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Issue 216 – May 24, 2010

Good morning Andy,

Can you explain national’s position on hours needed for an Eagle project? The guidelines are vague and subject to interpretation, and the concern in our troop is that, if the guidelines are subject to interpretation by boards of review, then requirements for hours spent on identical projects can vary between Scouts, districts, even between councils. How does the national office assure that everybody is applying the same standard to all Eagle service projects—not only for current projects but for projects that have been done in the past, too? (Edward Rabotski, SM, Blackhawk Area Council, WI)

Great question and thanks for asking it!

It’s perfectly apparent by simply reading the Eagle Scout Leadership Project Workbook, published and regularly updated by the BSA national office, that the BSA recognizes how there can be enormous variations in time from one project to the next. An interesting excursion into just how large the variation might be is to revisit two intellectual giants of the last centuries: Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Tolstoy’s classic novel,War and Peace, contains 561,893 words. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is summed up with just five characters: E=MC2. The irony, of course, is that those five characters have had an arguably more profound impact on the world than even Tolstoy’s master epic, though the latter exponentially larger.

Now you may have noticed of late that Eagle candidates are asked to provide the number of hours for their projects on their Eagle Scout Rank Application; however, this there neither for their Scoutmasternor board of review to “evaluate”The sole purpose is so that the BSA national office can gauge the approximate number of service hours Eagle Scouts provide to their communities over the course of a year… In other words, it’s used for publicity purposes (as well it should).

Thus, the guidelines are not so much “vague” with regard to service project hours, theyre purposefully silent.

Consequently, as BSA literature on the subject points out precisely, the task of the members of an Eagle Board of Review is not to attempt to determine “how long and hard the Scout worked.” The reviewers’ onus is to determine, per the workbook and in conversation with the Scout himself, was the project completed according to the pre-approved plan and what, if any, unforeseen changes needed to be made and how well were they made so that the original goal was accomplished. The central issues are: What was accomplished and how did this benefit the recipient(s)? The issues are absolutely not: How many hours did he and his helpers put in and did they get dirt under their fingernails? The latter is simply not what an Eagle project is all about.

According to the BSA, there are four (and only four) fundamental criteria to evaluate an Eagle candidate’s project: 1. Did the Scout demonstrate leadership of others? 2. Did the Scout indeed direct others to complete the project rather than do the work by himself? 3. Was the project of real value to the recipient, and who from the recipient can verify its value? 4. Did the project follow the pre-approved plan or were modifications needed to bring it to completion? Notice that there is no question about the amount of time a project took. This is absolutely deliberate. Time is not a criterion; it is, therefore, not subject to either “”interpretation” or “evaluation.”

The established procedure by which these criteriaand no arbitrary othersare addressed across all districts and councils in the BSA is that at least one representative of the district or council advancement committee is always present at an Eagle board of review.
Finally, it’s absolutely critical to keep always at the front of our minds that, going into a board of review, the goal of every member should be that this will be successful. It’s truly not a “well, maybe yes or maybe no” situation. The goal is success.

Hi Andy,

I’m looking to guide our Scouts on the proper or most common sense approach to setting up camps, so that we can train and be prepared to have a site set up late on Friday nights in the dark and in the rain.For example, what should come first…? Patrol tents and personal gear, or troop dining fly and other troop stuff? Any advice would be great!

Also, whats the proper sequence for a handwashing station? Is it first tub, warm soapy water; second tub, clean warm water; third tub, disinfectant/bleach mix? Thanks! (Mike Lonergan, ASM, Connecticut Yankee Council)

Your best “guide” is your Scouts’ own good sense (these are their decisions; not yours! Your role is to prevent accidents; not to do their thinking for them)… For instance, in a downpour, the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders might decide to quickly setting up a fly (to put all gear under) and then break out the tents so the gear can be transferred into them as fast and dry as possible. If this is their decision, get out of their way and let ‘em do it. If they decide to get the tents set up first, and pack it in for the night, then get out of their way and let them do it that way, if that’s what they’ve decided. What’s the worst that happens? They get wet is all.

