Author Avatar

Issue 198 – November 18, 2009

One of my sharp-eyed readers picked up on an error I’d made a few columns back, that bears headlining here…

Hey Andy,

In your October 24th column, you mentioned that a Chaplain’s Aide doesn’t necessarily need to be working on his religious award. But this online resource, which I came across a few years ago, does say that a Chaplain’s Aide “must have received or be working on the…age-appropriate religious emblem for his faith.” It’s here:

(Jack Boyle, Northern New Jersey Council)

Yup. That’s spot-on, and I stand corrected. Thanks!

Some sharp-eyed and resourceful Scouters also did a little more “homework” on the “which direction does the flag patch go” question. Here are two helpful pieces of research…

Hello Fellow Scouters,

Here’s what the Boy Scout Handbook (12th Ed.) says about American flags on our uniforms (Chapter 2, Citizenship, page 76): “Every Boy Scout uniform shirt has an embroidered American Flag sewn on the right sleeve. Following the guidelines of the U.S. Flag Code, it is placed with the blue field (the ‘union’) to the flag’s own right (to the left, as someone views it). You might have noticed that the flag patch on the right sleeves of the U.S. Military uniforms places the blue field to the observer’s right.

According to current Department of the Army Regulations: “When worn on the right sleeve, it is considered proper to reverse the design so that the union is at the observer’s right to suggest that the flag is flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.”

Either method of displaying the flag is correct, depending on the regulations or code that one follows.

As a long time Scout and Scouter (23 years), I want to thank you for all you’ve done, are currently doing, and will be doing for Scouting. Keep up the great work! (Ben Ward, Eagle Class of ’99, Heart of Virginia Council)


Dear Andy,

In your column of October 24, 2009, you were asked about the flag patch. Page 76 of the 12th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook notes the difference between the BSA and the U.S. Army methods of wearing the flag, and that the BSA method is in compliance with the U.S. Flag Code. Here’s the current version of the U.S. Flag Code ( Sect. 8, Respect for Flag: “(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.” That’s it. There’s no specification for the manner in which the flag patch is worn. The U.S. Army regulation is AR 670-1 ( page 241: “(2) The full-color U.S. flag cloth replica is worn so that the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The appropriate replica for the right shoulder sleeve is identified as the reverse side flag.”

This comes up every now and then, but I don’t get the fuss. (Ed Palmer, Stonewall Jackson Council, VA)

Thanks to both of these fine Scouters, and others who wrote, as well. In line with the second letter, I don’t get the fuss either… If folks spent as much time learning, for instance, why The Patrol Method is the only method used in Boy Scouts as they spend fretting about patches and where they go, Scouting would be a whole lot better! Ya think?

Dear Andy,My son is a Cub Scout in third grade (Bear level). How do I go about getting him started on the religious award for his faith? He really loves Scouts, and this would be great for him to earn! (Louise Volpe)

Just go and find the religious denomination and level right for your son, then get the materials and go talk with your son’s regular religious leader.

(Did you know that the religious award program isn’t a BSA program—but it’s one that’s universally recognized by both the BSA and the GSUSA!)

Dear AndyDo you have any information on the origin of the Commissioner concept? Did B-P develop it, for instance?

I’ve been asked to assist in an upcoming College of Commissioner Science. I’m aware of W.F. MacLaren donating Gilwell when he was a “District Commissioner,” but who developed the Commissioner idea in the first place, and what responsibilities were delegated to these volunteers? Thanks for taking the time to read this and hopefully provide me with some facts that would be interesting to a general audience of Commissioners. (Ray Greenspan, VP, Theodore Roosevelt Council, NY; BSA NER Board Member)

You’re in luck! Thanks for finding the USSSP website, and for writing to me! Go here for a very nice summary of Commissioner Service, by Mike Walton:

Did you realize that Commissioners actually pre-date Scout Executives? That’s right… We might like to think God “invented” us, first! <wink>

One more thing… The two long-time Scouters who revitalized the National Commissioner role were Rick Cronk (who went on to be National President) and then Don Belcher.

