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Issue 204 – January 10, 2010

This is a landmark column: It’s the first in what’s now my tenth year of listening to you and writing for you.

When in 2001 I first began these columns, I had little idea how fast and far they would grow—all by word-of-mouth! Now, in addition to receiving letters literally daily, many councils around the country are reproducing my columns or parts of them on their websites and in their newsletters. I’m honored and humbled that this has happened.

At first, when John, my Council Commissioner, and I first discussed the merits of a column such as this, we thought it might perhaps help fill a void, but we had no idea it would literally take on a life of its own. Thank you, John, for your support and continuing encouragement from “day one.”

I’m also immensely grateful to my wife, who tolerates with good humor my “trying out” many of my responses on her before I write them, and, with regard to my other continuing Scouting activities, will freely state, “If a week goes by without a pair of Scout socks in the wash, something’s wrong!” Linda, you have my steadfast love and gratitude!

The third person who deserves my sincere thanks is Michael F. Bowman, Webmaster of the U.S. Scouting Service Project and its wonderful website. Mike first opened the USSSP’s doors to me in about 2003, but has gone the proverbial extra mile by being at various times my mentor, foil, cheerleader, contributor, editor, and so much more! Thanks, Mike!

To all who read this column, write letters, and ask questions: THANK YOU! You’ve written to me from 305 councils and direct service areas, across all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico; Scouts-Canada Thunder Bay Area and Burlington, Ontario; Scouts Australia-Queensland; plus Germany, Hong Kong, Japan (including Okinawa), Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, and even Iraq, and the “other” BSA: the British Scout Association, including the 1st Carlton Colville Air Scout Group, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, the Scouting Association of the Republic of Poland, the Singapore Scout Association, Scouts New Zealand, and even a Scouting researcher from Malmo, Sweden.

To you all, THANK YOU! This is the most rewarding endeavor I’ve ever taken on in my life (it also carries immense responsibility, which I’ve not failed to respect). Some things we do feed the pocketbook; this feeds the soul.


Hi Andy,

Have you ever heard of, or know anything about, the “Double Eagle” rank in Boy Scouts? It could go back quite a few years. I’m thinking that if anyone would know, it would be you. I’d greatly appreciate any information. (Robert Bennett)

Back in the days of “green uniform Explorers” (roughly 1949 to 1959), the advancement program required, among other elements, earning “ratings” which were the equivalent—in breadth, depth, and number of requirements—of between four and five merit badges, for the Apprentice, Bronze Award, Gold Award, and then Silver Award. Any Explorer who had earned Eagle and then also earned the Silver Award was considered to have earned the equivalent of two Eagles—thus, the “Double-Eagle” nickname.

In the ten years that the Silver Award was originally available, just over 18,000 young men earned it—this is one for every ten Eagle Scouts, making it extremely rare even then, and making the “Double Eagle” even more rare, since not every Explorer who earned the Silver Award also earned the Eagle rank. Today, Double Eagles (or, should I say we) are a pretty rare breed.

Dear Andy,

What do you call a “patrol” in a Venturing crew? Our crew has 40 members, so we divided them into “patrols” but we know we can’t call them patrols (that only applies to troops). (Xuan-Huong Do, Orange County Council, CA)

A Venturing crew’s structure more resembles a club (think: Rotary Club, Lions Club, Drama Club, and so on) and doesn’t resemble either a Boy Scout troop (with its patrols) or a Cub Scout pack (with its dens). In a club, the sub-groups, if you will, are committees, each with a committee chair, to which members belong, or not, as they choose. There may be a permanent committee, for service to the sponsor or community, or there may be a short-term committee, for a special event or activity, perhaps. But there are no “sub-crews” or “patrol-like groups” within a Venturing crew. The model crew of 30-40 members has just a few regular officers (president, two vice-presidents, a secretary, and a treasurer) and then everyone else would be either a committee member (so that there’s personal involvement and self-determination) or a chair of a committee they’ve elected to be a part of. Refer to your Venturing Leader Manual and you’ll get a better idea about structure and how to accomplish the goals of the crew.

With the changes that will occur in 2010, can you please confirm that these were added as leadership positions for a Venturer working on the Eagle Scout rank: Den Chief, Crew Guide, Historian, Quartermaster, per:

Thank you. (Xuan-Huong Do)

If we use the BSA Insignia Guide as a reference for available and qualifying Venturer leadership positions, we find: President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Venturers can also serve as a Den Chief or Webelos Den Chief, and these are qualifying positions, too. As for the remainder on your list, these are Sea Scout positions, and not presently available to Venturers, although 2010 may see a change here. For further information on this, contact your local council’s advancement committee.

