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Issue 203 – December 23, 2009

Dear Andy,

Whatever happened to the great index of your columns? It was very helpful when questions arose and I wanted to find out what you had to say on the subject. (Tricia Barber)

Just like everything else on the usssp website, that index was done by a volunteer, and he, unfortunately, ran out of time to keep it updated. We’re working on a solution, but it’s not in place yet. So, your best bet for finding specific subject matter is to use Google… In advanced search, put “Ask Andy” (with the quote marks) in the dialog box titled <this exact wording or phrase> and then put the Netcommish and subject sought in the dialog box titled <all these words> and my columns dealing with what you’re searching for should pop up.

Dear Andy,

Have you ever heard of a council or district refusing to re-charter a unit when the Institutional Head and/or Chartered Organization Representative didn’t meet their obligations per the BSA publication, The Chartered Organization Representative (pp. 4-7)? Had a heart-to-heart with our District Chair and District Commissioner. Seems there are never any CORs at the annual district or council meetings. If the IHs and/or CORs aren’t going to fulfill their responsibilities, then it’s no wonder there are so many sick units out there, and the council shouldn’t be re-chartering them. (Name & Council Withheld)

Actually, I haven’t. What or which obligations are we talking about here? If you’re talking only about showing up at the district and/or council annual meetings, I can tell you that it’s pretty rare that this actually ever happens. The main reason for this is that, except for possibly an annual notification of the meetings, council and district professionals don’t spend a lot of time or energy engaging these people in the Scouting process in any direct manner. Consequently, it would be foolhardy to try to disparage someone for not doing what hasn’t been asked for, for a long, long time! As far as not re-chartering a unit for which their IH or CR has little to no direct involvement in the district or council, I’m afraid that any council or district doing this would be guilty of throwing out the baby with the bath water!

Dear Andy,

Is there a BSA rule to the effect that a Merit Badge Counselor can sign up for a maximum of seven merit badges only? This question came up at a recent Roundtable, where they were asking for people to sign up as counselors, but we were told no more than seven. I’ve heard that, in the past, this has been a sort of Scouting legend, but I don’t believe it’s ever been an actual policy, but when I mentioned this, our District Executive challenged me to prove that it wasn’t. I know that that’s counter-intuitive since it would make more sense for him to prove that this is a bona fide BSA policy, so that’s why I’m asking… have the rules changed? What’s the scoop? (Jon Matthis, Hiawatha-Seaway Council, NY)

Per BSA policy, there is no limit on the number of merit badges one can counsel; however, per the MBC application, one must demonstrate expertise in the subject matter by way of education and/or profession and/or hobby or avocational competence.

That said, some councils do place restrictions on this number, because some erstwhile MBCs believe that “if I stay a page or two ahead of the Scouts, everything will be just fine,” which is hardly the point of merit badge counseling. The better way to combat this stuff, of course, is to actually read the submitted application carefully and, if the qualifications listed don’t seem to justify considering a person a true expert in the subject matter, then don’t vet him or her for that merit badge.

Thanks! If the council wants to make this a rule, how is it supposed to be done? Is it simply a decision by the Scout Executive, or is it a council executive board or advancement committee decision? (Jon)

Frankly, I can’t endorse the idea of limiting merit badges-per-counselor by simply attaching a number. I would, however, mightily endorse the idea of making sure all counselors are actually qualified by profession, education, or hobby proficiency for each merit badge they want to cover. Quick example: Just because, as an employee, I write letters and memos and emails, and speak with people, and occasionally make stand-up presentations doesn’t automatically qualify me to be a Communications MBC… but, if I actually teach communications, or I’m a corporate communications consultant, or an internal communications trainer for a company or business, then I’m qualified! Second example: Just knowing how to swim doesn’t qualify me to be a Swimming MBC, but if I’ve taken Red Cross WSI or BSA National Aquatic School, that would qualify me. Are you getting where I’m going here…?

OK, I get that a maximum isn’t the best idea, but our council will say that it’s a council rule. That’s why I need to know what procedure the council has to follow in order to make it a rule: So that when they say it is, I can argue the point.

