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Issue 197 – November 11, 2009

Dear Andy,

As a new Commissioner, I’ve been assigned to a troop that is known for filling boards of review with pretty much anyone—parent, ASM, whatever—often whose only qualification is that he or she can fog a mirror. I need to encourage them to follow BSA policy and have only unit committee members on Tenderfoot through Life, and Eagle Palm boards of review, but what happens when they still choose not to abide by longstanding BSA policy? If I run out of “carrots,” is there a “stick”? (Name & Council Withheld)

The Unit Commissioner—the only Commissioner truly “where the rubber meets the road”—has only two “tools” – A deep knowledge of the Scouting program and why it’s that way, and a silver tongue. That’s it. No sticks. No pokes in the eye. No baloney about “We’ll pull yer charter” or “We’ll make sure you’re not a Quality Unit” or anything of the sort. The Commissioner is the unit’s very best friend… Always there to help (by guiding folks to solving their own problems), always there to lend a hand (with big atta boy’s), and always there to show the way (with a bright flashlight; not a schoolmarm’s pointer).

In your particular situation, pulling the halt and lame into boards of review is a symptom; it’s not the problem. The actual problem is more than likely either an inadequate or uninvolved committee, so the solution isn’t to preach about review member qualifications—the solution is to ask them how you can help them (a) increase their committee’s numbers so that there are enough folks for the jobs at hand or (b) revitalize a committee that’s asleep at the switch.

Dear Andy,

I’m a District Chair. For the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve heard nothing but complaints from the troops in our district about one of our district committee members. He’s a long-time Scouter and even a Silver Beaver recipient, and holds a chair position with the district, but he does seem to have a “personal agenda” and a need for self-aggrandizement that frequently (always?) gets in the way of serving Scouting and the units we’re supposed to be supporting. What do we do? (Name & Council Withheld)

“We”? It ain’t “we,” Kemo Sabe, it’s you! As District Chair, this is your direct responsibility, and it strikes me that you’ve had two options available to you, for the past two plus years. Option 1: Find a position for him that places him away from direct contact with your district’s unit leaders, and then “sell” him on taking it. Option 2: Fire him. The units your committee serves absolutely always take precedence over the predilections of individual district committee members. So, as Napoleon put it to one of his forever ruminating generals, “If you’re going to take Vienna, then TAKE VIENNA!”


Dear Andy,

For our troop’s “Trail to First Class” program we usually have Scouts work on the Tenderfoot fitness requirement—10a/10b—in a group, with a leader overseeing their progress. One Scout, who crossed over last February, has completed this requirement on his own. Now, it’s being questioned as to whether he can do this without a leader present to make sure he has completed it. The requirement itself doesn’t state that he must test with a leader, but says he can test himself. Should there be a leader present when he works on this requirement? (Jeff Beyer)

A Webelos Scout who became a Boy Scout in February should have earned his “Scout” badge (not a rank, by the way) within a week, or two at the most, of joining the troop, since the requirements for this are virtually identical to requirements included in earning the Arrow of Light. So, by the end of February, or early March at the latest, he would have completed Tenderfoot requirement 10a—the “baseline.” Add 30 days to this and by early April he would be eligible to complete requirement 10b. (Note that just one more pull-up, or one more push-up, etc., would qualify him as having completed 10b.) This being the case, why are we discussing requirement 10b. now, more than seven months later than what would be the norm? Was he injured in some way that prevented this? Or, did the troop’s leaders not help him stay current and on-task?

Also, “group work” for a requirement like this is rather unnecessary, since the Scout is expected to practice for improvement on his own. In fact, this is specifically stated on page 58.

At any rate, you’ll note that page 438 of the Boy Scout Handbook (11th Edition–the one he would have purchased or been given back in February 2009) asks for the date and initials of his leader (usually the Scoutmaster). “Scout’s honor” is perfectly OK, since page 58 does say, “test yourself again…” You might, however, ask him to “show his stuff” by doing a couple of the exercises for you (push-ups, pull-ups, perhaps) right in a troop meeting, and then sign him off (refer to the footnote on page 33).

