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Issue 234 – November 30, 2010

My November 21st column on Eagle rank and Parkinson’s Law struck some chords—not all the same, either. Here’s a sampling of letters in response…

Dear Andy,

I just want to say well done and thanks! This is a subject several Scoutmasters and I have butted heads over. Thanks for setting the record straight. (Jack Mitchell, ADC)

Hi Andy,

I really enjoyed, as a parent-and-leader, your comments about the tendency for some troops to “encourage” Scouts to take seven years to earn Eagle. My older son has been moving along at a good clip. He turned 13 a few months ago and will soon be eligible for his Life rank board of review. As parents, we’re proud of his progress, especially since he’s set his own goals. On a few occasions he’s been subjected to older troop leaders asking him, “What’s the hurry?” and I’m happy that his usual response is, “Because I’d like to be an Eagle, as a Scout, for more than a week.” (Ken King, Three Fires Council, IL)

Dear Andy,

As a Unit Commissioner and Eagle Scout (‘70, age 15) with a bronze palm (‘71), and who also serves on several Eagle boards of review each year, I’ve experienced every one of the litany of horrors you listed in your column, and then some. It makes me sad every time. I remember how proud I was when I got that cool Eagle badge at 15, and going to summer camp wearing the Eagle badge and having other Scouts wanting to see what one looked like was a blast—It made all the work seem more worthwhile. I sat on an Eagle review a couple of years ago for a Scout who’d just turned 18. He had 33 merit badges but didn’t finish his project till right at the eleventh hour. So he missed out on two palms simply because he’d run out of time.

At every Eagle review, we ask the Scout what he considers his greatest strength, and weakness. When we have a Scout who’s turned 18 or is just about to, I usually phrase the question as, “Other than procrastination, what’s your greatest weakness?” It usually brings a smile of recognition to the Scout.

As for advice for younger Scouts, I’ve never heard an Eagle candidate say that a Scout should wait until he’s are older—every single one of them says that every Scout who wants to be an Eagle should get it done as soon as possible, so they can have fun for the rest of their Scouting career. These boys get it! Now if just their adult leaders would get it, too… (Bob Elliott, UC, Northern Star Council, MN)

Amen, Brother Andy –

At our pack, we’ve been able to make the cultural adjustment to earning the Arrow of Light such that we typically award it at our November or December pack meeting. What to do with the boys after that? We’ve kept a couple of activity badges on the to-do list, plus a lot more focused troop visits.

From the troop visits, I’m increasingly bothered by the common thread I hear, of Scoutmasters talking about having to “hurry the boys through before the fumes get them.” That starts to sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure, young men have lots of new interests that compete for their time and attention, but as always, quality program will engage these guys and keep ‘em coming back. (Carl Sommer)

Dear Andy,

You said, “…Eagle ain’t that tough.” Yeah, it’s that tough, and that’s why only two percent of Scouts earn it. Looking back from an adult perspective, it doesn’t seem that difficult. But in actuality, it really takes about three-and-a-half to four years of commitment. Nowhere else in a young man’s life does he commit that kind of time to complete a task or goal.

Individually, each requirement may not be terribly difficult, especially the way that they earn merit badges at camp these days, but the whole thing as one package or goal is that big of a deal. A very big deal. A very big commitment.

Now there’s a sense in which I agree that a motivated young man can accomplish Eagle pretty efficiently. But when you include all the other stuff happening to boys (puberty, parents, school and academics, girls, social, etc.) at this stage of his life, I sometimes think it’s a wonder any even make it to First Class!

One of the biggest obstacles to Eagle for Scouts that get to Star and Life is how they relate to their dad and how he pushes them and how they push back. For some Scouts, it’s a rebellion thing with their dad, which is why they don’t go all the way.