There is no BSA-sanctioned “procedure” that a council can follow to establish such a rule as you’ve described, because that rule would supersede a policy of the BSA National Council, and this is one big No-No! That said, unless this so-called rule affects you personally in some way, I’d caution you to choose your battles carefully. Maybe the long-range best bet is to figure out a way to wind up as chair of the council advancement committee, and then set things right. You see, very little except frustration is enjoyed by folks who try to change things “from within.” Stuff like this only gets corrected from the top!

Dear Andy,

How is a troop committee chair appointed/chosen/elected? And what is the committee chair’s interaction/authority with the Scoutmaster and the Scouts in the troop? (Don McGarry)

In a perfect world, the Committee Chair is chosen by the head of the chartered organization, or by the Chartered Organization representative. The CC is the head of the Scouting unit, and is responsible for the active and correct functioning of the unit’s committee. The Scoutmaster or Cubmaster (depending on whether we’re talking about a troop or a pack) ultimately reports to the Committee Chair, insofar as the Scoutmaster or Cubmaster is responsible for the quality of the Scouting program actually carried out by the youth of the unit. (In most cases, however, Committee Chairs happen because no one seems to want the job and then somebody smart enough to realize that the CC’s actual job is 99% delegating to others and 1% running the monthly committee meetings, and offers to take the job when no one objects.) BTW, did you know that unit committees “vote” on absolutely nothing? That’s right: these committees are working groups; not legislative bodies!

Hi Andy,

As adult leaders of a troop, we’re trying to let the Scouts plan and organize the troop’s events. They have great ideas and lots of energy when they’re thinking of things to do, and they even go so far as setting dates, but that’s when the wheels fall off the wagon. This is our fault as leaders, because this is the point where we step in and fix it. I’m thinking of creating a checklist for the Scouts to use, but thought there may be something I could “borrow” from another leader. Do you know of any reasonably good checklists that already exist, that I could give to our Scouts? I think we need something comprehensive enough that a Scout could chair and delegate to other Scouts. Let me know what you think. (Don Naylor, ASM, Bellingham, MA)

First, let’s establish this, as Yoda of “Star Wars” put it: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

B-P said it this way: “Never do for a Scout what he can do for himself.”

If Scouts are going to lead and run their own troop, they can’t be “just a little bit pregnant.” They either do it, or they don’t. It’s the Scoutmaster’s responsibility to coach and mentor the troop’s Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders—regardless of their ages!—so that they can truly run their own troop. The Scoutmaster does this by asking questions… Have you considered how each patrol is going to get there? Have you considered how the patrol menus will be planned and the food will be bought? Have you considered where the needed tents will come from, who’s going to get them, and how the patrols will divide them up so that no one Scout is burdened with too much weight? And so on… (The Troop Scribe writes down all the answers to these questions, by the way.) And, as he does this, the Scoutmaster also collaborates with the troop committee, which gets the tour permit, rents any needed tents or other gear, and so on… (and the committee’s Secretary writes down who’s going to do what.)

Use The Patrol Method ALWAYS! Coach your SPL and PLs. Resist the temptation to “rescue” them, even if this means they forget something they needed to remember (they’ll never forget again!). The more you rescue them, the more you keep them little children; the less you all do for them, the more you grown them into responsible, thinking, collaborative young men and—ultimately—adults!

Avoid “checklists” that are spoon-fed to the Patrol Leaders Council. If you truly believe you need such a list, then it’s the PLC that should create it, with gentle guidance from the Scoutmaster.

For excellent backgrounding and information on planning (including gear and equipment needs and planning), consider the BSA’s FIELDBOOK.

Thanks for pointing that out and that probably explains why I wasn’t able to find such a checklist. I think that, as leaders, we watch and guide where we think the Scouts need help, and I think I’ll suggest to our SPL that something needs to be done, since there were two events planned and zero that actually happened. And thanks for the Yoda-ism. (Don)

The Scoutmaster Handbook contains a quote from our old friend, B-P, that points out how training the troop’s youth leaders to run their troop is the most important job the Scoutmaster has. As a former Scoutmaster (several times), I can agree 110% with that! Get that one right, and the whole troop steps up several notches!

