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Issue 235 – December 4, 2010

Dear Andy,

About not making Eagle, no question here, but a comment on your answer to that gal whose friend regrets not making Eagle. Many of the guys I know in Scouting are in that same category, including myself. Serving as Advancement Coordinator for my troop, I sometimes point out to our Scouts that I never made it past First Class, but whenever one of you advances, a little bit of me advances, too! (Bill Ewing, Great Southwest Council, NM)

Thanks! What a wonderful way to think about it! Do take a moment and read my November 2002 column (if you haven’t already). To my mind, being A FIRST-CLASS SCOUT is what it’s all about!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster. Recently, we had a situation where our Senior Patrol Leader and his ASPL couldn’t make it to a weekend camping trip. Of the nine Scouts who attended, there was a Star Scout-Den Chief/former Troop Guide and a First Class Scout-Patrol Leader/former Chaplain Aide, and both wanted to be in charge of the campout. My dilemma was to choose which Scout would be in charge (they came to me for my advice). I chose the more experienced Star Scout. Another adult leader argued that because the First Class Scout was a member of the Patrol Leaders Council and the Star Scout, as a Den Chief, wasn’t, the choice should have been the First Class Scout. Yet, at the time, to me, it was a “no-brainer.” Since then, I’ve done my research (Scoutmaster Handbook, Boy Scout Handbook,, and so on) and I haven’t found a precedent or justification for putting the First Class Scout in charge over the Star Scout. I guess we could have held an election, in which case the Scouts could have been led by a popular Tenderfoot. But, why have a rank structure base upon achieved skills if we’re only going to trump rank with election results. I understand the value of electing the Patrol Leader and other Patrol Leaders Council positions, but at what point to we recognize a Scout’s seniority in rank over elections? Before I made my decision, I tried to consider what Baden-Powell would have done. I hope I didn’t upset his spirit. Your help, please. (Jay Stroup, SM)

You certainly had an interesting situation, and I do appreciate the thought you put into your decision and your commitment to doing the very best you can for the Scouts you’re serving as Scoutmaster. It’s not unlikely that something along these lines will happen again, so let’s think about next time…

Let’s start here: B-P would advise us to “never do for a Scout what he can do for himself.” This is how we grow boys into men. We’d also want to remember that boys need to have as many opportunities to make decisions as possible, so that they can make good ones and not-so-good ones, and learn the difference, and the consequences. This is how boys gain experience (you can’t learn anything if everything’s spoon-fed to you). So, with these philosophies in mind, what might happen next time? Do you think the Scouts themselves should take a vote amongst themselves for who’s going to be the overall youth leader for the duration of the campout? If they do, and they elect a popular Scout, is this a bad thing? Popular Scouts are usually the friendly ones, and you and I know we get a lot more accomplished from others when we use honey instead of vinegar! If the Scouts aren’t worried about the Scout’s particular rank, why should we worry? After all, rank is mostly about knowledge and skills; Scouts learn about leadership when their Scoutmasters quietly mentor and guide them from “behind the curtains,” so to speak.

So, the sum of it is this: Step back, ask the Scouts to consider who they’d like to be the campout leader for the weekend, and then support their decision.

Dear Andy,

When I had this question and nobody could give me a “for sure” answer, I figured that I’d ask you…

We’re in Alaska. Our units have to have OKPIK-trained people to go winter camping, and yet our council just cancelled the training (due to lack of pre-registrations, they say). So I’m now wondering what’s needed to consider someone OKPIK trained. Is there a curriculum or syllabus that I can find somewhere, or is it just what the people that put on the training decide to do? I know there’s a book on the subject, and we could tell everybody to read that, but that’s not what I want to do. I’d like to actually put on the training. Any thoughts? (Dorte Mobley, Troop CC, Great Alaska Council, Wasilla, AK)

I’m sorry to learn of your council’s OKPIK training dilemma. Just by way of background (with thanks to Wikipedia), OKPIK, (Inuit for “snowy owl” and pronounced as “OOk’ pick”) is the cold-weather adventure program first offered by the BSA’s Northern Tier National High Adventure Base at the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base in Ely, Minnesota. As the result of Northern Tier’s Cold Weather Training program, that teaches leaders to develop their own cold-weather program, there are similar programs named after and based on OKPIK offered by councils around the country; for example, Tahosa High Adventure Base in Colorado offers a similar program, and Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico offers a cold weather camping program called KANIK. Several other local councils have named their own local winter camping programs OKPIK, and use a manual called Okpik: Cold-Weather Camping.

