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Issue 209 – March 3, 2010


As an Assistant Council Commissioner I visited a local troop and discovered that there are instances of boys having merit badges where the requirements were not met. In particular, parents that are registered Merit Badge Counselors had signed off their own son’s badges. Additionally, there were instances of merit badges earned at summer camp where the requirements were lightly touched on. It also appeared that a couple of Scouts were being forced to be in the program by their parents, merely to earn Eagle—I observed some of these Scouts attempting to “teach” other Scouts, resulting in a scene of generally unhappy Scouts. The troop has a recently installed new Scoutmaster who wants to address these problems. I’ve been invited to sit on a board of review for Scouts preparing for Life rank. If these abuses are true (that is, Scouts who haven’t truly qualified for many of their badges) may the board of review deny advancement? How far can a board of review go? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s take a look at the several issues here…

First, as an Assistant Council Commissioner, you know that what this troop needs is a Unit Commissioner (Assistant Council Commissioners are administrative positions and generally have no direct contact with units). Consequently, the very best help you can be to these folks is to find a Unit Commissioner for them, so that they have a resource they can tap into as often as needed and who can also offer suggestions as needed, to help them get a little better pointed toward Scouting’s True North.

Second, you also know that, except for the rank of Eagle, boards of review for all other ranks and for Eagle palms will be made up of registered members of the troop committee, and you can help this troop by making sure they know this and then recommending to their Unit Commissioner that he or she help them register sufficient people to get the job done (and take on the main responsibilities of committee members, as well).

Third, you also know that, per BSA policy, it’s perfectly OK for a Merit Badge Counselor to counsel his or her own son or nephew, no strings attached. The key here is that the Merit Badge Counselor actually be registered and qualified as such, and not be simply a “parent helping out.”

Fourth, the quality of the merit badge program at a Scout summer camp is the responsibility of the camp director and program director, so that, if there are weaknesses there, this needs to be corrected via camp staff channels (and/or the council camping or advancement committee). Meanwhile, any Scout who’s been told he’s earned the merit badge gets to keep it (the MBC does have final and unassailable say-so as to a Scout having met the requirements), because it would be inappropriate to penalize a Scout (in a board of review or elsewhere) for the failures of adults (camp staff, etc.).

Let’s say that last part (from immediately above) again, so that we’re absolutely clear on this point: We do not penalize the Scout for the failure of an adult, in any capacity; therefore, we absolutely do not use a board of review as an attempt to “correct” a faulty situation created by adults.

Regarding boys who are being forced to be Scouts (to earn Eagle or for any other reason), we can’t save boys from their own parents. We can, however, make sure that the boys of the troop get as much “assertiveness training” as is available in Scouting, in the hope that they’ll ultimately stand up to whomever they need to and declare their own interests and independence.

This is a messy situation, to be sure, but fortunately the problems you’ve mentioned are soluble when the adult volunteers learn what the BSA’s procedures, program, and policies are, and then start applying them. The BSA has all the training and training materials, plus other literature (e.g., the Scoutmaster Handbook), available to help folks get it right. All they need to do to enjoy this feast of helps is to sit down at the table and partake… also called “get yourself trained.”

Thanks Andy, all good advice. I’ll put this into practice. There’s more to the story, of course, but you’ve hit everything and with this information we can get this unit healthy again (including my job of building the Commissioner Corps in this district). The troop has some good people doing not-so-good stuff, and some good people holding back from participating because of a toxic environment.

I talked to the Scouts (about a dozen) during the meeting. I only introduced myself and gave them an offer. I’m a US Army vet with Morse Code intercept experience, and I’m a registered Merit Badge Counselor for Signaling. I told the Scouts about the new Historic Merit Badge program: “This is an opportunity to earn a very challenging merit badge that will never be offered again. We have only ten months to do this. It’s difficult, but you’ll earn and deserve this badge when you’re done,” I said, looking ‘em in the eye. When I asked, “Who wants to accept this challenge,” every hand shot up! So next weekend we’ll be building buzzers and practicing Semaphore.

