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Issue 180 – June 30, 2009

Dear Andy,

In a recent column you mentioned that a Merit Badge Counselor must be 21 years old. Both the MBC application (No. 34405) and the BSA website ( say 18. (Mike Whittington, SM, East Carolina Council, NC)

Yup! I checked the link you provided, and also the MBC application, and that’s exactly what it says! Unfortunately, the BSA Adult Volunteer Application’s information doesn’t match, and I’d used that one as my source (I’ll take 20 lashes with a wet lanyard for using just one source!). Thanks for reading, and for your sharp eyes!

Dear Andy,

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic has an audio-book of the Boy Scout Handbook (11th Edition) in their AudioPlus format, on CD or downloadable. Go to and search for “boy scout handbook.” You can use Worldcat to find it in a library near you: (Walter Underwood, ASM, Pacific Skyline Council, CA)

This is wonderful news! Thanks for following up!

Dear Andy,

I read your column often, find it very valuable, and agree with most of what you post, but I find a possible misconception in your June 8, 2009 column, dealing with the roles of troop committee members.

You said to a reader that “Committee members, unless invited by the Scoutmaster, have absolutely no business inveigling themselves into the youth of the troop”. Referring to the Troop Committee Guidebook I found several instances where committee members interact with Scouts. Aside from helping with behavioral problems and special needs, which is referenced several ways under “Troop Committee Organization and Responsibilities.” The guidebook indicates multiple committee members are in fact expected to interact directly with some Scouts. The Treasurer is to “Train and supervise the Troop Scribe in record-keeping.” The Advancement Coordinator is to “encourage Scouts to advance in rank” (hard to do if you don’t at least talk with them occasionally), “work with the Troop Scribe to maintain all Scout advancement records”, and “work with the Troop Librarian to build and maintain a troop library of merit badge pamphlets and other advancement literature.” The Chaplain is to “give guidance to the Chaplain Aide”, “visit homes of Scouts in times of sickness or need,” and “encourage Scouts to earn their appropriate religious emblems.” The Equipment Coordinator is to “work with the Troop Quartermaster on inventory and proper storage and maintenance of all troop equipment.” The Membership Coordinator is to “encourage Scouts to invite their friends to join the troop.” Nowhere does it say “…and clear it with the Scoutmaster first,” although courtesy and common sense would indicate a need to work with the Scoutmaster and his assistants to be sure that the committee member is up to date in his or her approach to working with the Scouts, and to avoid conflicts.

I’d certainly agree that committee members aren’t Scoutmasters or assistants, and shouldn’t carry out their responsibilities, such as signing off on requirements and the like, but I think the Scouting program envisions interaction between committee members and Scouts at far more that just boards of review. My point is that the official BSA literature appears to allow and direct more interaction between committee members and Scouts than your answer to that particular reader implied. (Bill Nelson)

All of your quotations and citations are, of course, correct; however, none of those was the situation described by that reader. He was, instead, a loose cannon on deck, inveigling himself into troop meetings in none of the capacities you described, but merely to satisfy his own particular needs. My response was to that specific situation (as most of my responses are). Had the conversation been more general regarding the ways in which certain committee members may interact with certain Scouts, my response would have been quite different. Thanks for noticing! And thanks for being a loyal (and perceptive!) reader!

Dear Andy,

I was a staff member at the 2008 National Icelandic Scout Jamboree and I’ve found detail indicating if you’re a staff member at a “national jamboree” you can wear the patch above the right uniform pocket for an indefinite period, but I’m pretty sure the rules are specific to a US-based BSA National Jamboree, as opposed to another countries. Can you clarify? Can I wear this patch above the pocket, or is it considered a “temporary patch” worn on the pocket itself? (Mike Sierra, National Capital Area Council)

The BSA Insignia Guide (online has very precise specifications on this, including the stipulation that badges of Scouting organizations other than the BSA may not be worn on a BSA uniform.

Dear Andy,

I was reading the clarification about volunteers holding multiple positions within a unit that’s in this month’s edition of our commissioner e-newsletter, and I’d like to clarify just a bit further. This clarification is technically correct, but to be precise, it is the Chartered Organization Representative (CR) who may hold more than one position within the unit and then only as a committee chairman (CC) or as a committee member (MC). (For what it’s worth, I don’t know why a CR would want to subject himself to that much punishment!) Thanks for being a part of our commissioner e-newsletter and website! (Ron Hubbard, ACC & VP-Membership, Shawnee Trails Council, IL/KY/TN)

Yup, a CR may also be a CC or MC. Check out page 2 of the application—it’s right there!

