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Issue 205 – January 17, 2010

Dear Andy,

What’s the definition of “service” for the Star and Life service hours requirements? I’m told it’s service to others not normally done in the course of normal school or religious or other organizational (sports, for instance, being part of the baseball team repairing the diamond before spring practice) requirements. Is this correct, or is there a better definition? Specifically, I have a Scout who’s an altar boy (acolyte) at his church, which is strictly voluntary and not as a part of his religious studies. Can this be counted toward service hours or not? (Cliff Boldt, Troop Advancement Chair, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

First, the definition you’re using is just fine—stick with it! As for your Scout who’s an acolyte, this is definitely beyond merely being a member or a congregation or parish and attending services or mass, so you can absolutely go with your good judgment and count this as “service to others.” By the way, even though the Star and Life requirements say “service project,” the further definition by the BSA does allow for exactly the type of service you’re describing.

Dear Andy,

Here’s a uniform question concerning the Order of the Arrow ribbon (red and white with silver arrow) that suspends from the button of the right shirt pocket. I’m an instructor for adult leader training and one of my specialties is uniform regulations, but I had another old timer stump this chump on that ribbon. He said that since it hangs on the right pocket it’s a temporary insignia and, therefore, if it’s worn, no patch can also be worn on the pocket itself, vice-versa. In the uniform regulations, it simply states how this ribbon is worn; it doesn’t state that it’s temporary pocket insignia, as it specifically describes other items. Therefore, I’m standing on that. The uniform regulations don’t designate it as a temporary insignia, therefore it’s not, and both it and a patch may be worn. I’ve hunted to find if this question has come up elsewhere, but to no avail. Would you please point me to a resource I can reference so we can lay this to rest. (Jeffrey Slater, ASM, Shenandoah Area Council, VA)

Let’s start with this fundamental: It’s a ribbon; not a patch. Therefore, it’s perfectly Kosher to wear a temporary patch on the right pocket, regardless of whether the OA ribbon is worn or not. You’ve already found the source material; that “old-timer” is simply mistaken about what constitutes a patch (or badge) and what doesn’t. As a further example of hanging stuff, we know that adults don’t wear any patches or badges on their left pockets, but it’s totally appropriate to wear the hanging Powder Horn device from the button of the left pocket—because it’s a hanging device and not a badge. That said, let’s not turn ourselves into the “patch police”! <wink>

Dear Andy,

I have two questions… First, to be a troop committee member, does an adult have to be registered with the BSA? Second, can an adult with a DUI be a registered BSA adult member? (Annie Alwin, San Gabriel Valley Council, CA)

Yes, troop committee members must be officially registered with the BSA as such. Question 6 of the BSA Adult Application provides space to describe a DUI if it resulted in either (or both) a criminal offense conviction or a driver’s license suspension or revocation, and should be answered honestly. This, however, may not automatically mean that the application will be rejected. For further information, contact your local council’s District Executive.


Dear Andy,

My husband is a member of the Order of the Arrow, but he doesn’t have any of his original paperwork (he was inducted more than 20 years ago). Now that our son is getting nearer to Boy Scouts, my husband is interested in finding out if there are records kept at the national level or other proof so he can find the OA lodge near us. Who do we contact for my husband’s original records? (Mia Faber, Westminster, MD)
Isn’t it a great thing that “Scout’s Honor” still counts! All your husband has to do is contact the Nentico Lodge of the Baltimore Area Council-BSA (go to and tell ’em when he became an OA member (approximately) and where (what council was he in…what lodge did he originally join), and they’ll be happy to sign him up as a current member, for a nominal annual membership fee! Yup, it’s that simple! <grin>

Dear Andy,

I’ve been looking for someone to ask questions about Boy Scouting and found you and your columns. I have a bunch of questions…

First, I’ve been looking all over the Internet for descriptions of leadership positions because my troop is getting ready to appoint leaders soon. After days of searching I found one source that seems remotely credible and possibly a BSA document: A PowerPoint that’s a companion Troop Leader Training (TLT) at Then I went to the Scout shop and got my hands on position description cards designed for TLT. When I compared the two, I realized that the descriptions were very different: The cards were printed in 2006 and I don’t know when the PowerPoint was created. The reason I question the credibility of the PowerPoint is because there’s no BSA logo on it and there are also no descriptions on the website. Which resource should I go by? And if neither, where can I find the most up-to-date resource?

Second, I noticed that two brand-new leadership positions are going to be formed and active as of January 1st, 2010, but I couldn’t find job descriptions for either of these anywhere. Are descriptions available yet? If not, where can I find them on New Year’s Day, and if not then, can you tell me what they’re supposed to do?

Third, I also noticed that the leadership position of Bugler isn’t listed in the Scoutmaster Handbook, or for that matter, any source I’ve seen about leadership positions. Why isn’t this listed anywhere? Can you only count that position for, say, the rank of Star? Or is it no longer going to be considered a leadership position?

