Author Avatar

Issue 206 – January 26, 2010

Hey Andy,

In reading your January 10th column “preamble,” it makes me start to wonder: Where’s the book! You ought to have more than enough material for at least one book about questions, observations, and experiences, and some thoughts on the more frequently recurring themes and issues that you’ve addressed over the years. I’ve been reading and writing to you for a couple of years now and, as they say, the older you get the faster time flies. Or, as Groucho Marx put it, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana”! (John Rekus)

If you folks would only stop asking questions, maybe I could find time to write that book! (Just kidding!)

Here’s another Groucho-ism: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend; inside of a dog it’s very dark.”

Now before we go any further, let’s revisit BUGLER. A whole bunch of sharp-eyed Scouters had issues with my comments on January 10th on Bugler as a qualified leadership position. So, the first thing I did was ask our USSSP resident expert on all things advancement, and here’s what he had to say…

As far as I can tell, the listing of Bugler in the 12th edition of the Handbook as an eligible leadership position for Eagle is a TYPO. It does NOT appear on the current Eagle Scout rank application, and, as far as I can tell, has never been a qualifying position for Eagle in the past. It has, however, been a qualifying leadership position for both Star and Life for quite some time (at least back to 1982, which is as far back as I have Boy Scout Requirements books).

In addition to the issue about Bugler, the newest positions—Troop Webmaster and Leave No Trace Trainer—don’t appear in the new Boy Scout Handbook, but do appear on the current Eagle application (effective 1/1/2010). I haven’t seen the new edition of Boy Scout Requirements, of course, as it hasn’t made it to the Scout Shops yet. Hopefully, that book will clarify these issues. (Paul S. Wolf)

Maybe the best news, however, is that this Bugler thing is unlikely to be a real major worry… For instance, in 2007, whereas over 15,000 Scouts earned Music merit badge, over 27,000 earned Art, and over 82,000 earned First Aid, Bugling was dead last among the some 120 merit badges: 684 Scouts earned it! That’s 684 out of how many millions of Boy Scouts?

Dear Andy,

My husband and I would like to know why there isn’t an emblem for the pagan religion, or, if there is an emblem, what could be used for it and how do you earn it? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’re asking an excellent question. The answer’s straightforward: It’s not the BSA that administers the programs for religious awards— This is done by each faith and denomination, as it so chooses. Consequently, if you’d like to pursue this further, please contact the paganism governing body and request that a program of religious development for youth be constructed.

Hello Andy –

I’m just finishing up my Doctorate in Commissioner Science (I’m a new District Commissioner, after having served as a Commissioner for some five years or so, now). A conversation came up during last year’s Commissioner College regarding neckerchiefs for doctoral graduates. Some recalled that doctoral degree recipients wore black neckerchiefs, others said they’d never heard of it, and I can’t say that I’ve seen more than one over several years (but it did look cool and unique). What does the ol’ Scout Encyclopedia have to say on this topic? (Ed Livesay, Occoneechee Council, NC)

This is at the discretion of your own district and/or council. There’s no “official” Commissioner uniform neckwear.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Unit Commissioner, and I really love what I do in Scouting. The problem that I have is my District Commissioner. He’s a great guy and has a few other Scouting “jobs” that he’s wonderful at, but as a District Commissioner he’s just terrible. We have no Commissioners meetings, no Assistant District Commissioners, the last time we even spoke was at an annual district dinner (and only because I approached him), and he’s never called me or come up to me at a meeting to see how I’m doing or how my units are doing. I’m pretty new to Commissioner service and I do need some help with units’ problems from time to time. But when I spoke with him at that dinner about a problem one of my units had, his response was, “They can do whatever they want to…” The vast majority of units in this district are really struggling, and they have no unit service. I’m about at the end of my rope. Speaking directly will get a verbal response from him, but zero follow-up action. Whom do I need to speak to about this… Our District Chair and District Executive, or our Council Commissioner? (Name & Council Withheld)

As a Unit Commissioner, your very first responsibility is to the units you serve. I’m hoping you have no more than maybe three or four, and if you’ve been asked to serve more than that, pick the ones you want and tell your district folks that that’s the limit of your availability. Period.

