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Issue 179 – June 21, 2009

Dear Andy,

My son is 14 and still Second Class rank. His sole hang-up for First Class is the swim test requirement. He has ADHD and developmental delays, and receives special help at school. We’ve tried private swimming lessons, laps at the local pool, and even having Dad swim along beside, but he just can’t seem to get the hang of swimming. His pediatrician is willing to write a letter to classify him a special needs Scout, but we have no idea what an acceptable alternative requirement might be—the handbook just mentions that it must be of equal difficulty, but gives no suggestions. In the meantime, he doesn’t seem to have any difficulty completing merit badges—he’s earned 23 of them so far—and he participates in service projects and loves Scouting. But, as you can imagine, he’s getting very frustrated that he can’t learn to swim well enough to pass that swimmer test that he needs for First Class. Do you have any suggestions? (Concerned Mom & Dad in Ohio)

Before I take a shot at a solution for you, help me out a little bit… Tell me about sports. Does your son participate in any, right now? How about in the past? What sports? Team or individual? What about other activities that require gross and fine motor skills, or eye-hand coordination? How about videogames? What further backgrounding can you give me?

Our son doesn’t participate in any organized sports at this time, but he did play soccer in a league for kids with disabilities for about five years. Right now, he has a Wii-type system and he enjoys bowling, golf, and tennis. He also enjoys computer games. He does ride a bike and is planning on completing Cyclingmerit badge in place of the Swimming merit badge, for the final three Scout ranks. He’s very interested in horses, and is working on Horsemanship merit badge.

He’s not afraid of water, but because of his inability to learn strokes he’s frustrated and feels that everyone is passing him by, while he’s “stuck forever” as a Second Class Scout (he’s earned this rank nearly three years ago), even though—except for swimming—he’s earned enough merit badges and service hours to be Life rank by now. Any suggestions or help that you can give would be greatly appreciated.

I can definitely appreciate ADHD kids (I’ve had them in my Webelos den, when I was a Den Leader), and my wife was a middle school teacher for over 30 years, so she understands, too. We both looked at your son’s situation and I’ll confess that we’re puzzled by his having completed the Second Class swimming requirement but his apparent inability to complete the swimming requirement for First Class after some two to three years of working on it. Is it possible that he just hasn’t found the right swimming instructor? There has to be someone “out there” who can use a kinetic method for helping him master just two swimming strokes and floating on his back… This, after all, isn’t rocket science. Since fear of water isn’t operating and he already possesses modest swimming ability (or he wouldn’t be Second Class) getting the hang of a qualifying stroke plus the elementary backstroke shouldn’t be insurmountable—especially since you’ve told me that he’s a reasonably well-coordinated young man! But maybe it is, for reasons that I’m unaware of, so let’s look at “Plan B”…

If you obtain a letter from a licensed medical practitioner that states that your son’s limitations are permanent, then you can follow the alternative advancement plan described in the BSA book, Boy Scout Requirements. Since the replacement requirement must be developed by the troop committee and presented to the district advancement committee for approval as a reasonable substitute, I’d consider a requirement of skill and endurance in the arenas of either cycling or hiking. I’d choose one of these two because both of these activities are already considered reasonable alternatives to swimming by the BSA (check the merit badge alternatives to Swimming, in the Eagle requirements). I’ll even go so far as to say the earning of either Cycling or Hiking merit badge, or even a couple of the major requirements of one or the other of these, should satisfy the “alternative” path.

Thanks, Andy. I’m his Dad and I should point out that our son is very thin for his height and has almost no body fat to speak of, so he has a hard time floating. We’ve had him work with a qualified swimming instructor and several other individuals over the last two to three years, and he does try very hard, but without success. When he passed the swim test for Second Class (“Beginner” level), it was something of a fluke: he hasn’t been able to swim that far (25 feet) since then. It’s very frustrating for him (and for me!) to see him give so much effort with so little results. His Mom and I hope he learns to swim some day for his own enjoyment and safety, but it seems unlikely that this will happen anytime in the foreseeable future.

We’ve talked about this with his pediatrician, who told us that if our son wasn’t able to succeed, even after having lessons with a Water Safety Instructor, he’d be happy to write that letter. At this point, I’m thinking that an alternate requirement would be the better way to go, in this case.

Thank you! For the time and effort you’ve put into your replies—We appreciate your efforts and kindness. If you have any additional thoughts, we’d love to hear them. (Dad & Mom)

As a swimming instructor of some considerable number of years’ experience, with boys of every age from 8 to 18 (plus the occasional adult pre-swimmer) and every size, shape, and ability, I agree that low body fat makes floating tricky. However, floating is a matter of pure physics. It can be accomplished but making the rules of “specific gravity” work for the swimmer.

Second, your son does know how to swim—that is, move through the water while on the surface—he simply hasn’t mastered swimming 75 yards using any combination of strokes other than the elementary backstroke, and 25 yards using that stroke…yet. Here’s where we need to keep in mind that the “swimmer’s test” isn’t a race—there’s no time-limit on how long a Scout takes to complete his 100 yards of continuous (i.e., he doesn’t touch the side or the bottom) swimming.

So let’s take a hard look at the exact requirements:

1. Jump feet first into water over the head, level off, and begin swimming: He can do this.

2. Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: side, breast, trudgen, or crawl. Swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke; the 100 yards must be completed without stops and must include at least one sharp turn:So long as he continues swimming, he can set his own pace.

3. Rest by floating…Long enough to demonstrate the ability to rest when exhausted: This is a matter of pure physics, that he can master.