Finally, in our troop we don’t have Troop Guides. Instead, when we have a new Scout patrol, we appoint an older Scout to lead it. Is this OK, or are we making a mistake here? (Name Withheld, National Capital Area Council)

First, have you read my column, “Thoughts on Leadership Development”? Also read the one in July 2009 titled “Special”—this one also addresses some of your issues.

Now, let’s see what we can do here…

For descriptions of Scouts’ leadership positions, the Scoutmaster Handbook does an excellent job and is, of course, a reliable resource. Two other handbooks that will also help you are the one for Senior Patrol Leader and for Patrol Leader—these positions are elected, not appointed, of course.

Descriptions of the responsibilities of the two new positions—Troop Webmaster and Troop Leave No Trace Trainer—will be forthcoming shortly, I’m sure. Apply patience.

Bugler is a position, but not a leadership position—it’s purely functional. Its responsibilities are self-evident: The Scout who’s the Bugler sounds the bugle (i.e., knows and can play the various bugle calls) for flag ceremonies, troop assembly, and so forth. Bugler is not a qualifying position for Star or Life or Eagle.

Troop Guides function as coaches, advisors, and counselors to Patrol Leaders of new Scout patrols. They’re not “acting PLs” or “temporary PLs” or anything else along these lines. They support and guide the new Scout patrols’ elected Patrol Leaders. This is a very important position, because it provides new Scouts who are newly elected by their fellow patrol members with a resource for carrying out their responsibilities. Troop Guides often have their own back-ups: designated Assistant Scoutmasters (one per new Scout patrol).

The notion of older Scouts acting as Patrol Leaders of patrols of new Scouts is, in a word, wrong. This is absolutely NOT a part of the Scouting structure or program. Ideally, this practice should be terminated immediately.

Finally, no Patrol Leader is ever “appointed”—this is an elected position.


Dear Andy,

I’m a new Scoutmaster, but an experienced Scouter with some 20 years of Scouting under my belt, including Wood Badge. I also have a military background. We also have a group of Scouters who have been involved with the troop for some five or six years. They’re involved parents, but have very different views on how the Boy Scout program should be delivered. It’s been a constant battle trying to implement the Scout-led troop concept with this group. Mostly, it’s been “let the Scouts run rampant and whatever happens, happens.” Then I come along and introduced the “EDGE” concept, and following the Troop Meeting Plan, where the Scouts actually have to show me an outline, come up with a camp-out plan, provide menu planning and duty rosters, and so on. To me, this is simple stuff, developed over a hundred years of Scouting, but it’s like speaking a foreign language to these Scouts and their parents. “Just let them figure it out,” the parents say. But isn’t the Scoutmaster supposed to train and provide direction, so that the Scouts can lead. Now I’m all for the Scouts stumbling around and my not becoming like a pair of crutches for them, but I also feel that they have to have things explained and demonstrated to them, so that they can be guided and empowered to provide a Scouting program for themselves. How do I get everyone on board here? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, recognize that you can’t make everybody happy… No matter what you do, some portion of folks will argue that you’re doing it all wrong (they, themselves, may be wrong in this assessment, but this will hardly get in the way of their griping!). So, instead of trying to do this, how about simply delivering the Scouting program the way it’s written to be delivered? This way, at least you will know you’re doing it right.

But what’s “the right way”…?

I’m a product of 20th Century Wood Badge… I remember well how little we actually saw our course Scoutmaster, and how dominant the Senior Patrol Leader was… just like the way a model troop is run!

A Scoutmaster who counsels, mentors, and guides the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders Council gently and as an adviser rather than “the boss” is getting it right. A Scoutmaster who acts as if the troop’s “chain-of-command” ends with him instead of with the Senior Patrol Leader is just a bit off the mark. As Scoutmaster, the sharpest instrument in your guidance tool box is the question, “Have you considered…?” It’s not “Show me the plan” or something similar. Yes, you’ll want them to use the Troop Meeting Plan template for all troop meetings, but it’s the Senior Patrol Leader who needs to get all the boxes filled in—not you. And, the SPL needs to be coached on how to do this. Then, whatever’s set down as the plan is what the troop and it’s leaders do in that actual meeting. After the meeting, when you watch the SPL have his “roses n’ thorns” de-brief with the PLs—this is the time for them all to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and what they’ll do to fix it next time.

In brief: “Self-leadership” can’t be done little by little, any more than one can be “just a little bit pregnant.” Your job isn’t to dole out responsibility—it’s to not interfere with the responsibilities of the Scouts who are the elected leaders. Scouts learn by doing, messing up, and doing again. Try to “teach” them and you’ve just created “Scout school,” and this is the very last thing you want to do.