I’ve now just gone to the official BSA website and read the entire Local Tour Permit Application (BSA No. 34426), for unit trips of less than 500 miles. Nowhere on this application is there a statement or check-box requiring OKPIK training. If your council is demanding OKPIK training in order for your troop to go winter camping (which, I would imagine, is the prevalent type of camping done in your neck of the woods, for a good hunk of the year), then your council would be, I’d think, honor-bound to offer this training, regardless of “pre-registrations.” If they don’t, then it’s more than unreasonable for them to demand that you all have such training, especially when the BSA’s own Tour Permit Application doesn’t require it.

Moreover, if there’s one type of camping a bunch of Scouts and Scouters living in Wasilla, Alaska would be expected to be pretty proficient at, it’s…Duh…winter camping.

To take this a step further down the training continuum, your council’s training committee may need to decide whether their goal is to “put on training courses” or is it to get people trained.

All that said, how about reaching out to the folks at Northern Tier and/or Philmont, and asking if they’ll share the OKPIK or KANIK training syllabus with you (offer to pay for the copying and shipping, if possible, just to hustle things along). I’ll bet they’ll help you all out!

Hi, Andy,

I have a question about Scouters holding multiple positions within a troop. I understand that other than CC-CR, one can’t hold more than one unit-level position within the same unit. Does this apply as well to “jobs” on the troop committee? For instance, can someone be both a committee member who functions as secretary (keeps committee meeting minutes) and also advancement coordinator? (Name & Council Withheld)

Page 2 of the BSA Adult Volunteer Application spells out the policy on holding multiple registered positions within the same unit. Your own summary of it is 99% accurate. However, as you might expect, this policy applies to registrations; not actual responsibilities. So yes, a committee member might well be the troop’s advancement coordinator and also, let’s say, the secretary or treasurer. Or, one might be an “at-large” committee member and the troop’s Chaplain. Obviously, one wouldn’t be a committee member and also be carrying out the responsibilities of an Assistant Scoutmaster, even if informally or temporarily. And it would be poor business for the Committee Chair to have any secondary responsibilities, because this position is responsible for not only securing an adequate number or volunteers but also delegating responsibilities to them. So, while the technical answer to your question is in the affirmative, a unit is nevertheless ill advised to double-up on responsibilities; better to bring in more folks and make everyone’s job a little lighter!

Hi Andy,

My son, a Webelos Scout, and I were selling Trail’s End popcorn outside a local supermarket and not having much luck. My son really wanted to get something going, so he made a small container that respectfully asked for donations. He was very polite about it and first asked people if they’d like to buy some popcorn, and if not, maybe they’d like to make a small donation. He explained what the money would be used for, and he had tremendous success. He also learned a lot about people that day and had a great time, and it wasn’t frowned upon by even a single store customer that day! What are your thoughts about this, and is it acceptable if done the right way? (Bryan Kruskol, ADL, Three Fires Council, IL)

Your son’s creativity and initiative were good ideas and I’m glad they met with success; however, he needs to know that Scouts do offer value for value received and that while we can accept spontaneous donations, we don’t ask for them—we’re not The Salvation Army (which is not to say there’s anything wrong with that organization; it’s simply that the BSA has different fund-raising methods).

Hi Andy,

My son recently felt that he’d completed all requirements for Star rank and so asked his Scoutmaster for a conference, to wrap it up. The Scoutmaster said no. What’s going on here?