So, at age 14, a combination of weight training, swimming laps, and other endurance exercises will make him fit and strong enough to accomplish his goal. He’s had over two years already to do this, but since he’s only 14, it’s not unreasonable to say that a solid six months more of specific training wouldn’t get him to his goal. This could ultimately get him to Eagle before his 17th birthday, which is a very worthy and timely end-result!

Here are some “tricks of the trade”…

à The freestyle (or crawl) stroke requires mastering how to breathe while maintaining the stroke. I’m going to guess that breathing is his hang-up, because of the coordination involved. So, Daniel learns the side-stroke, instead, because breathing is as-needed (his mouth is never submerged, and he doesn’t have to turn his head).

à Small, achievable goals. He can swim 20 feet. Do it, and mark it. He repeats this till he can do it comfortably and with confidence. Then the marker’s moved to 25 feet. He does this and repeats it till he’s comfortable. Then, in a few days, or the following week, 30 feet. And so on, right up to 150 feet. Then a little bit more, for added confidence.

à The elementary backstroke also requires no breathing coordination. So, same thing: First 10 feet, then 15, and so on, till he can do this for 75 feet, and then add a tad more for confidence.

à He sets his own goals, and tracks them himself on a chart he’s made for himself.

à (Meanwhile, Mom alters his diet just a bit… Let’s put some bulk on him!)

OK, all that said, don’t rule out “Plan B.” Refer to page 13 in the “Requirements” book and pursue an alternate requirement in cycling or hiking, as I previously suggested.

Is this “easy”? Nope! But nobody ever said it would be a walk in the park! “STICK-TO-IT-IVENESS” is the key!

Dear Sir,

I’m in the military and have become very active in Scouting as of this year. My youngest son just moved from Tiger to Wolf, and my oldest just became a Boy Scout in the troop at Travis AFB here in California.

Now here is my concern… I’ve been asked to take over the troop as the master, and that is of no problem; however, I’d like to have several of the Scouts attend formal military color/honor guard training here at the base. The instructors are willing and on-board to do this free of charge, and they’d actually love to do this. The Scouts would be attending a two-week long course that runs 8 to 10 hours daily. The Scouts are really excited about doing this. But the problem is that I’ve not been able to locate any award or belt loop or lanyard for this type training. I just need some guidance before I commit, and get some answers on the awards. Any help would be appreciated (Sgt. Johnie Grandey)

If you’ve become active in Boy Scouting this year, but haven’t been involved before, then the very first thing you need to do is get yourself a copy of the Scoutmaster Handbook and start reading it! This is absolutely critical! If you don’t do this right now, your military training and experience might lead you astray and down the wrong path, in the same way that corporate executives head down the wrong path when they start leading Boy Scouts based on their corporate management experience! You’re also going to need to start “learning the lingo” right away! The Scoutmaster Handbook will be your best guide, short of formal training. Keep in mind, when you read it, that these aren’t “suggestions” or “guidelines;” these are the way Boy Scout troops are run, and how Scoutmasters and the troop’s other adult volunteers are expected to deliver the program. Also keep in mind, most importantly, that you are there for the Scouts and not the other way around.

OK, let’s move on… While a training course in “formal color/honor guard training” sounds exciting and full of adventure, in my personal estimation two weeks of 8-to-10 hour days of this stuff is vast overkill for Boy Scouts, especially since we really want every Boy Scout in the troop to carry, present, post, and retire the colors—not just some select few! Boy Scouts is about every boy participating to his capacity; there’s no room for elitism in the program. So, based on this alone, unless you can arrange for the entire troop to be there, you’re off down the wrong path already. (Yes, I’m being very direct with you, because I’ve also learned along the way that being wishy-washy with a Sergeant isn’t exactly a smart thing to do!)

You’re located in the Mt. Diablo-Silverado Council-BSA. Call ’em up and find out when their next training course for Scoutmasters is, and sign up! You need the training, to get it right! Want proof? OK, do you know why you can’t find any belt loops or lanyards or other awards by the BSA for something like this training course? The answer’s: Because this sort of youth training isn’t a part of the BSA or the Scouting program.

Now that’s not to say that a Boy Scout troop or Cub Scout pack shouldn’t look sharp! Yes they should! Full uniform, badges where they should be, and so on. But we don’t “gig” boys for uniform infractions; we encourage them to get it right by our own example, and our benevolence.

Yes, knowing how to march in step is cool, and these boys will take to it like ducks to water! But don’t overdo it. Simple attention, at ease, left, right, and about-face, and forward, to-the-rear, column/flank right/left is about all they’ll ever need, and they don’t need to practice this more than a few minutes at a few meetings–don’t give ’em a regular diet of military stuff, because Scouts just ain’t the “junior military”!

“But,” you’re gonna say, “Wasn’t a Light General in the British Army the founder of Scouting?” Yup, he sure was! And here’s what Baden-Powell had to say about that: “The military trains men for war; Scouting educated boys for peace.”

Go for it! Have fun! And always remember that the uniforms, a certain amount of discipline, looking sharp, learning stuff in the out-of-doors, tying knots and such, aren’t ends in themselves—they’re all tools we use to accomplish our goal of producing active, confident, self-reliant, responsible, and happy future citizens and leaders! Hoo-Hah!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been having some continuing discussions with our Chartered Organization Representative (who is also in charge of the council’s Eagle advancement) and an Assistant Scoutmaster about boards of review. As Advancement Chair for our troop, I want to follow BSA guidelines for boards of review. They, on the other hand, want the Scouts to be cross-examined, to make sure that they “know everything for their rank.” The Chartered Organization Representative (who is involved in everything that the troop does) says that he sees too many unprepared Scouts going for their Eagle board of review. While I understand that this might be an issue, I don’t want to interrogate the Scouts in our troop during their board of review. Instead, I want to make sure that they’re comfortable, understand the requirements that they completed for the rank, and are prepared for the next rank.

