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Issue 169 – April 9, 2009

Lots of reader response to this year’s April Fools Day column! Thanks to all who took the time to write in – With a date-line advantage, here’s the first…

Gidday Andy,

I find myself in the position of having to write in and complain about your April 1st column! I sat down to read this, prepared with a nice fresh cup of coffee, and found myself snorting coffee along with some heavy laughter as I read along. Great column! (Darren Charles Robertson, Akela, First Eltham Gellibrand Cub Pack, Melbourne, Australia)

G’Day and thanks! Snorting your coffee is the highest of complements and I’m glad it cheered up your morning!

Dear Andy,

I’m writing you to thank you for an insight you have shared that cleared up a misconception I’ve had. I’ve read several letters in your columns from parents involved with derelict troops. You know, the kind where they have their own version of the program, with a monarchy, dictatorship, or “anarchy adult” leadership. Your advice has consistently been: “Amityville Horror! Get Out! Take as many with you as you can, but Get Out!”

I’m glad that you’re helping parents understand how the definition of “obedient” in the Scout Law doesn’t really have anything to do with following the democratic process. I’ve misunderstood it myself. I thought that because the BSA mission statement says that stuff about “good citizens,” maybe I should tell Scouts to not run away from a wrong they see being done. You know, American history and all that. I’ve also made the mistake of telling parents that they should make every effort to right the wrongs they see in a troop, leading by example for their sons. I’ve even slipped up and given out District Executive contact information, council contact information, and national office contacts.

What I’m trying to say is that all this time I’ve been operating under the assumption that the Scout Oath and Law were things to live by, like I agreed to do when I signed the application. I’ve raised my three sons to believe that, too. I believe Baden-Powell had the right idea, and we shouldn’t tolerate adult leaders who excel at driving families away from Scouting.

I’m thankful for your advice. I understand now that “to serve other people at all times” means serve yourself and your buddies, and that “brave” means being unafraid to leave an uncomfortable situation. (Doug Hurt, CM & ASM, RT Staff, District Trainer, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

Yes, possible sarcasm aside, my advice usually matches the Monty Python knights confronted by the infamous “Attack Rabbit”—Run away! Run away!

The cold fact is that Boy Scouts can’t fix a corrupted troop. They’re the actual captives. They have no power except the power of their “vote”—done with their feet. When they vote this way and get out from that troop they’re being trustworthy to their own good sense, loyal to Scouting’s tenets, helpful to others when they get them out too, cheerful when they see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and brave to be willing to do this.

Being “obedient” in a troop like this doesn’t cut it. That’s nothing more than slave-like acceptance of the tin gods’ edicts. “Friendly” would be consorting with the enemy. They’re being courteous, though: They’re not picking a fight. Instead, they’re saying, this isn’t a fight that’s worth my blood, which will be the only blood spilled.

If the parent has the opportunity and plan to fairly quickly get assigned the position of COR or CC, then he or she is now in the cat-bird seat! From either of these positions, the COR and/or CC can throw the rascals out on their little tin behinds! In this situation, the troop might be salvaged.

However, if a non-registered parent, committee member, or ASM has the notion of tackling this corruption “from within,” they’re doomed. My crystal ball sees strife, unhealthy emotions, rancor, retribution, angst, and all sorts of frustration, with an end-game that will cause these well-meaning people to move on anyway, but only after they’ve been bloodied and maybe even totally turned off to Scouting.

That’s why GET OUT NOW is the most energy-efficient means to the end: To find a place where your son can have a happy Scouting experience that he remembers all his life and translates into his future as an adult!

If you want to teach your sons to “fight the good fight,” go ahead. Except… It’s not a good fight. The corrupters won’t be playing fair, any more than they’ve played fair with the troop up till now. If you think they’ll listen, you’re deluding yourself. But that’s your right. But giving out professional staff contact information, which creates the false impression that these people somehow have the “power” to do something, is just plain pointless—it creates an impossible expectation that doesn’t help the professional staff and only further frustrates the well-meaning parent. You see, it’s this simple: The “owner” of Scouting units are the Chartered Organizations; not the BSA, which makes the CO the only entity that can effect change.

I do understand your position. If the Chartered Organization Representative, the Chartered Organization head, or the Committee Chair are observant enough of the “loss in business,” maybe they’ll review the folks they have running the store.

My concern is this: When the point man and his patrol come across a land mine, they pass the word and every man moves into the clear. But what about all the Scouts that come after that? That’s not a “mark the mine” situation? We “hope” the families that come later figure out they made a mistake? I agree that, for the boys’ sakes, moving may be the best and most immediate remedy. I just don’t agree that we, Scouts or Scouters, should just “look the other way.” On my honor, for the sake of my fellow Scouts, I would do what I could to change things in an orderly manner. Even if it’s just a personal letter, phone call to a DE or DC, or contacting a Chartered Organization Representative. I’m just uncomfortable with the blemish on the program one leaves behind, hoping they’ll get the picture, but at some other Scout’s expense.