My own understanding is that, in a situation like this, the Scoutmaster is obliged to explain clearly why the conference will not be held and why advancement will be delayed because of this, and then provide the Scout with guidance, so that the Scout can correct or finish whatever the Scoutmaster believes to be the case, and then get moving forward again. No behavioral issues have ever been mentioned to me, by any of the troop’s adult volunteers, and I know for a fact that my son has served almost double the required number of service hours, completed all the merit badges necessary, has been the troop’s Quartermaster for five months as a First Class Scout, and hasn’t missed a single camping trip since he joined the troop three years ago.

I’m myself a troop committee member and in that capacity have asked the Committee Chair (the Scoutmaster’s wife) to meet so that we can discuss this situation. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions that might help this roadblock? (Name & Council Withheld)

If a Scout has completed all requirements for a rank—and even if he hasn’t!—there’s absolutely no valid reason for withholding a conference from a Scout. For goodness sakes, this is what Scoutmasters are supposed to be doing, and shame on any man or woman who holds a Scout’s advancement hostage by refusing to conference with him.

Second point: When a Scout completes all other requirements for a rank, he conferences with his Scoutmaster, whose job it is to prepare the Scout for his board of review. The BSA provides no alternative path, and no options on delaying or withholding a conference OR a board of review.

If the leaders of this troop persist with this nonsense, go find another troop for your son—one that gets it right—and transfer him away from these people as fast as you can. If your son is reluctant because he’ll possibly miss his friends, talk with his friends’ parents and get them to transfer their sons, too. People who mis-use the BSA program deserve to have no Scouts at all!

When the food’s rotten, we get out of the restaurant and never return.

Dear Andy,

Our son attends boarding school away from home and wants to work on merit badges during the school year. He’s a Star Scout and this is his freshman year of high school. There’s a troop at his school and the Scoutmaster there is willing to work with my son and other boys who are Scouts and in the same circumstance, so they can continue on their path to Eagle. What, if any, limitations might there be for my son doing it this way? (Gina Farkouh)

Your son may want to get out his handbook, sit down with the local Scoutmaster, and see what non-merit badge requirements, if any, he can do in connection with that local troop. Then he needs to check with his home Scoutmaster, to see if this is OK with him (it should be just fine). In addition, the local Scoutmaster (with the prior agreement of your son’s home Scoutmaster—again, this should be fine, but the courtesy should be extended) can provide him with the names and contact information for counselors for additional merit badges he might like to work on while away.

As a Star Scout, your son is very capable of doing these things and making these contacts for himself; please give him the opportunity to do this (despite your natural desire to do this for him, he needs to do this for himself).

Dear Andy,

Where, on an Eagle Scout’s uniform, would he wear his Eagle palms? (John Biuk)

The palms are pinned on the ribbon of his Eagle medal, which he wears on special formal occasions, such as courts of honor. Remember that palms are “replacements”… Earn 5 merit badges and you wear bronze; earn 5 more and you remove the bronze and replace it with gold, etc.

Hi Andy,

Our Senior Patrol Leader got into some trouble at school, that got him suspended. Shortly after this, the young man’s father and the Scoutmaster reported the situation to the committee, advising the committee that the Scoutmaster had, in turn, chosen to suspend the Scout from both his Senior Patrol Leader position and from the troop as well, for six months, to which the father had agreed. I decided to speak up, on the point that we, his troop, are this young man’s “Scout family,” and we’re here to support our own. I went on to state that, as parents, we have experienced, or will, bad decisions made by our teen-aged sons, and daughters too, and that whatever happened is actually outside the troop and Scouting.

This Scout is 17 years old and Life rank, working toward Eagle. He’s been active in the troop and his fellow Scouts elected him Senior Patrol Leader—not a small thing. His 18th birthday is in eight months, and he’s wrapping up his last three merit badges right now. This suspension from the troop, if it happens, effectively guarantees that he’ll not be able to qualify for all of the Eagle requirements (tenure, project, etc.). Meanwhile, he’s also a Den Chief, and that’s been taken away, too.

I’ve spoken with this young man personally and offered to coach him through his project and get him the names of any Merit Badge Counselors he might need. He was appreciative and wants to do this.