The “Key 3” of any district consists of the District Chair, the District Commissioner, and the District Executive. It’s likely that the Chair and the Executive already know the problem and shortcomings of the District Commissioner, so “alerting” them will do you no good. Although, from the tone of your letter, “complaining for the sake of complaining” doesn’t seem to be your style, let’s just cover this area anyway and agree that this won’t work, either. But, come to think of it, this is really their problem and not yours. You can solve your own problems (and those of the units you serve) by starting to visit your district’s roundtable meetings, or even by going to a neighboring district’s commissioner meetings (this latter not for whistle-blowing but, instead, to maybe find a guy or gal you get along with, whom you can call and get ideas from when you have a question or need an ear to listen). Then, of course, there’s always me. So far, I’ve published a couple hundred columns and somewhere in there, there’s likely to be an answer that might help you. If not, then write again, anytime you like! But the District Commissioner ennui or laissez faire problem is not one you can solve, and if you like unit service, then absolutely don’t try to solve the problem by offering to take the job, because District Commissioner is an administrative position, not one of unit service.


Dear Andy,

A while back, you were asked if the orange service star disks are still being produced. I don’t know if they’re being produced or not, but a 2007 Insignia Guide said that Tiger Cubs wear gold disks, and I believe this changed when the Tiger Cub program was fully integrated into Cub Scouting. (Robert, UC, Great Smoky Mountain Council)

Yup, you’re right on the money!

Dear Andy,

Is there a rule about Unit Commissioners being denied visiting a unit, by the unit itself? (Jim Viser, UC, Colonial Virginia Council)

A Unit Commissioner serves units at the pleasure of the district and also at the pleasure of the units themselves, in the same way that unit-level Scouting volunteers serve youth at the pleasure of the chartered organization and also at the pleasure of the youth.

The UC’s job is 100% ambassadorial and simultaneously 100% diplomatic. Commissioners have no “authority” over units or how they deliver the Scouting program. This is the exclusive province of their chartered organizations (aka “sponsors”). Commissioners are representatives of their district and council, but their only “power” (if even such a word may be used) is that of personal influence, friendship, helpfulness, caring, charisma, understanding, etc. Commissioners aren’t “enforcers” of anything. They’re not “the council’s cops.” They’re not even “problem solvers”—Their role, in the face of a problem in or with a unit, is to facilitate and mediate, without ever becoming enmeshed in the problem itself, and not to offer solutions or prescriptions.

So, if a UC is rejected by a unit, he or she needs to examine what might have been done differently so that this might not have happened, and might need to find out what happened with the immediately preceding Unit Commissioner. Only then will there be the possibility to reopen the door and begin to gain some trust (Commissioners have to earn unit leaders’ trust; we don’t come by it freely, simply because we’re called “Commissioners”).

Dear Andy,

For Eagle Scout Leadership Service Projects, who is supposed to review and approve them (in advance of the actual work starting)? Isn’t this really the purview of the troop and Scoutmaster and/or troop advancement coordinator, with a more-or-less “rubber stamp” by the district or council? (Name & Council Withheld)

Reviewing an Eagle candidate’s project concept and plan in advance has been around for quite a while, and the idea of project plan approval at the district or council level was instituted by the BSA in 1990. Here’s the complete chronology:

1911-1962: No Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project.

1963: Scout Handbook (Supplement to 6th Edition, 1961): “…plan, develop, and carry out a service project helpful to your church or synagogue, school, or community approved in advance by your Scoutmaster.”

1965: Scout Handbook (7th Edition, p. 367): “…plan, develop, and carry out a service project helpful to your church or synagogue, school, or community approved in advance by your Scoutmaster.”

1972: Scout Handbook (8th Edition, p. 91): “…plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to your religious institution, school, or town. This project idea must be approved by your Scoutmaster and troop committee before you start.”

1979: The Official Boy Scout Handbook (9th Edition, p. 537): “…plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to your religious institution, school, or town. This project idea must be approved by your Scoutmaster and troop committee and reviewed by the council or district before you start.”

1990: The Boy Scout Handbook (10th Edition, p. 596): “…plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community…The project idea must be approved by your Scoutmaster and troop committee, and approved by the council or district before you start.”

1998: The Boy Scout Handbook (11th Edition, p. 447): “…plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community…The project idea must be approved by the organization benefiting from the effort, your Scoutmaster and troop committee, and the council or district before you start. You must use the Life-to-Eagle packet, BSA publication no. 18-927, in meeting this requirement.”