You’ve read the Scoutmaster Handbook. Good! Now read the Handbook for Senior Patrol Leaders, because this is the one Scout who gets most of your coaching. Fundamental principle: Never, ever do for a Scout what he can do for himself.

To accomplish these things, you’ll need help. Your primary ally is the Committee Chair. It’s his job to keep the parents off your back and away from the Scouts during meetings, outings, etc. Even to the point of setting up a separate camping area, away from (i.e., out of earshot and out of sight) the patrols’ campsites. The only adults the Scouts should see on a campout are their Scoutmaster and maybe an ASM or two… there’s no “family camping” in Boy Scouts!

Menu planning? Duty rosters? These happen at the patrol level. They never, ever happen at the troop level. Remember: The “troop” is nothing more than the “umbrella” under which Boy Scouting’s primary units—the patrols—operate.

Coming back around, your military experience will be of great benefit in such areas as general decorum, uniforming excellence, ceremonies, leader-to-leader courtesies, and general organization and responsibility fulfillment. It won’t help you, however, in areas like “giving away leadership” or “stepping out of the leadership spotlight.” Decide for yourself which aspects you’re going to capitalize on, and which ones you’re going to need to put aside.

Lastly, track down and give a read to a very interesting non-Scouting book on leadership and responsibility: It’s Your Ship, by Cpt. D. Michael Abrashoff (Warner Business Books, pub.)—subtitle: “Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.”

Dear Andy,

Our departing Scoutmaster isn’t well-liked by either the Scouts or their parents; however, he did volunteer at a time when no one else could or would. During his three years of service, he made up his own rules for elections, advancement, and other areas as well, to the point that the past Committee Chair asked him to resign on several occasions. When I became Committee Chair, I gave him the date of his last meeting as Scoutmaster and held to it. The Scouts are happy they are getting a new Scoutmaster.

The incoming Scoutmaster (who has been an ASM for several years) wants me to pursue getting our exiting Scoutmaster the Scoutmaster’s square knot. Although he doesn’t agree with the methods his predecessor used, he thinks the square knot should be awarded “in the spirit of Scouting.”

The departing Scoutmaster has completed all the requirements for the square knot except that he can’t produce his “New Leader Essentials” training certificate, even though he has been asked for it numerous times. He has also not taken the time to complete the new “This is Scouting” on-line training, either.

I’m of the opinion that this award is for “service above and beyond” what’s normally expected of a Scoutmaster. I can produce the lists and dates needed for the application (except that one training item) but have a lot of heartburn about nominating him. The SPL, on the other hand, would write the necessary letter if I asked him to. What do we do here?

The Scoutmaster Award of Merit (this is what I believe you’re calling “the Scoutmaster knot”) is by nomination. The specific requirements are…

“The Scoutmaster Award of Merit may be earned by a Scouter who meets the following requirements: (1) Currently registered Scoutmaster who has served in that position for at least 18 months, (2) Achieved the Quality Unit Award at least once during his period of service, (3) Completed Boy Scout Leader Fast Start and Scoutmastership Fundamentals or equivalent, (4) Have a record of proper use of the Boy Scout advancement program, resulting in a majority of his Scouts attaining the First Class rank, (5) Have a record of (a) Development of boy leadership through the patrol method, (b) Positive relations with the troop’s chartered organization, (c) An extensive outdoor program including strong summer camp attendance, (d) A positive image of Scouting in the community, and (e) A troop operation that attracts and retains Boy Scouts.

“The following must be attached to the nomination form: (1) A list of Scouts who became First Class Scouts during the nominee’s tenure as Scoutmaster, (2) A statement by the senior patrol leader on behalf of the patrol leaders’ council and the troop committee chair attesting to the nominee’s performance as Scoutmaster.”

Based on these requirements, it’s probably unlikely—based on the description you’ve provided—that the gentleman in question will qualify, especially since the Senior Patrol Leader must formally endorse him (and you certainly wouldn’t ask any Scout to create a fabrication, of course, nor should any duress ever be placed on a Scout to write an endorsement of someone who bent the rules to his own liking). Moreover, you, as Committee Chair, do also have the right (if not obligation) to refuse to endorse this gentleman on the basis of his less-that-stellar “performance.”

To someone who presents the argument that nominating this gentleman would be “the Scout-like thing to do,” I’d ask, “Would it, really? Would it not actually diminish the importance of actually delivering the Scouting program, as written, for someone who hasn’t done this to receive this sort of recognition?” But, ultimately, this is something only you and the Senior Patrol Leader can decide. Go with your heart and your decision will always be right.


Dear Andy,

I accepted the District Commissioner position about seven months ago, and inherited a rather dysfunctional situation. We’ve had some success, but it’s not been an easy path. More recently, I’ve volunteered, to take over as District Chair. In this new role, I’m committed to bringing new District Committee members on board and to instill a renewed sense of pride in our district—one in which folks want to volunteer for a district job!