Dear Andy,

Can you clarify whether all parents/guardians need to be registered with the unit (and, therefore, the BSA)? I believe that adult leaders must be registered, but should one or both parents/guardians of a Scout be registered as well? Does holding an elected or appointed committee position require registration? Does attending away trips or overnights require registration (because it provides a background check)? Some folks in my troop feel that the registration is just a means to giving more money to the BSA. The Unit Position Code on the BSA Adult Volunteer Application doesn’t contain a “Parent” code, and therefore seems geared to leadership or committee positions within the troop. (Scott Kellish, CC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Unless a parent is partnering with his or her Tiger Cub son, or unless he or she is mentoring a Lone Cub Scout or Lone Boy Scout son, registering as a BSA Adult Volunteer is in no way mandatory. Registered BSA Adult Volunteers are people who step up to the plate and say yes, I’ll take on a specific set of responsibilities for my son’s unit, including taking the necessary training for the position and reading the appropriate BSA literature on how to do the job. This includes all “uniformed” positions (e.g., Cubmaster, Den Leader, Scoutmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, etc.) as well as unit committee positions (Committee Chair, and committee member). Parents, or any person, who isn’t actually registered, is not a Scout leader or unit committee member, although these people can certainly help out on an informal basis from time to time or even on an ongoing basis (e.g., drivers to off-site activities, refreshments for unit events, counselors for Webelos activity badges, etc., etc.).

No registered adult positions are “by election”—every position is by volunteering and being accepted by the chartered organization (via the Chartered Organization Representative) and the unit’s Committee Chair.

You’re right that there’s no such position in the BSA titled “parent,” because that’s not a position with a specific set of BSA-defined responsibilities. As far as the BSA “making money” from $10 annual registration fees, in light of the cost of background checks, general paperwork, and providing ten copies a year ofSCOUTING magazine, does anyone really think the BSA’s “in it for those big bucks”? C’mon!

As for attending overnights or other off-site activities, non-registered participants (parents, other adult relatives, siblings, cousins, etc.) are covered by unit insurance as guests.

Finally, none of this is my personal opinion; all of this is per BSA policy on the subject. Thanks for asking, and I hope this helps clear up some pretty muddy water for you all!

Dear Andy,

I have a First Class Scout working on his Star rank. He’s an Assistant Patrol Leader and has been for over four months. Does this meet the req. #5 for Star? (John Lackie, SM, Grand Canyon Council, AZ)

‘Fraid not. The list of qualifying positions is in his handbook, and also in the Boy Scout Requirements book (every edition).

Dear Andy,

My church recently formed a Boy Scout troop. My son was a Scout in another troop some years ago. He’s now 15 years old and working with this troop on a volunteer basis. Is there a Scouting opportunity for him? Is it possible for him to start working towards Eagle Scout rank after being out of Scouting for several years? (Lauren Randall, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

A boy or young man can join Boy Scouts any time between his 11th and 18th birthdays! So yes, at age 15, your son can join up right now! If he decides that he’d like to try for Eagle Scout rank, he’s not short of time, although he doesn’t have a lot to burn, either! Going from Tenderfoot all the way to Eagle can be done in about 1-1/2 to 2 years with good planning, a lot of diligence, and just a little bit of good fortune in the timing department.

That said, the object of Scouting, for the young man, isn’t to be an Eagle Scout, although that’s certainly a worthy achievement. The object of Scouting is to have fun, have some adventures, do challenging things, make friends that may last a lifetime, learn some cool stuff along the way, and…Oh, yeah…have fun!

NetCommish Comment: Our resident cartoonist was struck by the same observation . . . have fun. This month’s feature cartoon captures it well:

Scouts Know What's Fun

Dear Andy

As trained leaders, my wife (a GSUSA archery instructor) and I (a BSA range master) can take her Girl Scout troop out to Girl Scout camps and let the girls use the archery range. Why can’t trained Cub Scout leaders take Cub Scouts out to Cub Scout camps and use the BB gun and archery ranges? After all, shooting BB guns is a big deal for most Scouts. (Fred Lauckner, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

Contact your council’s health and safety committee and/or risk management committee and get “vetted”! That’s the best of all worlds! (And thanks for what you and your wife are doing for our American youth!)


