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Issue 242 – January 30, 2011

Hi Andy,

The Scoutmaster of our troop wants to replace the Senior Patrol Leader with a Scout of his own choice, even though this SPL was elected only seven weeks ago, because, according to the Scoutmaster, “The Scout can’t cut it.” We’re now in the midst of a discussion between the troop’s adult leaders and the Scouts’ parents on whether, since Senior Patrol Leader is an elected position, the Scoutmaster has the authority to remove the Scout andreplace him with anotherScout without having another election. Several of us are thinking that this Scout hasn’t even “gotten his feet wet” yet and think he should be given a chance to prove himself. Can you help us sort this out? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s start by turning to page 3 of the Scoutmaster Handbook, and take a hard look at the section titled “Scoutmaster Qualifications”: “Are you willing to teach boys how to be leaders and then allow them the opportunity to lead?” If, by his behavior, the Scoutmaster is showing you all that his answer is no, then the wrong person is wearing the Scoutmaster’s hat, and the troop needs to change Scoutmasters.

Now let’s turn to page 6: “A Scoutmaster trains boys to be leaders, makes available to them the resources and guidance they need to lead well, and then…lets them do their jobs.” Is the present Scoutmaster doing this? Is he providing the resources and guidance for the Senior Patrol Leader to do his job and succeed at it? If not, then some training or re-training of the Scoutmaster may be needed.

Finally, let’s swing on over to page 70: “Training boy leaders to run their troop is the Scoutmaster’s most important job.” And then, on the same page: “Leadership experiences can be frustrating and disappointing if a Scout is not given the basic knowledge, skills, and encouragement he must have…It is the Scoutmaster’s responsibility to provide these basics through coaching and mentoring.” So, is this Scoutmaster doing these things? Has he been doing them for the past seven weeks? After all, the Senior Patrol Leader’s fellow Scouts must believe he can do the job, or they wouldn’t have elected him!

Why am I getting the very strong feeling that the wrong person’s under threat of being replaced, because the person who actually should be replaced either doesn’t know how to or doesn’t want to do his job?

Dear Andy,

Some years ago, our district created a “Recognition Committee,” and among other things put them in charge of our annual district recognition dinner. That committee shortly created a “Unit Award of Merit,” which was done by nomination and presented at the dinner along with various other recognitions including Scouter training awards, Scouters’ keys, Scoutmaster Award of Merit, and of course the District Award of Merit. Even though the district “rules” stated that only one person per unit could be nominated, it really wasn’t much of an award; it was more like a “thank you” card on a stiff piece of 8-1/2×11 paper.

Recently, the BSA revised the Scoutmaster Award of Merit: It’s now the Unit Leader Award of Merit, available for nominating Cubmasters and Venturing Advisors, too, and this is a good thing! But because of our own older “Unit Award” we now have some confusion, and we’re wondering what we should do. Should we keep our old award, and just present it at troop or pack meetings, or should we change it now (since it was, as I mentioned, just a certificate of sorts and didn’t have a medal or “square knot” or anything)? So now nobody knows what to do, and that includes the recognition committee! Do you have any ideas? (Barnard Fowler, District Chair, Farmlands Council, NE)

While your “unit award of merit” might have been considered perhaps a bit pompous as well as pretty restrictive (only one per unit), your hearts were certainly in the right place. Recognitions like these generally serve two purposes. The more important is of course to identify and recognize folks who have made a difference in the past year, at the unit level, keeping in mind that they don’t even need to be registered! For instance, if you’ve got somebody who will drive Scouts wherever they need to go on their weekend outings and be there on time to pick ‘em up and bring ‘em home again, and they do this week-in and week-out, it’s sure nice to publicly acknowledge them for this. Another instance is the Assistant Scoutmaster who’s been there for supporting Troop Guides as they coach newly elected Patrol Leaders of new Scout patrols, year after year, but they’ll never earn a Scouter’s Training Award because they have no desire to step up to the Scoutmaster slot. And there are countless other examples of folks who just quietly get the job done, that we want to say Thank You to, in a public way. Many districts have, for years, used such recognitions as the “Spark Plug Award” or the “Backbone Award” and others that are presented at district dinners and other similar types of events. The second reason for offering such recognitions like these is to get people that are perennially unit-focused “out there” in the larger world of the district, so that they can get a true sense of their worth and they get to see that they’re not all alone! This also helps build attendance at events like this, so that folks get to know one another better—even if just once a year. Plus, if there’s a “hidden agenda” of using this as a way to identify future district volunteers and leaders, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this! How else, after all, are you going to expose good volunteers to one another unless you can find ways, like district recognition dinners and such, to bring them all together and salute their good works!