What I’m discovering is that we’re just not delivering the basics very well and that our units and their leaders don’t know what they don’t know, since they haven’t seen it right for a long time. So, I need a few pointers…

I hear (and read in your columns) many questions about BSA policy, regulations, and guidelines. I know that there’s a myriad of training manuals, BSA bylaws, etc., but I can’t find one single place where I can find all of them, together, so that I can reference it when answering unit-originating questions. Is there such a site where all policies, regulations, and so on are organized in a logical fashion and is searchable?

Is there a good District Chair blog or chat group that I can join for pointers as I start this quest for excellence?

Are there any good articles or tips “out there” that deal with the problem of clannish old-time Scouters who both resent and resist anything that has anything to do with “the district” or “the council”?

(Rich Young, Gulf Ridge Council, FL)

Moving from District Commissioner to District Chair is quite a contrast! And challenge! The first thing you’ll observe is that, unlike Commissioners, district committee folks aren’t necessarily uniformed (no requirement for uniforming here), so you’ll probably feel a little bit strange for a while, especially given your professional background. The next thing that’s important to keep at the front of your thinking is that the district committee will be much different in cohesiveness from the “Commissioner corps” feeling you may have experienced up till now—district committee folks are volunteers pure and simple, and much less committed to the sort of hierarchy that tends to exist on the Commissioner side of the district equation. Both of these factors, put together, mean that a looser, less formal, more personal, and more distributive atmosphere will be needed on your part. The diplomacy skills you gained as a Commissioner will, however, be extremely useful as District Chair, because your job is to delegate responsibilities in ways that assure that the task will be done or responsibilities carried out cheerfully and with complete team spirit!

As for “rules and regulations” all in one place, your experience on the Commissioner side for a significant number of years has already shown you that there’s not one, single source. The BSA follows a “distributed” philosophy here and doesn’t have everything all in one place—it’s grouped by function. A good guidebook for you, however, will be the Handbook for District Operations (available at your Scout shop or at The other book you’ll want is Selecting District People.

As for busting up “old boys’ clubs,” any good soldier will tell you that once the pin is pulled, mister grenade is no longer your friend. Take it slow and easy here. Your best tool will be friendly cleverness. For instance, you might want to consider telling everyone on the district committee that, when the new charter year starts, everyone will shift to a new position, and so everyone will give you a list of a maximum of three positions they’d like to hold excluding the one they’re presently in–and then you assign them to no more than two of these, only one of which can be a “chair” position.

For a chat group, check out Scouts-L on the USSSP website… There may be something there. You can also write to me, anytime, and I’ll do my level best to help. To access specific issues in my column archive, 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.

The most important position to fill well is District Vice-Chair for Nominations: This is the person who will ultimately make or break your tenure, because this is the person who, ideally, will find and recruit the people you need for open slots and slots that need “revitalization.”

The next most important position is the one for revenue development: A district that can’t generate its fair share of revenues (through FOS, popcorn sales, James E. West Fellowships, etc.) will be a burden to the whole council!

On teamwork, here’s where you and your two “Key 3” counterparts need to walk the talk… At every district committee meeting, you sit at the center of the head of the table, flanked by your District Commissioner and your District Executive—they’re always in uniform; you’re in “civvies” (business casual usually works best; a “Bubba Beer’s Best” tee shirt doesn’t).

Finally (for the moment), make sure that your “energetic D.E.” doesn’t burn himself out doing others’ job for them! You need this person! He needs you all! But he’ll lose you all if he gets in the way or takes on jobs that keep him from doing what he’s been hired to do! Re-train him (subtly) if necessary… he may have developed some nonproductive habits up till now.

Dear Andy,

Is there any BSA policy that limits a Boy Scout to a specific minimum age before he can go out to earn Personal Fitness or Personal Management merit badges? Further, may a Scoutmaster deny a Scout doing either, based on the Scoutmaster’s belief and personal policy that the Scout must be 14 or older to do these? (John Carney)

The BSA policy on merit badges is crystal clear: Any Scout can earn any merit badge any time he wishes. This of course means that no prerequisites (e.g., age, rank, etc.) can be applied by anyone and, by extension, means that a Scoutmaster cannot block a Scout who wants to earn any merit badge, for any reason—to do so would be in clear violation of a BSA policy that’s been in existence for decades! This is stated with absolute and unassailable clarity in the Boy Scout Requirements book (any edition).

Dear Andy,

As a troop-level Scouter, I was nominated and inducted into the Order of The Arrow just over a year ago. Now, we’re in process of progressing from Ordeal to Brotherhood, and I’m looking for a copy of the OA Handbook. Do you know any place on line where I can download a free copy of it? (Keith Cullen)

Your lodge, or your local council’s Scout shop, should have the OA Handbook available for purchase. If neither of these sources works out, then go here——to get the catalog number so that you can order a copy from your Scout shop.

