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Issue 188 – August 16, 2009

This may be the last column for a little bit… I’ll be on the road extensively from now through early September…

Dear Andy,

What do you do with a Life Scout who brings non-“legal” drugs to summer camp? This was verified by several other Scouts. But when confronted, the alleged drug-carrying Scout started pointing to another—an Assistant Scoutmaster—who, he claimed, told him to do this. Help! (Name & Council Withheld)

This one, if true, is a “zero tolerance” situation. I’m sure the Camp Director has already contacted local law enforcement to deal with all persons involved. This is the very best manner of handling a situation like this, because none of you is a trained professional in this arena.

If, however, it should be revealed that we’re talking about prescribed drugs that weren’t listed on the Scout’s medical form, and somebody’s playing loose with them in some way, then you might want to consider these six steps…

1. Separate the individuals involved—out of eyesight, out of earshot. Let ‘em stew in silence for a bit.

2. A two-adult team per person, armed with blank paper and pen or pencil, approaches each of the bench-warmers.

3. Give each the paper and pen or pencil, then tell ’em, “OK, we’ve heard from the others… Now we want to hear your version of what’s going on here. Write it all down.”

4. When they’re done, continue to keep ‘em separated for a bit, while you all take the written sheets to a private area and compare them. This is your best shot at getting close to what actually is goin’ down here.

5. Give ’em each a whack upside the head for bein’ stupid (not really, but do let ’em know you’re really disgusted with ’em—all of ’em!).

6. Decision’s gonna depend on what you all figure out, but it sounds like somebody’s goin’ home—and don’t make it just one, or you’ll be accused of singling him out.

The way they go home is: They each call their own parents (that’s right: you don’t make the calls!) and tell their parents that they need to go home, right now, tonight. That’s right: The pickup is as immediately as their parents can hop in the family jalopy and high-tail it up to camp—it’s definitely not “in the morning” or when the parents find it more “convenient.” If there’s an argument about this, they can tell their parents that if they’re not picked up they’re going to be turned over to the local police, and they’ll be sitting in the local police station till the parents can get there.

Our Netcommish wisely adds:

I’m an attorney; my view is a bit different. In almost every state, it’s a criminal act called “misprision of felony” — typically in the misdemeanor category — to not report the commission of a felony crime to law enforcement authorities, which the holding of a controlled substance is. Depending on your jurisdiction and the drug(s) involved, possession and/or distribution may be a state felony. If the drugs are controlled substances, this may also be a federal felony crime, depending on the circumstances. And the bottom line for you is that not reporting puts you in an at-risk situation.

Your Camp Director should already have liaison with local law enforcement and should be able to have a plain-clothes detective visit camp to conduct an investigation. If you conduct your own investigation, some law enforcement might view that as obstruction of justice, especially if you’ve—unintentionally or not—tainted the evidence and/or prevented them from doing their job. Similarly, if you send the Scouts out of the jurisdiction, which can make any investigation more difficult, that could be an issue.

While you do want to be sure that what you’re hearing is accurate, and probably do want to have some private conversations (two adults per Scout) to make sure of what you’ve heard, I don’t think I’d ask for a written statement or go beyond a verbal conversation. If what you hear confirms a reasonable belief that there’s something wrong going down, then I think you need to work with the Camp Director to involve local law enforcement and not take any action unless you’ve cleared it with them first. As soon as allowable, those involved do need to be sent home. If a registered adult leader is involved, your troop’s chartered organization needs to remove him from the leadership roster immediately and permanently.

(This note should not be construed as a privileged attorney-client communication; it is intended for general education purposes only. Specific legal advice should be obtained from an attorney in your jurisdiction. Your local BSA council should have an attorney on its Executive Board who can advise the Camp Director on how to proceed.)