Hello Andy,

Shooting sports has been a favorite part of Scouting in my troop; and I’ve supported teaching Scouts safe, responsible, intelligent handling, care, and use of firearms—whether rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, bows, or even BB guns (Cubs), as well as handguns (Venturing). I’ve always been impressed with Scouting’s dedication to using these items in a planned, carefully managed, supervised manner.

The BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting says: “Pointing any type of firearm or simulated firearm at any individual is unauthorized…”

As part of my council’s popcorn sales, Scouts are given the incentive of earning a “Marshmallow Blaster”—these plastic pipe gun-shaped toys launch marshmallows out of their barrels and across a room. In my own troop, the popcorn chair blasted the audience at a Court of Honor. Council folks shoot marshmallows into the crowd at my local pack meetings to get the Cubs pumped up for the sale and they even held a “marshmallow battle” as part of their popcorn kick-off.

There’s no “marshmallow range,” no “keep it pointed in a safe direction,” nothing! They’re actually encouraging Scouts to shoot at each other, if only “for fun.” It seems like we’ve sold out on our principles in order to get kids excited and make sales. In fact, I’ve learned that many Cub day camps in my area have made these kinds of marshmallow guns as an arts-and-crafts project, and then let the boys loose with shooting them around.

I’ll admit that these aren’t really dangerous (we’re talking about marshmallows, and I could probably throw a marshmallow harder than these things shoot them); however, these aren’t being treated like the “simulated firearms” that the GTSS talks about. If laser tag—a 100% non-contact activity—is a Scout no-no, then how can launching marshmallows at one another, where they actually hit, be OK?

I guess that brings up my question: what is the BSA policy on simulated guns? Water guns? Cork guns? Marshmallow blasters? Laser tag guns? If a harmless marshmallow is okay to shoot at someone, then why not a paintball? How and where does the BSA draw the line?

I’ve been to Camporees and other Scouting events where there were paintball ranges (run just like a rifle range, but with paintballs)—you never shoot or even point these guns at a human or even silhouette target. But I’ve also been to Scouting events where there have been water gun fights, marshmallow blaster wars, and kids running around with little wooden cork guns.

Where is the line? What’s the right thing to do here? What are we really teaching (or trying to teach) Scouts about firearms? And what place do toy guns have in Scouting? (Name and Council withheld)

Your raise some very interesting points, contrasts, and conundrums, and I suggest you start by proposing them to your council’s risk management committee. You may also want to put these thoughts in letter form and write to the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive, Bob Mazzuca.

Dear Andy,

Our council has given Centennial Recruiter Patches to several deserving Cubs in our pack. The Insignia Guide doesn’t specifically mention this patch. Does it replace the Insignia Strip, below the right pocket, or is it worn as a temporary patch, on the right pocket? (Name Withheld, Heart of Virginia Council)

The normal “Recruiter” patch is a slim rectangle and it’s legit to place it immediately below the right shirt pocket. If the Centennial version is larger and, in fact, ovoid, it’s probably better to center it on the pocket itself.

Do keep in mind that not every single patch earned *must* be placed somewhere on the uniform (those flap-shaped “Totin’ Chip” patches for Boy Scouts are an excellent example of this—they’re not meant for uniform wear at all!). Patches other than rank badges can, in fact, be placed on the back side of merit badge sashes—which happens to be an excellent way to keep our Scouts’ shirts from looking like billboards! And, for Cub Scouts and Webelos Scouts, there’s the red patch vest!


Hi Andy,

Concerning the “rule of three,” if I’m with my Scout son and a buddy of his from the troop, am I “safe”? I’m told that my son “doesn’t count” in that situation, but nowhere can I find that rule. Any clarification you could give would greatly help. (Steve, ASM, Western Los Angeles County Council)

Ask the person who gave you that “rule” to show it to you, in writing. It won’t happen, of course, because there is no such “rule.” So long as the two Scouts are a buddy pair, everything’s as kosher as can be!


