Author Avatar

Issue 194 – October 28, 2009

Dear Andy,

About that parent of the overachieving, home-schooled Webelos Scout, how about she volunteer to be the Assistant Webelos Den Leader, and assist in getting the den going (after attending a Den Leader/Webelos Leader training course, of course). (Scott Bendigo, Colonial Virginia Council)

Great idea! Follows the principle of “be part of the solution.”

Dear Andy,

My Eagle Scout candidate son, following his council advancement committee’s instructions, gave reference letter forms to the six people he’d listed on his rank application who had agreed in advance to be references for him. The advancement committee chair did receive most of them back, but not my son’s spiritual or education references. He has gently reminded both of them, but continues to be told that they’ll get to it, but have been busy. This has been going on for three weeks, to date. Is he allowed to turn everything else in for his board of review, or must he continue to wait for these two?

To me, it seems a shame that his review must be postponed, when he has no control over these two people. Besides, wouldn’t the committee have the contact information for these two references on the application, anyway, which they could follow up on, if they chose? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s surely regrettable that your son is being held up in the way you’ve described. To respond to this, let’s first establish some parameters. In the first place, what I’m about to point out isn’t my “opinion;” it’s all from actual BSA-published policies and procedures. In the second place, it’s a BSA policy that no individual, unit, district, or council may arbitrarily supersede the BSA National Council with regard to advancement requirements or procedures. With these understandings, let’s proceed:

– Per the BSA, the Eagle Scout candidate’s sole responsibility is to provide the names and contact information for up to six people who have expressed willingness to provide a recommendation on his behalf.

– Although the candidate may be asked to deliver a reference form and envelope to each of these, that is where his responsibility comes to a halt: “The candidate should not be involved personally in transmitting any correspondence between people listed as references and the council service center or advancement committee.”

– If the council or advancement committee needs to have further communication with these people, it is their responsibility—not the Scout’s—to do so: “If the initial reference letter or form is not returned to the council in a timely manner, the council advancement committee (not the Scout!) must make direct contact with the reference(s)…on its own, by follow-up letter, phone contact, or other methods as it chooses.”

Now, with those points established, here’s the most important one:

– “A Scout cannot have a board of review denied or postponed because the council office or council advancement committee does not receive the reference letter forms he delivered.”

You, personally, have the right to show what I’ve stated here to the council advancement chair, and this person, in turn, needs to provide a board of review for your son without delay.


Dear Andy,

Is there a BSA policy that a Scout shouldn’t receive or read any letter of reference for his Eagle rank? I’ve been told by my district advancement committee that there is, but in researching, I only find policies that appear to be council policies; not the BSA. (Karl Hall, ASM & L2E Chair, Greater Alabama Council)

The BSA states this: “Reference checks…are confidential, and their contents are not to be disclosed to any person who is not a member of the board of review” (source: Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures). Since the Eagle candidate is not a member of the board of review, this statement tells us that the contents of any references are not to be disclosed to him.


Dear Andy,You had a question the other day about what to do to “report the misconduct of an Assistant Cubmaster.”

If the “misconduct” is some form of child abuse, then the report goes straight to the council’s Scout Executive, who will know what to do next. Each state has its own process, so one might need to be prepared to also report to the state’s child protective agency, the state’s attorney’s office, and/or the police. Many states have a “hotline” for this and many also have Good Samaritan laws to protect the reporter. In addition, the Chartered Organization and/or the owner of the property where an incident may have occurred likely has reporting requirements as well. Another important consideration is to let professionals do their jobs—don’t discuss this with others or attempt to investigate. (Andy Kowalczyk, BSRTC, Hoosier Trails Council, IN)

Good observations all, and thanks. We won’t take this to be “legal advice” but your thoughts definitely make good sense.


