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Issue 224 – August 11, 2010

Hi Andy,

Oh knower of all things Scouting, I’m looking for a bolo for Unit Commissioners to wear. (Paul Markoff)

I’m guessing you’ve already checked and found that there are some “general purpose” bolos for both the Cub Scout and Boy Scout program, plus Eagles and so on, and that you’ve also been to and found the various paraphernalia available to Commissioners, including polo shirts, caps, pen sets, toothbrushes (no, not really)… but no bolos! Oh, darn!

But wait… There are bolos! Just one little hiccup… Ya gotta earn ’em! That’s right… The (new) three levels of the Distinguished Commissioner Service Award (which is by application; not nomination) each have a bolo to wear! Gotta love the BSA… They think of everything!

Dear Andy,

We seem to have a state of apathy in our district, from many of the unit leaders down to the parents. It seems it’s a situation of “what can Scouting do for my son,” not “what I can do for Scouting and my son’s friends.” I just can’t seem to get unit leaders together at Roundtables, or even get them to tell their assistants.

How do you build enthusiasm, or district Scout Spirit. I don’t see how we can expect the Scouts to be their best if the leaders aren’t.

I’m the District Commissioner and feel it’s my responsibility to help in this situation, but I don’t know how at this point. I do realize that Commissioners are key to this, but they’re mostly as apathetic as most of the unit leaders. Any thoughts? (Ricky)

The very first thing you need to do is understand that this isn’t unique to your district–it’s endemic across almost all councils and districts, differing only by degree. If you have an apathetic Com missioner staff, it’s likely that the district committee’s in the same shape. Start by getting your “Key 3” meetings up and running, so that you, your District Chair, and your District Executive can discuss the apathy symptom, diagnose what the underlying problem might be, and start brainstorming some solutions that the three of you can initiate together, in a concerted and concentrated effort. As soon as this begins, start holding Commissioner gatherings, but not the usual boring unit report…unit report…unit report ad nauseum. Instead, ask for brief “war stories” on problems that were solved by what means, units that are close to being models of the Scouting program, and other highlights. Get feedback from the district committee on upcoming events–Camporees, Klondike Derbies, Pinewood Derbies, council special events, Popcorn sales season, school night for Scouting recruiting events, OA lodge events and conclaves, and anything else that’s potentially got some sparkle to it. Then, get your Unit Commissioners to get out there and get their faces in front of their units, to bring them these new ideas and encourage their units to get on the bandwagon and participate in these. While you’re doing this, evaluate your Commissioner staff structure…Do you have as many ADCs as you have Unit Commissioners? If so, try to convert these ADCs to Unit Commissioner positions, because the UC is the only Commissioner who directly serves units; the ADC and even DC positions are administrative positions. In other words, “flatten” your org chart so you get more Commissioners in contact with units and fewer walking around, puffed up in their red jackets. The way to pitch this is for folks to remember that an army that has all captains and looies and no sergeants with their boots on the ground is about as ineffectual a structure as you can have for actually getting the job done. An industry-based analogy would be all directors and managers, and no one to actually do the work.

When you have your Commissioners staff meetings, make ’em short (an hour at most, certainly in the beginning), and make ’em fun. Do a mock “unit uniform inspection” and use the inspection sheets, with prizes for those who get it right (or closest to right). Give out progress cards for Commissioner’s Key/Arrowhead Honor recognitions and have your folks start keeping records, so that their goal becomes earning these (square knots are brilliant incentives–make ’em work for you!). Have a “potluck dinner” some evening–the district supplies the beverages, condiments, plastic utensils and cups, and napkins; the Commissioners provide one-pot dishes or one-platter appetizers. Invite visiting speakers, including the council’s Scout Executive, so your commissioners feel they’re “in the know.” Find a venue that’s not a classroom. Find a church that will host the meetings, and do it in the “executive lounge” or the closest thing to it that the church has to offer. Use the board room at your council service center every now and again. And by all means have your meetings in full uniform!

For additional meeting content, cherry-pick challenging questions from my columns, present the question, have your staff form small buzz groups to come up with solutions, each group presents the solution they developed, and then you read what Andy had to say…from this, you decide on what might work best in your own district. (Many councils across the country have been doing this for years!)

