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Issue 236 – December 10, 2010

Hi Andy,

What do you do when the temperature’s minus 30! (Yeah, that’s 62 degrees Fahrenheit below freezing!) Well, while you Scouts in the upper stretches of the “Lower 48” are hopin’ for flurries so you can do your Klondike Derby, here at our Alaska Troop 230 (outside Anchorage), we load up our sleds with wood and other gear, tow ‘em through the woods and out onto Byer’s Lake, where we team-build our igloos before it gets too dark. If we’re not done by sunset, then we just fire up our lanterns till we’re finished, crawl into your sleeping bags, and call it a night (do I hear Taps playing across the lake late at night…?) Waking up the next morning, our first thoughts are for our ice augurs, because somebody’s gonna need to drill some holes so we can catch our breakfast, cook ‘em up, an’ eat ‘em!

(From Bill Casler and the Scouts of your adopted Alaskan Troop, in the Great Alaska Council, Wasilla, AK)

What’s the very best part of bein’ a Scout in Alaska? Gotta be that no one ever calls you a nerd, dweeb, goody-goody, wuss, or momma’s boy, because they know you go where they chicken out and—most important—YOU COME BACK! So you can GO FOR MORE! Hoo-Rah!

Dear Andy,

Last night I sat in with three Scouts from my troop as they presented their Eagle Projects to the District Advancement Chair, to get the final signature needed to get their projects underway. I’m the Scoutmaster and these are the first three Eagle candidates that we’ve had since I took on this job just over two years ago. The first two Scouts (one aged 17; the other, 16) each got the required signature on the spot and were about the be on their way, The third Scout, a 15 year-old was instead told by the DAC, right out of the chute, “Oh, I see you’re only 15… You have plenty of time to get this done.” That turned out to be the kiss of death. I watched as this Scout just sort of sank in his chair, while the DAC proceeded to take the next half-hour to pick apart this one Scout’s project plan and ended by telling him to come back after he’s re-written it more to the DAC’s liking.

I almost blew my cool, because this third Scout is my own son. On our way home in the car, he was pretty depressed, and I did tell him that I thought the DAC was way over the top on how he treated this, especially since our own troop committee had reviewed it along with the other two and considered it the strongest in vision, plan, organization, and detail than either of the other two—both of which were certainly excellent on their own merits. This made him feel a bit better during the drive home, and he’s now determined to re-write it just as the DAC wants, and get that over with. He did jokingly say he needed to add one more 2x 4 to the supply list, in case anyone needs a little whack upside the head (LOL). Anyway, he made a positive out of it and spent four hours last night fixing everything that was purportedly “wrong” with it.

So, what did he learn? That there are people “out there” who just can’t help applying their own warped “standards” where they don’t belong, and driving other people nuts as a result.

Thanks for a great columns—I quote you all the time! (Gary Tibbets, SM, Boston Minuteman Council, MA)

I’ll second that 2×4 idea! In fact, tell your son I’ll pay for it!

Uninvited suggestion: Your son gets back to that dommkopf sooner rather than later and is sure to highlight the changes requested, so that the “list” can’t be added to using the old, “Oh, I must have forgotten to mention…” or “I’m sure I must have mentioned…” malarkey. Hold that DAC’s feet to the fire on having done what he requested and so now let’s roll up our sleeves. And you, as Scoutmaster, are the advocate and champion for this and all Eagle candidates, and you don’t let this go to any additional go-rounds.

Dear Andy,

I’ve just read your November 30th column and the question from the Commissioner in a new council confronted with a policy of “in-house” Commissioners. I’ve read your response to this and felt compelled to find which Commissioner manual I’d read it in. It’s in the Administration of Commissioner Service manual (No. 34501-2009 Printing), Chapter 5, “Unit Commissioners,” page 9:

“Commissioners must not be registered as unit leaders. Although some commissioners may be registered on a unit committee because they have a child in the unit or because of previous personal history in the unit, their principal Scouting obligation should be with commissioner responsibilities. “Please don’t assign unit commissioners to their own units or chartered organizations. A commissioner needs an objective view as an arm of the district and council. Avoid potential conflicts of interest.

“Commissioners may be currently registered in only one commissioner position.

“Please don’t ask units to provide their own commissioner. Commissioners must be selected by the district on the basis of qualities needed to adequately represent the district and council.”

