Author Avatar

Issue 223 – August 4, 2010

Dear Andy,

If someone attended the 2010 National Scout Jamboree and bought an on-site Jamboree patch, are they allowed to wear it on their uniform shirt? (Tim Black, ADC, Middle Tennessee Council)

Do we agree that “attending” and “participating” are two different activities? OK, then since Jamboree participant and staff patches and Jamboree patches bought at the trading post aren’t identical, anyone who wears a trading post-bought patch will immediately identify him or herself as a non-participant! Sorta un-cool, I’d think, but hey, go for it if that’s yer thing.

Dear Andy,

We’re fortunate to have a son who’s earned over 50 merit badges. The problem we have is how to sew them on the sash—we’re unsure if we’re to incorporate the back of the sash, add a second sash, or leave them off all together. He’s also earned his Varsity letter, which goes on the lower part of the sash, taking up that much more room. Do you have any suggestions? (Richard Barmore)

Congratulations to your son! What a wonderful way to learn about a whole bunch of subjects and skills that mostly just can’t be learned anywhere else!

First thing is this: Sashes come in two lengths, 30″ and 36″, so make sure you start with the longer one! Then, when the front of the sash is filled, just start sewing up above the front’s original top row, and keep climbing till they go over the top and start down the back. Don’t be tempted to start a second sash, because only one merit badge sash is worn (over the right shoulder only, of course)—no bandoliers!

Dear Andy,


I’ve just come back from summer camp with a merit badge blue card for hiking signed by the camp’s Merit Badge Counselor. But now my Scoutmaster won’t sign it because he doesn’t believe that I’ve done all the requirements. Does he have that right? Can he refuse to sign it? (Scout’s Name & Council Withheld)

The BSA has an actual rule that says the Merit Badge Counselor is the only person who can sign off on a merit badge being completed and that signature can’t be challenged by anybody including a Scoutmaster. Plus, no one is allowed to “re-test” you in any way, or put you through any sort of “review” for a merit badge.

According to the BSA national council, that signature line is absolutely not for some sort of “final approval”—the only reason for it is to assure you that your merit badge completion has been recorded in the troop’s advancement records, so that the merit badge and card can be presented to you as fast as possible.

If your Scoutmaster has a bone to pick about the merit badge, he can talk to the Merit Badge Counselor if he likes, but he absolutely does not discuss this with the Scout or hold the Scout’s signed blue card hostage—if that card’s signed, the merit badge is yours. End of story.

Dear Andy,

Can an Assistant Scoutmaster, who is the troop’s summer camp Acting Scoutmaster, conduct Scoutmaster conferences? (Rick Williams)

Summer camp is a wonderful place for a Scoutmaster conference, because you’re in the out-of-doors, and that’s exactly where every Scout belongs! So, before you go, you and the Scoutmaster should have a brief conversation on who is likely to finish up a rank while at camp, for whom a conference would be appropriate. If, on the other hand, the Scoutmaster would prefer to do these himself, so that he stays in touch with his Scouts, that’s absolutely OK, too, especially since we’re usually talking about a week, and completing the other requirements would likely take most of that time, anyway, so that a few days in the life of a Scout is relatively inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things.

Dear Andy,

Can you please give me the BSA protocol on prior approval for merit badges? If I’ve read the BSA rules correctly, a Scout may start any merit badge whenever he wants without prior approval, unless that specific badge is on the “Merit Badges Requiring Prior Approval” list, and then that approval is to come from the specific Merit Badge Counselor; not the Scoutmaster and the troop’s rank advancement coordinator—do I have that right? (Barb Plew)

The BSA stipulates that any Boy Scout can start work on any merit badge, any time he, the Scout, decides that he wants to. He doesn’t need to have “approval” by his Scoutmaster or anyone else, and he never has to “ask permission.” He simply tells his Scoutmaster that he wants to do merit badge such-and-such and the Scoutmaster is obligated to give him a blue card and the name of at least one registered Merit Badge Counselor. Moreover, there’s no such thing as “merit badges requiring prior approval.” All merit badges are available to every Scout, regardless of age, rank, or anything else—that’s what the BSA says!

