Author Avatar

Issue 243 – February 13, 2011

Hi Andy,

Our council just hired a couple new professionals. One of them was introduced to our district committee the other night. This guy has been “in the profession,” as they say, for 17 years and for some reason we don’t understand, he’s proud of the fact that he’s been in five different councils! Five? What’s with this guy, and how could our council ever hire him! He either can’t hold down a job or he has absolutely no loyalty to the people who hire him. What can we do to get the people in our council who hired this so-called “professional” to reconsider their mistake? (Name & Council Withheld)

OK, sit up and listen, ‘cause here’s your wake-up message: Guess who needs to “reconsider their mistake”? YOU DO! Five councils in 17 years is the best news your council could possibly give you, because this tells you that this new professional Scouter you have has the both the breadth and the depth of experience you should want. (Conversely, when you have a professional who’s sort of “risen in the ranks” of just one or perhaps two councils, you have someone more insular, with less of a broad vision). The BSA is actually structured so that professionals can—and are encouraged to—move from council-to-council as their upward path lengthens. So thank your lucky stars that your own council got it right, and welcome this new staffer with the enthusiasm he’s earned!

Hi Andy,

I hope you maybe can shed some light on a problem I’m having with the BSA uniform. About a year ago I bought one of those new long-sleeve Supplex® nylon uniform shirts for around $50. It had the American flag on top of the right sleeve, BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA above the right pocket, and all the official BSA labels on it, until I read the label in the collar that said, “Made in China.” The way unemployment is here in this country, why are we having BSA uniforms made in China? A few months ago, the Girl Scouts were having the same problem—They voted to have their uniforms made in America. Who do I contact at the BSA national office to see if and how we’re addressing this issue? (George Cole, UC, Great Southwest Council, NM)

Thanks for being a reader and thanks for taking the time to write. Don’t hesitate to send a letter to Mr. Robert Mazzuca, Chief Scout Executive, Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, Irving, Texas 75061. There is also a National Uniform and Insignia Committee at the same address.

If this is your point of view, it’s definitely worth writing about. A few years ago, I wrote on the same subject, and the response I received at that time was that if the BSA uniforms were manufactured in America their final price tag at an unacceptably high level, and so that’s why the work is done overseas. It was also asserted at that time that there was no loss in quality and that, in fact, an American company produced an inferior product and delivered it late. Now, to keep the playing field level, whether or not I agree with these assertions is a different matter. However, I do have a further personal problem when some BSA garments (not uniform, but with the BSA logo and sold at a BSA high adventure base) are made in Myanmar (yes, that’s what the label says)—a country reputed to flout human rights up to the edge of genocide. So I encourage you to write—This is, after all, the only way the folks at our national council will know how we folks feel, and why!

Hi Andy,

Our troop is planning a road trip in the summer of 2011 that will include staying in hotel rooms for two of the eight nights. Does the BSA have any guidelines on how to room youth and adults? (Phyllis Lozano, CC, San Francisco Bay Area Council, CA)

Scouts room with Scouts; adults room with adults—Just as if they were in tents.

Thanks! Our Scouts do follow the Oath and Law, but do you have any suggestions or recommendations to our leaders, to ensure that the Scouts stay in their rooms? While camping in tents, our adult leaders are within ear-shot of our Scouts, so we know they’re secure and OK. But some of our leaders (and some parents, too) have voiced various “what if…” concerns about how best to manage Scouts in a hotel. Our plan, thus far, is to escort the Scouts to their rooms, close the door, and trust they’ll stay there. Any suggestions? (Phyllis Lozano)

My wife is a retired 7th grade public school teacher, who chaperoned a huge number of 7th and 8th grade class trips out of state, staying in hotels and motels over many years. I’m a former Jamboree troop Scoutmaster who also took troops of 32 Scouts and four adult leaders cross-country, staying in hotels and motels.

Yes, I will affirm that Scouts are mainly trustworthy, courteous, and obedient and they’re also curious, and full of “exploratory energy.”That said, there are definitely steps you want to take to assure the safety of your Scouts.

The first thing you’re going to do is take a “head shot” photo of each Scout going on the trip and fasten that photo to the medical form for him that you’re taking, as usual, in your on-the-road book or binder. Group the photos by “Buddy Pair.” Take the photos, if possible, with a Polaroid® camera on the day you’re departing (with the Scout in uniform, of course). This is your “have you seen this Scout” photo—that you’re planning to never need to use.

So, for your Buddy Pairs of Scouts, you double the pairs, so that, for instance, Buddies Johnny and Bill and Buddies Bruce and Sean are always together while traveling: They’re all four in the same car, and all four in the same room (when booking sleeping rooms, make sure each room has two beds—the Scouts will work out how they’re going to sleep, and if one wants to sleep in the bathtub, that’s his business).