Dear Andy,For the past year, our troop committee chair and I have been receiving critical, often completely uninformed, and harsh (ad hominem attacks) messages via email from a troop parent. In-person, this same parent doesn’t hesitate to turn a conversation into a screaming session.

The Scout and his family joined our troop two years ago, noting that he’d been in another troop that his parents were “unhappy” with (but nothing specific). The boy is now age 16, and Life rank.

I’ve been trying to address this family’s issues, but it’s complicated by family health issues, not showing up, an elderly grandparent in the same household, and so on.

In the past several months, the Scout himself has reflected some of his parents’ attitudes, showing a general lack of respect for his Patrol Leader and the Senior Patrol Leader. He’s even started arguments refuting The Patrol Method, despite having attended NYLT.

I’ve tried to sit down personally with both parents, to work out whatever’s actually troubling them several times, but in each instance they’ve stone-walled this idea—preferring, apparently, to use email “critiques” instead. As this rancor has escalated, we now see “flame-mail broadcasts” to troop families and adult volunteers.

Finally, we have a sit-down meeting with them scheduled—myself and two committee members, and both parents—and the father and son both profess to wanting to remain in the troop, but the second parent is the primary emailer.

So I guess my question is this: How much is required of a troop to endure before enough is enough? (I’m also very puzzled about why the mother would want to keep her son in a troop that she’s found so “lacking.”) (Scoutmaster’s Name & Council Withheld)

This sound like “emails as grenades”… Lob ’em over the wall and then duck!

Stop all emails. Do not answer emails from this family. Change your email addresses if necessary, and certainly put “blocks” on theirs, if you can.

Yes, sit down, in-person, with both parents (no son present) and listen to what they have to say (i.e., give an opportunity to vent)—with a time-limit of, let’s say, 10 minutes (use a watch or clock to say “start” and then call “the ten minutes are up). At the end of the venting, you might simply tell them: “We’re sorry you’re so unhappy with this troop. Since we have no intention of changing anything, it looks like your best option is to remove your son and go find a troop where you’ll all be happier. In other words, effective tomorrow morning, your son will be de-registered from this troop. Thank you for your thoughts; this meeting is ended.”

They have no recourse. Since neither the district nor the council “owns” the troop (it’s owned by the sponsoring organization), they can’t have their son reinstated through alternative pathways.

In short, you all do not have to suffer verbal or other abuse from parents whose mission seems to be rancor and discord.

Yes, their son might appear to be a “victim” here, but in light of what you’ve described about him, he’s as much a part of the problem as the parents, and wedo not sacrifice a troop of Scouts to “salvage” just one.

(Of course, you haven’t told me the nature of the “complaints,” but this hardly matters: “Screaming” is about as un-Scout like as one can get.)

If they have a problem, and you all are willing to say more (don’t feel “obligated” to “explain” yourselves!), you may want to observe that their continual violations of the Scout Law—particularly Friendly, Courteous, Helpful, and Cheerful—are sufficient to warrant this termination.

Dear Andy,

I have a Scout working toward First Class rank who isn’t a good swimmer; in fact, he’s a beginner. Can he advance to First Class if he can complete the beginner swim test? (Rick Miller, SM, Great Sauk Trail Council, MI)

Nope. In order to qualify for First Class rank, he needs to complete the First Class swimming requirement. Period. This, BTW, is a wonderful incentive for him to get better at swimming!

(Just to save folks the further trouble of checking, the only possible exception to meeting the First Class swimming requirement, precisely as written, is if this Scout has a permanent and professionally verifiable physical or mental disability.)

Dear Andy,

I’m turning 65 this year—I was in Scouting a long time ago. I did earn Eagle rank, and Brotherhood in the Order of the Arrow. Now, I have a grandson in first grade who’s just starting in Cub Scouts. Looking over the website offerings of Cub Scout information, I see that “Lion” has been replaced by “Tiger.” Do you happen to know when and was there a particular reason for that? (Ralph Fuhrmann, Palmetto Council, SC)

“Tiger” is a relatively new Cub Scout program for boys in first grade (comes before Wolf, etc.) that was added within the past decade or so. “Webelos” replaced Lion back in the 70’s. There’s a new “Lion” program being piloted right now, designed for kindergarten boys.