By the same token, liven up your Roundtable meetings by cherry-picking Andy Q&A’s for Cub Scout Leaders and another several for Boy Scout leaders, and follow the same process—this becomes a regular feature of your Roundtables. In addition, your Roundtable Commissioners and staff need to understand that they aren’t “the show”–Their job, in fact, is to recruit (and publicize in advance) top speakers on a wide variety of germane subjects. This can range from a sports medicine physician or chiropractor talking about and demonstrating how to train for long hikes and how to best handle injuries on the trail (including what should be in the individual and unit First Aid kits). Have an EMT squad come and demonstrate the newest CPR and rescue breathing methods — not to “certify” people but to give them an introductory framework and then encouragement to get certified. Use one Roundtable to go over the rules for the upcoming Camporee, the upcoming Popcorn season, and so on. In short, cut out the general blather and start providing solid and interesting information that folks can take home and use. Invite the District Advancement Chair to come and talk to the Scoutmasters and troop advancement coordinators about the Life-to-Eagle process. For the Cub Scout side, what with the new den meeting plan that will go into effect nationally in September, program content month-to-month should be a no-brainer. Pitch it to the Den Leaders this way: Spend two hours each week trying to figure out what you’re going to do in your den meetings, or come to Roundtable and have the whole plan for the month worked out in 90 minutes! Finally, either get your Commissioners to training, if available (even if at a neighboring council) or, if this isn’t available, consider teaming up with the other DCs in your council and putting on your own Commissioner Training Course!

Now don’t make the mistake of the over-zealous knight, who mounted his trusty steed and galloped off in all directions! Start one thing, then add the next, and then add another, until the whole package is out there and working.

Good luck – This CAN be done!

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for but can’t find an official BSA document on the process for leadership voting and selection. The question is that if all the leadership positions in a troop are filled, is it not the responsibility of the Scoutmaster to find a leadership role for a Scout if the Scout requests it? Could you please point me to any documents that would help me on this subject? (Kevin Henao, ASM, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

Neither the troop nor the Scoutmaster nor anyone else is in any way obligated to provide a leadership position for a Scout simply because the Scout happens to want one. There’s no BSA policy, rule, or even guideline suggesting that it’s somehow a Scoutmaster’s responsibility to find a leadership role for any Scout, simply because the Scout wants one (or for any other reason, for that matter).

Excluding elected positions—which are Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders of course—there are no less than 13 additional Eagle-qualifying positions of responsibility in a troop (more than 13, actually, since a troop will typically have more than one Scout serving as a Den Chief and there will be one Troop Guide for each new Scout patrol, plus, there can be more than one Instructor). If every one of these is filled, the Scout might want to come up with an original idea for a self-initiated leadership project to help the troop and then present his idea to his Scoutmaster (this doesn’t apply to Eagle rank, of course) to see if it might have merit; otherwise, the Scout simply waits his turn for the next election and, in the meanwhile does everything he can to assure he’ll be elected (this usually involves living the Scout Oath and Law, especially “help other people at all times” and “helpful,” “friendly,” “kind,” “obedient,” and “cheerful”). For further reference, check your Scoutmaster Handbook.

Dear Andy,

Can a rank requirement and merit badge requirement be fulfilled with the same activity simultaneously? For example, there’s a Second Class cooking requirement that says, “On one campout, plan and cook one hot breakfast or lunch, selecting foods from the food guide pyramid. Explain the importance of good nutrition. Tell how to transport, store, and prepare the foods you selected” and there’s a Cooking merit badge requirement that says, “Using the menu planned for requirement 3, do the following and discuss the process with your merit badge counselor: a. Prepare and serve for yourself and two others, the two dinners, one lunch, and one breakfast. Time your cooking so that each course will be ready to serve at the proper time.” So for a Scout who’s working on Second Class and Cooking merit badge at the same time, could the same camping trip be used to fulfill both of these requirements, if he cooks enough of the meals? I’d been thinking that everything needs to be done separately—that the one camping trip couldn’t be used for both—but I’ve found nothing in writing that would support this, so now I’m thinking that a Scout could be credited with both. Any advice or direction you can provide would be extremely helpful. (Deborah McManus, troop advancement coordinator, National Capital Area Council, MD)

Luckily, a troop’s advancement coordinator doesn’t have to worry about this. Neither does a Scoutmaster, for that matter. The Scoutmaster, of course, would sign off on a completed rank requirement, but anything beyond that is between the Scout and his Merit Badge Counselor. Each Merit Badge Counselor will make a decision based on how closely a rank requirement might match up with a merit badge requirement, which actually isn’t a terribly common thing. You can see this for yourself, based on the two requirements you’ve cited—having done one of them doesn’t automatically mean the other has been accomplished as well. That said, a clever Scout, who might happen to be working on both at the same time and has the latitude to plan things out, can certainly use the same camp-out to complete both requirements, even though there’s not a lot of overlap.

