? Gonna “blend them in” with the repeating six? In short, once you open that can of worms, it’s gonna take a way bigger can to get ‘em all back in! Think carefully about whether you want to enlarge a mistake already made, or not.


Hi Andy,

I’m an Eagle candidate about to have his Court of Honor in a small town, far from any big city high-life, and we’re the only troop for miles around. I did complete the merit badge for Communications, Scoutmaster said I did OK, but I don’t want to embarrass myself, this is a big night for me. I know that I want to speak about how much the Boy Scout Oath and Law have taught me; I’m just not sure how to do it without boring the guests or rambling on. I also want our troop, Scouts and adults, to really listen to what I want to say, because there’s been a controversy going on and we all need to be reminded about what Scouting’s really all about. I don’t want it to be a “there’s a problem” talk—this isn’t the time or place for that—but maybe they’ll all think, like when you go to church and you just know that the sermon’s about you <LOL> or should I scrap that idea and go with our camping antics and the fun times? And how to go from this into what Scouts has meant to me, to recognizing my Eagle Mentor (who has helped me with gathering information on different badges as well as being an adult friend and sorta like a second dad—He’s definitely put me back on the right trail a few times? (Scout’s Name Withheld in Georgia-Carolina Council)

So, let’s start with what you already know how to do: You know how to write a five-minute speech, and you’ve delivered one for that merit badge, and it was OK. Good start. So, just write another. Doesn’t have to be five minutes. Can be three, or seven. Think of the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes, MTV Awards, or whatever you’ve ever watched… “I’d like to thank the Academy…” Stay in the positive. This is only about you and how you feel. You won’t “ramble on,” because you’re going to write it out beforehand and then rehearse it again and again until you have it almost memorized. You’re not going to “preach,” and you’re not there to “correct all ills in the troop and the world.” Just talk about you, and what the three parts of the Scout Oath and the 12 points of the Scout Law mean to you. Then, when you’re done and spoken your last word, sit down. That’s it.

If you’re interested, I’ll review your speech with you. For 3 minutes (which is plenty, by the way), that’s about 350 to 400 words. Write it and send it to me, and I’ll give you some feedback. Hang in there– Don’t let yourself freak out! You’ve already been successful; just be successful again!


Dear Andy,

We live in a large city. There’s a troop that’s about to go under, and a nearby troop that’s reasonably-sized but struggling. These two troops have talked informally about merging, and the leaders of both are in general agreement that this would save at least one of them, but are unsure whether the parents and/or the committees of each would agree. I can’t find any information on what to do next, and would rather not discuss this with the council people until we know what’s required and whether the two troops really want to pursue it once they see what’s involved. What are the formal steps required?
Is there a minimum quorum of the committee required for voting (most committee members don’t show up for meetings)? Are there any potholes that we should be on the lookout to avoid? Can you give us any suggestions on what to do next? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, let’s start with ownership. The actual owners of these troops are their sponsors (aka “Chartered Organizations” or “COs”). The decision to fold or not fold, merge or not merge, etc. doesn’t rest with either its unit committee or its Scoutmaster; it’s the decision of the head of the CO. The person on the “Scouting” side of things who would be most interested and most knowledgeable in arriving at the best possible solution is the District Executive (aka “DE”). The DE is the very first person who needs to be brought into this conversation, before the inmates take over the asylums. In fact, this is the precise time when a DE’s knowledge of discussions—whether formal or informal—along these lines is most important, and when a DE can provide you all with better guidance than virtually anyone else!

Your DE will be able to help you all though your situations and also reach out to the heads of both sponsors. This really isn’t an option: This is what absolutely needs to be done. Please waste no time. If you don’t talk to your DE right now, you’re potentially making one huge error. Any other steps you might take, other than this one, would smack of attempting to forestall the obvious and suggests duplicity, even though there may be none intended. Don’t waste a minute: Reach out and get the direct help you all need!


Dear Andy,

In my son’s troop, there’s a Scout who constantly wears “Crocs.” The Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters and troop committee are in a tizzy with this Scout and his choice of footwear. I’ve seen him hike with a pack on a trail in his Crocs. I’ve heard people allude to a BSA policy on footgear. I’ve seen troop websites claim a “No Crocs per the BSA” policy. I’ve seen camps prohibit open-toed or open-heeled shoes, including Crocs for safety reasons. But I’ve yet to find any reference, in any BSA publications, to footwear, other than saying “appropriate.” I’m not looking to find policy to nitpick this Scout, but I’d like to put an end to this situation once and for all. And if, as I believe, the BSA doesn’t really have a policy about this, then the adults in the troop can be told to focus on their tasks and leave the Scout alone once and for all. (Craig Phifer, Capitol Area Council, TX)

Personally I don’t like wearing Crocs (or their impersonators); on the other hand, one of my brothers-in-law–a former college bowl football player who wears a Bowl ring I might add–loves ’em—He wears ’em out and buys new, as a matter of fact! That’s what makes horse races. 1.4 million folks in a Facebook chat room have but one mission: To wipe out Crocs. Meanwhile, ten times that number around the world keep buyin’ ‘em! Bottom line: Who gives a rat’s hoot!

