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Issue 212 – April 21, 2010

Dear Andy,

I’m a District Advancement Chair and have a problem with the four “historical” merit badges that the BSA has just reissued: Carpentry, Pathfinding, Signaling, and Tracking. Just where are we supposed to find Merit Badge Counselors for these? I’ve put out emails to our troop leaders and Commissioners, asking them to talk with parents who might be qualified to handle any of these four badges and would be willing to register as Merit Badge Counselors. Not a lot has happened yet and these badges are only “good” till the end of this year! Help! (Name & Council Withheld)

Thanks for letting me start off this column with an easy one! If I were in your shoes, I’d reach right out to all MBCs for Woodworking merit badge and ask if they’d like to pick up Carpentry, too. For Pathfinding, I’d talk with Citizenship in the Community MBCs (it’s all about knowing your community and surroundings). For Signaling, Radio MBCs (they’re likely to know Morse already). And for Tracking, I’d talk with MBCs for both Nature and Crime Prevention (this is a really cool merit badge, that combines stuff from each of these!). If this doesn’t shake down some easy pickin’s, I’ll eat my Smokey Bear hat!

Hi Andy,

We have a Scout who met all but one of the requirements for his Second Class and First Class ranks prior to January 1, 2010. The new requirements are now in the new handbooks. Is this Scout able to advance in rank using the original requirements that he started with? We have a few Scouts in this position. (Ann Pickett, San Diego-Imperial Council, CA)

The BSA’s made this really simple. After January 1, 2010, a Scout can complete one rank using the “old” requirements, and then, after that, all further ranks will follow the new requirements. So, in the case of the Scout you mention, he can finish up Second Class using the prior requirements and then complete First Class following the current requirements. Yup, it’s that simple!

Dear Andy,

I’m the father of two girls and a boy who are all members of a co-ed Venturing crew. The crew members’ ages range from 14 to 20 years old, both male and female. I can’t seem to find the answer in the Youth Protection guidelines as to whether a 20 year old Venturer can tent with a 14 year old. Can you give me any help on this one? (David Johnson, Ozark Trails Council, MO)

While young men and women between the ages of 18 and 21 who are in the Venturing program are called “youth,” in fact they’re classified as adults by most local and state governments, so that, IMHO, it would be unwise to bunk a 20 year-old with anyone under the age of 18.


Dear Andy,

Our pack flag is old and tattered. We want to design a new flag. Are their specific rules we should be in accordance with, like size, what it says on it, and so forth? (Brian)

No “designing” necessary… Cub Scout pack flags stick to a standard format that’s been in place for some eight decades. To order a new flag, contact your local council’s Scout shop,, or the BSA National Supply Division at 800-323-0736.

Dear Andy,

I was told some years ago that there’s a ban on Scouts roasting marshmallows because of a law suit where a Scout burned the roof of his or her mouth. I’ve not been able to verify this story. Is there any truth to it? (Wayne Valentine, SM)

This sounds like something to check out on ““— Good luck!

Hi Andy,

When a Boy Scout becomes a Den Chief, can he wear the Den Chief cord immediately, or does he need to be trained before he can wear it? (Patrick Kukura, CC, Penn’s Woods Council, PA)

According to the BSA, training isn’t mandatory to be a Den Chief; so the Den Chief cord may be worn immediately, just the way a Boy Scout position emblem (e.g., Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, Scribe, etc.) would be worn as soon as elected or appointed.

Hey Andy,

Adult volunteer positions within a troop need training. I know that Youth Protection is good for two years and then has to be renewed. How about some of the other training courses, like Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills, This is Scouting, the Committee Challenge, etc. Do these have expiration dates? (Thomas Wieland, SM, Greater Cleveland Council, OH)

Some training has expiration parameters. Youth Protection is one of these. Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat are two others that readily come to mind. If you look at the cards for these, you’ll see that they have the expiration date or expiration parameter on them. When the card doesn’t show this information—position-specific training, for example—then there is none. If you’re doubtful about any particular training, just ask the chair of your district or council training committee.