Better idea, again, for the PLC to decide… Get to the campsite before dark on Friday nights, or, if it’s not daylight saving time, do the camp-out Saturday-to-Sunday so there’s no darkness problem.

As for hand-washing, I’m assuming thisll be done in each patrol site, and there’ll be no “universal” troop wash-stand. I hope I’m right about that, because the fact of the matter is that “troops” don’t go hiking and camping, patrols do! And for the actual method, your Scouts can check out page 307 of theirBoy Scout Handbook.

Happy camping!

Dear Andy,

Can a person hold a Unit Commissioner position for the unit he or she is a part of? What are the rules on that? (Name & Council Withheld)

You actually have two questions wrapped into one…

First, unless we’re talking about a Unit Leader (e.g., Scoutmaster), any adult registered with a unit can be dual-registered as a Commissioner.

The second aspect’s tricky… While there’s nothing strictly verboten about being the Unit Commissioner for a unit that you’re already registered in, it can be very confusing for everyone—including the UC! Let’s say you’re a committee member and also that same unit’s Unit Commissioner, and you make a recommendation or suggestion to the troop committee or Scoutmaster to try this or that…Which “hat” are you wearing? Are you speaking as their UC, or as a committee member? Gets worse of you’re, let’s say, the Committee Chair or an Assistant Scoutmaster. So, in general, this isn’t encouraged. However, if you were to drop your unit registration, then a UC position might be just what the doctor ordered, because you’re already acquainted with the unit’s “personality” as well as the adults involved in keeping the unit strong, and you’re not considered an “outsider”!

Hi Andy,

At a recent campout, I was told that all aerosols are prohibited. I didn’t learn that in ITOLS or SALT, and I’m wondering if its a BSA policy, a district or council policy, or what? Thanks. (Carol, ASM, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

“Told” by whom, and from what capacity was this person speaking? And what sort of “aerosol” are we talking about here… Shaving cream? Whipped cream? Bug repellent? Fire retardant? Deodorant? C4?

By a Webelos Den Leader who had just“crossed over.”And I was using a sun screen and an insect repellant at the time.

OK, so this is about another volunteer’s opinion about your personal toiletries… If you really want to check this out with your council’s health and safety committee, or see if it’s in the BSAs Guide to Safe Scouting, that’s OK. To me, it seems a bit over-the-top, especially since it came from a Boy Scouting “newbie.” Personally, I wouldn’t waste my time (and I sure wouldn’t lose any sleep!).

Dear Andy,

My son earned the Interpreter Strip for Deutsch (German) last year, as a Webelos II. He’s now a Boy Scout.Does this badge carry over to Boy Scouts?(Randy Deal)

Ja! Und ob!

Dear Andy:

In the aims and methods” of Scouting, uniforms are considered a method of delivering the program. The Scouts in our troop have decided that “field uniforms” (aka “Class B) will be worn throughout the warmer months of May through September, for all meetings, events, and activities. Our troop’s field uniform is the same as the “formal”uniform, but we wear our troop tee-shirt instead of the regular uniform shirt. Does this run counter to the spirit of uniforming, or, since a “field uniform” is being uniformly worn, does that make it OK? (Name Withheld, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

First, it’s important to understand that, according to the BSA national council, there’s only one uniform in Boy Scouting, and it includes shirt, belt, pants/shorts, and socks; the cap, neckerchief-and-slide, and footgear having options. Further, when the BSA describes the wearing of a tee- or other shirt with the belt, pants/shorts, and socks, it does not refer to this combination as a “uniform.”

So, for accurate nomenclature, there’s a “uniform” and there’s sorta nothing else. According to the BSA, there are no “formal” uniforms, “field” uniforms, “Class A” uniforms, or even “Class B” uniforms, despite and widespread common practice among volunteers and paid staff alike.