If you believe that a letter to or conversation with the head of the Chartered Organization will make a difference, then do it. As for DEs and SEs and DCs and so forth, remember that these people have no actual jurisdiction over Scouting units—that jurisdiction rests with the CO. The CO owns and has sole responsibility for the Scouting unit and the quality of the program delivered by it and its adult volunteers.

As for parents, their very first obligation is to their own son. Nothing else is more important than that. If they choose to network with other parents and help them move their sons out of a corrupted troop too, that’s wonderful and I’d hope that they do. But this is their call; not yours or mine.

Dear Andy,

One of the boys in my den is participating in speed stacking and competes for the school speed stacking team. Is there a way he can earn a belt loop for his participation in this sports activity? (Gwen Terry, WDL)

If there’s a belt loop for speed stacking, then of course. If not, well… you already know that answer. Needless to say, not every sport is on the Cub Scout Sports list, but new ones are periodically added, so maybe speed stacking show up in the future. Meanwhile, no reason for this boy to stop: We don’t do things just to get badges! It would sure be fun, by the way, for him to demonstrate this interesting skill at an upcoming den meeting!

Dear Andy,

When I was a Scout, all patrol names were related to animals or to the outdoors. The patrol my son’s been in for two years now is the TMNTs (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). I personally don’t care for the name. Should they be keeping with tradition, or am I just getting old? Also, the troop has chosen to not wear neckerchiefs or hats, none of the patrols has a patrol flag, and some of the Scouts don’t wear patrol medallions. The Committee Chair told me that if the patrol votes on a name, the majority wins. This is fine, but is this giving the Scout-run troop too long a leash? (Jerry Scott, ASM, Central New Jersey Council)

From the very earliest days of the BSA, patrol names were based on North American woods animals, birds, and so on, with a few Indian-oriented ones thrown in for good measure. Patrol were, however, encouraged to add adjectives to the names, so that it’s wouldn’t be just the Bear Patrol, it would be, let’s say, the Bodacious Bear patrol. Or the Soaring Eagle Patrol. And so on… Part of the reason for this was so that each patrol could have its own, unique, “call.”

Times change. Although boys largely haven’t changed much, the world around them has. In consequence, and in light of Scouting being a pretty “forgiving” program, other fascinations have crept in…and that’s where the TMNT Patrol and a host of others spring from. To get an idea of how broad a spectrum is now “available,” check out these two sites:

So the question becomes: Is there any particular harm in this? It’s a judgment call. Personally, I don’t think so. So long as names are “vetted” by the Scoutmaster, to avoid disparaging, un-politically correct, “gray area,” or double-entendre names, I don’t think there’s any real harm. Besides, if you “assign” a name to a patrol, I can just about guarantee that it’s unlikely that the Scouts will buy-in to it, compared with self-selected names!

About that “leash” analogy, not to put too fine a point on it, but are you really sure that you want to think of your son and his buddies that way?

Dear Andy,

In the “Scouting circle,” the Scouts cross their arms right-over-left. What does this mean, and why do they do this? (Bob Giffin)

Probably because most of them are right-handed, and this is what naturally happens. If you’re right-handed, try crossing your arms left-over-right and discover how weird that feels! Try this: clasp your hands in front of you. Which thumb is on top? If it’s your right thumb, you’re most likely right-hand dominant. Cool, huh?

Dear Andy,

I’ve heard that ax yards are not to be roped off anymore. I’m having trouble finding the current rules for ax yards and fire yards. What are they? (Glenn Allen, ADC, Istrouma Area Council, LA)

Page 82 of the current handbook describes roping off the chopping area “in a long-term camp where lots of wood will be used.” The GTSS, on the other hand, is silent on the subject of “ax yards.” Your best bet will be to check with your council’s camping committee and/or camp director, when you describe what camping experience you have in mind: A one- or two-nighter, or a week-long base camp. You may also want to check with your council’s Leave No Trace expert, who can definitely give you additional insights.


Dear Andy,

Do you have any advice for packs with upwards of 100 Cubs plus siblings and parents to keep pack meetings fun yet still retain a bit small bit of control? (Jennifer Haller, TDL, Gulf Ridge Council, FL)

As a working Commissioner, I’ve consulted with several packs dealing with this exact situation! Yes, there are definitely things you can do, beginning with making sure the room you’re using is big enough, with enough chairs for everyone—Cubs, parents, and siblings. Then…

– Always have a pre-meeting “gathering time” and an opening activity that the Cubs can begin participating in as they arrive at the pack meeting. (Rotate which den or dens take charge of this.)

– Arrange the chairs in rows, in “horseshoe” fashion, with the front rows of chairs for the dens and the back rows immediately behind the dens for the parents and siblings of the Cubs in that den. Have signs, so that Den 1 knows they sit in these specific seats, Den 2 in these, and so on around the room.

– Each den should have a front row—no den sits behind another den. Make “double rows” for the Cubs, per den, if necessary. Parents sit immediately behind.

– Den Leaders sit with their dens. The DLs sit at the end of the den row. The Assistant DL or Den Chief sits at the other end. If two rows per den, then DL sits on the left end of the first row and the ADL or DC sits at the right end of the row behind.

