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Issue 207 – February 12, 2010

Hi Andy,

Can a council demand letters of recommendation for an Eagle board of review? Our District Advancement Chair says that this demand can be made because the Council Advancement Chair has said that this is a council’s choice. Since there’s nothing on the application or worksheet to this effect, we have an Eagle candidate who, at the proverbial “11th hour” was told he must comply, despite his having been totally unaware of this “council policy” beforehand.

Also, the Eagle Scout rank application asks for the Scout’s unit number for each merit badge he’s listed… What happens if a Scout has been in more than one troop? “ScoutNET” surely has him and all of his merit badges on his current troop record, and, if checked by council, they wouldn’t find those merit badges earned in a former troop’s record because they’d be listed with his current troop. (Of course, the Scout’s “blue cards” would show the troop he was with when he earned them.) Our District Advancement Chair is saying that all merit badges must be credited to the troop a Scout was in when he earned them. But, unless the Scout kept his blue cards, how does he do this? Plus, what if the Scout earned a merit badge while he was with a Jamboree troop, where no real records or blue cards are kept? (Name Withheld in Simon Kenton Council, OH)

Regarding recommendations of Eagle Scout candidates, the candidate himself isn’t responsible for the acquisition of any letters of reference. Per the Eagle Scout rank application, the Scout is only responsible for providing the names and contact information of up to six people who know him and have agreed to be references for him. While a council may ask the Scout to send a letter of request to each of these people, the Scout is absolutely not responsible for obtaining responses, on the simple principle that no one can guarantee the actions of another person.

On your merit badge question, if a Scout has earned merit badges while a registered member of more than one troop, then he lists the troop he was in at the time he earned the merit badge(s). This can happen when a Scout transfers from one troop to another (either locally or cross-country, such as when a family moves). A “Jamboree troop,” however, is not a troop a Scout ever registers in. He’s a member of his home troop, even while participating as a provisional member of a Jamboree troop, so he would list the troop he’s actually registered in at the time he earned the merit badge.

As for “blue cards,” these are back-up records. Every time a Scout earns a merit badge, he’s supposed to be given a merit badge card (also called “pocket certificate”—BSA Catalog No. 34393), that contains his name, the name of the merit badge, his council name and his and troop number, the date, and the signature of his Scoutmaster. A Scout should be keeping these cards (a clear plastic, pocketed “baseball card holder” works well, and so does a rubber band) and his ranks cards in a special place, so he can refer to them as needed.

Hi Andy,

My son just finished the Cub Scout program. We have two houses, in different cities, and it’s hard to stay in one troop area. The two houses are about 45 minutes drive from the other one, and there are not specific days we’re in one or the other—it varies. How can our son join up as a Lone Scout? (Name & Council Withheld)

While your son (and one of his parents) can apply for the Lone Scout status and program, he’ll be missing out on almost all the main aspects of being a Boy Scout… He won’t have any friends in a troop or patrol, he won’t go hiking or camping with Scouting friends, he won’t go to summer camp with friends from his troop, there will be no courts of honor when he advances in rank, he won’t be exposed to the role-modeling older Scouts and his Scoutmaster provide, he’ll learn nothing practical about team-building or teamwork or being a leader or being a team member, and he’ll have no youth or adult mentors, no flag ceremonies or Camporees or troop dinners or quiet moments around the campfire with his Scout buddies… the list goes on and on.

I’ve checked the two locations you described to me and, according to MapQuest, they’re more like 25 miles, or 30 minutes, apart. This seems to be hardly a distance significant enough to deny your son the advantages I’ve just mentioned. Yes, it may mean a little extra driving, on occasion, or planning where you’ll be on the nights there are troop meetings, but if your son’s anything like my own three, HE’S WORTH IT!

Dear Andy,

You mentioned a “typo” at one time in the Scout Handbook about the Bugler position as an Eagle-qualifying leadership position… So what’s your advice for a troop that has a Life Scout who’s citing that source for his application for Eagle rank? He was a Bugler as a Life Scout and he’s arguing that the Bugler position counts as his position of responsibility for Eagle rank. He’s citing req. 5 (page 444) in his Boy Scout Handbook. When questioned by us about this position about eight months ago, he told us that he’d received confirmation from the then-District Eagle Rank Advancement Representative that Bugler counted as a leadership position for Eagle. Back eight months ago, when this Scout requested his advancement records in preparation for completing his Eagle rank requirements, our troop’s Advancement Coordinator told him that Bugler wouldn’t qualify for Eagle, and encouraged him to participate in the troop elections a month later (that would be six months ago, now), so that he could be either elected or appointed to an actual qualifying position, and would have the necessary six months tenure before his 18th birthday (which is now only about a month away). When he didn’t agree, we advised him to contact the District Eagle Rank Advancement Representative for further clarification. Between that point in time, seven months ago, and now, neither he nor the DERAR has spoken with anyone here in the troop about whatever discussion they may have had. Now, this Scout has requested an Eagle Rank Board of Review, saying that he confirmed with the then-DERAR that the Bugler position does count. We need to resolve the leadership position issue… If it was a typo, and this Scout has in his possession the handbook with the typo, and the DERAR did, in fact, tell him that Bugler is an Eagle-qualifying position, then what do we do now, a month before his 18th birthday? (Troop Advancement Coordinator, Council Withheld)

Let’s start by checking the Eagle Scout rank application (go to If you look at req. 4, here’s what you’ll find: “Patrol Leader, Venture Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, Troop Guide, Order of the Arrow Troop Representative, Den Chief, Scribe, Librarian, Historian, Quarter-master, Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, Chaplain Aide, Instructor; (and) (effective Jan. 1, 2010) Webmaster and Leave No Trace Trainer.”