If this Scout can hike in his Crocs with a pack on his back, what’s the problem? They’re not open-toed, they have a heel strap, they can be washed out in two seconds (one of my sons is a chef—He runs his through the restaurant’s dishwasher at the end of each evening), they provide pretty darned good support on the bottom (chef son wears ‘em 12 hours straight) and they’re pretty impervious. They won’t contribute to Athlete’s Foot or East African Jungle Rot, and IMHO they’re ugly and stupid-looking, but to others (including my wife) they’re adorable (she even owns the lined “winter” versions!). Bottom line: Why should we care?

As long as the Scout’s OK, I’d say take a deep breath and chill. There’s much bigger fish to fry. Like molding tomorrow’s citizens. Ya think?


Hello Andy,

In your column, you often debunk “Scouting urban legends,” saying, “Make ‘em show you where it’s written in official BSA documents.” These days, I’m hearing a lot about the new Centennial uniform that sounds like it may be in the urban legend category. Could you point me to some official BSA links on what’s allowed and what isn’t, regarding old and new uniforms? Here are some specific questions:

Our local Scout Shop is throwing out the red shoulder loops and red unit numbers, forcing us to go green. But I’ve also been told that you aren’t allowed to use the new green loops and numbers on the old uniforms. Which is it?

Can the new Switchback pants be worn with the old uniform shirt? And what about the new Centennial pants…Can these be worn with the old (i.e., OdlR) shirt? Vice-versa?

I really hope that we’re allowed to mix and match, otherwise the BSA is essentially forcing me to buy a whole new Scouting wardrobe. I’m sorry if I’m asking questions you may have already answered. If that’s the case, just point me to the right links. (Morry Aufderheide, CC, San Francisco Bay Area Council, CA)

Here’s the fundamental deal… If it was ever “Official Boy Scout” (what we used to call “OBS”), it still is! You can wear leggings and an overseas (aka “garrison”) cap, if you own ’em and they’re in decent repair! You can wear the old khaki, yoke-collar, mesh-weave short-sleeved shirt with the brand-new “Switchbacks” if you like! Or, you can wear the new shirt with the khaki pants that had the red-edged, fold-down pockets—if they still fit! As for me, in the summer I wear the same BSA shorts I wore when I was a camp staffer in the 60’s, and I wear ’em with knee socks and garters-and-tabs! Hoo-Hah!

Now on another point, I personally sorta like the more subdued look of the green shoulder loops and numerals. Remember that we switched to white-on-red numerals only to solve an inventory problem… Cub Scouts used to have blue-on-yellow unit numbers and Boy Scouts had red-on-green (matched the shirt color) and Explorers had brown on forest green and Sea Scouts had… well, you get the inventory problem here, right? So somebody in his infinite wisdom made ’em all white-on-red, and that simplified things but headed us in the direction of majorly colorful. I like the more subtle stuff, but that’s just me flappin’ my gums.

Thanks for asking! Great questions! Now, don’t let ’em shove you around! And absolutely don’t go out and buy entirely new uniforms, unless that’s your shtick!

Thanks! Can I put the new green numbers and loops on the now old-style shirt (which used to use red loops and numbers)? Are there any written guidelines on uniform policies? (Morry)

You’ll find some written policies in either the annual catalog of merchandise and uniforms, or in the “Insignia Guide,” which is re-issued usually every year. Meanwhile, as I mentioned, if it was “legal” once, it still is. So if I were, let’s say, a Scoutmaster, and didn’t want to buy a new shirt and change out all my badges, you can darned well bet I’d just buy a green troop number and some green shoulder loops and be done with it! Also, check the BSA website for an updated Uniform Inspection Guide that even accounts for the new left-sleeve pocket on the tan shirt.


Hi Andy,

The Distinguished Commissioner Award can be earned at multiple levels (Unit Commissioner, ADC, District Commissioner, and so on), so the question is: If you earn this award multiple times, why isn’t there a device like the ones that are used for knots like the Scoutmaster’s Key, District Committee Key, Commissioners Key, and so on. I think that we should be able to wear a Commissioner’s device on the knot, to signify that the award’s been earned multiple times, like what’s available for other knots. (Jeff Smith, Council Commissioner, Cascade Pacific Council, WA)

I hate to be the one to burst the bubble here: Distinguished Commissioner is earned once. Re-read the requirements, please.