Dear Andy,

One of my fellow Scouts was wearing camouflage pants, and our Scoutmaster told him to change out of them because they’re not BSA approved. The Scout got upset because he was confused on why he had to take it off. I was a little confused, but I figured since our Scoutmaster said it, it’s probably a good reason. Well that’s what brings me here today. I’d like to know why the BSA doesn’t approve camouflage clothing. I enjoy reading your column and I’d appreciate any help with my question. (Scout’s Name Withheld, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Let’s start with the fact that, according to the BSA, there’s only one Scout uniform and it doesn’t include anything that’s camo. For rough-and-ready activities, our handbook tells us that we can wear a Scout t-shirt with our Scout pants or shorts, but that’s about it. Unless we’re not dressing like Scouts at all, which is neither necessary or particularly cool, anymore than you’d show up for a game, as a member of a football team, wearing cut-offs and flip-flops. As for camo’s, the U.S. Army and the U.S. National Guard wear these as uniforms, and the BSA does say that we’re not supposed to wear anything that imitates military uniforms. Now you might say that it’s really “hunting camo,” but that still doesn’t make it OK, because Scouts don’t do anything that involves killing any creature, which is, of course, what hunting has as a fundamental (that’s why Scouts use only bulls-eye targets—no silhouettes—for shooting sports and archery merit badges, and even fishing merit badge can be earned without actually killing a fish!

So, all-in-all, you Scoutmaster was doing the right thing by not allowing camo stuff—It’s a fact that camo isn’t BSA-approved, and neither your uninformed friend nor you should be confused in any way, from now on.

By the way, next time your Scoutmaster says something that confuses you, ask him and eliminate the confusion—that’s what Scoutmasters are for!

Dear Andy,

My son transferred to a new troop recently; he has friends in it and is generally having a great time. In his former troop I was very active on the committee, as both its chair and its treasurer, at different times. As treasurer, I managed the Scouts’ troop accounts, with information shared on an individual basis only with the individual Scout and his family. Atmy son’snew troop, however, the treasurer email-blasts the full records of Scouts’ accounts everyone—Scouts and parents—quarterly. I’m bothered by this lack ofprivacyand have said so, but the response to my concern was that this had already been discussed by the troop committee and if I had anything to say I should bring it up to them. So I did, and brought up my point of view at several committee meetings; however, the response now is that since I’m not an officer of the committee Ihave no vote on such matters—I can ask questions and state opinions but ultimately only the committeemakes any decisions. I’ve offered to volunteer as a committee member several times for different positions, but other people have been selected instead (yes, the current committeechooses its own newmembers!). I’m still concerned about the lack of privacy of the accounts andthe possibility of hazing, as there is a wide disparity between the fundraising results of the Scouts.

Is there any BSA policy or guideline aboutkeeping Scouts’ accounts private and not blasting the informationacross the Internet in emails? And is there a BSA policy or guideline that says that only committeemembers have a vote? (In the prior troop, all parents were considered members of the committee andelecting new officers required a general vote of all committee member-parents.) (Name & Council Withheld)

The best news is that your son’s having a good time in this troop, and so are his friends.

On this Scout account issue, if I get your drift, there’s been no actual hazing—it’s simply something you’re worried might happen. I’d say relax. If this troop’s been doing it this way for a while, and no harm’s come to anyone, best to leave it be. Yes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and your way was just fine… but theirs is apparently working, too. Besides, this actually is up to the unit. The BSA makes no rules and has no policies about how troops handle their own finances, mostly because (a) the BSA doesn’t “own” the units and (b) the BSA polices and rules, etc. are 99% about program delivery.

Now about the committee thing… This current troop is actually correct: Unit committee members who are actually registered as such with the local council and the BSA are the designated support people and decision-makers on non-program related issues, and parents are…parents. Your former troop was very accommodating, but not exactly running true to form by having “everyone” think they’re on the unit committee, whether or not they’re registered.