Meanwhile, this Assistant Scoutmaster has told our Scouts that they can use their handbook during a board of review. While I agree that a Scout should be prepared and have resources, it concerns me that the handbook can be used as a crutch when tying knots, explaining parts of the Scout badge, reciting the Oath, Outdoor Code, and so on. The Scouts need to know the basics without looking in their book. (I’d hate to be drowning while a Scout’s looking up a knot in his handbook.) What are your thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

My thoughts are that while both of these folks may have the best of intentions, they’re both well off the mark. It’s a written BSA policy that boards of review for any rank, Eagle included, are not to be used as tests or re-tests of any previously completed requirement for any rank or merit badge. The handbook, for instance, is hardly necessary at any board of review except for the initials of the chair of that review upon its successful conclusion. As for cross-examining, or interrogating, or requiring so much as a single knot to be tied, this is strictly forbidden, and you, as Chair of the review, are totally within your rights to demand that this unauthorized practice stop instantly. You also have the authority to excuse from any review an adult who insists or persists in pursuing this line of questioning. You can do this beforehand by not inviting them to participate or even during the review by excusing them on the spot. These people need to read what the Boy Scout Handbook, the Scoutmaster Handbook, and the BSA booklet, Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures all have to say about boards of review. Moreover, this is policy and, as such, is not open to a debate of opinions; these people are obliged to follow the program and policies of the BSA without injecting their own interpretations. This is what they agreed to do when they signed the BSA Adult Volunteer Application, and it’s your job, in this case, to make it stick. The Scoutmaster should be on your side on this one, and so should the Committee Chair. If they’re uncertain, time for them to do some homework, too!

(BTW, Everyone knows that only registered committee members can sit on a board of review for Tenderfoot through Life, and for Eagle Palms, yes? They also know that non-registered adults can be invited to sit on Eagle boards of review, yes?

Hi Andy,

What’s the hook on the Cub Scout belt actually used for? (Jim Ferme, WDL, Suffolk County Council, NY)

It’s like the human appendix… sort of vestigial.

It’s supposed to be a place to hang one’s Cub Scout knife. Old photos and drawings occasionally show this. But it’s actually sorta pointless and can be removed with impunity. Or, it’s a nice place to hook a lanyard that connects to the pocket knife, which the Cub keeps in his…pocket.

Dear Andy,

I have two questions for you…

First, can a Scout become a merit badge counselor (assume here that the Scout knows the topic of the badge and is as qualified as an adult to do it).

Second, in connection with the Camping merit badge, it requires that the Scout cook meals at a Scout campout. Can the meals cooked as part of the requirements for Second Class and First Class ranks be counted? Thanks for your help! (D.R. Cosgrove)

One: Nope. Check the BSA Adult Volunteer Application. A Merit Badge Counselor needs to be 21, minimum.

On cooking: For Second Class the cooking of a hot breakfast or hot lunch is done over an open fire, for oneself; for First Class there are five connected requirements that begin with sharing in the planning (4a) and culminate with supervising assistants in the preparation of a breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner for one’s patrol (4e); for Camping merit badge the Scout does all of the planning and all of the cooking of a breakfast, lunch, and dinner for his patrol (8c, 8d). So, as you can see, it’s a near-impossibility for a Scout to overlap the ranks’ requirements with the merit badge’s–they’re purposefully different and cannot be altered–they must be carried out precisely as described. This is called “graduated learning” and “skill improvement,” so there’s little point (in fact, it’s self-defeating) to try to shoe-horn them all into one weekend’s cooking extravaganza.

Both are darned good questions—thanks for asking them!

Dear Andy,

Can you give me some guidance as to the official role of the Unit Commissioner? The reason I’m asking is that we have one in our town, who interacts with our troop and our pack, and has a tendency to give conflicting and sometimes misleading information to Scouts, leaders, and parents. He also has a tendency of not communicating things he wants to do at the meetings of both the troop and the pack, and has disrupted planned events such as courts of honor and B&G dinners because he didn’t tell anyone what he wanted to do. He was recruited by the District Executive and simply assigned to us (we had no say in his “appointment”), and while he’s done some good things, for the most part he’s been more a hindrance than an asset or benefit. What are our options, if any? (Name & Council Withheld)

The role of the Commissioner is described in many places, including the Scoutmaster Handbook. The BSA website even has a special section about Commissioners that includes this statement: Commissioners are district and council leaders who help Scout units succeed. They coach and consult with adult leaders of Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, and Venturing crews. Commissioners help maintain the standards of the Boy Scouts of America. They also oversee the unit charter renewal plan so that each unit re-registers on time with an optimum number of youth and adult members.

Go here for more:

Your troop and pack do have the right to tell your District Commissioner that you’re unhappy with the Unit Commissioner who’s been assigned to you, and ask for somebody else, or none at all if the district has no one to spare. You don’t have to tolerate a Unit Commissioner who isn’t doing the job he’s supposed to be doing or is guilty of throwing his weight around. He is, after all, your troop’s and your pack’s guest, and, as such, he should be behaving like a guest. Your leaders don’t in any way report to him—he has ambassadorial responsibilities but absolutely no authority over the troop or pack or their members or adult volunteer leaders.

Getting more specific, his contact is with only the adult leaders of the units; he is out of line if he’s doing more than saying hello to parents or Scouts. He does not have the right to “barge in” on any event the troop or pack runs, and he must ask for “air time”–he doesn’t have the authority to simply get up and start addressing an assembly of the troop or pack unless he requests it or is invited to.