Dear Andy,

I appreciate your columns very much; however, I think your June 1, 2009 column introduces an error. The BSA requirements for Eagle Scout Leadership Projects stipulate that the project be for “…any religious institution, any school, or your community” and that “projects may not be performed for businesses or an individual.” In your column, you advised that a project benefiting a local business (a for-profit nursing home) isn’t acceptable, and this is correct. However, you also advised that a Scout can ask about their “501 status” and “…if they’re not a 501(c)(3), then they’re a for-profit operation.” The 501(c)(3) is the section of the Internal Revenue code that covers charities. While all charities are non-profit entities, not all non-profit entities are charities. Many community groups, for example, are non-profits under section 501(c)(7). Also, government entities, such as a local school or public park are also good venues for Eagle projects but they’re not 501(c)(3) charities either. (Dave Lewis, ASM and Eagle Advisor)

Yes, you’ve been a lot more exacting and detailed than I was, and I appreciate your commentary. I didn’t mention each and every other possibility because the question was specific to a nursing home and not a general question. When I’m asked more general questions, I try to give more general answers. Your addition to my commentary is valuable!

Dear Andy,

I’m the father of four—two girls and two boys. My sons were Cub Scouts and Boys Scouts, and are now in college. My younger daughter is 15 year-old Mariner in the Girl Scouting program and is presently being recruited to join a BSA Sea Scout ship. While as a Scouter-and-parent I’m pretty happy with the Mariner program, I agree with my daughter that Sea Scouts may offer her more opportunities for aquatic high adventure, such as to learning to race sail boats, scuba dive or sail in more exotic locales than Galveston Bay. Not knowing too much about Sea Scouting or Venturing, I’ve told my daughter that I’d like her to visit at least two ships, attend two meetings, and participate in at least a one-day outing, before her mom and I give our permission to sign up. We’ve successfully made contact with three ships locally and attended two meetings of one ship.

So far, I’m not seeing the adult advisors trying to enable a youth-led program. At the two meetings we’ve attended, I observed the Boatswain run drills that open and close the meetings, but in between those two events he just sits there while the meeting is taken over by three adults (who do seem fairly knowledgeable and experienced regarding the technicalities of sailing). Off-line, I asked one of the adult “mates” for a copy of the ship’s program calendar and was met with a blank stare. When I tried to explain what I was asking for by referencing the Venturing program, I was told that I’m confusing two different programs. The Skipper later provided this written explanation: “Sea Scouts has its roots in Boy Scouts. Traditional Sea Scout Ships are organized and operate more like Boy Scout troops than Venturing crews… As for running the program themselves, (youth) are encouraged to do so within the established framework. There are many opportunities for them to define their ship now and determine what they want to do within it. When Scouts see the possibilities and take an ownership role, it’s a beautiful thing and they accomplish a lot. Youth membership, however, is cyclical, and the level of self-motivation varies. Youth always benefit from the Scouting experience, but they don’t always want to be its leaders. When they don’t, the adults simply step in to maintain continuity until the Scouts are ready to take over.”

While I agree that one ship could be idiosyncratic, I got another message from the Skipper of another ship: “Up until this year, Sea Scouting was a part of Venturing; both are older youth, co-ed programs of the BSA. The BSA has now split the programs and the division is still being worked out. Suffice it to say that the focus of Venturing is hiking, backpacking in the wilderness, and social activities, and the focus of Sea Scouting is sailing and other water activities. Sea Scouting was started in 1912 and has a rich history of tradition; Venturing was started in 1998 by splitting theExplorer program into Learning for Life (career-oriented groups) and Venturing (outdoor-based activities). Sea Scouting has an advancement program and these ranks: Apprentice, Ordinary, Able, and Quartermaster (the equivalent ofEagle Scout). Venturing has awards: Bronze, Gold, and Silver. As of now, Sea Scouts are still able to earn Venturing Awards (and some do) but we don’t know if that will continue.”

First of all, I am not seeing the split between Venturing and Sea Scouting that these folks are talking about reflected in current BSA literature. Secondly, since the BSA wants troops to be Scout-led, it seems hard to believe that Sea Scouts has dispensation to revert to adult-led ways. What am I missing here? (Tony Oaks, Sam Houston Council, TX)

The Sea Scout program has virtually always been a bit of an orphan and, in my limited experience and research, a bit idiosyncratic. Yes, it’s technically still part of the overall Venturing program, if only because it’s considered “traditional” (i.e., not today’s Exploring/Learning for Life) and perhaps because it’s called Sea Scouts and not, as it was for a time, Sea Exploring. But these are quasi-organizational niceties; they say nothing about the quality of the program or how it develops its youth members.

