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Issue 247 – March 20, 2011

I was happily munching a deliciously moist slab of carrot cake with a cream cheese icing of glacial thickness at a pack’s Blue & Gold a few days ago, thanking my lucky stars for this once-a-year “Commissioner perk” when the parent of a graduating Arrow-of-Light Scout asked me, “So let’s see here…since there are six ranks in Boy Scouts, that means by the time my son’s a high school junior, he can start work toward his Eagle, right?” “Huh,” I asked, “What makes you think he has to wait till he’s almost done with high school?” “Well,” the parent replied, “It’s one rank per school grade, just like Cubs, isn’t it?” Wow! Are you getting this, folks? No wonder both parents and their sons can sometimes seem so lackadaisical about rank advancement, when they have this unspoken notion that the end of high school is the “right” time to go for Eagle! We’ve got to fix this in new-parent orientations, and new-Scout orientations, too! Think it’s not going on somewhere in your troop? Think again!

Hi Andy,

About those Venturing girls trying to get some swim-time in at camp (in your last column), thanks for the laugh on my part as well! I’m getting this visual of young Andy breathlessly swimming across that lake, splashing aroundin order to attract the attention of the Girl Scouts, while they’re either looking askance or giggling at the sight of “boys” (Yes, I was a Girl Scout myself, and a GS Camp Counselor too, and yes, I worked aquatics as well). We’ve always advised the young women to wear one-piece tank-type swim suits at BSA events. Since the girls are usually “outdoorsy” types anyways, it hasn’t been an issue.We’ve gone to the camp before and never had this issue raised, until last summer and the “wearing of the shorts and t-shirts” request (We actually thought about sewing up some old style “bloomers” with frilled bathing caps for next summer!). We’ll see what happens next summer (TBC)… (R.J.)

You sound like a pretty realistic gal, and that’s exactly what we up-tight guys need to keep us honest! I love the “bloomers” idea—what a crack-up! Maybe there should be a “rule” that the boys have to wear those old one-piece bottom-and-top (like an old-style undershirt) swim suits because the girls are just too embarrassed to see boys’ navels and “chest decorations”? <grin>

Hi Andy,

It’s been a long while since I’ve had question, but here we go… It’s about Cub Scout requirements and parents signing them off. Is it true that if a parent signs off on a requirement for Tiger, Wolf, or Bear, that the Den leader or Cubmaster isn’t allowed to challenge or dispute whether the boy fulfilled the requirement or not? (Tim Gelvin, CM, Susquehanna Council, PA)

Yup, it’s true. Read the handbooks: Who is “Akela” first and foremost? Besides, how about Scout’s honor? Any Den Leader or Cubmaster who “challenges” a Mom’s or Dad’s signature’s askin’ for a punch in the nose!

Dear Andy,

Annually, our troop sends a handful of Scouts to NYLT. This year is no different; however, we have a Scout who hasn’t tried to step up to lead the troop. Instead, he’s frequently disruptive, even to the point of while atlast year’s summer camp, he was corrected for using foul language. He’s 14, soon-to-be-15, and a Star Scout. His mom sent me an email alerting me that her son hasn’t been to NYLT yet, and suggested that this trainingcould be the catalyst that changes himand gives him the skills to be a good leader. Any thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

Can you really name any teen-aged boy who hasn’t tried out “foul language” at one time or another? Sounds fairly normal, to me. Unless, that is, he was using it to browbeat another Scout, in which case the no-no is bullying, and the language takes a back seat. But that was almost a year ago, and should have been dealt with on the spot, so that it should be ancient history by now anyway. Moreover, he’s made it to Star rank, which means you all have green-lighted him through four Scoutmaster conferences and an equal number of boards of review.

Mom therefore makes a darned good point (and shows that she knows her somewhat maverick son pretty well)!

So, how about arranging with the NYLT course director (or the course’s Senior Patrol Leader!) to interview this Scout to see if he’s “up to the challenge,” and if he can cope with the idea that messing around gets you removed from the course and you call your parent to come and pick you up.

Dear Andy,

Step number 8 of the BSA’s steps from Life to Eagle says, “Unit leaders, assistant unit leaders, relatives or guardians may not serve as members of a Scout’s board of review,” and step number 9 says, “In no case should a relative or guardian of the candidate attend the review, even as a unit leader.” Is there a BSA regulation that this guidance derives from? Our situation is that the Scoutmaster’s son will soon be up for his Eagle board of review and, although the Scoutmaster knows he can’t be on the board itself, he’s hinted that he’d like to be in the room. I need to be on solid ground when I advisehimto have one of the Assistant Scoutmaster introduce the candidate and then sit back to answer any questions the board members might have.