Next, you’re going to find a hotel that has more than ground-level floors and tell them ahead of time that you want to book all sleeping rooms together, no lower than the second floor. (If you’re on the first floor, you’re likely to have to deal with at least one curious Scout who wants to see if he can get out via the window.) Then, you’re going to book rooms with double buddy-pairs of Scouts on either side of their designated adult “chaperone/driver.” The layout, looking at a hallway, works this way:

Rm 201 Rm 202 Rm 203 Rm 204 Rm 205 Rm 206 Rm 207


So as you can see, two things you definitely want to do are get all the rooms close together and on the same floor, just like this looks.

Next, have the front desk disable the “adult” channels on the TVs in all the rooms and if they can’t do that then have them throw the switch to shut down all the TVs in every room. Then, plan to post adults in shifts, in the halls at either end of the row of Scouts’ rooms, and take shifts so that there’s someone at each end of the hallway all night (buddy pairs, even for the adults, works best). The adults need to walk the halls every now and again, just listening for sounds, etc. (This is described to the parents in terms of safety for the Scouts, so that no outsiders attempt to get them to open the doors of their rooms.)

When you check in, it’s one (and only one) key per room, and the Scouts aren’t given the keys. For each double-pair of four Scouts, the leaders staying in the room between them get the keys. When they get to the room, the adult leader unlocks the door, and briefly checks the room for two beds, bathroom operational, and that’s about it. He allows the Scouts in that room to send one Scout to get ice and another to buy soft drinks (if necessary), then the four Scouts go in the room and the adult leader closes the door, keeping the key. (Yup, if a Scout leaves the room, he can’t get back in.) The adult leader helps the other double Buddy pair get into their room. Finally, he takes the room in-between (he can now hear through the walls of both rooms).

All Scouts are told to stay in their rooms except in case of emergency, in which case they’ll find an adult leader outside waiting for them. Yes, this definitely is being done for safety, and another thing you’ll want to do is travel in full uniforms at all times—INCLUDING THE ADULTS (remember “setting the example”?).

Two-hour shifts usually work pretty well—nobody gets totally fried and everybody gets a decent (if not perfect) amount of sleep! Finally, be sure each shift knows the room number(s) of their relief (alarm clocks sometimes decide not to work when you need ‘em most).

Decide who’s going to keep the Master Room List, so that you know exactly which Scouts are in which rooms.

If the Scouts in a particular room just can’t seem to settle down for the night—it’s just near-impossible, then prop their door open and station one of your adults’ chairs right outside the door. They will fall asleep with their door open; I guarantee it.

If possible, separate sons from their parents. Put sons in the Buddy pairs overseen by non-parents, if at all possible.

Make sure it’s understood and agreed that the adults on the trip are indeed chaperones during the travel segments, only. They are never “substitute Patrol Leaders” or “acting Assistant Scoutmasters.” They help the Scouts; they don’t “lead” them. The Patrol Leaders lead the Scouts in their own patrols, taking direction themselves from the Senior Patrol Leader.

Finally, no “warnings” or “punishments” or “three strikes” or any of that nonsense—It’s understood (use a signed agreement if necessary) that any Scout who becomes a danger to himself or others will call his parents and ask them to come get him right then and there, no matter the hour or distance from home, the only alternative to getting him or if they cannot be reached by phone, is that their son will be returned home by cab and they will pay the bill for their son and the adult chaperone with him on arrival.

Dear Andy,

Hypothetical for you… The Scout is exemplary in all aspects of completing the requirements for Eagle rank, he’s a model Scout at meetings and in the field, he’s looked up to by his fellow Scouts of all ages, and he’s trusted by his Scoutmaster, but there’s an incident that results in his being suspended from school, arrested, and ultimately convicted of a juvenile offense, with a debt due to society. How does this get considered, when evaluating the Scout in the Scoutmaster conferenceand the Eagle Board of Review? Approaching it slightly differently in a different hypothetical, what isthe troop’s responsibility if all of this had occurred, but wasn’t discovered until after the Scout had been awarded his Eagle medal at a court of honor? (Cliff Boldt, Troop Advancement Coordinator, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Thanks for being a reader and for asking an interesting set of questions! Let’s give these a shot…

In my book, once a young man earns his Eagle rank, it’s his. The instances in which the BSA National Council—the organization that ultimately approves the rank—actually pursues recalling the rank under any circumstances is very rare (maybe even nonexistent). Moreover, when we’re talking about something that took place outside of the Scouting milieu, this becomes even more remote. What is it that a troop might wish to do except possibly alert the BSA National Council.