I then contacted the Scoutmaster and noted that, in the two years I’ve been associated with this troop and known this Scout, he’s never failed to show that he lives the Scout Oath and Law, shown Scout spirit, lead his fellow Scouts, and participating in the troop’s meetings and outdoor activities. I then pointed out that we as a troop aren’t this young man’s judge and jury, nor should we be toward any Scout, and that typically any discipline issue would be handled in the Scout’s board of review, where he can reflect on his actions and consequences in a safe place.

Unfortunately, the Scoutmaster’s response was that the suspension will stand and, therefore, this Scout won’t be making Eagle, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. He then proceeded to lecture on how a Scout should be “living the Oath and Law at all times, wherever he is.

I know there are other troops or Venturing crews he could transfer to, and I’m wondering if this might be the wiser course of action, given the intransigence of the Scoutmaster. (Troop Advancement Coordinator, Council Withheld)

If you want a direct response, you’ll need to be direct with me: What does “some trouble” mean? Until you spill the beans here, I can’t help a whole heck of a lot.

Also, what’s the Scoutmaster’s and committee’s position on the fact that what happened had nothing whatsoever to do with the troop?

“Trouble” as in suspension from school for approximately one school week. I’ve been a substitute teacher in this school, so I know they have a zero tolerance policy there, for weapons, illegal substances, or fighting. But I also know that local law enforcement (that is, the police) have not been called upon or involved and that there are no charges pending, so my guess is that it was the third infraction; not either of the first two.

The Scoutmaster’s stated position is that the Scout wasn’t living the Scout Oath and Law in his personal life. But I’ve also learned that, before the troop elected him Senior Patrol Leader, the Scoutmaster had taken him aside and told this young man that if he didn’t live up to the Scoutmaster’s “expectations,” he’s bust him from being SPL. (Frankly, when I heard that from the Scoutmaster I was shocked and deeply saddened.) As a mark of this young man’s popularity and leadership qualities, this was the second time—not back-to-back!—that his fellow Scouts elected him SPL, and in-between the other SPL appointed him ASPL!

In further conversations with the father, he’s thrilled that I’m offering to work with his son on advancement and does expect that a transfer to another unit will be necessary.

Any thoughts you can share on this situation would be greatly appreciated. (TAC)

OK, so the school suspension is a good whack upside the head. This young man hasn’t been arrested or arraigned, he’s not permanently suspended, and no one’s going to send him up to the big house. In short, he’s not a “juvie” and shouldn’t be treated like one.

Yes, he made a mistake. The school is obviously forgiving him. If the Scoutmaster can’t do the same, this troop needs a different Scoutmaster, and I hope you all on the committee realize this, bounce this guy out on his ear, and get yourselves someone who understands teen-aged boys instead of some self-righteous pinhead.

If that can’t happen, then absolutely this young man should get himself into a different troop… One with a Scoutmaster who, as Baden-Powell would say, “still has the boy-spirit in him,” because, as B-P also advised, “The role of the Scoutmaster is to find the good in every boy, and bring it out.”

Dear Andy,

My son, a Webelos Scout, will be crossing over to Boy Scouts in the early spring and wants to save money so he can go to the Scouts’ National Jamboree in 2013. But apparently he’ll need to be a specific age and/or rank in order to go. He was bummed earlier this year because he wanted to go to the 2010 Centennial Jamboree and I had to tell him he couldn’t go because he’s only a Cub Scout. What are the rules on this? (Heather Phillips-Wilkie, DRT Staff, Northeast Georgia Area Council)

From Northeast Georgia, you were some 500 to 600 miles and a good 9- to 10-hour drive from this past summer’s Jamboree site, and that would have been an unquestionably grueling trip, even for a sturdy Webelos Scout! But the good news is that Jamborees are scheduled so that, during a boy’s “Scouting career” there’s at least one he’ll be eligible to attend. If your son will be age 12 by July 1, 2013, he’s in the clear! If not, then he’ll certainly be eligible in 2017!