Further, page 448 of the Boy Scout Handbook-Eleventh Edition (which has been in effect for the past 12 years) names, with the exception of the two newest positions, precisely the same positions as the application, and page 441 of the Twelfth Edition exactly echoes this.

Consequently, it’s unclear as to where this Scout became confused.

Page 444 of the Eleventh Edition lists Bugler as qualifying for Star rank, and page 445 refers to the same list as on the prior page, but qualifying positions for Eagle rank do not, as I’ve just noted, list Bugler. Moreover, neither pages 438 or 439 or 440-441 of the Twelfth Edition list Bugler at all!

This would mean that even the most current handbook doesn’t support this Scout’s position at all. So again, it’s unclear as to where this Scout became confused.

You’ve told me that, seven months ago, this Scout was specifically advised that Bugler is not a qualifying position for Eagle, and this conversation took place in sufficient time for him to be elected to, or to request, a leadership position that would, indeed qualify. With troop elections six months ago, had this Scout followed the information provided to him, he would not be in the situation he’s in now.

If, however, the District Eagle Rank Advancement Representative can verify to you that he did tell this Scout that Bugler will qualify, then we become lenient, because we don’t inflict upon Scouts the errors of adults who are supposed to be authorities on matters such as this. (Yes, you should obtain a written statement from this person.) If, however, it should turn out that either this conversation didn’t occur, or that the Scout was advised by the DERAR that Bugler doesn’t qualify for Eagle, then the only hope this Scout may have is if, for six months while a Life Scout, he held another leadership position in the troop that does qualify.

If either of these two options isn’t present, then the troop has the unhappy responsibility of informing the Scout (do this in writing, of course) that he hasn’t met the stated requirements for Eagle rank. The Scout, of course, has the right to appeal the troop’s decision by going to the district advancement committee, but I’m not going to be terribly hopeful here. It may well be that, by his rigid adherence to his own error, he has managed to disqualify himself from attaining Eagle rank.

As for any “typo,” the only omission is in the new, Twelfth Edition, of the handbook: It doesn’t list Webmaster or Leave No Trace Trainer as Eagle-qualifying positions. The only other error—one which doesn’t affect the outcome here—was mine, when in a recent I said that Bugler doesn’t qualify for Star or Life (which it does). However, it doesn’t and never did qualify for Eagle, which I did state.

Thanks Andy! It’s good to know that all the information I’ve given this Scout was correct. (I was starting to think I was going crazy and just couldn’t find where Bugler was listed as a position of responsibility for Eagle.)

I have asked the Scout to show me or provide me with a copy of this mysterious handbook that lists Bugler as an Eagle-qualifying position, mostly out of personal curiosity and but also to emphasize to the Scout and his parents that it just isn’t there. I’ve also contacted the former DERAR and asked that I be provided with a written statement of the substance of any conversations that may have taken place with this Scout in the past seven months regarding his Bugler position qualifying for Eagle Scout, along with copies of any email or other correspondence the two of them may have had about this issue.

If the former DERAR is unable to verify that it was confirmed to this Scout that Bugler is an Eagle-qualifying position, I plan to notify the Scout that he’s ineligible for Eagle and give him the procedures and contact information he’ll need if he chooses to appeal to the district or council. I’ve also asked our current DERAR to recommend what types of documentation we should provide to this Scout, but I have a feeling that, as the troop’s Advancement Coordinator, I’m going to be writing a description of the events and conversations leading up to the present. I’m guessing that all of this may well hinge on the former DERAR’s written statement.

As an aside, I’m wondering if it makes any difference if it turns out that former DERAR agreed with this Scout on the strength of his own stating that it was listed in his Boy Scout Handbook (and not by actual research on the DERAR’s part). I can envision myself telling a Scout that if it’s in the handbook he doesn’t need my confirmation, but obviously that relies on the Scout’s ability to read the handbook correctly… So I’ve learned two lessons here, myself. First, if I refer a Scout to another source for confirmation of information, I need to follow up with that Scout and the resource about the resolution of his inquiry. Second, if a Scout asks me a question—even if he tells me he’s found the answer in his handbook or other BSA literature—I need to be sure I check it out for myself! Your explanation and advice are much appreciated. Thank you for your time, expertise and quick response. (TAC)

As you’re awaiting information from that DERAR, there’s one further aspect to consider…

Seven months ago, you were certain that Bugler didn’t qualify for Eagle, and you recommended to this Scout that he seek an elected or appointed leadership position in the upcoming month, when your troop’s elections are held. He didn’t do either of these; yet, apparently neither the Scoutmaster nor you nor anyone else advised him that this absolutely must be done. In this situation, there’s hardly just a single “guilty” party here! Or did you all advise him, and he still clung to the same song he’d been singing? If the latter, then the “life lessons” for him are (a) that Scouting hasn’t “let him down,” (b) he let himself down by his own inaccuracy and rigidity, and (c) “thinking” you’re right and actually being correct aren’t always the same thing. If the former, then perhaps you all need to approach the district advancement committee and ask for an extension for this Scout, to give him the time to correct a misapprehension?