Thus, currently there are three aspects of an Eagle project that ultimately require review and approval: (1) the project concept, (2) the project plan, and (3) the manner in which the project was carried out. The last of these is, of course, the province of the Eagle Scout rank board of review, while the first and second of these is done in a review before the work actually commences.

The ultimate purpose of the preliminary review is to encourage a Scout to continue to move forward; not to “pass” or “fail” a Scout. Consequently, when a Scout’s project concept is reviewed, it would be with an eye toward making sure that he’s got an idea that’s big enough and important enough to truly be an Eagle-worthy project, but not so big as to invite the impossibility of completion. This is done conversationally, of course, and with the intent of concluding the conversation successfully. This portion of that review needn’t be done in person, by the way. A simple email or other message form that describes the concept should suffice. If the concept is wanting, it’s the responsibility of the reviewer to provide clear direction, otherwise, the Scout is “flying blind.”

The second part of the preliminary review is much the same. If the project plan lays out the details “recipe-style,” so that if a third party were to use the plan there’s enough information in it so that the project would be completed as envisioned. If the Scout has accidentally omitted something, or not been detailed enough in some area or got some things out of order, then the reviewer’s task is to help the Scout understand precisely what needs to be fixed, so that when he does a second draft, that draft gets a green light and the actual work can begin.

The district or council is, as stated by the BSA, the final arbiter as to the worthiness of the project concept and the workability of the plan itself.

Dear Andy,

I’m new to being a Cubmaster (though not new entirely new to Scouting). My question has to do with when to transition Tigers to Wolves, Wolves to Bears, and Bears to Webelos.

When my son started as a Tiger Cub, we did so in correspondence with the school year start. Now I see that the Cub Scout Leader Guide says that all boys in Cub Scouting are transitioned to their next rank at the end of the school year (usually June), yet the schedule and “Leaders Helps” book seems to cycle in August or early September. So when is the optimal time to transition our cubs from one rank to the next? It would seem to be in the fall, with the start of the school year. If cubs are moved up at the end of the school year, and begin working on next year’s rank over the summer, then new recruits arriving in August/September would be at a distinct disadvantage and/or the Den Leader will need to repeat sections in order to bring all of the boys up to speed. All in all, it sounds like there’s a push to advance as early as possible, and yet it’s not a smooth process, filled with conflicting information. What is your recommendation – and why? (Michael Myjak, CM, Central Florida Council)

You’ve asked a good and important question. This may surprise you: The key to the answer lies in the underlying philosophy and the resultant carrying out of the Cub Scout advancement program. My response to your question will be a long one, and I hope you’ll bear with me, because underlying philosophies and how they’re actualized need to be laid out, together with a description of how they’re interwoven to become part of the fabric of Cub Scouting…

Until they reach Webelos level, and particularly at the Wolf and Bear levels (your son’s upcoming next two years), advancement is home-based. Den Leaders, except for the rare den-related requirements (“lead your den in a flag ceremony,” etc.) have nothing whatever to do with advancement other than to encourage Cubs and their parents, and to record achievements. Completing requirements for ranks or even arrow points is not a part of den meetings! If you notice the signature lines in the Cub books themselves, you’ll observe that “Akela” is 99% the boys’ parents; not the Den Leader. That’s fundamental to the program of Cub Scouting, because this program for boys is in large part designed and developed to strengthen the child-to-parent(s) relationship at home.

Couple this with such joining or sub-program-level requirements as “completed the first grade” or completed the second grade,” etc., and it becomes plain that the Cub Scouting continuum transitions at the end of a school grade year; not at the start of one. That is, at the end of the school year in (usually) June, when students complete the grade they’ve been in since the prior August or September, they enter the next level of Cub Scouting: Tiger to Wolf, Wolf to Bear, and so on. In this way, upon acquiring the next-level handbook (Tigers get Wolf books next, etc.) a boy can, with his parents, immediately start completing achievements for that badge, and then, again with his parents, work on some hundred or more different arrow point requirements. And, yes, it is perfectly OK and in fact encouraged for boys and their parents to begin to do this over the summer months!

And, for boys who join in the August-September timeframe, there is no “catching up,” because, in all of Scouting, advancement is not a “race,” nor do Scouts at any level advance in lock-step with one another. Fundamental to the entire Scouting program of advancement is the principle that each youth advances at his own, individual pace. There are no “winners” who cross a finish line and “break the tape.” There is no “tape” to be broken. All boys can cross the finish line, if they so choose. “Coming in first” or “second” or whatever isn’t the point. Finishing and going beyond (as in arrow points or additional activity badges in the Webelos sub-program) is the point. In Scouting advancement, there are never “losers” and no boy can ever “fail.” This is one of the facets that sets Scouting apart from every other youth program on the planet, and one of the reasons why Scouting has been a magnet for well over one hundred million youth since its American inception 100 years ago.