As for what sorts of “options” a troop of Scouts might vote on, this could include the kind of BSA headgear all would wear, a troop tee-shirt or polo shirt design for non-uniform wear, whether neckerchiefs will be worn and their color(s) or design, and that’s about the extent of it.

You see, no troop in the BSA (or any country’s Scout organization, for that matter) gets to “vote” on whether or not they wear their uniform.Is “climate” the argument? Sorry, doesn’t cut the mustard… However, what the troop can definitely do is go to Scout shorts and Scout socks, with their short-sleeved Scout shirts during the summer months.
As former Scoutmaster of a Southern California troop that wore their short-sleeved uniform shirts with neckerchiefs-and-slides, Scout shorts and Scout knee socks at all timestroop meetings, hikes, and overnights, too, plus courts of honor!—I personally have no sympathy for “climate” or other arguments. We always looked like Scouts, and that got us special privileges with mountaineering instructors, TV news crews out looking for stories, our council’s special events people, local service clubs, professional sports teams (we’d get invited to the dugout or the locker room after the game) and on and on! Talk about building a sense of pride, solidarity, belonging, and camaraderie! Wow!

Dear Andy,

We have a Venturing crew advisor in our district who, after some ten years, is resigning her position because, she says, she can’t keep the interest of young adults with so much else going on, the crew has been blackballed” by their sister troop, leaving no possibility of recruitment, and the chartered organization that also sponsors both the troop and a pack isn’t helping out.I’m attempting to discover what’s going on between the troop and crew, and I’m planning a meeting with key people at the sponsor.Any suggestions on what to do with this situation would be greatly appreciated. (Jim Sweet, UC, Scenic Trails Council, MI)

I’d say you’re making the right first steps… With a sponsor not behind the unit and a sister unit at odds with it (I’d wonder why, after ten years, they’re having a problem…unless it’s been a problem all along), registered youth dwindling, and potentially no replacement advisor in sight (I’m guessing she didn’t groom a replacement), this may be a moribund situation. But, as you’ve already figured out, the only way to find out what’s going on is to start talking. That said, I’ve seen immensely successful Venturing crews that owe their success to two key factors: Self-government by the youth themselves with minimal direct interference by adults, and really cool and challenging programs!Conversely, the general reason why Scouting units of any type ultimately fail is too much “leadership” by adults (this is fine in Cubs, but there’s no such thing as “Webelos 3”…or “4”!), and unexciting and/or stultified program content.

Hi Andy,

This is about my grandson’s situation… He’s a 12 year old Tenderfoot, and he just earned two merit badges at our council Scout Expo: Family Life and Chemistry.According to my grandson, he had done most of the work for each of these prior to the Expo itself; I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what was done though the Merit Badge Counselors there, except that they signed him off on both merit badges,

So here’s the question… Can a Scoutmaster require a Scout to present allhis work tothe troop’s own Merit Badge Counselor, and then be questioned about his work?What the troop is doing is saying that if a Scout doesn’t “pass” the troop MBC’s “test,” he doesn’t get the badge, and if he, the Scout, doesn’t go along with this, then he definitely doesn’t get the badge.

My own understanding was that once a Merit Badge Counselor signs a Scout off as completed, the Scout’s earned the badge—end of story. A former District Advancement Chair has told me that I’m correct, unless BSA policy’s changed in the past four years. (Am I, or has it?) On the other hand, several people at our council’s service center have said that a Scoutmaster and advancement committee have the right to place additional requirements on merit badges and other requirements, for the sake of quality control, and this averts “problems” at boards of review.

Can you tell me where I can find the BSA national’s policy? I’ve looked through the MBC’s publications, and they say that when a Merit Badge Counselor signs off, the badge is earned. (Greg Guido)

Don’t let these people railroad your grandson and his friends. This self-appointed tin god nonsense has to stop.