Dear Andy,

In our troop, we have a group of Scouts working on Second Class, and most have this one requirement to complete: “8a. Participate in a school, community, or troop program on the dangers of using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and other practices that could be harmful to your health. Discuss your participation in the program with your family.” In the past, we’d just call our local police department and they’d come out and talk to the Scouts about the DARE program, but with all of the budget issues lately, DARE doesn’t exist anymore and there’s no one else to do it. Does the BSA offer a program that would meet this requirement without short-changing the Scouts? I’ve talked to other Scoutmasters, and they say they just run the “A Time to Tell” Youth Protection DVD, but that doesn’t have anything about drug prevention in it! Can you help? (Richard Gallant, ASM, Gulf Stream Council, FL)

Oh boy, do I have good news for you and your fellow Scoutmasters! Go right here:


Dear Andy,Where can I get statistics such as the percent of Scouts who have joined, who have earned each of the six ranks of Boy Scouts? I’m getting conflicting information on the Eagle rank—anywhere from 1% to 5% depending on who I talk to. Who does compilations of this stuff? I want to include this in an Eagle Court of Honor we’re doing soon. (Wayne Unwin, SM, Tall Pine Council, MI)

The BSA national council only tracks Eagles, because all other advancement information stays with the local councils. This means that you’re unlikely to ever find any “statistics” on Tenderfoot through Life ranks. As far as the Eagle “percentage” is concerned, regardless of the percent, the point is that Eagles are a pretty rare breed.

Hi Andy,

How do troops typically handle PLCs and PLC meetings? I don’t see any information in my web searches as to who should be invited to attend PLC meetings. In the past, our meetings have been attended by Scouts, the Scoutmaster, ASMs and committee members, and parents. One problem was that the Scouts weren’t leading the meetings, often because they were interrupted whenever an adult decided to weigh in with an opinion or thought.

Now, our new Scoutmaster, the PLC team, and any Scout who can attend, will meet, but unless one or more parents or ASMs or committee members are specifically invited to attend, by the Senior Patrol Leader, they’re not included, as before. As a result, PLC meetings are better attended, incredibly productive, and—the best outcome—the Scouts are managing the troop, with minimal guidance from the Scoutmaster—all a wonderful success for the Scouts.

However, as Committee Chair, I’m now getting complaints from parents over being excluded (even though these complaints are usually from parents who almost never attended PLC meetings in the past). These parents are acting like they have “a right” to be part of the PLC meetings.

My view is that we now have an excellent structure and meeting method to promote self-government by the Scouts, for themselves. Are we off-base here, in some way? I’d welcome any thoughts you might have on this (Mark McSweeney, CC, Three Fires Council, IL)

Use the Scoutmaster Handbook to show parents, committee members, and Scouts who aren’t members of the PLC. Essentially, the PLC is a program planning meeting of Patrol Leaders, led by the Senior Patrol Leader, with the Scoutmaster available in the background to offer occasional guidance. That’s it. No “Scouts in general,” no Assistant Patrol Leaders unless subbing for their Patrol Leader, no parents, no committee members, no Quartermaster or Historian and so on, and not even Assistant Scoutmasters. Do the reading—it’s all there!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Law Enforcement Explorer as well as a Boy Scout. Is there a place on my Scout uniform where I can wear my Law Enforcement Explorer patch, and do I need to get approval from someone? (Scout’s Name Withheld)

The “Law Enforcement Explorer” badge goes on your Explorer uniform; it doesn’t go on a Boy Scout uniform.