Dear Andy,

I’m told that Scoutmasters no longer have the discretion to validate merit badge work that a Scout has completed on a “partial,” and I’m also told that Merit Badge Counselors must register every year, using new BSA Adult Volunteer and Merit Badge Counselor applications. Related to this, if we’re given a MBC list that doesn’t contain the necessary counselors, what do we do? (Jay Oakman)

No Scoutmaster has never had “the discretion to validate merit badge work” whether with regard to a “partial” or to a completed merit badge. The sole authority for completion of merit badge requirements, in part or in whole, rests with the Merit Badge Counselor and no one else. Ever.

Once a Merit Badge Counselor has registered as such, he or she is automatically renewed each year, along with every other non-unit, non-district volunteer. Merit Badge Counselors absolutely do not need to fill out new applications every year.

If a Scoutmaster cannot find a Merit Badge Counselor for a merit badge that a Scout or Scouts in his troop wish to earn, on the district list provided by the district or council, then that Scoutmaster should contact the council advancement committee to determine if there may be a counselor for that merit badge in another district, that the Scout(s) can contact.

Hello Andy,

I’ve always had a keen interest in Scouting, and reached First Class rank as a Scout, myself, until extenuating circumstances demanded that I put my energies elsewhere. I later held an Assistant Scout-master position for six months, until I found my college schedule too intense to continue. I’d like to become involved again, all these years later, but how?

I’m currently on a long-term oversees assignment as a missionary. I’m about to be reassigned to Santiago, Chile, where there’s a thriving and tightly knit expat community—which fits me to a T. But I’ve briefly examined the Chilean version of Scouting and found it too limiting for me. Is there an American, BSA operation in Chile? If so, what are the provisions for BSA expat Scouting?

Expat communities tend to be diverse. Would it be possible to allow Scouts of diverse nationalities to participate in the same troop? The common denominators in most expat communities tend to be language, followed by church and business (including diplomatic corps). So it would be very likely—and even necessary, to have an effective unit—to include Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealand, South African, and of course American Scouts, all participating in the same unit(s). I do know that national membership standards tend to be diverse in Scouting: Some nations group their young men and women together; others don’t. I know that the BSA typically keeps them separate, but does that mean they can’t participate in the same meetings and activities? I’ll stop there so as not to get ahead of myself (which I probably already have), to simply ask what I might find by way of American Scouting in Chile. (Andreas Mantzke)

Chile is one of the countries served by the BSA’s Direct Service division: Get in touch with them and I’ll bet they can put you in touch with an Ex Pat in Santiago!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been told that the olive green shoulder loops are now required by BSA uniform policy. I didn’t research it, but did start pushing it with my troop. Now I can’t find any policy information on it. Does a policy actually exist about red or olive green shoulder loops? If so, where can I find it? At our district’s roundtables, the split in opinions/preferences is about 70:30, red to olive green, so it would seem that not many troops are changing over very quickly. For our own troop, cost is the factor my troop committee has given me. (Bobby Thornton, SM, Northeast Georgia Council)

The new, olive green shoulder loops are replacing the red ones, along with the change to the new Centennial uniform. In time, the red ones will disappear from Scout shop inventory and won’t be available. This means that the new “official” shoulder loops for Boy Scouts will be olive green instead of red. However, it’s a standing policy that no BSA uniform part, regardless of its age or era, is ever “obsolete,” so the red ones can be worn as long as they’re in good shape. As far as converting is concerned, it’s certainly a good idea, and an obvious one, for all new Scouts to get the green ones. As for current Scouts changing over, this is at their discretion. Shoulder loops cost $2.49, so if this is truly a hardship, the troop might want to do a fund-raiser so that every Scout can get the new ones without financial imposition. Or not… Your choice.

We had a troop mom make a bunch of red shoulder loops for our Scouts, so there’s no chance of running out any time soon. I’m going to see what the PLC thinks of the next cross-overs wearing olive green instead of red. (Bobby Thornton)

Of course shoulder loops are, essentially, ribbon. Which means that this same mom could sew up enough olive green pairs for a troop of 100, for about 15 bucks. Which further means: Is there really a big deal here?

Hi Andy,

How does our pack handle the cross-overs for three Webelos II Scouts who just joined scouting three months ago? By the end of January, we typically have a fairly elaborate Arrow of Light award ceremony for the Webelos IIs who are crossing over, but these three won’t have met the “six months active participation” requirement for the Arrow of Light. One option we’re considering is to have them participate in the cross-over ceremony without having received their Arrow of Light (since it won’t be completed in time). If we do this, can they earn the Arrow of Light later, as Boy Scouts? (Al Nover, Pack Advancement Coordinator, Daniel Webster Council, NH)

Just to get this out of the way: Cub Scout (or Webelos Scout) ranks and other advancements cannot be earned by Boy Scouts; Boy Scout ranks and other advancements cannot be earned by Cub Scouts (or Webelos Scouts).