1. The signature of a registered Merit Badge Counselor, signifying that all of the work has been completed according to the requirements, is the final word and unchallengeable authority. Re-testing, re-examination, or even “innocent asking” by anyone is strictly prohibited by the BSA, and always has been.

2. No person, unit, district, or council may add to or detract from any requirement, ever. This, also, is a long-standing BSA national policy.This may not be superseded by anyone or any entity, for any reason.

Both of these policies may be found in any edition of Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures, by the Boy Scouts of America. The chair of your council’s advancement committee can help you obtain a copy of this book, or provide you with excerpts.

Further, Article X, Section 1, Clause 13 of the Advancement Rules and Regulations of the Boy Scouts of America states: “The responsibility for merit badges shall rest with the merit badge counselor” and “There shall be no board of review procedure for merit badges.” Game over.

Dear Andy,
Somewhere, I read where one of the requirements for a volunteer leader is paying their dues/paying their way. I have a Den Leader whohas owed the pack popcorn money for the entire den’s order for over a year and she just won’t pay up—she’s always “short of money,” or some other excuse! Can you tell me where I might find that requirement? (Name & Council Withheld)

This issue is important, but it’s not so much about some “BSA rule” as it is about fundamental honesty and sense of responsibility. If someone owes money, to anyone, they’re expected to pay up. If she has some valid reason for refusing to pay, you need to know what it is so that it can be dealt with. Or, perhaps she merely forgot. So give her a bill or invoice, and ask her when she expects to pay; then expect her to stick to that date. If it’s a flat refusal, and her reason is lame, you may want to ask your Chartered Organization Representative (who, along with the pack’s Committee Chair has “hire-fire” authority) to caution her that continuing refusal to pay what’s due is setting an incorrect example for the Cubs in her den, and shell need to be replaced (be sure you have someone who’s willing to replace her!) if this isn’t resolved in a reasonable amount of time.

Dear Andy,

Requirement 9a for Camping merit badge says, “…The 20 days and 20 nights must be at a designated Scouting activity or event.” Does designated Scouting activity or event include Cub Scoutcamping? Some troop committee members say that Cub camping cant be counted.I disagree. Are Boy Scouts only allowed to Boy Scout events for this merit badge?Can a Boy Scout use Cub Scout camping done as a Cub Scout? Or is this aroad block thrown up by the troop committee to obstructaScout’s progression towards rank advancement? (Kevin Casey, ASM)

Let’s start here: Only Boy Scouts can earn merit badges. Boy Scouting begins when a boy joins a troop. Consequently, any activity that the boy was engaged in prior to being a Boy Scout is not likely to be considered a Boy Scout activity. Also, Cub Scout camping is fundamentally “family camping,” and family camping is not what Boy Scouts do. Consequently, there’s no “roadblock” here; simply good sense and sticking to the language of the requirement. However, it should also be pointed out that this isn’t really anything for a troop committee to be involved with, as a committee, because the district’s and council’s Merit Badge Counselors for Camping make this call and help the Scouts advance.

Dear Andy,

Is there a specific or recommended way to ask an Assistant Scoutmaster to leave the troop, when his services are no longer desired? Likewise with a Scout (his son)? Does this fall under the responsibility of the Chartered Organization Representative, or the Committee Chair?This ASM father regularly argues with the Scoutmaster in view of the Scouts, among other things. Meanwhile, his son, who’s earned Eagle, brags to the other Scouts about how he can beat the systemand he’s also disrespectful to the Scoutmaster. Any input? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, you need to separate these two individuals, because the process is different for each one…

For the ASM, it’s simple. ASMs report to the Scoutmaster and are “vetted” by the Committee Chair, so either one of these (better if it’s both!) just take him aside and tell him, “Thank you for your services, they will no longer be needed; your position as ASM is terminated.” Then, the next day, the Committee Chair or the Chartered Organization Representative goes to the council service center and has his name removed from the troop’s roster.