Dear Andy,

Our district would like to celebrate our 100 years of Scouting by holding a district-wide Webelos cross-over at our 2010 spring Camporee campfire. The Camporee Chair would like it to be short and sweet, but I don’t want to take away any of the grandness or importance of this ceremony. I’m looking for bridge patterns (must be high because of the size of the potential audience) and a simple, short, and meaningful ceremony. (I may have access to OA Indian dancers, and we’re expecting between 40 and 50 Webelos to cross over into a dozen different troops. Can you give me any advice? (Martha McCarthy, Webelos Crossover Chair, Central Florida Council)

What a wicked cool idea! Now, how about taking it one step further and asking those Boy Scouts to show their stuff by actually constructing a pioneering bridge right there, on site!

For ideas, designs, and plans, they can go to Rosegarden’s Scouting resources ( or another source you’ll find by simply Googling “Scout pioneering bridge.”

For the ceremony, there are a bunch of these in the Cub Scout Leader Book and/or the actual Ceremonies book!

Have a blast!

Hey Andy,

Has the BSA changed the merit badge program? I have a concern that this program isn’t being followed per BSA guidelines. I’m just a traditionalist at heart, and believe in following the rules (I did so for over 20 years in the Navy). If the rules have changed, I’d like to get up to speed, because I’m going to be involved at the district level. (Mike Gray, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

What is it that you’re observing that leads you to believe the merit badge program has changed?

My understanding of the merit badge program is that each counselor is registered with the council as such. I’m told that the program’s changed, but not a lot of details here. Has it changed? Do Merit Badge Counselors no longer need to be registered? Do councils no longer approve and maintain a listing of all MBCs? If there have been changes, is this written anywhere? (Mike)

The stipulation for formal registration as a Merit Badge Counselor definitely hasn’t changed: Merit Badge Counselors must be registered as such or they are, quite literally, unauthorized. As always, there’s no registration fee associated with being a MBC: Registration is free. However, two applications need to be filled out. The first is the BSA Adult Volunteer Application ( and the second is, of course, for MBCs, specifically ( The BSA doesn’t provide any alternatives to these; these are, moreover, national in scope, and every one of the BSA’s 300+ local councils are expected to adhere to this.

If you’re associated with a council that gives the appearance of not following this process, it’s time to have a face-to-face conversation with the Scout Executive (no email!) to find out what’s going on… including the possibility that the person you’ve been speaking with up to now is simply misinformed, or didn’t communicate very well. This time, ask for details.

I appreciate your comments and the confirmation that nothing new has come down the pike recently. I hope to be able to be an asset to my district in whatever capacity they need me. I love the Scouting program and have for the last 20 years. I’ve missed being associated with it. I don’t want to be “the rule guy” but I do want to insure that the rules are in place and everyone sings off the same sheet of music, and, if need be, to provide the correct guidance and direction to get back on track. (You might be hearing a lot from me in the future. If I ramble or stray, please feel free to get me back on track!) Thanks. (Mike Gray)

First, as an American, THANK YOU for your service to our country!

I find it almost impossible to believe that a glitch such as you described is actually operating in your council… I’m putting my money on a mis-communication of some sort. But do check it out, just to be certain.

The good news is that 99% of the “rules” are incorporated right into the handbooks for both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and Venturers and Sea Scouts, too! In addition, take the available training, even if it’s not for your exact volunteer position—the more you know, the better you’ll serve!

Do pick and choose among positions offered to you… Find one that fits your interests: You’ll be better at it, longer!

Yes, policies and processes are important. Learn what they are and abide by them. But resist the temptation to “correct” others, especially if they’re outside your volunteer bailiwick. You want to be known as a guy who “gets it;” not as a guy who’s always cramming rules down others’ throats!

Go for it – Have fun – Make a difference! And write as often as you’d like! (Don’t overlook reading along, too!)

Dear Andy,

Are there any rules for who to give the Eagle Mentor pin to? When that pin first started, I thought that it was for someone who had helped a Scout through the program. But then we had one Scout give it to his father, and I have a feeling that wasn’t appropriate. We recently had another Scout give his to his two grandfathers, even though they had little to no involvement with his Scouting. Any help on this issue would be appreciated. I can’t find anything in writing. (Robin Daniels, CC, Bucktail Council, PA)

Yes, the BSA does say that the Eagle Mentor pin is for someone other than a family member. And you all can buy, and the Scout can present, more than one of these pins. At website, it specifically says, “For any non-parent who was instrumental in the youth earning his Eagle rank.” So there you go… It’s in writing!