Dear Andy,

Our son just earned First Class rank. He’s highly motivated and loves Scouting; however, we’re having a difficult time deciding if, we should stay in his current troop. To begin with, camp this summer was a disaster, largely because the troop volunteer in charge was repeatedly abusive to the Scouts, verbally. Back at home, this troop is essentially run by the adults, because, they say, the Senior Patrol Leader doesn’t have enough leadership experience, and Patrol Leaders are in name only and have nothing to do. Smaller patrols, of two or three Scouts, are run by the parents, as if they were Cub Scout dens. Older Scouts keep separate from the youngers, with little to no interaction.

I’ve mentioned these issues at committee meetings a few times, but no one’s interested in making any changes.

So my question is this: Should I help my son learn to “be the change you want to see” and work to help this troop see the advantages of functioning youth leadership and being Scout-led, or do we jump ship and find a troop that already gets it right? In reading your columns, I know you feel strongly about troops being Scout-led, and often give recommend finding a troop that does this, but I just want to be sure I’m not teaching my son to avoid conflict by running away. How long should I wait to see if things will change? (Name & Council Withheld)

A corrupted organization, or a group that has drifted away from “True North” absolutely can not be remedied from within; it can only be fixed from the top. This is not where your son is, and he won’t be unless he sticks around long enough to become the troop’s Committee Chair.

Find your son a troop that already gets it right, so that he and perhaps a few of his friends can transfer over and enjoy themselves more.

“Preaching” to these people will only alienate them; they’re running this troop exactly the way they want to and any attempt to change them will have about the same success as trying to teach pigs to fly.

No boy “marries” a troop. The boy himself is the ultimate “volunteer,” and he has the absolute right to walk away from people who refuse to get it right. He needs to be where he can get the best possible Scouting program available. You can help him find it. So, how long should you “wait”? Well, how long did it take you to read this? That’s more than enough time!

Hi Andy,


I’m wondering if the new kickball belt loop would count towards the Webelos team sports for the Sportsman activity badge. And I’m also wondering why the archery and BB gun belt loops aren’t OK for the individual belt loop of the Sportsman activity badge (I do realize these two can only be earned at a council- or district-sponsored event). Any thoughts or insights would help. (Vicki Pigors, WDL, Sioux Council, SD)

I’m going to guess that, in the next revision of the Sportsman activity badge requirements, kickball will be added in the team sports (req. 4) area. Until then, stick with what’s written—there are still no less than seven options!

As to why Archery and BB Gun belt loops aren’t included, my guess would be that because earning these is restricted to council- or district-sponsored events, and can’t be done in one’s back yard or a local field, it’s easier to get the whole den qualified in any of the 22 sports that don’t have this sort of restriction.

Dear Andy,

Our troop is going to do the historical Carpentry merit badge. The fact sheet said that this badge was one of the originals—how many original badges were there? (Jim Ducar, MC, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

A bit of research tells us that there were 59 original merit badges. Some are still in existence today (although the requirements for them have largely changed). Perhaps some inquisitive Scout—maybe your Troop Historian?—might want to figure out how many of the originals are still around?

Hello Andy,


How recent should a requirement have been completed, in order to be accepted? My son is working on Theater merit badge, and he did some of the requirements—like playing the lead in several plays—a couple of years ago (M. Johnson, National Area Capital Council, MD)

The BSA tells us that completing requirements for merit badges can begin as soon as the boy is a Boy Scout, and they’re good until he turns age 18!

Hi Andy,

I have a question about the service project requirement for Star and Life ranks. I’ve received various answers within our council so I’d like to get your opinion… Does the Scout select and plan these projects, or does he just show up at a service project and help out? The requirement states that the project has to be approved by the Scoutmaster before the Scout starts, so my own take on this is that they need to actually find a project, do a (short) write-up on it, and then, if needed, get the troop or patrol involved. (Kane Kanetani, Aloha Council, HI)

Precisely reading the requirements is the key to the answer you’re seeking. The thrusts of both the Star and the Life req. 4 are identical: “…take part in service projects totaling at least six hours of work…approved by your Scoutmaster.”