(Martin Ohrenberg, UC, Greater Alabama Council)

Yes, you’ve found it, and those four contain two official policies (the first and third you mention) and two requests or suggestions, which have merits of their own but may not be completely accurate in every instance. On the point of not assigning a Commissioner to the unit he or she may have been associated with, the phrase “conflict of interest” is used but never defined, and I challenge anyone to describe what sort of “conflict of interest” there might be between a position of complete diplomacy with no authority whatsoever over an autonomous unit and its chartered organization, and the suggestion is one of “objectivity,” and again I challenge anyone to describe in real-life terms why a Commissioner should remain emotionally distant from the unit(s) he or she serves.

On the point of a unit “providing their (sic) own commissioner,” since all commissioners are vetted and indeed formally “commissioned” by their council and district, the ultimate selection of who will serve always remains exactly where it is supposed to remain.

Not withstanding, however, the fundamental ideas are solid and are worth consideration on a case-by-case basis.

Dear Andy,

I had a pair of parents tell me that their son is bored with the troop their son is in because it seems to only go to summer camps with programs for Scouts up to First Class and doesn’t offer much of a program for older, more experienced Scouts. Their son is considering transferring out of his troop and into a Venturing crew. If he does this, will his tenure as Senior Patrol Leader in the troop he’ll transfer out of count toward the Eagle requirement, or will the clock be re-set to zero in the crew? Their understanding is when he joins the crew, the requirements for Eagle must be earned using the Boy Scout program, and they are concerned that he’ll get no credit for time previously served when he moves over. What’s the story here? (Matt Price)

Since the parents’ question was about an Eagle requirement, I’m assuming that their son is a Life Scout. That being the case, of course his tenure as Senior Patrol Leader counts! It’s absolutely not required that a Life rank Scout (or Venturer) serve a continuous, unbroken six months in the same position, or even exclusively with a troop or with a Venturing crew. The requirement, as described on the Eagle Scout Rank Application makes this pretty clear, I believe. Now with that out of the way, it’s time, perhaps, for Mom n’ Dad to take a back seat, so that their minimum age 14 year-old son can start speaking up for himself.

Hi Andy,

Two uniform questions… First, for the CharteredOrganization Representative, does you wear the tan-and-khaki Scout uniform even if the only unit sponsored is a Venturing crew? Second, for a Commissioner serving only Venturing crews, do you wear the forest green-and-gray Venturing uniform, or the tan-and-khaki Scout one? And where, if anywhere, is this written down? (It’s been a debate in many local districts here.) (Eduardo Cosme Ruiz, UC, Puerto Rico Council, PR)

CRs don’t need uniforms. If he or she likes wearing a uniform, that’s certainly OK. If the chartered organization sponsors only a crew, then the green shirt and gray trousers would sure be a nice idea!

The only kind of Commissioner who might exclusively serve a Venturing crew would be a Unit Commissioner. If that’s the case, then IMHO the green shirt-gray trousers are probably OK. But if this Commissioner ever intends to do something beyond Venturing, then the normal adult uniform (tan-khaki) would definitely be the way to go.

That said, if you want to be absolutely, positively correct, then, as a Commissioner you would want to wear the standard Scout Leader uniform, which is tan-and-khaki, but don’t drive yourself loco over this—Any complete BSA uniform is always better than none or part.

Dear Andy,

Irecently becamethe troop Committee Chair.Our Scoutmaster is a dedicated man, but sometimes when I ask him about what’s happening (or not happening) with the troop and the Scouts, he gets defensive.Overall, I find it hard to help him when he’s this way.Last week, the troop held Patrol Leader elections and only two of the troop’s four patrols elected PLs; there’s no Troop Guide for the new Scout patrol, and there are no Instructors (an Eagle-qualified leader position). I’m concerned that the troop can’t operate as it’s intended without Scouts in these positions and with all patrols having PLs. Is this an issue for the PLC to resolve, the Scoutmaster, who? And how can I best express my concern to our Scoutmaster without overstepping my role as CC or offending him? (B.B. the CC)

As Committee Chair, it would be pretty difficult for you to “overstep” your role, because the BSA informs us that you’re ultimately the one responsible for the overall quality of the Scouting program in this troop. The BSA also says that the Scoutmaster, although a key “team member,” actually reports to the Committee Chair. (Get yourself and your Scoutmaster to some training, start reading the Troop Committee Guidebook, and you’ll see how this works.)