And, if it’s OK, here’s a different question (it’s hypothetical). A Life Scout has his 18th birthday prior to his Eagle board of review (all requirements are done in time, and 90 days haven’t elapsed, so there’s no need to request a extension). Since he’s 18, he is supposed to “hand carry” his merit badge sash, as it’s not part of the adult Scouter uniform. Does he also remove his Life rank badge from his uniform shirt? Since adults do not have ranks, I believe the answer to this question is yes, he should remove therank badge. Any guidance for this instance? (Tony Sieg, MC, National Capital Area Council, MD)

On your first question, it’s this easy: Those aren’t “guidances”—they’re policy. By policy (check Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures—any edition—if you need to) parents are not permitted to attend their son’s board of review. This isn’t “secrecy”—this is called privacy. It’s designed so that the Scout can speak freely on any subject without concern for what his parent may or may not think of what he has to say. End of story. That father stays out of the room. Period.

There’s no specific “guidance” on your second question. So, between you and me, since the only BSA policy is that the candidate should be as uniformed as possible (or words to that effect–I’m not going to look them up right now), I truly wouldn’t make a big deal out of this. If he’s got his uniform, and his sash, then wear ’em, by golly! This is his last chance to “show off,” so go for it! Besides, if you really want to split hairs, if he wears an “adult” uniform, you can’t review him, because “adults” can’t earn Boy Scout ranks! (Yes, there are times when the absence of a clear policy is a good thing!) Don’t get wrapped around your own axle!

Dear Andy,

I was looking through my handbook and saw a badge for Troop Guide, but I can’t find anything on requirements, responsibilities or how it’s earned. I’ve seen a couple of statements that it’s about helping the younger scouts. I help at my little brother’s Cub Scout meetings, and with any others who need help in my troop. Can you tell me more about Troop Guide? (Scout’s Name Withheld)

When a new group of Webelos Scouts from your local Cub Scout pack joins your troop, they become a patrol unto themselves, and they elect their own Patrol Leader. But this Patrol Leader may not know a whole lot about leading the other Scouts in his patrol (maybe, in his Cub Scout den, they didn’t have a Denner, so he didn’t have the chance to learn!). Well, that’s where the Troop Guide come in. A Troop Guide is still a member of his own patrol, but, as a Troop Guide, he’s a sort of “coach” to the Patrol Leader of the new-Scout patrol! He doesn’t do the job of the Patrol Leader, and he’s not “the boss”—He’s right behind the Patrol Leader, like a good coach, giving him tips and hints on how to be a good Patrol Leader!

A Troop Guide doesn’t have to be particularly older or have a lot of ranks under his belt, but he does want to help others and is willing to give some of time away from his own patrol to do this.

Now if you want to help your younger brother’s Cub Scout den, then you want to look at a position called “Den Chief”—This is a Boy Scout leadership position, where you help a Cub Scout Den Leader run his or her den.

Dear Andy,

I’m hoping that you or perhaps one of your other readers can help me out. At a recent troop committee meeting, our advancement coordinator asked for the Merit Badge Counselors in the troop to start using an online “blue card” template, because he says he has a difficult time trying to read some of the blue cards the Scouts fill out. So I’ve been attempting to find a source for buying blank blue cards, but with negative results. Could you or maybe one of your readers help me locate a source for where to get blank blue cards, or a link that can print the needed applicant and counselor information on a standard blue card currently supplied by the BSA. Might it be possible for an IT expert to create a standard blue card template and then place it as a link on the BSA “forms” page. (There must be other leaders out there who have run into the same problem that we’re having.) (Jeffrey Scott, CC, Cradle of Liberty Council, PA)

Have you tried doing an online search of “merit badge application”? I just did this, and a whole bunch of resources popped up immediately, from to and the list goes on! As for using the standard “blue card,” how about simply instructing the Scouts to use black pen and print their information (which is actually nothing more than their name and the merit badge they’re seeking—pretty much everything else is filled in by the Merit Badge Counselor!), and simultaneously ask the Merit Badge Counselors to accept only blue cards done this way? That seems a lot simpler than trying to create electronic versions, and it also places responsibility where it belongs—on the Scouts themselves! (B-P: “Never do for a Scout what he can do for himself.”)