Meanwhile, although the Eleventh Edition of the handbook, which has been the fundamental source for the past twelve years, covers this Scout’s entire Boy Scout experience, and should therefore suffice as a reference, the Tenth Edition doesn’t show Bugler as qualifying for Eagle, and neither does the Ninth, either of the Eighth editions, the Seventh… shall we keep going? Bottom line: It’s simply not there.

Life itself is a series of lessons. Each lesson is presented to us in different forms until we learn it. Then, the next lesson is presented.

Dear Andy,

I’m on a parent committee of a rather small troop that seems to be shrinking rather than growing (we have 18 Scouts in the troop, of which about ten show up regularly). One of the things that seems to be hampering the troop’s growth (and spirit) is the Scoutmaster’s way of handling youth leadership. For the past three years, he’s been encouraging the Patrol Leaders Council to create a “percent of participation” or “point system” to limit Scouts who may be eligible to be elected Senior Patrol Leader, and Patrol Leader. It seems to me that a policy of placing some sort of percentage of participation and/or a point system for attendance is the antithesis of BSA policy and what Scouting is trying to accomplish… We shouldn’t be limiting Scouts; instead, we need to be treating all Scouts the same and give all the same opportunities. Boys in general are involved in many activities, and I’d think that Scouting wants well-rounded boys. Any help or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated, so that we can once and for all stop this ongoing problem. (Name & Council Withheld)

Get yourself a copy of the 2010 Boy Scout Requirements book (No. 34765), and then refer to page 20: DEFINITION OF “ACTIVE.” Show this to the Scoutmaster and tell him in no uncertain terms that unless he can abide by national standards, the troop will need to replace him. No discussion, no equivocation, and absolutely no “I’ll get around to this sometime…” He either does this immediately or he’s history.

Dear Andy,

I’ve searched the archives for my question, and haven’t found an answer yet. Hopefully you can help…

We have two boys who are interested in maintaining registrations in two different troops. I don’t know why they would want to do this, as I’ve only heard about their desire from others. To my knowledge, boys can only be registered in one troop. They can be in a crew and a troop, but not two units of the same unit type. Can you point me to a specific policy on this?

This actually prompts another dual registration question… Can an Eagle Scout, who’s not yet 18, be a member of one troop as a Boy Scout and another (different) troop as a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster? I’m guessing not, because he’d still be a Boy Scout. Any enlightenment here? (Ray Bahr)

I think the reason why these boys want to be in two troops simultaneously is definitely important. It’s equally important that they understand that they’ll be going to two troop meetings each week, going hiking and camping on weekends with two troops, going to summer camp with both troops, and on and on… Or did they have something else in mind. Before we all spin our wheels based on hearsay at best, let’s find out what’s actually going on.

To your other question: Eagle or otherwise, Junior Assistant Scoutmaster is a youth leadership position, not an adult position. But, again, why two different troops? Why not simply transfer into the preferred troop?

Hello Andy,

My question’s about Camping merit badge and req. 9a: “Camp a total of at least 20 days and 20 nights. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. The 20 days and 20 nights must be at a designated Scouting activity or event. You may use a week of long-term camp toward this requirement…” On the point about “You may use a week of long term camp,” can a Scout combine weeks from more than one year of long-term Scout camping?

In our council, summer camp “weeks” run from Sundays to Fridays—that’s five days and nights. So, if a Scout’s gone to Scout summer camp over two years (each for five days-and-nights), can that Scout get credit for one week (five from “year one” and two from “year two”)? The requirement doesn’t specify if separate long-term camps can be combined for a total of “a week.”

As a related question, if Philmont is a two week Scouting “long-term camp,” does this count as “a week” of long-term camp? (Name & Council Withheld)

The key word is “week”: Seven days and nights. Whether these are all together or not isn’t a part of this requirement. This means that, per your scenario, if a Scout has had five days and nights in one summer he can use two more days and nights from another summer to total up to seven, if he wishes. Philmont treks aren’t “long-term camps,” but they’re certainly camping nights, and count toward the 20 needed for this merit badge. The Philmont NAYLE program is, however, a long-term camp, and these days and nights would count in that way.

Is there an official rule page about this that I can show to our scout leader, who thinks that only one year of long-term Scout camping can be used? He doesn’t believe that two years can be combined to get to the total of seven days. (N&CW)

Reverse the challenge: Ask the Scoutmaster to show you, in writing, that the BSA disallows the accumulation of long-term camping days and nights. Of course, he won’t be able to do this. This is when you point out that it’s not our job to “read into” requirements things that just aren’t there. The requirement states specifically that a week (i.e., seven days and nights) of long-term camping may be used toward the 20 required, and is totally silent on whether this is all at once or not, which is absolutely deliberate on the BSA’s part.