The Scoutmaster is responsible to you and to the troop’s sponsor to instill a quality, youth-led Scouting program, at the boy level. This includes The Patrol Method, Patrol Leader elections at least once a year (although most troops do this every six months nowadays), and the Senior Patrol Leader—also elected, of course—selects (with the Scoutmaster’s counsel) who the Troop Guide(s) will be (if they’re needed—this is not a “mandatory” troop position), who the Scribe and Quartermaster will be, and so on. And yes, a new Scout patrol should definitely have the benefit of a Troop Guide (the TG is not a member of that patrol—he’s a member of his own patrol and provides guidance to the new Scout patrol’s own elected PL).

Sounds like you and your Scoutmaster need a heart-to-heart about what he’s willing to do and where he needs some help. But here’s the very bottom line: If he can’t or won’t follow the Boy Scout program as the BSA wrote it to be delivered, you, the Committee Chair, will need to lead the way in finding and recruiting a replacement for him.

If you’re hesitant to “hurt his feelings,” just keep in mind that if you walk small around this, it’s your own son and his friends who will wind up on the fuzzy end of the stick; not the Scoutmaster! So you decide: What’s important here… a possibly ineffectual adult or the lives and futures of your own sons.

Dear Andy,

Who keeps the “blue card” for a merit badge while the Scout’s at work on it: the Scout or the Merit Badge Counselor? (Margaret, Mecklenburg County Council, NC)

When the Scout brings the “blue card” (aka merit badge application) to his first meeting with his Counselor, the usual practice is for the Counselor to retain it, so that he can date and initial the requirements as the Scout completes them. Then, when everything’s done, the Counselor dates all three of the card’s stubs, signs the first two stubs, and keeps the Counselor’s stub for his or her own personal records, returning the signed first two stubs to the Scout, who then gets his Scoutmaster’s signature acknowledging receipt on both stubs and keeps his own, for his own records.

Hello Andy,

First keep up the great work. I’m reading all of your previous columns for pointers.

Recently, we met to form a new troop committee, and I became the Committee Chair. One of the mothers wants to volunteer for the committee, but she’s already involved in Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and her kids’ school (at this meeting, she sat there grading school papers). My concern is that she’s already over-extended and really doesn’t need to serve on the committee too. I do have several parents and others who are willing to serve on the troop committee (and who aren’t already overloaded with other responsibilities). So, how do I go about telling this one parent, “Thanks, but no thanks”? I’m afraid that she’ll get mad and pull her two sons out of the troop, and that would only hurt the boys. Any suggestions? (Dale Stoddard, CC, Georgia-Carolina Council)

The “I’m so busy and important that I’m gonna multi-task and grade these papers while you’re trying to run a meeting” is the usual tactic of an over-the-top self-centered person who is simultaneously starved for attention and/or approval.

Related to that, is that threat that she’ll pull her two sons out of the troop if she doesn’t get her way real—that is, have you seen exhibits of behavior that suggest she’d actually do this—or are you imagining it, based on encounters you’ve had somewhere else? If the former, then you definitely do not want her registered on the troop committee because you’ll be opening a latent tyrant’s “Pandora’s box.”

Your solution here is simple: Say nothing, and do not give her an application. If she brings up the question, or asks for an application, or hands you an application, thank her and tell her that if her services are needed, you’ll be sure to have a chat with her. Then go ahead and recruit the people you wish to, and if she has any questions about this, simply (and politely) repeat to her that if her services are needed you’ll be sure to have a chat with her. Offer nothing beyond those words that might lead you into one of those “death spiral” conversations, keep your distance, and change the subject. Keep the wall intact and she’ll not be able to get through.

Make sure that the key people in the unit are alerted to how this must be handled, so that she doesn’t shift her focus and blind-side someone who becomes the chink in your armor. You absolutely don’t need this kind of person in your core group of volunteers.

Dear Andy,

As a District Commissioner, I’ve been contacted by a Chartered Organization Representative, informing me that “We have a boy in our Cub Scout pack whose mother is deaf. This woman has advised us that she believes it is the pack’s responsibility to provide her with a “signer,” at the pack’s expense if necessary.”