But yeah, it’s a big deal that’s difficult and hard to accomplish in context, and we “old guys” aren’t very good at remembering how tough it was for us. (Larry Life Scout)

Hi Andy,

You cracked me up with that letter from the Scout who was determined to wear that “hangy-down” patch he didn’t earn. I’m not sure why he wrote, if his mind was already made up. I’m convinced you include some of these just to entertain us. Thanks! (Diane Berson)

That one definitely ranks up there with the pack, from a few years back, that liked to hold its new Bobcats head-down by the ankles and wondered if there’s any BSA “guidance” on this practice! You name it, I get ’em—Ya gotta love ’em all!

Hi Andy,

At our recent troop meeting we had a father visit who wanted to know what his son had left to do, to earn Eagle. This young man hasn’t been to a troop meeting, campout, or other outing since my own involvement with the troop began, three years ago. He did, however, complete his Eagle project three years ago, and also held his leadership position for six months after earning Life rank. He has three Eagle-required merit badges remaining, and he’s presently working on two of them. His 18th birthday is just shy of six months away, so therefore he won’t be active in the troop for six Months. I really think his father wanted us to sign off and let him get it with out any effort from the Scout. What do I tell the father? (Brent Jones, ASM)

The answer is simple: The Scout has three merit badges to go—two that he’s working on and one to start—and he should make an appointment with his Scoutmaster to get the name and contact information for a Merit Badge Counselor for that third one. As you’ve pointed out, this Scout has completed his project and he’s completed his six months’ tenure both as an active Scout and as a youth leader of the troop. Now if you’re possibly thinking that this Scout needs to “be active” or “serve…in a position of responsibility” during the final six months prior to completing the requirements for Eagle, well, that’s just not what the requirements say, and we do follow the requirements exactly (which is itself a BSA policy, by the way). The Scout’s already “put in the effort” and it’s not the BSA’s position, or our objective as his mentors, to make him repeat something he’s already done. I hope that, as an Assistant Scoutmaster, you’ll do everything possible to encourage this young man to complete the trail to Eagle!

Dear Andy,

Is it proper for a troop committee to fund support for an Eagle project? I’d thought that the funds had to be generated by the Scout. Am I correct on this? (Brooks Jones, CC, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

Funding can come from anywhere; the BSA makes no stipulations on source. Funds (or materials) can even be provided by the recipient of the service! The Scout can also approach the troop’s sponsor, the troop committee, etc. His family might want to chip in, or he might want to fund a project with his own money. And fund-raisers that follow BSA protocols are OK, too. There’s lots of ways, and that’s the important thing to keep in mind. It’s the Scout’s decision.

Dear Andy,

Our son is beginning to fill out his Eagle Scout Rank Application. It asks, “Date became a Boy Scout.” Does that mean a Cub Scout way back in first grade or does it mean the “Boy Scout” rank? (Larry Hannan)

“Date became a Boy Scout” means the date your son joined the troop (that is, his initial registration date, per the application he handed in to the troop). BTW, there’s no such animal as a “Boy Scout” rank. There’s a “Scout” badge, but this isn’t a rank. The first rank in Boy Scouts is Tenderfoot. (Check your son’s handbook.)

Hi Andy,

I’m Assistant Coach for a Varsity Scout troop. I have experience shotgun shooting and would like to do this as a troop activity on a weekend campout. Do I need any special BSA training for this? (I couldn’t find anything on the BSA website.) Thanks! (Ryan Rogers, Grand Canyon Council, AZ)

Yes, shotgun shooting is a highly controlled Scouting activity, for all the obvious reasons. Check the Guide to Safe Scouting for the regulations on this, and also check with your local council’s risk management or health and safety committee.

Dear Andy,

The BSA has quite a few items to identify Commissioners, like caps, shirts, hat pins, mugs, hiking staff medallions, jackets, and so on. Why aren’t there any items like these for Scoutmasters, Cubmasters, or any of the other adult volunteer positions? (My guess is that Commissioners may be difficult toidentify—Who’s that old guy whovisits once a month?) (William La Fleur, UC, Northeast Illinois Council)

It’s because Commissioners are extra-super-special and deserve all these geedunks! (No, not really!) I like your own guess… It’s as good as any I’d hazard.