Oh, yeah… Is the Scoutmaster a registered Merit Badge Counselor for this merit badge? If by any chance he’s not, then his individual opinion doesn’t matter, anyway. (But it sure gets high marks on my Dumbbell Meter.)

Dear Andy,

My son has been a Cub Scout from Tiger to Webelos I; he’s been an exemplary Cub, with no discipline problems, perfect attendance, thousands of dollars in popcorn sales, top positions in our Pinewood Derby, and on and on.

As for me, I was the Den Leader for his Wolf and Bear dens, and now for Webelos I. But there’s been a personality clash between me and the other WDL (who is also the pack’s Committee Chair). So, when the two Webelos dens were merged into one, I was told I’m out of a “job,” and at the same time my son was de-registered from the pack, on the basis of “non-participation.” I’ve read the references to what “active” means (and doesn’t) for Boy Scouts, but I can’t find a similar reference for Cub Scouts.

Meanwhile, our district is about to charter a brand-new pack and I’ve been asked by our District Executive to chair the newly-formed pack committee (which I had to decline, due to work conflicts). Yes, I know that my son could join up with this new pack, but I’d obviously prefer that he be with the boys he started out with, three-and-a-half years ago. How do I get my son reinstated? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s regrettable that you and your son encountered this mess. In my experience, inter-adult disputes produce more problems in Scouting (and elsewhere!) than any other single cause. Yes, your son appears to have been wrongly and incorrectly “dismissed” from the pack; however, reinstatement attempts will probably be less than productive and rife with rancor. The best recommendation I can offer you is to either get him into that new pack or another nearby one, or apply for Lone Cub Scout status until he’s eligible to be a Boy Scout, and then have him join a friendly troop. For you to try to “fight the good fight” will take more energy and create more discord than either of you deserves; best to move on.

Dear Andy,

Our Cubmaster wanted to start monthly pack hikes but couldn’t find anyone willing to take on the responsibility, so he “volunteered” us and we reluctantly agreed, only because, as a family we do our own hiking anyway, and felt it would be fun for our son to have other boys along. But, for the past two months, we’ve been the only people that went on the hikes. Then, last night, we had this request from a Webelos II Den Leader—He asked us to contact the parents of one of his Webelos II Scouts, to let them know when this month’s hike would be, because this boy needs to do a Webelos day hike to meet Arrow of Light req. 5. Well, this month we scheduled a sled ride instead, because there have been no takers for the hikes we’ve announced.

Can you please define a “Webelos day hike”? The Cubmaster’s asked us to keep the hikes simple and not too long, because we have to allow for Tiger Cubs participating. The hikes we have always chosen have been under two miles each way, and on gentle grades.

The Arrow of Light ceremony is planned for just a month from now, and although I feel badly that this one Webelos Scout hasn’t met all his Arrow of Light requirements and is now trying to, I don’t feel that we should have to change plans at this juncture. Any thoughts? (Name Withheld in Longs Peak Council)

Things are just a bit messed up here. To begin with, hiking isn’t a regular activity for Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, or even Webelos Scouts. In short, what you’ve been asked to do is something outside the regular Cub Scouting program. In your shoes, I’d “un-volunteer,” on the basis that a regular hiking program is unnecessary at the Cub Scouting level.

If your Cubmaster (and other adult volunteers in your pack) took the time to read (or re-read) the Cub Scout Leader Book, or attend (or re-attend) the training courses for Cub Scout leaders provided by your district and council, they’d discover that hiking programs aren’t part of an overall pack program.

Hikes such as Webelos Scouts do (in part, to complete requirements) are supposed to be organized and led by their Webelos Den Leaders; not someone else. Therefore, the hike that this boy needs is the responsibility of his Webelos Den Leader, not you. Responsibilities need to stay where they belong. Do have a talk with that leader and let him or her know that this isn’t something you should have been doing, or will be doing in the future.

On the subject of “what constitutes a day hike,” the idea is to simply hike for a part of the day. There’s no specific distance to be covered, so long as the hike is interesting and fun for the boys. That’s it.

Thank you so much for your help. And now another problem seems to have arisen… The Cubmaster’s decided that the overnight camp-out at a local ranch that the pack did last summer meets the requirements for a “Webelos overnight camp-out.” This is a camp-out that the pack does every year with all dens, including all family members. The activities are all fun with outdoor games provided by each den, campfire skits, roasting marshmallows and giving out den awards, plus, we do a small service project for our hosts. I can tell you that, at the time we did it, no one considered this a “Webelos overnight camp-out.”

I know that my responsibility as pack advancement coordinator doesn’t include policing rank or other award requirements, but I feel like the rules have been changed just to accommodate this one boy, so that he’ll get his Arrow of Light. I may be viewing this incorrectly, but it seems that the message the pack is sending to the boys is, “Don’t worry about doing things the right way; we’ll change or adjust the rules so you can get what you want.” I appreciate that you’re a voice of sanity and will respect whatever direction you give. (NW)

Don’t fret… It’s pretty much OK. No, it may not be perfect, but the boys “got out there” last summer shared an outdoor experience. If the Webelos Den Leaders signed off on the requirement, leave it at that; there’s never a “board of review” for Cub/Webelos Scout advancements and, as you pointed out correctly, the last thing you want to be is the requirement “completion cop.” Did the boys get outdoors? Did they learn a few things? Did they have fun? Does this encourage them to become Boy Scouts and experience the bigger adventure there? If these things generally happened, then I’d roll with it! Let’s just make sure that, whatever happens, it’s done in time for the Webelos II Scouts to complete their Arrow of Light on schedule, so they can join the Boy Scout troop of their choice by the end of February, or March at the latest!