Next: “Crossovers” and recognition for having earned the Arrow of Light are separate and distinct events and ceremonies. They might (or might not) take place at the same pack meeting, but they’re separate, with different meanings and intents. The Arrow of Light is a rank and any Webelos Scout who completes the requirements is recognized for having done so in a ceremony at a pack meeting. The cross-over ceremony is for Webelos Scouts who have selected, and are joining, a specific Boy Scout troop. Webelos Scouts who are either not going on to Boy Scouting or who have not yet selected a troop they’d like to join don’t participate in cross-over ceremonies.

With these understandings, if the three Webelos Scouts you’re focusing on haven’t completed all requirements for the Arrow of Light, and they’re also not yet 11 years old or have completed fifth grade, then they’re not eligible to join a Boy Scout troop and so would not participate in a cross-over ceremony. However, if all they need is a few months’ tenure, then it’s a simple matter for the pack—in just a couple of months—to recognize them for having fulfilled all Arrow of Light requirements in a pack meeting ceremony, immediately following which they can participate in a cross-over ceremony of their own and join the troop of their choice! This looks like it would be some time in March 2010, and that should work out just fine!

When we parse situations like these, we disentangle disparate elements and this often presents solutions that otherwise wouldn’t be obvious!

Dear Andy,

Where can I get a council organization chart? (Peter Matrow)

If it’s still published, a BSA booklet titled The District would probably help, but your very best bet is to call your council service center!

Dear Andy,

Several years ago, the BSA, realizing that not every Scout could swim, made Swimming an either/or Eagle-required merit badge. But the swim test requirements for Second and First Class ranks still exist. Why? (Woody Blaufeux, SM)

Swimming merit badge involves a lot more than merely jumping into deep water, leveling off, swimming 100 yards (varying strokes), and floating. The Swimming requirements for Second and First Class ranks are rudimentary and fundamental, at best. The merit badge, on the other hand, requires considerably more skill, and significant knowledge (e.g., First Aid for water-related accidents and injuries) as well. Although I can’t speak for the BSA, I can certainly surmise that minimal swimming ability remains a skill important to Scouting in general (there are even swimming achievements, activity badges, and belt loops and pins for Cub Scouts!). Plus, Swimming merit badge is one of only about two dozen or so merit badges that will have been a part of the Boy Scout program for the full 100 years!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been catching up on some of your recent columns, and I have several thoughts I’d like to share…

First off, you mentioned that all of the Cub Scout handbooks note that the very first thing to be earned—regardless of what level the boy joins—is Bobcat. My question here is: Approximately how long should it take for a boy to earn Bobcat? I think most can do this in the first month or two after they join, but I’ve seen packs that award it in conjunction with the Tiger Cub rank. What’s best?

In another column, you recommended to a parent that her son concentrate on his age-appropriate rank before getting involved in the Cub Scout Academics and Sports program, because that’s a supplemental program. In this regard, I’ve seen a few responses from you lately that seem to show a dislike for belt loops. As a leader, I also get annoyed with parents who want the “bling” for their sons and seem to consider a shiny belt loop more important than earning ranks and arrow points; however, I do enjoy the Academics & Sports program because it’s an easy way to recognize boys throughout the year as they’re working on their rank badges. We try to provide our Cubs with an opportunity to get awarded at every pack meeting, whether it be with the appropriate rank (which usually doesn’t happen until February, or even May for some of the less motivated) or with an award such as the Good Turn for America, Leave No Trace, etc. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to find a quick and easy form of recognition. For example, our Webelos Scouts were playing basketball at school in their PE class, so we used half a den meeting to review what they’d learned and play a 30-minute game, and they qualified for their basketball belt loop, which conveniently counts toward their Sportsman Webelos activity badge. Also, as a parent, I’ve had my son come up to me on a random Sunday afternoon and say, “I want to earn a belt loop,” so we’d look in the book, find one that looked like fun, and did the requirements right then and there. He and another boy learned to play marbles that way, and we had a great time making soda explode by doing the science belt loop. He’s done this while working toward his rank badges.

Another thing: Are Cubs really limited to ten just arrow points? Not that it’s come up in my pack, but I didn’t think there’s a cap on how many could be earned. (Jen Haubricht, Cornhusker Council)

If you take a serious look at the simplicity of the requirements for Bobcat, there’s no reason why this badge (or pin, depending on how your pack handles this) can’t be done in the first week of a boy’s joining! This stuff is so fundamental, and so easy, that participation in just a den meeting (or maybe two), plus some help with his parent, can’t put a new boy right in the groove almost instantly! As for “a month or two,” I’ll confess that I think that that’s way, way too long for stuff this simple.