Dear Andy,

Does one have to be a registered Scouter to serve on Wood Badge staff? (Matt Green, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

Most councils have a team of Scouters, usually connected with the council training committee, who attend to Wood Badge courses and related matters. All tend to have slight differences in operations and at times even philosophies, so I think the best answer to your immediate question will come from the folks in your home council. But if I had to guess, I’d guess that yes, they’d be asked to be registered.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Den Leader with a Cub Scout pack and also an Associate Advisor with a Venturing crew. Can I use the service tenure for each of these positions in earning a “square knot” for each? (Chris Sears, Buckskin Council, WV)

The only “doubling up” that Scouting doesn’t encourage is using tenure in the same position for two concurrent awards in the same category; for instance, using the same tenure as a Den Leader for both the Den Leader Award and the Cub Scouter Award. But, if you’re providing service to Scouting in two different and unrelated categories, such as in your case, it’s perfectly OK to count tenure in each registered position.


Dear Andy,I’m a Webelos Den Leader, and I’ve been informed by my pack’s Committee Chair and an Assistant District Commissioner that there are “grey areas” regarding Arrow of Light, “cross-overs,” and activity badges, where, as they’ve put it, “BSA policies don’t apply.”

Specifically, they’ve told me that boy can cross-over from the pack to a Boy Scout troop even if he hasn’t earned Arrow of Light, because he can continue to work on the AOL until fifth grade ends, even though he’s now a Boy Scout, and that once he finishes the AOL requirements, the pack’s advancement Chair is to back-date the records to before he crossed over to Boy Scouts. They’ve also told me that boys who cross over to a troop can continue working on Webelos activity badges until fifth grade ends, even if they’re now Boy Scouts, and these get back-dated, too.

At a Cub Scout Leaders Roundtable a few years ago, one of the District Executives announced the same to us all. (My guess is that he said this in order to get as many early cross-overs possible, since many of our packs still don’t do cross-overs until April, May, or June, when they hold their Blue & Gold Banquets.)

I’d thought that a boy can only work on advancement of the program he’s registered in, so that, for example, if a boy earns his AOL in December, let’s say, he can still work on activity badges, if he’d like, until he actually crosses over to Boy Scouts (normally at the Blue & Gold Banquet), but once he becomes a registered Boy Scout, he’s now in a different BSA program and is no longer eligible to work on Cub Scout advancement. In fact, I’ve found nothing in the BSA advancement policies, the Cub Scout Leader Book, the Webelos Handbook, or the Webelos Leader Book that cites this supposed “grey area.” Am I correct, or is there indeed a grey area?

I really don’t know what I should do at this point. I don’t feel it’s honest to give a Boy Scout a rank or activity badge meant for a Cub Scout, and I’m not comfortable with the idea of back-dating at all. But if I can’t get the pack committee to abide by written policies, is it worth getting more people involved and possibly crushing a few boys’ dreams of finishing all 20 activity badges? Or do I just resign?

The other thing that this ADC told us was that there’s a requirement for Arrow of Light that a Webelos Scout must visit three different troops, but, again, I can’t find this in writing anywhere. (The closest I could find was that there’s one troop meeting visit, one outdoor troop activity visit, and one optional requirement for Outdoorsman where they could camp with a troop—that’s three visits, but can they all be with one troop on three separate occasions?

A third thing this ADC said is that we can change the requirements; for example, if a boy can’t attend a den campout or activity (due, let’s say, to his parents’ work schedule) the requirement can be signed off anyway, to meet the needs of the boy.

What do I do? (Name & Council Withheld)

That’s one boat-load of questions! Let’s see if we can de-mystify them for you. If you choose to show this correspondence to anyone, that’s up to you. Importantly, most of what I’m about to point out isn’t my “opinion;” what you’re about to read here comes straight from written BSA procedures and policies, and any clarifying commentary of mine will appear in ((double parentheses)).

1. The 18-month Webelos program has been around for over 20 years. It’s absolutely nothing new that Webelos Scouts can earn both the Webelos badge and the Arrow of Light between the end of third grade (the finish of their Bear year) and February of fifth grade. Therefore, the ideal month for them to graduate from the pack and cross over into the Boy Scout troop of their choice is February.