Besides, it’s also a way for these folks to see the bigger picture, when you present training awards and Scouter’s Keys, and of course, your Unit Leader Awards of Merit and District Awards of Merit!

So visit your local Scout shop, where they have all sorts of certificates of appreciation available, or make up your own. Then, get the word out, get folks to nominate their people, let ‘em know they’re going to receive a special recognition (that is, don’t make it a “surprise” in the sense of not telling folks ahead of time), and encourage everyone to come on out for a fun event! And as for your old “Unit Award,” just let it go by the wayside… I’ll bet dollars to donuts no one’s going to really remember, anyway—Especially when you’ve got a whole new passel of recognitions to make!

Dear Andy,

Our troop has been suffering for a while. We have a Committee Chair and a Chartered Organization Representative who are control freaks and have made the troopentirely adult-run. Several of us approached the head of our chartered organization to see if they’d be willing to replace the two in question, but he didn’t want to get involved because of the organization’s own internal “politics.” So we approached the District Executive about this situation and his position was that he’s most likely going to refuse to recharter the troop if things don’t improve. We really don’t want that to happen, if it can be avoided. Do you know if there are any guidelines for a situation like this? Or any advice on what to do? (Name & Council Withheld)

The chartered organization (aka sponsor) outright owns the troop and is therefore responsible for the quality of its volunteers and the Scouting program they’re delivering; neither the BSA nor the local council has any direct authority over either the unit or the volunteers associated with it, except that the local council can elect to not renew the sponsor’s and unit’s charter. However, the Scouts who are essentially being held hostage have more actual power than anyone else, and it’s right in their feet! That’s right: All they need to do—and they can do this en masse—is to walk away from the troop and either start a new troop of their own or join a nearby existing troop that delivers the Boy Scout program the way it’s supposed to be done. If every single Scout and his family does this, the misguided tyrant-volunteers and the CR are literally left with nothing, and they have no recourse: They can’t stop this or have it reversed. All the Scouts and their parents need to do is stand up straight and be what Theodore Roosevelt called “the just man armed.” In this case, the “armed” part is called “voting with your feet.” Warning: If you try to “fix this from within” the likelihood is that you will fail, and along with that failure will come a huge energy sink, rancor and discord, and ad hominem attacks (otherwise known as “email wars”). So, my very best advice is to show that this isn’t what you want by literally walking away from it… Every single Scout and his parents can do this, and you can make it stick! Even better, you do not need to “explain yourselves” or respond to anyone silly enough to demand” that you “justify” your actions. You just DO IT. That’s it!

Dear Andy,

I hope you can offer me advice on a challenge I’m facing. Two brothers, both Scouts in our troop and one is a Patrol Leader, have chosen to not attend a canoeing campout we have coming up, because, they supposedly said, “it didn’t sound like fun and their friends weren’t going.” I’d already told them that the PLC was the place to discuss the kinds of campouts they want to go on, and when they go they’ll be building new friendships. Based on this, they agreed to come along, but then their father telephoned me to say that when the family all discussed this, the boys were going to back out after all.