Dear Andy,

At a recent troop meeting, that Scoutmaster handed the Senior Patrol Leader a length rope in front of the entire troop of Scouts, and told him to tie a timber hitch: “You should know how to tie this knot…you’re a Star Scout.” The Scout replied that he’d forgot how to tie this particular knot, but he’ll refer to his handbook to refresh his memory, and then he’ll tie it. To this, the Scoutmaster replied, “You need to do this now, no looking for the answer; you’re the leader, so lead us.” The SPL asked to have the JASM, who was standing there also, tie the knot, but the Scoutmaster said, “I’m asking you now show me the knot.” At this, the SPL got out his handbook, looked up the knot, and correctly tied it. The Scoutmaster walked off, unhappy. This doesn’t appear to be a Scoutmaster supporting the troop’s key youth leader, but more like intimidation and belittling, in front of the troop. Your thoughts? (John Carney)

By his actions with the SPL on that knot-tying scenario (the SPL handled it brilliantly, by the way), this Scoutmaster has shown clearly that he’s not the man for the job.

Dear Andy,

Thank you for your continued service and columns (I’ve gone back and read all of them and have pointed many other adults in my units to them, as well). In a recent column, there was a question about a 12 year-old Life-rank Scout having applied to go to the National Scout Jamboree this summer. This turns out to be OK. Per the BSA site (, “Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts must be at least First Class Scouts. They must have completed the sixth grade or be at least 12 years of age by July 1, 2010, but not have reached their 18th birthday by August 4, 2010.” So, for this concern, the Scout in question is allowed to register, since he does meet both criteria. (Matt Nieberger, ASM, Longs Peak Council, CO)

Yup, you’re absolutely correct about the age requirement for a National Scout Jamboree. With regard to the question I was asked, I decided to leave that aspect alone, since the situation described was not one to be handled by the home troop, but, rather, by the local council (especially since “parents and sons” don’t “register” to attend a Jamboree!). Thanks for your sharp eyes, and for writing.

Hey Andy,

I know they’re coming out soon with four new “old” merit badges, and one of them will be Signaling. Do you know where I can find the semaphore flags, or do we have to make our own? (Erick Hudson)

“Dealer’s choice” here… Pre-made semaphore flag sets are available online (just check Google, eBay, etc.), or you can make them yourselves with a bit of sewing and constructing. Remember that, in addition to semaphore, there’s also “wig-wag” for Morse Code (with differently patterned flags).

Dear Andy,

In a recent column, you said, “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.” That’s what I thought, too, but this has apparently changed. To quote from the “Volunteer FAQ” page at

Q. Once a volunteer is registered and approved as a merit badge counselor, is that registration for life?

A. Approvals for merit badge counselors and all other adult volunteer positions are valid for one year only and must be renewed annually.

This a little annoying, but helps keep the list of counselors “fresh” and presumably is one more line of defense in Youth Protection.

However, this one doesn’t make sense… Check out the following Q&A from the same FAQ page:

Q. Must individuals who are serving as a merit badge counselor register as a merit badge counselor with the Boy Scouts of America?

A. Yes, an Adult Application must be completed for each position in which the individual wants to serve. The application allows only one position per form. For instance, an individual who wants to serve only as a merit badge counselor will need to complete only one application. However, a Scoutmaster or assistant Scoutmaster who wants to serve as a merit badge counselor must complete two applications—one for the Scoutmaster position and one for the counselor position.

Any idea why? (Name Withheld, San Diego-Imperial Council)

There’s a difference between annual registration (per the BSA Adult Volunteer Application) and annual approval (or reaffirmation) of Merit Badge Counselors. For registration as a volunteer, the BSA Adult Volunteer Application is filled out only once (just like all other volunteers) and is renewed each year automatically (for MBCs, there’s no annual registration fee); however, councils and districts typically renew the approval for MBCs relative to the merit badges they are responsible for, annually (or in some cases every two years).

This is the only BSA position for which two applications are used, the only position for which there’s no annual fee, and the only position that goes through a regular (annual or every couple of years) re-approval process.

As for holding multiple positions, it’s been the policy for quite some time that the BSA Adult Volunteer Application is filled out (once) for each position.

I hope this clears up your (understandable) confusion, and thanks for asking.

Dear Andy,

Your recent response on the use of lighter fluid was, as always, spot on. However, you didn’t offer an alternative method to get charcoal briquettes started, or a resource to help him get back on track. I’d like to help fill in that information…

To get briquettes started without lighter fluid, use a “charcoal chimney.” They’re inexpensive and readily available at your local “big box” hardware store (Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.). Some crumpled newspaper in the bottom and then a few matches is all it takes to get that charcoal going!