2. In earning the Arrow of Light, a Webelos Scout will make at least three visits to a Boy Scout activity: One will be to a regular meeting of a Boy Scout troop with his Webelos den; the second will be to a Boy Scout outdoor activity with his Webelos den; and the third will be to a regular troop meeting that includes a conversation with the Scoutmaster there, with his parents. Whether these visits are to one troop, two troops, three troops, or more is irrelevant to the written requirement.

3. Written requirements for ranks (e.g., Webelos, Arrow of Light), activity badges (e.g., Outdoorsman, Readyman, etc.) are inviolate: No requirements can be altered by any person, unit, district, or council, for any reason other than a permanent and verifiable physical and/or mental disability. ((In other words, “for convenience” doesn’t count–as if I even had to point this out.))

4. The ideal and obvious month for a pack to hold its Blue & Gold Banquet is also February, because the B&G is essentially a birthday party: It celebrates the founding of the BSA on February 8, 1910 and also the birth of Scouting’s founder, Lord Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, on February 22, 1857. ((To hold the B&G in a different month would be like celebrating Christmas in March, Thanksgiving in August, or Hanukkah in May.))

5. There are three ways a boy becomes eligible to be a Boy Scout: (1) He turns age 11, or (2) He completed fifth grade, or (3) He earns the Arrow of Light. Any one of these is sufficient, regardless of the other two. ((It is quite impossible for any boy, still aged 10 and not yet completed fifth grade, to cross over to a Boy Scout troop without having earned the Arrow of Light rank–there are no exceptions–therefore, no troop should be accepting boys who have not met one of the three stated eligibility requirements.))

6. Once a boy becomes a Boy Scout (whether he has been a Cub Scout or not), he is ineligible to work on Cub Scout (including Webelos Scout) requirements for ranks or activity badges, belt loops or pins, or anything else that is for registered Cub Scouts to earn. ((To do otherwise would quite obviously repudiate the whole concept of registration and membership.))

7. ((“Back-dating” is a ruse and, as such, is inappropriate to a movement (i.e., Scouting) based on ethical decision-making and behavior. Anyone who promotes this or agrees to do this is guilty of nothing less than fraud. This is obviously not a “chargeable offense,” but it is certainly counter to the teachings and goals of Scouting.))

Anyone who tells other Scouters (like yourself) anything different from what the BSA program states is guilty of altering the program inappropriately and his or her commentary should be challenged and dismissed as both arbitrary and wrong.

You’ve stated exactly what I thought was the case, on all points. But what do I do now? Do I contact our Chartered Organization Representative or the district advancement committee?

Difficult for me to advise… You might want to start with pack friends whom you work together with regularly, like the Cubmaster and/or Committee Chair. This way, if all three of you are on the same page, you’ve nipped the problem in the bud and put a stop to this stuff, and also put your pack back on the right track!

The Committee Chair is the one pushing me to do advancement after cross-over. I tried explaining it to him, but to no avail. He believes what the D.E. told him a few years ago about advancement after cross-over.

OK, then get the Cubmaster on your side first, by showing him what the BSA has to say about this hair-brained scheme. Then, the two of you go to the Committee Chair and tell him this baloney has to stop. Remember that this isn’t “Andy’s opinion” versus a wing-nut D.E.—This is THE BSA speaking (I’m merely the messenger, as I’ve carefully pointed out).

Here’s a further point about the back-dating scheme: Scouting is supposed to be teaching boys and young men how to make ethical decisions in their lives (Yeah, believe it or not, it’s not about “earning badges”), so how does telling a boy that we’re gonna “fix” the date fit that goal? In short, shame on anyone trying to pull this sort of stunt!