Dear Andy,

I was just called to be a Scoutmaster. I’ve been looking through the requirements for advancement, but I need to learn things myself (for instance, how to find your way in the day and night without a compass) that I don’t know. Where can I learn these things? (Adam Allen, Great Salt Lake Council, UT)

There are two components to the Scoutmaster-specific training your local council offers, the second being an introduction to outdoor leader skills. Be sure to take both! Meanwhile, get yourself a Boy Scout Handbook and start reading! (No joke!) Also, if you go on an auction site, like eBay, find and win an old, brown-covered Scout Field Book—This is the seminal work on exactly what you’re looking for, for only about $10-$12! You’ll never find a better value!



Dear Andy,You recently had a question about “the proper way to report the misconduct of an (adult leader).” If the misconduct is some form of child abuse, then you would go directly to the Scout Executive of your council, and then let the professional staff do their jobs. (Andy Kowalczyk, BSRTC, Hoosier Trails Council, IN)

Yup…right on the money! Thanks!

Dear Andy,

As a District Commissioner, I’ve been approached by a member of our district with questions about the Distinguished Commissioner Award. I’m familiar with the award, and I know what the requirements for earning it are, but there doesn’t seem to be a formal procedure for recommendations for it, and there’s conflicting information from my council about it. Is there any procedure, or are there guidelines for this award that you’re aware of? For instance, who has the ultimate authority for issuing this award? And, is there any kind of paperwork that must be filed in order to recommend someone?

I have asked our Council Commissioner these questions, but haven’t received any satisfactory answers from them. My feeling is this: The BSA has authorized this award as a tool for those of us trying to promote and encourage outstanding efforts in Commissioner service, and so it should be awarded when earned. But if I can’t get answers as to how it’s done, then the “tool” we’ve been given becomes utterly useless. I have a feeling that the national council probably leaves the administration (including any paperwork necessary) up to the discretion of the local councils, but this is a speculation. I’d appreciate any assistance you can offer. (Joseph Bell, Cradle of Liberty Council, PA)

Go here:

This works pretty much like a “progress record”—When a Commissioner has fulfilled the requirements, he’s recognized.

Dear Andy,

I’m following up on a recent comment by you regarding whether or not a Scoutmaster can stop a Scout from working on a merit badge. I understand the position that the Boy Scout Handbook supports is that any Scout can begin working on any merit badge at any time; however, when looking at the front of the “Application for Merit Badge” (aka “blue card”), above the signature of unit leader, the card says “Name, Address, City…is a registered…Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Venturer…of “District/Council…and is qualified to begin working for merit badge noted on the reverse side.”

Doesn’t this imply that the unit leader is signing off that the Scout is “qualified” to begin working on the badge? What if the unit leader believes that the Scout isn’t qualified to work on the badge? Does the unit leader still have to provide a blue card?

It does appear that there are contradictory signals here. One appears to say, “go forth and earn merit badges,” and the other says, “earn merit badges when you’re qualified.”

Your thoughts on this contradiction are much appreciated. (Karie Gillen, Orange County Council, CA)

The young man is automatically “qualified” by way of being a registered member of a Boy Scout troop, Boy Scout team, Venturing crew, Sea Scout ship, or Explorer post. So, that language is a little nicety that reinforces to the young man what he’s about to embark upon. It absolutely does not mean that a Scoutmaster or anyone else has the authority to withhold a “blue card” from a Scout who declares that he’s interested in earning whatever merit badge he names. That any Scout can work toward any merit badge at any time is a BSA policy, and BSA policies supersede everything, including a Scoutmaster’s perhaps well-meaning withholding of a blue card.

As a Merit Badge Counselor for merit badges that require significant physical strength and kinetic coordination, I’ve had Scouts of all ages, shapes, sizes, and abilities, and a part of my responsibilities is to help each Scout succeed—this is one of the challenges, and one of the great joys of being a Merit Badge Counselor! For a fair number of the Scouts I’ve counseled, completing all requirements has been a stretch—and isn’t that part of what this is all about!