But something even bigger came out of that experience. I was mulling over what to do about this troop (including some pretty rash stuff), but seeing the hunger in these Scouts’ eyes, to accept a challenge, was thrilling. The easiest way to fix that troop is to simply offer the Scouting program exactly as it’s designed! Duh! Why, even a dad in the back of the room (who was going to pull his boys out) said afterwards that he’d love to teach the Historic Carpentry merit badge (he’s a cabinetmaker by trade)! (BTW, this same dad is an Eagle Scout and Vigil OA, but was going to leave this troop in disgust—instead, we have a “believer” willing to roll up his sleeves!) I think he’s hooked, and can be groomed to be a committee member. The problems in the troop seemed to evaporate by the heat of enthusiasm. We still have some mopping up to do but with your advice for the board of review and assertive training for bullying parents, the troop’s on the right track already.

“Even a blind pig will find a truffle every once in a while.” I’m feeling like that proverbial blind pig right now! What a wonderful result! Thanks for letting me know what developed as a result of our “conversation” here, and very best wishes to you and the Scouts of this troop. Thanks for the best “paycheck” a guy in my position could possibly get!

Hi Andy,

A question just came up this week about leadership positions. Let’s say a Scout’s earned Star or Life rank in the spring, so now he’ll “serve actively in a leadership position” for six months. Being that there’s the usual summer break from mid-June to September, how does his leadership work? Over the summer, the Scout’s not leading anyone, because the troop’s not meeting. Do these “dark” summer months count towards leadership? For instance, say we are done with meetings mid-June, then there’s one week of summer camp (if he goes). Let’s say we give him June; now he has four months in the leadership position. What about July and August? Does he finish his leadership tenure in September, or November?

Also, with all due respect, I’ve been told that isn’t an actual BSA website, and that what’s here isn’t necessarily the Boy Scout regulations. Is this true? (Peter Sander, SM, Hudson Valley Council, NY)

Youth leadership: Per BSA policy, tenure begins on the date of election or appointment and is continuous until the next election or reappointment.

On your second question: Yes, it’s correct that this isn’t an official BSA website—this is a website written and run by volunteers; not professional staffers. However, no, it’s not correct that what you find here isn’t per BSA rules, regulations, policies, and procedures. That’s because all of us here go to extreme lengths to make certain that, when factual information is provided, the source for the facts is the BSA (the BSA website, literature, handbooks, guidebooks, press releases, etc., etc.). Moreover, when opinion is offered, it’s identified as opinion, to specifically eliminate any confusion in this arena. Furthermore, we and the BSA collaborate directly, so that what’s reflected here is in concert with current BSA policies, procedures, rules, and regulations—this is a mutually cooperative relationship that has been in place for many years. As for my own columns, my “Op Ed” pieces are clearly labeled as such and, in the main columns, I quote and refer to source after source after source.

Hi Andy!

I’m a fairly new troop Committee Chair. There are several situations in our troop that are bothering me and I’m hoping you can advise…

First, we have a father who filled out the adult application and wants to be on the committee and involved with our troop, but there are others on the committee who don’t want him on it, and they’re refusing to send his application in to the council service center. I believe that his application should be sent to the council, where the BSA can do the background check. What’s my responsibility as Committee Chair?

Second, we had a change of Scoutmasters two months ago; however, the Scoutmaster who resigned is very vocal about issues that I don’t agree with. For instance, he found out that two of our Scouts contacted a Merit Badge Counselor on our list to help them with Communications merit badge, and he subsequently blew a gasket at our committee meeting, claiming that this MBC can’t set foot in our meeting place (a church) without getting permission. My own thinking is that it was totally appropriate for these Scouts to ask this MBC to meet with them before their regular troop meeting. How appropriate is this ex-Scoutmaster’s behavior?

I’m getting really frustrated with the way our adults are acting, and I’m actually considering quitting. Please help! (Name & Council Withheld)

Boy Scouts is for boys and young men age 11 through 17. Isn’t it amazing how some of the erstwhile adults who volunteer to be role models for these youth act, sometimes, like five-year-olds!