Dear Andy,

When our Scouts reach Life rank, our committee encourages them to start looking for an Eagle project. Our former Scoutmaster, also a Roundtable Commissioner, tells us that, if the Scout asks to do a project for the local park, we should provide the Scout with a phone number for a member of the park authority, who will in turn provide suggestions on what landscaping projects could be done around town; however, nothing further should be done to assist the Scout with his project. One of our more long-term committee members, in fact one of our former Scoutmasters from 20 years ago, would like to mentor and guide the Scout with his project, and he’s actually picked projects for the Scouts, and helped them piece the project together. Now he’d like to work more closely with the Scouts, to help them develop their projects further. This has set us to wondering… What, if anything, are the adult leaders in the troop allowed, or obligated, to do? (Al Fisher, SM, Rainbow Council, IL)

It’s certainly not inappropriate for a member of a troop’s committee to serve as Eagle Advisor—many troops have been doing this for any number of years—to Life Scouts as they complete their journey to Boy Scouting’s final rank. For this person, “adviser” is, of course, the key word, because a significant portion of his or her time will relate to soft guidance related to the Scout’s Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project. For the Scout, the operative word is “leadership,” because this is the primary objective of this requirement (that is to say, it’s not “service”—”service” is merely the tool used to accomplish the primary goal of providing the Scout with an opportunity to demonstrate the leadership insights and skills he’s learned via the Scouting program). Therefore, the Eagle adviser is definitely a coach, guide, and mentor, and to a vastly lesser extent is he or she a facilitator.

Taking this framework, it would consequently be most inappropriate for the Eagle adviser to “provide…a contact number” or to “pick projects,” and “help” must remain in the arena of providing a sounding board or responding to questions; “help” is definitely not to take on mantle of actually assisting with the work (including the writing of the project plan). To put it another way, the Eagle adviser is much more a responder and much less an initiator. From a practical standpoint, the Eagle adviser receives phone calls from the Scout; it’s not the other way around.

Taking this even further, the Scout should not be “asking to do a project in the local park”—He should be investigating and assessing needs and making proposals to the local park. It’s hardly an “Eagle Project” when the Scout merely asks, “Well, what do you need done around here…?” and it’s much more an Eagle Project when the Scout says, for instance, “I’ve noticed that the backstop on the ball-field has deteriorated to the point of providing little protection to spectators and is actually hazardous now that it’s splintering and on the verge of collapse… How would the park like a brand-new back-stop?” and when he gets a yes, he then begins to assemble his thinking on what it will take to do the job (what materials needed, how many tasks, how many helpers needed, safety issues, etc.” In this scenario, the Eagle adviser would be asking questions such as “Have you considered…(fill in the blank)?” and not “You forgot nails…How many nails will you need?”

If the person who is interested in this is on the same page, then by all means proceed! If not, and if he can’t be persuaded that this is a back-seat job—not a driver’s seat role—then it’s not going to serve the Scouts in the way they need.

Dear Andy,

About Sea Scout uniforms, I think the confusion occurs in that most shipmates get their dress whites from Army-Navy surplus stores and then remove any Navy insignia and stitch on the Sea Scout insignia, which in of itself seems contrary to the BSA’s general statement about Scouts not wearing anything in imitation of military. Yes, technically, they’re now Sea Scout uniforms; but before this they were Navy uniforms. (Dave Hibbard)

…and what’s really behind the whole brouhaha (from an earlier column) is somebody who’s simply poked an arm or leg through the wrong side of Scout spirit. They’ll straighten out after a bit, but in the meanwhile it’s sorta like pulling all the slats out of the four sides of your play-pen and then throwin’ a fit cause you can’t climb over the top.

Hey Andy,

We often say that “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.” One of the joys of Scouting for me is seeing these boys run around like kittens or puppies…they’re fun to watch, but they grow up very quickly and turn into semi-adult cats and dogs, and at that point they’re not so much fun anymore! Occasionally, one of them makes an error in judgment that lands him in trouble. This is when you show your true mettle as a Scout leader… About the only place where you might expect a Scout to act like a miniature adult is while sitting in a church pew (at least for a while). Always make the “punishment” fit the “crime.” When possible, engage the Scout in deciding on his own “punishment.” Often, he’ll come up with something a lot more severe than you’d ever have thought of! “Scouting’s a game with a purpose.” Let’s not forget the purpose of the game! (Bill Ewing, Great Southwest Council)

Right on the money!

Dear Andy,

I’m a new Scoutmaster of an old troop. The troop’s never worked with the local Cub Scout pack in any kind of cooperative effort. I’m now being asked by a Den Leader to put together a plan to get both units working together, for a smooth transition of the Cubs into the troop, so it can be presented it to the pack’s Cubmaster and Committee Chair. Do you have any suggestions, or, are there any BSA guidelines on this? (Al Fisher)

This is great news! The closer packs and troops can work together to transition boys from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, the more successful both will be and the better the Scouting movement will be able to influence the lives of our country’s leaders of tomorrow!

