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Issue 174 – May 14, 2009

Hi Andy,

I’d like to give the mom from your April 20th column, with the Cub Scout son who’s a year off in school, some insight. My own son was in the same situation: by his age he could have joined Boy Scouts a year sooner. But he stayed with his den and pack and earned his Arrow of Light, then crossed over to a great troop with his den, at 11 years and 10 months old. He’s now an Eagle Scout and has many friends in Scouting.

Let your son stay with his friends. Even though his brother is in the troop and his dad is Scoutmaster, he needs his friends and boys in his own peer group, which in this case is grade level, not age. My son still identifies with other boys by grade, not age, because their experiences are closer and they share the same classes and activities. I’m guessing her son is off a grade for school-related reasons. Well those reasons transfer right over to Boy Scouts, and the ability to get along with others and the skills to participate and advance. Face it: a boy not ready for fifth grade-level work and social skills may not be ready to tackle rank advancement and troop dynamics. So why stress the boy out? And on that note, why not ask your son, with no pressure either way. I’ll bet he knows what he wants to do. (Merilee Evers, Cascade Pacific Council, OR)

Thanks for sharing your experience and insights, and congratulations on your Eagle!


Dear Andy,

You recently wrote about how you called your Scoutmaster “Bill,” and that you have great memories of him. I think that’s great. Our own troop leaders ask, but don’t require, that all communication between adults and youth use formal names. We emphasize that even emails we send should be signed “Mr. Johnson,” not “Fred,” and copy the Scout’s parent(s). Face-to-face communication uses the Scout’s full last name, with “Mister” in front of it, and the Scout is to address us the same way.

The goal is to maintain respect between the Scout and the adult, both ways. I see some good and bad. The good is that it reminds the adult and the Scout about the nature of the relationship; the bad is that it puts a communication wall between the Scout and the adult.

My initial reaction is that formal communication won’t create respect or maintain it where it’s not deserved, and it will reduce openness and friendships. One of the methods in Boy Scouts is adult association. Though we need to maintain respect (and youth protection!) we should not put up barriers. What do you think?

BTW, I just discussed this with the Scoutmaster of another troop, and he told me that all his Scouts know him by his first name. He considers that while formal names might be useful because we live in the era of Jerry Springer and “trash Tv,” it might help return to the values and ideas of chivalry that Scouts express through the Oath and Law. I’m still not decided, though. (Anonymous)

Here’s my very first reaction: Why should I respond at all, when you’re not willing, adult-to-adult, to identify yourself?

Here’s the deal: Using “Mister” instantly makes that person less than fully approachable, especially when we need to find out what’s going on inside the boys we serve. First names remove that barrier. For instance, how likely would you have been to write to me in the first place, if you needed to address your letter to Mister McCommish? <wink>

Hi Andy,

I’m wondering if you have any resources for getting the BSA Hazardous Weather Training off-line. Currently, this training is only offered online, but I’d like for my Scouts to go through the course, too, and I couldn’t find anything online that they could do.

This coming summer, we’ll be traveling to Colorado for a week down the Grand Canyon. Last summer, there was news about a troop that had to get evacuated by helicopter out of there because of a flash flood. I’d like to have all our participants—adult and youth—go through the training, but can’t find a way to do this. (Rick Jurgens, SM, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

This particular training is for adults. It’s that way because, in a crisis, informed, intelligent decisions may need to be made instantaneously, and this requires an adult when it’s a life-or-limb-threatening situation. In Sea Scouting, for instance, the Skipper (equivalent of Scoutmaster) is in the background, and the Boatswain (aka Bo’sun—equivalent of Senior Patrol Leader) is in command, unless a life-or-limb-, or craft-threatening situation arises. When that happens, command is instantly and without hesitation turned over to the Skipper, who now makes all safety decisions.

That said, there’s not a reason in the world why a hazardous weather-trained adult can’t excerpt from the training, and train the PLC on how to identify threats or impending threats! This way, the Scoutmaster has a dozen or more eyes at work, and not just his own!
When I was summer camp Aquatics Director, I made sure that every one of my staff, and my “temporary lifeguards” (for general swims, etc.) were trained as if they were the only person there—”An Army Of One,” in concept, actually. As a result, in my three years, with many hundreds of Scouts in the water, we never once had an “incident”—we kept incidents from happening by recognizing their warning signs in advance and heading ’em off!