Dear Andy,

Is the arrow that’s given to Webelos Scouts when they cross over to Boy Scouts made by the boys, or by their parent? (Kimberly Spohn)

Presenting actual arrows would be in the category of “pack tradition.” It would be best to check directly with your Webelos Den Leader or Cubmaster, to see how this is handled in your son’s pack.

Hi Andy;

I have a few questions from a parent about merit badges and Eagle Palms…

We have a 13 year-old Scout who’s almost Star rank. He’s earned six of the Eagle-required merit badges; no electives yet. His personal goal is to earn all 15 Eagle-required merit badges first. He’ll apply four he’s earned so far toward Star and then three more toward Life rank. He’ll have a total of 15 badges by then—all his Eagle-required ones. I’ve told him that he still needs to earn six elective merit badges for Eagle, even if he earns every one of the required ones. In the next year, he’ll probably earn between 8 and 10 more merit badges. Can he start applying these toward Eagle Palms? (Nigel Andrews)

Your First Class Scout who wants to earn all 15 Eagle-required merit badges has set an admirable goal for himself, as far as the merit badges go. He’ll still, of course, need to earn six others, just as you’ve pointed out, so that he’ll have a minimum of 21 for Eagle. A total of 21 is what’s required for Eagle rank, so he’ll put 12 of the 15 required ones into their respective slots from 1 through 12 on the application and then use the additional three, plus any six more, and put them in slots 13 through 21. Maybe you’ll want to share with him requirement 3, on the current Eagle Scout Rank Application (No. 512-728—available on-line).

Any merit badges earned beyond the 21 used for Eagle count toward palms, regardless of when they’re earned. That is, it’s not necessary that they be earned after having earned Eagle rank—they can have been earned at any time since starting Boy Scouts. The first five (numbers 22 through 26) earn a bronze palm; the next five, a gold palm (which replaces the bronze); the next five a silver palm (which replaces the gold palm); and so on—a Scout can earn as many merit badges, and palms, as he’d like between having earned Eagle and his 18th birthday.

Dear Andy,

What do you know about the two new youth leadership positions the BSA’s creating? I’m told that there’s going to be a Webmaster and a Leave No Trace position. Is this accurate and, if so, where can I find official information about this, so that we know what to tell the Scouts about what’s required, before they accept such positions? (I’m guessing we’ll also need to know whether these are elected or appointed by the Senior Patrol Leader.) Any information you can give us or point us in the right direction would be great. I’ve yet to find anything official. (Dave McMann, Blue Ridge Council SC)

Yes, I’ve heard the same as you. These will be appointed positions. The LNT position will be the first youth leadership position to have a mandatory training component, so I’ve heard. I’m sure that these will most likely be in the new handbook, that just been released.

The elected positions in a troop will remain: Senior Patrol Leader, and Patrol Leaders; all others are appointed.

Dear Andy,

Can a Scout finish the shotgun and rifle shooting merit badges in one or two days? I have a Scout who just turned 12 a few months ago bring me signed-off blue cards from camp. (John McDevitt, SM, Central Florida Council)

Good news fundamental #1: If the card’s signed, it’s a done deal. So long as that Merit Badge Counselor is registered as such (any council, BTW) or—as in this case—a BSA camp staffer, it’s a done deal. No “appeal,” no “review” by the Scoutmaster or anyone else, no “show me” baloney, and absolutely no withholding the merit badge! So take a deep breath, record the merit badge as completed, give the card and badge to the Scout at the soonest opportunity (that is, don’t wait for a court of honor—that’s not what these events are for).