Hi Andy,

Just a friendly note… I wish you’d quit picking on Scout store clerks. I understand fully the context, because the person who answers a question does affect the reliability of the answer, but not all Scout store clerks are created equal. For example, in my own council we have four support staff, three full-timer, and one part-timer, and all four have between seven and 25 years of service as volunteers plus five to 14 years as employees (two are long-time Commissioners, one is OA Vigil Honor, another holds the District Award of Merit, and a third has staffed Wood Badge). Does this mean all of us know everything? Of course not! But chances are that if you called this office and didn’t reach a professional staffer, the answer you might get from any of the support team is likely to be reliable (without regard to our designated positions), and we all do know how to say, “I don’t know,” and to pick up the phone and ask someone who does! All four of us work at least some of the time in the Scout shop, if only to cover for lunches and days off. (Glenn Overby, Prairielands Council, IL)

I’ll pick on anybody who thinks he’s or she’s a “Scouting expert” and wings it off the top o’ their head (without double-checking), whether they’re in a Scout shop or anywhere else, and I’ll also highlight Scout Shop folks who get it right! If you’ve read my columns, you’ll see that there are both.

If you and your folks are willing to say “I don’t know,” that’s absolutely admirable. Unfortunately, not a lot seem to be like you all. That’s when folks get confused, and write to me. (I don’t make this stuff up!) Thanks for all you do—We’re all in the soup together!

One thing we’ve done for years is keep a display copy of the major guidebooks, manuals, and handbooks unwrapped and in binders on the store shelves. It lets customers see what they’re buying, and it also serves as a quick reference library for answering questions. Everyone from our part-time program clerk to our Scout Executive has been known to look up answers there! (Glenn Overby)

That “open book” idea is fabulous!

Dear Andy,

That Scout from New Zealand can be awarded a comparable BSA rank, with the sole exception of Eagle, which is always earned (per BSA policy) (Walter Underwood, ASM, Pacific Skyline Council, CA)

Spot on, and thanks!

Dear Andy,

I’m a committee member in need of some advice. Our Scoutmaster has a son who’s Star rank and my concern is that they’re doing Scoutmaster conferences that we never see (maybe they’re doing them at their home?). Can a Scoutmaster really do his own son’s Scoutmaster conference for rank advancement? In addition to this, the Scoutmaster is also a Merit Badge Counselor, and his own son has ten merit badges while my son has been asking for three months to complete his last requirement for the First Aid merit badge and the Scoutmaster won’t give him an answer. (I think that he’s also playing with the dates of his son’s advancements.) What can I do? (Name & Council Withheld)

What a pity that this man may be short-changing his own son! The loser here is the boy, because should it ever come down to his needing the skills and knowledge he gains on the trail to Eagle, and he finds that he comes up short, this is where the greatest loss will be.

For First Aid, your own son would be wise and clever to go to another Merit Badge Counselor and get that final requirement signed off. There’s absolutely no reason why he should wait any longer, but it’s also obvious that he needs a new MBC to finish up.

These points made, it’s perfectly OK for a Scoutmaster to have a conference with his own son and it’s also perfectly OK for a Merit Badge Counselor to counsel his own son… Both of these are per BSA policy.

What you can do is keep an eye on this Scoutmaster and, if he’s damaging or delaying the advancement of Scouts in the troop in general, then you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with the Committee Chair about replacing that Scoutmaster with someone who plays fair. If, however, this is more of a personal nature, then I think you’d be wise to choose your battles very carefully.

Hi Andy,

I have a question about who’s eligible to sit on a board of review. I see that non-registered person who’s not on the troop committee can sit on a board of review for an Eagle candidate if he or she is knowledgeable about the significance of the rank. What about other positions in the troop? For instance, is the Chartered Organization Representative (COR) or Institutional Head (IH) qualified to sit on the board of review for any of the ranks? (Our own COR is registered and therefore has passed the background check, but the IH isn’t.) (Mike Ingles, SM, Arlington, VA)

The reason why Eagle boards of review, uniquely, don’t restrict participation to registered members of the troop committee is expressly for the reason you’re asking about! Yes, by all means invite the head of your chartered organization! Let him or her see the results of all of your efforts on behalf of the young men you serve! This is truly witness to the program your sponsor has endorsed and is supporting.