Dear Andy,

This is about what criteria or leeway is allowed the Scoutmaster in the Scoutmaster Conference requirement for advancement. Our Scoutmaster is using “leadership” as a criterion for deferring a Scout’s advancement for another Court of Honor cycle. The rank in question is Life, and two Scouts have satisfactorily completed the requirements, but are being held back on the basis of “leadership.”

How do you define “leadership,” other than serving in your position of responsibility, being active in your troop, and living the Scout Oath and Scout Law? (Alan Dougherty, Three Rivers Council, TX)

It’s quite impossible for a Scoutmaster to “ding” a Scout for inadequate “leadership” at the Scoutmaster Conference! Why? Very simple… The Scoutmaster Handbook tells us that the Scoutmaster’s single-most important responsibility is to train the troop’s youth leaders. Therefore, if the Scout has ostensibly “failed,” it’s really the Scoutmaster who has failed the Scout, and we cannot, in conscience, punish a Scout for the failings of his adult leader(s).

The BSA, per actual policy, states that the “leadership” requirement is fulfilled if the tenure requirement in the position has been met and the Scout has not been removed from the position short of completing the tenure. So, “youth leadership quality” is totally in the hands of the Scoutmaster, who is to guide, mentor, teach, train, and model for all Scouts who hold leadership positions. If the Scoutmaster fails in this paramount responsibility, the liability does not fall to the Scout; it remains exactly where it belongs: with the Scoutmaster.

Dear Andy,

When a Scout starts a merit badge, is there a time-frame in which that badge should be completed? (Cynthia King)

All Scouts have from the time they start until their 18th birthday to complete a merit badge. They never have to repeat requirements that are already signed off on the “blue card” and they can change counselors if need be. Also, merit badges are never “re-tested” by anyone in the troop.

Dear Andy,

Summer camp registration is upon us. Our Scoutmaster asked for someone to volunteer to put together a summer camp notebook with all the required forms—medical, permission slip, merit badge registration, etc.—and I agreed to do this. But now I’m wondering if this is something that should be the duty of one of the Scouts, like the SPL or ASPL. Should I be coordinating with them, giving the job back to them, or keeping it as an adult? If an adult putting this together is appropriate, should the youth leaders (SPL, PLs) be the ones telling Scouts that they’re missing forms, or do I do this? In other words, should I be treating this like an administrative chain of command, telling the SPL what’s missing and having him make sure the Scout or his family provides it, or do I do this adult-to-adult? (Name & Council Withheld)

Since many of the necessary forms need to be filled in by parents and not Scouts, this responsibility is definitely to be assigned to an adult—ideally a member of the troop committee. “Paperwork” and “chasing paper” aren’t what we want Scouts to be doing, at least not with stuff like this. And you’re correct that stuff like medical information needs to be restricted and not just floating around out there! So if you’ve volunteered to do this, go for it! Scouts have many, many other things to do, and a paper chase sure isn’t one of them!


Dear Andy,

I’m a district member-at-large. Is there position-specific training for this position? I’ll be attending a District Committee Workshop soon, but that isn’t designated as the training for this, and I couldn’t find anything on the BSA website. (Larry Wittmayer, Cascade Pacific Council, OR)

For the district committee, there’s a short, PowerPoint-based presentation that talks about what the purpose of the committee is, what the various positions and sub-committees are, how to recruit, etc. It can typically be gone through in about 10-15 minutes. Your council service center should be able to track it down for you. If they can’t find it, consider asking your District Chair if he or she would be willing to run you through a bit of “OJT.”

Dear Andy,

Recently, someone wrote to you and asked about their troop’s practice of having Scouts do the “piggy dance” when they lost gear, in order to get it returned to them, and you stated that you considered it hazing and the troop should stop the practice.