Good news fundamental #2: Scoutmasters aren’t “gatekeepers;” they’re enablers (in the positive meaning). Congratulate this Scout and encourage him to go for more merit badges! Hoo-Rah!

Dear Andy,

We have a Scout whose parents are divorced. Dad’s a Deputy Sheriff and former Marine; his son is pretty laid-back and not a lot of angst or physicality. Dad, as you’ve probably figured out where I was going with this, pushes his son very hard on advancing in rank and taking on leadership positions. He requires his son to devote at least 30 minutes a day on merit badge work. Dad’s even signed up his son to go to next year’s National Jamboree, except his son’s really not interested. This young man’s confided to other Scouts that he really doesn’t enjoy Scouting; he’s just staying in to appease his father. He’s told me that he’ll stay in till he’s 15, but that’s it (he probably correctly believes that staying in will help keep the “family boat”—such as it is—from rocking too much).

While I understand that sometimes we all need a helpful nudge for our own good, my concern lies with the dad’s lack of understanding. He seems to be unaware that his son resents being in Scouts, and he believes Scouts will “make a man” out of his son.

Should we make this dad aware that his son is beginning to resent him and no longer wants anything to do with Scouts? Or not? (ASM, Gulf Coast Council)

I wish I had ultimately better news, but the simple fact is that we can’t save kids from their own parents!

If some other adult in the troop is on friendly terms with this “alpha” dad, yes, a sympathetic conversation may be in order—assuming the guy doesn’t have a tendency to go ballistic if he doesn’t hear what he wants to hear.

Is he, by any chance, a registered volunteer in the troop? If so, you may want to move him to a position where he’s less likely to directly interact with the troop’s Scouts (including his own son)—maybe a committee position, because then interaction’s minimal to none at all.

The other approach is to work with the Scout himself, and help him develop some coping mechanisms—not to “put down” his father, but to give him some ways to deal with the demands put upon him. After all, in life we encounter lots of different personality types, and this is hardly the last time this young man will encounter a hard-as-nails taskmaster! Perhaps a good start would be to acknowledge to the young man that you have a bit of an idea about his tough situation, and simply ask what you and the troop can do to help him through this. If he’s willing to confide in other Scouts, and with you, there may be a silver lining here, however slim.

(BTW, I notice you didn’t tell me this Scout’s living arrangement: Who has custody and whom does he live with? This is important, because perhaps his mother might help ease this stressful situation by talking with the young man’s father. Remote, but maybe not impossible.)

Dear Andy,

Recently, our Venturing crew officers wrote and then approved crew bylaws. One of the provisions is that members must be “active” if they want to go on trips and other crew events—“active” is defined as coming to at least one meeting a month. The rationale for this is that they didn’t want individuals showing up for special events who haven’t been coming to meetings for months. I can’t find anything in BSA literature that would prevent this sort of rule, but I can’t find anything that endorses it, either. Even though I personally feel that it’s probably not a good idea, they decided otherwise and voted to keep it in. (I feel that, essentially, they’re limiting the members, even though they’re not kicking them out for non-attendance.) Another rationale they had was why would somebody waste their money to join up, if they don’t show up to meetings? Any thoughts? (Dave Hibbard, Venturing Crew Advisor, Circle Ten Council, TX)

Bylaws for Scouting units are redundancies and a waste of time to create.

The BSA steadfastly refuses to define “active” or put any metrics on participation for one very clear and important reason: Scouting is a volunteer organization—and the “volunteers” are the youth themselves. The burden isn’t on youth to show up according to some arbitrary rule; the onus is on the unit’s youth officers and adult advisors to create fun, active, interesting, challenging, and involving meetings and events, so that the volunteers want to show up. Do this any other way and you’ve taken the fun out of Scouting (or Venturing, in your case) and put the fun in funeral: the unit’s, in pretty short order.