Did you know that many packs across the US actually conduct their recruitment and new-boy “round-up” events in the May-June timeframe? This provides for two important things: It gets the new boys beginning on the advancement trail, and it also provides time over the summer months for new volunteer adults to get their training as Den Leaders, Cubmasters, and committee members done before the next school year starts! Others, like yours, start up in the August-September timeframe, and this is certainly OK, too. But, in doing so, you do miss out a bit on some fun in the summer, so I’d suggest that perhaps this year you consider going for the Cub Scout Summertime Pack Award, which keeps things fun, and keeps things moving along!

So, the bottom line is that “advancement is lumpy.” It’s not smooth. It’s not intended to be smooth. It’s designed with the purpose of being individual, with Den Leaders in the background; not the foreground. This means that Wolf, Bear, and so on can begin as soon as school ends in a month or so, and that no boy is ever “left behind,” because each boy and his parents will be making decisions that fit best into their lives both inside and outside of Scouting. And isn’t individual decision-making and initiative part (perhaps a big part!) of what we’re trying to provide education on, in the Scouting movement? I think it is!

Dear Andy,

When is a Scout an Eagle Scout? Is it when he’s completed his board of review, or when he’s taken his Eagle Scout Charge at a court of honor? I’m asking because there’s a Scout our troop who had his board of review three months ago and has now just had a further board of review for his first Eagle Palm. He didn’t pass that review because he wasn’t prepared for it, so he has asked for a second review in a few more months, but he won’t receive his Eagle medal for at least another month after that. (Name Withheld, Chief Seattle Council, WA)

A Scout attains his (next) rank on the successful conclusion of his board of review for it. That’s the date that goes in his record and on his card or certificate. It’s hardly unusual, however, for a full three months to pass between an Eagle board of review and a board of review for the bronze palm. When this happens, the Scout receives both his Eagle medal and his Eagle Palm at the same court of honor.

But your statement, “wasn’t ‘prepared’ for an Eagle palm board of review” perplexes me greatly. A board of review is just that: It’s an opportunity to talk with a Scout about what’s transpired in his life in the time between his last board of review and this one, and what his plans for the future might hold. He might be asked about his experiences earning—in this case—the five additional merit badges and which did he enjoy the most and how did he happen to choose the ones he did, but that’s about it in that department. He’s certainly not “tested” or “quizzed” on anything, because no board of review is permitted to do that! So how could he have been unprepared? Frankly, that statement sounds really weird.

Anyway, since it wasn’t successful, the board is obligated to state in writing to the Scout precisely what needs to happen to achieve success in the subsequent board of review. I certainly hope that this has been done, because if it hasn’t it flies in the face of stated BSA policy.

Thanks for the information. In this case, the Scout didn’t have the palm portion of his handbook filled out. This shouldn’t have gotten past the Scoutmaster conference, but when it’s the Scoutmaster’s kid some of the Assistant Scoutmasters are a little reluctant to not pass him. (Name Withheld)

So, what you’re telling me is that some weak-livered Assistant Scoutmaster torpedoed this young man by telling him he was ready for his board of review (and then telling the board the same thing) knowing full well that, without signatures or initials in the right places, doom was inevitable. And then the board confirmed this spineless behavior by dumping on the Scout instead of calling in the Assistant Scoutmaster right there, on the spot, and setting things right. In a word: Deplorable. Shame on those people. This isn’t about “the Scoutmaster’s kid,” this is about getting it right, or not, and the wrong choice was made. We NEVER inflict on a Scout the error of an adult (who’s supposed to know better).

Hi Andy,

I’ve been reading about merit badges on the usssp website. A question’s come up in our troop about service hours and whether time worked in completing merit badge requirements (e.g., Citizenship in the Community) can also count toward service hours for rank advancement. In other words, can the eight hours of service performed for an organization in working on the Cit-Community merit badge also count toward the six hours of service needed for a Star or Life rank, or is this considered “double-dipping”? (Kelley Skidmore, MC, Circle Ten Council, TX)

It’s double-dipping. A Scout learns nothing from this, and gets nothing out of it that will make a difference in his life (which is, after all, what we’re trying to do here).