Sea Scouting did begin in 1912 (five years after Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts, in England), and was started by B-P’s brother. It’s world-wide, but it’s smallish relative to the other Scouting programs (e.g., Boy Scouts, Scouts, Cub Scouts, etc., and even Exploring). But never mind, because that’s not really important. What’s important is whether or not a particular Sea Scout ship (a “ship” is the equivalent of a Boy Scout troop or Venturing crew) provides a quality program for youth.

Sea Scouting, more than any other Scouting program, while not militaristic, relies most heavily on military tradition, from utilizing Navy uniforms or their equivalents, to “piping aboard,” to proper saluting and ritual. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it’s worth knowing about so that the new observer isn’t startled.

Experienced adult involvement is definitely at the fore in Sea Scouting, perhaps more than other Scouting programs, and discipline aboard ship—especially one on blue water—is paramount, for reasons of safety:

Like aviation, the sea is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.

Councils aren’t necessarily enamored of Sea Scout ships because of the significantly higher-than-average liability and accident insurance costs that must be borne. Some Sea Scouters can tend at times to be a bit elitist about their program, as if they’re somehow superior to Boy Scouts or Venturers. Others know absolutely nothing about the Boy Scout program. Still more are Sea Scout volunteers as a way to go sailing (or power-boating) and get a nice tax write-off for their boats and the expenses incumbent upon boat owners. But at the same time, you’ll find many dedicated Scouters in Sea Scouting who “get” the program and are absolutely dedicated to delivering it as intended.

You’ve taken the right approach in observing multiple ships in order to evaluate the quality of the programs they deliver. Like troops, most ships do have their own unique “personalities,” based on where they are, what sort of youth members they have, and the extent to which the adult volunteers are willing and/or trained to deliver the Sea Scout program as written. There’s a well-written and very in-depth Sea Scout Manual, and it’s worth getting a copy and taking a good look, to get a sense for the program that’s intended. This will help you determine how closely a particular ship is tacking toward the program’s True North.

The long and short of the Sea Scout program is that it’s adventure-at-sea based, youth led, and offers a rigorous advancement program (to earn Quartermaster, the highest rank, makes Eagle look like a walk in the park!).

I can sort of sideways appreciate the rationale of the adults associate with the ship that’s more adult-run; but in the long run it doesn’t hold up, because the responsibility of the adults is to instill in the youth members a desire for leadership and the skills to do so. “Biding one’s time till the ‘right’ kids show up” just isn’t making any sense and tends more to perpetuate itself than truly plan on a transition. In fact, I’d strongly suspect that any new youth member who joins that ship and wants to lead will, in two words, be squelched. After all, we humans happen to like “power,” and we’re pretty reluctant, usually, to give it up once we have it!

As for training, you’ll want to ask the adult volunteers if they’ve taken “”SSOST” (which stands for Sea Scout Officer’s Specific Training–pronounce the letters as “Ess-Ess-Oh-Ess-Tee”), or Sea Badge (a sort-of equivalent to Wood Badge, for adult volunteers). If you get blank stares on these, run, don’t walk!

Bottom line: If you do find a ship that’s delivering a program of youth-directed activities and meetings, with advancement and leadership opportunities and training, your daughter will be in good hands.

Alternative: Venturers can do whatever they like! Yes, they can backpack, cycle, cave, rock-climb, and so on; but they can also shoot shotguns and hand-guns at a qualified range, kayak, wind-surf, ski (snow or water), SCUBA dive, and…get this…sail! That’s right: There’s absolutely nothing that prohibits a Venturing crew from sail- or power-boating, or even going to the BSA’s Florida Keys Sea Base! (Check out Sea Base, by the way!) So, if Sea Scouting doesn’t pan out, all’s not lost, at all! And maybe both your sons and your daughters could do all this together (depending on their ages, of course—14 through 20—and availability) in a crew!

Hi Andy,

HELP! Our Assistant Scoutmaster just sent this to our troop:

“I bring this information to each of you that I obtained from our District Executive…and his consultation with…(our) Assistant Scout Executive. I will point out the question and (provide) the answer:

“To earn the Swimming merit badge, does the Scout have to actually be CPR certified, or can (he) just be asked questions regarding CPR?

“(The answer is:) The Scout has always had to be CPR Certified and issued a card.”