I hope you’ll advise these young folks to make those rules go away—They’re the polar opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Good luck —

Dear Andy,

Well, you’ve never failed me yet, so here goes: My Assistant Scoutmaster is a life member of the American Veterans (Am Vets) and has been 20 years in the BSA, including Cub, Scout, and adult volunteer. We’d like to recognize him through the Am Vets, but that organization isn’t listed as offering aCommunity Service Award. Do Am Vets members qualify for the CSA? (Richard Stone, SM, Lake Huron Area Council, MI)

First, let’s understand that the Community Service Awards aren’t awards by the BSA; these are recognitions by various organizations to members who have significantly contributed their time and talents to the Scouting movement. In order for such an award to be available, the non-BSA organization itself must decide and agree to do this. Both the American Legion and VFW have decided to make such awards, as have Freemasons, Rotary, and others. Each has its own nomination form and award criteria. So, if that ASM is also a member of the American Legion or the VFW, then he can be nominated through the proper channels of either of these. As for the AMVETS, my research tells me that, as of this moment, they don’t appear to offer anything along these lines, as related to Scouting. Again, this is a decision by the organization; not the BSA.

Dear Andy,

If a Scout wants to replace his current handbook with the new one that’s just about to come out, what’s the process for transferring signatures from the old handbook to the new one? (John Wink, ASM, Clinton Valley Council, MI)

Easy as pie! The Scout brings both handbooks to his Scoutmaster and they sit down for a few minutes with a pen—it’s a no-brainer!

Hi Andy,

I understand that the new Boy Scout Handbook will be released shortly, so I’m wondering how is that going to affect Scouts who are already using the old handbook? Thanks for all you do. Your columns have really helped me, as a new Scoutmaster, turn our troop back to True North! (Name & Council Withheld)

Yup, you heard right… The completely revamped handbook is coming out as we speak! Meanwhile, the 2009 edition of Boy Scout Requirements has been on shop shelves for a half-year, and this contains all of the requirements for ranks and merit badges, so there’s likely no problem at all!

Thanks for your response. I guess I need to be a little bit clearer in my question about the new handbook. I was told in training that, when the new handbook comes, out all Scouts will have to start working from it and disregard the old handbook. (Apparently, some rank requirements are changing.) Does this really mean that Scouts will have to buy a new handbook and start working on the new requirements, or can they still work from the old hand book all the way to Eagle? If it’s true that they have to buy a new handbook, then it just seems like a waste of money for new Scouts who have just bought the 2009 handbook. (N&CW)

You were very clear. This will be the 12th edition of the handbook. In addition, ranks and/or merit badge requirements often change more frequently than handbook. So, all in all, this is hardly a unique situation. When requirements for a rank or merit badge change, there’s typically a “grace period” in which any Scout working on a particular rank or particular merit badge has two options: He can complete the “old” requirements, or he can complete the “new” requirements—his choice—just so long as he doesn’t “mix-and-match”—he must make a choice between old or new, and then stick to those to completion. This doesn’t mean they go “all the way to Eagle” using the old requirements; it typically only applies to the rank or merit badge currently being worked toward. If the rank is newly started, or the merit badge just begun, then it would obviously be the new requirements that would be followed.

Yes, this does mean buying the new handbook. For under ten bucks, this is unlikely to be a major hardship, but if it is, a troop may wish to provide a subsidy of some sort to help defray the cost to the Scouts—this is purely optional and may be a “blanket” decision or individual case-based, to be determined by individual Scouts’ families’ financial circumstances.

It’s truly not a big deal and it’s happened no less than eleven other times in the past! So let’s not make it into a major brouhaha when it’s actually little more than a hiccup! This has been going on from time to time for nearly a hundred years! If it weren’t, we’d still be “ditching” tents, using bedrolls, and tearing down whole forests to make camp tables, while we blaze trails to our campsite with out trusty hatchets! <wink>

Dear Andy,

In your July 7 column, you were asked about superficial instruction in Scout skills classes at summer camp. This has an easy solution. Unlike merit badges, the staff can’t sign off rank requirements like knot-tying or fire-building; only a unit leader can do that. So the list you get from the staff is what your Scouts have been taught, but not what they’ve completed. The troop is responsible for the testing. If the requirement is “Demonstrate how to whip and fuse the ends of a rope,” then the Scout demonstrates this to a unit leader and gets it signed off. If the Scout hasn’t quite mastered it yet, then we assign a more experienced Scout to spend time showing him how till he gets it right!