Hi Andy,Every once in a while I go back and browse through your past columns. I always pick up something useful. I just ran across a question from a couple of years ago, about what would be good conservation and Leave No Trace projects for Webelos I Scouts. Your answer then was right on the money, and still holds up today. As you know, the BSA has jumped into LNT with both feet. We now have a Outdoor Ethics Advocate and at least one Leave No Trace Master Educator in over half the BSA councils, and most councils have LNT Trainers in their midst, as well—these folks are a great source for information on conservation and Leave No Trace projects for Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers. It’s gittin’ there! (Rodger Phillips, Erie Shore Council, OH)

Thanks! The more folks we can direct to LNT thinking and activities, the better!


Dear Andy,I’ve read that we have four or five new merit badges coming out in the next few months:

Inventing: This merit badge is currently in development and is timed for release in the Q2 2010.

Robotics: Approved, and requirements under development. Debut expected Q1 2010.

GPS/GIS: Approved, and requirements under development. Debut expected Q1 2010.

Scouting Heritage: Approved, and requirements under development. Debut expected Q4 2009.

SCUBA: Approved, and requirements completed. Debut momentarily.

Have you heard what merit badges, if any, are being cancelled or replaced by these? (Steve Swaine, National Capital Area Council, MD)

The only ones I’m absolutely certain will be dropped at this juncture are Cow-Tipping, Orienteering (will be replaced by the more politically correct Asianeering), and Leg-Pulling (as I’m doing right now). Seriously, let’s just wait for the new Requirements book to get published…


Dear Andy,

As a new Commissioner, I’ve been asked by a local pack if a BALOO-trained adult is required on a Cub Scout overnight on a battleship or aircraft carrier. Is this considered “camping”? (Carl Lowry, UC)

The BSA says this about BALOO training: “Basic Adult Leader Outdoor Orientation (BALOO) is a one-day training event that introduces leaders and parents to the skills needed to plan and conduct pack outdoor activities, particularly pack camping. Participants who complete this training course will (a) understand the focus of the Cub Scout level of the BSA outdoor program, (b) gain the skills needed to plan and carry out a successful Cub Scout-level overnight activity, and (c) learn more about the resources available from the BSA for carrying out this activity. This training is required for any adult who is in charge of planning a pack campout.”

“Campout,” however, implies something done in nature, in the out-of-doors. It doesn’t carry the implication of sleeping on a steel ship’s bunk or on the deck of a 100,000 ton gross weight ship.

Nevertheless, “camping” is more than merely sleeping out… It involves group management, the Buddy System, transportation planning, and so on. Therefore, a smart pack that’s going on an overnight en masse–whether aboard ship or at an outdoor campsite–would want to have a BALOO trained adult volunteer as part of the planning and on the trip as well. This just makes good sense to me. However, the final decision as regards proper safety precautions rests with your own council’s risk management committee. Reach out to them and ask what your home council’s policy is on this. Better to be safe…

Dear Andy,Our Troop holds an annual tree and wreath sale to raise funds for yearly operating expenses, including subsidies for campouts and such. Scouts are required to work at the sale for three shifts of three to four hours each, and sell at least eleven wreaths. If a Scout doesn’t participate, or doesn’t sell the minimum number of wreaths, their families are assessed $130 (in addition to annual dues). I’m wondering if a troop can actually require a Scout to participate in an event like this. My guess is that this falls into the “can’t require more or less than what’s stated in the handbook” and therefore can’t be required. If possible, would you please direct me to any supporting information about the limits of fundraising and requiring participation? (Ken Napolitano, Seneca Waterways Council, NY)

In the case of the troop you describe, they’re providing a wonderful option! The family can either cough up $130 over any above regular dues or their son can put in some “sweat equity” and there’s no further money required of the family. I’d say that that’s a pretty good deal! Keep in mind: The troop isn’t demanding that a Scout to put in the time selling wreathes; they’re saying, “Sell some wreathes or kick in $130, which comes back to you in the form of subsidized camping fees—your choice.”