If an untoward incident of some sort happens prior to a Life Scout’s final Scoutmaster conference or his board of review, precisely what the actual non-Scouting circumstances were will likely be important considerations. For instance, if an incident results in a suspension, do we consider that the young man has effectively “paid the price” required by the school board and so the incident is now closed? Or, do we make sure that the school principal or the teacher involved in the incident is one of the people from whom a recommendation is requested? Or do we consider this young man branded forever for this incident? Only the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair, possibly together with the Scout himself, can make this decision.

For an arrest, the questions you’d need to ask yourself are: Was the young man found guilty or not, and if found guilty and convicted, was there a “punishment” and did the young man complete it, thereby satisfying to the court his debt to society? If his debt has been satisfied, you will need to decide whether or not you would want a Scoutmaster’s conference or a board of review’s judgment to supersede that of an official court of law. Of course, you might also ask how the Scout is feeling; that is, has he “learned his lesson” or not. If he has, is there even more punishment in store for him by his troop? Or do you consider the life-lesson learned and the young man prepared to move on in his life? Only you can decide these things, based on the actual circumstances. Keep in mind that “hypotheticals” are always dangerous, because they rarely predict what actually happens, so that anything that’s been concluded as a result of chewing our cud on a hypothetical situation usually goes right out the window.

(If your troop is fortunate enough to have an experienced Unit Commissioner, then a conversation with him or her can be most valuable because it’s much closer to home, and the conversation can resurrect itself if there ever is an actual incident, so that you’re not starting from scratch!)

Dear Andy,

I read Q&A on the Unit Award of Merit in your January 30th column and have some ideas that might be useful…

My district has three award categories that appear to meet the original purpose of that district’s “Unit Award of Merit” and have names that won’t be confused with the new national Unit Leader Award of Merit. None of these has a “square knot” but two do have more than a piece of paper. All are by nomination and all are presented at our district’s annual recognition dinner. We also list the recipients (never “winners”) on our district web site, with each year’s recipients added to the list, going back to the start in 1994. For anyone’s library, or use, nomination forms are here: //

Although there may seem to be a logical progression from one to the next, it’s never a requirement that a Scouter receive any one of them in order to receive any of the others, nor is it required or expected that a Scouter has received any of these in order to be nominated for the District Award of Merit.

First is the “Sparkplug Award,” which goes to up to 12 Scouters each year. It’s for providing “Spark” to the unit…It’s an “entry level” award in that there are no set criteria and the recipients don’t need to have earned anything beforehand to receive this. The award itself is an actual spark plug, spray-painted gold and suspended from a lanyard to be worn around the recipient’s neck, plus an 8½x11” certificate. Each year the awardees come from all Scouting positions, uniformed and otherwise.

Next is the “Outstanding (POSITION) Award,” which will go to ten Scouters in any year. These are one each for each of these positions: Tiger Cub Den Leader, Den Leader, Webelos Den Leader, Cubmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, Scoutmaster, Venturing Crew Advisor, Committee Chair, Committee Member (either unit or district), and Commissioner. The nomination form asks for the Scouting position(s) and tenure, training completed, non-Scouting community service, and the Scouting service on which the nomination is based. As you can see, eight of these ten awards are reserved for unit-level volunteers for service to their unit, and although the Committee Member award can go to a district person, it’s usually awarded to a unit committee member. This award itself is an 8½x11’ certificate.

Finally, we have a Distinguished Leadership Award, given to four Scouters each year. This is a unit service award. Anyone can be nominated who has gone above and beyond the call of duty, has really been an asset to the unit, has really kept the unit on top of things, and has helped to give a better Scouting program to the youth members. This is considered one rung below the District Award of Merit. This award comes with a plaque and an 8½x11’ certificate. While it’s possible that a long-tenured Den Leader could receive this, the primary recipients have been Cubmasters, Assistant Scoutmasters, Scoutmasters, Venturing Crew Advisors, and Committee Chairs. (Bob Elliott, UC, Northern Star Council. MN-WI)

Thanks for sharing these wonderful ideas! The more we can appropriately recognize our volunteers for the work they do, the better the bonds we build among ourselves and the stronger we become!

Dear Andy,

Our pack has a new Den Leader. She’s impossible to please, seems perpetually unhappy, and has a complaint about just about everything. She repeatedly questions why we do things the way we do them, and after we explain why, she then argues why her way is always better—regardless of whether or not it’s “in the book.” When she gets an idea in her head, she won’t give up, won’t take “no” for an answer, even when the reasons for not proceeding down her pathway conform with the BSA’s Cub Scouting program. While we don’t want any ill will, we really don’t want to invite her back to lead again, after our pack meeting this month. What sort of BSA “language” can I use in a nice letter thanking her for her time but letting her know we’re going to make other arrangements, beginning just about right now. (Pack Committee Chair, Boston Minuteman Council, MA)

“Welcome to the club!” Your situation’s not alone; you’re among good friends!