We set aside some time in the campsite for Scouts to find a leader and get things done and signed, though we leave it up to the Scouts to actually come over and do it. (Walter Underwood, ASM, Pacific Skyline Council, CA)

Sounds like you’ve got a good handle on this sort of stuff! Thanks for the insights… They’re worth passing along to our readers!

Dear Andy,

Can you please explain the origin of the United States of America Stars and Stripes flag, in particular, the number of stars and stripes, and the reason for those numbers? (David Wooff, United Kingdom)

Thanks for finding me and for asking! Anything you’d ever want to know about the American flag is just a few keystrokes and clicks away! Just go here: Cheers!

Dear Andy,

Can a Scout who has earned Eagle, is 16 years old, and is a Junior AssistantScoutmaster still vote in a troop election for Senior Patrol Leader? (Mark Fury, SM, Istrouma Area Council, LA)

Absolutely! He’s still a Scout, and a troop member, and will be for pretty close to another two years! Thanks for asking!

Dear Andy,

As a Nathan Dauby Scout Museum volunteer, I’ve been compiling a history of BSA adult unit leader training.

I’ve recently encountered a gent who makes these claims: “More recently, the Patrol Method session of Scoutmaster/ASM-Specific Training (a) no longer includes mention of a Patrol Leader, (b) gives an example of the Patrol Method as adults telling random Scouts when it’s time to put out the campfire, and (c) strongly emphasizes that the word ‘Patrol’ means exactly the same as ‘Troop’ or any other ‘group,’ (as in ‘patrol/troop/group’).

When I informed this person that the 2008 printing of the syllabus did not have any of this alleged language, his retort was that it’s “in an earlier version.”

Our museum’s collection does not have any versions other than the very first and 2008, and, of course, nothing along the lines of what he’d alleged was in either one.

Can you shed any insight on this claim as to language in an “earlier version” of the syllabus? It seems doubtful to me, but he could have zeroed in on possibly some typos. I have asked around here, but everyone seems to have dumped their “earlier” versions (sad, from a museum-worker’s point-of-view). (Tom Linton, Nathan Dauby Scout Museum, Greater Cleveland Council, OH)

The guy’s full o’ beans. Stick to your guns. If he brings it up again, put the onus on him to show you. Otherwise, he can go pound sand down a rat hole.

Dear Andy,

I’ve earned my Bronze and Gold Palms, and I just passed my board of review for my Silver Palm. I’m wondering, though, why the Silver Palm is a higher Palm than the Gold. In all other things, gold is considered more valuable than silver. (Scout’s Name Withheld)

First, thanks for the good sense of using your dad’s email address to write to me—this way, an adult family member of yours can screen our on-line conversation.

That’s a good question! In the military, silver ranks above gold (a major wears a Gold leaf, a Lt. Colonel wears a sliver one), and, when Scouting was first formed, this was the tradition adopted. The Olympics, for example, do it the other way around.

Congratulations on Eagle and your Palms! Keep having fun!

Dear Andy,


Our district is are trying to get our e-newsletter up and running, and we’d like to reprint parts of your work with a link to your site for our members. Will we need to ask each mouth? Can we use your Logo too? (Mark Williams, ADC, Alabama-Florida Council)

Frankly, I’m honored. Yes, so long as whatever you use is attributed, go right ahead, including my logo. And, no, you don’t have to ask each time—Just go ahead and use as much as you’d like! (When you’re up and running, I’d love to see a copy!)

Thanks for the courtesy of asking, and very best wishes –

Happy Scouting!



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

(August 16, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)

Letters to AskAndy may be published at the discretion of the columnist and the editor. If you prefer to have your name or affiliation withheld from publication, please advise in your letter..


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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