I can’t seem to find this requirement. From reading your columns, I know to “read what it says” and not to add or subtract from the requirement. I can’t find the words, “…must be CPR certified.” Our older Scouts earned this badge at summer camp and never received a card, nor their parents a bill (this training isn’t cheap). Do the Scouts, in fact, have to be CPR certified to earn Swimming merit badge? (Whitney Noel, Flint River Council, MI)

The Assistant Scoutmaster, District Executive, and Assistant Scout Executive are, unfortunately, all mistaken.

CPR certification is absolutely not required in order to earn Swimming merit badge; moreover, it can’t be imposed over existing requirements by any person, unit, district, or even council.

Yes, a Scout will identify the conditions that must exist for performing CPR and he will explain how to recognize those conditions, and he will demonstrate proper technique for performing CPR using a Counselor-approved training device (does not have to be a “Resusci-Annie”), but that’s it. He definitely does not have to have what’s commonly called a “CPR Card” to earn Swimming merit badge; in fact, a CPR Card isn’t mandatory to earn Lifesaving merit badge, either.

I hope they’re willing to self-correct and rescind that unfortunate statement.


Hey Andy,

I’m an Eagle Scout currently attending the US Naval Academy. I recently learned that a Scout in my home troop became an Eagle and this very much disturbs me. He is disrespectful to everyone in the troop, has not worn a uniform in years, and has been arrested. He breaks drinking laws, is always in trouble at school, and is a horrible example to all of the younger Scouts. He’s even been caught cheating on merit badges. The adults who did his conference and board of review probably don’t know most of this, but many other adults and Scouts do. I never thought of bringing any of this to the attention of anyone, because my friends and I were almost positive he would quit the troop. The only reason he stayed in was because of his parents, who wanted him to become an Eagle no matter what. Is there anything that can be done to appeal or propose a further look into his qualifications of being an Eagle Scout? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, congratulations on your Eagle rank and Midshipman pursuits! You’re a credit to yourself, your family, Scouting, and your country.

Regarding your question, you might consider contacting your former troop, perhaps the Scoutmaster whom you knew, and ask him about the situation and how the decision was reached. Remember that there’s a Scoutmaster’s conference before any board of review, so this means that your former Scoutmaster signed this young man’s Eagle rank application. Perhaps this young man mended his ways since you moved on, and has done a turn-around, and Scouting certainly admires this. On the other hand, if there were indeed no changes in his attitude or behavior, perhaps the people actually involved can provide some background on their actions.

Thanks for finding me and for writing, and very best wishes for a bright and fulfilling future.

Dear Andy,

We have a Star Scout looking to use hours spent practicing and performing in the all-volunteer city band this summer as service hours for Life Scout rank. This sounds pretty good, since this is all voluntary and he’ll more than double the necessary service time (two hours per practice and about the same per performance—about five concerts over the summer). Admittedly, he’s probably helping his own music prowess at some level, but he’s also basically just a kid stepping in to an adult/young adult band (make no mistake–he’s talented and welcomed by the director). Does this work? (Jack Berklan, ASM, Northeast Illinois Council)

Great question! Practicing in a volunteer city band that, I’m guessing, gives free concerts for the public? Yeah, I’d say that that’s just about perfect! (As for “helping his own prowess,” if he were digging ditches, wouldn’t we also argue that the longer he digs the more “practice” he gets and the more proficient he becomes? So let’s not worry about that part of it. Besides, practicing in band rehearsals involves learning the scores; not becoming more proficient with the instrument—proficiency is what gets a musician into a band in the first place!)

Dear Andy,

Recently I saw a letter in your column about red-white-and-blue shoulder loops, and you remarked that they “sounded like something unofficial.

At a nearby summer camp I go to, I saw many of these multi-colored shoulder loops, and remembering your column, I asked about them. Turns out that the camp staff wears them to designate that they’re staff, to distinguish staff from the other 600 or so Scouts and Scouters who attend as campers. (Jen Haubrich, Cornhusker Council, NE)

IMHO, a staff neckerchief would have been the better choice.

You probably have a point. I’ve tried the “staff neckerchief” in my own council, and I’m usually met with a bunch of “Waahhh, I don’t wanna wear a neckerchief!” by the Scouts. Trying to get anyone around here to wear a neckerchief around here is surprisingly difficult. (Jen Haubrich)

What a buncha crybabies! World-wide, there are just three things that say “Scout.” They are: “Smokey Bear” hat, knee socks, and…you guessed it!… the neckerchief!

There was a time—not in the dark ages, believe it or not—when no Scout would be caught dead without his neckerchief.