The first thing you need to realize is that your hope for “no ill will” is a dream… It ain’t gonna happen. Why? Because it’s already there, and isn’t about to go away. You’re going to need to do what you must do understanding that she’s going to go thermal even if you sent roses.

The second thing to know is that this isn’t a situation of employment, so you don’t have to deal with “three strikes” or providing a detailed explanation, or having “letters on file” or anything like that. Volunteers are shifted, moved, and “de-commissioned” all the time (sometimes incorrectly, but that’s life).

The responsibility for terminating her tenure as a volunteer with the pack falls to the Committee Chair, who, with the Chartered Organization Representative, simply says (or writes) to this Den Leader: “The pack thanks you for your services up to now, which won’t be needed any longer. We appreciate your having volunteered, and we have now filled that Den Leader position with someone else.”

That’s it. It’s done. End of story. If she throws a hissy fit, walk away. Keep in mind that there’s no way back in through the district or council.

If she threatens to pull her son, or take the entire den with her, you have confirmation that fundamentally she’s a bully, and you’re response is, “We hope you find a new pack where your son will enjoy the Cub Scout program. You have our best wishes.”

Dear Andy,

Our troop is off to winter camp. Are helmets for snow sledding recommended or required? Is this decided by the BSA national council, or by individual local councils? (Amy Gjeston)

Helmet laws come from municipalities, counties, states, and sometime the federal government. If helmets are required for snow sledding by any of these, then that’s what you’ll want to abide by. If you do want to check further, don’t hesitate to contact your own council’s health and safety committee or risk management committee.

Dear Andy,

At a camp-out last weekend, three of our troop’s older Scouts—Life rank, Star, and First Class—took a box of matches from their patrol box and began striking them and throwing them, lit, at themselves and then at other Scouts. Some of the Scouts were wearing polyurethane and polyamide jackets, which could go up in flames. We thought they should have known better than to do something like this. I’ve scheduled a meeting with the three of them. What discipline action would you recommend? (Henri Brown, CC, Crater Lake Council, OR)

The first thing you need to know is that this isn’t the Committee Chair’s responsibility. The Scoutmaster Handbook tells us with clarity and certainty that this is the responsibility of the Scoutmaster, with your support as needed. Therefore, it would be absolutely appropriate for both you and the Scoutmaster to sit down with these three Scouts, eyeball-to-eyeball; not for “two-deep…” but to level the playing field (one vs. three just ain’t good odds, as any hockey player will tell you!).

With that understanding, here’s my suggestion. Sit the Scouts down and tell them that this troop has failed its Scouts by not providing proper and thorough instruction in the use of flammables and such. Then take out the requirements for the “Firem’n Chit” (it’s in the Boy Scout Requirements book on page 226, and there’s another good section in the Boy Scout Handbook [12th Edition], pages 410-414). Tell them that, thanks to their demonstration that the Scouts of the troop clearly don’t know fire and flammables rules the way they need to, their job will be to put together a troop-wide learning session and teach all of the skills shown in the handbook and all of the principles listed in the requirements book (per the pages I’ve mentioned). Their specific tasks will be to (1) develop a plan to teach the elements required to become certified to carry a Firem’n Chit and (2) make the teaching aids that will accompany the plan (these will include equipment and supplies, demonstration displays and posters, etc.), (3) receive approval of the plan and aids from the two of you, in advance, (4) carry out their approved teaching plan with the approved teaching aids, (5) develop a way to ascertain whether or not each individual Scout has learned the necessary safety and skill points and have this approved by you and the Scoutmaster in advance, (6) implement the plan to determine what has been learned and how well, and then (7) issue a Firem’n Chit card to each Scout who qualifies as having learned the necessary skills and safety information. Tell these three Scouts that they are to work as a team, and than they have two weeks (starting now) to develop the plan, one more week to modify it after the first review, no more than two troop meeting segments (i.e., 15-20 minutes inside the regular Troop Meeting Plan) to carry out the teaching and testing. Tell them that they can come to either of you at any time if they have a question they need an answer to, or for any help along the way. Get a hand-shake from each one confirming that he is prepared to do this, as described. Then get ’em go.

Now here’s the bonus (that they don’t know is coming till the very end), based on the principle that YOU WANT THESE THREE SCOUTS TO SUCCEED: When they’re done, hand each of them a letter (that you’ve prepared in advance) written “To the Communications Merit Badge Counselor” affirming that, under your guidance, this Scout (name him in the letter) has correctly completed Communications merit badge requirement 6.

We often say “No good deed goes unpunished.” In Scouting, let’s instead say, “Every mistake a Scout might make will have the end-result of a positive life-lesson.”

Happy Scouting!



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

(February 13, 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.

Read Andy's full biography

Follow Andy

Subscribe via email or RSS and follow via social media.

Comments are closed.