This situation you describe is very unfortunate, because a Unit Commissioner should be a respected resource for a Scouting unit; not a point of disparity or microphone-grabbing, as it were.

Ask for a replacement. Don’t desist till you find one who works.

And thanks for asking a very important question!

Dear Andy,

I’m trying to find the words for a skit that I believe is called “Old Blue”—something about “the house burned down,” and other things happen, always ending with “charred horse meat do it every time.” Can you help? (Betty)

Hmmm… That’s not a skit I know. But let’s see if one of my readers else can help! Hey! If you know what Betty’s referring to, please write to me!

Dear Andy,

Who is responsible for recruiting committee members for a Scouting unit? (Terry Davis, CC, Daniel Boone Council, NC)

You, the Committee Chair, plus the Chartered Organization Representative, and the head of the sponsoring organization lead the way, and all committee members and uniformed leaders can recruit, too, with final approval from you and the Chartered Organization Representative.

Dear Andy,

My wife recently received the William D. Boyce New Unit Organizer Award. The award reads, in part, “…for successfully organizing a new unit…chartered to the…” and then, on the lines below, it states council. Isn’t it supposed to be the chartered organization? I asked at our council service center and they said that this is the way they always do it, but it seems somehow wrong to me. After all, a unit isn’t chartered to the council; it’s chartered to a sponsor, called the chartered organization. Or is it? Thanks. (Chris Sears, Buckskin Council, WV)

Yup, your council’s all wet. It’s important from a relationship viewpoint to recognize sponsors as often as possible, because without these there’s no Scouting! So, just because they’ve “always done it that way” doesn’t make it right. However, this isn’t worth falling on your sword over! Chill! And congratulations to your wife and the new unit!

Dear Andy,

Soon I’ll be heading back to my local Scout summer camp. I noticed through reading your column that you’ve served on camp staff at some point in your Scouting career, so here’s my question:

I’m returning as Scoutmaster of the camp’s provisional troop, and I want to do a better job than I did last year. I’ve been trained and re-trained in the aims and methods; I’ve ensured that the troop is Scout-led and I understand that I’m way more than a babysitter while the Scouts are in my care. Last year, I made every effort to run the troop “by the book”—they elected a Senior Patrol Leader, formed patrols—and subtly assure that every Scout had a leadership position at the patrol level. That approach had a pretty good track record, but I’m looking to make further improvements to my approach. So I’m wondering, is there was anything that your camp did, or that you’ve seen, that made for an effective provisional troop program? (Bill Pzedpelski, Daniel Webster Council, NH)

I’ve served on a variety of camp staffs, in various capacities, and also, as a Scoutmaster, I’ve taken troops to several different council camps. But although I was a camper in provisional units as a Scout, I’ve never been a provisional Scoutmaster. Nevertheless, I’d say your plans to create a true troop, with elected leaders and patrols, is spot on! You’re giving the Scouts in your care a true Scouting experience, even if for just a week or so per Scout, and maybe they’ll bring some of what they’ve learned back to their home troops!

How about “troop activities” like special troop campfires, or troop hikes, or other things the troop does as an actual entity (and not just as yet another unit in camp for the week)? Can you do this? Can you guide them to creating a “troop cheer” or a “troop flag” (in addition to patrol flags), or a “troop totem,” or troop awards for top patrol, etc.? Or how about talking to the aquatics staff about a special troop swim? The more you can slip in, in these dimensions, the more of a Scouting experience you’re providing!

One more thing: The very best camp I ever took my Scouts to wasn’t the best-equipped and it didn’t offer the most merit badges, but what it did have was the very best staff development program I’ve ever seen! In orienting our Scouts, the staffers never, ever used the word, no. Everything was “Yes!” Yes, you can throw rocks in the lake—we have a special area set up exactly for that! Yes, you can run in camp, uphill, anytime you want to. Yes, you can put as much food on your plate as you like, so long as you eat it all. Yes, you can buy all the candy bars you want to, within your dollar-a-day limit. Yes, you can go swimming whenever you want, so long as the waterfront’s “open for business.” And so on. The Scouts loved this camp! And the staff thoroughly enjoyed having our Scouts as their “guests”!

Dear Andy,

Can the Webelos “colors” be worn on either the blue or tan shirt, or just the tan shirt? Also, when can they be worn on the uniform? Are there any requirements to wearing these, or do you get them when you become a Webelos Scout? (Chris Sears, Buckskin Council, WV)

Webelos colors are worn in place of den numerals, and can be worn the moment a Bear Cub Scout becomes a Webelos Scout, on either the blue or the tan shirt.

Dear Andy,

Three cheers for your June 8th answer about committees “voting”!

You said, “The technical side of your question is this: Registered committee members and the committee chair comprise the pack committee… (but) there’s virtually nothing a committee ever needs to take a formal vote on!”

Amen to that! After three years of chipping at rock, I finally have a committee chair who understands this and is getting the committee to understand it, too—They’re there to serve; not to “vote.” It’s not like a homeowners board; it’s more like band boosters! (Carl Sommer)

You mean I’m not a “voice in the wilderness” on this? Somebody else “gets it,” too?!? Well thanks! And “band boosters” is a great analogy!