Consider this: Go to neckerchiefs and make them aspirational. That is, you don’t just get handed one and get told to wear it (I hear the whining already!)… You have to earn it. You receive it, in a special presentation, at the end of “staff week;” not at the beginning. It’s presented to you in the same manner that Wood Badger receives the McLaren-with-woggle. You see, if it’s made special instead of merely mandatory, you’ll get a lot more mileage out of a neckerchief!

I still have my own camp staff neckerchiefs—they had specific years on them, and changed color from year-to-year, and I have mine for every year I served on camp staff! (And I won’t tell you how long ago that was!)

Hi Andy,

I love Scouts and I want to be an Eagle Scout. I have a question: What does the Webelos patch stand for? It looks like a corn husk, so I am just wondering why it was picked. Is there a story? I just recently became a Webelo. (Scout’s Name Withheld, Crossroads of America Council, IN)

You are one smart Webelos Scout! You used your Mom’s email address when you wrote to me, so that she can see what we’re saying. This is always the way to do it when you’re writing to someone you don’t know personally! Good for you!

Did you know that “Webelos” can mean one Webelos, like you, or a bunch of Webelos, like your whole den? That’s right… It’s the same word—Webelos—whether it’s one or more than one.

Webelos means WE‘ll BE LOyal Scouts. That’s how this word was created by Scouting!

About that “corn husk”—Yeah, I thought that that’s what it looks like, too, especially when I lived in your neighboring state, Ohio! I live in New Jersey now and we have lots of famous “Jersey corn” as well as “Jersey tomatoes”!

But take a good look… Do you see the blue “W”? That’s for Webelos, and when you add the yellow part behind it, the whole thing sort of looks like the Boy Scout emblem. To get a better look, check out the cover or page 36—the diamond-shaped badge—in your Webelos Handbook.

(As a Cub Scout, I earned my Arrow of Light, and then as a Boy Scout, I earned Eagle. I’ll bet you can do it, too!)


Dear Andy,

I have a question about a “code of conduct” for Scouts’ parents. Do you have any examples? We have several parents who aren’t playing nice and are interfering with meetings, campouts, and programs.

We had a registered leader who, because of a long history of un-Scout-like behavior, the Chartered Organization Representative and Committee Chair, with the support of the committee, decided to remove from our troop roster. This individual was extremely upset and called the both the district and council to get reinstated. Both tried to explain to him that this is a troop-level decision, made correctly by the troop’s leaders, who had the authority to do so.

Unfortunately, he’s now instigated a phone campaign, calling our sponsoring organization’s officers as well as both the troop’s Scout families, with the goal of getting the troop discredited and ultimately disbanded. He continues to show up at troop meetings, courts of honor, and other troop functions in full uniform, trying to persuade others in the troop to complain and call our sponsor, the council, and other parents, to gather support for himself.

He has a long history of bullying other leaders and trying to discredit current and past leadership to get his own way. The council has advised us to put together a code of conduct for parents, so that there’s a written “guideline” of what acceptable behavior is and isn’t, so as to put this disgruntled parent on notice. We do have a Scout code of conduct that’s signed by all Scouts, and now we’re searching for one that the parents would sign as well. This would also carry the warning and provisions that after a warning of un-Scout like behavior that both the parent and Scout would be asked to leave the troop. This would be a code of conduct that all parents would be required to sign, for continued membership in the troop. So I’m looking for what other troops use as their code of conduct for parents. Can you help? (Name & Council Withheld)

You do know, of course, that your troop’s decision stands: The decision of the COR and CC is final and cannot be overturned. Also, unlike a business entity, you do not need to have a “three strikes” rule or a “show cause” scenario, or letters on file, or anything else. All adult volunteers serve at the discretion of the chartered organization, represented by the COR and administered by the CC. Therefore, a troop-level “code of conduct” is, in fact, totally unnecessary.

Now do understand that I’m no attorney, nor am I connected in any official way with the BSA National Council; however, my preceding commentary comes from BSA literature, primarily the BSA Adult Volunteer Application itself (page 2). The only person who can reverse this decision is the actual head of the chartered organization.

Interestingly, if you ever do believe you need something along these lines, I refer you to that very same application, because there’s a very interesting statement on it, that all volunteers subscribe to when they sign it. It says:“In signing this application…I agree to comply with the Charter and Bylaws, and the Rules and Regulations of the Boy Scouts of America and the local council.” Among the “Charter and Bylaws, Rules and Regulations” of the BSA are, of course, the Scout Oath and Scout Law. In fact, these are fundamental. Therefore, any adult leader who violates the Oath and Law is vulnerable to being dismissed “for cause.”