Dear Andy,

I’m the Senior Patrol Leader for my troop right now. Recently, a controversy came up about whether my Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders and I should be able to sign off on rank requirements. My position is that the SPL and ASPLs should be able to sign off other Scouts on rank requirements through First Class—we have the experience as well as the knowledge. In your opinion, do you think it’s acceptable for us to have this responsibility? (M.S., Life Scout, Grand Canyon Council, Payson, AZ)

You’ve brought up an excellent question, and I appreciate your writing to me. The first thing we need to get straight is that the BSA doesn’t have a policy on this, either endorsing it or prohibiting it. In fact, for the ranks from Tenderfoot through First Class, many, many troops are organized so that the troop’s youth leaders, including the Senior Patrol Leader, ASPL, and Patrol Leaders can sign off on requirements, providing they’re at least one rank ahead of the Scout they’re signing for. This puts the troop’s most important leaders out in front and the “go-to guys” for advancement up to Star (at Star, the Scoutmaster takes full charge, because at that point it’s mostly merit badges, some Scoutmaster-approved service time, and his own training the youth leaders of the troop).

If you, your ASPLs, and the Patrol Leaders would like to have things work this way in your troop, bring it up at your next Patrol Leaders Council, and see if you can get buy-in from your Scoutmaster. If he agrees, and you all agree on some ground rules, then he informs the troop committee that this is how it’s going to be from now on. (BTW, any really smart Scoutmaster is going to like this idea, because it means his own job is easier and he doesn’t have to be a dozen places all at the same time, at troop meetings and hikes and camp-outs!)

Hello Andy,

The BSA national council has three “high adventure” bases—Philmont, Northern Tier, and Sea Base—yet other camps also call themselves “high adventure.” Does the BSA reserve this designation for only these three places? (Page Thibodeaux, CC, Pacific Skyline Council, CA)

“High adventure” isn’t copyrighted. It’s used by the BSA to signify those specific bases that are owned and supported by the national office, but certainly any program that offered adventure beyond the typical can use that term.

Dear Andy,

Our pack has recently been told by our chartered organization that we have 30 days to find a new sponsor, after over four decades. Last month, we went to the Chartered Organization Representative of our sponsor, to fill him in on a “leader situation” we were trying to handle (we thought that we might actually have to remove a leader from her position); however, this CR was confused as to why we would be involving him, and so we advised him of the role of the CR relative to the pack and its volunteers. (By way of further background, in the six years that I’ve been involved with this pack, there’s never been any involvement from the CR or the sponsor.) Needless to say, he was surprised to learn of the role he might be playing, with regard to our leader situation. He’s attended two committee meetings since that conversation, and now we’ve received an email message from him stating that the members of chartered organization just took a vote and the vast majority opted to end the relationship with us as our sponsor, because they are, as they put it, “not comfortable with the liability.” After 40 years!

We have absolutely no idea whom to seek out as a replacement for them, in the next 30 days. Are there guidelines for chartered organizations? I can’t find them anywhere to reference. Does the chartered organization have to be not-for-profit? Could it be a business? Do you have any advice of what to tell the new prospects? (This is a small town and they’ll want to know why the prior sponsor withdrew.) What is a chartered organization’s liability, anyway?

Any answer that you can provide, or advice on how to move forward, will be greatly appreciated. We are a very active pack with membership upwards of 60 to 70 families every year. We are also the only pack in town, and it would be awful if we weren’t able to provide Cub Scouting to our community. (Name & Council Withheld)

First, don’t anybody panic— This isn’t all that unusual and it can be handled gracefully. First, let’s not tell tales out of school… Nobody but us chickens needs to know about the pack’s internal squabbles among parents and then dumping the problem on the CR to resolve for you, and how this led to your sponsor cutting you loose. Here’s what you need to do…

Call your council’s service center, tell ’em what town you’re in, and ask to speak to the District Executive for the district that includes your town. When you get to that person, tell him or her that you’re a 40 year-old pack of about five dozen families that needs to find a new sponsor. If you’re the only pack in town, this shouldn’t be difficult, because most churches and synagogues are happy to sponsor Scouting; so are civic groups like Rotary, Optimists, Kiwanis, and so on. I’ll bet that, with a few phone calls and working with your District Executive, you’ll have a roof over your heads again in no time!