Hello Andy,

I’m looking for clarification on the “Fun for Family” award. Our son has earned the award but can’t seem to find someone who will agree on what he and we as family get for patches. I guess the program changed recently and so this maybe is what’s causing confusion. The latest book isn’t clear, either. I get the impression that he should get one patch (the BSA Family patch), but maybe he gets one of each patch? And there are also pins and a certificate. I just need clarification on this. (Nancy Chase)

Follow the book you have. Just buy what you need

Dear Andy,

I just read your June 8th column, and I’m writing about the Tiger Cub in West Virginia who does the program with his grandparents. On graduating from Tiger to Wolf, he’s eligible to go to Cub resident camp, if his council offers this. There, he could camp with other pack leaders, and this wouldn’t violate Youth Protection standards. (I’m a council Camping Committee member, and we have several packs that bring numerous Cubs to camp under pack leadership.) The packs must adhere to the two-deep leadership regulations and the camp sets ratios (usually 5:1, at a couple of nearby camps it’s 3:1) of youth-to-adults. The Cub must be comfortable with the pack leaders attending camp and his Mom needs to agree to the concept. I’ve seen this situation go very well and attract boys who wouldn’t otherwise get to camp. Another option is a council or district day-camp, which wouldn’t be as demanding on the grandparents. Again, he could go with pack leadership. While these ideas may not be “perfect,” they’ll get this boy an out-of-doors camping experience. (Chris Miller, WDL, Detroit Area Council, MI)

Brilliant suggestions! Thanks!

Hi Andy,

Troop-level Merit Badge Counselors don’t necessarily make it easier to obtain merit badges… In fact, it allows some people to apply undue control over merit badges! Our troop’s advancement chair will approach Merit Badge Counselors privately and tell them how “certain” Scouts shouldn’t be offered a merit badge because they’re “not mature enough” or they’re “mentally deficient,” or they “don’t have a real interest in the subject (their parents are just forcing them into it).” She’s very officious and gets compliance from the Merit Badge Counselors not because she’s right (as if this stuff were any of her business, anyway) but through sheer force of personality. What do we do? (Name & Council Withheld)

Your troop’s advancement chair needs to be replaced, immediately. She’s out of line and she’s damaging the program and the Scouts’ experiences. Fire her. Meanwhile, it’s high time those toady Merit Badge Counselors got themselves some spine transplants.

Dear Andy,

About that troop looking to train its youth leaders, you did give them some options (PL & SPL book, etc), but you didn’t mention the troop officer training that exists in the SMHB, nor the TLT course that’s supposed to be conducted by troops, and which the Scouts should complete before going off to NYLT. You mentioned the cards, but didn’t explain the cards are there as part of the TLT training. To me, TLT training and officer training are the important elements of troop-level training. They’re the first levels of the youth leader training continuum. (Michael Brown)

Yup, you’re right: I could have taken it further, but didn’t. You did, and your comments are more than valid. Thanks.

Dear Andy,

In our troop we now have two parents who have just “crossed over” with their son—they were Webelos II Den Leaders. After joining the troop, they immediately started trying to run our troop like a den. Several current parents as well as our committee members are upset by this. Meanwhile, this couple has “announced” that they’re going to move to another troop—but not until after summer camp, which they plan to attend with the troop. Camp isn’t until late July; we’d like them gone, now! Can you give me some advice on how we can encourage them to leave now? (Terry Davis, CC, Daniel Boone Council, NC)

If they’re registered in the troop, tell them that their services are no longer needed and remove them from your troop roster. If they’re not registered, tell them that parents aren’t permitted to interfere with the troop program, the Scoutmaster, or the Scouts, and make it stick. If someone let them sign up for camp, that was a big mistake, so find two registered leaders (or other parents if need be) and replace them at camp—simply tell them that there are others going to camp with the troop and their presence will create an imbalance between Scouts and adults. Have whichever conversation is appropriate as a team, with either (or both!) the Scoutmaster and/or the Chartered Organization Representative, and make it stick. Do not allow these bullies to overwhelm you or the troop.

Don’t be concerned about “hurting their feelings,” because they certainly have no trouble running roughshod over the feelings of others. View this as a mere crack in the sidewalk; it’s not the Grand Canyon and the conversation will be brief (unless you allow them to continue a rant, which, of course, you’re not going to do—you’re going to make the statement, then disengage).

A little gumption goes a long way! This isn’t about “making nice-nice;” this is about saving the troop and protecting the Scouts from loose cannons!


Hi Andy,

Regarding which color unit numerals Cub Scouts wear, it’s white-on-red for Cub Scouts, including Webelos Scouts, even on a tan shirt, according to the 2009-10 Insignia Guide (pp. 9 18). (Glenn Overby II, Robeson Scout Shop, Prairielands Council, IL/IN)

Yup. Right on the money. Thanks!


Dear Andy,

How do we remove a troop’s Committee Chair? This guy has become overbearing. Although he’s transitioned from Assistant Scoutmaster to Committee Chair, he continually attempts to interact directly with the Scouts, in all cases bypassing the Senior Patrol Leader and Scoutmaster. He demands the Scouts’ attention and they must do what he says, but he offers no mentoring or advice. He places additional demands, above and beyond what’s stated in the Eagle Scout project workbook, on Scouts attempting to propose their Eagle projects. Many parents and Scouts have said they don’t like or appreciate his actions, and our concern is that he’ll cause our Scouts to leave the troop and go find one where this guy doesn’t operate, or leave Scouting entirely! What do we do? (Name & Council Withheld)

Who’s the head of your chartered organization and what’s his or her opinion of this Committee Chair? Second question: Who is your troop’s Chartered Organization Representative? (I’m hoping you’ll tell me that someone other than this Committee Chair is the Chartered Organization Representative—Let me know and then I can help you, I think.)

We’re sponsored by an American Legion post. Our Chartered Organization Representative is a post member who is on our troop committee.