Dear Andy,

Is it OK for a Webelos den that hasn’t yet had a real den campout to take a trip stay at a hotel? The Den Leader wants the den to go to Colonial Williamsburg, about 500 miles from here. Should the pack OK this? I’ve not seen or read anything that would specifically disallow it, but it just doesn’t seem to be in the “spirit” of Webelos Scouting, as I see it. What kinds of questions should we be asking the Den Leader, as to what would be accomplished with this trip? We’re not sure what to do or how to handle this one. (Matt, CM)

In that each Webelos Scout needs to be accompanied by a parent or guardian, this can be a pretty expensive trip! But, if the Den Leader can get those commitments from each family, and the transportation issues are solved (car-pooling, or perhaps a group bus), there’s nothing that says it can’t be done. It’s not “camping,” of course, but it could be a pretty nice weekend trip—except for the 8 to 10 hour drive each way… Ouch!

Oh, yeah… Sleeping in a hotel room isn’t a “substitute” for Webelos Camping (but surely any trained Den Leader can figure this out).

Dear Andy,

When a Scout earns his 50-Miler patch, does he wear it on the upper right area of his uniform shirt? (I’ve seen a few Scouts wear in there.) (Jack Hickey, Central New Jersey Council)

Nope! It goes on their backpack, memorabilia blanket, or somewhere else—it absolutely does not go on the uniform… anywhere!

Dear Andy,

In planning an upcoming Boy Scout First Aid meet, some of the organizers were hoping to incorporate Webelos II Scouts as victims for the scenarios—their objective is to get Webelos plugged into a Boy Scout event as a way of sparking interest in continuing their Scouting journey. All activities and scenarios would be supervised by trained adult leaders, and all participating Webelos Scouts would bring a signed parental permission slip. As registered members of the BSA, they’d have insurance coverage while at the event, I’m pretty certain.

To me, this sounds like a reasonable plan; however, some folks have concerns about Webelos Scouts not being allowed to interact with Boy Scouts, per some sort of BSA rule. (Interesting that, so far, no one has been able to cite the specific rule prohibiting this activity.)

Can you please provide some insight? I think involving the Webelos as victims is a great way to give them a taste of Boy Scouting, but I don’t want to go against a BSA rule.

Your guidance would also be helpful as our troop prepares for its annual Webelos camping weekend, which we run like a “mini-Camporee,” with various Scout skills for the Webelos to participate in (including First Aid). (Tom Decker, SM, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

If I were part of the organizing team, I’d consider involving the Webelos Scouts even further than merely being “victims.” Let’s not forget the Readyman activity badge! How about offering this to all Webelos Scouts who participate—there’s nothing wrong (in fact, there’s a huge positive factor!) with Boy Scouts teaching Readyman First Aid to these boys, especially when their next step will be into Boy Scouting!

Without question, Webelos Scouts and Boy Scouts can interact! In fact, there are Arrow of Light requirements that involve Webelos Scouts visiting Boy Scouts and participating in a troop meeting and an outdoor activity.

As for this “urban legend” about Webelos Scouts being prohibited from interacting with Boy Scouts, demand that these folks show you this in writing by the BSA. They won’t be able to, because there’s simply no such mandate, and that’s the end of that story!

Go for it! It’s a wonderful idea!

Dear Andy,

What are your thoughts on a council requiring payment for popcorn when it’s picked up? Our troop sold several thousand dollars worth of popcorn, with collection coming from buyers upon delivery of product, and we don’t have that sort of money in our treasury at this time. This “pay-up-front” method wasn’t told to the units when the popcorn sales process started, but the council wants a check for the price of the popcorn, which they say they’ll hold for six weeks before they deposit it. (Bill Casler, Western Alaska Council)

In many councils, it’s expected that, when out selling the popcorn, the Scouts collect the money with the order, so that the money can be turned in by each unit up front. I can tell you from personal experience a couple of weeks back, when I bought popcorn from two Webelos Scouts, I asked them when they’d like the money and they replied, “Right now would be fine, Sir.” You see, Bill, what happens if I place the order, don’t pay them, and then I’m not available when they do the drop-off, or I “change my mind,” or whatever… Then they’re stuck holding the proverbial bag, and that’s just not fair! So, up-front money always works! If your Scouts are out there taking orders but not collecting on-the-spot, they’re taking one huge risk! Yes, I know that the Trail’s End website talks about collecting the money when the order’s delivered, but remember that they’re not “where the rubber meets the road”!