Dear Andy,

You mentioned in a previous column that the only “square knot” available to BSA employees was the Professional Training Award. It’s a fact that the Order of the Arrow Distinguished Service Award is also available to BSA employees—it’s actually the only recognition that can be presented to youth members or adult volunteers or professional staffers! (Bob Reeder, Grand Columbia Council, WA)

Thanks! Good information!

Hi Andy,

Can a Scout’s previous experiences be counted toward merit badge requirements? For instance, one of therequirements for the Camping merit badge is to prepare a duty roster for a patrol campout. If the Scout’s done this while on a previous campout, can this be counted as having met the requirement, or must he make out a duty roster again, specifically for the merit badge? (Rodger Phillips, ASM, Erie Shores Council, OH)

Yup, what a Scout’s already done counts! Says so right on pages 28 and 29 of Boy Scout Requirements-2010: “…you may share with your counselor the work that you have already started or accomplished;” “…work for a requirement can be started at any time.”

We all need to remember that merit badges, just like ranks, need to be challenging and fun, and definitely not Scouting’s answer to Sominex!

Dear Andy,

After many years of organizing flag retirement ceremonies, I’m still concerned about the nylon flags. I’ve been getting lots of input about the dangers of the fumes from the nylon, which may put Scouts in harm’s way. I’m told that there’s a new regulation from the BSA that prohibits Scouts from retiring nylon flags. Where can I find this? I’d like to add it to my flag retirement notebook. (Joan Wiese, Mid-America Council, NE)

First, you’ll want to check the U.S. Flag Code, because burning a flag that’s no longer usable, while preferred, isn’t mandatory. Then, check with the American Legion post in your town for details on good ways to manage the respectful retirement of nylon (“all-weather”) flags. As for a BSA policy on the subject, while I doubt that there is one, you can certainly give a call to the national office, or even ask your own council’s risk management or health and safety committee.

Hi Andy,

Recently, you gave your opinion on the subject of “retreating” versus “retiring” the colors, and you came down on the side of “retire” being the instruction by the ceremony leader. Our own troop came across this, and everyone involved agreed that “retiring the colors” can only be done by burning Old Glory in a respectful manner. Clearly, that’s not what the ceremony leader wants the color guard to do! So, while “retreat” may be correct, we agreed, as you did, that it had a sort of “let’s skedaddle” connotation, so what we’ve opted for is “retrieve the colors.” What do you think of this as a compromise? (Michael Johnson, Northern Star Council, MN)

Since you’ve asked for my opinion, here it is: I think I don’t care for it, largely because it’s not necessary, and besides, “retrieve” means “go get,” and the flag’s already right there at the front of the room!

If you use your online search engine to find closing ceremonies, you’ll find that, invariably, “retire the colors” is the phrase used time after time. You see, “retire” has many meanings; not just one. If it had only one meaning, what would it look like when we “retire” our cars? <wink> “Retire the colors” does not have the same meaning as a “flag retirement ceremony” and “retire the colors” doesn’t mean “go take it outside and burn it.” Also, did you know that burning the flag is not required in order to meet the stipulations of the U.S. Flag Code?

Dear Andy,

You recently mentioned that a Troop Chaplain would normally be a member of the clergy. According to current BSA standards, while it’s recommended that a Troop Chaplain be ordained, this isn’t a mandatory requirement for the position: “The troop chaplain is an adult who may be a troop committee member, the executive officer of a religious chartered organization, or serves in another leadership capacity. It is customary that the religious leader, or an appointee of the chartered organization, will serve as chaplain if the troop is operated by a religious organization. A troop not operated by a religious organization may select a chaplain from local members of the clergy.” (Tim Millen, Three Fires Council, IL)

Thanks for the refinement; we’re pretty much on the same page and I appreciate your taking the time to research this further.