An even better solution is for the Scouts themselves to fabricate charcoal chimneys. Boys love to build things and I’m sure the Senior Patrol Leader could even find a way to turn this into a good patrol competition. A “Google” search for “charcoal chimney homemade” turns up thousands of citations. The first one on my own list is: This is a very well-written step-by-step set of instructions, with pictures!

Thank you for all you do. Keep it up! (TJ Kackowski, MC, Crossroads of America Council, IN)

Yup, I didn’t. I try to stick with answering the question (especially when I’m not asked for a solution), and in this case I wanted to make absolutely sure there would be no confusion.

That said, your ideas are top-drawer (especially the patrol competition) so thanks for reading, and for writing!

Dear Andy,

I need some guidance regarding a recent board of review for a Gold Palm… The Eagle Scout (having already earned his Eagle and a Bronze Palm in this troop) arrived for his board of review and was instantly told that since he was considered “inactive,” his board of review is denied. On being told this, the Scout quickly spoke with his Scoutmaster, who provided him with the current (and most complete) definition of “active” by the BSA. Returning to the troop committee, the Scout presented this information to the reviewers, who, upon receiving it, asked him to leave the room while they further discussed the matter. Shortly, they then called him back in and told him that he would still be denied, because he hadn’t shown leadership in the troop in the prior three months. They went on to say that the requirements for this Palm are four-pronged, so that although he’d earned the necessary merit badges and would be considered active, he lacked in the areas of leading and leadership assistance. They did not provide this Scout with the opportunity to describe or discuss his achievements or his leadership. They have not yet provided this rationale to him in writing.

Some background on this Scout: He earned Eagle about two years ago, at age 14, and continued active in the troop, attending both troop meetings and campouts until about six months ago, when his school obligations consumed nearly all his free time. Nevertheless, since earning Eagle, he still has accomplished: Bronze Palm a year ago and 32 merit badges to date (11 past Eagle), current OA Lodge Membership Chair, Venturing crew President, Council E.D.G.E. Trainer, NYLT Staff, Philmont trek, church acolyte, Varsity Soccer team, Varsity Track & Field team, and more.

Based on this information, do you have any suggestions on how to handle this situation… What would you do if a troop you served had this happen? (Unit Commissioner, Great Trail Council, OH)

As a Unit Commissioner, my hands would be tied. This may be a good thing, because if they weren’t, I’d be tempted to lock n’ load, and then blow away every one of those review members. What a bunch of vindictive, anti-Scouting fools!

But since we Unit Commissioners are diplomats and not law enforcement officers, the question becomes: What will this Scoutmaster do, to rectify a self-inflicted disaster by members of the troop committee? (I’m assuming that every member of the board of review was indeed a registered member of the troop committee, otherwise, this purported board of review is invalid —it, in fact, never happened.) In this regard, did the Scoutmaster sit in on the board of review as an observer? Does he know he’s 100% entitled to do this? Does he know he’s also entitled to come to the defense of any Scout he recommends to a board of review, and stay put right there while they discuss and make their decision?

Further, has the chair of the review given the Scout written documentation of the members’ unanimous decision, with a timetable and recommended actions for the Scout, to assure that the next review will be successful? If this hasn’t happened, the Scout has the right to demand it, and the chair must oblige. If the chair refuses to oblige, or unnecessarily delays compliance, then the Scout has the right to go directly to the District Advancement Chair (with his Scoutmaster at his side) and request a district-level review.

In short, this situation needs to be solved within the troop, and cannot be “legislated” from the outside (i.e., you), because neither the district nor the council “owns” the troop—it’s owned by its sponsor.

Hmm… There’s an idea… Is the head of the sponsoring organization aware of what these people just did? Maybe this needs to happen… Through the Scoutmaster and/or the Committee Chair (assuming the CC wasn’t sitting on that abortive review).

Dear Andy,

Regarding Eagle-required merit badges when earning them for Star and Life ranks, can you verify whether this information is accurate or not…

On the Eagle Scout rank application, merit badge lines 6 and 9, merit badges that do not apply have a line drawn through them. If any of the lined-out merit badges are counted toward the total of 21 total merit badges, these are be put in one of the other boxes (13 through 21).

Four of the Eagle-required merit badges would have a completion date prior to the Star rank board of review date. Credit at the Eagle level can be given to a Scout who earned both Emergency Preparedness and Lifesaving, or any combination of Swimming, Hiking, and Cycling. Two additional merit badges must have a date prior to the Star board of review date.

Three Eagle-required merit badges will have a date prior to the Life board of review. These Eagle-required merit badges are in addition to the ones earned for Star rank. Credit is given if the Scout earned both Emergency Preparedness and Lifesaving, or any combination of Swimming, Hiking, and Cycling. Two additional merit badges must have a date prior to the Life board of review date. These merit badges are in addition to those earned for Star rank. Thank you! (Troop Committee Chair, Gulf Ridge Council, FL)

I think you’ve got it. I’ll review, keeping it as simple as I can…

MBs for Star: Total of 6 merit badges, including any 4 from the Eagle list (even if “alternatives” on the Eagle Scout rank application).

MBs for Life: Total of 11 merit badges, including any 7 (Star, 4; plus Life, 3 more) from the Eagle list (even if “alternatives” on the Eagle Scout rank application).