Dear Andy,

I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster. While on a recent troop camping trip, I overheard the Scoutmaster call my son “stupid.” I don’t believe this sort of treatment of Scouts to be in line with The Scout Law; however, I’m concerned that if I bring this issue up to the committee, they might get the impression that I’m attempting to disgrace the Scoutmaster as a power grab. Nonetheless, I feel that this sort of behavior toward Scouts must be addressed or it will continue. At what point are verbal insults from the Scoutmaster to Scouts permitted? (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course you know the answer already… There’s no point at which verbal abuse of a minor is acceptable, according to the BSA. The BSA in fact condemns and prohibits any behavior or use of language that in any way diminishes the spirit and/or emotional well-being of a minor.

To put a fine point on this, to note that a boy or young man did something “stupid” might be considered an accurate factual description of something done or some action taken, but to characterize this boy or young man as being stupid is completely unacceptable.

Perhaps you first need to have a quiet conversation with your son, to determine what was going on that would have provoked his Scoutmaster into making a derogatory statement, and also how your son felt and is feeling right now about this. It may also be worthwhile to have a similar private conversation with the Scoutmaster, to learn his point of view and determine what he believes he said. Following these two conversations, you’ll be in a better position to determine what to do next, because you can take the opportunity to discuss with the Scoutmaster your viewpoint and the BSA’s policy on how adults talk to Scouts, and whether this is a regular habit on the part of the Scoutmaster, or a one-time incident.

Take it slow-and-easy, but definitely make it a point to find out more about what went on, so that, if you do decide to speak with the Committee Chair about this, you’ll have maximum information as correctly as possible.

Howdy Andy,

I heard at a recent Roundtable that there are rules for the new Webmaster youth leadership position. I’ve tried searching the BSA website but haven’t found anything. Do you have anything on what the logistics for this new position are? (Christian Cuellar, ASM, Orange County Council, CA)

A Scout who’s the troop’s Webmaster (a leadership position that qualifies for Eagle, by the way) creates, maintains, and adds to the troop’s website. If your troop’s website is already up and running, that’s fine—the Scout doesn’t have to create a new one, although he can certainly add pages as needed. In other words, he’s truly the site’s webmaster. Usually, troops will assign a member of the troop committee to provide oversight on the Scout’s work and to answer any questions he may have or help fix any glitches that he may encounter, but let the Scout do the work as much as you possibly can!

I’m sure that, in time, the BSA will publish something definitive about this, but in the meanwhile, don’t feel you need to hold back on filling this position—it’s an important one, especially in today’s world!

NetCommish Comment: In the meantime the following may be helpful: — There is a new position patch for this that should be available soon at^8^01RTL&

Dear Andy,

As a Scout’s Mom, I’m having a hard time finding how to sew my son’s merit badges on his sash. Is there a particular order they’re supposed to be in? How do I know which side is the top and which is the bottom? Also, the sash is too long on him. Where on his uniform or body should the bottom point be? He’s earned 15 merit badges. Some have yellow and some have tan borders… Do these need to be sorted? How many badges go in a row? It there an example or picture I could see, to use for a reference? (Amber Becker)

For which side is up, refer to 2010 Boy Scout Requirements, or go to the website, click on “advancement” and then click on “merit badges”—then, using the merit badge names that are written on the cards your son received, click on the specific merit badge and, presto!, there’s a picture of it, right side up!

Don’t worry about the length of the sash… You son will grow into it, I promise! Remember that he’ll have this sash for some six or so years more! Just make sure, when you’re sewing, that it goes over his right shoulder!

The top row of the badges shouldn’t be at the very top of the sash. Start the first row down some inches, so that they’ll “face front” when he’s wearing it. The merit badges usually get sewn on in straight-across rows of three badges each. They can be in any order, regardless of border color (the silver boarded ones signify that they’re “Eagle-required,” while the others are elective). Most Scouts like to have them in the order earned.

If you’d like to see what a sash looks like with the badges on it, just Google “merit badge sash picture”!

Just remember that no other kinds of badges except merit badges may be sewn on the front of the sash.

Thanks for asking, and best wishes to your son!

