Author Avatar

Issue 230 – October 30, 2010

Victory Base Council

Enters Third Year Going Strong!

 Scouting in Iraq 3rd Year 1

Baghdad, Iraq: A dedicated group of American volunteers in the middle of a junk-filled field kicked off the first troop meeting of an effort to help Iraqis bring Scouting back to Baghdad. That was June 2008. Based on the highly successful model of the ground-breaking Green Zone Council, the then-new Victory Base Council made huge strides that first year, rapidly developing a five-acre camp, building a weekly program serving between 50 and 100 local boys and girls, and building relationships with local schools and leaders.

Now into its third year, the Victory Base Council has continued sharing Scout spirit with Iraqi youth and adults. Long gone from that original field are the feral goats and derelict tires; those once dusty acres have been turned green with water from re-activated wells, and evening meetings are now possible with new wiring for electricity, so that the area is fast becoming an informal community center. More recent additions include a concrete-floored basketball court complete with hoops, and even a theatrical stage! All of this has been done with donated time, supplies, and sweat!

Peter Santaniello, the fifth and current Victory Base Council co-chair and his ten or so fellow volunteer assistants plan each week-night meeting, and each Saturday throughout the year, for over 100 weeks in a row now, the volunteer leadership team—as many as 40 volunteers—has convoyed to the Iraqi Special Forces base where the camp is located and joined a team of Iraqi military and civilian teammates to deliver four or more hours of fun and development to the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides there. (From the beginning, the Girl Guides program is run in parallel with the Boy Scouts, with as much mutual participation in all events as cultural folkways and strictures permit.) Peter, an independent military contractor, works with Menti and Jussel, two Iraqi Lieutenant Colonels, while American Major Lance Baxter is the current “Scoutmaster.” In addition to the weekly meetings, two Camporees are being held each year, using the camping, cooking, and pioneering gear donated by us stateside Victory Base Council supporters.

 Scouting in Iraq 3rd Year 2

With the ongoing military drawdown, the pool of available coalition-based Scouting volunteers has shrunk, but the actual on-site volunteer base has not, and what a testament that is to the Spirit of Scouting!

Following a period of restructuring, the Green Zone Council, which operates in downtown Baghdad, about 20 miles away, has come back on line as the IZ (International Zone) Council and, with the assistance of Navy Lieutenant Commander “Slim” Pickens, it continues to partner with the Victory Base, building on its own six-year legacy. As the Iraqis themselves take over more and more roles in security and government, and our American presence diminishes, these Scouting efforts will underpin the hoped-for resurgence and recertification of Iraqi Scouting; but until then, with the awesome team of volunteers at work in the IZ and Victory Base councils, the beacon of Scout Spirit will continue to burn brightly in Baghdad, waiting for the final torch to be passed!

 Scouting in Iraq 3rd Year 3

If you’d like to learn more about Iraqi Scouts, including ways to help ‘em out, just head on over to www.victorybasecouncil.organd tell ‘em Andy sent you!

Dear Andy,

First let me say your column’s the best—It’s a great source of information for Scouters just starting out and for the seasoned veteran, too!

My question’s about Eagle boards of review. Once a Scout completes his Eagle board, does he receive the packet back to include any letters that the committee chair may have received? We have opposing points of view: yes, he gets the letters; no, he doesn’t. Which way do we go? (Dale Stoddard, Georgia-Carolina Council, GA)

The BSA informs us that, on completion of the Eagle board of review:

– The Eagle Scout Leadership Project Workbook is either returned to the Scout or forwarded to the local council service center (whereupon it will later be returned to the Scout at a later date), per local council procedures (check with the council advancement committee).

– The completed and signed Eagle Scout Rank Application and the statement of ambitions and life purpose (see req. 6) attached to it are both forwarded to the local council service center for further processing.

– Any letters of recommendation or other documents received from any of the people who provided a recommendation (see req. 2) for this Scout are either forwarded to the council service center for proper handling or they are immediately destroyed, per local council procedures. (NOTE: Neither the Scout nor any of his family members is ever shown these letters or documents.)

Dear Andy,

What’s the official policy on Scouts who refuse to pay their dues? Our dues are 50 cents per meeting, for a total of $18 per year. We have a Scout now wanting to go for his Eagle, and he’s behind in his dues by $21.50. (Bill Maerling, CC, Grand Canyon Council, AZ)

Fundamentally, for any organization that expects its members to pay dues, unless the dues are paid, the member is dropped from the rolls. This isn’t just a BSA stipulation; it’s pretty much universal among organizations with dues.