Dear Andy,

My son crossed over to a troop this past April and we’re just getting things jumping as a Boy Scout. For several years up till April, I was “Leader of the Pack.” Now, I find myself somewhat at odds with the other adult leaders, regarding a planned “shakedown hike” for the Scouts, so they can get to practice skills for backpack camping (instead of the less strenuous “car camping”). The location is a state park, and it’s been proposed that the Scouts use the walk-in campsites. These are regulated sites inside the park, and the Scouts would be strung out, two per site, over about a half-mile of public trail. Spacing the adults out between the Scouts’ campsites will leave many of the boys in the woods with no direct line-of-sight.

Everything I learned in Cub Scouts makes this a major no-no. Is the latitude that much greater in Boy Scouts, compared to Cubs? (Tony Waybright)

Yup, there’s a huge difference between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts! Read the first couple of chapters of your son’s handbook and you’ll begin to get the idea.

The troop you’ve described seems to be doing things right… The Scouts are using the Buddy System, there are adult volunteers posted at intervals but far enough away that the Scouts can feel like they’re on their own (which is how Boy Scouts works), and they’ve got some tasks to accomplish. If you’re experiencing “separation anxiety,” that’s a good thing, because Boy Scouting is definitely not a dad-and-lad activity! It’s Scouts with Scouts! So please don’t try to hover over your son and turn his Boy Scouting experience into nothing more than “Webelos 3”! You’re not Akela anymore, Dad. Time to let go.

Dear Andy,

I’m the Scoutmaster of a newly formed troop in town. Although we have a local Cub Scout pack, for years up until we started this troop, there was no troop anywhere nearby and boys had to go to one or the other of two troops that were a good ten miles away. We started with just six boys; we now have three dozen and haven’t slowed down!

We recently took on popcorn sales as a fund-raiser, and coordinated selling locations with the local pack, which was willing to share with the troop places that they’d been selling at for any number of years, with no difficulties of any kind.

But now the difficulty… One of the troops I mentioned before has come into our town and reserved all of the store fronts we’d planned to be at (and which the pack had been at for years). OK, not ideal, but let’s be “courteous” so we went and found other locations for selling. But then the same other troop started showing up at those places, too, and saying that they’d “claimed” them. They even filed formal complaints with the shopping center management companies and made allegations that we didn’t have tour permits or permission to be at these locations (neither was true). I’m trying hard to stay “friendly” through this whole chain of events, but I’m beginning to find this beyond possible.

Well the popcorn “selling season” has ended. But I’m concerned that this behavior will move into “Scouting for Food,” since we’ve been assigned to a location in our immediate that they have now requested, and have since shown that they’re quite disturbed that it was awarded to us. If past behavior repeats itself, we’re going to have a predatory situation and a significant conflict.

How do I stop this from escalating? (Name & Council Withheld)

Have you considered sitting down over a cup of coffee with that troop’s Scoutmaster? Seems to me you guys ought to be able to work things out, if you can get face-to-face in neutral territory, and break bread together (the breaking bread part’s important—it tends to de-fuse things and keeps the six-guns in their holsters). Email? Naaaaah… Only makes escalations happen faster. Go have that cuppa java! And do the same thing you’d tell a couple o’ Scouts who were having some problems: “Come back to me when you two have worked out a resolution, and tell me about it.”

Dear Andy,

My husband is the new Scoutmaster for our troop and I’m the new advancement coordinator. We also have a new Committee Chair. We took on these positions after the three people who’d held them for any number of years retired from the troop. Up till this change-over, the troop hadn’t followed the BSA-prescribed program; for instance, all decisions about everything were made solely by the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair. My husband, on the other hand, is an advocate of the actual Scouting program with the support of the new Committee Chair, who is also setting up, for the first time, a real troop committee.

My husband is attempting to bring forward different ideas and change behaviors regarding camping. One of the problems we face is that many parents that have scheduled their sons with sport activities that conflict with the troop’s camping trips. Up to now, the way it’s been done is that, if the camping trip is from Friday evening through Sunday morning, these parents either dropped off their sons on Saturday afternoon or picked them up late Saturday afternoon or very early Sunday morning. One parent had his son go with the troop on Friday evening only to pick him up early Saturday morning! The problem with this, of course, is that the Scout subjected to this doesn’t get the full benefit of the camping program, doesn’t get to pitch in and help pack up the campsite on Sunday, and doesn’t get his turn taking home equipment to clean or a tent to air out and sweep for the next trip.