MBs for Eagle: Total of 21, which must include, specifically, (1) First Aid, (2) Cit-Community, (3) Cit-Nation, (4) Cit-World, (5) Communication, (6) Personal Fitness, (7) Environmental Science, (8) Personal Management, (9) Camping, (10) Family Life, and (11) either Swimming or Hiking or Cycling, and (12) either Lifesaving or Emergency Preparedness, and then nine more (13-21) at the Scout’s discretion. With regard to the nine discretionary merit badges, if a Scout has earned any of the alternatives for (11) or (12) he can count these as discretionary. For instance, if a Scout has earned both Lifesaving AND Emergency Preparedness, he puts Lifesaving in slot (12) and puts Emergency Preparedness in a discretionary list.

All merit badges count in one way or another, regardless of when earned. In other words, it’s not “chronological”: If a seventh merit badge was earned back when the Scout was First Class rank, which he didn’t need for Star, he still gets to count it for Life or for Eagle. Or, to put it another way, if a First Class Scout earns a dozen or more merit badges while working toward Star rank, he gets to use these later on, for Life and for Eagle… He doesn’t have to earn the additional five merit badges for Life only after he’s Star rank, or earn the additional ten merit badges for Eagle only after he’s Life rank.

All of this is described in the 2010 Boy Scout Requirements book (No. 34765), and, since this is the national standard, this is what must be abided by without exception or alteration.

Dear Andy,

You made the comment, in a recent column, that “The Swimming requirements for Second and First Class ranks are rudimentary and fundamental, at best.” That being said, I need some help as this has just become an issue. I’m Scoutmaster for my home troop as well as a National Scout Jamboree troop. The Jamboree Scout must be First Class. The problem here is that I have two Scouts who have a genuine fear of water over their heads. They’re from different home troops, but they have very similar fears. Other than that fear, they are exceptional Scouts. What can I do to pass them (on swimming) and still preserve the sanctity of rank and the honor of attending the Jamboree? My gut feeling is to not block either of these Scouts from being First Class or to deny either one the chance to attend the Jamboree, no matter what it takes. (Cycling was ruled out for one of the Scouts—He’s just not that stable.) (Name & Council Withheld)

First, let’s not take things out of context… I was comparing the rank-related swim tests to specifically the more rigorous requirements of Swimming merit badge. With that understanding, here we go…

As Jamboree Scoutmaster, your responsibility is to insure that all Scouts in your Jamboree troop have met the requirements for participation, including First Class rank. It’s not your responsibility to “pass” them… This is the responsibility of the Scouts themselves, together with their home troop Scoutmasters. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is to make certain that the Scoutmasters of these two Second Class (or less?) Scouts understand that First Class is what they must be, or they simply won’t qualify to be members of the Jamboree troop. These Scoutmasters, then, may want to conference with their respective Scouts, pointing out to them that there can’t be any “sliding” of requirements here, not only because no requirements can ever be altered but also because there are major safety issues involved, and then asking each Scout what he intends to do in order to get to First Class rank in the next few months, so that participation is assured. Each Scoutmaster can make recommendations, such as finding a qualified swimming instructor and taking lessons so that the Scouts can meet the First Class swim test stipulations. These conversations might include each Scout’s parents as well, so that there are no misunderstandings about what’s expected here, and so that the parents can help their sons find a pathway to success. The bottom line, as you know, is that there are no substitutes for the First Class swim test… not cycling, or hiking, or anything else: The swim test must be completed, as stated, including the very first element of jumping feet-first into water over their heads, coming to the surface, and leveling off. A competent instructor can help them through whatever blocks to doing this they may have, but it will be in stages and won’t necessarily happen overnight (I’m a former camp Aquatics Director and BSA Lifeguard Counselor, and I’m still a MBC for both Swimming and Lifesaving, so I’m not talking through my Smokey Bear in this area).

I truly appreciate your interest in these Scouts and your desire for their success; success will happen when they meet the stated requirements and become First Class rank. Short of this, you’ll need to replace them with two Scouts from the waiting list.

Continue to keep this in mind: Advancement is 99% in the hands of the Scouts themselves—this is for them to do and not for anyone to either do it for them or loosen up requirements, because this would be patently unfair to those Scouts who have made the effort to qualify in every way, plus IT’S BLOODY DANGEROUS!

Hi Andy,

In a recent column, you said, “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…” Now I understand the 30 days for Tenderfoot, since requirement 10a and 10b require a 30-day gap, but how did you come up with two months for Second Class and three months for First Class? There are no time-in-rank requirements that I could find for either one. (Gene Kulyk, ASM, Northeast Illinois Council)

The operative words are “normal time.” An enthusiastic Scout in an active troop can knock off Second Class in a couple of months and then First Class in a few more months. No one said “required time-in-rank.”