Let’s talk, first, about the ex-Scoutmaster, and then we’ll talk about those grumbling troop committee members…

As an “ex,” this gentleman has absolutely no say-so with regard to how the troop runs, what the Scouts do, what registered volunteers do, or anything else. His watch has ended. Finito. Over. End of story. Now, somebody needs to tell him this, and tell him that his comments aren’t welcome and must stop immediately. This is the responsibility of three people, working as a team: The Chartered Organization Representative, the Committee Chair, and the current Scoutmaster. This needs to be a private conversation between the three of you and this gentleman—NO EMAIL! If need be, ask the church’s senior pastor to join you in this meeting and conversation, so that no “end runs” can be attempted later. If this gentleman refuses to cooperate, then the senior pastor can write a letter (yes, a letter—again, NO EMAIL) to him, informing him that his presence at all future meetings of the troop on church grounds is unwelcome and he will be asked to remove himself from the premises. (If he has a son in the troop, he will be permitted to do an outside drop-off and an outside pick-up, but no more than this.) If, on receipt of the letter (which I recommend being sent with “delivery confirmation”) he does not change his behavior and continues to enter church property to continue his rants, the senior pastor is now in position to contact the local police department and obtain a formal restraining order. This may necessary, although we all hope not, because some people refuse to listen to requests, refuse to listen to reason, and will only listen to officers escorting him out of the building.

Regarding the gentleman who would like to help the troop by joining the troop committee, my first response is Bravo! Troops need a continuous influx of new adult volunteers ready to roll up their sleeves and help! So, in your shoes, the first thing I’d do is to ask this individual to fill out another adult volunteer application (this time, don’t give it to the committee—they have no reason to have it, anyway!); then, together with the Chartered Organization Representative and the senior pastor, I’d review points 1 through 6 in the right-hand column, including calling each of the three people listed as references and reviewing questions a through e of point 6. If something doesn’t check out here, then it’s time for the three of you to have a conversational meeting with this volunteer candidate to discuss whatever problem may be revealed and resolve it one way or the other. If, however, everything here checks out OK, then the three of you have every right to sign the application and send it on to the local council office for background checking by the BSA. If the result of this step continues to be OK, then you also have the right to inform the present committee members that the decision to add this person to the committee is for you, and no one else, to make, and so it’s a done deal. If, however, everything checks out OK and there are still grumblings among some committee members that you want to resolve, then you might want to tell the grumblers that you, the pastor, and the COR, together with the volunteer candidate will have an in-person meeting with the grumblers (state a time and place–make sure these don’t correspond with a troop meeting) at which time they can express their concerns openly and will receive a response. Then, if they show up, they’ll have to confront this individual face-to-face and there will no longer be any “back-channel” bad-mouthing. If they should fail to show up, the game’s over and you have a new committee member.

Bottom line: Fighting fire with fire doesn’t work; we fight fire with water.

You can get through these situations. Keep them separated in your mind (use a “compartmentalization” technique if need be) and deal with them one-at-a-time.

Dear Andy,

What’s the difference between the Wildlife Conservation Award and the World Conservation Award? (Connie Warner)

An excellent description of the World Conservation Award can be found here:

Wildlife Conservation is part of the Cub Scout Sports & Academics belt loop and pin supplemental program, and can be found here:

Dear Andy,

If someone’s been convicted of a felony, can such a person become a Scouting volunteer? (Dick Schroeder)

I’m going to guess not, but that’s just a guess. It’s the BSA that will make the final determination on this when the person’s application is submitted and the BSA conducts the background check. For more information, have a chat with your local council’s Scout Executive.

NetCommish Comment: I agree with Andy – talk to your Scout Executive. There are some other things to consider too. Your chartering organization has a contract with BSA sort of like a franchise to run your Scouting unit. It agrees to provide leaders that meet BSA’s standards of good character. Before this ever gets off the ground, the chartering organization has to agree to the leader and put them on the charter or sign off on the application. Many chartering organizations will not accept a felon and it ends there.