Dear Andy,

I see several handshakes among Scouts… Most frequently, I see the “civilian” right-handed handshake. The BSA left-handed handshake seems to be reserved for Courts of Honor and often results in one or both people fumbling it. Occasionally, someone will state that there’s a two-finger interlock for Cubs, or Order of the Arrow, or whatever. So, two questions… What’s the protocol for Scout/Scouter handshakes and are they different for different BSA programs? And, as leaders, how insistent should we be on this issue and why? (Mitch Erickson, District Commissioner, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

B-P’s original Scouting for Boys states that the Scout handclasp is done with the left hand. This procedure has remained in place among all Scout Associations throughout the world with one exception: The BSA. The BSA’s first edition of the Handbook for Boys (1911) is silent on the subject of handclasps, but by 1914, the second edition states that the left hand is used; however, with the thumb and little finger extended and clasped around the other’s. It remained this way—left hand with interlocking little fingers—until the handbook’s eighth edition in 1972, when the handclasp was changed to match the rest of the world: Left hand fully extended, all fingers together, in the same manner as a normal right-handed handclasp.

For a considerable period of time, the BSA’s Order of the Arrow interlocked additional fingers, depending on the degree of brotherhood being expressed. This did not exist outside the U.S. of course, because the Order of the Arrow is unique to the BSA. (I don’t know whether Mic-O-Say does this, or something else, or not.)

None of this applies to American Cub Scouts, which has its own unique way of shaking hands—with the right hand.

From both a traditional and technical standpoint, we all—Scouts and Scouters alike—would do ourselves honor by using the left-hand handclasp at all times. In actuality, there’s no other handclasp between Scouts and Scouters than the left-handed one.

Why do we not do this? I can only speculate. Fear of the other person not responding in kind (thereby, we think we’re going to embarrass ourselves) comes to mind as one factor. Another is “American casualness” (some call it sloppiness). And, occasionally, it’s nothing more than not RTDHing!

Interestingly, the absence of correct handclasps doesn’t exist outside the U.S.! In my travels, and while in “civvies,” I’ve encountered Scouts and Scouters in such places as Hong Kong, Germany, Canada, Portugal, France, and Scotland, and in every case in which I smiled and extended my left hand, there was instant recognition and welcome! (This was pretty darned cool I might add!)

So, feel free to extend your left hand at all opportunities, and the best way to do this with least awkwardness for yourself or the person you’re greeting is to do it FIRST! (Who knows… You just may start a “brand-new tradition”! <wink>)

Dear Andy,

Where can I locate any information on utensil-less cooking? (John West, Chief Seattle Council, WA)

Most freeze-dried trail/backpacking meals are of the “add boiling water to the plastic pouch and shake” variety… Is this what you have in mind? Or are you really digging into “ancient history” and such items as bread-on-a-stick, burger-on-a-hot-rock, and so on?

I guess it’s ancient history… I’m looking for stuff like boiling water in a paper cup. (I remember doing this some 60 years ago and now it’s time to teach my grandson and his Scout friends.) I’d appreciate any help you can give me. (John West)

You can Google the cup trick, and maybe you’ll find some others as you let your mind wander around a bit. Also, 60 years ago there was a wonderful book called “Jack-Knife Cookery” (by Wilder, if memory serves) and if you can track it down, I think it’ll be just what the doctor ordered. Also, if you can get your hands on any old “Boy’s Life” magazines from the 50’s, there’ll be stuff in these, too! Good hunting and have fun!

NetCommish Comment: Try looking through the cooking materials at While none of this is devoted entirely to cooking without utensils, many have recipes that would fit the bill. You’ll find biscuits on a stick, eggs in a cup, etc., along with lots of tin-foil recipes.

Here’s a sample from an international group of Scouters:

The simplest form of this is to simply ‘twist’ some doe around a green sapling branch. And roast the doe over the fire.

You could try some variations on a twist mixture … e.g. sugar and cinnamon in the dough should be quite tasty. I’ve never tried it myself (just thought of the idea ) but I will next camp.

Talking about twists, one of my Cubs has his with a few drops of … Tabasco sauce !

Kebabs are good – I buy the bamboo skewers. You can put all sorts of stuff on them. Steak, onions, peach, potato and kiwi fruit is not bad and it will get the kids’ attention.

Best wishes,

Ian Ford
AGSL 25th Greenwich Scout Group
Boy Scout trainer, Channel District BSA
London UK

An Egg in an Orange

Cooking an egg in an orange. This one is easy. Give everyone an egg and an orange. Cut of the top of the orange. Empty the orange with a spoon so that the egg can be placed in the empty shell. Put back the part of the orange you cut off and place it in a (small) fire. The egg will be boiled in the juice off the orange!