My own question is about the tradition of having a snipe hunt with our new Scouts. Would you consider that hazing? I know that the tradition has been going on for many generations, and I know that our troop has a very controlled set of “rules.” We ensure that the younger Scouts are not put in danger, and that after the snipes have been revealed, the younger scouts hear about our older Scouts’ first snipe hunts, to know that everyone has been duped before. Should we discontinue this? (Michael Orlando, Simon Kenton Council, OH)

Yes, snipe hunts have been classified as “gray area” practices, because they make sport of the uninitiated, by the “in-crowd.” Having gone through a snipe hunt myself, many years ago, I can attest that I had no “permanent damage” done to me (that I’m consciously aware of, at least) and I was thrilled to become a part of the in-crowd of our troop, although there was just a tinge of remorse at having been duped. Perhaps other Scouts subjected to this didn’t fare so well, and this is the concern, of course.

(I should probably mention that we also did a “branding” as part of the troop initiation weekend, some 50 years ago, that was carried out with significant planning and drama to be totally effective, although it brought absolutely no physical harm to anyone… but it did quite literally scare the wits out of me! Again, for myself, no permanent damage, but this could have turned into a major disaster in the wrong hands, or with a more sensitive Scout!)

The purpose of snipe hunts and such is to initiate new Scouts into their troops and create a bond based on a shared memorable experience. It strikes me that there must be countless ways to do this without duping 11 year old boys, or scaring them into believing they’re about to be physically traumatized, as I and my fellow new Scouts were! This is, in fact, a perfect time to get creative: What can you do that will be a tradition, a shared experience, a memorable experience, and simultaneously one that does not threaten or demean a boy either mentally or physically?

One simple and effective way is for all Scouts to select a stick or twig during the day, which they carve their initials or something personal onto. Then, the “new” Scouts are held in a special place away from the main campfire that evening, while the Scouts who have been in the troop for a while go on ahead. For these Scouts, there’s a ceremony that reaffirms their loyalty to their patrols and the troop, and they add their sticks to the fire. Following this, the new Scouts are brought in, given a similar small talk about the troop and being loyal, and then they add their own sticks. Now all sticks, of all troop members, become embers, so that, at the end of the campfire, each Scout is given a small bag or tin or container, and they put some ashes from this fire in it, reminding them that all are now one and each one is now part of all… You get the idea here, yes? It’s simple, it’s effective, it harms no one, and it accomplishes the original goals we talked about.


Hi Andy,

I’m currently serving as the co-chair of our troop’s advancement committee. Our long-standing Scoutmaster is about to step down from that role and we’d like to recognize him while transitioning the in the new scoutmaster during our spring Court of Honor. Do you know of any ceremonies that can accomplish this, or is this not something that’s usually done because we keep the focus on the Scouts? (Joelle Maurer, Otetiana Council, NY)

Congratulations on having a new Scoutmaster who can immediately step into this position on the retirement of your present Scoutmaster! There are no “canned” ceremonies for this that I’m aware of, and perhaps this is a good thing. After all, no two troops’ “personalities” are ever exactly the same, and no two Scoutmasters are, either! So this allows you all the creativity and flexibility you need to craft something appropriate to your troop and this transition! Yes, in a circumstance like this, it’s OK to do something impressive for these leaders and for the Scouts in the troop. Maybe it involves “handshake lines” like you see in sports events involving teams… Each Scout shakes the hand of the departing Scoutmaster and then shakes the hand of their new mentor and friend! But that’s just one idea. You can do anything you’d like, and even better if you can do it in such a way that it actively involves the Scouts! And, in this regard, don’t overlook having the all the Scouts sign, perhaps, a troop neckerchief that the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders can present to your departing Scoutmaster! Or something else along this line… Sit down with the PLC and see what ideas they have! That would make this truly “Scout-inspired”!


Dear Andy,

We’d like to induct a new Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, but can’t find any ceremonies for this position. Can you help? (Dawn Kaye)

It’s probably time to get creative and design one! It doesn’t have to be hugely elaborate… You can borrow from the classic used for Patrol Leaders: “Place your left hand in the troop flag pole and raise your right hand in the Scout sign; repeat after me…” Go for it!