And this additional comment by a Scouter deeply involved in Venturing…

Yes, there are new positions available, that were actually approved in 2008. They are: National Venturing President, Regional Venturing President, Area Venturing President, Council Venturing President, District Venturing President, Crew Guide, Crew Historian, and Crew Quartermaster (plus their Sea Scout counterparts). I’m getting a ruling on changing the Eagle Scout Rank Application to show these positions. When I get an answer I’ll let you know. (Bob Monto, Minsi Trails Council, PA)

Dear Andy,

Why do they make the Outdoor Activity Award so hard to earn? My son has to go to a Cub Scout day camp, which means a week during the summer. But with summer school, he wasn’t able to participate. This means that after a whole year waiting for it, and going to every campout and earning the Leave No Trace award, he won’t be able to earn the Outdoor Activity Award. Last year, he missed it because a trip which we had planned ahead for, and the one before, I didn’t knew about this award. Now, everyone in his den is wearing the patch except him, and he’s a little upset. I don’t think it’s fair to make day camp a requirement to earn the award. (Cub Scout father, Central Florida Council)

In the BSA, requirements are requirements, and unless there’s a permanent physical or mental handicap, requirements aren’t changed or adjusted in any way. This means that every boy in the BSA, no matter where he lives, does exactly the same as every other boy in the BSA to earn a particular advancement rank or badge. In the case of your son and the Cub Scout Outdoor Achievement Award, the requirements have been in place since the award was introduced in August 2004. If Cub Scout day camp overlapped with your son’s summer school program—a mandatory one, I’m assuming—that’s unfortunate, of course, but your son will have the opportunity to earn this next summer, if it’s not again mandatory that he attend summer school.

It’s just one of those little realities of life that not every boy will earn every badge, rank, or award. In the case of Boy Scouts, for instance, although every Scout has the opportunity to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, less than one in ten does so, and this is mostly their own personal decision.

A word of advice for “next time”… Read up on the requirements in advance, so that your son knows whether something’s going to be possible or not.

Dear Andy,

I’m trying to find the words and music for the Wood Badge song, “Back To Gilwell.” I’ve checked all through the USSSP website and can’t seem to find it anywhere. I’m involved in putting on a Wood Badge-Part Two soon, and I thought that it would be kinda neat to have this song on tap. I’ve been involved in Scouting here in Canada for about 33 years now (I took the Wood Badge course back in1982, at Bluesprings, just outside of Toronto). If at all possible, can you let me know where I can find at least the lyrics? (William Taylor)

Try this:

Dear Andy,

My question’s about the Totin’ Chip… In adult leader training, we were told that the BSA now has a policy that a safety infraction requires leaders to take away the card and the offender must repeat the class. Our Scoutmaster has stated that he thinks the old method of just removing a corner is fine and our troop will continue to do this. I can’t find the Totin’ Chip information anywhere on the Net. Any thoughts? I want to find out what’s correct. (William Luehl, Gulf Ridge Council, FL)

Let’s start with the requirements, which you’ll find on page 231 of the BSA book, Boy Scout Requirements, and which, in the first place, don’t mandate that a “class” be taken by any Scout. The “Scout leader” to whom the Scout must demonstrate his proficiency can be his Scoutmaster, or can be someone else whom the Scoutmaster has designated (e.g., a Patrol Leader, the Senior Patrol Leader, an Assistant Scoutmaster, or someone else). It states, further, that “The Scout’s ‘Totin’ Rights’ can be taken away from him if he fails in his responsibility.” If a personal safety infraction occurs, this would certainly be grounds for some sort of disciplinary action, up to and including taking the card. However, since no “class” is required, if the Scout can demonstrate the safe use of the woods tool right there, on the spot, and promises to not deviate from this from now on, Scout’s honor should prevail and the card can be returned to him without delay! No card deep-sixed, no corners torn! Your Scoutmaster is following a procedure that’s been in place and successfully followed for over 50 years. He’s the Scoutmaster—Leave him alone on this one. It just isn’t worth picking a fight over.

Dear Andy,

I’m Scoutmaster of a troop of 25 Scouts. We’re divided into three patrols. Is there a particular guideline or time-line for breaking up the new Scout patrol and intermingling these Scouts into other patrols? (Bill Glover)

Yup, there sure is a guideline! Are you ready…? Here’s the answer: DON’T!