Neither of these states, or even implies, that these are sort of “junior Eagle projects.” Here, the Scout is most usually a helper, not the leader, so there’s no pre-planning or any sort of write-up (i.e., “project plan”)—the Scout simply shows up and rolls up his sleeves. He can and should clear this with his Scoutmaster beforehand, but the language of these requirements is so open and non-restrictive that the service could even be for the Scout camp a Scout is at for a week or more this very summer! Again, the Scout SHOWS UP and HELPS. All he needs when he’s done is a note from whoever’s in charge that says he showed up on whatever dates, from this time to that, and helped with (fill in the blank). (It’s the KISS method here!)

Dear Andy,

A question’s come up about boards of review… Is it alright for a Scout to have three reviews at one time, such as Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class? It seems that in many ways this short-changes the Scout from more experience in the board of review process and interacting with adults. Is it alright to do this, or should the Scout have to wait until the next board of review date for his next rank, even though he’s completed all requirements for it concurrently with the rank in front of it? Our advancement coordinator said that we can’t make the Scout wait, as this could be considered be adding a requirement, and that’s against BSA policy—is that right? (Name Withheld in Flint River Council, MI)

Back-to-back boards of review are just fine—the BSA considers these perfectly “legal.” For the ranks Tenderfoot through even Star, no more than about 10 minutes or so, maybe 15 at the absolute maximum for Star, should be needed for each, so it’s not a “marathon.” And yes, we definitely don’t want to arbitrarily make a Scout who’s advancing in nice order have to wait for some arbitrary date sometime in the future if he has everything else ready to go!

Dear Andy,

We have several Scouts who are repeatedly disrespectful to the adult leaders. They refuse to do as they’re told, they talk back, and they create more work for the troop and leaders because of their actions. They’re in their second year, and are the sons of the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster. At camp this summer, they were consistently late for roll calls, wouldn’t stay quiet during a ceremony, and on and on, making it difficult for the adult leaders to assist the other Scouts, when instead we were busy “baby sitting” the ones who acted up. One of them even got “lost” during the week—he took off without telling us where he was going.

So my question is this: Can I, as the troop’s advancement chair, use the requirement of “living the Scout Oath and Law in your everyday life” to keep them in line? (We normally don’t spend much time considering this particular requirement, usually just marking it off as complete when a Scout’s ready to advance, but I played that card on these Scout a few times during the week at camp, and when I did, it stopped them in their tracks and made them behave. Am I correct to do that, or do you see a better way of handling it?

I’ve casually mentioned these problems to their parents, but in this case, sorry to say, the parents don’t see the problem, since they are the ones who allow this behavior at home. We don’t want to be more than casual with these parents because they have other good qualities and, because we’re running on a “skeleton crew” of adult leaders, we can’t afford to lose them by offending them and we don’t have the luxury of choosing the “best” adult leaders at this time. Can you offer any suggestions? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, a couple of tools for the future (even though the horses are out of the barn)… When Scouts at camp have behavior problems that appear to be incorrigible, the most expedient way to handle them is to separate them, then on an individual basis, hand him a phone and tell him that since he’s obviously so unhappy at camp that he can’t seem to cooperate, he is to call his parents—right now—and tell them that he’s unhappy and that they need to come and pick him up RIGHT NOW—TODAY. Period. No recourse. And the Scout makes the call; not you. This isn’t an empty threat—you want him out of camp immediately. He can go pack his gear and wait at the camp’s headquarters office till his parents arrive. Tell the Camp Director what you’re doing, and why. End of story.

You absolutely do not have to tolerate continuously misbehaving and disrespectful Scouts. Moreover, any Scout who goes “lost” is a danger to himself and others and must be removed from camp immediately, before a truly lost or injured situation occurs. Team up with the other adults and make it stick—He’s outa there because he’s a danger to himself and possibly others as well, and you’re not professional counselors or therapists.