Dear Andy,

The Order of the Arrow requires nights of camping, long- and short-term. We have some Scouts who went to an official Scout camp two years in a row, six nights each time. The way I read the OA rule, these Scouts must have one long-term camping event, which the first summer camp session meets. But can any nights from the second year count as well? (David Cosgrove)

Five (5) of those six long-term camping nights can be counted toward the 15 required to be eligible for OA election, leaving 10 that will be overnights or weekends, all in the past two years.

Hola Andy,

My son has been a Scout since first grade; now, his den is ready to cross over to Boy Scouts. He’s completed all the activity badges for Webelos—a “sweep.” A while ago, he read a story about a Scout who earned all the Boy Scout merit badges. He was inspired by this. His goal is now to match this by earning all the merit badges. In his last den meeting, he asked about how to go about earning merit badges. e knows that the process is different and that he’ll first request a meeting with Scoutmaster, and then work with a Merit Badge Counselor. But the answer he got is that merit badges are earned in camp and that he couldn’t start earning them until he’s completed a year as a Boy Scout. Is this correct? (Gloria Zelasco, Northern New Jersey Council)

That is absolutely, positively not correct and whoever told your son that is full of beans! A Scout can earn any merit badge he wants, any time he wants—there are no age or rank restrictions, or any other restrictions of any kind. He should absolutely not join a troop that tells him any different from this! How Scouts go about earning merit badges is described in various places in the Boy Scout Handbook, especially page 187.


Dear Andy,

A question came up at our Scoutmaster staff meeting last night that I though I knew the answer to. It now appears that I may not. The question is this: Can a Scout use the same leadership position for Life rank that he used for Star? I don’t mean the tenure, but the position itself. In other words, if a Scout used his position as a Patrol Leader while a First Class Scout for his requirement for Star, can he have another term as Patrol Leader while a Star Scout for his Life rank requirement? Taking it to the extreme, could he then use a third term as Patrol Leader while a Life Scout to fulfill the leadership requirement for Eagle? I had believed that it had to be a different leadership position for each rank, but I can’t find any confirmation of that in the Boy Scout Handbook or the Scoutmaster Handbook. (Fritz Heuser)

Good question, and I’m happy to say the answer’s of course he can! Let’s take in another way… A Scout’s appointed Troop Quartermaster, and he’s First Class. Four months later, he’s ready to advance to Star, so he uses his four months as QM for that requirement. But the QM position that he signed on for is going to last a year… So, when he’s ready to advance to Life, he just uses the next six months as QM for the Life requirement. No sweat! Same for any leadership position! But, we do also know that a patrol-level position (e.g., patrol scribe, patrol quartermaster, etc.) does not count for Star, Life, or Eagle, and neither does Assistant Patrol Leader!

That said, I’m not sure I’d encourage a Scout to run for the same position as many as three times. Scouting’s all about trying new stuff (hence over 120 merit badges, for instance), so how about a new leadership position? Maybe appointed, like Scribe or QM or even OA Representative, and certainly run for Senior Patrol Leader, or tell the newly elected SPL that you’d be interested in being his ASPL! Or, how about Troop Guide, and be mentor to the Patrol Leader of a new Scout patrol! The possibilities go far beyond getting re-elected to the same position!

But the bottom line is that it’s OK to use the same position more than once, so long as the tenure aspect is met, for each rank. Just look at the language of the requirements… Does it say, for Life: “…a leadership position different from Star…”? Nope, it sure doesn’t! None of these ranks say that! End of story!

Hello Andy,

My question’s about the Eagle-required merit badges for the Star and Life ranks. The Boy Scout Handbook seems to say that you can use any of the 15 Eagle-required merit badges for the four required merit badges needed for Star. It seems to me that this says that a Scout could use Hiking, Swimming, and two others for these four, even though, for the Eagle requirements, he could only use Hiking or Swimming or Cycling counting toward his 12 total required. Is this correct? We’ve just gone through Hiking and Cycling, in addition to most Scouts earning Swimming at summer camp, and so some of our Scouts would like to use their Hiking, Swimming, and Cycling toward their Star or Life. They realize they’d still need to earn the total 12 of the Eagle-required list and only one of each category would count where there are alternatives. Is this right? (Jim Johnson, ASM, Alamo Area Council, TX)

Since the Star and Life merit badge requirements state, “any required,” and they don’t say something about “any required, sans alternatives,” that at these two ranks Swimming and Hiking and even Cycling would be OK, so long as there are no misunderstandings about what must happen at Eagle, when two of these three go into the “elective” category.