How would you counsel them? What, if anything, should be said to the one who’s a Patrol Leader about his responsibility to his patrol? How should the Senior Patrol Leader be involved? What do I say to the parents in a situation like this? (Keenan Klos, SM, South Florida Council)

If your troop is using The Patrol Method, and trips are planned and organized by patrol (that is to say, patrols go as patrols, and you don’t make up “patrols of convenience” from among the individual Scouts who show up), then a Patrol Leader who is unable to attend a particular trip would naturally assign his hand-picked Assistant Patrol Leader to take charge for that particular day or weekend. If a particular Patrol Leader seems to be having a problem showing up for hikes and camping trips, then the Senior Patrol Leader (with his Scoutmaster providing support from behind his shoulder) may need to counsel him, along the lines that if he can’t lead his patrol on the very events that are most important to the troop’s program (troop meetings are for planning, preparation, skill development, etc.; they’re not the “be-all–end-all” of the troop program), he’s letting his patrol members down and perhaps the patrol needs to stop for a moment and hold a new Patrol Leader election, with the intent to elect a Patrol Leader who does, in fact, show up. This is one of the reasons why patrols of six Scouts typically work better than patrols of seven or eight— When it’s six and one is a no-show, the effect is felt!

Now if it’s a parent problem, in which the parents are “deciding” for the Scout whether he’ll be going on this trip or that, perhaps they need to be advised that if their son doesn’t start showing up regularly, the patrol will elect another Scout, and their son will have had his “tenure in a position of responsibility” truncated, which means that he won’t have had his four- or six-month tenure for advancement to Star, Life, or Eagle (whichever he may be working toward). And, in this regard, it’s important for both the parents and all Scouts to know that the troop doesn’t “owe” any Scout a position of responsibility just because he needs on in order to advance– The Scout needs to prove that he can do the job first, and then he gets elected or appointed, and if he doesn’t carry out his responsibilities and this doesn’t change, he can count on being replaced by a Scout who will get the job done, and their son will simply have to wait his turn.

Dear Andy,

Is there any prohibition on a Scout completing multiple merit badges with a Merit Badge Counselor who is also the parent of that Scout? (John Nissen, Troop Advancement Coordinator, Chief Seattle Council, WA)

The BSA specifies that a Merit Badge Counselor can counsel any Scout, including son or nephew, and also specifies that, so long as the Merit Badge Counselor is registered with the BSA and approved for the merit badges, there is no limit on how many he can counsel or how many merit badges he may counsel a Scout or Scouts for.

That said, there may be some merit badges that perhaps a Merit Badge Counselor might wisely choose to pass on, when it’s his or her own son who is seeking it; however, in this regard only Family Life comes to mind.

Hi Andy,

I’m a Wolf Den Leader. The parents of one of my Cub Scouts are divorced; sometimes one or the other of the parents will drop him off and/or pick him up when there are den meetings; sometimes it’s a friend who gives the boy the ride or rides. A few weeks ago, his ride, who has a son in the Boy Scout troop that meets on the same night, told me that even though our den meeting would end at 8 PM, his own son’s Boy Scout troop wouldn’t be getting back to our meeting place until 8:30. I said OK. However, the Boy Scouts were late, and so, since I didn’t want to leave this one boy alone in front of a locked building, at night, another adult leader and I waited. And waited. The boy’s ride didn’t show up till close to 9 PM. So here’s my question: Am I responsible for waiting with a boy (any boy, in fact) until his ride arrives? It didn’t seem right to just take off an leave him there, but it’s also not fair to me or my time either. (Den Leader in National Capital Area Council)

Meeting end-time disparity: When you accepted the boy from his driver that evening, you apparently accepted the later (8:30) pick-up time as well. When this was first brought up to you, you might have sounded harsh, but you actually would have been taking care of yourself (which you have to do, because nobody’s going to do it for you) had you told the driver, “Sorry, but if you can’t do the pick-up at 8 o’clock, then please don’t drop this boy off.” But you did accept the boy, despite the difference in meeting end-times. This means that he’s definitely your responsibility until his ride arrives, and you would have been derelict (in some jurisdictions it’s a criminal act) had you departed and left the boy there, even when the driver was nearly a half-hour even later. So yes, you definitely did the right thing by remaining with him until he could be handed off to the adult responsible for getting him back home. Perhaps this is indeed why cell phones were invented: Another option you might have had would be to call the driver, or even one or both of the boy’s parents, and tell ‘em, “Come get your son. Right now!”

In this scenario, everybody made a mistake. None of the mistakes was life-changing, thank goodness, but I’m certain that you all learned something important and this won’t happen again!