So what you’re telling me here is that your troop has been carrying a Scout on its books (i.e., roster) for well over a year. I’m assuming that, in this time, you’ve told the Scout himself, in writing and on more than a single occasion, that he needs to get current, and you’ve also advised his parents, in writing and more than once, that unless their son gets current and stays current with his dues, he will be dropped from the troop’s roster and will no longer be a registered member of the BSA. I’m assuming you’ve never had responses to these written notifications, so perhaps it’s simply time to inform the family that their son is no longer a member of either the BSA or the troop (they need to be told the precise drop date), but that his membership can be reinstated at any time by simply getting current with past due dues and then keeping up each week from here on, and filling out and submitting a new application. If you send the letter registered-return receipt and you receive no response, then you’ll know what to do. You see, it’s pretty unfair for your current roster of Scouts to be “carrying” a Scout who’s in effect a deadbeat.

If this Scout is interested in rank advancement, then the troop records will need to be very precise in showing the precise date he was dropped and the date he re-joined, because the continuity for tenure in the troop and tenure in a leadership position may be affected. (Please tell me this Scout’s 18th birthday isn’t right around the corner, and that the reason he’s suddenly “motivated” isn’t because he’s trying to beat the clock!)

Dear Andy,

Does a District Commissioner have voting authority at district committee meetings? (Ginny Deise, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

The District Commissioner is, along with the District Chair and the District Executive, a member of the district’s “Key 3.” As such, he or she has major decision-making responsibility at Key 3 meetings and planning sessions. The District Commissioner is, however, distinctly not a member of the district committee and while he may attend these along with his two counterparts, there would be no need for his to “vote” on anything, anymore than the committee itself needs to be voting on stuff. The role of the district committee is much like that of a unit committee, which is definitely not about establishing or voting on policies (this isn’t like congress, for goodness sakes!): It’s for getting the job done!

Hi Andy,

Our troop’s Venture patrol requires that members be 14 years old, Star rank,meet attendance requirements, submit written applications, be approved by the Scoutmaster, and then voted in by the current patrol members. The Venture patrol, despite these strictures, is mostly in name only: It does no extra, more adventurous activities than any other patrol in the troop. Recently, one of our Scouts wanted to start a second Venture patrol specifically for the more active older Scouts in the troop, who definitely want to do exactly the kinds of high adventure activities that Venture patrols are generally formed to do. In addition to this boy-leader, about a half-dozen others expressed interest in this idea. But an Assistant Scoutmaster assigned to overseeing the current Venture patrol, and that patrol’s current members, vetoed this idea. So I guess I have two questions. First, is this “veto power” thingin keeping with BSA policies and procedures? Second, is there any reason the BSA would favor not starting up a second Venture patrol made up of Scouts who actually want to do high adventure activities? (Rebecca Lessley, MC, Verdugo Hills Council, CA)

The Boy Scout Handbook tells Scouts this about Venture Patrols: “Venture patrols (are) for older Scouts who are eager to set out on rugged, high adventure activities. Being part of a Venture patrol gives older Scouts the opportunity to stay active in their troops… A troop’s Venture patrol for older Scouts features exciting and demanding ultimate adventures…”

The Scoutmaster Handbook tells us this: “A Venture patrol is an optional older boy patrol (ages 13 through 17) within a troop. It is led by a member elected as a Venture Patrol Leader.” This handbook then goes on to describe how, although the Venture Patrol Leader is certainly a member of the Patrol Leaders’ Council, Venture patrols do plan and carry out more adventurous and strenuous activities than a troop’s other patrols–and the Venture patrol does these activities on its own. It notes that troops often have multiple Venture patrols.

So, as plain as the nose on your face, the purpose of Venture patrols is to go and do more self-directed activities of a more adventurous nature than the other patrols in a troop, so as to encourage older Scouts to remain with the program.

Observe that the BSA makes no reference to the need for “qualifying” to be a member of a Venture patrol, other than age. The BSA is silent on the need to have any sort of special “application” or the nurturing of elitism by way of having “candidates” be subject to the “acceptance” of current Venture patrol members (this is, in fact, one of the antitheses of the Scouting movement!). The BSA elsewhere stipulates that no unit may establish numerical or percentage assessments of “active participation” by Scouts.