– Parents and siblings sit immediately behind their own den; they don’t move their chairs and they don’t wander around in the back or sides of the room.

– Uniforming! The better the Cubs and their leaders are uniformed, the better they’ll behave! This is a proven fact! Work hard to make it happen! (DLs who wear shirts only, open-buttoned and tied at the waist, need to be encouraged that this isn’t Girl Scouts and we do wear uniforms as they’re meant to be worn—this helps the boys “get it.”)

– Teach the Cub Scout sign. Properly, per “the book.” Resist the temptation to shout, “Sign’s up!” This is self-defeating. Parents and siblings learn and respect this, too! Has to happen, or you’ll never overcome the chaos! Teach at den meetings; use in pack meetings! The Cub Sign is done with the right arm straight up in the air, with index and middle fingers splayed (they’re “ears,” remember).

– The Cubmaster is in charge, always. He or she is the Master of Ceremonies and always commands center stage, unless it’s given up for award ceremonies.

– Call up dens, one-by-one, for advancements and achievements. Use actual ceremonies that include the parents, instead of the “Here’s Johnny’s Zip-Loc with his badges, now go sit down” style of award presentation.

– Skits, songs, and demonstrations by dens. Parents come out, and are more respectful of what’s going on at the front of the room, when it’s their own kid on center stage!

– Loud cheers followed by the Cub Sign and quietness helps reinforce what you’re trying to accomplish.

– Deal with “problems” by removing them from the meeting and having a conversation with them outside the meeting room. Make it brief; make it to-the-point.

– Really smart Den Leaders, and especially packs this size, realize that there’s a darned good chance that some of these boys will have older brothers who are Boy Scouts! Recruit ‘em to be Den Chiefs! They will be coming to these pack meetings anyway, as family members, so recruit ‘em to come to den meetings, too, and do what Den Chiefs do (look this up)! Den Chiefs can make a DLs job a breeze. But… You do need to train them!

Well, that should be plenty enough to get you started. When you have these in place, let me know and we’ll move on to some other stuff!

Dear Andy,

As a pretty new Scoutmaster, I’m looking for your advice about troop positions and patrol layouts for a small troop of 15 boys, with four Scouts ages 14-16, seven Scouts ages 12-13, and four new Scouts ages 10-1/2-11. What troop positions need to be filled and which ones are optional. I think that Senior Patrol Leader, Scribe, and Quartermaster would be the main three, with the other positions (Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, Librarian, Historian, Chaplain Aide, Instructor) being optional. Is it better for every boy to have a troop position, or limit them so that the leadership positions have more esteem?

Possible dilemma: If the older Scouts take the SPL and ASPL roles, that leaves only two Scouts in the older patrol. Or should we not have an ASPL (to keep an older patrol size of three) or distribute the older Scouts among the younger two patrols (including the new Scout patrol)? The older Scouts, understandably, would rather not be mixed in with the younger Scouts. What would you suggest for patrol sizes, for a troop this size? (Mike Krajnak, SM, Simon Kenton Council, OH)

Here’s how to do this with a troop of 15 Scouts…

– First, all Scouts elect their Senior Patrol Leader from among those who wish to run for this position. Nothing elaborate here. Just a little speech by the Scoutmaster about how this is the top Scout leadership in the troop, and will involve PLC meetings as well as troop meetings (most all of them, anyway) and campouts (a lot of them), and that the Scout they elect needs to be the kind of guy they’d happily camp with, share a tent with, and trust to cook a good meal.

– Immediately following this, you have 14 Scouts remaining. Ask them to divide themselves into at least three groups of no less than four Scouts per group. This will give you either a 4-5-5 or a 4-4-6 configuration, either of which is OK (although I’d hope they’d go for the first configuration, but it’s not life-threatening). Give ’em about five minutes to do this. They’ll do it naturally. (No adult “intervention”—this is critical!)

– Next, each group pick a patrol name, that they must clear with the Scoutmaster, first (this avoids unsavory or “gray area” names). Ask one member of each patrol to come forward to the Senior Patrol Leader and you, and announce the name (this little step helps identify either the natural leader, or the “goat”—there’s always one of each [even in Wood Badge patrols!]).

– Then, Patrol Leader elections. Quickly. Following this vote, PLs each select their assistants.

You now have a Senior Patrol Leader, three patrols each with a PL and APL. That’s all you need to get rolling.

Announce that there are several appointed positions at the troop level available: Troop Scribe (describe responsibilities, in brief), Troop Quartermaster (same), and maybe one other (Webmaster, perhaps?), and let the Scouts know that, if anyone’s interested in any of these, to see you at the end of the troop meeting. If any Scout or Scouts show up to inquire, talk it over with them and get a commitment from them before handing out the positions. These positions are held by Scouts who are regular patrol members. The only youth leadership position in which the Scout is not a patrol member, in a troop this size, is Senior Patrol Leader.

That’s it. End the meeting with an interpatrol competitive game that you’ve come prepared to do. Your Senior Patrol Leader runs the game. Wrap up by asking the SPL and PLs to come a half-hour early, next week, so you can all go over stuff.