Dear Andy,I always find your Q&A’s encouraging and informative. Over the past few months, I’ve been approached by Scout parents as well as adult leaders concerning our troop’s Scoutmaster. He’s routinely late for troop meetings, seldom prepared, generally unorganized, and almost always unwilling to delegate. Having had discussions over the past several weeks with both leaders and parents, they’ve expressed their desire for him to step aside, so that the committee can appoint another. I, having been the first Scoutmaster of this now seven-year-old troop and presently Assistant Scoutmaster, I’m the only leader with experience in Scouting as a boy. I’ve been asked to make a recommendation to our troop committee on this, and herein lies the dilemma… The current Scoutmaster is doing his very best so far, in the first two years of a three-year tenure. He’s had some turbulent times recently, at a personal level, but he’s overall a nice guy.

In our short existence we have grown from seven to 42 Scouts, and from three adult leaders to nine, all trained. But since the current Scoutmaster’s been in place, our troop for the first time didn’t get any Webelos from our “feeder” pack, retention of existing Scouts is slipping, and the troop’s growth has slowed to almost nothing.

I’m fully aware of what will happen when I make a recommendation to the troop committee, and it’s a heavy burden because I’ll be recommending that he relinquish this position, yet of the two who might step into this role, one is willing but unable and the other is able but unwilling. Your insight will be appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

This coin has two sides…

The first side is that, when we sign on to take a position of responsibility inany volunteer organization, we’ve made a commitment to carry it out to the extent of being successful. It might be nice to say, “to the best of our abilities,” but it goes beyond this: In the case of Scouting, we owe it to the youth we serve to deliver to them the promise of Scouting described in their handbooks, and nothing less. If we’re incapable of doing this—for whatever reason, be it temporary or not, personal or not—we need to face that fact and either ask for help or ask to be replaced. Anything less than this does a disservice to the very people we took on a covenant to serve.

The second side is that it’s the responsibility of the sponsor (aka “chartered organization”) to provide the very best volunteers possible to deliver the Scouting program we committed to ourselves and to the Boy Scouts of America to deliver. This responsibility starts with the executive officer or head of the chartered organization, and flows through to the designated Chartered Organization Representative (“COR”). It’s the COR’s specific responsibility to see that the youth of the Scouting unit receive the very best service from the most qualified adult volunteers. The COR collaborates with the Committee Chair to assure the youth that this is what’s happening. The COR, with the CC, has total “hire-fire authority” and needs to exercise this as situations dictate.

With these two facts in place, your own responsibility, it seems to me, is to collaborate not with “parents” or “the committee” but directly with the COR and CC, to assure that the troop remains at its healthiest and most vibrant, so that it will continue on its established successful path of growth and youth development. Anything other than this short-circuits the process the BSA has laid out clearly and without equivocation. In this regard, the youth always, always come first—what your personal feelings toward an under-performing individual might be are absolutely secondary, regardless of personal circumstances, duress, etc. You must act in the best interests of the Scouts, first and always first.

You know what you must do, or you wouldn’t have written. So follow your heart, put the Scouts first, and you won’t be wrong.

Dear Andy,Do you know of any BSA resources were we could find very specific information about emotional abuse by leaders on Boy Scouts, such as what actually constitutes abuse? We’ve had some questions come up and would like some documentation to help us understand the policies. (Name & Council Withheld)

For this one, I’m going to defer to your local council’s Scout Executive—Your very best resource for this type of question. Don’t email. Pick up the phone and schedule an in-person meeting. This is why we have Scout Executives!

Dear Andy,My Star Scout son’s Scoutmaster has held him back from advancing to Life by refusing to provide a Scoutmaster conference and board of review. My son completed Life rank requirements 1-5 six months ago, but the Scoutmaster’s said that even though he completed his tenure as the troop’s Quartermaster, he hadn’t performed the job to the Scoutmaster’s satisfaction (even though he’d signed my son off on this requirement), and claimed that he’d “fired” my son from the position. We’ve since spoken with the Committee Chair about this, and my son was reinstated in another leadership position.

(This same Scoutmaster has blocked another Scout who was going for Eagle because, in the Scoutmaster’s words, “He’s not ‘Eagle material’”—he refused to sign off on this Scout’s Eagle project.)