Dear Andy,

Below, a question previously sent to you, about youth “accessories,” your said, “Your sons can wear all the jewelry they want, anywhere they want—even to the point of looking like Johnny Tackle-Box if they choose to! The only thing anyone can comment on (and even then, comments are of dubious value, at best) is whether they’re correctly wearing their uniforms or not.”

I’m curious as to why you answered as you did. Would national agree with you? You imply that one doesn’t have to wear the uniform correctly. To me it is not the earring issue, it is how you answered. IMHO, one should not wear earrings while in the BSA uniform, but anyone also has the right to think you can unless national BSA policy says you can’t. Someone saying something about not wearing the uniform correctly is of dubious value. So does that mean there is not a correct way to wear the uniform? If you can do what you want, why wear a uniform? Basically, wear what you want and everyone else should just shut-up and accept it. Very interesting way to look at it. I’d like to know what national BSA thinks about this. Wearing the uniform correctly is important and should be pointed out if not worn correctly. Of course you need to be helpful and not fault the person. (Leon Bryant, Miami Valley Council, OH)

I answered that particular question as I did because this is a voluntary organization and the primary volunteers are the youth themselves. Uniforms are a part of our movement and have been from day one; however, we do not “legislate” this, we encourage it. We should obviously continue to encourage it, and of course to model it for the youth we serve. But we cannot demand it, and that is a BSA policy.

As for fashion statements such as jewelry, hairstyle, etc., we do not have policies for these, and this is a good thing. We are not a military or even a para-military organization, and do not assign ourselves the right to make such judgments.

As for your curiosity about what the BSA national council has to say about this, I suggest you write and ask. If, however, you’re raising the “what would ‘national’ say” stuff as an intimidation tactic, you should know by now that being intimidated by anyone is not one of my strong points.

Dear Andy,

I have an advancement chair who signs all the paperwork for Eagle projects without it going through me, as Scoutmaster, or even the troop committee. On two occasions, I wasn’t aware of a Scout’s Eagle project even starting, till I was notified after-the-fact by email. A lot of things about Eagle projects and leadership aren’t being done appropriately. I’ve even received two complaints about projects—not from our troop but from people in our town who are asking why the Scouts’ mothers are setting everything up. In one current situation, a Scout’s mother does all the typing, phone calling and scheduling of his work as Senior Patrol Leader, and for his Eagle project, too. Now I’m not one for letting a Scout go through without having doing the work, but these mothers are very pushy and very dominating, to say the least. They don’t like the way I’ve changed the troop from a military-type, with all adult decision-making, to a Scout-led troop (which has been difficult but has produced results: we’ve gone from five to two dozen Scouts in less than three years), but the committee doesn’t want to rock the boat, because some of these mothers do so much for the troop (even though at least one alienates people all the time). I’m about at my wits’ end and have thought about resigning. What power do I have, since my name is not on the passing of Eagle projects because the advancement chair signs off? (I’ve considered sending a survey to the project owners so I have a leg to stand on in the Scoutmaster Conference.) The problem is that I believe the advancement chair will simply continue to bypass me, or accuse me of being biased, with the result that the Scout will improperly earn his rank. (The Scout is decent and respectful, and he and I work well together (when his mom’s not around), but he continues to obey what his mother says, regardless of what I might say. It’s a hard and very rocky road; what do I do? (Concerned & Troubled Scoutmaster)

There are no square knots for victims. It’s time to stand tall, and take charge. In a troop the size of yours, it’s incomprehensible to me that the Scoutmaster is unaware of who the Life Scouts are. These are the Scouts we’re in regular communication with, maybe even more than some of the others. “How are you doing on your merit badges for Eagle?” “How’s your leadership position coming along?” “What problems are you having that I can give you some insights on?” And then of course: “How are you doing on coming up with a project for Eagle…Let’s take a look at your options, shall we?” If you’re not asking these questions weekly, you’re certainly asking them monthly!