Immediately plan to run a Troop Leadership Workshop. Buy your SPL and PLs the handbooks that they’re read and learn from, as you lead them through these in the weeks to come.

Next meeting, bring stuff that they can make patrol flags from… Staves, cloth or leather, markers, string and beads, whatever (Michaels or AC Moore are good bets for wandering around and finding stuff).

You’re on your way!

Now, everything you do is done by patrol! Ask your SPL to teach “silent signals,” and you’ll all have a lot easier time! Besides, it’s fun! (Google “silent signals” and you’ll find what you need.)

Go for it –


Hi Andy,

We have some Scouts who are looking for credit for activities from years past. How long does a Scout have to complete a merit badge, once it’s started? Any direction in this area? (Mark Corcoran, CC, Greater Cleveland Council, OH)

A merit badge is considered to have started when the Scout has his first face-to-face meeting with his Merit Badge Counselor; after that, he has until his 18th birthday to complete it. If credit for “past work” or “past activity” is being given, one would expect that that work or activity was done while he was a Boy Scout; not before–But the whole concept of “stuff done before actually starting the merit badge” is, of course, entirely up to the individual Merit Badge Counselor, who has final and total say-so regarding requirement completion, and no one else.

Yes, I think that this is good. I know that some MBCs may be more lenient when establishing past completions, but I trust that it’s done with all good intentions.

We’re required to have the Scoutmaster approve the Scout to pursue a merit badge, and this can be used to establish a start-time for the badge. Thanx for the consult. (Mark Corcoran)

Hmmm… Check page 187 in the handbook. Note that it says that all a Scout need do to obtain a “blue card” and MBC contact information is to tell his Scoutmaster that he’s interested in that merit badge. There’s no “approval” process. There’s no “Scoutmaster decision” here. This is a Scout decision, and that’s it. I hope you can incorporate this procedure into how your troop operates!

BTW, Everyone in your troop knows that any Scout can decide to work on any merit badge, anytime the Scout decides, yes? There are no age or rank or any other kinds of restrictions or hurdles, right?


Dear Andy,

Could you please tell me if Tiger Cubs can earn the BSA Physical Fitness Award? I see Tigers mentioned on web pages about the award, but when it comes to finding requirements, all I ever find is the big long list that seems more suited to Boy Scouts and adults (would a six-year-old really be expected to teach eight people all about fitness?). I’ve also seen a list of achievements and electives from the Tiger Cub Scout handbook that can be used as “resources,” but not as requirements for earning the award. Any light you can shed on this subject would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! (Susan Paradis, Connecticut Rivers Council)

I’d really suggest holding off on this… There’s plenty of time in a boy’s Scouting life (from now till he’s 18 years old, in fact) to earn this. Concentrate on the Tiger achievements and electives. Next year, while they’re working with their parents at home on Wolf achievements and electives for Arrow Points, incorporate some Sports and Academics belt loop stuff into your den meetings. Let this one go for a while. If you’re looking for something special, however, be sure to consider Donor Awareness, which also happens to have a really cool patch to go with it!


Dear Andy,

I’m a new Scoutmaster…1. Who signs off on ranks: Scout, Tenderfoot, etc.?2. What is the role of the Assistant Scoutmaster?3. What do you do when a Webelos leader “graduates” into the troop and is too strong of a leader? (Diana)

1 – The Scoutmaster and/or an older Scout (at least First Class rank) whom the Scoutmaster designates and/or an Assistant Scoutmaster designated by the Scoutmaster.

2 – The responsibilities of an Assistant Scoutmaster are described in detail in the Scoutmaster Handbook.

3 – In a Boy Scout troop, unlike a Cub Scout pack, adults don’t “lead” boys. This isn’t “Webelos III”! Moreover, Webelos Den Leaders don’t get troop leadership positions “automatically.” The COR or Committee Chair decides where the best fit will be, and offers that position. If the position sought is as Assistant Scoutmaster, the Scoutmaster has “right of first refusal.” If it wasn’t done this way, back up and fix it. Meanwhile, this former Webelos Den Leader needs to get to Boy Scout training immediately, so that he stops whatever overbearing conduct he’s displaying immediately, and so that he’ll better understand his new role and why it’s that way. That should be enough to settle him down and get him pointed in the right direction. If, however, he is incapable of stopping, then he needs to be removed from his troop position immediately. This is done by either the Chartered Organization Representative or the Committee Chair; no “vote” by anyone is necessary, nor does a “case” have to be built, as in an employment-type situation (this is volunteer stuff, so labor laws don’t apply).


Hi Andy,

While going over the Arrow of Light requirements with the Webelos, an interesting question was asked by one… We were reviewing the parts of the Boy Scout First Class badge, and their meanings. All the Webelos knew that the knot at the bottom of the badge was to remind the Scout to “do a good turn daily” and that that’s the Boy Scout slogan. But one asked me what kind of knot was depicted on the badge. I’ve not been able to find a definitive answer from anyone I asked, or on the Internet. Any assistance in answering what kind of knot this is, its history, and why it was chosen by the Boy Scouts will be greatly appreciated. (Rich Dush, ACM, Bucktail Council, PA)

That’s a bright Scout! And you’ve come to the right place! The current description simply says, “a knot.” You’d have to go back many years, to a much earlier handbook, to learn that it’s “an overhand knot.”