Especially if a group of Webelos Scouts from the same den all joined up at once and became a patrol, remember that it’s likely they’ve been together for four years—since they were Tiger Cubs. So why would you want to split up a group that’s been together for more than four years… Don’t do it. They elected their own Patrol Leader when they first joined the troop, you’ve worked with that PL to give him the leadership skills needed to lead his patrol (that’s your “Job #1” as Scoutmaster), they’re now ready for a new election and a new Patrol Leader and you’re gonna bust ’em up? Not right!

But even if the Scouts in the new Scout patrol didn’t all come from the same den, they’ve had a chance to bond, to get to know one another, to choose their own leader (and you’ve done your job for him), and now they’re ready to move to a new plane, and you’re gonna bust ’em up? Biiiig mistake!

Now I hope for goodness sake that you’re not one of those troops that “assigns” an older Scout to be the Patrol Leader of the new Scout patrol “so the new Scouts can learn,” because that’s hogwash! Scouts learn by doing; not by watching.

So, with 25 Scouts, one of whom is Senior Patrol Leader and therefore not connected to a patrol, leaving 24 Scouts, your ideal would be four patrols of six Scouts each. But, since you already have three well-formed patrols, just leave them all be. In February, when the next batch of Webelos Scouts cross over, just bundle them up into their own patrol and keep ’em that way!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been asked to define “service hour” for Second Class, Star, and Life ranks. Can you point me in the direction of a good definition?

Also, do you know of a form that anyone uses for Scouts working with outside organizations, to document their hours? A number of small groups do not have any kind of form. (Bill Birch, Chicago Area Council, IL)

Service for Second Class, Star, and Life rank candidates, as described in the Boy Scout Handbook, can take many forms… It can be for one’s church or temple, school, community, council summer camp, local hospital, blood bank, retirement home, and even the “little old lady” who lives next door and needs help carrying her groceries. All the Scout needs to do, for example, is tell his Scoutmaster, “I’m gonna be working at the local soup kitchen this weekend—about three or four hours (or whatever number he plans on) and I’d like for this to count toward my service for the (fill in the blank) rank.” A Scout can even say, “I’m gonna be helping Billy with his Eagle project, and I figure I’ll be putting in about XX hours.” To this sort of affirmation, any right-minded Scoutmaster is going to say, “Go for it! And let me know how it went when we meet next week,” and then he’ll follow up with the Scout, to find out what kind of experience the boy had.

Form? You’re joking! OK, you’re not joking… Please don’t use a form, Bill—This is Scout’s honor stuff. When a Scout tells you he’s done it, he’s done it. If we don’t take his word, but insist on documentation and verification of every dang thing, how can any Scout possibly live up to the Scout Law point of Trustworthy?

Dear Andy,

My son recently joined Boy Scouts and is excited to learn everything there is about Scouting. I want to encourage that enthusiasm for the experience and help him feel successful while still one of the youngest members of his troop. In Scouting situations, there are often activities based on a patrol’s knowledge of things like the outdoor essentials, hiking essentials, and indigenous plants and animals. Since memorization doesn’t come easy for him, I’m hoping to reinforce this information at home by using such educational tools such as word finds, crosswords, songs, and puzzles. The knot, camping, and Scouting card games from the BSA have been helpful, but I’m wondering if you know of a website or other resource that might further assist us. (Lora Peters, Western Los Angeles County Council, CA)

Your son may have joined Boy Scouts from a good Cub Scout pack, where parents and their sons worked on advancements together. If that’s the case, you need to know that while Boy Scouts is certainly a continuation of the Scouting program, it’s definitely not an older-boy version of Cub Scouts.

If, on the other hand, your son joined Boy Scouts not having been a Cub Scout (which is perfectly OK and is much encouraged), the Boy Scout program is distinctly not a parent-and-son program. In Boy Scouts, the emphasis is on BOY.

So, whichever path taken, my recommendation is going to be the same: Unless your son suffers from a severe and permanent learning disability, the very best thing you can do for him is to let him go and learn on his own, without parental partnering. Encouragement, yes. Emotional support, yes. But that’s it.

This probably sounds counter-intuitive if not anathema to the parenting you’ve provided for the past eleven years, and there’s a good chance you’re thinking right now that Andy’s a whacko who just doesn’t get it! That’s not the case. You see, the Boy Scout program is specifically geared to the ages 11 through 17, and it’s a program that largely involves individual, personal growth and development, including the male youth maturation process. That process includes a boy’s natural and age-appropriate desire to individuate himself from his parents. In order to do this successfully and ultimately become a young man and then man who can stand on his own two feet, the Boy Scout program is peer-relationship-intensive, with no more than one or perhaps two direct role models, neither of whom is a parent. Moreover, in Boy Scouting, the boy learns by doing—not by rote memorization or using flash cards or other memory aides and/or mnemonics. Doing is the key to Boy Scout advancement. Doing as an individual is a parallel key. This is one of the reasons why your son’s Boy Scout Handbook very clearly tells him that advancement is at his own pace and no one else’s.