We have a new Committee Chair now, and his advice to my son was to wait till he completes another six months in his newly-assigned leadership position, and then he can advance to Life, and this way the Scoutmaster’s feelings won’t be hurt.

My son and the Scout being denied the opportunity to start his Eagle project went over to the Scoutmaster’s house a few days ago, to see if they couldn’t get past these roadblocks, but the Scoutmaster started yelling at them. To protect himself, my son put his cell phone on “record” and captured the Scoutmaster’s tirade. When the Scoutmaster discovered that my son had done this, he became even angrier and suspended my son from the troop for two weeks and threatened to report him to the police for an “illegal recording.” My son was next told that he could return to the troop so long as he made a formal, public apology to the Scoutmaster. My son did this, but this apparently wasn’t enough, because the following week, after a Court of Honor, the Scoutmaster and several ASMs pulled my son into a room, where they told him that he must personally apologize to the Scoutmaster, then and there.

What do we do? (Name & Council Withheld)

Short of shooting that Scoutmaster, his assistants, and that spineless Committee Chair, there’s no “fixing” that’s going to happen here. Get your son out of that troop and into one that gets it right. It’s impossible to argue with self-righteous little tin gods who use guerrilla tactics on minors. GET OUT OF THAT TROOP. And, yes, your son should definitely take his friends with him. There’s absolutely no need to tolerate this sort of behavior by adults who are supposed to be serving youth (not the other way around).

If you truly want to try to “fix” this troop, the position you want is Chartered Organization Representative, because this position has total, complete, and unassailable “hire-fire authority” over every adult volunteer in it. But, do be prepared for a huge energy outlay, rancor, discord, back-stabbing, and whisper-campaigning, and do not even begin to delude yourself into thinking that this won’t affect your family and family life in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.

Dear Andy,About merit badge blue cards, is it mandatory that the Scoutmaster sign, or can the troop’s advancement coordinator or an ASM sign, as well? I’m asking because I’m trying to “value engineer” my time better at functions, to spend more one-on-one focusing on needs versus wants. Being that we have a large troop, it’s difficult at times to conduct Scoutmaster conferences, deal with leadership issues, leader training, etc., at troop meetings. Therefore, I’m trying to see what I can delegate to my ASM more. The blue card issuing and signing is valuable time, but it appears to be a function that could be delegated and save me time for what appears to be more pressing matters. I’ve discussed this at length with our advancement coordinator, so that he’s copy me with all new merit badge issuances when sending to our records-keeper, so I can keep an eye on who’s working on what. I’d appreciate your input. (Steve Smith, SM, San Francisco Bay Area Council, CA)

When the Scoutmaster signs the blue card, he knows what Scouts are doing what merit badges, and when they started. If you want to delegate this to an ASM, that’s OK, so long as that ASM writes down who asked for what, and when, so that he can keep you abreast of what your Scouts are interested in, and working on. It’s probably best to delegate to just one person; if more than one is doing this, there’s a significant risk of mayhem!

That said, if I were Scoutmaster, I’d be incredibly reluctant to delegate this… After all, a Scoutmaster has more free time in troop meetings–when the Senior Patrol Leader and his Patrol Leaders are running the meeting, in charge of the games and competitions, conducting the opening and closing ceremonies, and instructing the Scouts in skill development–than at any other time! This is simply a perfect opportunity to sit back, relax, and let the Scouts come to you! Heck, you’re almost not visible until the end of the meeting, when it’s time for your “minute.”

Dear Andy,I’ve searched but can’t find either in the book or on-line where a Cub Scout must earn his Bobcat badge before he can earn belt loops. Can you help me out? (Ray Cradit, Lake Huron Area Council, MI)

Happy to help! All of the Cub Scout handbooks note that the very first thing earned—regardless of what level the boy joins Cub Scouting—is Bobcat.

Dear Andy,We’re experiencing some confusion on the updates to merit badge requirements. On Camping merit badge, which requirements do we follow: The ones in place when the Scout started the merit badge, or the requirements in place as he’s finishing up?