That said, if in fact your council didn’t specifically ask you all to collect the money at time of sale, then it would be out of line to expect that you would have any money to pay for the popcorn up front. I think I’d point this out to them, rather than raping the troop’s treasury, and if they balk, you might consider playing hard-ball and telling ’em that the thousands of dollars in sales will simply be canceled with the Scouts’ customers. If that doesn’t help ‘em smell the caffeine, I don’t know what will! <wink>

Hi Andy,

On a troop campout a few years back our Scouts conducted a retirement ceremony for about a dozen flags. As you know, the flag code states: “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” But most of the flags were “all-weather” and made of nylon, so that the plume of acrid black smoke was a sight to see (but definitely not to smell!). Any ideas on dignified alternatives to burning nylon flags to retire them? (Jon Parker, Southern Sierra Council, CA)

To get the best answer to your excellent question, I reached out to a fellow USSSP member and terrific all-around Scouter: Mike Walton (The Blackeagle, “settummanque”), and here’s what he had to say…

This is a question that’s come up a lot in the last few years as not only U.S. Flags are made of nylon, but also flags of other nations and our own BSA unit and local council flags, too.

Here are two solutions…

The preferable manner of disposing of a U.S. flag is by burning; today, this action may place people and their air at risk because most flags are made from petro carbon fibers (nylon especially) which, when burned, releases dangerous chemicals in the air. A better solution is to cut the flag into smaller pieces and ceremonially bury the flag inside a glass container at a public location. (The glass will protect the nylon pieces.)

Also, from Scouter Gary Raynor, this idea: In our community, we have an industrial-sized shredders, so we cut up the old flags and run them through it, then we provide those shreds to a localplastic recycler.

Most important is that, whatever you do, do it with dignity and ceremony; not just a heave-ho and a “Here ya go, ol’ buddy…”

It’s a great question and as we continue to care not only about our heritage, we also care about our environment—because that’s what Scouts do!

Amen, Mike!

Dear Andy,

I took over as Scoutmaster after my predecessor “retired.” I’d like to have the Scouts in full uniform, but the troop committee is fighting me on this. What’s BSA standard policy on uniforms? I say Scout shirt, hat, pants, belt, and neckerchief. The committee’s saying nix on the pants. I’d like our guys to look sharp and in unity, and get some pride going here—this is how I want to see the troop go, on “my watch.” Now there is a troop bylaw that says any dark-colored pants are OK, but this means we get Scouts showing up in dark blue, black, gray, maroon—in fact, anything but green! (We do have a few exceptions who wear the full uniform down to the pants and socks, but they’re the minority.) The green pants I’d like to see worn don’t have to be BSA issue, just as close to the color as possible. Am I within my purview as Scoutmaster to want to run the program this way? I feel that the unity helps the troop in discipline also, as well as bringing out a sense of pride in being a Scout. I’m about to bring this up to our PLC. Any thoughts would be appreciated. (Rick Miller, SM)

Anyone who’s ever taken any BSA training, or has read the Scoutmaster Handbook, knows that the uniform is one of the eight methods of the Scouting program, and knows that there’s only one uniform and that “troop uniforms” are 100% inappropriate. If anyone associate with your troop is having some sort of problem with a fundamental of the Scouting program, perhaps they need to put their energies elsewhere—or at least go to training, so they get to see the true picture and not a single troop’s arbitrary (and mistaken) viewpoint.