OK, here we go… The Chartered Organization Representative’s decisions on what volunteer positions are filled by whom supersede the Committee Chair’s. This means that the Chartered Organization Representative can advise the Committee Chair that if he doesn’t stop meddling with the troop program, troop meetings, the Scouts, and the Scoutmaster, he will be removed not only from his position as Committee Chair but as a registered adult volunteer with the troop. Period. No “three strikes.” No “easing into it.” The change must be immediate or the dismissal will be immediate. The only thing the Chartered Organization Representative would be wise to do first is to make sure that he and the Post Commander are on this same page on this. Make it happen. Stop this baloney. Keep in mind that the Post literally owns the troop and the Commander and Chartered Organization Representative have absolute and final say-so on unit-level adult volunteers.

Hi Ol’ Wise and Knowledgeable One,

Would you look at the Nuclear Science merit badge patch and explain to me what it means? I understand the E=MC2, and I’m assuming that the green thing is an electron, but what are the U’s and D’s? (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

It’s a mathematical model of the atomic nucleus.

It’s also a model of the two kinds of Scoutmasters: Ugly, Ugly, Dumb and Dumb, Dumb, Ugly. <wink n’ grin>

Dear Andy,

At our last troop committee meeting, a question was raised about what qualifies a Scout to run for a leadership position in the troop. I looked up the leadership positions and the qualification requirements for each, as the troop has defined them. For each position, there’s an attendance requirement of 50% over the past six months, in order to be eligible for a position. It doesn’t say “active in the troop,” which was what I was asked to define in this meeting. According to the advancement training I went to, we actually can’t put a “number” or “percent” on “active”—it must be the requirement as written; nothing more and nothing less. As that’s the case, no definition of “active” can be inserted into the requirement (e.g., 75% or some other number). If we could do this, then every troop could define “active” as they saw fit and this would ultimately lead to different requirements for each rank from troop to troop. Since the BSA wants the program run uniformly, there can be only one definition and nothing added. That being said, I read the requirement as this: If you are a registered active member in good standing, and a member of a troop, you are an active member of that troop regardless of the number of meetings attended. This means we can’t further define this in our own troop bylaws.

However, the attendance qualification for a leadership position as defined by our troop doesn’t say “active;” it gives a percentage of attendance. But allowing each troop to set leadership qualifications with an arbitrary attendance requirement would also take away from the uniformity between troops!

All this understanding that the rules do allow the Scoutmaster, and only the Scoutmaster, to remove a Scout from a leadership position for not performing his duties as related to that position.

I’m having difficulty finding the position qualifications requirements as defined by the BSA. So my questions are…

Does the BSA allow a troop to have its own definition of “active”?

Can a troop put a qualification of attendance, or anything else that the BSA hasn’t specifically applied a metric to, on a leadership position?

My thinking is that a troop really doesn’t need to add a qualification, because a Scout is either elected by his peers or appointed by the Senior Patrol Leader, so if the Scouts don’t think a fellow Scout should hold a position because he doesn’t show up enough, they won’t elect or appoint him. (Brother Owl, Council Withheld)

Of course, percentages and such can’t be used for rank advancement; you have that exactly right.

Your next question is a conundrum: Yes, a troop can establish qualifications for certain leadership positions, so that would suggest that attendance could be one qualification; however, since leadership positions are required for certain ranks (notably Star, Life, and Eagle), this by extension is an “addition” to the ranks’ requirements.

Perhaps the best bet is to make sure the troop’s meeting and outing program is sufficiently challenging, involving, adventurous, and fun, that the percentages never have to come into play.

The other thought is that Scouts who show up only half the time probably miss out on elections anyway, and would hardly be selected by the Senior Patrol Leader for appointments anyway.

Let’s remember that a leadership position isn’t an entitlement; Scouts who want leadership positions need to be popular and regarded as can-do Scouts, or they’re just not going to get elected or appointed, and that’s the way it works.

Let’s also remember that advancement isn’t required to enjoy the Scouting experience, and some may just not be all that interested in advancing beyond the foundational first three ranks, and that’s actually OK.

As far as removing a Scout from a leadership position, mostly that’s hogwash, because a Scoutmaster’s primary responsibility is to train, guide, and mentor Scout leaders, and if he does this as he’s charged to the removal scenario just shouldn’t ever happen.

Dear Andy,

Recently I took on the position of troop committee chair. I’m also the Unit Commissioner for the troop and its sister pack, where I’m the Cubmaster. My question is: Can I be both the Unit Commissioner and committee chair of the troop? It was mentioned in conversation with other members that you can’t hold both positions at the same time, and that was my understanding as well. If I can’t hold both positions I plan on relinquishing Unit Commissioner because I’d like to stay on as committee chair. (Tom Farkas, CC, Erie Shores Council, OH)

There’s a BSA stipulation that a Commissioner cannot be a Unit Leader; however, “Unit Leader” is Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, or Scout Varsity Team Coach; not Committee Chair. So, if your only two positions were Committee Chair and Commissioner, you’re in the clear. But you’re telling me you’re a Cubmaster, too. Oops! That’s the one that kills the deal. I’d recommend that you wait till your Cubmastering days have ended before you try to stick any other “Scout hat” on your head!

There’s a further consideration, however, and that’s the notion of being a Unit Commissioner only for a unit you’re currently associated with, or were associated with in the past. Since one of the responsibilities of a Unit Commissioner is to “be a bumblebee”—that is, to help cross-pollinate ideas that work to improve a unit’s Scouting program, one would have to have contact with more than one’s unit of origin or run the risk of retaining an insular perspective.