Finally, of course, there’s your own situation: In the former troop, you held positions of significant responsibility (and influence), and now you’re…a parent. That’s sometimes tough to handle, especially when you know you’ve done a good job in the past and could do another job today just as well. If this is what you want to do, go to committee meetings as an observer, and to volunteer to help anyone who might need a couple of extra hands—and keep it 100% friendly, with no “well, in my old troop…” stuff or any “preaching.” Just relax, smile, make friends, and help where you can. Give them time to figure out that you’re really OK, and can help the troop, and things will happen. But do remember: Being on the committee is all about serving the troop; it’s not about “setting policy”—the BSA’s already done that where it counts.

Oh, and there’s one more option for you: You can really relax, and just be the happy parent of a happy Boy Scout! There’s not a darned thing wrong with that!

Dear Andy,

I’m new to Scouting, and just stepped into Scoutmaster three months ago. I’m in process of getting Merit Badge Counselors—Is this totally my responsibility, or is it the troop committee’s responsibility to get counselors? (Ricki)

Good news! Unless your troop’s in, like, Antarctica, that job’s already done! It’s the job of the district advancement committee and the council advancement committee in whatever council you’re in to identify, recruit, register, and make training available to Merit Badge Counselors. So, what you want to do is call your local council’s service center, find out what district you’re in, and ask the District Executive for that district how you can get your hands on their Merit Badge Counselor List — THAT’s how you do this! Cool huh?

Dear Andy,

I’ve recently taken a look at the Scouting program and noticed a major difference: When did the BSA stop letting Webelos Scouts compete against the Boy Scouts, in Camporees? When I was a Webelo, we competed in the same events and had the chance to win the same awards as the Boy Scouts. We did pretty well too! My den at the time won a couple first place ribbons over the Boy Scouts. What made BSA change the rules about this, and why? (Steven Hutchins, Golden Eagle District, San Gabriel Valley Council, CA)

The BSA national office doesn’t “make the rules” about council and district Camporees… whatever’s decided happens locally. I’m guessing that the committee of volunteers who put together the Camporee decided, for whatever reason they may have had, to change things. You may be interested in knowing that not every district in your former council did that Webelos thing. The Rose Bowl District sure didn’t.

BTW, the singular of Webelos is: Webelos.

Hi Andy,

Our troop is encountering some issues with the interpretation of Scouts “serving actively”in theirleadership positions. Related to this, we have Scouts complaining about being put off by the Scoutmaster when they ask for a Scoutmaster conference, while others have to have multiple Scoutmaster conferences, and still others are being “failed” in their conferences because they “haven’tshown good leadership”in their elected or appointed positions. Our Scouts are frustrated and parentsangry. To add further fuel to this growing fire, the Scoutmaster is now saying thatthe Scoutswill be evaluated on the leadership they show oncamping trips and outings, because “they’re having too good of a time on campouts and not showing enough leadership.”

The requirements for Star and Life say to “serve actively for six monthsin a position of responsibility.” Many of our older Scouts (and now their parents, too) are now believing that they’re being stalling and slowed down in advancement as a way to keep them from deserting the troop. They’re further frustrated because they don’t know when they have done enough to meet with the Scoutmaster’s satisfaction.

A couple of local Commissioners came in to do aparent orientation session, but this confused everyone even more, when they started saying that a lot of this is “discretionary,” including a troop policy on the percentage of outings a Scout has to attend in order to advance, even though the BSA has put it in writing, with no “wiggle room,” that no unit is allowed to assign a percentage to the definition of “active.”

Our Chartered Organization Representative has told us that if no one supports the Scoutmaster, and he leaves, the troop will fall apart, so if we don’t like the way he runs things, we’re welcome to leave the troop, and went on to say that the Scoutmaster can’t be removed because he’s done nothing illegal or immoral. This has left many in the troop frustrated and angry, and we’ve moved into a climate of anger and distrust. This whole thing seems to me to be the antithesis of Scouting. Any advice or clarificationon the “interpretation” of what is “active” service in a position would help, because without a clear standard there’s frustration and the possibility for arbitrary measurement. Any policies to clear this up would be appreciated. Thanks! (Name & Council Withheld)

I think we’d best begin by correcting the misinformation that’s making things so miserable for your Scouts. All of the following you can find for yourself in BSA publications and training courses, and if folks would make the time to do the reading, take the training for their respective positions, and read the website, a lot of your pain would immediately dissipate and you’d start delivering the Scouting program the BSA intends, instead of resorting to hearsay or, worse, just making up your own “rules.” Here we go…