You see, there are four signatures required in order for a Life Scout to begin his project: Recipient, unit committee, district representative, and…you guessed it…Scoutmaster. So are you actually telling me that somebody’s forging your signature? If so, then those projects are invalid till you approve them. You can play hard-ball, if you like, and you’re justified in doing so. But, whatever you do, it’s high time you, or somebody, stops walking small around issues like this.

Tell whoever is signing your name for you that you’re not standing for that anymore, and unless you, personally, review the project with the Scout, and personally sign off, there’s no authorization to even begin, and you’re not going to “grandfather” anything! Then, tell your Life Scouts the same thing. This eliminates all those lame “Well, I didn’t know…” excuses.

Then, at the back end, you have a conference with the Eagle candidate. Ask to see his project workbook. Is your signature there? No? Oops, one Scout in big-time difficulties!

Moreover, how is it that your Scouts don’t know to come to you? Do you not conference with them, so that they know what to do and how to do it?

Mommy’s doing the work? You and the Committee Chair (who has a spine, I hope) simply tell whatever parent you need to, to cut it out, because if it comes out that the Scout didn’t do the work, the project won’t count and their son will have to start all over, from scratch. Yes, you have the authority to say this, and make it stick.

Read the Scoutmaster Handbook. Then take charge. You’re a nice guy, and you’ve been a door mat long enough.

Hello Andy,

I’ve attended the Wood Badge practical course and now I’m working on my ticket. One of my items was to work with a Cub Scout den to help them earn their World Conservation Award. The den I had in mind was a Wolf den that I’ll be taking over next year as a Bear Den Leader. But they’ve earned the WCA as Wolves. Can they earn it more than one time? (Jan Williams)

Yes, this is one of those “just once” awards (go here for more details:, so it looks like you’ll either need to find a new den to do this with, or have a heart-to-heart with your Wood Badge Coach-Counselor (yes, for good cause it’s perfectly “legal” to change a ticket item!)


Hi Andy,

I’m a member of the council advancement committee. During a recent phone call with our new camping director for this coming summer, I asked him if his personally-imposed merit badge age requirements were just recommendations, or were they written in stone, and he replied that the latter’s the case. So I then asked if he’s familiar with national advancement policies, specifically that no council, district, unit, or individual had the authority to add to or subtract from advancement policies and that any scout could earn any merit badge he chose, at any time. The reply was that, as camp director, he made the rules.

Our council advancement committee will shortly be reviewing the applications of the summer Merit Badge Counselors before the camp starts, so I asked this camp director how he’d feel about honoring a council advancement committee decision to not approve a particular candidate for the position of MBC, and he stated that this decision would not matter when it came to his own final selections, because, as far as he was concerned, the council advancement committee had no jurisdiction, and everything will be his own decision.

In further conversation, the camp director revealed that, to him, the council advancement committee was merely an “outside group” that had no jurisdiction in the approving or hiring and approving of camp staff. He’s a professional Scouter of some experience, coming to us from a neighboring council, and this is the way he ran his former council’s camp. He’s made it most clear that our advancement committee has nothing to say about how he will be running the camp, and that no decision the committee makes will be honored.

Believe me, our committee is working hard on this issue, to produce a quality summer program for our Scouts, but the sad reality is that over 80% of our council’s own troops go out-of-council for their summer camp experiences, and it’s attitudes like this professional staffer has that have caused many of these units to simply look for greener pastures, and it’s difficult to blame them. Any thoughts? (Sam Rikar)

The council advancement committee may wish to bring this camp director’s incredibly anti-Scouting stance to the attention of the council executive board and whoever hired this self-important martinet, because he’s not only wrong in policy, he’s wrong in attitude.

“Vote with your feet.” If your Scout Executive and executive board (another “outside group” of mere volunteers?) condone this gentleman’s point-of-view, or are unwilling immediately to challenge it, go find a council that “gets it.” And if more than 80% of your council’s units have already walked away from this camp, and this buffoon, then why aren’t you all following them! Fundamental problem: there’s simply no cure for stupid.