Hi Andy,Is it OK to buy your Eagle project materials out of your own money and then pay it back to yourself through fund-raisers? (Adam Reno)

Yes, it’s OK to self-fund… meaning that there’s no stipulation prohibiting this. But the idea of “fronting” the money and then later doing a fund-raiser to reimburse yourself is, IMHO, a bit weird. Why not just do the fund-raiser up front? It’s OK to include fund-raising as a component of an Eagle project; the only thing the BSA doesn’t want to have happen is that a project is 100% fund-raising for some other cause or organization (even if the cause or organization is perfectly legitimate).

It’s just because it would be easier to start an outdoor project before the snow starts falling (or the ground freezing), and then raise the funds afterwards. For instance, a car wash in the middle of chilly fall doesn’t work too well, by a project could be started in the fall and then the funds could be recaptured in the following Spring.

While there may be no BSA “rule” there’s still the fundamental principle of not putting the cart before the horse. Besides, isn’t an Eagle project supposed to be, at least in part, about planning?


Dear Andy,

As a Commissioner, I’m aware of some troops with a Patrol Leaders Council and some with a Troop Leaders Council. Are PLCs and TLCs interchangeable terms? Is one correct, or are they both correct? Are the differences significant? (Mitch Erickson, UC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Good question!

The term, “Patrol Leaders Council” (aka “PLC”), has been around from the very beginning of Scouting. It describes one of the building-blocks of Boy Scouting: It’s “democracy in action.” The PLC is composed of the Senior Patrol Leader, who runs the meeting itself (with the Scoutmaster behind him, for support and guidance, as needed), and the troop’s Patrol Leaders. The only other Scouts present at a PLC meeting are the Scribe, who takes notes, and any Troop Guides who are supporting the Patrol Leaders of new Scout Patrols. Not present include the Quartermaster, Historian, Den Chiefs, Instructors, JASMs, Troop OA Representative, Webmaster, Librarian, and so on, Also not present are troop committee members and ASMs. The PLC is the essential “governing body” of the troop, insofar as program planning and content are concerned. Each Patrol Leader represents the members of his own patrol, and expresses their wishes in PLC meetings. The SPL elicits ideas, opinions, and goals of the troop’s members–as reflected by the Patrol Leaders–and together the PLC decides on what’s next, both short- and long-term, for the troop as a whole.

“Don’t Quartermasters, Scribes, and so on have any sort of ‘vote’ in all this planning?” you ask, and the answer is: Of course they do! Since each of these other Scouts in troop leadership capacities is a patrol member, he expresses his point of view to his own Patrol Leader, who brings his patrol’s opinions to the PLC meeting.

In short, the PLC runs the troop. To better understand this concept, keep in mind that “the troop” is nothing more than the “umbrella” under which patrols operate—the patrol is the essential Boy Scout unit.

To the question, “Is the term, ‘Troop Leader Council,’ interchangeable with ‘Patrol Leader Council?” the answer’s No. It’s not. There’s actually no such term in Scouting as “Troop Leader Council” and, in fact, the use of this term as a loose substitute can lead to incorrect and off-target thinking about who runs the troop. Bottom line here: There’s no such thing as “Troop Leaders Council.”

(BTW, all of this is straight from the Scoutmaster Handbook, Senior Patrol Leader Handbook, and Patrol Leader Handbook—this isn’t my imagination working overtime.)


Dear Andy,Eagle Scout rank requirement 4 states: “While a Life Scout, serve actively for a period of six months in one or more of the following positions of responsibility…” (and then it lists them). Does that six months have to be consecutive, or could, let’s say, two months be from one election while a Life Scout, then skip a term, but finish up the last four months in another position? (Kentucky Scoutmaster)

I think I might have two good pieces of news for you… First, a Scout may complete his leadership tenure in more than one position (that is, he can be a Patrol Leader for a month, the troop’s Scribe for three months, and then Troop Guide for two months) and so long as all of this adds up to six months, he’s met the requirement for Eagle (or Life rank, which also requires six months; Star requires four). Moreover, the BSA doesn’t care whether the tenure is in consecutive months or not, so long as the total tenure adds up to the required number of months.