The BSA informs us that a Scouting unit is owned by its chartered organization (aka “sponsor”). The head of that organization may choose to be the Chartered Organization Representative (registration code: CR), and if this happens then that person is the highest authority in the unit. If he, instead, appoints someone closely associated with the chartered organization to be the Chartered Organization Representative (registration code: CR), then this person is the one with his or her feet on the ground in the unit and–after the head of the organization—is the highest-ranking person associated with the unit. The CR may appoint a Committee Chair (code: CC) and together they are jointly authorized to appoint (or remove) all other adult volunteers associated with the unit. Or, the CR may decide to dual-register as the CC as well, which is permitted by the BSA, and in this case this one person is the single highest-ranking person in the unit and has total hire-fire authority over every other adult volunteer associated with the unit. (This is all described on page 2 of the adult application itself.)

Neither the BSA council nor the district has a higher authority over who will or will not be accepted or retained as adult leaders in a unit than the unit’s own CR/CC combination.

The BSA further informs us that, in a Boy Scout troop, the Scoutmaster is appointed by the CR/CC and serves at their pleasure. (Scoutmasters are not “voted on” by the troop committee or any other group.) A Scoutmaster may be removed from that position if the CR/CC observe and believe that he is not carrying out his responsibilities as described in the Scoutmaster Handbook and Scoutmaster-specific training. (The Scoutmaster does not have to commit some “serious or unlawful infraction in order to be removed–the simple absence of delivering the Boy Scout program as written and provided by the BSA is sufficient.)

Unit Commissioners, District Commissioners, and such are volunteers commissioned by the local council to act as ambassadors for the council, to the units they serve. Commissioners have no express or implied authority over any unit or its volunteers. Commissioners may express BSA policies and procedures, but they are not authorized to take exception to standing policies, offer opinions regarding BSA policies, or make statements that in any way contradict or supersede BSA policies. Commissioners do not “out-rank” CRs, CCs, or the heads of chartered organizations.

The Scoutmaster Handbook states clearly: The Scoutmaster’s most important responsibility is to train the youth leaders to run their troop. Therefore, it should be impossibility for a Scoutmaster to find a Scout’s leadership somehow lacking, because all training for that leadership position comes from the Scoutmaster himself. Putting this another way, to make the point even more clear, a Scout cannot fail in his leadership unless the Scoutmaster has failed to train, coach, and mentor the Scout–and it is fundamental to Scouting that we do not penalize Scouts for the failures of adults.

On the issue of “active,” the BSA has clearly stated, in many places (check Boy Scout Requirements as well as the BSA website, that so long as the Scout is registered, and current in dues, he is to be considered active. The BSA makes it perfectly clear that no other definition may be made by any individual, unit, district, or council. The BSA also states with absolute clarity that no unit may apply percentages or numbers to “active;” that only the BSA national standard definition may be used.

When a Scout has completed all requirements for rank advancement except the Scoutmaster’s conference, this conference cannot be withheld arbitrarily. If the Scoutmaster is unavailable short-term, then the solution is for an Assistant Scoutmaster to fill in, to avoid delay.

There are two purposes to a Scoutmaster’s conference. The first is to review how the Scout fulfilled the requirements (NOT a re-test of any requirement). The second and more important is to determine how well the troop’s program of activities is meeting the needs of the Scout. Yes, this is, in essence, a report card—of the troop program; not the Scout. Unless something really bizarrely weird and totally unpredictable happens, the Scoutmaster’s conference will end on a positive note (i.e., Scouts won’t be “ambushed” by nonsense questions about “active” or “leadership”) and the Scoutmaster will immediately inform either or both the CC and the troop’s advancement coordinator that the Scout is ready for his board of review (which should be held as quickly as possible…even that very evening would be perfectly appropriate).

As you can see by now, there is absolutely nothing unclear or needing “interpretation.” The BSA is specific, and it seems that only this Scoutmaster (and his uneducated supporters, plus that UC who spoke out of turn) is not getting it right.

It is now incumbent upon the CR/CC to have a heart-to-heart conversation with the Scoutmaster, to the extent that he must change how he is delivering the Scouting program, and this must be instantaneous–not “little-by-little we’ll get around to it…” If the Scoutmaster isn’t prepared to do this, then he can be informed, on the spot (Yes, these are the exact words to use), “Thank you for your services up to now; they will no longer be needed.” And then the CR//CC goes out and identifies and recruits a new Scoutmaster. (Even if there’s a brief interim, this is better than having a Scoutmaster who doesn’t get it running around.)