There’s a camping trip coming up, and we have 22 Scouts signed up to go, among whom nine are planning (per their parents’ instructions) to either arrive late or leave early. When my husband suggested that, when there’s a conflict like this, the Scout simply makes a decision to either go camping with his troop or go to his sports activity, but let’s stop this shuffling and shuttling, several of the parents became enraged.

Are we looking at this wrong? Maybe we ought not to care that there are Scouts not getting the full benefit of the Scouting program. Several of the Scouts who need to leave early are in leadership positions, so when they leave who’s in charge? What, if anything, can my husband as Scoutmaster do? And how do we record these Scouts’ camping time? (Name & Council Withheld)

As part of developing a way to handle this in the long run, how about your husband asks the Senior Patrol Leader to present the issue to the Patrol Leaders Council and see what the young men who lead the troop think about this and how to handle it…

To be honest, that’s not much of an answer. Actually, while some of the Patrol Leaders’ parents have complained, it’s the Senior Patrol Leader and his parents who are the problem. Oh well, we’ll figure it out…

I’m not sure what you were expecting… there are rarely any “magic bullets” and most solutions come though facing the situation and developing a solution. In your own situation, just because the Senior Patrol Leader is your alleged “culprit” is no reason to not proceed in the Scouting way. It becomes his responsibility to raise the subject at a PLC, describe the two sides of the situation, and then open it up for further discussions among the Patrol Leaders (all of whom obviously need to be present, or covered for by their assistants). Then, when a possible method for handling the problem is decided on by the PLC, the Senior Patrol Leader will be expected to conform to it not only right along with everyone else, but as the ideal role model for the other Scouts. Whenever, in our infinite wisdom, we adults attempt to “lay down the law” with youth such as Scouts, we instantly establish an “us-and-them” situation, as in kids-and-parents, kids-and-teachers, and so on. In Scouting this is the last place we want to go and we avoid this wherever possible by having the solution needed come from the Scouts. When they create and initiate it, they own it. That’s why it’ll work. Trust…and guide.

Thank you. I’ll share your wise words with our committee.

I’ve found that “when in doubt, ask the Scout” usually works. Here’s a brief (and true) story…

Some years ago, a troop was having a problem with “electronics” being brought along on camping trips. Drove the Scoutmaster nuts! The troop committee was ready to ban anything that had an on-off button except flashlights. After much thought, the Scoutmaster brought this up to the PLC, and the troop’s youth leaders came up with this: Once a year, there would be an “electronics weekend” where the Scouts could bring along anything they wanted… gameboys, cell phones, anything! BUT, in order to “qualify” to go on this weekend, a Scout had had to do a specific minimum number of non-electronic campouts during the year, and the number was set by the PLC (not the adults!). Last I heard, it was working.

This may not give any clues on how to resolve your own situation, but it does point up that, given a problem and tasked to solve it, Scouts will definitely rise to the occasion!

Hello Andy,

I have a question about the eligibility of Scouts to be awarded a U.S. Flag. Traditionally in our pack, each Webelos II is awarded an American Flag in addition to an actual arrow in the Arrow of Light ceremony. However, one or more Webelos Scouts may not have completed all requirements for the Arrow of Light and therefore not receive it. Of course, they wouldn’t receive an arrow, but would they still qualify for the flag? (Saie-Yau Hui, WIIDL, Capitol Area Council, TX)

This being the tradition of your particular pack, I’d say the decision rests with the adult volunteers of that pack—only you all can decide what these boys should receive. What were the original criteria? Was it a bit of extra icing on the cake when a Webelos Scout earned his Arrow of Light rank? Or was it for some other reason? If it’s a bonus for having earned the Arrow of Light (which impression I’m getting, here), then of course all Webelos who complete that rank become eligible, simple as that! But this decision is yours! As to who, in the pack, would best be making the decision, I’d say that it would be either all committee members plus the Cubmaster and all Den Leaders, and all registered assistant DLs; but if you needed to reduce that number to a more efficient minimum, I’d say that since it’s part of the program side of the equation and not something that’s administrative it’s the decision of the Cubmaster and Den Leaders.