That said, I’d suggest staying away from “cause” and stick strictly to “Your services are no longer needed.” I’m suggesting this because this keeps your dismissed volunteer from provoking a discussion of whether or not or to what degree he may have strayed from the Oath and Law.

As for a non-registered person showing up at a meeting of the troop and making a general nuisance of himself, call the cops. That’s right: Check with your local Police Department about how to tell him that unless he leaves immediately, you will call the police and ask them to remove him from the premises. But when you do this, do be prepared, with a cell phone in your hand, to make that call.

As to this bully’s phone campaign, etc., do not respond, do not defend, do not engage. People will discern for themselves, rather quickly, just what he is, if they haven’t already. (Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”)

The best defense against this or any bully is the same thing we teach our sons and daughters: Stand firm, refuse to take it, and use strength of numbers to force the bully to retreat. It will work, because inside each big bully is a scared little coward.

Our Netcommish adds: Among the many volunteers in your council, there must be at least a dozen practicing attorneys, any one of which might be persuaded to help in this situation. In your case, the owner of the property where you meet and has the right to say who may or not use the property, so that a letter from them telling this individual that he is no longer allowed on the property could help. Any future appearance on the property could potentially be treated as a trespass, where the assistance of law enforcement and legal processes would be available—including the potential of a restraining order or injunction with contempt penalties like a night or two in jail for violating the order. Similarly, the chartered organization can ask the BSA to remove the child of the unruly parent from the unit roster as well (The boy would remain registered as a Scout, but no longer be associated with the unit. At this point the chartered partner could send a letter to the individual stating they are no longer allowed at any events sponsored by the chartered organization and any further attempts would be treated as trespass and handled via legal processes.)

I would also arrange an appointment directly with the Scout Executive of the council and ask what he’s going to do to enforce the BSA’s rights to appropriate use of the uniform. Once this individual is no longer registered, he has no right to wear the uniform, and the BSA retains rights to the use of that uniform. While he may possess the uniform as a memento of his time in Scouting, he does not have the right to wear it or represent himself as a Scouter if he is not registered as such. The Scout Executive should refer this either to the attorney serving on the council’s executive board for action, or to the attorney serving as counsel to the BSA National Council. At the least, there should be a stern letter from the BSA telling him he’s no longer allowed to wear the uniform and that misuse of the uniform may result in legal enforcement including fines for violation of intellectual property (e.g., trademarks and Congressional patent).

You may also encourage each person whom he calls to report his calls to the local telephone company as harassment, and encourage each to ask the telephone company to block his calls. Eventually, this will result in the termination of his telephone services. Depending on Illinois law, there may also be a right-to-contact law enforcement regarding harassing telephone calls and ask for assistance.

If his conduct is abusive to youth members during these appearances, I would not hesitate to file a complaint with child protective services and/or local law enforcement that the individual is being abusive. Any abuse, including verbal abuse, directed at youth members is unacceptable and should be reported to the appropriate authorities directly and immediately.

(The foregoing is provided as commentary from one Scouter to another and as general legal education; it should not be construed as a legal advice or as the creation of an attorney-client relationship. For specific legal advice, please contact an attorney licensed to practice in your home state.)

Hi Andy,

Hopefully you can enlighten me about something, and the rationale behind the change. I’ve returned to Scouting after a 14-year hiatus. Some two dozen or so years ago, I was a Scoutmaster.

Today, as an Assistant District Commissioner, my main emphasis right now is working with Cub Scout pack leaders. I occasionally attend a Boy Scout function, if invited or if there’s a question or issue to discuss.

This week, I was invited to attend a Court of Honor. At it, eleven Scouts who had crossed over just about four months ago were advancing to First Class. To say the least, I was shocked. When and whose “great idea” was it to eliminate the requirement to be active in the troop for a specified number of months in between ranks?

My trail from Tenderfoot to Eagle took me five full years (I was an Eagle at age 16).

Then, during my tenure as an ASM and then Scoutmaster, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there were minimum times between the ranks: Two months each for Tenderfoot and Second Class, and three months for First Class; four for Star; and six months for Life and Eagle.