For all other ranks, and Eagle palms, the only people who are eligible to sit on a board of review are registered members of the troop committee.

The only people who cannot participate in boards of review for any rank are Scoutmasters, Assistant Scoutmasters, and parents or guardians.

Dear Andy,

My son is currently working on Citizenship in the Community merit badge and his troop is going to a city council meeting tonight. He went to a city council meeting a couple of years ago. Does he need to go again? (Felice Hudson)

Yes, he does, because he probably went for a different merit badge and the meeting-focused requirement would have likely been different from what he’s going there to do now (no two requirements for two different merit badges are ever quite the same).

Dear Andy,

I’m the pastor at a church that sponsors a Cub Scout pack. Recently we’ve purchased a pack flag and would like to present it to them. Do you have a resource for a ceremony to do so? (Rev. Albert Smith)

What a wonderful gesture! There’s no “official” ceremony so just go with your heart and I’m sure you’ll be right! You might consider a “double-presentation”… One in a Sunday service, to the Cubmaster and Committee Chair along with two Cub Scouts (the Cubmaster and Cubs in uniform, of course), and a second presentation by you at the very next pack meeting!


Hi Andy,

Your columns continue to be a great source of guidance for me in my role as the committee chair of a good-sized (43 Scouts) troop. Our Scoutmaster does a great job overall, but with respect to the Scoutmaster’s conferences, he has a tendency to get into skills analysis which in the guidelines are described as not being part of such conferences. I’ve coached him on this before and he’s scaled it back, but in additional discussions with him, I get the feeling that he uses some of these not so much as a test of the skill but rather as a means for him getting the feel that the Scout is indeed ready for the next rank and what will be expected from him in terms of leadership, giving back to the troop, etc. At times, depending on how he feels the Scout acted or responded to some of these questions, he’s had the Scout come back a second time before he’d sign the Scout off on the conference requirement. Is it uncommon for something like this to occur? Is it reasonable for the Scoutmaster of a large troop to want to get a strong feel for that Scout’s preparedness for the next rank? (Name & Council Withheld)

Our best “yardstick” always begins with this question: Are we delivering to the Scouts we serve what their Handbook is telling them they’ll get? If the answer’s yes, then we’re on the right track!

The Boy Scout Handbook (any edition) says this about Scoutmaster conferences: “…Scoutmaster conferences are opportunities for you (the Scout) to review how you are doing and to look ahead…toward what happens next in your life as a Scout. You can ask questions, share what you like about being a Scout, and together (with your Scoutmaster) figure out ways it can be even better.”

Notice that this doesn’t talk at all about “reviewing requirements” or doing a “skills analysis” or “testing skills.” Why not? Simple: These things aren’t done in either Scoutmaster conferences or boards of review! Neither is to be a “final exam” in even the merest of ways.

Further, here’s what the Scoutmaster Handbook (p. 120) says about the goals of Scoutmaster Conferences: “Establish trust and understanding between a Scout and Scoutmaster, reinforce the ideals of Scouting, allow the Scout and Scoutmaster to share ideas and ask questions of one another, (and) set goals and outline steps for achieving them.” This resource goes on to identify specific subject areas the Scoutmaster can bring up in the conversation (p. 121), including the Scout’s likes and dislikes about school, his sports and hobbies, what he liked best about the most recent troop outing, what he does in his free time, his interesting in holding a leadership position in the troop, how he feels the troop as a whole is doing, merit badges he’s interested in earning, and interest in such things as Jamborees, Philmont, Order of the Arrow, and so on. Notice the complete absence of anything that sounds like a skills review or requirement re-testing. This is not by accident! These things are absolutely not supposed to be part of either Scoutmasters conferences or boards of review!

It’s critical that your Scoutmaster understand and carry out what he’s supposed to be doing here, as well as what he’s not supposed to be doing. If he continues to violate the trust the BSA has placed in him to follow and deliver the program as written, then your troop is facing the need to replace him with somebody who does understand and is willing to conform to the program and its guidelines.

Happy Scouting!



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

(December 23, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)

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


About AskAndy

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

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

Read Andy's full biography

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