I recommended to our Council Commissioner that I would be willing to meet with this woman and convey to her that the BSA and its local councils operation on a (very) limited budget that’s generated, essentially, by a unit’s chartered organization and by friends of the organization and/or the unit, and so providing her with a signer at meetings would deflect resources that are supposed to be for the benefit of the unit’s youth membership. I’m considering the idea of finding someone who might offer this service on a volunteer basis, rather than paying someone to sign for her. In thinking further about this situation, I want to make sure we handle this in accordance with BSA protocols and policies, so I did some on-line searching. I couldn’t find a thing! But, to prevent finding ourselves in an awkward position and possibly offending a family, I’d like make sure where we stand. I’d like to contact the national office for advice. Although I believe we should be able to work with this woman, I have a concern over the idea that somehow this woman “believes” that it’s the pack’s responsibility and potential expense. To me, that just doesn’t sound like she’s looking for a way to work together. I also want to check with the CR about when this conversation took place, because I don’t want a long time-gap between conversations here. Can you add any thoughts to what’s going on here? This is a new one for us! (Bill Yoder, DC)

I’m seeing this situation just a bit differently…This woman’s challenge is her own; no one “owes” her anything and she’s not “entitled” to anything special from a not-for-profit group like the Scouting unit her kid is in, which is all volunteer-based and spends whatever funds it has on its membership; not on parents of members. If this woman needs help, she might consider appealing to the chartered organization, and perhaps they’ll provide funds so that she can learn to lip-read, for which it’s a shame that in her at least 30 years on this planet she hasn’t taken the initiative to learn. Moreover, one might be tempted to ask why her husband is unable to fulfill the role of signer… Does he not sign, as a way to communicate with his wife? If he does sign, then the situation’s resolved, and if he doesn’t, then what more proof do you need that this is actually a bunch of hog wash.

If she gets exercised and threatens to pull her kid, then she’s shown her true colors as a self-centered bully. And, much as we might wish to, we can’t save children from their own parents.

The bottom line for me is that I’d absolutely never consider knuckling under to someone who’s out to take no prisoners… or responsibility.

Dear Andy,

My son is almost 13 and First Class and has met the requirement for Star rank by being “active” attending troop meetings (in the past 12 months, he’s missed only three), almost all campouts, and any other activities scheduled. He’s earned four Eagle-required merit badges plus any number of others as well. While at camp this past summer, on his own he earned two Eagle-required and four other merit badges. He’s now been elected Patrol Leader for eight months, with no complaints about his leadership (until today). Finally, he’s completed 20 hours of approved service.

The current Scoutmaster took this position about seven months ago and since then ten Scouts have left the troop, only two have joined in 11 months, and it looks like none will join the troop from the Cub Scout pack this year. Shortly, we’ll be at a head-count of about 15 and losing, from some two dozen and growing at this time a year ago.

The Scoutmaster has just announced to the Scouts as a whole that he’s “not going to advance any of them because they’re not showing Scout spirit.”

Well, my son asked for his Scoutmaster conference, only to be told that he’d have to wait to get Scout spirit signed off, because he needed to do more at the campouts. So my son asked what would be expected of him to do and the Scoutmaster did describe some of the things needed, but emphasized that the only time he’d use to evaluate Scout spirit would be on campouts because he did not see the Scout enough at any other time to judge this. On learning of this, I stepped up and talked to the Scoutmaster about how Scout spirit being everything in a Scout’s daily life, but the Scoutmaster stuck to this “campouts-only” method because he felt that any Scout needed to work at a much higher level to be Star rank. He went on to tell me that if parents like me didn’t like what he was doing, then they could get another Scoutmaster.

What do we do? The first time this gentleman was approached about a Scoutmaster Conference, he said he’d hold one, but our son shouldn’t count on advancing because he’s hard to get up in the mornings on campouts. (Incidentally, we’ve worked with our son to improve this, but the medications he takes for his ADHD make it difficult to go to sleep, with the result that he’s difficult to awake in the morning.) He’s also being told that he doesn’t “do enough” on campouts, yet in the entire time that this man has been Scoutmaster, he’s not had a single conversation with my son about this—it’s literally only come up since it’s apparent my son’s completed every requirement save the conference for his next rank. Do you have any suggestions or thought? We’re at our wits’ end! (Name & Council Withheld)

I doubt that your letter and the response you’re about to get will come back to bite you or your son—I think I can pretty much guarantee that that little tin god of a Scoutmaster doesn’t read my columns!