Hello Andy,

Do the sons of Den Leaders also pay den dues, or is it an unwritten agreement or understanding that since the Den Leader-parent is putting in the time, the son is covered? (Name & Council Withheld)

Speaking just for myself, when I was a Den Leader, my son put his money in the pot right along with every other boy in his den (in the first place, he’d have felt weird if he’d been left out). You’re the first one (ever) to ask about this, so I really don’t know of any “unwritten” understanding or such along these lines. There’s nothing, I suppose, that strictly “prohibits” it, but any time there are little “exceptions” like this, they ultimately tend to creep into a tunnel that can lead to resentment and even abuse.


Hi Andy,

I’m a Wolf Den Leader, relatively new to Scouting, in a Pack that’s having some difficulties. We have a volunteer who is functioning as both Committee Chair and Treasurer. In the one-and-a-half years I’ve been with this pack, we’ve never seen a treasurer’s report. Now, there’s a considerable amount of money missing from the pack’s bank account. We, the other leaders in the pack, have asked this person to resign from the Treasurer position and turn in the pack checkbook, so we can figure out what’s happened, but this person is continuing to refuse to do this, even after our District Commissioner has called this person with the same request. My question is this: How do we go about removing a volunteer? (Name & Council Withheld)

Neither your District Executive nor your District Commissioner has any power or authority in a situation like this, unless a civil or criminal charge is brought. They can advise you, but have no direct authority to either put in place or remove a unit-level volunteer.

The total “hire-fire” responsibility, at the unit level, falls to the following people, usually by collaborative effort, in the order listed: 1) The head or executive officer of the unit’s chartered organization (this person’s name will be printed at the top of your charter roster, top left corner; 2) the Chartered Organization Representative (aka “COR” or “CR” and also listed at the top of and also alphabetically among the registered adults on the charter roster), 3) Committee Chair (CC listed “below the line”—may also hold the COR/CR position). Any one of these people, with the support of the others, has the authority to remove or appoint an adult leader.

Since you’re in the sticky situation of having your “problem child” Treasurer also being your CC (something you’ll never allow to happen again, am I right?), the hire-fire power goes to the COR and/or the head of the CO. Once removed, that person has no recourse at the district level—there’s no one there who has the authority to reinstate him or her in the unit.

What you do need to do, fast as you can and before you remove this person, is freeze the account(s) and ask the bank to provide you with however many months or years of records you need. In other words, be prepared for this person not cooperating when you ask for the records. Also, be sure to close that account and open a new one, with different account number, at least two signatories, and maybe even a slightly new name (e.g., if you’re presently “Cub Scout Pack 000,” then consider something like “Pack 000 Cub Scouts-Boy Scouts of America” or “Pack 000 Cub Scouts-BSA”).

Waste no time. You’ve already tipped your hand. Go to the head of your CO with your problem (NO EMAIL—Do this IN-PERSON) and ask that this person be removed instantly.

Importantly, no reason need be given—No accusations or even suspicions, no rationale, and no apology. Simply: “Effective immediately, your services to Pack 000 are no longer needed.” That’s it; it’s done.

After you’ve made this personnel change, and put in two replacements—one CC and one Treasurer—you’ll need to decide whether you want to go on the witch hunt for ostensibly missing funds or just start fresh with what you’ve got and do a quick fund-raiser to get working cash for whatever you might need. I’m going to say that the latter approach is a lot less bleak and recriminating because even if you discover where the money went, it’s still gone and unlikely to show up on anyone’s doorstep all by itself, and you really don’t want a lawsuit unless we’re talking tens of thousands (which had better be pretty unlikely, ’cause packs just don’t need a lot of money to do their thing!)


Hi Andy,

I’m hoping you can guide me here. I’m a Snow Sports Merit Badge Counselor. A family in our troop will be going skiing soon, and the boys—both Scouts—want to do Snow Sports merit badge. Their dad is willing to document the completion of certain activities, including making up a check-list and even photographing his sons doing the maneuvers. I’ve recommended that he become a Merit Badge Counselor, so that he can witness the completion of these activities as a MBC, but we haven’t closed the loop on that. Where can I go, to find out if it’s acceptable for him to sign off on these requirements as a parent? (David Goodnight)

Several thoughts present themselves, especially since we’re talking about pretty fundamental stuff, like showing how to ride a lift, a straight run, linked wedge turns and some other wedge maneuvers, a few Christies, side-step, herringbone, skiing an intermediate slope with three types of parallel turns, and a sideslip and hockey stop to each side. This stuff can be done in maybe all of an hour, if the Scouts already know how. If they need some coaching (that’s where you come in, of course, and it’s why you’re a MBC in the first place) then it might take all of a day, with a nice lunch break to talk about the safety stuff.