Hi Andy,

At a recent Eagle board of review, there was a representative from the council. After the conversation and the Scout was asked to leave the room, this man began making negative comments about the Scout. One was that the Scout spoke softly, which he said didn’t reflect maturity or leadership. This same man noted that, at age 14, this Scout was “too young” to be an Eagle, and went on to claim that “Eagles should be special, and this boy doesn’t impress me.” I and several others pointed out that, regardless of his age or his manner of speaking, he had completed all the requirements. Unfortunately, this council person’s remarks were supported by the Unit Commissioner for our troop, who was also present. Luckily, eventually this sort of talk died down, and the unanimous decision was positive for this Scout.

So I’m seriously wondering: Is there some new initiative going around that forces Scouts to take forever to earn their Eagle, even though they’ve done all the requirements for every rank and merit badge, as some sort of way to force them to stay with the troop till they’re older? And of course I have to ask: Does anyone give these so-called council representatives any training at all? (Name & Council Withheld)

There are specific requirements for every Boy Scout rank and merit badge, and when a Scout completes all the requirements for the six ranks of Scouting, and all the requirements for the no less than 21 merit badges that accompany the ranks, then he has earned the rank of Eagle Scout—the last of the Boy Scout ranks. In his board of review for Eagle, as well as in every one of the five prior boards of review, he has a conversation with adults about the experiences he’s had in Scouting and what his expectations and ambitions are for the future. Whether he does this in a quiet, reserved way or in a more animated or boisterous manner, or anywhere in between, is quite obviously immaterial. Equally immaterial is his age, and there is no age requirement on the BSA’s Eagle Scout Rank Application other than the Scout must have completed all requirements prior to his 18th birthday. If anyone starts to apply his own value-structure, idiosyncratic “requirements,” biases, or any purported “qualification” beyond or outside of what the BSA requires, that person may be excused from further participation in that board of review, by the person chairing the review.

In the case of a council or district representative, or a Commissioner, offering personal biases, misinformation, or flat-out wrong information, it is your troop’s right and obligation to your Scouts, to make certain that this person never again attends an Eagle board of review for your troop. Yes, you absolutely have the right to request someone else, and it’s not incumbent on you to explain why.

Dear Andy,

I’ve been reading your past columns and have seen how you suggest to troops that they let the Scouts themselves form their own patrols. This makes sense in many ways, but we have a few Scouts with Asperger’s syndrome and some with behavior problems, so that our concern is that if the Scouts are allowed to pick the Scouts who will be in their own patrols, these Scouts wouldn’t get picked and wouldn’t be in a patrol. We’re worried that if the Scouts can truly choose who’s in their patrol, this will not go well for some of them. Our Scoutmaster is a big believer in Scout-run troops, but our usual method for handling patrol composition is that the Senior Patrol Leader and the adult leaders do the assigning. I’d appreciate your thoughts on what happens to the Scouts who aren’t picked to be in a patrol. (Nancy Blake, CC, Circle 10 Council, TX)

You raise a very good point, and the answer’s remarkably simple: The Scouts are instructed that there will be a specific number of groups (to be called “patrols” a little later in the process), and that the number of Scouts in each group will not be less than four or more than six, with every Scout accounted for in a group. Then you leave it up to them to figure it out. Of course, you’ve already done the calculations, so you know that, for example, 25 Scouts can elect a Senior Patrol Leader and then form 4 groups of 6, or 6 groups of 4, or 4 groups of 5 plus 1 group of 4, and so on, but they can’t form 2 groups of 6 plus 2 groups of 5 with 2 left over, or any other sort of combination that leaves anyone out. Every Scout must be in a group, period. And, when given this instruction, your Scouts will rise to the occasion and get it right!

So a Scout has Asperger syndrome…what of it? Does this make him automatically a Pariah as well? Or so-called “behavior problems”… are you sure this is something more than a boy on the cusp of puberty, with testosterone running wild as he fidgets like crazy (my grandfather used to call this “ants in your ants”)? Let’s not start “labeling” boys based on a mental or physical challenge they’re dealing with— That’s just not what Scouting’s all about!