OK, let’s cut to the chase… There are only two options here (aside from the miserable one of doing nothing and allowing this positively awful Scoutmaster completely ruin your’ son’s Scouting experience—for a lifetime!—to say nothing of the damage he’s already done to other boys and young men.

Your first option is to gather as many parents as possible, and together demand of the chartered organization (aka “sponsor”) and the troop committee that they replace this sorry excuse for a “leader of boys” instantly. He’s poison and shouldn’t be allowed one more minute in front of your sons!

The second option is to get your son out of that troop instantly, and get him transferred (costs a buck!) into a neighboring troop that gets it right.Even if there’s some driving involved, do it, because your son should absolutely not have to tolerate this martinet one second longer than absolutely necessary.

What’s going on in this troop—and I hardly believe your son’s the only boy being abused in this way—is unconscionable. Don’t waste your time trying to “report” this to the Scout council or district, because they don’t “own” the troop—the owner of the troop, and therefore the only people who can get rid of that Scoutmaster, is the sponsor.

Might this “hurt his feelings”? I certainly hope so.

Thanks. As far as that Scoutmaster goes, I believe he thinks he’s “holding the Scouts to high standards” to “ensure a quality troop.”

As far as enforcement goes, I don’t expect the council folks to be the Scout police. It just seems like basic information needs to be publicized more, both to leaders and parents. To leaders, to reinforce BSA policies and to parents so they know when their units or volunteer leaders are deviating from BSA policy. Again, I guess the BSA national office assumes that councils also stay on top of policies and changes. A quick example: I asked our District Executive about the policy defining “active” (another hot topic), and his response was that units can define active for themselves, including using numbers and percentages, and when I sent him the actual policy from advance/changes/advchanges10.asp he told me that no one in his council was aware of this! So how is it that I can find that information in five minutes of online search, but our key council personnel don’t know it exists? Isn’t this their job?

Yeah, I’ve heard that “high standards” nonsense for years, and it’s just as much baloney as every other dodge these jokers come up with. There’s only one, single standard and that’s the requirements as written by the BSA. Period. End of story. Re-checking or re-testing or whatever these little tin gods call it is absolutely not permitted and that’s a BSA policy; not my opinion.

The information is in every Boy Scout Handbook and any parent that doesn’t read his or her son’s handbook is making one huge mistake, because the job of the troop’s adult volunteers is simple: DELIVER THE PROGRAM AS DESCRIBED IN THE HANDBOOK without variation. And how are parents supposed to be able to assess the quality of the program being delivered to their sons, you ask? Well, they can get a good start by making the time to read about what it’s supposed to be, IN THEIR OWN SONS’ HANDBOOKS!

As for the council employees, they’re largely unreliable sources of policies because THAT’S NOT THEIR JOB! Their big mistake, of course, is trying to answer your questions instead of directing you to people who actually know the answers. D.E.’s are charged with increasing membership, sustaining units and increasing their numbers, recruiting district- and council-level volunteers, raising money, and so on… and none of this has doodley-squat to do with the actual unit-level program delivery! That’s not their job, never has been, and ain’t gonna start anytime soon! Ask them about what they do know and you’ll get solid answers; ask them about what you want them to know and you’re on shakier ground.

So parents, read your sons’ handbooks! Stay in touch with the head of the organization that sponsors your sons’ unit. And don’t expect that there’s anyone better than you to keep grass-roots Scouting aimed at True North!

So, have you fired that Scoutmaster or moved your son yet? If not, why the foot-draggin’?

Hi Andy:

My question has to do with BSA national policies and why so many troops seem to stray from what you refer to as True North. For example, my son recently “failed” his Scoutmaster conference for First Class. I don’t know all the issues involved, but he really studied his handbook and did pass this at the next troop meeting. His Scoutmaster will quiz the Scouts on all requirements up to the rank being sought. I know of a troop where Scouts are required to present to their Scoutmaster the completed merit badge worksheets for all Eagle-required merit badges, for his final approval, even if the Scouts have signed blue cards from their Merit Badge Counselors.