Dear Andy,

For weekly troop meetings, is there a BSA guideline or policy for the parents, Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters in the room during the meeting? We have a parent, who’s an Assistant Scoutmaster, who consistently and persistently interrupts the Scouts during the meeting, to interject his thoughts and pieces of the training that he feels are being left out. In our last troop meeting, the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair whispered in the teaching Scout’s ear the idea they wanted conveyed. Just a few minutes later, this ASM stopped the training to correct the Scout (with the same information that was whispered to him). I consider this demeaning and a kind of mental abuse of the Scout. How can we get this one guy out of the room and away from the Scouts? (He also sets up a chair at each meeting, like he’s watching a TV show or movie.) I know this is very intimidating to the Scouts, especially to the one doing the teaching. We have one large room that the Scouts meet in, with a kitchen and large foyer just off the large room. The kitchen and foyer both have doors with foot-square glass windows. Can the parents, including the Scoutmaster, ASM, and parents, gather in one of the two rooms off the main meeting room, possibly with a door open, or do two adults need to remain in the meeting room with the Scouts? (Name & Council Withheld)

Since ASMs directly report to the Scoutmaster, it falls to the Scoutmaster to solve this problem. One way is to be cleverer than he, and find an ongoing assignment for him that takes him out of the room for the entire time during which he normally makes an ass of himself. The other, of course, is—with the Committee Chair and Scoutmaster as a team confronting the ASM—to tell him he either stops this immediately (including the chair set-up, which is clearly an intimidation tactic) or he’s fired. Yes, the CC and SM have the authority to do this and are actually obliged to do this in the best interests of the Scouts. To permit this sort of conduct to continue is to effectively condone what can be classified as emotional abuse of minor children (in some locales this is a chargeable offense). So, if the Scoutmaster and Committee Chairs are willing to straighten their spines, this can be made to stop at the very next troop meeting (yes, this is done in-person and absolutely not by email!), and—just so this point is covered—once removed from his position this now-former ASM has no recourse back into the troop through the district or council, because the chartered organization actually owns the troop; the council doesn’t. (If he has a son in the troop, he’s allowed to do an outside drop-off and pick-up, but it stops at the doorway.)

Greetings Andy,

I’m a little embarrassed to ask this question, but I want to make sure I have the right information, as this topic comes up from time to time (I thought I knew the correct answer, but have come across conflicting sources after researching this online).

Can the Wood Badge beads and woggle be worn with a troop/unit neckerchief once the Scouter returns to his or her unit after completing their training and has received the Wood Badge? I’ve found through my research that wearing the beads with any (or no) neckerchief with the uniform is OK; where I’ve found disagreement and debate is over that pesky woggle. Here are two postings that say it’s OK (in fact, the UK Scout Base sells the woggle to anyone who wants one—Wood Badge trained or not).

The OK ones are: and

But not:

I’d been taught in the previous two councils I’ve lived in, not only was this OK, but encouraged—it symbolized having taken the training and then applying it back in the home unit, which would encourage other unit leaders to take it, too. One of my favorite examples of this is a picture of “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt at a Scout Jamboree, where he’s clearly wearing the Wood Badge beads and woggle with a non-McLaren neckerchief. (Rudy Erb)

This is exactly the sort of thing that gets everybody knotted up in their own knickers… something that’s so infinitesimally tiny an issue that I often wonder who’s minding the store while we debate this kind of stuff. Let’s first remember this: Wood Badge is a training course. It’s neither “Mecca” nor “Phi Beta Kappa” nor a doctoral (or even an AA) degree, and the wood badge (what we commonly call “beads”), woggle and neckerchief (aka “scarf or necker) aren’t the equivalent of kingly orbs-and-scepters, medals of honor, Phi Bet keys, or any other such things… They’re actually nothing more or less than a higher level of the “trained” strip. In light of this, wear what you want. Wear the woggle with any neckerchief you like. Wear the wood badge with or without a neckerchief. But…just to be a nice guy…when you wear the McLaren neckerchief, it looks cool to wear the woggle and wood badge, too. And, if anybody has a complaint, just tell ’em you’re “from Missouri.” Oh, yeah, one more thing… Only the BSA national office sets uniforming standards; local councils don’t have that authority (and never have).