Next, adults are not “in charge.” That’s the job of the Senior Patrol Leader, under your quiet guidance. Whenever adults are “in charge,” boys will respond like it’s an “us and them” situation, just like at school or at home, and you’re all doomed. You’re in charge from a distance; you’re not the moment-to-moment “leaders.” Think of yourselves as chaperons… no action unless a dangerous situation appears.

Leave the parents out of “discipline” situations, except to come and pick up their unhappy sons. This is Boy Scouts; not a babysitting society.

If a Scout acts out, take him aside and ask him (individually—never as a group), “When you come before me at your next board of review, and I ask you how you live the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life, what are you going to tell me? And, next question: If you tell me you’re a paragon of virtue, do you expect me to believe you?”

These are the questions to ask when you’re chairing the board of review for these obstreperous Scouts, and don’t “preach” at them; let them actually answer the questions. Then, ask the Scout this question, “When you were at camp with me, and you disobeyed what you were asked to do (for instance), how does this fit with ‘a Scout is obedient’? Does what you did fulfill that point of the Scout law?” Then shut your mouth and let ’em squirm.

But also remember that you don’t “fail” them at a board of review… you suspend the conclusion of the review until such time as you see the affronting behavior go away. So you can tell the Scout, “This board does not see how you have met the requirement of living the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life, so we’re going to give you the opportunity to correct this. We will meet with you again in (fill in the blank) weeks, and in-between we’ll be watching how you show respect to your fellow Scouts and the adult volunteers of this troop. When we see how well you’re going to do, I’m sure we’ll have a successful conclusion to this review then. Meanwhile, it’s all up to you.”

Again, this is between you and the other review members, and the Scout. Their parents should not be brought into the loop on this, because it’s not their issue to deal with. We can’t “legislate” acceptable behavior, we can only model it and show Scouts that we expect the very best they’re capable of. If you handle it this way, they’ll rise to the occasion give the chance (and the knowledge that you can’t and won’t be buffaloed).

(Boys of Scout age will constantly test you, to find out where the line is drawn, and do you really mean it. The most frightening thing, for them, is to keep trying to find the line, and there isn’t one.)

Dear Andy,

If a Scout has already done a requirement for a merit badge, but hasn’t officially started with his Merit Badge Counselor, will what he did count for the merit badge? This is an actual situation. A Scout in our troop wanted to start Pet Care merit badge. He looked at the requirements and said that he had had a pet dog for the past 6 years and had already done the requirements, so he got with a Merit Badge Counselor, who signed him off for the merit badge. Is this correct? Can a Scout use past experiences to satisfy requirements for a merit badge? (Emory Henley, SM, Middle Tennessee Council)

Yes, a Scout’s activities prior to starting a merit badge with a counselor definitely count. The BSA tells us this on page 28 of the 2010 Boy Scout Requirements book.

Additionally, once a Merit Badge Counselor has signed a Scout’s application (aka “blue card”) as completed, it’s a done deal that is not to be challenged or un-done, says the BSA.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Venturing crew’s Associate Advisor, and my questions are about youth protection policies as relating to the 18- through 20-year old age group. Does a Venturer over the age of18 need to take the BSA youth protection training? Can they sleep in the same tent with a same-gender youth who’s under 18? If they can’t share a tent with a sub-18 year old, can they share a tent with an adult Venturing leader of the same gender? Or are they in no-man’s land, or limbo, so to speak? This issue has come up on trying to share out tents while backpacking, so taking an extra tent is indeed a burden. Personally I wouldn’t want a youth (over 18 or not) in a tent with a leader, but guidelines would help. (Cheryl, Golden Empire Council, CA)

You’ve posed some very important issues (thanks!), and here’s what I know from studying BSA publications and training materials on the subject…

To begin, in the Venturing program, the youth-adult demarcation is one’s 21st birthday. Up to that date, Venturers are considered youth; on and after that date, the person becomes an adult and may be a crew adult volunteer (i.e., no longer a youth member of the Venturing crew).