If we assume that you’re in an area where there’s at least one reasonably local day-skiing operation, is there some reason why you and the boys can’t spend a morning or afternoon on the slopes, where they can show you their stuff and you can use your own experience to show them some refinements? Wow! Counseling at its best!

As for having a surrogate do this for you, that’s fine in a sense but rather self-defeating in another sense. Sure, they’ll “pass” the stuff they need to, but what will you have actually accomplished, as far as having some role in their lives and imparting perhaps some skill or insight that’s not merely “in the book”?

Anyway, I’d think Dad’s word would be just fine. He doesn’t need to register or be “deputized” in any formal sense. It’s simply “Scout’s honor,” and that’s that! (Heck, if you can’t trust a couple of Scouts and their Dad, who’s left to trust?) Remember that he’s not doing the signing off—you are. He’s simply telling you what you can confidently sign off on.

I also like the idea of signing up this dad as an MBC. Sure, it can be for Snow Sports (yes, it’s absolutely OK to be the MBC for your own son or nephew), but maybe this dad has some other interests, too, that would be enjoyable to be a MBC for? Check it out when the family returns.


Dear Andy,

I have concerns about a recent change in our troop’s leadership: They’ve chosen a 17- maybe 18-year-old to be the Scoutmaster. Now I know that an 18-year-old can be an Assistant Scoutmaster, but what does the national council say on this issue of a 17-year-old as Scoutmaster? (Name Withheld-Nevada Area Council)

A Scoutmaster must be 21 years old. Between one’s 18th and 21st birthday, one may be an Assistant Scoutmaster, but absolutely not a Scoutmaster. Below the age of 18, a young man is a Boy Scout. These are all BSA policies and cannot be superseded or circumvented.

Sounds like a pretty ditzy “decision”! Aside from being totally prohibited, of course, and this’ll show up when the adult leader application’s turned in, because it lists the date of birth. Why are you other folks not giving somebody a thumb-in-the-eye over this?

The erstwhile Scoutmaster’s father is very active at the district level, and our people are afraid to say no because of all the favors he’d done. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

Well, aside from growing some spines, how about this: He fills out the BSA’s ADULT APPLICATION, and gives it to the troop’s Committee Chair for approval signature. The Committee Chair checks the D-O-B and “discovers” that it’s not 1988 or earlier, or 1991 or earlier, turns to page 2 and reads, in the paragraph titled Qualification that the Scoutmaster position must be filled by someone with a birth year of 1988 or earlier, or that assistant Scoutmaster must be filled by someone with a birth year of 1991 or earlier, and says, “Sorry, Charlie, come back when you’re old enough.” End of story.

Now if the Committee Chair somehow “forgets” to do this (politics and absence of vertebrae holding sway for the moment), the buck can be passed to the Chartered Organization Head or Representative—same procedure as I’ve just described.

And if missing vertebrae is still the disease at that level, then when it gets to the council office you’d better be praying that somebody there catches it quietly, or else you’re all going to look pretty foolish, as well as spineless.

Good luck with this. There does come a time when somebody has to do the right thing, even if it’s scary. Besides, if this contributing father is really Scout-minded and has the spirit in his heart, he’s really going to be more embarrassed than angry at somebody! And if he does get angry, then he’s wrong-headed and that’s that!

Thanks. I’ve started a letter. Scary, yes, but I’ll live through it.

Yes you will! If you’re open to a suggestion, no letters and absolutely no email! Phone calls and in-person only. Far too many people use letters and especially email as the new grenade-launchers… They chuck ’em over fences, then duck, hoping the crap that’s about to fly doesn’t hit ‘em! Be very, very careful, especially of emails, because you have absolutely no control over what your recipient does with it!

Thanks, I’ll give it a try. “They can kill me but they can’t eat me.” The worst that’ll happen is that the father will try to get in my face.

I like your attitude! If the dad’s comin’ from the right place, he won’t get in your face. If he does, you can tell him maybe it’s time to start learning and following BSA policy. (I can tell you this: If you all do nothing, and there’s ever an accident or incident, and it’s brought out that you all had a minor in charge of your sons, you’re all up the proverbial creek!)