BTW, a dismissed volunteer has no recourse through the district or council. Neither the district nor the council can in any way force the chartered organization to put him back in his former position. It’s over. (Just be sure to tell the council registrar that you need a name removed from the troop roster.)

If, after you’ve reviewed what I’ve laid out for you here with other parents, the troop committee, and (especially) the CR/CC, and you DON’T get support for moving forward immediately, then definitely move OUT. Your sons deserve much better than what’s been dished out to then for far too long! Go find a troop that gets it right, and transfer over right away… and don’t look back!

Thank you so much. As you probably figured out, many of us are losing sleep over this. It seems to me that the adults are not following the ideals of Scouting with their behavior here, and this angst could have been avoided if the aim of the program is to support the Scouts in their endeavors. I appreciate you taking the time to write.

The fastest and easiest way to solve problems of not following the guidelines, policies, and procedures the BSA has had in place for decades is to GET TRAINED. Find a training course and all of you go together (this way, you can compare notes and ask questions together). This may save this troop. If this falls on deaf ears, it’s time to go new troop hunting! (Beats losing sleep!)

Thanks. I think everybody’s had training at some point. Our Scoutmaster’s had lots of training (believe it or not), and I’ve taken troop committee training. I get the feeling it’s more a case of some leaders in control wanting to “really make sure these kids earn their ranks,” but they don’t seem to know how much authority theyhave to “fail” a Scout.

OK, if they’ve had training, then they—especially the Scoutmaster—have absolutely no excuse. Scouts earn their ranks by completing the requirements for same. Period. We’re not in the business of ambushing them as they approach the finish line.

So back to Plan A: If the Scoutmaster will not relent, he’s history. If the committee won’t follow the rules as written, they should be replaced. Keep that mis-quoting Unit Commissioner out of there—in fact, request that he be replaced by somebody who knows the rules, and follows them.

Plan B: And if no one has the stomach (or spine) to do any of this, then get your son out, and into a troop that gets it right. Unless you like shoveling water upstream with a pitchfork…which I don’t recommend.

Hey Andy,

Can I, as an Assistant Scoutmaster and a Certified Lay Speaker with the United Methodist Church, serve as a Troop Chaplain? I should mention that the UMC to which I belong is not the sponsor of the troop I’m associated with; we’re sponsored by a church of a different denomination. (Barry Zane, ASM, Southern New Jersey Council) describes in detail what a Chaplain is and does; do take the time to share it with others in your unit and church.

Usually, someone from the church that sponsors a troop becomes the Chaplain, but I don’t get the impression that this is mandatory, and, IMHO, any troop with a Chaplain of any faith or denomination is going to be better served than one with none! So, if the pastor of the church sponsoring the troop you serve is OK with your interest and request, and your Scoutmaster and unit committee are OK, too, then it looks like this lucky troop will have a Chaplain!

Do remember to change your BSA registration—We can only be registered in one position per unit.

Dear Andy,

We’re Troop 1812 of Frederick, Maryland, home of Francis Scott Key. We chose our number because of our community’s connections with the War of 1812, Key, and our national anthem. Because of these connections, we’re considering using a 15 star-15 stripe U.S. flag—a replica of the original “Star Spangled Banner”—as our Troop flag. Does BSA policy or flag etiquette prevent us from doing so? Is it proper to use an historic flag as a substitute for the current version of the American Flag? (Greg Williams)

This is a question you’ll need to check at the U.S. Flag Code website… Meanwhile, consider using our current U.S. flag AND “The Star-Spangled Banner” in addition to the standard BSA troop flag.

Dear Andy,

Is there a list of the merit badges that have an age requirement necessary prior to starting them? I understand that, for instance, there’s an age restriction on Cooking. Is that correct? (Barb Plew, Mid-Iowa Council)

The BSA clearly states that any Boy Scout can go for any merit badge he wishes to, whenever he decides he wants to, and we know from other BSA statements and policies that no individual, unit, district, or council can insert any stipulation that supersedes a national policy in this regard. The short answer is that there’s no age restriction on Cooking or any other merit badge. (There’s no rank restriction, either.)

Thank you. Why, then, are there age requirements on certain merit badges at summer camp, such as canoeing, rifle shooting, archery, and others?