Consequently, based on what you’ve described to me, this troop is well off the mark on the purpose of its current Venture patrol, and the Scouts who want to start up a new Venture patrol to do exactly what Venture patrols are supposed to be doing is spot-on. This nonsense about the existing Venture patrol having any say-so at all about the formation of a real Venture patrol is just that: nonsense. Moreover, that Assistant Scoutmaster is more than inappropriate to think he has any veto power, or any authority at all, over something like this.

These people need to get out their own handbooks and quickly do some reading, or get themselves to training, so that the can start getting it right, and this new, Scout-driven initiative can get underway!

Dear Andy,

You recently said, “PROGRAM PRODUCES PARTICIPANTS. Burn that into your brain. That simple, three-word phrase is the key… Scoutmasters must buy into this, and then start delivering, or we’ll all be out of business within the next decade.”

I certainly agree with you, and I’ve seen the results of poor program, including weak attendance at campouts and service projects. The PLC seems to be made up of Scouts who are quite content to reuse old activity plans year after year after year, with no new thinking going on. For instance, last fall, they specifically passed up a once-in-their-Scout-lifetime opportunity to attend the Great Lakes Jamboree, held just 60 miles away. Then, just last month, they voted to forego attending the district’s fall Camporee, which had features and activities that coincided with the requirements of the four historic merit badges (another once-in-their-Scout-lifetime opportunity!). In both cases, the PLC chose instead go on a campout at one of the troop’s regular campsites.

I wouldn’t raise this issue if attendance was great, or even good, but it isn’t. At last week’s regular troop meeting, we had less than 20% of a 50-member troop present, with half the Patrol Leaders gone missing.

What do you recommend a troop’s adult leaders do to jumpstart the PLC and get them out of this rut of repeating the past over and over, without stepping over the “boy-led” line? (Joe Ceci, ASM, Milwaukee County Council, WI)

A parallel: B-P said, “Show me a poorly uniformed troop and I’ll show you a poorly uniformed Scoutmaster.” Borrowing from that concept, is this an unimaginative troop and PLC because they’re “allowed” to be unimaginative? There’s a concept called “nonjudgmental acceptance” which, simply stated, means that whatever the group says is OK, regardless.

I’m not an advocate of this concept; I think it allows too much for lazy thinking, inertia, and a slack-jawed approach to life itself. So, if I were Scoutmaster, sitting down with my Senior Patrol Leader to help him lead the PLC in planning the next couple of months, I think I’d plan to light a fire under him, in the department of “GOOD ENOUGH” ISN’T.

One thing to perhaps go so far as insisting on is that district and council events automatically go on the troop calendar, and the PLC’s job is to fill in around these.

Second, Patrol Leaders are part of the PLC’s “mini-democracy-in-action” and are therefore supposed to be reflecting the desires of their patrol members. Perhaps it’s time to take a poll of the patrol members (i.e., the Scouts at large in the troop) and find out what they’re thinking with an actual survey. To do a survey on activities, just list the last two years of campouts, hikes, trips, whatever the troop did, and then have some check-boxes along these lines:

[ ] Great event and I’d go again!

[ ] Pretty good event—I’d consider others like it.

[ ] So-so—If we didn’t do it again I wouldn’t be disappointed.

[ ] Boring, lame, never again.

Use an even number of check-boxes so that Scouts won’t be tempted to use the middle-of-the-road box for everything (thereby giving you, for all intents, a “no opinion”).

Also, the BSA publishes three wonderful “cookbooks” called “Troop Program Features.” Each contains twelve subjects and then has four troop meeting plans for each subject area–in effect a month’s worth of program, with backgrounding information included! These make it a no-brainer; all the PLC needs to do is pick which subjects look most interesting, and then do them!

Don’t be tempted to think, “well, the dads can do the planning till the troop gets back on its feet, and then give planning back to the Scouts”: It’ll never happen!

One thing that has to be happening in the background at all times is using The Patrol Method… Activities like hikes, campouts, historical trips and so forth absolutely must be done on a patrol basis–never, ever a troop basis. The patrols must plan for their own transportation (including recruiting the drivers), menu planning (and they do the food-buying; not mommy or daddy), equipment to bring (including “the ten essentials” on all trips–great team building activity putting “kits” together, by the way), and so on.

And, consider: ALL TRIPS IN UNIFORM (notice I didn’t say “full” or “Class A,” and that’s because in Scouts there’s just one uniform and it’s always head-to-toe).

If you need more, after implementing these, let me know and we’ll continue picking this troop up by its own bootstraps!

Hi Andy!