You often advise reading our son’s Boy Scout Handbook, but the Scoutmaster Handbook doesn’t appear to address this re-testing issue at all. My son pointed out that his handbook describes what is supposed to happen during a Scoutmaster conference, but that’s not how his Scoutmaster does it. This document——says that this isn’t an interrogation or re-testing for competence in Scout skills. But then another Scouter said that since it refers to “deferred” advancement, a Scoutmaster can absolutely fail a Scout, even if all requirements have been signed off.

These seem to be basic issues and I don’t understand why so many of these troops try to do it differently. I guess my question is why basic policies don’t seem to be publicized and enforced by the BSA. Obviously, the enforcement component would be difficult, but does the BSA national office just assume that people will read the policies and then simply apply a basic understanding of the English language? If so, based on what I’ve seen and read in your columns, it ain’t working.

How do I, as a parent and troop committee member, bring up these concerns, knowing that my son has at least three more Scoutmaster conferences from now to Eagle, and I sure don’t want to cause additional problems for him? (Name & Council Withheld)

Yours is the universal question, that people like yourselves have been asking for the past ten years that I’ve been writing this column, and I’m convinced for many decades before that.

The BSA does a generally superb job of describing how the Scouting program is to be delivered and why it needs to be that way. The BSA is not, however, an enforcement agency, neither is anyone in the local councils—paid or volunteer—across the country charged with policing units for correct delivery methods. The one entity that does have both the responsibility and the authority in this area is, interestingly, the chartered organization; and if the head or the designate (the registered Chartered Organization Representative) of the organization becomes aware of deviations from the stated methods and procedures, that organization and that person may indeed recommend corrective actions and, if those actions aren’t followed, dismiss the people responsible for deviating from Scouting’s “True North.”

Why are there deviations? First, there’s the famous caveat: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That is to say, there are volunteers in Scouting who derive great personal satisfaction from “failing” boys and making boys jump through hoops that the BSA never intended be there, and these people are unlikely to be swayed by training, reading, or confrontation by knowledgeable people—their purpose in joining the BSA in the first place would be ultimately thwarted if they had to conform to BSA standards, and so they ignore those standards, find supposed “loop-holes” (for instance, that silly “deferred” argument, which is total baloney, of course), and other means so that they can continue doing what satisfies their own sick egos and warped emotional needs. The third is lack of knowledge by accident, and is fixable by attending training and reading the leaders’ materials available. The fourth is ignorance by design, by people who, in their misguided “infinite wisdom” believe they know better than anyone else how the program should “really” be delivered, and so they do for as long as you parents, the committee (which is sometime culpable as well, so be cautious here), and the sponsor allow them to get away with it.

In your son’s troop, if the Committee Chair does understand that the Scoutmaster’s off-base, and is willing to have a serious chat about getting right, your son and every Scout in the troop will stand a chance at not being mistreated any further. If not, then the Chartered Organization Representative or the head of the sponsoring organization might want to have this conversation. But if neither of these happens, and you don’t want to get yourself into the Chartered Organization Representative position—where you can really make a difference!—then your only two options left are to tolerate these injustices (baaaad idea!) or find a better troop for your son and his friends, and then get them over there as fast as you can.

Now, a couple of simple details…

The BSA clearly states that merit badges are absolutely not subject to further testing or re-testing once signed off by the Merit Badge Counselor. That Scoutmaster is totally out of line in what he’s doing.

The BSA is equally clear about the purposes of Scoutmasters conferences. They have noting whatsoever to do with re-examining the details of any requirements, current or past. The reason the Scoutmaster Handbook doesn’t say this is because the book states what is supposed to happen, and therefore assumes that no one is stupid enough to do what isn’t described or mean-spirited enough to use these conferences as their own judgmental fiefdoms.

Further in this regard, the BSA is equally clear that boards of review are not for the purposes of retesting anything, ever.

As already mentioned, but let’s reinforce it, this “deferred” notion is horsepucky. End of story. That Scouter “friend” doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Yes, the BSA does (and must!) assume that intelligent people who have the best interests of our young people at heart will follow the program as it’s written. The BSA doesn’t presume that the program will be delivered by idiots or miscreants. Maybe that’s a mistake…

Hi Andy,

Regarding boards of review, it is clear that family members and/or other relatives should not be involved with that process?

Regarding merit badges, we often a Scout’s parent is the sole Counselor for a specific merit badge, and so he or she signs off. Is this OK?