Edwin van der Elst

Prinses Irene Groep 45, Rotterdam

Silver Turtles / Foil Cooking / Hobo Dinners

We have found that making “silver turtles” does a great job of keeping interest and it is also a very easy, assembly line type preparation that works well with a larger group of young scouts.

Take a double piece of aluminum foil, put a hamburger pattie on it, a little bit of butter or margerine, and any or all of the following ingreadients which the scouts all make and cut up together: carrots, potatoes (thinly sliced so they will cook fast), onions, and anything else you can think of. The boys all cut up the vegatables and we line everything up on foil and they go down the line and put anything on that they want. When they are done, the foils are wrapped and sealed and then placed on the fire. The boys need to watch just where theirs was placed. The fire should not be a high flaming fire, but more like coals – in fact bar-b-que coals work nicely too. Within 10-15 minutes, you can start pulling them off the fire (don’t forget something to pull them off with) and the scouts can eat it right out of the foil. Works well with us. Let me know how it goes with you! cheers!

Al Davis, Cubmaster, Pack 18, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Foil pack meals are good. American Scouts call them Hobo Dinners. Just potatoes, mince, onions and whatever else you want. Again, you can try various spices and stuff. I found that about 1/3 of my Cubs like really spicy food. As an alternative you can buy diced bacon ( I get mine in Sainsbury’s) and use that instead of mince. It’s a bit more expensive, but you don’t need a lot to give some flavour.

Last w/end Cub Camp we did jacket potatoes in foil with cheese. Again you can vary this by adding bacon etc.

Best wishes,

Ian Ford
AGSL 25th Greenwich Scout Group
Boy Scout trainer, Channel District BSA
London UK

Smores (aka chocolate biscuit sandwiches)

Roast a marshmello on a green stick (or long clothes hanger). When done, make a sanwitch of the marshmello, two graham crackers and a piece of a chocolate bar.

Bananas in Foil

Split the bannana down the middle and pack the middle with chocolate buttons before wrapping in foil and putting into the embers..Everything goes nice and chocolatey and goey.

Shaky, (acsl, 1st Heworth Oaks Cub Scout Pack, York)

How about some spiders?

Cut hot dogs in quarters, length wise 1/3 of the way from each end. This leaves a solid center to put on a stick or hot dog fork. Cook over open fire (the spider’s legs will curl), serve on a _hamburg bun_! Cubs love’em.


Hi Andy,

Last August, some of the Scouts in our troop took an extended hike and one of the Scouts on that hike, who was close to age 18, wanted to work on Hiking merit badge (he apparently didn’t want to do either of the other alternatives for Eagle: Swimming or Cycling). Of the six Scouts on the trip, three of them hiked 50 miles over the course of five days (the other three dropped out due to problems with their backs or knees, including the Scout wanting to work on Hiking merit badge). The adult hike leader subsequently told the three Scouts who completed the trek that they’d receive the 50 Miler Award.

That was eight months ago. I recently asked the leader what had happened, because there have been two courts of honor between then and now, and no 50 Miler Awards have been presented to anyone. This leader said that he didn’t believe that the format of the hike fit the requirements for the 50 Miler Award, even though the actual hiking and the miles covered were done in accordance with the requirement. Apparently the Scouts hadn’t done the service project, which is a requirement for this. My interpretation was that they could have done the service or conservation project when they got home, if it wasn’t possible to do it on the hike.

Meanwhile, one of the three Scouts who completed the miles just turned 18, meaning that the remaining two Scouts would have to do the 10 hours of service by themselves, which is probably not worth it for a patch when they are all so busy. Do you think there’s a time limit for the project? (Alice Reno)

Reading the actual requirements usually helps… For this one, it’s expected that the service will (a) be done by the group and (b) will be done while on the trail unless specifically prohibited in the area hiked. The fact that this leader didn’t check the requirements beforehand is a darned shame, especially since he’d more-or-less “promised” the Scouts that they’d be completing the requirements and thereby earning the 50-Miler Award. Since we don’t damage Scouts’ ambitions by the failure of adult volunteers to get it right, my personal thought is that, if the remaining Scouts complete a service project in line with what they would have done on the trail (that is, trail improvement, campsite improvement, or something similar) then I’d definitely file the application on their behalf. At this point, I’d say it’s the Scouts’ decision as to whether they want to extend the effort for this or not. I hope they do, because, no matter how busy we are, we can always make time for service to others! This is what Scouting’s all about!