Dear Andy,

I’m a former Scoutmaster, presently an ASM and high adventure coordinator for the troop. This past summer, one of our Scouts completed his Eagle service project. While I was Scoutmaster, I’d counseled him on his project several times, including the need to get project plan sign-offs from the appropriate people, including the District Advancement Chair (DAC). Before starting the actual work, he did obtain the signatures of everyone he needed to…except the DAC. At the time the work was being done, no one asked or verified that he had all the proper approvals; then, several months after completion, he apparently realized that he still needed this approval, so he went to the DAC for a review and approval, obviously putting the DAC in a difficult position. The DAC in turn contacted both myself and the troop’s current Scoutmaster, and both of us were surprised to learn that this Scout hadn’t obtained the final sign-off before proceeding (even though he’d been told he must do this multiple times). To assist in reaching a decision, the DAC consulted with the Council Advancement Chair for guidance, and subsequently denied the project, stipulating that the Scout carry out a second project, accurately and thoroughly citing the requirement that the project be approved by all appropriate parties before it’s performed.

The DAC acknowledged that the project was acceptable, as far as concept and execution, and that it would have been approved had proper procedure been followed, further noting that the Scout had appropriately demonstrated leadership and accommodated changes that arose, so that not having acquired the final sign-off was the sole reason for rejecting his project.

Then, in a subsequent discussion with this Scout’s parents, it became known that he has a profound case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and is under a doctor’s care, with medication for the disorder, and that his grades in school have been extremely poor and he’s participating in a school program focused on his disability (with some positive improvement). His parents hadn’t previously disclosed this information to any of us in the troop (he’d transferred into our troop about two years ago, so we didn’t know him from the very start). Upon learning of this, it became apparent to me and to the DAC as well that it wasn’t surprising that missing one signature on his service project workbook could occur. In fact, at this point I’m frankly surprised he did as well has he did, and I only wish I’d been aware of his condition and the need for more thorough counseling or support. On top of this, in this same time period, his dad had lost his job and needed to seek employment out of state, and so wasn’t there, as he usually was, to provide a father’s guidance, which may well have also contributed to this young man’s failure to get that one last signature.

In light of this new information, the DAC relented, convinced that her denial was perhaps the wrong action, so she requested (and received) a note from the Scout’s physician and further documentation from his school, confirming the ADD. With this information in hand, the DAC went to the Council AC for concurrence and a reversal of the first decision; however, the CAC did not agree, and requested that the Scout attend the next meeting of the Council Advancement Committee (this will happen in about a month), with the options of presenting his project and explaining himself, or performing a second service project, this time following stated procedures.

It would seem to me that holding a board of review-type event with this 16 year-old Scout would be inappropriate, because his only real defense for not obtaining that fourth signature is his long-term and pervasive attention deficit disability—I can’t imagine a conversation going down a path that wouldn’t oblige him to acknowledge a disorder that has already been documented by a physician and educational institution, so what else would be learned? Moreover, having him stand in front of up to 14 adult strangers to discuss his own disorder seems like a burden we in Scouting wouldn’t want to place on anyone, Scout or otherwise. In short, this request doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of scouting. What advice would you have for us in the troop, and for this young man? (Name & Council Withheld)

The absence of a green-light signature from the DAC is obviously a goof. But is the onus entirely on the Scout? Frankly, that’s not likely. The reason we have troop-level advisers for Scouts in this position is to prevent things like this from happening. So, while that doesn’t excuse this Scout, it pretty much says that there was an error of omission at the adult mentor/adviser level as well.

Personally, I agree with the DAC’s second decision: We don’t “punish” Scouts for errors like these, especially when the end-result is, by everyone’s agreement, more than acceptable in concept and scope, work plan, execution, leadership opportunity, and outcome.

So, what will this council-level “review” accomplish? Little more, apparently, than embarrassing the Scout and forcing him to talk about a liability he’s working hard to overcome. If I were the Council Advancement Chair, I’d probably change my mind and cancel the review, permitting the project to go through as approved and completed in accordance with the spirit of Scouting and what we’re trying to instill in the young men we’re here to serve. Let’s remember that, in fact, the Scout did have three of the four necessary signatures—one from his Scoutmaster, one from his troop committee, and one from a representative of the recipient organization—in place before proceeding. Moreover, the absence of the fourth signature is unlikely to have occurred because the Scout was attempting to consciously slip something past the district—this was an error of omission and not of deliberate evasiveness.

At this point, in your shoes (you know the Scout perhaps better than others), I’d ask the DAC to appeal to the CAC to cancel the review. If that is unsuccessful, then I’d personally attend the review with the Scout and, having also recruited the DAC and the current Scoutmaster to do so as well, and maybe the parents, too, attend at the Scout’s side, as advocates and supporters. Consider, in fact, asking his physician and an authoritative representative of his school to attend on his behalf as well. (Let’s remember that Daniel didn’t enter the lion’s den alone; he had his God on his side!)

I’d also insist that the reviewers limit their number to a maximum of six, which follows the same protocol as boards of review (no fewer than three; no more than six), so as not to create the appearance or atmosphere of a “kangaroo court.”

The overarching principle to follow, I believe, is a simple one: Scouting is a safe haven, where a young man can make an error and it’s not “lethal” and the world doesn’t come crashing down around him! Especially since, in this case, it’s more than obvious that this was a simple error; that is, it was purely an accident: The Scout was not consciously trying to surreptitiously side-step or slip around a requirement.

Best wishes to you all for success –

Happy Scouting!



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

(February 12, 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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