Basically, we’re having difficulty with getting the requirement of a high adventure event in a camp-out. Our troop is lax in scheduling events in campouts, to fulfill Camping req’s. 9b and 9c. Can we contact other troops to ask if they have any of these events going, and then join them for the special activities? If so, then who signs off on the requirements? (Laura Hannan, Jayhawk Area Council, KS)

These questions are for the Scout and his Merit Badge Counselor to work through. Are you a registered Camping MBC?

Camping merit badge hasn’t had any revisions to it since January 1, 2007—that’s nearly two years ago! Are you telling me that there are Scouts who have been working on this merit badge for longer than that? Ouch! Anyway, the “in-between time” is long passed, so any Scout completing this merit badge now will be obliged to meet the current, and not any older, expired requirements.

The “20 days and nights requirement” should be a no-brainer. Six or seven of those can be from summer camp (the troop does go to camp, yes?) leaving 13-14 days and nights to be completed on troop overnights, Camporees, and so on. That’s just six overnights a year, for two years—just one every other month. Troops are supposed to be camping or hiking at least once a month, for at least ten months out of the year, and then, in the summer months, it can even be more (not less) frequent. If you all aren’t getting out there every month, you really need to encourage your PLC to schedule more outings!

If, by “high adventure,” you’re referring to the canoeing, bike riding, mountain-climbing, etc., these can be knocked off in a day, so that they hardly constitute “high adventure”–they’re pretty normal stuff, especially for Scouts! (“High Adventure” is a week or more on the trail or on water!)

(Now someone might rib you about mountain-climbing in Kansas, so let’s just point out right now that Mt. Sunflower is over 4,000 feet elevation!)

Scouts still working on Camping, after two years, should definitely seek their MBC’s advice on how to wrap this up, before they start looking like those old photos of John Muir!


Hey Andy,I’m the Chartered Organization Representative for a new Venturing crew sponsored by an American Legion post. The crew’s focus is on military careers. We’re considering adopting a BDU-type uniform, to be more in line with the military career aspect as well as with the American Legion’s traditions. This is turning out to be a tool for recruiting, but my question is: Can BSA patches (e.g., badges of office, square knots, etc.) be put on a non-BSA uniform? I checked the Insignia Guide and the Rules and Regulations of the Boy Scouts of America and can’t find anything stipulating that BSA patches can’t be used on a non-BSA uniform. I just want to check before we act. (Don Sheen, Buckeye Council, OH)

It’s strictly forbidden for any member of the BSA—including Venturers—to wear a uniform that is in imitation of a military uniform, so it’s plain as day that an actual “battle dress uniform” (that’s what “BDU” stands for, I’ve just found out) would be a huge no-no! (I’m sorry to have to point out that, despite whatever “enthusiasm” you may have engendered, this is against BSA policy.) This is what the forest green shirts and steel gray pants and shorts are for, and I recommend you switch over to them right away! When you do this, all BSA patches and badges immediately become “legal.”

The only possible alternative that I can think of may be to form an Explorer post instead of a Venturing crew. Explorers are in the Learning for Life Division of the BSA, and are subject to different stipulations. For instance, there are many, many law enforcement Explorer posts, and they wear, for all intents and purposes, police uniforms.

Talk with your council’s Scout Executive some more on the best way to make this work.

Thanks. Actually, no harm was done as I hadn’t yet ordered the BDUs (the black, grey and white urban type—not the usual woodland camo). The crew currently wears grey polo shirts. Anyhow, no problem. What prompted me to write to you was that I’ve received conflicting information as to what a Venturing crew can wear as a uniform. One misunderstanding some people have about the language in the BSA’s Insignia Guide, Clause 4 (b), where it says, “Imitation of United States Army, Navy, or Marine Corps uniforms is prohibited…” refers to trying to make the official scout uniform look military. Couple that with what is stated on most Venturing information sheets and in the Insignia Guide, page 33, Venturing Insignia, “The recommended uniform is the spruce green Venturing shirt with green epaulette tabs…However, the uniform, if any, is the choice of the crew.” That’s where I got the OK to use “urban” BDUs. There are crews out there wearing all kinds of stuff. I ran into one woodland BDU crew a few years back, and they were about as military as you can get. Maybe the national council or national executive board should rewrite or update the wording to reflect federal laws concerning military uniforms. Like I said in my original message, I wanted to check before I acted. After 26 years in the Air Force and 16 in Scouting, I want to get it right, so I checked with you. We like the official Venturing uniform anyhow, so we’ll go with that. (Don Sheen)