All registered adult volunteers associated with a Venturing crew are obligated to take youth protection training appropriate to the Venturing program—no exceptions.

From age 14 through 20, because these young people are considered “youth” by the Venturing program, they may be bunked together (same gender only, of course). At age 21 and beyond, the 21 or older adult volunteer may not bunk with a sub-21 year-old youth member.

That said, the wise Venturing Crew Advisor or Associate Advisor arranges the bunking of 18, 19, and 20 year olds together, separate from those members between the ages of 14 up to 18. While this is, apparently, not mandatory, I personally would err on the side of conservatism. As an extension of this, I would studiously avoid ever bunking an 18, 19, or 20 year old youth member with even a just 21 adult volunteer.

One way to simplify this whole situation is single-bunking. That’s right… there are both light-weight one-person tents and also tarps that can be rigged up to a tree or over a canoe that can make this whole issue evaporate overnight. If this worries someone’s “privacy sensitivities, then rig some ponchos into a changing room, if you really must. If this is still seemingly unworkable (in reality, it’s not, of course), then just sleep under the stars or pack that extra tent and be done with it.

Dear Andy,


How long should a Scout have to wait between his Scoutmaster conference and his board of review? Is four to six weeks on the long side, or is this reasonable? (Vince Caswell)

Four to six weeks is three to five weeks too long! A week at the most is about right, and even two weeks starts to get pretty long of tooth—we are, after all, here for the Scouts and not the other way around. Maybe the troop’s advancement coordinator needs some help? Or maybe the troop needs some more committee members (only committee members can sit on boards of review, but only three are necessary to make it “legal”).

Dear Andy,

Do the Boy Scouts have to earn rifle shooting, shotgun, and archery merit badges at an official Scout event or camp, or can they earn these by just a registered Merit Badge Counselor? If they can do these with a MBC, then why do Cub Scouts have to do BB Gun and Archery at an official Scout event or camp, if a certified range person could do it somewhere? (Brent Jones, ASM, Chattahoochee Council, GA)

Starting with Cub Scouts (including Tigers and Webelos), the BSA stipulates that all archery and BB Gun activities must take place only at district- or council-provided programs, such as day camps, Cub/Webelos Scout resident (i.e., overnight) camps, council-managed family camping programs, or other council-provided activities where there are properly trained supervisors and all standards for BSA shooting sports are enforced. The BSA goes on to specifically state that unit-level archery and BB gun shooting are not to be done at the pack level. So, in this regard, yes, you’re absolutely correct.

(Muzzle loading firearms are a separate matter that, for brevity, we’ll not discuss here.)

Boy Scouts may shoot single-action .22 caliber rifles only and range-appropriate shotguns (usually 20 gauge for most boys) only, and these must be supervised by a currently NRA-certified Rifle instructor (for rifles) or a currently NRA-certified Shotgun instructor (for shotguns), and in both cases when on a range, must be supervised by a currently NRA-certified Range Safety Officer. The BSA is silent on where these activities may take place, thus opening up the possibilities of qualified ranges in addition to the range provided at most all BSA council camps.

If a Scout wishes to qualify for one or more of the shooting merit badges, it is incumbent on the council and/or district to provide one or more Merit Badge Counselors who are indeed NRA-certified as instructors for their respective firearms and also NRA-certified Range Safety Officers. The BSA is silent on where instruction and/or firing may take place, but it’s obvious that a qualified range would be most appropriate.

As to why there are differences between how Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are treated, with regard to firearms in particular, I’m obliged to believe that the BSA, wisely, is sensitive to both the emotional and physical maturity and limitations of these two distinct age groups and also the difference in lethality between BBs, .22 caliber rounds, and 20 (or 12) gauge shot shells.

For more information on these specific—and important—subjects, contact your home council’s health and safety committee, camping committee, advancement committee, or risk management committee.

Happy Scouting!



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

(August 4, 2010 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2010)

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


About AskAndy

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

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

Read Andy's full biography

Comments are closed.