Dear Andy,

There’s some question about Scout rules concerning the tote-n-chip and the firem-n-chit. I’ve heard that Scouts above the rank of Star no longer need to carry their cards around with them for proof. I then heard from another source that anyone in Scouting, including adults, must show their card when asked. Which version is true or is there something more? (Joe Ilg, ASM, Calumet Council, IL-IN)

It’s all in the Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS book, including how to spell ‘em!


Dear Andy,

Our Troop just earned the Quality Unit-100% Boys Life Award. The Scoutmaster gave the patch only to those Scouts have been in the unit all year, and not to those who just crossed over. His rationale was that you had to help the unit achieve this award before you can wear it, just like the Honor Patrol star. I’d thought this was a unit award and everyone in the unit can and is supposed to wear it, so that people will know we’re a Quality Unit. Which is it? He said he’d be happy to give the new Scouts the patch if I could find where it says they can wear one. (Carol Bowden, Troop Committee Member)

The BSA Insignia Guide states: “Centennial Quality Unit: youth member and leader, right sleeve, position 3. Only the most recently earned Quality Unit emblem may be worn…” Note that it doesn’t say, “only youth or adults who have been in the unit during the ensuing year may wear this emblem…” And that’s because the BSA tends mostly to not have “Duh” policies. This patch is for wearing by everyone in the unit, because it’s the unit as a whole that earned it. It’s an “advertisement of quality,” if you will. Moreover, anyone who would split hairs on this sure doesn’t sound like the kind of leader I’d want my son to be subjected to—He sounds like somebody who does it his way till somebody squeezes his shoes and tells him to cut it out! Bottom line: You are 100% right, of course. Had he done his own home-work before making the wrong decision, he might have made the right one!


Hi Andy,

I’ve been having discussions about the Commissioner’s Arrowhead Honor—specifically, the wearing of it; that is, when it goes on and when you have to take it off. You earn it differently for different Commissioner positions, UC, RTC, ADC, DC, and so on. A while ago, I earned it as a Unit Commissioner. Subsequently, I sewed it under my UC patch, and also put one under my Cub Scout RT staff patch. Nobody said anything at the time, but when I became ADC and then DC (District Commissioner) an Assistant Council Commissioner pointed out that I hadn’t earned it “at the ADC/DC level” and that I wasn’t entitled to wear it. Presently I’m not wearing it, but I’m wondering if there really is an “at that level” thing, or if once earned you can wear it, period. (I noticed that my certificate doesn’t specify at which level it was earned.) I’d just like to be right. If I can wear it, I want to; if I need to re-earn it, then so be it. Your thoughts? (Gerry Moon, DC, Central Florida Council)

Your ACC is full o’ baloney. Once earned, the Arrowhead stays on, so long as it’s below a Commissioner badge. Put it back on, and keep it there. And your ACC can go pound sand down a rat hole unless he can show you otherwise, in writing. Meanwhile, resist the temptation to join the “patch police.” It never, ever wins friends and almost invariably creates rancor.

Thanks for your prompt (and blunt!) reply. I have some sewing to do this week. My council is hosting the BSA’s national meeting this year and I hope to have all my bling in place. (Gerry Moon)

“Bling” is costume jewelry, often; square knots,Arrowheads, and so forth are real, insofar as you earn ‘em; you can’t buy ‘em.

Dear Andy,

We’re a fairly new (three years old) pack, and most of us are still new to Scouting, so can you help us with this: Can the Cubmaster also be the COR (Chartered Organization Representative)? I do know that the COR is the only one that can have two “registered” positions, but it does not say anywhere that the COR “cannot” serve as Cubmaster. I have researched this on the BSA web site and our local council and district web site, but can’t find a definitive answer to my question. I have asked several people in our district and get conflicting answers. Can you help with this, or at least direct to me a publication that may explain this? Thanks for your help! (Sherry Mitchell, MC, Occoneechee Council, NC)

This is a no-brainer, believe it or not. The resource you’ve been searching for is the actual BSA Adult Volunteer Application. Page 2 states very specifically that the COR (actual BSA “code” is CR) can be multiple-registered as Committee Chair (CC) or Committee Member (MC), and that’s it. So, no, the Cubmaster cannot dual-register as the CR as well, because the Cubmaster is not a member of the committee and certainly isn’t the CC!