Stuff’s happening. Our District Commissioner caught it, and when he congratulated this Scout about being Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, he was corrected by the father, who stated that his son would be the Scoutmaster. Our District Executive happened to be there, and crowed that we now had “the youngest Scoutmaster in the Council.”

Thanks for talking this through with me. As you can see, I’ll have to talk with a lot of higher-ups about this. As District Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioner, I’m going to bring this up at our next Roundtable, as a training exercise.

Forget the “higher up” scenario. There is none. If the CC doesn’t sign this young man’s adult application, or the head of the chartered organization doesn’t sign it, the story’s over: The application goes nowhere. And no one at the district or even council level can “override” that decision.


Hi Andy,

It’s the Scout attendance thing again. I don’t want to be the first and only leader to be flogged, but in just ten minutes’ time online, I quickly found 14 troops with attendance policies.

The reason our troop put an attendance-for-advancement policy in place was not to force boys to attend our “boring” program but, as I mentioned earlier, to have them recognize the responsibility of being a member of the troop and patrol. Our program is a good program, however earlier recounts of our troop before our present leadership arrived do confirm that there was no set schedule for meetings and so forth, just trips, and advancements mainly catered to the boys whose parents were leaders. As rookie leaders, we quickly learned that outings are what draw the boys to Scouting and though they can be excellent times for teaching Scouting values, patrol and troop meetings are also valuable times for teaching the boys leadership items such as running a meeting, planning a trip, and so forth. Early in the growth of our troop, I felt at times like I was running a youth vacation club, where there would be a full turnout for a camping weekend but no one could make a troop court of honor.

We’ve taken measures to improve attendance in many ways, and we’ve succeeded. In the past year, we’ve implemented patrol meetings separately from the troop, and the results are amazing. A group of six boys will bond and become a true patrol when they’re taken out of the “troop meeting” element. I meet with a patrol that’s currently planning a Camporee to be held within the district in the fall, among other things. The boys become so “into” the meetings, I can hardly get a word in! All our leaders have commented that the patrol meetings are running smoothly and, as a result, our troop meetings have become less “business-burdened.” That, itself, is an improvement for all!

I’m here to say the face and attitude of our youth is changing. They are mature beyond their years ways we were never allowed as boys, in our own youth. Asking them to be committed to something they want to become involved in isn’t something that will prevent them from having fun. I understand your point, and I’ve taken it well, about “no fun=no attendance”—it rings a bell loud and clear! But in this day and age, we leaders can’t watch “Follow Me Boys” and instill the methods of Scouting from days gone by, and expect it to adapt to a different time. Sure, the Scout Oath and the values of Boy Scouting shouldn’t ever change, but we have to adapt our programs as necessary to function today. That’s part of the reasoning behind why we use metrics to establish whether a Scout as been “active” per the advancement requirements. (Ken Wojciechowski)

First, let’s clear something up: In their patrols and in their troop, these are no longer “boys,” or “kids” or even “young men.” They’re Scouts. When we address them as Scouts, we reinforce how very special what they’re doing is! As in, “OK, Scouts, let’s get ready to…” or “Scouts, it’s time for us to…” and of course, “Goodnight, Scouts! See you next week!” Scouting is quite literally theonly place in their world where they not merely boys or kids.

As for your little online adventure, I do hope you’ll relay to every troop you’ve found that placing a metric on “active” and attendance in order for a Scout to advance is in direct violation of BSA policy.

For further reading on this subject, read page 24, lower right-hand corner, and then page 23, first sentence of fifth paragraph, of Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures, 2008 Printing (No. 33088). If, after having done this, you still have a question, don’t hesitate to write again.


Hi Andy,

As a Scout, do you have to allow the troop to put your name on the election ballot for Order of the Arrow? My son might be eligible, if he were to attend more campouts, but he didn’t get elected last year, and the situation isn’t one that can be mended. He had to wait three months to find out. He had to stand there, hopefully waiting in his uniform while everyone else was picked except for him. To keep this from happening again, he can skip campouts so that he doesn’t qualify, which he rather not do, or he can simply say, “Don’t put my name on the ballot—I don’t want to be a candidate.” Can he do this? (Tony Reno, MC, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

While not every Scout who’s eligible is necessarily elected into the OA by his fellow troop members the first time around, there are good and acceptable ways of handling the election and “call-out,” and there are some not-so-good ways. I’m sorry that your son was in a situation of the latter type.

It’s by no means mandatory that a Scout who meets the qualifications to be elected into the OA by the Scouts in his troop must stand for election, if he’d prefer not to. So, if your son isn’t interested at this time in this election, all he has to do is not stand up. He doesn’t even have to give a reason! In the meanwhile, he can go camping as often as he wants to!