Now I discover this “rank mill,” where it appears in some troops that Scouts are just being passed through without developing any solid skill sets along the way. I’d appreciate your insights on this subject. Thanks. (Rick Hanke, ADC,Gerald R. Ford Council, MI)

Tenure-in-rank has bounced around quite a bit over the decades. In your era, it was either two months for Tenderfoot, and the three months each for Second and First Class, which, by the way, may have been called “progress awards” and not ranks! Or it may have been two, two, and two, depending. In my own Boy Scout era, which was in the 50’s, there were no tenures between those three ranks (and they were called ranks) at all! By 1990, and the tenth edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, tenures for these three ranks had gone away again, for a very particular reason: Scouts who hadn’t been reaching First Class in their first year of Scouting got bored and impatient, and dropped out by the thousands. You, in fact, are a good example of this: It took you nearly 2-1/2 years just to make it to First Class (even though you closed the gap rapidly after that). While you were doing this, troops all around you were shrinking like punctured balloons. Since Scouting’s really not about camping and Scoutcraft and tying knots (these are merely tools to teach larger concepts, like self-reliance and responsible citizenship), we can’t deliver the true program and ethical platform if boys are dropping out left and right! So Boy Scouting chose to return to how it had handled ranks before your era: Scouts could advance at their own pace, as they chose, especially with regard to the foundational ranks.

If you’re a new reader, read on, because one of the things you’ll discover is that there’s a whole bunch of mean-spirited and/or self-important adults out there who impose their own personal timetables, standards and other malarkey on Scout advancement, ultimately undermining and crippling the program, and the Scouts along with it. Quite the opposite of the “rank mills” you believe you’re looking at!

So don’t get your knickers in a knot and, as a Commissioner, absolutely do not ever refer to any unit, camp, patrol, den, or whatever as a “mill” because this reveals your own prejudices, and, as a Commissioner, you represent Scouting at its finest and best, and the BSA as a whole. The “penalty” of leadership is that we have lost the right to bad-mouth others.

Hi again Andy,

I’m just trying to understand, so that I can better be educated… My role as a Commissioner is to serve my units as a resource, educator, counselor, motivator, mentor, supporter, extra pair of hands, or whatever they need to ensure the quality of their unit’s program. I take that role very seriously and I’m basically a player-coach with them in the trenches. I understand how this has evolved, rank-wise in the Boy Scouts. I don’t necessarily agree, but I now understand better, which is why I asked.

Raising questions in a free society has nothing to do with knickers getting in a knot, my Scouting friend, but about understanding how things have changed.

Scouting has taught me about integrity, about honoring one’s word, about character and brotherhood, about making a difference, and much more. As an Eagle Scout, I have a responsibility to give back as well as to support the values and ideals of Scouting to my dying breath.

Email is a great quick tool, but it can also be misinterpreted because you can’t hear the inflections in a person’s voice or see their eyes or expressions, so one can easily miss-conceive someone’s intentions, as I believe you have mine.

I had a long and rich Scout experience as a boy. Yes, we advanced slowly in my troop, but we were solid in our skill bases and many finished the race. I’ve never regretted the extra work to follow through to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout.

I believe that if we offer a quality program then the boys will come.

I have no intention to cripple anyone. It’s always been about the quality of program for me, and ensuring that the boys are getting something out of it to help them grown, develop and even have fun.

Sometimes change is good, and sometimes it’s not. The jury is out at the moment on this one. It will take a great deal of time to sort this all out for myself, but I do appreciate your taking the time to give me your perspective on the subject. (Rick Hanke)

In light of your background, legacy, personal achievements, and current commitment, I have no idea what “the jury is still out” on… “Out” on what?

You see, we Commissioners simply don’t have the luxury of speaking against or disparagingly, or even facetiously, about the BSA, the Scouting program, our council, our district, or anyone associated with any of these. If you want to be able to pass personal judgment on some aspect of Scouting, go ahead. After you remove your Commissioner’s cap, you can don as many black robes as often as you wish.

The Commissioner preceded Scout Executives, District Executives, and just about everyone else… Commissioners were the very first non-unit-attached Scouters and were the face of Scouting to all volunteers in their service area. While the scope of our role may have changed, we are still the face of Scouting to everyone we meet, volunteer and non-Scouter alike. As such, we are committed to conducting ourselves and speaking accordingly. For a good “for instance,” study the Captain’s role played by Tom Hanks in “Saving Private Ryan,” when it came to dealing with the troops under his command.

This isn’t about “raising questions in a free society”—you’ve made it about making disparaging remarks about a group of people trying to deliver the Scouting program, and about the program itself. When we place ourselves in the role of judge, we run the risk of tripping over our newly-donned robes.

(BTW, Commissioner ain’t a “rank,” either. And my columns aren’t a forum so much as they’re a “Help Desk” for Scouts, Scouters, and parents. Moreover, Commissioners aren’t “problem solvers”—Commissioners facilitate other people owning and solving their own problems. We’re not “in the trenches;” we help those who are.)