Dear Andy,

I’m hosting an Eagle Scout Court of Honor. My brother, in his mid-50s, is an Eagle Scout, and will be attending the event. What pin, badge, or emblem can he wear on his lapel to signify that he’s an Eagle Scout? (Craig Holtz, Western Los Angeles County Council, CA)

Tell him (and any other gray-haired Eagles) that it’s 100% appropriate to wear their medals, pinned to the breast pocket of their jacket, or in a similar position if in shirt or sweater. Also, when you’re doing the COH, I hope you’ll find a way to recognize these guys, by asking them to stand, or even calling them to the front of the room, to surround/support the newest Eagle as he take the Eagle Charge!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Patrol Leader, and our Patrol Leaders Council is trying to figure out where and when we should go for a high adventure trip. How much in advance should we try to reserve a spot at a high adventure base, or do different bases fill up at different times? We’re looking at the summer of 2010 or 2011. (Scout’s Name Withheld)

Yes, the three BSA high adventure bases fill up fast! You definitely need to be looking a couple of years out, if you’re considering Philmont, and if you have a tight schedule, then Northern Tier and Sea Base, too! But there are other places that offer some pretty top-notch experiences, too. Check ’em out by their ads in the back of Scouting Magazine (your Scoutmaster and other leaders all get this magazine, so ask ’em to bring several copies to your next PLC)! Then, get in touch with places that look interesting, and get more information!

Hello Andy,

I have a question about Orienteering merit badge. I need some help understanding what the phrase, “versus fine orienteering…” means. Can you help? (Phil Dunnigan)

I’ll try… Orienteering is a competitive sport as well as a skill. “Fine Orienteering” is defined as “precision navigation in detailed terrain usually demanding careful use of map, compass and pace counting, and usually involving short course legs.” For more information, check out:

Hello Andy,

I just want to know if a boy can be a Cub Scout on his own, at home with his parents, or if he has to be in a Cub Scout pack. There are no good packs around our home. Thank you. (Name & Council Withheld)

Where is “home” and how many packs have you all checked out? What is it that’s “not good” about them? Help me out here, and I’ll do my level best to help you!

Home is near (withheld). The pack he’s in is not very good. They don’t tell you anything, and he doesn’t get the Cub Scout experience out of it that he should. The leaders just kind of stand around and talk to each other, and the other boys in the pack just run around and not much Scouting going on. I know he could, and does a lot of it at home with us. He wants to quit now, but he loves to be a Cub Scout and earn the badges and do the Scouting stuff in the book. At the last banquet, he only got two badges and should have gotten five. This happened last year to a few other boys, too. The boys work hard and look forward to the badges, and then don’t getthem. No wonder they quit. Any help would be great thank you.

You’re in the (XXX) District of the (YYY) Council. This district serves over 6,000 youth. Estimating that two-thirds of these are probably Cubs, that means that about 3,000 are in this program and, based on an average pack size of about three to five dozen, this means that there are probably 150 or so Cub Scout pack in your district. Certainly, one of these runs a decent program. Call your local District Executive (name & phone number provided) and tell him what you’re looking for—if anyone can direct you, he’s the one! You see, it works this way: There is a “Lone Cub Scout” program available, but it’s available to boys who have no packs available to them to participate in… such as there might be on the North Slope, in Alaska. But, in a district of over 6,000 Scouts, it’s not likely (read: impossible) for your son to qualify.

There are very few “perfect” packs; however, I don’t understand why he didn’t receive badges he’s duly earned, if you all followed the advancement program as written and advised his Den Leader of what he’d completed with you as Akela.

As for “they don’t tell you anything,” can you tell me what you mean? What is it that the adult leadership, or your son’s Den Leader, haven’t told him, or you? Again, more specific information needed.

My son is a Webelow. I’m not sure where all the packs are but we are in the closest one to our home, and that one’s 25 minutes away. I don’t know why the leaders don’t give the boys the badges they earn, and I don’t know why the leaders do what they do, but it’s pushing boys out of Scouting instead of bringing them in. If there’s nothing that can be done, then we’ll just do it at home on our own and sign off in the book what he is doing and I guess that will be it—He’ll have the pride of doing it. We spent four years looking for a pack for him to join and there’s not any close around us. Thanks for your time.

At the Webelos level, most all badge requirements are done within the den, with your son’s Den Leader, and not any longer with you all, at home. So, if there’s something you and he truly want to work on together, check with your son’s Den Leader. Then if you and his Den Leader agree, go ahead. BUT, be sure to let the Den Leader know—well in advance of the pack meeting!—when your son completes a badge, so that the pack can file the report and buy the badge to give to him. They’re not mind-readers, and they’re volunteers, so they can’t just drop everything and run to the store at the last minute for your son’s badge!

His den should be made up of his school classmates. Is this the situation? If so, just hang in there. Talk to his Den Leader and get the badge situation fixed… There’s just no point in not speaking up!

The Den Leaders don’t seem to care. They’ve done this several times before with other kids, or so other parents have told us.

OK, solution time. Here’s what to do: Tell your son’s Den Leader that you’re willing to go and buy the badges for the boys in the den who advance, each month, and all the Den Leader needs to do is get together with you for a few minutes at the den meeting immediately in front of each pack meeting. No, you don’t have to register to do this… You’re simply helping where help is needed! This way, your son wins, and so do his den friends!