While all’s well that ends well, it may be worth mentioning that I’m personally not in line with the cited interpretation of Clause 4 (b)… This clause doesn’t refer to “making the BSA uniform look military;” it refers to the concept of imitating military uniforming, which can definitely include the actual wearing of military garb in imitation of actual personnel. More important, I personally believe, is what a military-type uniform implies. For this, let’s go back to “day one” and Baden-Powell himself, who stated, “The military trains men for war; Scouting educates boys for peace.” That said, I’m in 100% agreement with you that the BSA would help us all by re-working the language of the uniforming clauses so that it’s crystal clear that military-type garb or accessories are not a part of any Scouting program.

Dear Andy,I’m just curious… How often does the “I don’t believe this Scout actually did the merit badge at summer camp”-sort of question come up? (I’m noticing it in both your August 3rd and 19th columns.)

We’ve had the same issue this summer and, as Committee Chair, my answer has exactly mirrored yours: If it’s signed off, then it’s done. But, clearly, this must happen distressingly often. What I’m thinking of doing is to send a letter to the council that ran the camp, giving them feedback about quality.

I’m also a little worried about those “merit badge universities” and the like, because they seem to undermine the ideal of a small group of Scouts working with a Merit Badge Counselor. While I can’t in good faith stop Scouts from going to these, I do notice that neither of my sons (Star and Life ranks) have little use for them. (Robert Harrison, CC, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

I’m not sure there’s really much “I don’t believe…” stuff going on, but without doubt, Scouts do come home from camp, merit badge fairs, and so forth with “partials,” in which case their Scoutmaster can direct them to local Merit Badge Counselors who can help them wrap up their merit badges. In the cases of Scouts coming home with completed merit badges, you’re absolutely right that these can’t and shouldn’t be questioned or challenged: If the MBC has signed and said they’ve earned them, the party’s over.

That said, there are definitely areas in the overall merit badge counseling arena that could use some cleanup, or at least tightening up. Your council’s training committee might want to weigh in on this, by providing training for merit badge counselor, or at least “refreshers” that help MBCs better understand their role and goal. Consider getting involved in this area—If Scouting has one pervading weakness, it’s that it’s not mandatory to be trained to do what you’ve volunteered to do.

Sure, I could share “war stories” with you about MBCs who call themselves “examiners” and act accordingly, or who pride themselves on “being tough,” or who don’t get it that requirements are to be completed exactly as written, without exception. Then there are those who take inappropriate license—I recall when my own son was a Tenderfoot, some yahoo of a MBC for Wood Carving told him, “Carve me a ball-in-box with a three-link chain, and I’ll give you the badge.” Yup, like it was a candy bar. And carving what he’d suggested is nowhere to be found in any of this merit badge’s requirements! (Needless to say, when I became Scoutmaster a little later on, I made sure none of my Scouts ever went to this self-important jerk!) There’s more, of course, but you know ’em, too, just as well as I do.

What can we do about it? Well, maybe, someday, the BSA will stipulate that training for a volunteer position is mandatory, instead of making the qualification to be a Grand Poobah little more than being able to fog a mirror.

On the subject of merit badge fairs and such, while many are far from perfect and some digress from the fundamentals of the merit badge program (i.e., a Scout and his buddy sitting down and learning from a guy or gal who loves the subject area and imbues that in the boys, along with guiding them toward completing the requirements without either spoon-feeding them or making a “classroom” out of it), we also need to keep in mind that merit badges aren’t intended to make “experts” out of our Scouts! Merit badges introduce a wide range of subjects and activities, with the goal that perhaps the enthusiasm and boy-spirit of the Counselor will entice the boy to learn more, and to even, perhaps, choose this as a life-work or life-hobby.

Bottom line: I’d say that the way you’re handling things is just fine, and my hat’s off to you for that!

Happy Scouting!



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

(November 18, 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.