I’m re-entering Scouting this year as my son’s Tiger Den Leader. I was both a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout myself, and I’ve pretty much figured out the square knots (mine are Arrow of Light and Eagle), but I’m at a bit of a loss on what to do with my National Jamboree patch from 1989, which I participated in as a Scout. I’m finding conflicting information on whether and how to wear it… Do I wear it, since it’s the most recent Jamboree I attended, or not, because it’s not the most recent of the Jamborees? Any help would be much appreciated! (Matt King)

The operative language on this is from the BSA’s Insignia Guide, page 50: “A jamboree emblem is worn above (the) right pocket by a…Scouter who…attended the jamboree as a registered participant…” and since you were a registered participant and this stipulation uses the past tense, wearing your 1989 National Scout Jamboree emblem is perfectly OK!

Welcome back to Scouting!

Dear Andy,

Uniform shirt tucked in or out? The new shirts have a straight bottom. I saw a leader with the shirt out and it looked OK, but I checked the uniform guide and it doesn’t say anything, even though all the pictures and images show the uniform shirt tucked in. Any thoughts? (Steve Border)

My thoughts match the BSA’s… Shirts are always tucked in; you’ll not find a drawing or photo with the uniform (or even t-) shirt un-tucked, and this is how it should be. BTW, this applies to all adults in uniform as well, especially those of the female persuasion. These are uniforms; not “fashion statements.” You want fashion, go join the Gucci Guides; in the BSA we wear uniforms.

(Did you know that, in all BSA literature, you’ll never find a reference to “Class A” or “Class B” uniforms… There’s the uniform, and that’s that! In fact, this is a precise reflection of every other uniformed organization that a young person might belong to, from teams to school marching bands, to cheer-leading squads, and on and on!)


Dear Andy,

My son is 14 years old and a First Class Scout. How soon can he begin work on his Eagle Project? (Rick Holman, Grand Canyon Council, AZ)

He can begin it the morning after his successful board of review for Life Scout rank. The requirement states this.

Hi Andy,

Our son is a Star Scout and, with the exception of tenure-in-rank, has completed all requirements for Life. He has elected to do the Cycling merit badge in lieu of either Swimming or Hiking (these three are interchangeable as Eagle-required).

Although our troop has a Merit Badge Counselor for Cycling, I’ve been the one to take all the rides with my son, work on the first aid-related requirements, and have just a few more items to work on to complete all requirements for this merit badge. Can I, as a parent, sign off on this merit badge and, if so, can you cite a specific BSA policy that says parents are authorized to do this?

My son’s troop wants all Scouts to go to a Merit Badge Counselor for their merit badges, so that when they have their Eagle board of review, there’s no question of “pencil whipping” or some kind of conflict of interest. As a parent (who does happen to be an Eagle Scout), I see no problem with a parent signing off on a merit badge, but I’d like to get your take on this. (David O’Brien, Miami Valley Council, Kettering, OH)

While I have complete admiration for your efforts as a Scout parent, and an unswerving belief in your sincerity of purpose and personal integrity as a brother Eagle, I’m obliged to advise you that it is a long-standing BSA policy—actually stated in the Rules and Regulations of the Boy Scouts of America—that only a Merit Badge Counselor is authorized to signify that a merit badge and its requirements have been completed satisfactorily.

That said, when your son does meet personally with the duly registered Merit Badge Counselor for Cycling, he should explain to that person what he’s done, in detail. However, do recognize that while things done before having actually obtained a “blue card” and met for the first time with a Merit Badge Counselor still count (this is also a BSA policy, and may be found in the publication, 2010 Boy Scout Requirements), you are placing your son in the uncomfortable position of needing to tell a dedicated Scouting volunteer that all that’s desired is his or her signature.

We Merit Badge Counselors counsel because we have a sincere interest in young people and have a desire to impart to them our knowledge of our chosen subject-matter, including insights that aren’t “in the book.” Consequently, the parent-son approach to merit badges takes all that away in a most unfulfilling manner. It also defeats literally 50 percent of the goals of the BSA Merit Badge Program.

So, for the sake of your son, his personal growth, and his relationships with others, stop doing Boy Scout requirements with him. I know you have nothing but your son’s best interests at heart, but it’s OK to step back a little bit so he can enjoy his moments in the sun, as a young man growing into manhood in the light of the Scouting movement.