Dear Andy,

I’ve worn out my Scouter’s uniform and I went to the council Scout shop to purchase a new one. I was shocked to see that the uniforms are made in communist China. Why is this? I’ve purchased nice American-made dress shirts over the Internet for around the same price as Chinese-made shirts are being sold for. In this era, where so many Americans are losing their jobs to China and other countries, I’d like us Americans to have the freedom and option to buy American-made Boy Scout clothing. (By the way I refused to buy the Chinese-made uniforms and will make do with my worn but American-made uniform.) (Mark Houston, ASM, Oregon Trail Council, OR)

I’ve personally written to Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca about this very same issue. The answer I received back from a mid-level functionary is that (a) an American-made uniform would have to be priced beyond what people would be willing to pay and (b) the BSA tried to use American contractors but the contractors chosen couldn’t deliver in the time and/or quantity required by the BSA Supply Division. This is one of the extremely rare occasions in which I actually thought, “hogwash.” But that was the party line. Take it or leave it, I guess. Thanks for asking, and I sure wish we BSA volunteers could Buy American. It’s not about dollar price, to my thinking, it’s about who we are and what we’re modeling for our sons and daughters. But I have this little problem: When nurses stick in the needle, they tell me what comes out is red-white-and-blue.

Dear Andy,

Our son is a Life Scout getting ready to do his service project soon. He’s completed 21 merit badges so far, and will earn at least one more at camp this summer. He’s working on his last Eagle-required one, and he’ll have it done in a week or so at the most. He’s 13, and has done all this in two-and-a-half years. The adult leaders (his Scoutmaster included) in his troop believe, however, that the “minimum time” to Eagle should be at least four years. They’re now working hard at slowing him down. One of the ways they’re doing this is to twist the requirement language in the Boy Scout Handbook and Boy Scout Requirements book. The way they’re doing this is to tell him that since the requirement says to “earn a total of 21 merit badges (10 more than you already have)” he must earn ten beyond the total number he had when he became a Life Scout. Actually, he’s close: He will have earned a total of at least 23, but only seven since his Life rank board of review.

While it seems perfectly obvious to his mother and me that this is not what that requirement means or intends, there’s no question his leaders are using this as a road-block. Do they actually have the right to make a Scout like our son earn three more merit badges than are actually required before they’ll accept his application for Eagle?

Frankly, if I’d known then what I know now, we would have found another troop for our son a long time ago! But we’re here, and he’s just a few months away from Eagle, so we’ll tough it out. But I’m truly wondering: Have you seen this particular line of thinking used by other troops to slow Scouts down? Can’t the BSA rewrite this so that it’s clear? (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course if you’ve read any of my columns you’ll know that there’s nothing that makes me more coldly furious than adults who screw with a boy’s self-esteem and perception of what’s right and wrong by trickery, perversion, and manipulation of the Scout advancement program, as a way to bolster their own demented senses of self-importance and feed their latent misanthropy.

Of course they can’t and they’re way out of line in attempting to “slow down” your son or any Scout.

The irony is that, for the past five Scoutmaster’s conferences and boards of review, they were too stupid to see what was happening, and now they’re in a state of panic—yet they, themselves, helped it happen!

Both the handbook and requirements book tell the Scout (and, supposedly, his adult leaders, too) that he can move at his own pace. Therefore, it’s actually violating BSA policy to impose on any Scout a timetable not of his own making. The handbook and the requirements book also state clearly that a Scout may count any merit badges he has not “used” for Star, for Life, and Star and Life for Eagle, so they’re flat-out wrong on that one, too (which, of course, it’s most likely they already know and are hoping you don’t spot it). But, just in case of the remote possibility that this is an “honest error” on their part, they do need to read the fundamentals of advancement, so that they can start getting it right!

(Just to cover it, it’s also not in any way necessary to complete all merit badges before starting one’s Eagle leadership service project—a Scout can begin planning his project literally the day after he’s a Life Scout.)

The BSA doesn’t need to “re-write” this—It’s those adults who are either lacking knowledge or lacking the desire to deliver the Scouting program as designed who need to start reading and then carrying out the advancement program as written.

Don’t expect this to be the end of it. I can pretty much guarantee that these turkeys will try to find other ways to accomplish their own aims, even if these aims damage those of the Scout himself.

Taking a different tack, one way to stick it to them is for your son to just go ahead and earn three more merit badges. He can make them no-brainers, like Fingerprinting, Home Repairs, Painting, Reading, Scholarship, or Wood Carving. Problem is: It’s more than likely they’ll then pull some other subversive stunt.

Thanks Andy! Can you tell us where it’s clarified in the requirements book—we can’t seem to find where it says that a Scout can use for Eagle any merit badges he hasn’t used for Star and Life. (Maybe we’re looking in the wrong book?) Thanks again. (N&CW)

I’m going to give you ammunition from both the Boy Scout Requirements book and the Boy Scout Handbook; I’ll abbreviate them BSR and BSH, respectively. Here we go, working backward, with a purpose that will reveal itself momentarily…

Eagle Palms (BSR p. 19, BSH pp. 182-183 & 448-449): “Earn 5 additional merit badges beyond those required for the (Eagle/Bronze Palm/Gold Palm)…Merit badges earned anytime since becoming a Boy Scout may be used to meet this requirement.”

Eagle Scout Rank (BSR p. 16, BSH pp. 180 & 446): “Earn a total of 21 merit badges…”

Life Scout Rank (BSR p. 15, BSH pp. 178 & 445): “Earn 5 more merit badges (so that you have 11 in all)…” (Italics mine).