A troop that I’ve now served as their Commissioner for 12 years has a Scout with severe Multiple Sclerosis; he’s now in his later teens and in a wheelchair. When he first joined the troop, some years ago, his MS was milder, but nevertheless painfully obvious, and there he was in his brand-new Boy Scout uniform, champing to be a Boy Scout. In forming patrols, he was the troop’s biggest single problem. Would you like to know why? Well, as it turned out, every patrol wanted him to be a part of their gang, and he had the biggest problem because he liked all his fellow Scouts and didn’t want to let some down when he chose another group! That may have been the toughest decision of his Scouting career, and what a wonderful sight to see!

Trust. That’s right: Trust these young men to make the best decisions they’re able to make, with the information they have, at the time they need to make it. Don’t interfere. Why? It’s simple: This is just one example of the decisions—some big, some small, some easy, some complex—that they’ll be faced with for the rest of their lives, and one of the beautiful things about Scouting is that we provide a place where these boys and young men can make their own decisions, for themselves. This is called “growing up.”

So, time to change. Time to step back and watch the Scouts make their own decisions. You all can stop the fiction that you can somehow “make better decisions” for these Scouts than they can make for themselves. You’re the Committee Chair: Make it happen!

. Dear Andy,

I’m a troop advancement coordinator. I’m still rather new in this position, and I’m glad I can write to you! I have a question about service hours; they come from some of the new Scout parents in the troop.

If a Scout is working toward completing his service hours for, for instance, one of the requirements of Citizenship in the Community, can he also count that time toward fulfilling his rank requirement for a rank?

My two sons—one’s an Eagle and the other’s Life—both tell me that service hours shouldn’t be double-counted. They say that if a Scout completes his eight hours for an Eagle-required merit badge, then he should do something else to fulfill service hours for his rank. What do you think about this? (Mabel Chin, TAC, Mount Baker Council, WA)

Younger Scouts will most likely be looking at the one-hour approved service project time that will count toward completing Second Class requirement 5. In most troops, this one hour usually happens when the troop decides to do some trail refurbishing work while on a hike, or some work around the troop’s meeting place, for their sponsor. Following the Scout Law, the Scout will cheerfully pitch in, alongside his fellow Scouts, and get the job done. Other “service time” doesn’t occur again until the ranks of Star (six hours for req. 4) and Life (six hours for req. 4). Again, these are often troop-related (town clean-up days, for instance) and are carried out in the spirit of cheerfulness for which the Scout Law points the way.

Service to others in the course of completing merit badges are another matter. These typically have very specific purposes and are part of a larger experiential scope. For example, the service rendered while earning Citizenship in the Community merit badge is just one part of a three-part requirement that focuses on charitable organizations outside of Scouting, and approval for these come from the Scout’s Merit Badge Counselor; not his Scoutmaster of Senior Patrol Leader. Another merit badge, Family Life, has two service-related requirements, one of which is carried out as an individual and the other as a member of one’s family. Again, instilling the idea of service to others is the underlying purpose of such requirements.

Your two sons have it exactly right: To look for “shortcuts” isn’t what Scouting’s all about. This isn’t part of the foundation of the movement, not a principle of the movement, and not something Scouting hopes to teach young people. One of Scouting’s foundational ethical principles is helping others, and this is right in the Scout Oath itself: “…I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times…” It’s also in the Scout Law: “A Scout is…helpful, friendly… kind… cheerful…” These are the things we’re striving for young people to incorporate into their lives and thinking about life. “Shortcuts” are simply not part of that thinking.

As your troop’s advancement coordinator, it’s very important for you to have a brief orientation session, especially with parents of boys who are new to Boy Scouting. This is where you can explain to them what Boy Scouting is really all about. It’s not about bagging badges or even going on hikes… these are merely the tools Scouting uses to instill in their sons a set of life-values that are intended to carry well beyond their Scouting years and into their adult lives, as happy, responsible, productive citizens. Scouting isn’t about “learning how to camp;” its all about learning how to live.

What kinds of sons do they want is the big question. Do they want sons who say “Nah, I’ve already put in my time,” or do they want sons who say, “Hey, how can I help”? This is truly the bottom line. Parents can be of enormous help to their sons and to the volunteers like you who are trying to help their sons see the larger picture when they encourage their sons to give service to others because that’s what Scouts do.

Happy Scouting!



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

(January 30, 2011 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2011)

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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