But let’s not make a “federal case” out of this. Let’s not talk about “rules.” Let’s not say “This Is Prohibited.” Let’s simply tell the Scout, Hey, now that you have some experience under your belt, you can get out there and do an even better job the next time you want to volunteer to help somebody!

However, just in case it’s a parent who’s asking the question (which wouldn’t totally shock me, by the way), then here’s a more “legal” response: When a Scout performs the eight hours of community service for Cit-Community merit badge, he’s doing so with the approval of his Merit Badge Counselor and his parents; but when a Scout is performing the service project-related hours required for Star or Life rank, he does this with the prior approval of his Scoutmaster: These are two different and non-overlapping scenarios.

Dear Andy,

I’m being told in training that charcoal lighter fluid, in its original container, is strictly prohibited at BSA camping events as a way to start a fire of charcoal briquettes. Yet the Guide To Safe Scouting neither specifically prohibits nor authorizes its use. It does clearly state how to handle liquid fuels of which charcoal lighter fluid is mentioned. What’s your read on the proper use or non-use of charcoal lighter fluid to start charcoal briquettes? (Andy Schmidt, RTC, Samoset Council, WI)

Of course the GTSS contains a statement regarding charcoal lighter fluid! Here’s what it says: The use of liquid fuels for starting any type of fire is prohibited.

Dear Andy,

My two sons are in a troop with a Scoutmaster who has a military background, and that’s how he runs the troop: It’s both very strict and very regimented. My older son is about to begin his Eagle project, and his brother just joined and has earned his Scout badge.

The boys recently asked their Scoutmaster for “blue cards” so that they can start the Personal Fitness merit badge together, and at the same time my younger son wanted a blue card so he could earn the Fingerprinting merit badge with another young Scout as his buddy. The Scoutmaster, however, denied my younger son both blue cards, telling him that he doesn’t need to be concerned with merit badges at this time and that he should put all of his concentration into the requirements for Tenderfoot rank. However, my older son remembers how the troop had a different Scoutmaster when he started out, and no Scout was ever turned down, at any time or for any reason, if he wanted to earn a merit badge—and that was from the very moment he became a Scout! Needless to say, both of my sons left the troop meeting very discouraged and disappointed.

Does a Scoutmaster actually have the authority to turn down a Scout’s merit badge request, so long as at least two Scouts are working together? I’d thought that the Scoutmaster’s signature on the blue card was so that the Scoutmaster would know which Scouts are working on what merit badges and so that he could give the Scouts the name and contact information for registered Merit Badge Counselors. Do Scouts, in fact, need to get some sort of “permission” from the Scoutmaster? Does this one person actually have absolute control over my own sons’ and every other Scout’s merit badge interests? This is the first time in five years (and three different Scoutmasters) that we’ve run across anything like this, and—to be blunt—we’re about to change troops because of it. Our sons and I would appreciate any thoughts you can share about this. (Surprised & Disappointed Scout Parent)

Let’s start with this: That Scoutmaster is 100% wrong. “Any Boy Scout may earn any merit badge at any time. You don’t need to have rank advancement to be eligible.” Those are the exact words, on page 22, of the BSA book, Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS.

You sons, if they don’t have this book already, should go buy one at the local Scout Shop and bring it with them to the next troop meeting. Armed with this (highlighting the statement above in advance) and their Boy Scout Handbook (11th Edition) they can show the passage I’ve quoted to their Scoutmaster, then turn to page 187 in their handbooks, and say to their Scoutmaster, “I would like a blue card for the ‘x’ merit badge, please.” If the Scoutmaster remains intransigent, get out, and go to a troop, that doesn’t have a little tin god for a Scoutmaster. Don’t try to “teach” this Scoutmaster, for the same reason we don’t try to teach a pig to fly: It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

If, however, your sons would prefer to remain in this troop, because their friends are in it and so forth, then you and their father both need to speak with the troop’s Committee Chair (the Scoutmaster ultimately “reports” to the chair and committee), armed with the books and passages I described to you, and demand that the Scoutmaster start acting according to BSA policies. These policies are not“at the discretion” of anyone. No one is permitted to hold their personal opinions higher than BSA stated policies, period. You must do this as a team, in order to avoid your being labeled “just another pushy mom,” which is a classic tactic of bullies like that Scoutmaster and carries the liability of being ignored. If there are other parents who are of like minds, then all of you go talk to the committee chair (Don’t use email! This is in-person, eyeball-to-eyeball only!)