Dear Andy,

I’m the Chartered Organization Representative for our troop and pack, which has the same Unit Commissioner. This man seems to live a very singular life, in which his Scouting activities dominate. As a result, he comes to pretty much every single Scouting function or event not only for our troop, but also Roundtables, district committee meetings, other district events, council events… You name it and he’s there. Unfortunately, he seems to also hold some sort of grudge that he expresses directly to the Scouts in our troop who are involved in activities beyond Scouting, such as band, basketball, baseball, and so on. When a Scout misses a meeting because, let’s say, he had baseball team practice that he had to be at (or he’s off the team), this UC will start admonishing the Scout. He also does this with us troop volunteers, chastising them for missing a meeting or outing or not attending a Roundtable, and so forth. When this happens and I’m there, I intervene and remind him that, as COR, I’ve decided, along with the head of our sponsor and our committee that we don’t have an “all-or-nothing” attendance policy in either our troop or pack, and that it’s not his place to be giving this type of negativity to anyone, for his expressed reason, or any other, for that matter. I’ve also had to remind him that, as UC, he has no authority whatsoever to determine what policies and procedures we practice in our units as that is up to our chartered organization head, me, and our committee, and that the UC has no place in decisions like these, because he’s not on our charter at all. I’ve also had to remind him that he’s an invited guest, and not a member of either troop or pack, so that he has no authority to speak to the youth members and certainly no authority to speak harshly to any adult volunteer. He, on the other hand, is constantly trying to use his “rank” to intimidate both Scouts and leaders, and nothing I or anyone else says seems to de-rail his single-minded intolerance of any perspective but his own. I can’t tell you how many committee meetings I’ve attended in which he tries to tell us to remove this Scout or that leader because they don’t show up to everything, and I have to remind him over and over that he doesn’t have the authority to remove anybody! What bothers me even more is when I wonder how much attitude he gives to Scouts or leaders when I’m not there to intervene.

I think I know what I have to do. I think I have to tell this guy that he needs to get a life! I’ve thought of reaching out to our District Commissioner about this, but the DC personally picked this guy to be a UC, and apparently really likes him, so I’m not so sure how receptive he’d be about removing this guy and assigning a new UC for us. But I have to do something, because we’re all tired of this stuff.

What’s your take on all this? Is there a clear-cut, easy-to-understand description of what authority both the COR and UC have or don’t have that hasn’t just been copied and pasted from some link or handbook? I need to know just what actual authority one position has, relative to the other, and also what authority each position has over the unit itself. Nobody seems to be able or willing to give me clear-cut answers to this issue. (Name & Council Withheld)

No, your responsibility isn’t to tell him to “get a life.” As COR, your responsibility is to contact the District Commissioner and tell him that you all—you, the Committee Chair, the committee, the Scoutmaster, all ASMs, and the head of your sponsor—want a replacement immediately and if this can’t be accomplished you want this particular UC sent elsewhere immediately. Yes, any Commissioner is a guest at unit meetings, outings, committee meetings, etc., and, being a guest, a Commissioner can be “un-invited,” which is exactly what you’ll do next, if the District Commissioner doesn’t respond to your polite but absolutely resolute request.

As COR, you are responsible for the quality of the troop’s Scouting program and you’re also the hire-fire authority regarding all adult volunteers registered with the troop. The only person who “out-ranks” you is the executive officer of the chartered organization. No one else. This information will be found in the BSA booklet, The Chartered Organization Representative.

No Commissioner at any level has any direct authority over either a Scouting unit or its chartered organization. Never has; never will. Commissioners are a diplomatic corps and when one isn’t fulfilling his ambassadorial responsibilities, it’s time to have him removed and replaced. This information will be found in the BSA’s Commissioner Fieldbook for Unit Service.

To seriously un-invite this particular gentleman, ask the chartered organization’s executive officer to write him a letter, on letterhead, stating that because of the disruptions and ill-will he has caused among the adult volunteers and among the minor-aged boys in the troop, including but not limited to the very edge of what may be considered emotional abuse of a minor, he is no longer permitted on the grounds of the chartered organization, for any reason, effective immediately. Have this letter (no email!!!) delivered by the Post Office, and get proof of delivery. If, at any time after this, he shows up, you can remind him of this letter and advise him that unless he removes himself immediately (as you take your cell phone out of your pocket and flip it open), you will call the Police Department and have him escorted off of the property. Following this, you can get a restraining order in most states and municipalities.