There aren’t, unless a council has arbitrarily done this because of possible overcrowding (the “usual excuse”), but I personally consider this still a pretty lame reason! I remember well that the four different Scout camps that I took my age 11 through age 16 troop to had no age restrictions on any activity or merit badge, because they were fully staffed, fully equipped, and fully prepared to offer all of their merit badges to any Scout who came to camp!

Dear Andy,

Must a Scout attend Scout Sunday services at his troop’s chartered organization’s house of worship, if the Scout isn’t of that faith? (Joe Trimboli)

First and importantly, no Scout “must” do anything—Scouts themselves are the ultimate volunteers. That said, it is a most respectful and reverent thing to attend the Scout Sunday service of the sponsor of the troop one is a member of, and an act of which a Scout may take humble pride in. When we say, “A Scout is Reverent,” this includes respecting the beliefs of others.

When my Jamboree troop of some years back went to the Washington National Cathedral (which, BTW, is Episcopal) in Washington, D.C. for a Sunday service, the Scouts included Presbyterians, Jews, Buddhists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Congregationalists, Methodists, Hindi, and Baptists. And after the service, we sat on the front lawn for a time, and these Scouts had a wonderfully lively discussion about what they’d all seen and heard and how it compared to and contrasted with their own personal faiths and houses of worship.

If your son is having some sort of large problem with this once-a-year event, then perhaps he’d be happier transferring to a troop sponsored by his own faith or denomination—Scouts can be members of any troop they choose!

Dear Andy,

I used the 2008 uniform inspection sheet to place patches on my BSA uniform shirt.The inspection sheet has a right sleeve diagram that shows the bottom of the Centennial Quality Award is 4” from the shoulder seem. But if you read the text, it says 4” below the shoulder seam—I’d think this means the top of the patch, if not for the illustration. I had no problem placing the Centennial Quality Award on my right sleeve with the bottom of the patch 4” below the shoulder seam. If I were a Den Leader, then I think I’d have a problem getting the American Flag, den numeral, and Centennial Quality Award placed so the bottom of the third patch is 4” below the shoulder seem. I also picked up a copy of the 2009-10 BSA Insignia Guide and page 42 shows a figure with an arrow saying the Centennial Quality Award is in “position 3”—putting it at 4” or touching the National Honor Patrol Award. Which is the correct placement? Is the top or the bottom of the patch 4” from the shoulder seam?

With fall uniform inspections coming up, I feel I need to have my patches placed correctly. (Martin Ohrenberg, UC, Greater Alabama Council)

Before you drive yourself nuts, if you’re a Unit Commissioner then you use the adult uniform inspection sheet, because the right-sleeve measurements are different, depending on the uniform worn, as you’ll note if you examine the various other inspection sheets. So relax… It’ll all be OK. I’ve yet to see a uniform inspector show up with a yardstick!

Hi Andy,

My son just crossed over to Boy Scouts this past February, and earned his Tenderfoot rank after about five months. In this time, several Eagle candidates have been doing their service projects, and my son’s said he wants to help at each one. He’s already put in nearly 20 hours helping out on other Scouts’ projects. But the only service project participation requirement prior to Star rank is a one-hour participation for Second Class.

The requirement for the Star says, “While a First Class Scout, take part in service projects totaling at least 6 hours of work. These projects must be approved by your Scoutmaster.” That means to me, and I’ve told him this, that even though it’s great that he’s participating in these service projects, 19 of those 20 hours don’t count toward a rank. He was disappointed at first, until I made him think that since it was so easy and he enjoyed himself so much, that when he’s working on his Star rank, doing just six hours of service won’t be a problem at all. He’s OK with this. And I’m just wondering, is there any award or recognition for those 9 additional hours that he’s done? (Sheila Brookins, Great Lakes Council, MI)

You’ve already given your son the very best possible answer: Helping others was easy and fun! The biggest reward we have for helping others is the feeling inside us that we helped make a difference in the lives of others—there’s no greater reward than this, and Scouting’s been doing its best to communicate this for the past century.

Your son may have come through the Cub Scout program, which has a tendency to give boys stuff for just about everything they do—badges, belt loops, arrow points, patches, beads, and on and on. Boy Scouting teaches a bit differently, helping boys transition into young men who don’t need to get a trinket every single time they do something or help someone. With your wise support, your son’s doing just fine. He’s on his way toward growing into a fine young man. He’s already realizing that doing and giving are both more fun and more lasting than getting, and this is a huge life lesson!

Happy Scouting!



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(August 11, 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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