Allow your son to learn and grow at his own pace. If he wants to make flash cards for himself, he’ll do that on his own. If he wants to make up mnemonics and acronyms, he’ll do that, too. If he wants to use songs or jingles to remember stuff, he’ll do that. Allow his own creativity to flourish. And, if he chooses not to have flash cards, acronyms, mnemonics, crosswords, or other stuff like that, it’s perfectly OK! You see, advancement in the Boy Scouts isn’t a race. A Scout can choose to reach the rank of Eagle, or Life, or Star, or First Class, and any of those is just fine. And he can choose to do whatever his goal may be in two years or six, or even not at all—this is his own personal decision and belongs to no one else.

If he’s an avid boy, he’s going to just soak up everything in his handbook like a sponge! And that’s terrific if he’s doing this of his own accord. He may even re-read some sections many times over in the course of the next half-dozen years. Or not. It’s all up to him.

So what can you do, as a good and caring mom? You can make sure he gets to troop meetings on time and in uniform. You can make sure he goes to as many troop hikes and campouts as possible, and gets to summer camp with his troop this summer, even if it means moving (or he misses) the family summer vacation. You can show up at courts of honor and applaud his accomplishments—the ones he’s chosen for himself. And, you can get his dad (or step-dad, uncle, or male guardian—whatever your situation may be) involved with him, because he’s sitting right on the cusp of needing solid male role-modeling in order to grow into the kind of young man, and man, you’ve hoped he’d be from Day One!

Thanks for writing, and for asking a very important question! You have my very best wishes.

Dear Andy,

My son found an Eagle service project at his high school. The project is to add sprinklers to the softball field, to water down the field’s dirt surface. This project will only add two to three sprinklers, but over a large area which will require considerable trenching, laying in two-inch pipe, fittings, and sprinklers (the school’s facility manager will do the plumbing) and back-filling the trenches again. But when my son talked to his Eagle project advisors, one of them said that this project is too simple and not challenging enough. How can this be not challenging? Can you help me understand? (Wendy Chou, Santa Clara Country Council, CA)

I’m sure your son must be discouraged, and I truly hope he’ll not give up on his quest based on this setback. Not having read his project plan, I’m not qualified to comment on why his project concept didn’t meet with approval to proceed. Only the actual reviewers can do that, and your son does have the right to ask them to describe in precise terms why it didn’t receive approval. In fact, he should definitely do that, because there may be a way to expand his project in some way so that approval is granted and he can realize his goal of service here. If, however, this can’t be done, then it’s time to immediately begin thinking about a fresh idea. Your son should definitely reach out to his Scoutmaster and the troop’s advancement chair for counseling on this. That’s what these folks are there for!

Hi Andy,

My son and another Webelos Scout are ready for the Arrow of Light. They’ve completed requirements for the remaining activity badges that they need. Is there any reason why we can’t give them the activity badges and have the Arrow of Light ceremony at the same pack meeting? I’ve suggested that they get their activity badges when all the dens get pins and badges and then we should have the Arrow of Light ceremony later in the pack meeting. (There’s a third boy who already has his activity badges, so the plan would be to honor all three boys in the same meeting.) Is there any reason why this can’t be done? (Karen, Western Los Angeles County Council, CA)

Sounds pretty good to me! Based on what you’ve described, I’d say go for it!

Hello Andy,

My question’s about the BSA 50 Miler Award and how many times it may be earned. Is it a one-time thing? Several of our Scouts have earned it more than once, but when I went to enter that information in Scoutnet through our council’s Internet Advancement program, it will allow for only one date to be recorded. I can create multiple entries in Troopmaster for the Scouts for this award, but I’m looking for a little advice on how many times the award is usually or may be earned. (Jan Welch, Troop Advancement Chair, National Capital Area Council, VA)

Don’t let a hunk o’ software arbitrarily kick out Scouts who’ve hiked or paddled 50 miles or more, multiple times! So long as the requirements are fulfilled each time, this can be earned as many times as one cares to. And the multiple patches, of course, go on the Scouts’ backpacks (not their uniforms).