Dear Andy,

As a Commissioner, I’m having some difficulties with troop adult volunteers wanting to make the decisions for the Scouts rather than allowing the Scouts to make them. These folks mean well, but I need to show them the proper place of an adult leader as being a guide or mentor and not the decision-maker. I’ve been a proponent of the idea that sometimes Scouts need to fail in order to learn and that adult leaders need to give the Scouts they guide the leeway to do much more than just show up at whatever event the adults choose. Is there some literature that can help me with this? Julian Railey, UC, Crossroads of America Council, IN)

You betcha there is! How about we start with the new, 12th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. Let’s go to page 34: “Your Scoutmaster and other adult leaders…will step back and allow the troop’s youth leaders to take charge of planning and carrying out activities.” Now, turn to page 35, where you’ll notice that the Patrol Leaders’ Council—regardless of troop size—does not include the Scoutmaster or any other adult volunteers. OK, now swing on over to page 38, and the paragraph titled “Patrol Leaders’ Council,” where you’ll find this statement: “The patrol leaders will meet with the senior patrol leader and his assistants at a patrol leaders’ council to plan the troop’s programs and activities” noting that there’s not one word about adults—not the Scoutmaster or any others—doing this for the Scouts!

Now let’s open up our Scoutmaster Handbook. Head on over to page 12 (this is in Chapter 3 – “The Boy-Led Troop”), and you’ll find this: “The boys themselves develop a troop’s program, then take responsibility for figuring out how they will achieve their goals.” This section goes on to say, “Some Scoutmasters struggle with the idea of allowing boys to lead the troop… it might seem easier for adults to make all of the decisions and direct the action. However, when you invest your energy in training boys to run the show…you can watch with great satisfaction as (the Scouts) thrive in fulfilling the responsibilities they have been given. Your time will have been spent productively and the boys in your troop will be getting the full measure of the Scouting program.”

There’s lots more on this, of course; it runs throughout all of BSA literature on the Boy Scout program, but Baden-Powell himself put it best: “The Patrol Method isn’t ‘a’ way of conducting the Scouting program; it is the only way.”

Hello Andy,

I’m struggling with how the roles and duties of Senior Patrol Leaders mesh with the patrols they came from prior to being elected. My understanding is that, in the position of SPL, the Scout is now responsible for the troop as a whole and is no longer a member ofhis patrol of origin, from the standpoint of troop meetings, camping trips, and other activities and outings. I’ve repeatedly tried to teach this distinction between a Scout’s responsibility to the entire troop once he’s the SPL versus his previous membership in and loyalty to his original patrol. But our troop’s Senior Patrol Leader still insists that he’s an active member of his patrols, and insists on participating as a patrol member at troop meetings and on outings. This clearly blurs the distinction of his position and its obligations to the troop, versus loyalty to his patrol.HaveIgot this wrong? Can you offer some guidance in how to address this issue? (Robert Shannon, SM, Western Los Angeles County Council, CA)

Let’s start here: Neither Scoutmasters nor Scouts are entitled to “opinions” about how troops and patrols are structured. This was decided over 100 years ago by the Boy Scouts of America. If, for instance, a Senior Patrol Leader doesn’t like the notion that he’s no longer a member of a patrol, he’s free to resign his position; but he’s not free to restructure the troop to please himself. He needs to be told this directly and succinctly, and without equivocation.

To orient the Patrol Leaders Council on how a troop is structured, refer to the chapter and section on this in your own Scoutmaster Handbook. I also recommend that you get your SPL a copy of The Senior Patrol Leader Handbook (SKU No. 32501) and direct him to read out loud to you the bold print at the top of page 10: “As senior patrol leader, you will not be a member of a patrol…”

Now that quotation goes on to say, “…but you may participate in high adventure activities with the troop’s Venture patrol,” and your SPL may think that this means he does participate as a patrol member; however, if he further learns that Venture patrols develop and go on their own activities in addition to (not as replacements for) their activities with the troop, he will understand that he would be accompanying the Venture patrol as a guest and not as a member of the patrol.

All of this is academic, however, if it’s the Scoutmaster who does most of the talking and directing of the Scouts and the patrols during troop meetings, leaving the Senior Patrol Leader and the other youth leaders of the troop standing around rotating on their thumbs. Frankly, there’s absolutely no way a Senior Patrol Leader can act out as a patrol member if the Scoutmaster suggests to him that it’s time to start the troop meeting… and then walks away.

The finest Scoutmaster I ever had was in front of the troop as a whole for 60 seconds per meeting—when he delivered the Scoutmaster’s minute. The entire rest of the time, our Senior Patrol Leader ran the show, and we Patrol Leaders followed his lead.

Happy Scouting!



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

(October 30, 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.