Finally, and although you didn’t ask this one, it fits into the scheme of things, months, not days, are counted, so that February carries just as much “tenure weight” as, say, October.

Dear Andy,

For Scouts working on Second Class, Star, and Life rank, should we be reading the “project” part of the service requirement literally when deciding whether to approve service? My gut tells me No: That we’re looking for Scouts performing service, and a Scoutmaster can approve Scouts who are volunteering their time as altar servers, singing in a choir, or as classroom helpers, even though there’s technically no “project” involved. But there’s a part of me thinking that maybe the BSA means “project” so that the Scout has to plan and/or participate in some kind of formal service activity or “project.” I want to do the right thing for my Scouts, but the Advancement Policies book says that the service work at the Second Class rank prepares the Scout for the more involved service projects he will perform as part of Star, Life and Eagle, so I am thinking that my gut maybe wrong. What do you think? (Barry Rozas, SM, Evangeline Area Council, LA)

Although the BSA refers to “service projects” in the requirements for Second Class, Star, and Life ranks, it also defines the idea of “projects” as service rendered which would not ordinarily be rendered in the mere course of participation. Thus, attending religious services or mass would be considered “ordinary participation” but being an acolyte or altar boy would be considered service “above and beyond mere participation” for the purposes of this requirement. This would also apply to a Scout who is a non-compensated teacher’s or classroom assistant, compared to a Scout who merely attends school. This is the full extent and purpose of this requirement. Importantly, “service project” for these three ranks absolutely does not mean planning and carrying out some sort of “mini-Eagle project” or anything else of that nature!

Now, let’s take this a step further, and talk for a moment about “service hours”…

When I was a Boy Scout, I was one of about five million just like me! In Boy Scouts, we advanced through the same ranks as today, but there were certain differences in requirements. One of these was in the area of “service.” For us, at that time, there were no mandatory “service hours,” per se. For Tenderfoot, which was all about learning the fundamentals, such as the handshake, Oath and Law, and so on, service wasn’t mentioned. For Second and First Class ranks, a part of one requirement said: “Do your share in helping in your home, your school, your church and your community.” Then, for Star, Life, and Eagle, the language changed slightly: “Do your best to help in your home, school, church, and community.” Notice that no “hours” were mentioned at all; each Scout was left to his own recognizance in “doing his share” and “doing his best” to serve others. And serve we did! There were “Get Out The Vote” door hangers that blanketed communities across America, parades that we all marched in, town clean-ups that we rolled up our sleeves for, book drives that we participated in, and food drives for the indigent and homeless. During WWII, we gathered precious materials, from tin cans to rubber tires and such. We sold “War Bonds.” We directed traffic at War Bond-selling rallies. The list goes on and on! But, a question remains… WHY did we do these things, when we didn’t “need” service hours? Well, we did it all for one very simple, yet absolutely vital, reason, we were Boy Scouts, and this is what Boy Scouts did!

The result of being imbued with a sense of service to others in our youth can be seen today throughout America and even the world… There are Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs, Optimists Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs, Masonic Lodges and Knights of Columbus, Jaycees and Oddfellows, Moose Lodges and Elks Clubs, and all of these, every last one, has service to others as a central theme or major component. Americans are, in the world, the greatest givers of time, talent, and treasure among all peoples of all nations.

Can we attribute all of this to Boy Scouting? Well, much as we might like to, probably not. But if we ask whether the social ethics of Boy Scouting that we gained as boys and young men has carried over to our adulthood today, the answer is unquestionable in the affirmative.

But, did we do these things then, do we do these things now, to “get service hours”? No. We did and do these things because we’ve come to believe that they are the right and proper things to do for our fellow man. It’s not for reward or personal gain, or even acclaim, that we do these things. We do it for the same reason that unknown Scout assisted Chicagoan William Boyce on that foggy London night more than a century ago: “Because I’m a Boy Scout, Sir.”

Happy Scouting!


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

(October 28, 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

Comments are closed.