Hello Andy,

Our troop is interested in changing to a different sponsor, in part because our current sponsor can’t provide the storage space we need for a growing troop. Our sister pack would go with us to the new sponsor, as well. What should be in a letter to our units’ current sponsor that will ask for the release of our unit numbers, equipment, and financial accounts? We’ve been told by our current sponsor’s head that they don’t want the items themselves, but would want an inventory of equipment and a financial report, which we’re happy to provide. We only need to know what should be in the letter asking for it. Is there anything we should avoid saying? (Wayne Unwin)

I think just being straightforward and honest is the way to go, remembering that your long-time sponsor, as “owner” of the troop and pack, in fact owns all of these units’ equipment, funds, etc., and if they’re permitting you to take all of this with you in changing sponsors, they’re being more than generous. I’m sorry that building lockers isn’t feasible, and I’d encourage you and them to revisit this possibility one more time, just to be certain that this accommodation can’t be accomplished. (Building lockers is a great unit project! It might even be a great Eagle project if it can be extended beyond use by Scouting units alone!) At any rate, your council should have an attorney available (i.e., the council’s legal counsel) who can probably help you frame the letter, with further input/ideas from your District Executive.

Dear Andy,

I’d appreciate learning why the White House has discontinued sending letters or cards to acknowledge new Eagle Scouts. Several of us have tried, unsuccessfully, to get this recognition for our Eagle Scouts, for most of this past year, without even so much as a reply of any kind. We’ve tried letters, faxes, and emails, and none has produced anything. Can you give us some direction here? (Warren Fellingham, UC, Northeast Illinois Council)

The only place I’m sure of, that can answer it, is the White House itself. I’ve heard, however, that the White House is in process of preparing the kind of acknowledgement you’re seeking and it will be available shortly. Whether this is fact or myth remains to be seen.

Dear Andy,

My son attended a World Scout Jamboree. I’m not sure where to put the World Jamboree patch. It’s my understanding that the BSA National Jamboree patch goes above the right pocket; does the World Jamboree patch go on the right pocket for a specific period of time? His Scoutmaster has said that if a Scout has been to both a National and a World Jamboree, then the patches get switched, with the World going above and the National on the right pocket, but I can’t find any confirmation. (Mary Kay Wagonblast, Los Angeles Area Council, CA)

The BSA specifies: The National Jamboree emblem is worn above the right pocket, and the World Jamboree emblem is worn on the right pocket. The source for this is the BSA’s Insignia Guide.

Dear Andy,

I’m hoping maybe you could give me an unbiased opinion supported by your knowledge of BSA regulations on my particular situation… My son was awarded his Eagle Scout rank, however, there were complications to it. At first, the board of review refused to sign him off, so we went through the council’s appeals process. The council reversed the original board’s decision and did award him his Eagle; however, some people associated with his troop don’t agree with this decision. As a result, when I asked about having an Eagle Court of Honor for him, their response was that I should plan a one that doesn’t require a lot of support from the troop. I feel like the troop is saying, “Don’t include us.” Is it right, from the BSA standpoint, for a troop to be taking this sort of position? Or if not, what steps should I go about in handling this situation? Thanks for your help. (Name Withheld, Greater Alaska Council)

The most important thing is that your son’s an Eagle… and will be for the rest of his life! Everything else is just “stuff.” I’m hoping his troop holds regular courts of honor, and if there’s an Eagle rank advancement to be acknowledged, it’s done so. I’m also hoping that his troop doesn’t have special, separate courts of honor just for Eagle rank, because these often come off looking more like coronations or something along those sort of pomp-and-circumstance lines. If it’s the former, then just let it be and it’ll turn out fine. If it’s the second case, and the troop’s already said it’s going to do as little as it can get away with, then how about just doing your own? After all, there are obviously some people associated with this troop that are so mean-spirited that I wouldn’t want them showing up, anyway! Talk about not getting what Scout spirit means! Holy cow!

So do it yourself, for your son, and let those curmudgeons over at the troop just rotate on their own little thumbs! Hold it in your back yard, or in the fellowship room of the church you go to, or in your living room! Invite your own preferred speakers and presenters, invite your son’s close friends from the troop, from school, from church, and so on. Invite nearby relatives! Invite the council people who sat on his board of review! Invite a Commissioner or District Executive, and ask him or her to declare a “National Court of Honor,” which they have the authority to do! Make a party out of it! Yes, it’s absolutely, perfectly “legal” to do this! Hoo-Hah! Have some FUN! And forget about the jerks! They’re not worth your time.