Dear Andy,

We had a Scoutmaster who met the Scoutmaster Award of Merit qualifications but, unfortunately, the Committee Chair at the time never sent in the nomination. That Scoutmaster now has a different position and is no longer registered as Scoutmaster. Can our troop committee still nominate him for this award, even though he isn’t currently registered as Scoutmaster? (Dennis Hallman, ASM, Bucks County Council, PA)

You bet I’d do the paperwork and nominate that former Scoutmaster! And I’d be sure to recognize him at the very soonest Court of Honor, and let the district know to recognize him again at their annual adult recognition event (with lots of your troop folks showing up to support and honor him)!


Dear Andy,

Can one be a Commissioner and a unit committee member? (Dennis Hallman, UC, Bucks County Council, PA)

Yes, it’s OK to be a Commissioner and anything else in Scouting except a unit leader. The reasoning is simple and sound: Being a Commissioner is a “full-time” volunteer position, and so is being a unit leader—these two are both the most demanding in Scouting (personally, I’d include Den Leader in this mix), and the BSA correctly doesn’t want volunteers to be giving one or the other short shrift, or trying to do both equally well and going incendiary!


Hi Andy,

I’m the new Scoutmaster of a small but good troop in I was an Assistant Scoutmaster for a couple of months and I’ve completed Sha-Sha-Ga training. I’ve also read many of your columns, but I can’t find the answers to these two questions anywhere…

First, my son is a Second Class Scout and is close to First Class. Who should do his Scoutmaster’s Conference? Can I do it, or should an ASM or someone else do it? Second, for the most part, Scouts who are First Class rank or above can sign off on requirements for younger Scouts, but from time to time the adult leaders sign some of the requirements. Should I avoid at all cost signing my son’s book, or is an occasional signature OK if things are being done in a group or a specific situation where I observe the task? (I’ve read your Dad n’ Lad comments in other columns, but if I’m signing the same thing in other Scouts’ books, would it be a problem signing my own son’s?) Thanks. (Gary, SM, Yankee Clipper Council, MA)

Just as a Merit Badge Counselor may counsel his or her own son with impunity, so a Scoutmaster can sign off on his or her own son’s advancement, and carry out a Scoutmaster’s Conference, too. “Ooooo… What about conflict of interest?” someone might ask, in horror! Conflict of WHAT? Any doofus who asks that sort of question doesn’t understand that any adult who lets his or her own son skid by, or shortcuts his or her own son’s advancement in any way, is damaging only one person: that son. That said, if you simply want to give your son the opportunity to learn from someone else, then by all means ask one of your assistants to sign off on a requirement or two, or do a conference. But remember that, when you do these things with your own son, you’re creating a life-long memento with your own signature in your son’s handbook—that’s one of the blessings of being his Scoutmaster! Don’t shy away; make it something really special between you and your son!


Dear Andy,

I’ve just read online about a possible update to the Eagle board of review process… Has there been a restriction imposed, effective 2008, that an Eagle candidate can no longer to choose a member of his board of review? (Eric Heinbach, San Diego Imperial Council, CA)

The Eagle candidate has never had the right to choose members of his board of review.


Dear Andy,

Do you happen to know where I might find age-appropriate songs, prayers, meditations, activities, and so on for a Cub Scout pack sponsored by our local YMCA, that would assist in recognizing God? (Dave Juelfs, Lewis & Clark Council, IL)

If you do a web search for “Scout’s own” you’ll get lots of good stuff! Just be cautious, because we want to remain nondenominational, which these days means more than “white bread Christian.” You’ll want to at least nod to every possible faith in your pack, and it’s OK to ask around, to make sure not only that everyone’s covered but also to pick up some new volunteers to put this admirable effort together!. I recall one of the troops I served asScoutmaster…We not only hadPresbyterians, Congregationalists, andLutherans, we had Roman Catholics, a Jew, a Buddhist, and an Islamic Scout, and guess what… The cross-pollination of ideas was fabulous! (Do understand that I’m a professional moderator, so I did know precisely what to do, and what not to do, in a mixed group like this).

Also, don’t overlook the religious activities included as part of natural rank advancement in the overall Cub Scouting program. Finally, be sure to check out for more ideas and information.