The Boy Scout uniform is shown on pages 12-13 of the Boy Scout Handbook-11th Edition, and on pages 32-33 of the Boy Scout Handbook-12th Edition. It’s shown, in greater detail on the Uniform Inspection Sheet (34283), which you’ll find and you’ll further note that there is no provision, in any BSA literature on the subject, for an “alternative.”

As for your own thinking about “close enough is good enough”… it isn’t and will only lead you to trouble. DON’T go this route.

“Troop bylaws” on uniforming cannot supersede BSA national policy, so that baloney about “dark-colored pants” needs to be thrown out, along with the perhaps well-meaning but nevertheless mistaken folks who wrote it.

Now, from a practical standpoint, parents will “argue” that the pants are “expensive.” Well, yeah, they might be, except that they’re not designed to be worn just once a week… They’re designed to be worn every time there’s a meeting, hike, overnight, canoe trip, visit to somewhere, parade, court of honor, and on and on… In short, when we’re doing Scout stuff, we’re in Scout uniform.

If cost is truly a disincentive, then do a troop fund-raiser to earn the money for each Scout to be in uniform.

Dear Andy,

When a troop needs to remove a Scout from the roster because of significant behavioral issues, is there a formal procedure to be followed? (Name & Council Withheld)

Refer to the Scoutmaster Handbook… If a Scout has consistent behavioral problems that might bring harm or injury to himself or others, then he must be removed from the troop for safety reasons. The conversation about this takes place between the Committee Chair and Chartered Organization Representative (and maybe the Scoutmaster, also) and the boy’s parents (not the boy), and the parents must be made to understand that if, at some point in the future, their son’s behavior corrects itself, he’d be welcome back. After this has been done, it’s always a good idea to notify the head of your chartered organization.

Dear Andy,

One of our Scouts has a younger brother (probably about six years old) who gets dragged along to every troop meeting. What, if anything, do we do? (John Gillan, SM, Longhorn Council, TX)

This is a parental responsibility. If the parent’s keeping the kid quiet and entertained, and away from the Scouts, no problem. But if the kid’s runnin’ around and makin’ a general nuisance of himself, you don’t need a “BSA policy” to tell the parent that either the boy has to be kept away from the Scouts and quiet, or he’ll need to be removed. And, if the parent plays the “Well, then I’ll pull my son outa the troop” card, your response is, “That’s your choice, but these disruptions need to stop, right now.” Then, you stand fast. End of story. (BTW, this is something your Committee Chair should do —you have enough to do, as Scoutmaster.)

Dear Andy,

Which Scouts should be assigned to the “senior patrol” and where can I find this in writing? (Paula Riley)

Scouts aren’t “assigned” to patrols—they choose who’s in which patrols by themselves. Also, there’s really no such thing as a “senior patrol,” in large part because this creates an implicit “pecking order” within a troop that’s ultimately unhealthy.

Older Scouts can be offered the opportunity to join a Venture Patrol (not to be confused with a Venturing Crew). A Venture Patrol is for older Boy Scouts and has a patrol name, just like all other patrols in a troop. However, they engage in more challenging, rigorous activities than other patrols. At your Scout Shop, you should be able to find (or order from them) a series of pamphlets on cycling, backpacking, white water, etc. activities that are set up for these patrols to participate in, by themselves, in addition to normal troop meetings and activities–they’re designed to provide the sorts of challenges that keep older Scouts involved and interested in the program.

Another avenue is to form a Venturing Crew with these older Scouts. They can stay registered in the troop, as well. A Venturing Crew is for youth ages 14 through 20, and can be co-ed (lots of girls who have found the older Girl Scout program less than exciting have gravitated toward Venturing, and boys rarely if ever have any objection to a crew being co-ed. The program available is extensive, and based on major outings and activities once a month or every other month. The program’s taking off nationwide, and may be just the ticket for young men (and young women!) who are getting a little bored with “the same old hikes and campouts.”


Happy Scouting!



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

(November 11, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)

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


About AskAndy

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

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

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