Dear Andy,

I have a question about a Unit Commissioner I recently met (he’s in a different district from my own). It seems that he’s the UC for all of the Scouting units—two packs and three troops—sponsored by the same denomination of churches in his district, and he’s also an Assistant Scoutmaster with one of those troops. He claims that since he’s very rarely actually doing Commissioner work, he has plenty of time for another responsibility, and that’s why he’s an ASM too. Is this really Kosher?

Also, I know of a troop that’s not exactly practicing exactly what the BSA prescribes as far as organization goes. A few years ago all the adults were Assistant Scoutmasters, plus one Scoutmaster. They did eventually realize that this was wrong, so they made all but three of the ASMs committee members, but, as far as I can tell, the troop still doesn’t function any differently. I’m wondering who you think is the best person to try to set this troop right. Is this something a Commissioner can give advice on? Is it going to have to come from within the troop? Is it best to fix everything, all at once, or to take one thing at a time?

Lastly, can you point me to somewhere that describes exactly what a Unit Commissioner is supposed to do? I’m looking for something more detailed that the description on the page about Commissioners at (Matt Schmidt, District Committee Member, Chickasaw Council, TN)

First, resources: Go to for some fundamental reading, and then click through to Basic Commissioner Manuals and get yourself a copy of the Commissioner Fieldbook for Unit Service.(No. 33216A) and give it a read.

It’s a BSA policy that Commissioners (any level) cannot simultaneously hold a unit leader position, which refers primarily to Scoutmaster and Cubmaster; which means it’s not impossible for an ASM to also be a Commissioner (although this isn’t advised, for exactly the reason expressed: this gentleman is devoting his time to his ASM role when he’s expected to be an active, functioning Unit Commissioner!). This, however, is an issue between this gentleman and the District Commissioner (i.e., not with a district committee member like yourself).

Only Unit Commissioners have direct unit contact (unless the district is short-staffed in this department, in which case Assistant District Commissioners or even the District Commissioner might step in—but definitely not district committee members). UCs have just two tools: A thorough understanding of how the Scouting program is written to be delivered, and a sliver tongue. That’s right: Commissioners have no actual “authority” over units and their adult volunteers; this is 100% a diplomatic or ambassadorial role, and there are no “council cops” here! The unit you describe definitely needs some help aiming better at Scouting’s True North, and a good Unit Commissioner can help them in a variety of ways—all via diplomacy. However, it’s ultimately up to the troop to fix itself; no one can come in and fix them “from on high.”

I asked about Unit Commissioners because I hope one day to serve in that role. When I was in Scouts as a boy, there was a UC who served both my pack and later my troop. When I was a Cub, he was the man with all of the stuff on his shirt and a big hat. Later, as I got into Boy Scouts, I learned that his name was John. He was 75 years old and had been in Scouts since he was a boy. We looked forward to seeing “he man in the campaign hat” once a month because we could always convince him to tell us a good Scouting story. Sometimes he’d bring something from his days as a Scout to show to us (and tell us a story about). John was “Scouting” to me and my friends. I attended my first Roundtable last night. The first thing after I left, I called my dad; the second thing I did was wish I could have called John (he died the year I earned my Eagle). So now I’m a district committee member, but I hope that I’ll get to know this district enough so that I can be a Unit Commissioner some day. (BTW, can one be both a Commissioner and a district committee member?) Thanks again! (Matt Schmidt)

Being both a Commissioner and a district committee member is possible—it violates no BSA policies. Just be sure you have the time and energy to carry out both responsibilities successfully! You certainly have a fine legacy to bring to life again!


Dear Andy,

Do you know if the Community Service Award square knot is still available? My council’s Scout store knows nothing about it. I have a friend who is a Brigadier General and very active in our troop. She’s been awarded the Department of Defense United States Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, and I’d like to present the accompanying square knot to her, if it’s still available. If it is, can you tell me how to order it. (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

Yes, it’s definitely still available! With the certificate (or a copy of it) in hand, contact the BSA national office (call 972-580-2000 and they’ll direct you to the right person) and order the square knot(s). They may want you to send a copy of the certificate to them, and that’s just fine—it’s for verification, of course. Best wishes and congratulations to your military friend for her “double-duty”!