Dear Andy,

We have a family with two sons in our troop: One is a Life Scout and the other just joined and received his Scout badge. Both are repeatedly absent from most troop meetings and events. Their parents insist, meanwhile, that their sons’ lack of participation can’t hinder their advancement. This raises the question: Can their Scoutmaster or their board of review consider these boys’ absences when considering them for rank advancement? Personally, I’ve seen these brothers at summer camp last year, and maybe two or three or four meetings at the most in the past six months or so. They even missed their own advancement at a recent court of honor. The usual excuse is too busy with other stuff. Their father’s an Eagle Scout, so you’d think he’d have instilled the idea of responsible participation, but obviously this isn’t happening, and it’s disturbing. Can our troop require some level of attendance (a percent, let’s say, or x out of y meetings, perhaps) as part of rank advancement? (Kevin Sweeney, Bluegrass Council, KY)

No, no troop can require an attendance number, percentage, or any other metric. And if a Scout has remained registered as a member of the troop and the BSA for the specified time (e.g., four months, six months) and has not been removed from the troop roster, then the BSA will consider him to qualify for the “active” requirement(s).

That said, I’m truly at a loss to understand how one of these two boys is a Life rank Scout. This must mean that, until recently, he was indeed actively participating in troop meetings and activities. It’s in fact impossible for a Scout to advance beyond Scout or at the most Tenderfoot without being active in the literal sense, because the requirements for the fundamental ranks (Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class) are designed specifically for the truly active Scout:

– Tenderfoot requires an overnight camp-out with one’s patrol or troop (i.e., “family camping” isn’t a substitute) and attending a minimum of two troop meetings in a 30-day period, plus a Scoutmaster’s. If you don’t show up for one campout and two troop meetings, you don’t qualify, simple as that.

– Second Class requires a total of no less than five patrol and/or troop activities, including active contribution to at least one of these, a flag ceremony (this means showing up), participation in an approved (by the Scoutmaster) service project, at least one in-water activity, and participation in a program on controlled substance abuse prevention, plus a Scoutmaster’s Conference (which means showing up). In addition, there’s a batch of requirements that require demonstrating, showing, explaining, etc., and a Scout has to show up to do these things (i.e., parents don’t “sign off” on Boy Scout requirements). So, how is advancement possible if the Scout hasn’t shown up to accomplish these requirements? Obviously, it’s not possible, and the troop needs no special “rules” to make this work.

– First Class includes an orienteering course, a total of ten separate troop and/or patrol activities other than meetings since joining the troop, meeting with a pre-approved authority on citizens’ rights and obligations, at least one in-water event, and so on. Again, no special “rule” needed: Show up and do these requirements, or don’t. Scout’s choice.

Moreover, the ranks of Star, Life, and Eagle require a leadership position, and these are typically elected positions (e.g., Patrol Leader). If a Scout isn’t showing up, there’s no way he will be elected to anything, because the other Scouts either don’t know who he is or know him to be a no-show. And, you do know that a troop is under no obligation whatsoever to appoint a Scout to a leadership position like Troop Scribe, etc. just because the Scout “needs” the position to advance. If there’s no slot open, or if the responsibilities of the position are explained to the Scout (including the part about you need to show up in order to be a leader here) and the Scout doesn’t think he can do the job because he’s “too busy” elsewhere, then that’s his choice, you see. Further, if the Scout accepts the position and doesn’t do the job described and coached, then obviously he needs to be replaced immediately, and not when his tenure ends, so that the troop has a leader it can count on!

In other words, the person who truly “controls” his advancement is the Scout himself, and he’ll do his duty or not, depending on his own ambitions for himself. “Active” isn’t an issue; fulfilling the other requirements is where the rubber meets the road.


Dear Andy,

When a Scout signs up for a merit badge, Camping for example, he gets his “blue card” signed by his unit leader and then schedules an appointment with the Merit Badge Counselor for that badge. For Camping merit badge, one of the requirements includes 20 days and nights of camping in a self-pitched tent or under the stars. But what about camping days prior to when the Scout signed up for the merit badge? Do these count? And, if so, how far back do you go in counting? (Fred Knauss, SM, Minsi Trails Council, PA)

Yes, the counting for the 20 days and nights of camping “under canvas” as it were begins when the Scout has begun the merit badge. This is stated in various ways, in a variety of BSA literature for both adult volunteers and for the Scouts themselves. And, to answer the next obvious question, a Scout is to be considered having actually begun a merit badge when he has met for the first time with the Merit Badge Counselor.

That said, this really isn’t a hardship, even for Camping. To begin with, any camping done outside of a Scouting event (e.g., a family camping trip, “backyard camping” with friends, and so on) doesn’t count, anyway. Then, there are the camping trips necessary to attain the Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks. That’s upwards of 16 (minimum six) right there (one for Tenderfoot, between two and five for Second Class, and between three and ten for First Class)! By the time these are done, the Scout’s ready for more serious camping experiences, and this is where the merit badge comes into play (and no, we don’t go back and count the rank-related camp-outs toward the merit badge’s requirements unless we’re seriously into “double-dipping”—something folks usually try to avoid).