I don’t “dislike” belt loops or pins; what I don’t want to see, however, is parents (or Den Leaders, either) focus on non-essential stuff at the expense of rank achievements and electives. Let’s remember that our Cubs don’t advance in lock-step; they earn their ranks at their own pace and without wasting time with their Akela (for 95% of the achievements, that’s Mom and/or Dad, let’s not forget), and then they earn arrow points the same way: At home, with Mom and/or Dad for almost all electives. The CSA&S program is indeed supplemental. It has several real purposes, but none of these ever supersedes earning achievements and electives. Further, den meetings present opportunities far beyond belt loops and such—there’s the World Conservation Award, Donor Awareness, Presidential Fitness, and so on that truly fit very well into den programs, and shouldn’t be overlooked!

Is there some arbitrary limit on the number of arrow points that a Cub can earn? Certainly not…until he runs out of electives, and achievements that haven’t been used to earn the rank for his age/grade!

The reason I said “month or two” is mostly because some leaders think the boy needs to memorize the promise and whatnot, whereas others think familiarity is OK. Oh, and some parents don’t do the talk right away. But the other day I sewed on a boy’s rank badges, and he’d been awarded both Bobcat and Tiger at the same pack meeting—obviously that pack isn’t doing things quite right.

So what do you think is a reasonable time-frame to earn a rank badge? I’ve always thought about five months was about right, and after that it’s on to electives.

My own son had earned Wolf right at the five-month mark, but I didn’t award it to him right away since he was way ahead of the other boys in his den. I did figure out that this was a mistake, so, the following year, when he was ready to receive his Bear badge in about five months, this time I took a different approach—I told the other parents, “My son is getting his Bear badge next month,” and what do you know, all of a sudden they opened their Bear books and managed to get theirs done, too! I plan on my son completing his Webelos badge in a similar time-line, mostly because he wants to earn his religious emblem and it’ll probably take him another month or so to do that.

And for the record, I would never encourage anyone to use den meetings to earn belt loops, I just wanted to point out that it can be done in a supplemental way. What I really wish is that there were a better way to display special awards, like the Leave No Trace, Outdoor Activity Award, Donor Awareness, etc. There’s only one temporary spot on the shirt, and I’ve never seen a Cub in our area wearing a patch vest—I’ve only seen some pictures online. We display our son’s on his “Scout bag”—the bag he uses to keep his book, neckerchief, slide, and anything else he might need for an upcoming meeting. But, sadly, most are just thrown in a drawer. I think boys would be a lot more excited to earn other awards if they too could be displayed prominently. (Jen Haubrich)

Let’s talk a little more about these points…

The Bobcat requirements, if you take a good look at them, can be completed in an afternoon, before dinnertime, at home with a parent (“Akela”). In den meetings, I used to play a relay game, in which the Cubs ran up to the line and, one-by-one, arranged the four lines of the Law of the Pack in their correct order—”learning without knowing you’re learning!” Same with the Cub Scout Promise! These are bright boys, and they’ll get it almost instantly! Same with the meaning of “Webelos”—this became the “den yell.” The handshake was something I did with each boy as he arrived for the den meeting. The Motto was done in a “living circle” to close out every meeting. The Cub Scout salute happened, of course, at the beginning of every den meeting, with the Pledge of Allegiance. So, more than a couple of weeks? Hardly!

For a rank, a few months is usually all that’s necessary if there’s a “parent orientation” meeting in September, so that all parents know what’s expected of them, and how they are responsible for their son’s advancement (not me!). Then, when the rank is earned, I met with the parents again and told them all about arrow points. They got the message! I also used the advancement wall-chart, and every Cub got to mark off what he’d done since the last den meeting…huge motivator! However, if any boy seemed to be lagging, I’d have a special heart-to-heart conversation with his parent, including offering to help out if there was a problem at home or at work just then… Usually the parent said no, thanks, and picked up the slack pretty quickly (especially when I showed ’em the advancement wall-chart!).

By the time my Cubs were nearing the end of their Wolf year, they all had red vests… I found a pattern, and a Mom who volunteered to get the material and sew ’em up. The boys loved these (so did their parents) and they wore them right through Webelos II! (I absolutely refused to let anybody disparage them by calling them “brag vests”—As Casey Stengel said, “If you did it, it ain’t braggin’.)

Belt loops and pins are great supplements to den programs, after the monthly theme stuff’s done and these boys still have loads of energy (which they always did)… Most if not all of the requirements for any of these fit very nicely into den meetings (and many of them get the Cubs outside—which we always did when the weather was good).

So, go have fun, think outside the box, and enjoy your Cubs… these years go by entirely too quickly!