Dear Andy,

I’m a frequent reader of your columns and I’ve posed questions in the past, typically finding your answers on-point. At the risk of going to the well too often, I’m again in need of some guidance. I’m sure (or hope) you have an answer to, or at least an opinion on, this topic…

My son’s in a moderately active troop that has a good program, but currently has, at best, a dysfunctional committee, primarily as a result of a chair who doesn’t understand her own role or that of the other committee members, resulting in much confusion. However, we’ve recently learned that she’s going to be vacating the chair position. Many of our current committee members, unbeknownst to our Chartered Organization Representative, would like to elect a new chair at the same time the troop conducts youth elections. I’m not actively involved with the troop, but as a longtime Scouter and former Unit Commissioner I’ve been asked for my advice by one of the troop’s Assistant Scoutmasters. My gut feeling is that it’s not a good idea to elect the new chair and that the COR should choose the replacement, especially in light of the committee’s present tenuous condition. Is electing a committee chair a common and/or permissible practice? If so, who votes? Is it the troop committee only, or does the Scoutmaster and/or any ASMs have any say-so? By electing a committee chair, wouldn’t the committee and/or adult volunteers be treading on the COR’s responsibility and authority? I’ve checked the Troop Committee Guidebook and the only reference I can find is that the COR “secures a troop committee chair…” Are there any definitive BSA guidelines that address the election or selection of a committee chair? (Name & Council Withheld)

There’s another excellent booklet titled (of all things!), The Chartered Organization Representative, in which it’s clearly stated that the COR (or “CR” per the BSA’s adult volunteer application code) has “hire-fire” authority over every volunteer position in the troop. And the reason you can’t find anything in writing about “how to elect a Committee Chair” is simple: They’re not elected. That’s right: Committee Chairs are appointed by the Chartered Organization Representative. As a matter of fact, this is also mentioned on page 2 of the application itself—about a third of the way down, on the left side. So let’s forget this “voting” stuff; however, if somebody’s interested in chairing the committee, that person (or those persons) should definitely have a conversation with the CR, so that this information can be incorporated into the final decision.

Dear Andy,

The wearing of uniform hats indoors has been a source of many online discussions. Several websites show many historical drawings and photos of Scouts (and Scouting’s founding fathers) wearing their hats indoors, and even the Insignia Guide shows this. But looking at current photos of Scouts for evidence of hats just shows that hats are simply not in vogue any more—they seem to be popular only with “the knee-sock crowd” these days. The problem with making a big deal out of this is what do you do with the hat when you take it off? Back in the day of the “overseas” cap, you could fold it over your belt, but now the baseball-style caps just get all piled on a table and after the meeting there are always one or two left over for the lost and found. Eventually, it just becomes a bother and the hats are left home… yet another loss of Scouting identity.

According to the Insignia Guide (No. 33066E), “Official headgear may be worn while the unit or individual is participating in an indoor formal ceremony or service duty, except in religious institutions where custom forbids. Typical indoor activities of this type are flag ceremonies, inspections, orderly duty, or ushering service. In any informal indoor activity where no official ceremony is involved, the headgear is removed as when in street clothes.” (Andy Kowalczyk, BSRTC, Hoosier Trails Council, IN)

There’s a better place for hats when removed indoors… even the “baseball cap” style! Just stick ’em, bill down, down into your pants or shorts, but in the back. They’re out of the way, securely stowed, easily retrieved, and won’t get damaged even while sitting in a chair with a back on it.