Dear Andy,

Our former Scoutmaster (now an ASM) is having an extramarital relationship—a pretty “public” one—with the mother of another of our troop’s Scouts (both of their sons are in the troop, and he also has daughters). We’ve done our homework and do understand that this sort of conduct is grounds for removal from the troop roster; however, no one wants to take action. It’s escalating. Recently, he “announced” to our Scouts at a troop meeting that this woman is his “new girlfriend.” Now the Scouts do know he’s married, and they do understand what adultery is, but our committee chair’s position on this matter is that adultery isn’t specifically against the rules in the BSA and therefore no action will be taken. Meanwhile, the present Scoutmaster wants to “see something in writing” before he’ll get involved, and the Chartered Organization Representative is stating that “dating” is not forbidden by the BSA. On top of all this, the head of the church that sponsors us says that the church isn’t about to impose morality on any of its members.

Do you know where I can find something in writing, or a BSA policy, that states that moral turpitude and/or adultery is wrong and is prohibited by BSA policy? Any help which you can provide will be greatly appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

Here’s the good news: Your troop isn’t a business; it’s a volunteer group. Therefore, there’s no “three strikes” rule, or need for “grounds,” or anything else when it comes to “hire-fire” decisions. All that has to happen in your situation is for the head of the sponsoring organization to walk up to any volunteer and simply say, “Thank you for your services; they’re no longer needed.” That’s it. End of story. No reason need be given, no “arguments” engaged in, and no debates. And you don’t even need to spend time listening to “the other side of the story.” It’s over. Finito.

All that remains is for the head of the sponsor to immediately announce this to the unit, publicly, and then go to the council service center that day or the next morning and have the person’s name removed from the troop roster. The removed person has no “higher authority” to appeal to, because the sponsor is 100% in ownership of the unit and every adult volunteer in it. This is described on page 2 of the adult application itself.

That said, you do need to be very, very certain that you’re on solid ground here… Dating a single parent or referring to her as “girlfriend” isn’t in opposition to BSA policy, and I’m wondering if you truly know the present marital status of the gentleman in question. Plus, hasn’t anyone actually had a conversation with him about this? Or is this one of those “elephant-in-the-kitchen” situations? Time for a heart-to-heart, and no emails!

Hi Andy,

I’ve heard about Pinewood Derby timing software… Do you have any leads or suggestions on this? (Turgut Yetil, Connecticut Yankee Council)

Sure… Usually there are ads in the back of SCOUTING magazine. Also, have you tried simply Googling it?

Hi Andy,

A new Scout-and-Dad “team” joined our troop last March, and while we appreciate the dad’s enthusiasm and helpfulness, he’s pushing advancement for his son (and pushing the troop committee) in ways that are making us uncomfortable.

This Scout will celebrate his 12th birthday in just a few months and he’s already Life rank (we had an uncomfortable exchange with the dad when he felt we were slow to pass his son for the Life rank, although we did have questions about months of leadership, etc.). Also, our troop will be sending a crew to Philmont next summer, and this same father was reluctant to accept that the Scouts making up the crew must be at least age 14 to participate, even though that’s Philmont’s stipulation, not ours! Now, this same father has signed up himself and his son to attend the National Scout Jamboree this coming summer, even though (again) the minimum age is 14 and his son will be only 12.

Enthusiasm and participation are to be encouraged, but I’m troubled that this father—who is an Eagle Scout himself—would be willing to bend and/or skirt the rules so much. At this point, I’m not about to report him to the Jamboree officials and disappoint his son (he’s actually a very nice kid) but I’m concerned. Any advice on how you would approach this problem? (Name Withheld, CC, Cradle of Liberty Council, PA)

If the parent of a Scout is making you all feel uncomfortable with his pushiness about his son’s advancement, he needs to be taken aside by the committee chair and a couple of other committee members and told this, straight away. There is no reason why he should be displaying such angst—This is his son’s Scouting life, not his. And there’s no reason you all should be tolerating his unreasonably forceful approach to this. Tell him this, and tell him to kindly stop it. (Do this in-person; DON’T USE EMAIL!)

As for being a Life Scout before his 12th birthday, this isn’t impossible. The normal time it would take to complete rank requirements in an active troop are: Tenderfoot, 30 days [one month]; Second Class, 2 months; First Class, 3 months; Star, 4 months; and Life, 6 months; for a total of 16 months; so that, if a Webelos Scout joined a troop at about 10-1/2 years old, and fast-tracked himself, it’s entirely feasible to be Life before his 12th birthday (but it would be close!). However, if you had “questions about months of leadership,” and waffled, then you made a mistake: This Scout either had put in the required time in a qualifying leadership position, or he hadn’t. Four months means four months. Six months means six months. That’s absolutely black-and-white. If you did make a mistake here, it’s water under the bridge, of course, but this mistake can’t ever be repeated.