Dear Andy,

We’re working on our district’s one and only Camporee and need clarification on tour permits and health forms. Is there any written guidance that expresses when a tour permit has to be filled out? And how about who should maintain health forms at an event such as a Camporee? (Jay Oakman, San Francisco Bay Area Council, CA)

Check with your District Executive regarding tour permits for a Camporee… This being a district- and council-sponsored event at a district-provided venue, tour permits may very well not be necessary at all!

As for health forms, these need to be retained by the staffs closest to the Scouts, which would of course be their own unit volunteers (in other words, not the Camporee staff), because this is where a sick/injured Scout would go first and, if not, then the forms can be immediately requested in the event an evac is necessary. For further information, check with your council health and safety committee!

Dear Andy,

I’m a currently certified ARC Water Safety Instructor—I’ve taken all their current updates and teach on a regular basis. I’m also an ARC Lifeguard, BSA Lifeguard, and Swimming, Lifesaving, and Canoeing Merit Badge Counselor. As such, do I still need to take the BSA water safety updates? It seems as if this is a duplication. (Marty Jacobson, ASM, Gulfstream Council, FL)

As a guy who’s pretty much invested in aquatics, wouldn’t you want to keep current? BTW, get yourself into a BSA Lifeguard Counselor course—I think you’d really enjoy it!

Dear Andy,

I’ve just taken over the advancements for our Cub Scout pack. Some of the Cubs are getting belt loops and pins. I can’t tell what the formula is for earning a belt loop versus a pin, and I’m not sure how these pins and belt loops play into advancement to the next rank. I’ve scanned the Internet and also bought the Cub Scout Leader Book, but none of the information I’ve found delves into the specifics of belt loops and pins or how they relate to rank advancement. Some of the spreadsheets I’ve found have spaces to check off when a Cub satisfies a requirement, but I’m not sure if belt loops or pins count toward advancement, so it’s not clear to me whether the check-off in these spreadsheets are a way to record pins and belt loops. What resource can help me better understand these? (Ron Romer)

The book you need is titled, CUB SCOUT ACADEMICS AND SPORTS PROGRAM GUIDE. It’s BSA Supply Division Catalog No. 34299B. Everything you ever wanted to know about belt loops and pins will be at your fingertips!

Dear Andy,

I’ve searched the BSA website, and on our own council website as well, and can’t find anything that says anything about the new rank requirements, other than they went into effect on January 1st. I respectfully disagree with you that it’s straightforward that a Scout is responsible for completing all the rank requirements, even if he’s already started them before that date. The reason I say that is based on the BSA policy regarding changes in merit badge requirement. Furthermore, I recall reading a statement in Scouting magazine that, to my recollection, could be interpreted to imply that a Scout who has already started the requirements for a given rank wouldn’t have to complete all of the new requirements—only those which were in effect when he began working on that rank. I see an obvious problem with that, in that a Scout who only does one of many rank requirements should not get grandfathered in, and not have to do the new ones. On the other hand, it’s unfair to a Scout who has accomplished 80% or more of the rank requirements to have do new ones, simply over a matter of timing. Nonetheless, if there’s an official BSA policy to that effect, so be it. I just want to see it. I definitely would appreciate some definitive answer to this. (Mark Hrozenchik, National Capital Area Council)

SCOUTING magazine has recently published several items on how the transition to the new rank requirements will be managed. If you haven’t saved your copies, check with your local council service center or contact your council’s advancement committee. In simplest terms, if the Scout’s begun “old” rank requirements (regardless if it’s one requirement or virtually all of them), he can complete the rank using those requirements, and then any new rank he starts work on, from now on, uses the new requirements.

Dear Andy,

On that question about a Scout moving back to the U.S. from New Zealand, here’s what Advancement Committee Policies & Procedures says: “A youth from another country who either temporarily resides in, or has moved permanently to, the United States may join a BSA unit and participate in the BSA advancement program. He must present to the council service center available evidence of membership and advancement level from his previous association. Having done this, he then must appear before the district or council advancement committee with at least one member of the receiving unit committee present to review his previous advancement work and to determine which BSA rank he is qualified to receive. This policy applies to all ranks except Eagle Scout. The BSA rank of Eagle Scout cannot automatically be considered the equivalent of another association’s highest rank. A Boy Scout who holds his association’s highest rank could qualify for the rank of Life Scout, and the district or council advancement committee should prescribe certain merit badges for him to earn before consideration for the rank of Eagle Scout. He must also fulfill all other requirements for the rank of Eagle Scout.” Thanks for the great columns. (Robert Randolph, ADC, Great Smoky Mountain Council, TN)

Yup, that quote you provided is spot-on. Thanks for your diligence, and for being a reader (and writer)!

Happy Scouting!



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

(January 13, 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.

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