Some laughter is now needed, because this is getting much too serious… Scouting is what we do for fun, and if it ain’t fun, quit doing it.

Hi Andy,

Just a quick question about an Eagle Palm requirement… Req. 3 says, “Make a satisfactory effort to develop and demonstrate leadership ability.”

Since it doesn’t say that the Scout needs to hold a specific leadership position in the troop (as other ranks do), or that the leadership must be within his troop or patrol, would that mean that the leadership might be developed outside of the troop? For instance, if a Scout ran for class officer at his high school, or started up a brand-new club for his school, or was elected president of an existing club, or was selected Team Captain, might these satisfy that requirement? (Rob Richmond, Rainbow Council, IL)

Bingo! You’ve got the concept perfectly! Yes, I’m guessing that that’s precisely why that requirement’s written that way!

Dear Andy,

Our pack has some Assistant Den Leaders who have asked about awards (and the square knots that accompany them). Are ADLs eligible for any of the Cub Scouter awards? The one person in particular who’s asking about this has done as much or more than the Den Leader.

Also, is it OK to have our Pack Trainer “track” the requirements for the knots and put leaders in for the recognition?

We’re open to any thoughts or suggestions you may have! (Howie Barnes, CM, Finger Lakes Council, NY)

The “Cub Scouter” award can be used for registered Assistant Den Leaders—it takes two years to earn, but one can serve in any single or combination of positions in that two years.

The Progress Record itself, where tenure, training, and performance are tracked, is designed to be kept in Scouters’ pockets, so that it’s always with them and they can get them updated with initials and dates as they move through the three key areas. If the Pack Trainer is willing to keep a duplicate record for the other pack volunteers, that’s just fine, but let’s leave the primary responsibility with the earner, just as we do with our Scouts, and let the PTs records be back-up.

Dear Andy,

I’d like your opinion about food for Webelos Scouts while camping.

I’m a Webelos Den Leader. Our Cubmaster (who has son in my den) and I are having a minor disagreement about meal-planning for a Webelos campout we’re planning in a couple of months. My plan would be for the boys, with guidance, to chose their own den menu and then stick to it. In other words, I don’t want there to be a “Plan B”—a backup meal of some sort—if they turn out to not want to eat the meal they’d planned and prepared. Our Cubmaster has a rather different point-of-view.

My point is that, if the boys are planning their own meals, instead of us “running a restaurant,” do I really need to drag along hot dogs for the one boy who decides he doesn’t like what’s been already decided on by the den? Now you may ask, why not bring hot dogs and call it a meal? Well, if the boys select hot dogs for a meal ahead of time, I’m fine with that, so long as that’s not the entire meal (they need to do a bit more cooking than warming hot dogs to complete the cooking part of the Outdoorsman activity badge).

The Cubmaster’s position is that a hungry boy is a grumpy boy, so we always need alternate food so that they’re not unhappy. My position is that if a boy’s hungry enough, and he knows that this is the meal, period, he’ll eat.

Any advice for us? (Beth Fjeld)

My opinion is that the boys should always be given a choice. For breakfast, let’s say, between yummy cereal-with-milk-and-honey or syrup, or nothing. Lunch: Hot dogs with the fixin’s and a fruit drink, or nothing. Dinner: “Mountain Man” dinners (you know—the foil dinners prepared by each for himself) with hot cocoa and maybe some parent-made cobbler for dessert, or nothing. And, of course, all parents along for the ride should be given exactly the same choices—parents don’t get to do anything different from the Webelos Scouts, or they set an inappropriate example.

The Webelos program is designed to prepare these boys to be Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts don’t have mommy and daddy around to attend to their every wish and preference. Boy Scouts go to summer camp, and eat in a dining hall where all the food is largely identical for all (PB&J may be an option, but that’s usually the end o’ that story), and they’re expected to (and they will!) chow down!

So, why would we want to perpetuate cow-towing to their little hearts’ desires, when the world’s gonna change for them real soon? Are we just so indulgent that we can’t give it up? Are we just so needy for the approval and love of little kids that we’ll do back-flips for their little smiles of approval?

This is a Webelos weekend in the out-of-doors. It’s not the Ritz-Carlton, junior-size. And it sure ain’t nursery school.

But this is just my opinion. For every ten other people, there’ll be no less than ten other opinions!

Dear Andy,

As an adult leader who attained the rank of Eagle as a youth, is it appropriate to wear the Eagle medal as well as the knot on the my current uniform? (Robert Duncan, Golden Empire Council, CA)

Definitely the square knot for regular use, and then add the medal on special occasions, like Courts of Honor.

Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(June 30, 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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