As for the father’s discontentment with Philmont’s age restriction on treks, you can’t walk small around stuff like this, because there’s a physical limitation principle at work here and fudging it can put this boy in harm’s way. This means that it’s high time you simply tell this gentleman: Rules are rules, and we follow them—we don’t go searching for ways around them, or complain about them.

The Jamboree is a different issue altogether. This is outside of your troop’s program, and responsibilities. Now maybe if you know someone who’s on the council’s Jamboree committee personally, you might have a quiet conversation (again, NO EMAIL!), but if this isn’t the situation, then I’d be tempted to believe that the council has sufficient checkpoints in place (e.g., medical forms, BSA registration information, Passport documentation, etc.) that this age discrepancy will be picked up without your creating a whistle-blower reputation for yourselves. Besides, you may not be aware of any special circumstances that may have come into play, that would make you all look like the goats. I think I’d leave this one alone, especially if you all may have made an error in this Scout’s advancement to Life rank. If, on the other hand, there’s a lie about age on this Scout’s application, then the responsibility for that rests with whoever perpetrated the lie.

Bottom line: Our job is to deliver the Scouting program, as written, to all boys who want Scouting, but we can’t save boys from their own parents.

Dear Andy,

I have a dilemma. I was recently nominated, and accepted, the position of Committee Chair for our pack—I agreed to train during the coming year and then take over after that. However, shortly after we reached this understanding, another pack mom approached the then-Committee Chair and asked for that position, and since she was a stay-at-home parent, I thought that she’d have more time to dedicate to the position and so I stepped aside. Fast forward one year… Her husband was transferred out-of-town, they moved, and I once again stepped up to the plate and volunteered my services to the pack and was accepted wholeheartedly. Of course, at that point I’d stepped into someone else’s program. I tried to pick up the reins with the hope of taking a break after our Blue & Gold Banquet, so I could regroup and organize things. Every month, our pack has a big activity: In October it’s a campout, in November an Indian Dance presentation, December was our holiday party, January our Pinewood Derby, and February our B&G. Being that I was pretty new to all this, the first three meetings ran long, and at our Pinewood derby there were a couple of things that could have run better (such as I didn’t get the race rules to all the new pack families and a few heated discussions occurred). To cut to the chase, after our B&G, some parents had a private meeting and asked for my resignation. I stepped down, and now I regret my decision to do so. I’m really having trouble aligning all of this… Should their have been a secret meeting, and if there was to be such a meeting shouldn’t all of the Pack been present (my own den parents weren’t invited), and shouldn’t I have been given the chance to defend myself or at least to speak my peace? After all of this, I am seriously considering changing packs, because I don’t think that I can support a pack that wouldn’t support its volunteers. Any comments would be greatly appreciated. (Name Withheld, Circle Ten Council, TX)

First off, I need to understand something… Do you really mean Committee Chair? Or do you mean Cubmaster? I’m asking, because the Committee Chair position (remember from your training) isn’t responsible for the content of pack meetings, B&Gs, etc. That’s the specific job of the Cubmaster and Den Leaders. The Committee Chair position heads up the pack’s committee and supports the Den Leaders and Cubmaster, but is hardly even visible at pack meetings!

If you were, indeed, the Committee Chair, you were, for all intents and purposes, “fire-proof.” No one can remove a Committee Chair except the Chartered Organization Representative (“COR”). The committee can’t “vote” to do this, and non-registered parents have no “vote” at all! Now if you were Cubmaster, that’s a different story… Yes, you can be removed and replaced by the Committee Chair and COR, but to do this based on the purported “vote” of a bunch of non-registered parents is pretty lame!

I’d suggest you consider two options here… Option one: If your sons are having an OK time and enjoying their experiences, then consider just being Mom (and Akela) and enjoy going to pack meetings knowing you don’t have to lift a finger! Option two: If it’s not working for your sons, then do look for another pack, but be sure that this isn’t a completely different circle of friends and classmates from those your sons will be associating with at school for the next eight to ten years!

As for your own decision to allow yourself to be “removed,” let it go. Forgive yourself and move on. This is about your sons, first and foremost, always.

Dear Andy,

I have a question about adult Scouter uniforms. We’ve received numerous patches for the various Camporees, day camps, and so on; however, there’s only one “temporary patch” allowed on the right uniform pocket. Is there a sash or something that adults can wear to display these patches? I think it would be great, as it would show the dedication and training that they’ve received. I know the Boy Scouts have a sash for their merit badges, but I haven’t seen anything for Cub Scout leaders. (Tom Williams, Anthony Wayne Area Council, IN)

“Temporary” actually means “at the wearer’s discretion.” Pick your favorite one and sew it on. Boy Scouts (youth; not adults) have merit badge sashes for merit badges (they can use the back for extra “temporary” patches if they wish) and Tigers/Cubs/Webelos Scouts (youth; not adults) have the red “patch vest,” but there’s nothing comparable to either of these for adult leaders, at least not for temporary patches. There is, however, a special place to display one’s commitment to the Scouting program, and it’s above the left shirt pocket: This is where the square knots are placed.