Well, I went all the way to Eagle Scout and I’ve seen anything like this! No wonder we had so much trouble finding a pack for him to join. Now I know why Scouting is dying out! Like they say, if you want something done right, do it yourself. Thanks for your time.

Yup, Scouting’s all about volunteering… That’s what your son’s Den Leader does, week in and week out. Scouting’s hardly “dying out.” What is dying out is the spirit of volunteering among folks who ought to know just what makes Scouting tick… Like Eagle Scouts. Yes, you’ve got it exactly right! If you want a problem fixed, fix it! I truly hope you decide to go for it, not only for your own son, but for his friends as well. This small gesture can make a lifetime of difference to these boys!

(Want to guess if I heard another peep? You guessed right!)


Dear Andy,

What constitutes a “full uniform,” per the BSA? We as a troop have been talking about this for a while. We’ve had some people say we can’t have the scarf; others say we must keep it. We’ve had several heated discussions of when a Scout should wear the full uniform. Some say that Scouts should be full pants-shirts-hat-and-scarf by the time they’re First Class. Others say that it’s when the parents can afford it. Still others say it’s when the boy starts Scouting. I say it’s by their first Board of Review. Can you please shed a little light? (Mark Laudermilk, ASM, Last Frontier Council, OK)

Your answer’s right in the Boy Scout Handbook! Check pages 12-13 for a description of the “Boy Scout uniform.” In the first place, there’s only one actual uniform, and it consists of (top-to-bottom) cap (outdoors only), shirt, belt, pants (or shorts), socks, and shoes (or “appropriate footgear”). Neckerchiefs (in the U.K. they’re “scarves” or “neckers;” in America they’re neckerchiefs) are “optional” (IMHO, this is unfortunate, because neckerchiefs are a world-wide symbol that says SCOUT), and by this it means that the troop votes on neckerchiefs or not and, if so, how they’re worn (under the collar, over a rolled collar, etc.). After the troop vote, the entire troop abides by the decision, and it’s no longer optional individual-by-individual or even patrol-by-patrol. Got it? Good!

There’s actually another question: When should a Scout have the full version of the uniform? I’ve scoured the Internet for the answer to this, but there are so many variants. Some say a Scout should only have a “Class B” during their first three ranks, but thereafter they need the full uniform. What’s the right way to go? (Mark)

“Day One” works for me! Why would it be anything other than “Day One”? Did you see anything on pages 12-13 of the handbook that says a Scout can “gradually” wear his uniform? I sure didn’t, but maybe you have sharper eyes than me!

Here’s the real deal: One of the eight methods of Scouting is the uniform. It instills pride, a sense of belonging, promotes good behavior, and tells the world “there be Scouts here!” Your troop’s goal should be 100% of your Scouts in 100% uniform. The sooner this happens, the better. By “in uniform,” I mean at every meeting, every event, every outing—the uniform is for more than courts of honor or boards of review; it’s meant to be worn at all times. Imaging the Yankees “suiting up” only for the third and seventh innings… ridiculous! Or the Lakers suiting up for the fourth quarter only…just as ridiculous. Or the Bulls playing the whole game in uniform tops and cut-off jeans on the bottom. Same this with Scouts. We have a uniform, we know what it is, we wear it. (And we also know that there’s no such thing as a “troop uniform.”) Thanks for asking!


Hi Andy,

I’m a long-time Scouter, now Scoutmaster of a new troop with a clump of Life Scouts starting down the Eagle path. I’ve combed
through your advice for several years now and found it invaluable. Although these aren’t the first Eagle candidates I’ve helped and coached, I’ve noticed your consistent explanation of the national policy concerning the process for collecting reference letters, and observed that my home council clearly violates national policy by requiring the Scouts themselves to solicit and collect the letters and provide them with their project packets. I’ve attached the form that contains those instructions, and I’m curious about your
take on this (link provided). (Name & Council Withheld)

My thoughts are that this is a borderline travesty… Someone has taken a simple, straightforward and largely friendly process and squeezed the life out of it, turning it into regimentation as dry and crusty as autumn leaves. Where is the joy and happiness in the process? Where is the freedom of personalization? The breath of fresh air in a boy’s life that Scouting is supposed to be—was intended to be!—has been sucked out, leaving barely more than a “report card” format, which will generate nothing more than stultified responses, if anything meaningful at all. Just look at the actual space accorded the responder to provide meaningful commentary, relative to the pedantic “instructions” on how to fill out the form and what to do with it. Moreover, the instructions themselves are in violation of the entire spirit of advancement, to say nothing of being in violation of BSA advancement policy. Yes, that’s right: This document violates BSA advancement policy. (It troubles me to think of what else might have been created by someone in this council that, despite whatever fine intentions may have driven it, are also in direct violation of BSA national policy.)

As for the opportunity to actually provide meaningful commentary, has anyone actually calculated the space allocated on the sheet of paper for this? Let’s start here: 8-1/2×11=93-1/2 Sq.In. The lines for commentary are 6×3/4=4-1/2 Sq. In. This means that less than 5% of this entire document can actually be used to say anything potentially meaningful about this Eagle Candidate. If no one besides me finds this absurd, I’ll hang up my pen and stop writing.