There’s a solid reason why it works this way: If prior experiences were to count, then there’s hardly need for qualified Merit Badge Counselors! MBCs are charged with imparting insights, ideas, and knowledge that a Scout can’t possibly acquire by just reading his merit badge pamphlet. If Scouts can complete requirements as they choose without benefit of a MBC, then one of the major purposes and goals of the merit badge program itself is defeated!

So, summarizing, a Scout’s best shot at Camping merit badge is to get to First Class and then GO FOR IT!

Oh, one other thing… Although you didn’t bring it up, let’s just mention that a Scoutmaster isn’t “automatically” a Camping Merit Badge Counselor, although a Scoutmaster can certainly attest to the MBC that the Scout has fulfilled the 20 days and nights requirement.

Thanks. Now, any suggestions on what BSA literature I’d find this in? I’m asking because I’m in process of reorganizing my troop’s adult leadership and MBCs, including planning plenty of new training and refresher courses for all. I found some good information on Merit Badge Counselor training, but I don’t remember reading about requirements starting when you meeting with the Counselor. Thanks again! BTW, all our troop’s leaders will be using columns going forward!

Start with reading page 187 of the Boy Scout Handbook. It’s implicit in the description of the process. For even more information on the BSA merit badge program, go here:

Dear Andy,

When a local or national tour permit is used for an outing, and the Scouts travel by car or bus to the event venue, do the Scouts need to travel in official BSA field uniforms, or is this a policy defined by the individual unit? I know the uniform is one of the methods of Scouting, and that the BSA is a uniformed organization. I’m asking because this “travel in uniform” topic frequently comes up the night before we leave on a camping trip! My own view is that the Scouts should always travel in their field uniforms and then, if needed, change at the destination site. When I discuss this issue with my local council representatives and with my local council trainers, they tell me that traveling in uniform isn’t required. (John Urban, Minsi Trails Council, NJ-PA)

Traveling in Scout uniform isn’t necessarily mandatory. In certain instances, such as a council-sponsored trip (e.g., Philmont trek or National Jamboree contingent), full Scout uniform is invariably the order-of-the-day and for several very sound reasons:

– Scouts in uniform are identifiable by the public, law enforcement, security people, their peers, and the adults who are accompanying them, and this is a good thing.

– Scouts in uniform often if not nearly always behave differently than if they were in “civvies.” When they look like Scouts, they tend to act like Scouts and not just a gang of teen-aged boys. They stick closer together, they respond more quickly to the Scout sign, and they’re generally less rowdy in action and language.

– They create immensely positive impressions with the public wherever they go.

In the troop I served as Scoutmaster, we did everything in uniform. We traveled in complete uniforms (with our BSA or troop tee-shirts underneath) and only took the uniform shirts off if we had heavy labor facing us (setting up the campsite, preparing to rappel, etc.). We did this only on order of the Senior Patrol Leader, to his Patrol Leaders, by the way—it wasn’t random—and in this way kept our uniformity throughout.

There were benefits by the carload to doing this… Once, while camping in and among a larger bunch of non-uniformed Scouts, we were spotted by a rock-climbing advanced class for qualified instructors, who asked up if we’d like to do some rappelling, for free! That lasted over two hours! When we asked why they hadn’t picked any of the other Scouts around us, the reply was, “Oh? Are they Scouts? We had no idea!” Then, visiting a Jamboree, we wound up in the Jamboree commemorative video because we were in full uniform—We were exactly what that roving film crew was looking for! On yet another occasion, while traveling by ferry (with over 300 people aboard) on a four-hour over-the-water journey, we were the only Scouts approached by a troop of similarly-aged (and uniformed) Girl Scouts, to the envy of over a hundred other non-uniformed Boy Scouts on board! We also kept getting picked by film crews who were out for “human interest” stories, and we were selected by our council president to be the honor guard at the council’s annual meeting (got free dinners, too!). We were featured on-camera, live at the Rose Bowl in California. And the list goes on…<grin>

So, while it’s not necessarily “policy,” and doesn’t affect the status of your tour permit, in my book you’re sure on the right track when you have a uniformed troop! Our troop’s informal motto: When you’re in full uniform, you can never be wrong! (Here’s the kicker: Our uniform was short-sleeved Scout shirt, neckerchief-and-slide, Scout shorts and belt, and knee-socks!)

B-P simply and forever wisely put it this way: “Scouting does not insist on a uniform, but what boy with Scouting in his heart would be without one?”

Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(March 16, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)

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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