Now I’m no attorney, so don’t consider what I’ve just said qualified legal advice—it’s not. But I’ll bet your chartered organization has an attorney, so reach out to him, explain the situation briefly, and enlist his aid.

You absolutely do not have to put up with this stuff a moment longer. Get rid of him, and make it stick.

Dear Andy,

A Scout’s parent has recently asked if a Scout can clock service hours concurrently for a merit badge and rank advancement using the same hours of service? Specifically, for the Citizenship in the Community merit badge, one of the requirements calls for the Scout to volunteer eight hours of time to an organization in the community. This same Scout is working towards Star rank and needs six hours of service. Is there a BSA policy that would address the issue of whether or not service rendered for a merit badge requirement can or should be used, or not used, for a rank advancement, too? (Luke, SM, Denver Area Council, CO)

Sometimes, it’s not so much about “what’s the policy” as it is about what’s the right thing to do.

To the parent, I’d probably observe that, in Scouting, we give service to others because we’re Scouts; not to “earn a badge,” although sometimes specific service is included in certain merit badges (but not all) and some ranks (but not all). So, with this insight, anything you, the parent, can do to encourage your son to finding ways to “do a good turn daily” and “help other people at all times” will go a long way toward helping him develop into the kind of man they’ll be proud to call their son!

To the Scout, I might pose this question: “In Scouting, one of the main things we do is: We help others. ‘Do a Good Turn Daily’ is our slogan—these are words we live by, every day. So, do you really, truly, want to find a short-cut for yourself, when all that’s being asked of you is to give a day or a part of a day to helping others in need?” Then, be still and let the Scout talk…


Dear Andy,

I’d like to ask your advice about a situation that happened in our pack last September… Although this ship has sailed and it’s too late to do anything about it, it’s been nagging at me (I was Cubmaster at that time) and I want to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

We had a boy just entering fifth grade attend our fall recruiting night. His grade level would have put him in our Webelos II (second year) den. Trouble is, it wouldn’t have been possible for him to earn the Arrow of Light with the rest of the den, because AOL requirement 1 says, “Be active in your Webelos den for at least six months since completing the fourth grade (or for at least six months since becoming 10 years old), and earn the Webelos badge.” By the time he would have joined (late September) there was less than six months until our Blue & Gold in February (this is when we present completed AOLs), so there simply wouldn’t be enough time before that den would cross over to Boy Scouts. This would then create another problem: Even in February, he wouldn’t have been eligible to cross over to Boy Scouts according to the requirement that says, “Be a boy who has completed the fifth grade or earned the Arrow of Light Award and is at least 10 years old.” He would have been left in a sort of limbo, with no Scouting program available to him in the four months between the time his den moved on to the troop (February) and when he’d have completed fifth grade (June).

I posed this conundrum to our District Executive. After some checking, his response was that the boy could attend troop meetings from February through June, but he couldn’t be registered with the troop and therefore could not work on any Boy Scout rank requirements or merit badges until he completed fifth grade and thereupon became eligible to be a Boy Scout.

My other suggestion was that we place this boy in the first-year Webelos den and allow him to work toward the Webelos badge with that den. Then, as soon as he finishes fifth grade he could move straight on to Boy Scouts. But this would put him together with boys a year younger than him. But the District Executive didn’t give a green light to this idea, so I didn’t suggest it.

It seemed that no matter what, we’d have to put him in a place where he’d feel like a third wheel. The end result was that he didn’t join. I can’t help but feel that we somehow let him down. This reminds me of a similar situation that happened the year before, where a boy joined as a Tiger Cub in January, but because the other boys in the den had already done most of the Go See It’s, he couldn’t complete the requirements for the Tiger Cub badge. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as I handed Tiger Cub badges to everyone in the den except him. In Scouting, we should be putting boys in situations where they feel included and can succeed; we should never set them up for guaranteed failure!

Our council has always emphasized that boys can join Cub Scouts at any time during the year—so long as they meet eligibility requirements, they don’t have to wait until our fall recruiting campaign. But situations like these put the boys in a position where they can’t possibly catch up with their peers. How can we encourage them to join anytime, but not have any plan for how we’re going to deal with “mid-term arrivals”? I’m also a member of our District Committee, and at one meeting we were discussing having a “second-chance sign-up” event in December. I raised more than a few eyebrows when I spoke out against the idea and asked the membership chair not to do it.