Dear Andy,

Over the past few months I’ve been approached by Scout parents as well as leaders about the dedication and actions of our Scoutmaster. He’s routinely late to meetings, seldom prepared, generally unorganized, and unwilling to delegate. Having had discussions, over the past three weeks with several leaders and parents, they’ve expressed their desire for our Scoutmaster to withdraw from this position, so that we can nominate someone else. Having been the first Scoutmaster of this troop, and presently Assistant Scoutmaster, with an Eagle Scout of my own, I’m partially responsible for forming our seven year-old troop, and I’m also the only one who has youth experience as a Scout. Consequently, I’ve been asked to make a recommendation to the troop committee on this matter, and therein lies the dilemma: This Scoutmaster has been doing his very best for the past two years of his three-year tenure. Yes, he’s had some turbulent times recently, but he’s generally an all-around nice guy. However, although we’ve experienced excellent growth in our relatively short existence (gone from seven to 42 Scouts and from three to nine trained adult volunteers), in the past two years we’ve received no new Webelos Scouts from what’s supposed to be our sister Cub Scout pack, and now retention is slipping. I’m fully aware of what will happen when I make my recommendation to the troop committee, and it’s a heavy burden because my recommendation will be to ask him to step aside, but, of the two others qualified to take the position, one is willing but not able and the other’s able but not willing. Your insights 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. Follow your heart, put the Scouts first, and you’ll never be wrong.

Dear Andy,

When a local or national tour permit is used for an outing, and the Scouts travel by car or bus to the venue, do they need to travel in uniform, or is this something that’s decided by the individual unit? I do know that the uniform is one of methods by which the aims of Scouting are achieved and that the BSA is a uniformed organization; I’m asking because this “traveling in uniform” issue frequently comes up the night before we leave on a camping trip. My own view is that the Scouts should always be traveling in uniform and then, if needed, change at the destination, but when I discuss this issue with our council representatives and trainers, they all tell me that traveling in uniform isn’t required. (John Urban, NJ)

Traveling in a Scout uniform isn’t a necessarily mandatory thing. In certain instances, such as council-sponsored trip (think Philmont trek or Jamboree contingent), full Scout uniform is invariably the order-of-the-day and for a number of sound reasons. First, Scouts in uniform are identifiable by the public, law enforcement, security people, the Scouts’ peers, and the adults who are accompanying them. Second, Scouts in uniform nearly always behave differently than if they were in “civvies” (when they look like Scouts, they tend to act like Scouts and not just a gang o’ teen-aged boys—they stick more closely together, they respond more quickly to the Scout sign, and they’re generally less rowdy in action and language). Third, they create positive impressions amongst the public wherever they go.

In the troop I last served as Scoutmaster, we did everything in uniform. We traveled in complete uniforms (with our BSA or troop t-shirts underneath) and only took the uniform shirts off if we had heavy labor facing us (setting up the campsite, preparing to rappel, etc.). We did this “in unison,” by the way—it wasn’t random, with some in uniform and some not—and in this way kept our uniformity throughout. There were benefits by the carload to doing this… Once, while camping with a bunch of non-uniformed Scouts, we were spotted by a rock-climbing advanced class for qualified instructors, who asked up if we’d like to do some rappelling, for free! That lasted over two hours! When we asked why they hadn’t picked any of the other Scouts around us, the reply was, “Oh? Are they Scouts? We had no idea!” Another time, visiting a Jamboree, we wound up in the Jamboree commemorative video because we were in full uniform: We were just what the filming crew was looking for! On yet another occasion, while traveling by ferry (with over 300 people aboard) we were the only Scouts approached by a troop of similarly-aged (and uniformed!) Girl Scouts, to the envy of over a hundred other Scouts on board! We also kept getting picked by filming crews out for “human interest” stories, we got picked by our council president to be the honor guard at the council’s annual meeting (got free dinners, too!). And the list goes on… <grin>

So, while it’s not necessarily “policy,” and doesn’t affect the status of your tour permit, in my book you’re sure on the right track when you have a uniformed troop! B-P put it this way: “Scouting does not insist on a uniform, but what boy with Scouting in his heart would be without one?”

Happy Scouting!



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

(January 6, 2010 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2010)

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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