Star Scout Rank (BSR p. 14, BSH pp. 177 & 444): “Earn 6 merit badges…”

Note, in each case, that these requirements do not say “Since becoming a First Class/Star/Life Scout…” or “While a First Class/Star/Life Scout…” yet other requirements do say this (e.g., Star req. 4: “While a First Class Scout…”). This is because merit badges can be earned by any Scout at any time (BSR p. 22).

Moreover, the emphasis in the merit badge requirement is on the total number of merit badges including the ones required for Eagle Scout Rank; there is absolutely nothing that so much as hints at the notion of earning merit badges in a specific time-frame.

Further, the BSH (p. 187) states: “Your rate of advancement depends on your interest, effort, and ability,” and also (p. 14) states: “…you can advance at your own pace…” There is no statement anywhere in BSA literature or handbooks that even remotely suggests that one’s adult leaders will determine or influence a Scout’s advancement pace.

However, if these turkeys who want to hold your son back haven’t figured this out already, it’s highly unlikely that they’re all of a sudden going to grow larger brains and start getting it. You can excerpt and show them this stuff, but do it together as parents (you’ll give one another support and there’s less of a chance of “dead air” when the erstwhile leaders you’re going to try to talk with spout some additional malarkey).

Finally, you may want to share this experience with other parents, so that their sons don’t get caught in this misguided morass. It’s time for these turkeys to encounter November’s fourth Wednesday.

Hi Andy,

A while back, you said, “I’ve for years felt strongly that, in all training, we spend too much time on ‘how to’ and vastly too little time on why. I believe…that the…drifting from the ‘model troop’ and ‘model patrol’…is a consequence of our failing to tell the new people we train why we do things in Scouting the way we do.”

I’d like to know what you’d say to new leaders about the “why.” Let’s say you’re given five or ten minutes at a training session to make this point: What would you say? (Clarke Green, SM, Chester County Council, PA)

Read my “Are We Really That Smart?” column…

Dear Andy,

I seem to be a part of one of those stories you always hear about but never dream you’ll actually be in, and I sure hope I know the answer, but just reassure me, please…

We have a Scoutmaster who, a while ago, told a Scout—let’s call him “Charlie”—who had just earned Life rank that he didn’t want to hear anything from Charlie about Eagle till at least a year from now, and refused to give Charlie the Eagle project workbook. However, now that other Scouts in the troop (who are about the same present age of this “early Lifer”) have reached Life rank, this same Scoutmaster gave them all the Eagle workbooks and the boost that they should get started on this right away! Meanwhile, when Charlie tried to propose a project for himself, the Scoutmaster told him he’s “too young” for this. When challenged, the Scoutmaster said, flat out, that he “doesn’t care what national says.” On top of this, the Committee Chair is now saying that Charlie “earned his merit badges too fast.” So, bottom line: Short of quitting, what does Charlie do? (Name withheld in Ozark Trails Council, MO)

This unfortunate Scout, who has done absolutely nothing wrong and should be complimented for grabbing hold of the Scouting program and running with it, needs to find a troop where the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair aren’t little tin gods and idiots to boot. Meanwhile, those two need to be taken outside and shot.

(For those readers—there are one or two of you—who have trouble with my calling that Scoutmaster and Committee Chair idiots, you can take me to task for “name-calling” all you like but that’s not going to change the fact that these two turkeys are idiots.)

NetCommish Comment: Andy is correct – these folks are idiots and they are not helping this youth grow in citizenship, character, and fitness which are the basic goals of Scouting. The problem is that they got stuck on stupid when they forgot that advancement is a method for getting to the basic goals and then decided to change the method that has worked for a 100 years because they are smarter than everyone else. Well as it turns out they have a higher estimation of their own judgment than any experienced Scouter would have. We should never, never, not ever be holding a Scout back because of some arbitrary, silly idea that he went too fast, isn’t old enough, or needs to wait. That is counter-productive and harms the Scout. The Scoutmaster should be encouraging him to try and acting as a mentor/coach instead of a deadwood brake on progress. If this was my son, I’d move him to a different Troop or even take a look at the Lone Scouting program. He should not have to pay the price of this ill-advised and counter-productive attitude. Nor should he be stopped in his tracks when he is excited about trying new things and growing. We owe it to this Scout to open doors that allow him to grow. People who slam those doors need to either get with the program, change and do it. But if they won’t, its time to say good-bye and find a better place to do Scouting.

OK, volunteers don’t get paychecks, right? Wrong! Here’s a “paycheck” that tops any dollar amount you could possibly imagine…

Dear Andy,

I’ve been reading your column for several months now, and have to write to thank you. My oldest son was involved in a troop that, plain and simply, wasn’t doing Scouting. Had I not been reading your column, I don’t know that our family would have realized how far his troop was missing the mark. After a couple of phone calls to the Scoutmaster, we realized that the problems were deep, and not likely to change. We asked around at the next roundtable, and found a troop in a neighboring town that was “doing Scouting” and made the switch.

Our son had been involved in the previous troop for well over a year, and hadn’t even been signed off for even his Scout badge. (Not for lack of trying, but when he’d approach the Scoutmaster or assistant, they’d would brush him off, and tell him they didn’t have time for him, and when they finally gave him some time, he stumbled while saying the Scout Oath or Law, so they “failed” him and told him he’d have to try again some other time.) Since joining the new troop just over two months ago, he’s progressed through Scout, Tenderfoot, and Second Class, and is well on his way to finishing First Class soon.

Thank you for the encouragement that our son is not “married” to that troop and to “vote with his feet.” His Scouting experience has changed for the better, and now he’s excited about Scouts again! (Dawn Gilmore, Scenic Trails Council, MI)

Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(June 21, 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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