As far as those photos and illustrations, these are of course largely “staged,” and one of the classic symbols of Scouting is the “campaign” or broad-brimmed hat (sometimes called “Smokey Bear” hat), the others being the neckerchief and—mostly outside the U.S. nowadays—shorts and knee socks.

Dear Andy,

On the issue of “doubling up” on credit for work done, virtually every merit badge now starts with a safety section. I totally agree that safety must be considered at all times, and since a merit badge may be started at any time in a Scout’s career, the Scout may have had zero training in any safety areas. However, if it’s a more mature Scout, advanced in rank, does completion of a requirement in one merit badge for safety “count” towards a second merit badge?

For instance, First Aid merit badge (req. 3b) says, “Identify the conditions that must exist before performing CPR on a person. Then demonstrate proper technique in performing CPR using a training device approved by your counselor,” while Swimming merit badge (req. 2) says, “Do the following: a) Identify the conditions that must exist before performing CPR on a person. Explain how to recognize such conditions, b) Demonstrate proper technique for performing CPR using a training device approved by your counselor.”

Another instance: Hiking (req. 1) says, “Show that you know first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur while hiking, including hypothermia, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, frostbite, dehydration, sunburn, sprained ankle, insect stings, tick bites, snakebite, blisters, hyperventilation, and altitude sickness,” while Backpacking (req. 1) says, “Discuss the prevention of and treatment for the health concerns that could occur while backpacking, including hypothermia, heat reactions, frostbite, dehydration, insect stings, tick bites, snakebite, and blisters.”

If a Scout has completed the requirement for Hiking on safety, logic states that he’s also completed the requirement for Backpacking, since the safety requirements for Backpacking are a subset of those for Hiking.

Likewise, if a Scout has completed First Aid merit badge, then he has already met the requirements for Swimming (req. 2).

Philosophically, it’s always a good idea to cover safety (hard to argue with that), but it does seem a little pointless if I’m working with a group of Star and Life scouts for a Philmont Trek (which is what we have) and, as part of the preparations, they’re working on starting both the Hiking and Backpacking merit badges (with completion at Philmont) to have a “class” for safety for Hiking, and then the next week have the same class, with the same group, to cover the same things. Likewise, we often tandem Swimming and First Aid for our newer Scouts, so would we need to have a CPR-style session for First Aid, and then later duplicate it for Swimming?

I realize common sense always needs to be applied: Scouts always needs to meet all requirements. But once a Scout has some 15 or more merit badges, he can recite the first aid stuff by memory, so it seems a waste of time to say, “OK, what do you do for blisters?” and get groans from the Scouts. Or, do we just rationalize that a Scout who has completed First Aid merit badge and Second and First Class First Aid has already “completed” the generic portion of the safety section, unless there is something unique, like Scuba? (Bob Hendrick, SM, Plano TX)

The first thing I’d note is that a Merit Badge Counselor rarely if ever has “classes.” To me, “classes” begin to sound like “going to Scout school” and, as a Merit Badge Counselor, I make every possible effort to never do this. Moreover, as a Merit Badge Counselor, I have an obligation to the Scouts to not counsel them en masse except in interactive discussions–merit badge requirements are always fulfilled by each Scout, individually (I did this even when I was a Scout camp aquatics director, counseling groups of Scouts for Swimming or Lifesaving merit badge). If I had a Scout, or Scouts, who had already earned, let’s say, First Aid, my approach would simply be, “Here’s a no-brainer for you… Tell me about what to look for in deciding whether to perform CPR…” and I can affirm from personal experience that I’ve never had a Scout groan or tell me, “Hey, I’ve already done that, so I don’t have to do it again.” They just go ahead and do it, as fast as you can say Jack Robinson! Consequently, similar requirements from one merit badge to another provide opportunities for Scouts to show what they know; such similarities are neither tedious nor redundant in the sense of being pedantic. So, frankly, I don’t think this is much of an actual issue, and neither the Scouts nor I have ever become tangled up in our own underwear over this. Besides, since I counsel beyond the requirements (but never demand performance beyond what’s required) the Scouts I counsel usually end up learning something they hadn’t known before (for instance, we can tell that a Caucasian is going hypothermic by the bluish color of their lips, but how can you tell that this is happening to someone of African or Indian heritage?).