Dear Andy,

I was a leader in my son’s Cub Scout pack. I still have my older uniform, that I’ve taken all of the insignia and patches off, except for the American Flag, my council patch, and obviously the red embroidered “Boy Scouts of America” above the right pocket-and-flap. I may be getting involved again. Can I add the new “green” insignia troop numerals and other Centennial-colored patches to this older uniform? Is there somewhere to find these guidelines and how to put on the new patches on an older uniform? (Chris, ASM, Greater St. Louis Area Council, MO)

Since there’s no such thing in the BSA as an “obsolete” uniform, the answer’s YES! Go for it! Sew the new-colored badges exactly in the same places as always.


Hi Andy,

I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster and an Eagle Scout with a problem that I think needs your take on it… (I’ve changed the names, for protection):

Johnny Tenderfoot comes to me for his Second Class Scoutmaster Conference (in my troop, ASMs can do these) and for his First Class Conference. You see, while a Tenderfoot he’s been working on requirements across both Second and First Class (as his handbook tells him he can) and completing them all, he now ready for both Scoutmaster Conferences, so he can do his boards of review. So we do it… one conversation’s to prepare him for his Second Class review, and the second conversations preparing him for his First Class review. Then I go to our Scoutmaster, to bring him up to speed on what Johnny and I have just accomplished, and how Johnny’s now ready for two boards of review, back-to-back, tonight (we’re doing reviews tonight, so the timing should be perfect).

Well, the Scoutmaster, on hearing this, makes a face like just smelled something very, very bad. For a moment, I thought I’d told him something absolutely terrible had just happened, instead of the delightful news that a relatively new Scout is ready to advance two ranks back-to-back! His response was instantly NO! No Scout, he said, can have two boards of review on the same evening, and our own “Troop Policy” says so: Only one advancement per Scout is permitted per Board of Review. I told him this constitutes adding a requirement and that we can’t do this, but he countered by saying that this isn’t doing that, and after we went back-and-forth on this for several long minutes, I finally gave up and left for the night.

I know you’re going to tell me to tell the Scoutmaster to show me, in BSA writing where it says you can do this and until then go pound sand down a rat hole, but that’s not going to happen. He thinks he’s right and that’s it. He does not want to hear otherwise. The committee meets on the first Tuesday of every month and I’ll be bringing this up to them, to try to get it changed there. But if the Scoutmaster gets his way, which he usually does, Johnny Tenderfoot will get Second Class this month and will have to wait another month for his First Class.

Can I get this changed? Before I fall on my sword, I want to get your take on this. (Name & Council Withheld)

This is one of those “troop idiosyncrasies” that drive me nuts—fundamentally because there’s no reason for such artificial rigidity..

OK, Tenderfoot Johnny’s been working across requirements, which his handbook says is perfectly OK, and now he’s got everything done for both Second and First Class ranks, except the conference and, of course, the boards of review. You conference with him…first for Second Class and then for First, I’m imagining, and so he’s now done with all requirements for these two ranks. He’s ready for two consecutive boards of review, which is perfectly OK with the BSA, and if the troop committee’s smart, they’ll do the two reviews back-to-back on the same troop meeting evening. Of course, your troop’s erstwhile guidebook is wrong, because it conflicts with a BSA national policy that says consecutive boards of review are perfectly Kosher, so I hope you all change your guidebook, like, today. Or maybe it doesn’t, but you all are just reading it wrong. Yes, it’s just one rank per review, but it’s perfectly OK to conclude, for instance, the review for Second Class and then immediately do a review for First Class. It’s not two ranks at once; it’s two ranks back-to-back and that’s OK! So although you don’t really need those “troop rules,” there’s still no argument… Johnny can have both reviews and go from Tenderfoot to Second Class to First Class in one evening! You’re all right—You just haven’t figured out that you’re right, yet! Now if your folks, when presented with both the facts and the underpinning reasoning still refuse to see the light, it may be time to get out the shotgun polish.


Hi Andy,

Is it possible for a council to hold a summer (day and resident) camp without meeting the minimum mandatory national standards? Is there a loophole that would allow a council to do this without violating the requirements set forth by national, by, for instance, calling it a “summer adventure” instead of summer camp? (Toby Holland)

This is such a fine line, and such tenuous description, that I don’t consider myself qualified to respond. However, your regional BSA office—the one that certifies all BSA summer camps in your region—should be able to give you an answer. Give ’em a call!