Hello Andy,

My son crossed over to Boy Scouts this past April and went to Scout camp this summer, where I was a Camp Commissioner in the same period. In the time he was at camp, he’d completed 12 merit badges and had three more “partials,” which he completed back home after returning from camp.

On learning of this, my son’s Scoutmaster complained that he shouldn’t be interested in “just earning merit badges” and that his father (me) must have “pushed him to do this.” I informed the Scoutmaster that my son had done all of the necessary prerequisite paperwork for all 12 at home, before he’d even arrived at camp, and so they were largely a breeze, and as for the other three, he decided to do those while he was at camp since he had time in the evenings to complete the work for them, so it wasn’t all that hard.

My son wants to continue earning merit badges, and he knows several Merit Badge Counselors in our area and what ones they cover, and he wants to start some of these right now, before winter really sets in.

The Scoutmaster’s response to my son’s requests for “blue cards” for these is that he won’t allow my son to do the merit badges unless the Merit Badge Counselor agrees to counsel the entire troop of Scouts. These Merit Badge Counselors have countered by offering their merit badges to any Scout who will show up on Saturdays for counseling.

The Scoutmaster next claimed that my son was “getting special treatment” from these counselors because I’m a Commissioner, and this puts the rest of the Scouts in the troop at a disadvantage, so his solution to this unfairness is that not only my son but all Scouts in the troop can only work with troop-specific Merit Badge Counselors; “outside” counselors are now effectively off the playing field.

So (finally, and thanks for your patience) here’s my question: Is it mandatory that a Scout (any Scout) must work on merit badges only with troop-specific Merit Badge Counselors, to the exclusion of MBCs who operate at the district or council level? Can a troop make something like this a “troop policy”?

My son has friends in this troop and wants to stay with them; but I’m sensing that if this Scoutmaster is acting unilaterally and now making up “policies” that are counter to the methods and intent of the BSA merit badge program, we might have to find him a new troop. Any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course we both know that your son’s Scoutmaster is full of beans, and so does your son. The BSA states very clearly that (a) any Scout can begin work on any merit badge any time he wishes, (b) there are no prerequisites placed on any Scout seeking any merit badge, (c) a Scoutmaster cannot unreasonably or arbitrarily withhold a “blue card” (aka merit badge application) from any Scout for any reason, (d) it is not required that any merit badge be done on a group basis and no individual or unit may make and decrees in antithesis of this, and (e) any Scout can go to any Merit Badge Counselor he wishes; neither a unit nor an individual can demand that a Scout go to any particular Merit Badge Counselor. Finally, the BSA also states that once the Merit Badge Counselor has signed that a merit badge’s requirements have been completed, any sort of re-test, review, “challenge,” or further “examination” of the Scout is strictly prohibited. (The Scoutmaster’s signature on the inside of the application’s first segment is merely and only to demonstrate that the earning of the merit badge has been duly noted and recorded.)

Perhaps it’s high time you and several other like-minded fathers met personally with the Committee Chair and the troop’s Advancement Coordinator and told these two individuals that you don’t like how your sons are being treated by the Scoutmaster, that the Scoutmaster is acting in violation of BSA policies and procedures, and that if this doesn’t stop immediately you all are going to go find a troop that gets it right and transfer your sons, en masse, out of this troop. You can do this respectfully and politely…and firmly. This is not a time to walk small; these are your sons’ lives we’re talking about. Finally, if any dad is concerned about “hurting the feelings” of the Scoutmaster or anyone else, he simply needs to ask himself if the emotional well-being of an adult who should know better than to hold boys’ natural curiosity and enthusiasm hostage trumps the emotional well-being of his son.

Happy Scouting!



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

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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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