Dear Andy,

The pack I’m a member of has awarded a couple of recognitions that aren’t “BSA” awards. We traditionally give out an award for our outstanding Cub Scout of the year—a boy who exemplifies the key purposes of Cub Scouting and who exceeds expectations at every turn. The other award is presented to the Cub Scout who shows a positive attitude and always gives goodwill in the completion of all tasks. What are you thoughts on these awards, and the basic idea of providing special recognition to boys who go above and beyond in exemplifying the Scouting ideals? (John Volk, ACM, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

My own take on this is that there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with recognitions such as these. So long as they don’t get in the way of actual advancement (ranks, arrow points, activity badges, and so on), then they sound like very nice, however not mandatory, things to do. I’ll admit that I’ve usually seen recognitions like these more in Boy Scout troops, where boys are acting and interacting more independently, than in the parent-heavy/parent-dependent environment of Cub Scouting, but that’s only an observation, and not even a quibble. Go have fun, and have a bunch of happy Cub Scouts!

Dear Andy,

I recently had a couple of Scouts go to the council-sponsored Den Chief training. They had a great time and were excited about becoming Den Chiefs. But right now the Webelos II den is crossing over to the troop, so they do not need a Den Chief, and the Webelos I den has had their Den Chief since they were Wolves, and he intends to see them all the way to the end and become their Troop Guide when they join Boy Scouting together. And I already have a Den Chief in the Wolf den. All the BSA publications I’ve read state that Tiger dens don’t get a Den Chief, but the recent training indicated to these Scouts that they could be a Den Chief for a Tiger den. So, what do I do with too many Den Chiefs and not enough dens? One of these Scouts will be assigned to the Bear den; can I make the other a Den Chief for the Tiger den, or would it be wiser to wait until they become Wolves? (Dan Dondlinger, Samoset Council WI)

You really don’t have two Den Chiefs—You have two Scouts who would like to be Den Chiefs. One of them can certainly help out a Wolf den. But in light of the way a Tiger Cub den functions, a Den Chief there would be sort of a third thumb… not a whole heck of a lot to do. This means that one of the two Scouts who aspire to be a Den Chief really doesn’t yet have a den he can help lead. Perhaps there’s another pack nearby that has a non-Tiger den he can help with? If not, then he just may need to wait until one’s available for him, in the usual pack. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other positions—Historian, Librarian, etc.—that he might consider tackling. The other issue, of course, is how to decide which of these two Scouts gets that Wolf den, and which doesn’t. I wish there were a simple answer to this one (draw straws?), but I’m at a loss here to provide a “fix-all” solution. Maybe the best bet is to present the dilemma to the Scouts, to see if they have any ideas about what to do?

Dear Andy,

I’d like to find out if there are any BSA policies or guidelines addressing bringing pets along on troop outings. I’ve not found any statements in the Guide to Safe Scouting or anywhere on the web that addresses this. I have one ASM who always brings his dogs on our hikes and I’m now getting requests from other families to bring along their animals, too! I’m not in favor of this because it creates a distraction for our Scouts and takes substantial time away from our program when the dogs get in the way of our activities, or stray. I’m also concerned as to how multiple dogs will interact with each other as well as the general safety of our Scouts. My ASM isn’t likely to leave his dogs home unless I can provide him with a strong case, based on BSA policy. What BSA policies exist that may address this issue? For the record I am not anti-dogs: I have two large dogs of my own (which I obviously leave at home for the same reasons I’ve just mentioned). (Robert Shannon, SM, Western Los Angeles County Council, CA)