Dear Andy,

A Scouter in my council recently asked me what the proper etiquette is, with regard to wearing unit numerals when you take a district position, because, as he noted, “Everyone here has a different opinion as to what’s correct.” Here’s what I said…

The most recent Insignia Guide has a separate page (42) for “Universal and Non-Unit Insignia.” When I train Commissioners, I advise them to either have a separate shirt, or put their unit numerals and unit position patch on Velcro so they can be removed, and replaced with the district position patch (only), because district and council position shirts should never have a unit numeral on them.

Any further thoughts? (Steve Hanson, Scout Shop Manager, Capital Area Council)

Of course you’re right on the money! If you’re wearing silver shoulder loops, you wear no numeral. (If you wear silver shoulder loops and you’re still wearing a unit numeral, people who notice this will assume, mostly, you’re a dunce who doesn’t know any better.) This isn’t about either “etiquette” or anyone’s “opinion” (including me)… This is about BSA national standard uniform and insignia protocols. Read the bloody guide book, folks!

Dear Andy,

We have an adult leader in our Episcopal Church and she’s going to be nominated for the religious award. I’m not sure how to word the recommendation letter. Do I just list why I think she should receive this award? (Phil Levy)

Complete information on the St. George Episcopal religious award for adults is right here: As to what one would say in a letter of nomination, I can’t advise because I have no knowledge of the person you wish to nominate, her background, or her volunteer efforts. You might want to consult with the local church’s priest, since this person will be signing, as well.


Hey Andy –

Back in April 2009, you wrote as a response to Garry who asked if a professional Scouter has to meet the requirement of earning the
Commissioner’s Arrowhead Honor to qualify for a Masters degree in the College of Commissioner Science and does being a professional qualify for the requirement of being a registered commissioner, the following: “I’m sorta not getting this… Why would a career Scouting professional be earning a recognition aimed at improving the quality of the BSA’s corps of volunteers?”

Well, here’s the answer, from the BSA’s Volunteer Training Division: “Professionals volunteering their time as unit-level or district
volunteers must meet all training and performance requirements toward a training award or the Scouters’ Key. Professionals who are concurrently serving as volunteers…within their local council may use tenure as a registered volunteer toward training awards, keys and other recognition. Their training award progress card(s) must be approved by their supervising professional and the Scout Executive prior to award of the training award or key.”

So to answer Garry’s questions, first, the professional must meet all of the requirements for the Commissioners’ Arrowhead Honor while serving as a Commissioner in a district other than his own, with the prior approval of the Scout Executive and his supervising professional, and, second, in the case of earning a Master of Commissioner Science degree, he also needs to meet all of the other requirements in his volunteer role. The other question Garry asked is a slam-dunk: No. Just because he’s a professional doesn’t mean that he can “automatically” serve as a volunteer. If he’s serving as a volunteer, he first has to have approval from his supervising professional (field director, director of field services, associate Council Executive, Council Executive/Scout Executive) and from the Council Scout Executive, and that information needs to be added onto the volunteer application for that position (which again, must be in a different district or division from his or her employment). And as far as being a registered Commissioner, he’d better have his or her bottom end in a Commissioner training course conducted by the council.

Now, to answer the point of “Why would this be a valid question?” I can point to a lot of local councils that can’t find Unit Commissioners but the demand is there for Commissioner support. Many councils look to their professional staff for additional volunteer support, particularly when they know that the chance of getting volunteers to run an inner-city or rural Scouting unit is bleak or even impossible without paying someone. Scouting is a voluntary program, but many councils have had to underwrite expenses or even make outright payments to get someone to be a Scoutmaster or Commissioner. (This is different from hiring a paraprofessional to do those things—the paraprofessional manages the Scouting program on a daily basis; what councils are doing is “hiring” volunteers for 5-10 hours a week.) Also, some (not all) councils allow their professionals to “moonlight” as volunteers, provided they’re registered, trained, and not working within their own district. I hope this helps answer the questions! (Mike Walton/Settummanque)

As always, I appreciate your sharp eyes! Yes, a professional Scouter can earn the Arrowhead Honor, etc…. however, he or she is doing this in the capacity of a volunteer, and not as a part of their professional work, and this is the key separator. To put it another way, any Commissioner can earn the Arrowhead Honor, etc., in the capacity of registered Commissioner, regardless of whether their “day job” is doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, or professional Scouter!

Happy Scouting!



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

(January 20, 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

Comments are closed.