For the Scout, it’s a bit more problematic. Yes, a Scout can be removed from the troop by a Scoutmaster-and-committee decision that his actions have or are likely to bring harm to himself or other Scouts. In an “in harm’s way” situation, dismissal is virtually mandatory, and can be immediate. If, however, it’s simply because he’s annoying, rude, and a general pin-head, then he needs one or more Scoutmaster’s conferences. If he’s disrespectful to any youth or adult leader on a regular basis, then the SM and Committee Chair need to take him aside and tell him, point blank, that, unless he stops this immediately he will need to be removed from the troop. This young man actually needs Scouting, or his attitudes are going to spill over into his everyday world and infect all aspects of it, maybe for life. While you’re definitely not to be considered licensed therapists, and don’t have to put up with his nonsense if it’s incorrigible, removing him from the troop would be a last resort. However, you can remove him from the troop’s roster without revoking his BSA membership… He’d simply be a sort of “man without a country” till he ages out.

Be sure to let your district’s Commissioner staff and District Executive know what’s up, so they don’t get blind-sided.

Hi Andy,

In our troop, we have a new Scout whos working on a couple of merit badges and wants to start another one. The Scoutmaster and some other people in the troop think that he should be required to finish the merit badges he’s already started first. The Scoutmaster and others in the troop also feel that some Scouts are too young to work on certain merit badges.

On the front of the “blue card,there’s a portion thats titledapplication for merit badge” and a little below the middle part it says “…and is qualified to begin working for merit badge noted on the reverse” followed by a line for thesignature of the unit leader. I’ve read the BSA literature and do understand that any Boy Scout may earn any merit badge at any time, but I’m having trouble reconciling those two statements that I quoted to people who areclaiming that its the Scoutmaster’s job to guide the Scout and thats what the signature on that line is used for—so the Scoutmaster signs off before the Scout can begin. (Name & Council Withheld)

There are two issues interlocking here. The first is simple definitions; the second is a learning opportunity.

The merit badge application says “…is qualified to…” This is different from saying “…is approved to…” “Qualified” means “able to,” by way of being a registered Boy Scout. Had it said “approved,” this would mean that there may be some sort of appraisal, examination, or confirmation process involvedwhich of course there isn’t. Therefore, a Scoutmaster cant withhold signing the application when a Scout says “I want to work on this merit badge…”This is described precisely in the previous Boy Scout Handbook: See page 187, in which it states that when the Scout asks to start a merit badge, the Scoutmaster complies. The current handbook also describes to the Scout how to start on merit badges, but the previous handbook did a better job of describing precisely the actual steps—which haven’t changed, by the way.

Now, yes, it’s entirely possible for a Scout to take on too many things all at the same time. However, that should be allowed to happen, because, in Scouting, boys learn by doing, not by being “managed.” The wise Scoutmaster will give new merit badge applications to the Scout whenever he asks for one, but will stay in touch with the Scout, along the lines of “How’s it goin’ for you?” Then, if the Scout manages all the stuff he’s working on, great! And if he’s not, and the house o’ cards starts to tumble down, what a wonderful opportunity for the Scout and his Scoutmaster to have a conversation (not a “lecture”!) about biting off what we can chew!

In Scouting, we always give the Scout “room” to safely mess up, and then help him work through it; we don’t lecture him or use our infinite wisdom to “save” him from error… Some Scouts know how to read the “Danger-Electrified Fence” sign; others have to pee on it to find out how it works.


I can’t seem to find where it’s written, how many committee members must attend, for a Scout to present his Eagle service project for approval. It seems theres some discussion about whether the Scout must come before the full committee or just a few committee members, to seek approval to begin his project, and which is BSA policy. I thought Id seen somewhere that three was the magic number and that three committee members were required for approval. Related to that, if a Scoutmaster wants to request that the Scout come before the full committee, is that within BSA policy? (Debbie Cross, National Capital Area Council, MD)

Thanks for asking. Here’s the short answer to the first question: One.