The BSA usually doesn’t make a practice of creating “rules” where good sense should prevail. Decisions about bringing dogs (or any pet for that matter) along on Scout hikes and such would fall into the “good sense” arena. It’s an obvious not-good idea to do this, for a whole host of reasons… Even in California wilderness areas, there are often prohibitions about bringing dogs (in particular); and when they are permitted, leash laws typically apply; bringing dogs is actually dangerous to the dogs and other hikers or campers, because away from their owners they are vastly less controllable and can get into all sorts of mischief (because they’re dogs) including getting lost, digging up human waste or trash, chasing wildlife, and on and on. Any dog owner with any brains will not risk his or her own pets by doing this, except in designated “dog parks.” As for your ASM, he should understand these factors and shouldn’t need some sort of BSA edict recited to him to convince him that this practice needs to stop. If he wants to take his dogs out for a hike, he can do this on his own—not with a troop of Boy Scouts! I’d recommend simply having a private talk with him, asking him to leave the dogs home. If he’s reluctant about this, you may need to simply remove him as an ASM… You and your Committee Chair will do this, if it becomes necessary—not you alone (even though you have the authority to do so, with regard to the ASMs that report to you). If he “threatens” to resign unless he gets his way, immediately accept his resignation, because now he’s bullying and there’s only one way to deal with a bully and that’s to call him on his threat (listen to a bully’s threat and you’ll know what he fears most). Then, to wrap up this issue and bury it, you and your Committee Chair simply tell all Scout families in the troop that, for the safety of their pets, no pets will be permitted to accompany any Scout or adult on any troop outing, then make it stick.

To do this gently, consider suggesting to your Patrol Leaders Council that, once a year, the troop will have a “pet day” at a local dog park, and every Scout with a dog can bring his pet to the event, where there will be various “challenges” (like chasing balls, Frisbees, etc.) and treats for all!

Dear Andy,

In reference to a recent column of yours, the reference to the Bugler position as an accepted leadership position for the Eagle rank, I became curious and pulled out my copy of the 11th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook and followed along with what you were saying, until it hit me… Which printing of the 11th edition!

My version has, on page iii, “From the Chief Scout Executive…” signed by Roy L. Williams. In this printing, on page 446, Eagle req. 4 states, “While a Life Scout, serve actively for a period of 6 months in one of the following positions of responsibility: (Pages 169, 172)” and there, on page 172, it shows a picture of the “Badges of Office” and “Bugler” is one of them.

But the 11th Edition of the handbook that my son used to earn Eagle is different… His version has, on page iii, “From the Chief Scout Executive…” signed by Jere B. Ratcliffe. In this printing, on page 446, Eagle req. 4 states, “While a Life Scout, serve actively for a period of 6 months in one of the following positions of responsibility” and it makes no reference to another page but actually lists the troop positions, which, in this case Bugler isn’t one of them.

I believe this is why someone could become confused about this, but don’t take my word for it: Check it out. (Gerry Flores, ASM, Lincoln Heritage Council, KY)

The “Jere Ratcliffe” 11th Edition has been around for some 12 years. A Scout who used an earlier version would now be at least 24 years old, or older… Sorta makes it a current “non-issue.” Thanks for your sharp eyes!

Dear Andy,

Being a Scoutmaster for 28 years, I just can’t understand why there are adult Scouters who want to change requirements for badges or nit-pick them to death… Where is their common sense? On Camping merit badge (which seems to come up again and again), if a Scout goes to summer camp for five days and nights or six days and nights, then that’s the number of days and nights counted—end of story. If he goes for, say, eight days and nights, then seven of those can be counted. You are pretty sharp in your replies most of the time, but you missed the boat on this one… Why haven’t you asked these troops why their camping program is so weak? Don’t they go camping at least once a month? (David Koesel, SM, Gulf Ridge Council)

I’m not always successful, but I do my level best not to wag my finger at dedicated, well-meaning Scouters who simply get confused, or tangled up in their own underwear. Fact is, in an active troop, the long-term camping days-and-nights should hardly be necessary to get to 20! I agree with you that this should be a no-brainer; unfortunately, that’s just not always the case. That’s why I’ve had never less than one question a day, every single day, for the past nine straight years!

Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(March 3, 2010 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2010)

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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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