However, regarding Scoutmaster conferences, is it stated in BSA national, council, or district publications anywhere that a parent who is also the Scoutmaster or an Assistant Scoutmaster is prohibited from signing off on (that is, approving) a rank requirement?

Thanks in advance. (Michael Holden,National Capitol Area Council, MD)

Yes, it’s stated in various BSA publications that parents and other direct relatives are not permitted to be members of any board of review for their own son. The most important place for this to be communicated, of course, is between the Scoutmaster or troop advancement coordinator and all new parents, at the very outset of their sons’ becoming Boy Scouts.

The BSA states in clear language that a Merit Badge Counselor may counsel his or her own son or nephew, and goes on to say that the Merit Badge Counselor’s decision is final and cannot be overruled by anyone.

The BSA does not state anywhere that a Scoutmaster cannot hold the Scoutmaster’s conference with his or her own son or nephew. After all, when we acknowledge that the purpose of such a conference is not to carry out some sort of informal “final exam,” but to help prepare the Scout for his upcoming board of review (for which the Scoutmaster becomes the Scout’s champion), who better? might I ask.

Dear Andy,

You were right to point out the BSA policy that a Scoutmaster cannot add to the requirements for any rank, but I do think that there may be some room for interpretation for the Star, Life, and Eagle ranks, because of the requirement to “be active in your troop and patrol” for a specified period of time. It is up to the Scoutmaster to determine whether a Scout has been active and each Scoutmaster will apply his own standards,which should bereasonable and attainable. If a Scoutmaster is requiring certain types of participation for the lower ranks, then he certainly is adding to the rank requirements, but if he is using these measures to set a standard for being active in the troop, then I think that he is simply interpreting the requirement. (Karl Knapp, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Thank you for your thoughts. Unfortunately, there just is no “room” for “interpretation” of any advancement requirement. The moment that happens, mayhem reigns. The moment one Scoutmaster or board of review member begins to apply one arbitrary “standard” of their own concoction, and another Scoutmaster or board of review member begins to apply another, we now have no national standard any longer.

This is why the BSA policy about altering requirements must prevail in all cases and in every case, and why the BSA has stated the requirements in such explicit terms in the first place. “Tell” means tell, “demonstrate” means demonstrate, “30 days and nights of camping” means just that, three months of exercises means three months, and so on. Once these things are “interpreted” and meddled with, regardless of the intention, nothing means anything anymore.

When I, as a First Class Scout, for example, encountered another First Class Scout, we each knew that the other could send and receive Morse Code at no less than 95% accuracy, the other could strongly swim at least 400 yards without stopping, could identify plants that were poisonous to ingest and poisonous to touch, and how to start a cooking for without benefit of matches. If this sort of national standard is permitted to deteriorate, then what’s left but uncertainty at the least and mayhem at the worst.

Now this isn’t intended to suggest that a Scoutmaster’s judgment isn’t important. It’s vital, in fact. Just not in the arena of advancement requirements. In part, this makes the Scoutmaster’s responsibilities easier, because there are so many other areas, in serving American youth, where judgment is critical, so that not having to worry about what advancement requirements might actually mean definitely eases the burden.

Finally, it’s important for you to know that the BSA national advancement committee absolutely does have a standard for what “active” means. I will not, however, describe it here, because I don’t wish to tempt the damage that “hearsay” can engender. I will, nevertheless, state firmly to any Scout, parent, or youth-involved adult this: If you believe that you or another has been dealt with unfairly in the area of “active” by any Scoutmaster, board of review member, or other adult, appeal this immediately to your council advancement committee first and if satisfactory resolution is not forthcoming, then to the national advancement committee. I will personally guarantee that in 99.999% of all such appeals any arbitrary, non-national standard will be overturned, the Scout will prevail, and the original taskmaster will have severely embarrassed himself and the troop he’s supposed to be serving.

Hi Andy,

My son has received several patches from various summer camps, and I’m wondering how these patches are displayed. I know they don’t belong on the uniform shirt, but can they be placed on the back of the merit badge sash? My son has a red vest from Cub Scouts, but the boys in my son’s troop don’t wear a vest or bring one to their court of honor—maybe they just keep them at home and just sew on the patches? (Linda Geringer, Heart of America Council, MO)

Boy Scouts don’t wear those red patch vests—just Cubs and Webelos. Wrap up your son’s, along with his Cub Scout stuff, and save it for him.