Finally, there’s the instruction to give this document: “Return it to the Eagle…candidate.” This is in direct opposition to the process established by the BSA national council for Eagle candidate references. It also constitutes an addition to the requirement, and as such is in violation of BSA advancement policy. The requirement does not state that it is the Eagle candidate’s responsibility to “collect” references; adding this to the Scout’s responsibilities is a clear violation.

Now here’s the problem: Unless someone who truly wants to correct these errors holds the position of Council Advancement Chair, nothing will happen except arguments, acrimony, rancor, futility, and the expenditure of fruitless energy. That’s how entrenched something like this can become, and the only way I’ve ever see to successfully unseat errors of this type are from the very top; never from even the inside, much less the outside.

What a sorry situation. I’m sure whoever did this was well-meaning and believed that everything he or she was doing was right and in the best interests of all involved. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and this is why even BSA councils need checks-and-balances. Stuff like this should never have seen the light of day.


Hi Andy,

I’ve just finished reading about 20 of your last columns–Very, very informative! I found myself identifying with several in which a parent, new to the troop, had a problem with the “good ole’ boys’ network” inside their son’s new troop. While they seem to hold up “the rules” as sacrosanct, they only point to those rules that happen to their position, and ignore those where their personal methods or troop-specific rules conflict with BSA policy. Having enjoyed running a very successful pack for the last four years, I now find myself wondering if it’s worth standing up to the people who run the troop my son’s just joined. It seems a bit like calling your boss on the carpet. You may be right, and maybe I’ll eventually win the battle, but in the long run, is it worth it when petty retribution is the most likely outcome? I’m especially concerned about this because I have three other sons who will be coming up from the pack over the next several years.

I understand this is a bit of an ambiguous question, and feel foolish for even asking… Is my only solution to simply give in and search out another troop? (Name & Council Withheld)

Nope, not a foolish question at all! Just think… For every question along these lines that I’m asked, how many folks are “out there” with no one to turn to for any answers at all! So ask away— That’s precisely what I’m here for.

Part of the problem with parents whose sons graduate into Boy Scouting is that they don’t understand how different the two programs—Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts—are. Many think it’s sort of “Webelos III.” Many wonder why the adults aren’t running the meetings, just like Den Leaders and Cubmaster. Many wonder why they can’t work on advancements with their son, just like they did when they were Wolf and Bear. Many Webelos Den Leaders don’t really orient their den parents on how their sons are going to get a whole different set of experiences and here’s how Boy Scouts works. Many Scoutmasters give similar orientations short shrift, as well. So, in the department of “management of expectations,” these folks just don’t have a clue! And God forbid they should take the time to read the first couple of chapters of their son’s new Boy Scout Handbook!

The other side of the problem, of course, is that many adult volunteers at the troop level haven’t taken training or read the handbooks, either! So, they make things up, which causes half of the mayhem. Or they hark back to their own experiences as Boy Scouts, and if they weren’t in a model troop (which is a lot of them!), then they’re just repeating the errors their own Scoutmasters made a couple of decades ago!

Is there a solution? Actually, I think there is. It begins with deciding to do the homework. Read your son’s handbook. Borrow it from him and start right on page one! Get a sense for the way things are supposed to be. Then, when you’re visiting troops with him (the Arrow of Light requirements are set up precisely to do this!), observe, observe, observe. Your eyes will tell you much more than your ears! If you notice that the troop’s meetings are run by what I’ve come to call “The World’s Oldest Patrol Leader,” go look for another troop. If you see shoddy uniforming, same thing. If you ask about patrols and you’re told that your sons’ den will have an older Scout assigned to them, as their Patrol Leader, run! If they say they “don’t believe” in the Order of the Arrow because those are just popularity contests and the OA steals their Scouts, run even faster! You get the idea, right?

Now let’s suppose you want to be the catalyst for change, so that the troop your sons will be in aim at Scouting’s True North instead of wherever they seem to be headed, bide your time. Become popular. Get known as the guy they can count on. Register as a committee member. Bide your time a little more. Learn that the Committee Chair is ready to retire, because his son’s aging out at the end of the year. Offer to help. Let ’em get the idea that you’d be a pretty good CC. Get the position. Or get the COR (Chartered Organization Representative) position. Bingo! You’re now the lead dog! Now, you can do all the fixing you’d like. But start by getting everybody to training! This alone will fix lots of stuff, and you never have to show the “big stick”—You just keep speaking softly. Then, you gently start counseling the Scoutmaster, or Advancement Chair, or whomever, till they change course. And, if they don’t change course, then you’ll need to replace them, but ever so gently.

It can be done. Do it with class. Always take the high road. Never get angry or cross, and never play “cop.” Get yourself a Unit Commissioner and get to know him or her—This person can be your best ally.

Never “just take it.” This isn’t the “model” you want for your own sons. But move smartly and always keep in mind that this is “gentle pressure applied relentlessly.”

Thanks for finding me, for reading, and for speaking up!
Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(April 9, 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.

Read Andy's full biography

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