I’m very interested in hearing what wisdom you have for me on this subject, as I’ve read your column for some time and I always find your comments to be spot-on. (Mark Huber, ASM & PT, Seneca Waterways Council, NY)

Much of this is in the “department of managing expectations.” So the very first thing that would need to be done is to describe in detail to the parents of a “mid-term” boy, and to the boy also, precisely what the situation is and what will happen. This way, disappointment can be, if not eliminated, at least minimized.

For that new fifth grade boy joining, he and his parents would need to know that, at his age and grade, he’ll be in a Webelos II den, but because he joined in latish September, then he wouldn’t be eligible for the Arrow of Light rank till March of the following year, during which time he’ll need to earn the Webelos badge first (including earning three activity badges for Webelos and then five more for Arrow of Light) and then move on to the Arrow of Light requirements. Not impossible, but not a walk in the park, either! The family, as a unit, can then confer with his Webelos Den Leader and between them decide on a course of action that would work best. Of course, the moment he turns 11, he’s automatically eligible to be a Boy Scout, so this needs to be taken into consideration as well. If his den crosses over and joins a troop in February, this lone Webelos would only need to wait one month more to complete the AOL requirements and then join up with his former den-mates and now new patrol-mates.

(In that regard, there’s absolutely nothing to prevent a pack from having a special cross-over ceremony for one Webelos Scout, and how cool would it be to have his new patrol members there to receive him on the Boy Scout side of the bridge!)

For the boy joining as a Tiger in January, the advantage here of course is that he can do everything with one or both of his parents. This means that, if they work at it, he has a full five months to complete the 15 parts of the five Tiger achievement areas—again, not a walk in the park but not impossible, either, if his folks are really behind him and they lay out a plan with his Tiger Cub Den Leader.

While we never want to discourage a boy, and certainly never want to turn a boy away or tell him to come back in six months or whatever, we also need for mid-termers to understand how the program works and what they’ll need to do—they need to know that they are indeed playing a bit of “catch-up.”

I’ve seen this happen in Boy Scouting, too. I remember a young man, already age 14, who moved to town from a place where there was no troop, and he latched on to Scouting like a kid to Santa’s lap at Macy’s! Yup, he became a 14 year-old Tenderfoot! Then he decided to go for it and, three years later, he’d earned Eagle. Did he “fast-track” himself? You bet! Did he “take shortcuts”? Not a one!

Scouting’s for ALL boys, ALL the time! Anytime!

Hello Andy,

I’m one of five Assistant Scoutmasters in my son’s troop. At a recent Camporee, one of the other ASMs unzipped the tent my son was sleeping in and pulled him (while still inside his sleeping bag) out onto cold, wet grass to wake him up. My training in BSA Youth Protection tells me that this type of action is way out of line with BSA standards. There were witnesses to this event. What do I do as a leader, and as a parent? (Name & Council Withheld)

This sort of action by an adult BSA volunteer is unacceptable, even in “fun” and even in dry conditions. Moreover, rousing patrol members at Reveille is the responsibility of the Patrol Leader; no adult ever needs to be involved in this.

This action warrants a private conversation between you and the Scoutmaster (he’s the boss of the ASMs, remember), with the result of understanding that any action like this will never, ever happen again if this or any ASM wishes to retain his position. (Do remember that, with adults as well as with Scouts, we praise in public and correct in private.)

Hello Andy,

I doubt this is a new question, but do you have some form of comparison of how being a Scout leader is different from a parent. For instance, when a Scout is on an outing and he eats with his mouth open, a Scout leader lets the Scout be himself (no harm, no foul), but a parent tells the boy to eat with his mouth closed. Or, take a situation where a Scout doesn’t pack enough snacks for the outing, so the Scout leader will encourage the Scout to think of what he can do differently next time and lets the Scout come up with his own solution—a lesson learned—while a parent will pull out his or her own extra food to give it to that Scout and anyone else around, so no one is hungry. (I’m sure there are other examples as well, but I think these make my point.)