Hi Andy,

I’ve been in Commissioner service for over 20 years. I recently moved, and my current council is implementing a program of having “in-house” Commissioners. The idea is that each unit will recruit a person to function as Commissioner from within their own organization. If this becomes the norm throughout Scouting, it will basically eliminate traditional Commissioner service. Do you know anything about this? (Name & Council Withheld)

If, by “in-house Commissioners,” you mean Commissioners recruited from within the troop, pack, team, or crew in which their sons are or were members, and who serve no other units, then I’d say this can lead to ultimate devolution and depletion of Commissioner service, because all that’s likely to be produced is linear thinking, with no new ideas injected along the way.

Any competent dog breeder will tell you that there’s a limit to line- and back-breeding, and that in the absence of refreshing a line with new blood, the line will ultimately devolve and corrupt itself, sometimes irrecoverably. Same with Scouting units, IMHO. Commissioners need to be the “honey bees” of Scouting—constantly seeking out new blossoms and cross-pollinating the “hives” they serve.

If, however, these Commissioners are assigned other units as well, so that they can see what’s going on outside the small world of their “home” unit, then it’s certainly possible for this to be successful.

Is it a norm or even a trend? I have no idea.

Dear Andy,

We’re starting up a new Cub Scout pack here. How many boys are required, in order to charter? (William Rooker, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

The BSA advises that it takes a minimum of five (5) registered youth and three (3) registered adults, and a sponsoring organization, to charter (or recharter) a Scouting unit.

Hi Andy,

I’ve recently had a guy friend confide to me that his biggest regret in life was not completing his Eagle Scout rank—he had only two merit badges to go. He’s 31 now. I’ve read that you have until your 18th birthday—does that still apply? I just think it’s such a shame for someone who wants to complete the program and has been regretting this decision for the past ten years, and can’t because he’s over 18. Does current life experience count? He’s served a two-year mission with tons of service, he’s an EMT, fireman, and a lifeguard. Is there any exception to the age limit? I’d love for his biggest regret in life to turn into a possibility. (Lindsay Fisher, Orange County, CA)

Your friend’s regret is shared by many, many men. A boy in Scouting has seven years to complete the ranks up to and including Eagle Scout; more than nine out of ten stop somewhere short of Eagle. It’s only about 5 percent (or less) of all Boy Scouts who go all the way to Eagle by their 18th birthday. And that 18th birthday is definitely the final date—the only extensions ever granted have been for highly unusual extenuating circumstances well beyond a young man’s control, like significant hospitalization, or completion but lost paperwork (by people other than the Scout himself), or other very unusual situations.

Your friend, however, made it all the way to Life Scout rank, and that in itself is absolutely commendable!

The best news about your friend is that whatever he learned in Scouting appears to have taken hold… It’s not likely he’d be an EMT, firefighter, lifeguard, or go on mission for two years had it not been for the positive experiences he had as a Scout. Please take a moment to read my November 2002 column ( and consider showing it to your friend. Thanks for writing, and for being this gentleman’s friend—he’s a fortunate guy!

Dear Andy,

Will the BSA revoke your Eagle rank if you go wrong elsewhere in life? (P.P., Life Scout, French Creek Council, PA)

Just do this: When you’re confronted with a “situation” and you have to make a decision, just ask yourself, “What would an Eagle Scout do?” and you’ll instantly see the right way to go!

Alright, thanks! And WILL DO! So it’s not a badge—It’s a way of life. (P.P.)

You’ve got it! That’s Scouting’s “secret”! In my book, you’re already an Eagle, because you’re thinking like one!

(A few days later…)

Thank you! And I just came back from my board of review. I did it! You were right! (P.P., Eagle Scout)

(And there’s my “paycheck”…)

Happy Scouting!



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

(November 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.

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