This isn’t a “committee vote” or any such thing. The purpose of having a member (any member) of the troop committee, and also the Scoutmaster, look over the project plan before it goes to the district or council advancement chair is not to “play judge” but to coach, so that the Scout thinks through the various details and lays them out on paper. One of the best teachers I ever had put it this way: You don’t know what you really think until you write it on paper. He was absolutely right on the money, and I’ve practiced this ever since. This is what your Scouts are going to do. Think of it this way: The project plan is a “recipe”… If the Scout couldn’t do the project (for whatever reason) there’s enough detail in his plan so that someone totally unfamiliar with the project could carry it out using that plan alone.

So, no “third degrees” here, and no “voting”… Help that Scout dot the i’s and cross the t’s and you’re doing exactly what he needs.
By the way, the district or council advancement person who is the last to look over the plan before the Scout gets underway is charged with exactly the same responsibility to the Scout: HELP HIM SUCCEED!

Dear Andy,

If a Scoutwho earns his Eagle rankand has 36 merit badges simply wait three months and apply for the Silver Palm? Or, must he earn Bronze, then three months later Gold, then finally Silver three months after that. Many Scouts don’t have nine more months after Eagle before they turn 18, but they do have enough merit badges for Palms (Joe LeClair)

The BSA informs us that Palms come in order, in increments of five merit badges and three months each… First three months: Bronze Palm; second three months: Gold Palm (Bronze comes off the ribbon); third three months: Silver Palm (Gold comes off the ribbon); fourth three months: second Bronze Palm (stays on the ribbon with the Silver); fifth three months: second Gold Palm (Bronze, again, comes off); and so on…

I’ve known of Scouts with four dozen or more merit badges as Life Scouts, who earn Eagle rank at age 17 years-10 months. Guess what… No palms. End of story, unfortunately, but that’s the way it happens,sometimes—and that’s one of Scouting’s “life lessons.”

So even though a Scoutmay have 15 merit badges more than the 21 he needs for Eagle, on the day of his Eagle Board of Review, he can’t apply for a Silver Palm until he goes through the steps of Bronze and Gold and the three-month increments for each… right?

That’s right…and it’s written out for the Scout to read for himself, in the Boy Scout Handbook that he’s been totin’ for six years!

Dear Andy,

Is there any BSA rule or regulation on who approves a Scout for Scout spirit?Would it be the Scoutmaster? Perhaps the troop committee? (Michael Walsh)

Let’s start with some arithmetic: Troop meetings typically last about 90 minutes and then maybe once a month there’s a troop outing of some sort, and these are the times when a Scoutmaster and/or committee (if committee members happen to be at these events as well, which is by no means a certainty) can “observe” a Scout, while he’s in and amongst a couple dozen of his fellow Scouts.So, in sum, these possible “observation opportunities” might account for as much as 75 minutes per Scout, per month, in an average troop. Not too bad, except that there are over 43,000 minutes in a month, which means that the actual “observation opportunity time” in Scouting represents less than two-tenths of one percent (0.0017) of a Scout’s life.

Now, let’s take a look at the language of requirement, which refers not to exclusively Scouting activities but to the Scout’s daily life—in other words, all 43,000 minutes in an average month. Extend this to the minimum six months between Star and Life, or Life and Eagle, and you have 7.5 hours of “observation opportunity” out of a total of 4,335 hours in that six-month time-frame. To look at this another way, observation time is about equal to a flight from New York to Helsinki while actual time available is the equivalent of 28 round-trips to the Moon.

So who, then, can best assess how well a Scout is “living the Scout Oath and Law in his daily life”? Why that’s easy: The Scout himself! Just ask him: He’ll tell you, and you can believe him, because this is “Scout’s honor.”

Happy Scouting!


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

(May 24, 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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