Dear Andy,

The Guide to Safe Scouting says, “Pointing any type of firearm or simulated firearm at any individual is unauthorized. Scout units may plan or participate in paintball, laser tag or similar events where participants shoot at targets that are neither living nor human representations. Units, with council approval, may participate in formally organized historical reenactment events, where firearms are used and intentionally aimed over the heads of the reenactment participants. The use of paintball guns, laser guns or similar devices may be utilized in target shooting events, with council approval and following the ‘Sweet 16’ of BSA safety. Council approval means the approval of the Scout Executive or designee on a tour permit specifically outlining details of the event.”

Being averse to risk is what the BSA’s lawyers thrive on, but the BSA policy of banning squirt guns, laser tag, and paintball is ridiculous. Forbidding Scouting units from even going to a laser tag facility at the mall is just plain stupid. I’ve personally played paintball for about ten years, and the experience has been both thrilling and empowering. With adequate adult supervision, the risks are minimal and the fun is incredible. Any Cub Scout-aged kid can go and have a great safe time at the local paintball field—but he can’t go as a Scout. The implication that pointing a toy gun at someone leads to a devaluing of human life and makes killers out of kids is preposterous and is part of the “war on boys.” If you take away all gun toys, a boy will still pick up a stick, point it at someone, and say, “BANG-BANG!” We need to use toys and guns to teach the boys respect of firearms and their proper use. We seem to be OK with using the natural draw of guns to increase membership in the organization, with target practice, but interactive simulated combat is a no-no. How can we change the BSA policy to at least allow Scouting units to participate in commercial laser tag and paintball facilities, under appropriate adult supervision? (Rusty Rodke)

What’s not a part of Scouting is, of course, the notion of shooting at a living being, be it human or animal. Shooting, in and of itself, is OK… just don’t shoot at people or squirrels, or such. Is that really so terrible a notion?

If you read further, you’ll note that this also applies to martial arts: Aikido (a defensive art) is OK, but Judo, Karate, and Boxing aren’t. Same reason.

It’s not about being averse to risk; it’s about an ethical decision.

You see, this goes all the way back, more than a hundred years, to when Baden-Powell himself affirmed: “The military trains men for war; Scouting trains boys for peace.”

I hope you can get your head around this, because the likelihood of the BSA changing position on this is about equal to the likelihood that pigs will fly.

Dear Andy,

You’ve mentioned in several columns that “no Scouting unit is permitted to apply or enforce a percentage or other metric to the ‘active’ rank requirement. This is a BSA policy; it is not my opinion.”

Where is this policy written? Or is it one of those items where since there’s no rule permitting, therefore it’s against the rules? (Name & Council Withheld)

What “active” means is now stated clearly in the latest edition of Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures. Refer to page 24. In brief, a Scout is considered active if he’s registered and dues-paid, hasn’t been dismissed from the troop for disciplinary reasons, and has been kept informed of unit activities by a troop adult volunteer. Notice, in the third condition, that the onus is on the troop; not the Scout. Thanks for asking!

Dear Andy,

I have a question to ask you in reference to me becoming the first woman Lone Scout and getting a Merit Badge Counselor lined up for me. I have tried this with [a local troop and Scoutmaster] and he could not support me in the Boy Scouts. Can you see what you can do to work something out so that I can be a Lone woman Scout without being in a Boy Scout troop? I would love to be a Scout and I do not see why I cannot do this in a safe way since I do have a learning disability and was born with this handicap. I am sick and tired of going on the job behind my husband’s back and making calls about the Boy Scouts. Instead of doing that, I would like to discuss this matter with my husband first, and until I do and see what he says, you may go ahead and try to find a good woman Merit Badge Counselor. I certainly am willing and want to follow instructions and listen and learn to make this right. I am responsible for my mistakes and actions in my life, because I am not a little girl anymore. I want to be a Scout in a safe manner without being in a Boy Scout troop. Thank you very much. (Name & Location Withheld)
To be eligible to be a Boy Scout, or Lone Scout, one must be male and between the ages of 11 and 18.

Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(May 14, 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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