We’re trying to communicate to some parents who insist that they’re “Scout leaders” but in reality just want to tell the Scouts how to do it all. Despite all the training they’ve had, they insist on being “Mom” or “Dad” instead of conducting themselves like adult leaders should, which is largely hands-off and no “hovering.” We realize that we might have to have a very direct talk about the need to back off, because I’m a firm believer that if the Scouts can figure out solutions on their own, this makes both them and the program as a whole stronger, and our adults stronger as mentors, too. (Kathy Irwin, ASM, Cascade Pacific Council, OR)

Not a brand-new question, but certainly couched in a different and very interesting way. Let’s see if I can shed some light here…

Let’s start with this: What are “parents” doing on Boy Scout camping trips and hikes and so forth? This isn’t where they belong! Boy Scouting isn’t “Webelos 3” and it isn’t “Dad n’ Lad” or even “family” camping, hikes, etc. Boy Scouting is all about boys being with other boys! They learn from their peers, have fun with their peers, advance with their peers. This is how boys grow into young men, and young men into men. Yes, certainly, there’s a Scoutmaster nearby, in the background, guiding the boy leaders of the patrols and troop (that is, the Senior Patrol Leader and the Patrol Leaders), and maybe an ASM or two, who act as role models, too, but that’s pretty much it! Parents don’t “hang out” with their sons, or give instructions, or act as “surrogate Scoutmasters” or “unofficial assistants”—parents are purposefully not there!

A troop that has parents hanging around the Scouts, providing “instructions,” “guidance,” and other “lessons” needs to change its ways. Parents need to mostly stay home. Or, if they do stay overnight on camping trips, they camp separately from the Scouts. This doesn’t apply to the Scoutmaster, but it absolutely applies to all parents, even if they’re committee members, because being a committee member isn’t license to play an active “leadership” role with the Scouts.

Where is all this written down? In the Scoutmaster Handbook and Boy Scout Handbook, of course! Sometimes, the “writing” is by omission… Neither handbook talks about how Scouts and parents do stuff together, and that’s because they don’t.

Now, definitely “boys will be boys.” But the Scoutmaster, the Senior Patrol Leader, and the Patrol Leaders are all role models. So, if little Fargus talks with his mouth full, or crams in more food than his mouth can hold, or wipes his hands on his pants, or forgets to wash behind his ears, the Scoutmaster, Senior Patrol Leader, or his Patrol Leader are absolutely expected to help him learn manners and hygiene, if that’s what’s necessary… This all follows the Scout Law, as in “clean,” “courteous,” and so on. All of the points of the Scout Law are communicated by behavior and the occasional “suggestion”—but not by a parent, ’cause parents stay home!

Unless parents are willing to let go, to cut the apron strings as it were, their sons may just as well stay home and forget about being Scouts! The plain, cold fact is that boys can’t gain self-confidence and a personal sense of competence and independence if Daddy and Mommy refuse to curb their hovering ways!

Boys of Scout age learn by doing. Sometimes, they mess up. As in not bringing enough food for themselves. No “lecture” on this will work quite as well as allowing the Scout to scrounge from his buddies and take the jeers that will accompany this—I guarantee you he’ll never make that mistake again! Besides, there’s a whole world of new mistakes to make, and Scouting is the one place where he can make mistakes safely! Scouting is a safe haven.

Parents, let your sons be! Let them be with their friends. Let them be themselves. Let them learn by doing, and by observing guys who get it right (like their Patrol Leaders and Senior Patrol Leader), while their Scoutmaster “guides-with-a-feather,” as the expression goes. If you really must lecture, wait till Johnny gets home from the hike; stay away during the hike!

Dear Andy,

My son wants to include his best friend from another troop in his upcoming Eagle Court of Honor. His friend is the Bugler for his troop and is a talented musician. Do you have any ideas how to incorporate a Bugler into a Court of Honor? (Name & Council Withheld)

This is absolutely cool! How about opening the court of honor with a bugle call (“Assembly” is a good one), and then the Scouts march in with the colors. Then, at the end, maybe he can play “Tattoo” (I’m suggesting this over “Taps” because the latter is a bit on the mournful side, which you may not want, right before cookies and bug juice!). If the Scout doesn’t know these bugle calls, I’ll bet he can find them online, and learn them fast! Have a blast!

Happy Scouting!



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

(April 21, 2010 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2010)

Letters to AskAndy may be published at the discretion of the columnist and the editor. If you prefer to have your name or affiliation withheld from publication, please advise in your letter..


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

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