Yes, badges from summer camps and so on may be sewn on the back of the merit badge sash—that’s where they’re “legal.” However, visit a troop court of honor, first, and take a look at the sashes of the other Scouts in the troop… If those sashes have patches, then go ahead; if not, then put your son’s patches in a nice box for saving (he’ll thank you for this, because he’ll want to fit in with the rest of the Scouts, and we all start this process by doing what the new peer group does. And this is a good thing: This is how we grow up!).

Dear Andy,

I’m a new adult leader, registered with my council, background checked, and so on, but I’ve wanted to become more involved as an Assistant Scoutmaster. My troop tells me that soon, I’ll need to take the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster leader-specific training, which I’m anxiously awaiting. My question is when, technically, can one start to wear the Scout leader uniform…before or after training? (Nick Porter, Capitol Area Council, TX)

As a duly registered volunteer, including acceptance of your application by your troop and council, and with the council’s background check coming back clear, you’re entitled to purchase and wear your uniform and its components right now. This includes both the official apparel as well as the badges appropriate to your troop and position. If you were a Scout, and earned the Arrow of Light or Eagle Scout ranks, or the youth religious award, you are entitled to wear the “square knot” badges representing these accomplishments as well. This is the uniform you’ll wear to any further training courses you’ll be participating in, from here on out… Congratulations! You’ve taken a big and important step here!

Dear Andy,

I have a question that touches two separate things I do for Scouting: I’m District Vice-Chair for Programs, and I’m a member of the council’s International Committee. Because we live in the shadow of our nation’s Capitol, our District has any number of Scouters who are deployed overseas. A Life rank Scout is contemplating a “long distance” Eagle Service Project that would benefit a foreign (i.e., non-BSA) Scouting program by conducting a camping equipment drive locally and then shipping the materiel collected would be shipped overseas for use by volunteers of Scout Associations overseas.

The specific language describing limitations found in the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook states: “Projects involving council property or other BSA activities are not acceptable” and “Donors to projects must be made aware of what entity is benefiting from the project, and that it clearly is not the Boy Scouts of America.”

The recipients, although foreign Scout Associations, aren’t part of the BSA. But they’re Scouts nonetheless. If I “green-light” this project here at the district level, I suspect that the council would kick it up to the national office if there were any uncertainty on their part, and my interest is in not only approving the project but precluding substantial delays in final go-ahead. Do you know of any precedent for remote Eagle projects benefitting members of Scouting movements in other countries that I might cite in defense of this concept? (Mike Sierra, District Vice-Chair for Programs, National Capital Area Council, DC)

Nope… I can’t provide you with precedents, one way or the other. But I think it’s reasonable to make the extrapolation that the framers of that requirement would have considered other Scouting units or organizations off the table as well–the language of the requirement is the way it is so that fundamentally we’re not being self-serving, which even a foreign Scout unit, group, or association is likely to fall into, categorically. Between us chickens here, I’d say it’s time to have a sit-down with this Scout and help him redirect his thinking, especially since there are so many other organizations both here and abroad that could benefit without raising this issue.

On the other hand, his idea remains excellent, useful, and a powerful reminder of the “Brotherhood of ALL Scouts,” and there’s nothing that rules out doing it anyway—just not as an Eagle project!

Dear Andy,

I was re-reading some of your old columns, noticed a lot about Meritorious and Lifesaving Awards, and so I have a couple of questions…

Are these limited to just youth members? I know of a Scouter (he’s an older Eagle Scout, BTW) who charged into a burning car to extract a victim in a wreck. Is a Scouter eligible? Is there any statute of limitations on nominating someone for this? Who do I contact to learn about how to proceed? (Damon Edmondson, ACM, Atlanta Area Council, GA) (WB92-52 – Owl)

Any registered member of the BSA is eligible to be considered for the lifesaving awards. The person to contact is your local council’s advancement chair, whose name and contact information can be given to you by calling your council service center. This person can also help if your potential nominee is a former BSA member, and can also address the time element issue for you.

Good luck with this — We need more true heroes!

(WE54-58-89 “I used to be an Owl…the other white meat!”)

Happy Scouting!



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

(December 10, 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

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