Use any search engine for “webelos to scout transition” and you’ll get a boat-load of information you can put to good use. Keep this process as collaborative as possible!

Dear Andy,

In our troop, we have a lot of cross-overs and middle-aged Scouts. I don’t know how this came about, but it’s been said that the older Scouts can sign off in Scout books only up to First Class rank. I used to be Senior Patrol Leader and now I’m Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, and now I’m told that I can sign off on any Scout book. I feel that there’s something wrong with this. Can I sign off in Scout books? Wasthis made up bya BSA regulation, or just bymy troop? (Scout’s Name Withheld)

In many troops, it’s OK for Patrol Leaders, the Senior Patrol Leader, the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster—in addition to the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster—to sign off on Scouts’ rank requirements through First Class. This is assuming, of course, that these Scouts are at least one rank above the Scout they’re signing off. This is a troop decision, and IMHO it’s a pretty good one! The decision is based on leadership position and rank; not age.

After First Class, the responsibility for signing off on requirements for further ranks falls entirely to the Scoutmaster (and sometimes an ASM). That’s because the nature of the requirements has changed.

Hi Andy,

Recently, our Scoutmaster told the Scouts that they should be “actively involved in their leadership positions on a weekly basis.” I know that you’ve said time and again that the BSA doesn’t attach numbers or percentages to what “active” means and that troops can’t do this on their own, and you’ve also said that if a Scout should somehow “fail,” it’s really the Scoutmaster who has failed the Scout.

Am I understanding the whole philosophy correctly when I say that Scouts should set their own individualgoals for those leadershippositions (preferably at Troop Leader Training), and then follow through on those goals, as their schedules allow them? If so, who decides what’s “adequate” service for a given leadership position… the Scout?…with coaching? We have many busy Scouts who are juggling multiple activities and this Scoutmaster thinks they’re not doing enough. For him, everything boils down to the calendar: What meetings and activities were you at?

Now, this problem’s struck us at home. My son, a high school junior, has been a Life Scout since 8th grade, but has never “measured up” in the eyes of the Scoutmaster. Now, in addition to three other leadership positions in the troop, he’s been assigned the job of Troop OA Representative and been given his “Life-to-Eagle” packet (finally). But now, in addition to Scouts, he has PSATs, honors classes (with a mountain of extra homework) and the list goes on! He’s already served several six-month stints as a leader, and now he’s being told to do it again! (Name & Council Withheld)

Perhaps the first thing we need to do here is understand that a Boy Scout troop is just that; it’s not a corporation or business or company or department, and its leaders—the Scouts—aren’t employees, foremen, supervisors, managers, or directors. Corporations and such have “performance reviews;” Boy Scout troops do not. The employees of businesses work out a set of “performance objectives,” or “goals,” or “production standards,” or “zero accident” mandates, or “product delivery volume projections,” and so forth; Boy Scout troops do none of these things. Boy Scout troops help to prepare young men for the rigors of “the real world,” but this isn’t done by creating “mini-standards,” or “mini-projections,” or “mini-performance goals,” or such. Just as timber companies don’t expect their sapling nurseries to yield construction-quality timber; Boy Scout troops don’t expect to produce “captains of industry” by the time a young man is 18.

I recently asked an Eagle Scout now at West Point, in his second year—cadet field training, “How did your Scouting experience prepare you for leadership in the military?” Without missing a beat, he answered: “In Scouting, I didn’t learn how to lead soldiers; I learned how to lead myself.” The most profound statements about how leadership skills are acquired by Boy Scouts in positions of responsibility may be found in The Senior Patrol Leader Handbook (Cat. No.32501), page 12 (boldface mine): “…as a Senior Patrol Leader you will find tremendous assistance and support from the Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster’s responsibility is to ensure…that the troop’s leaders are developedthe troop’s leadership starts with the Scoutmaster. His is not a passive roleRely on the Scoutmaster to coach youDo not hesitate to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do next… expect guidance in learning more effective ways to conduct troop activities and meetings. The Scoutmaster will always be there to give you what you need.” “A Scoutmaster trains boys to be leaders, makes available to them the resources and guidance they need to lead well…” And, on what a Scout in a leadership position can expect: “…a chance to work closely with an adult willing to provide vision, guidance, and encouragement.” If any troop doesn’t have someone in the position of Scoutmaster who is willing and able to deliver on the promises just described by The Senior Patrol Leader Handbook, then the troop’s Chartered Organization, Chartered Organization Representative, and Committee Chair are charged with the responsibility of identifying, recruiting, training, and supporting such a person as rapidly as is humanly possible, because without this key person, with the right point-of-view as to his or her responsibilities, there can be no effective troop.

How, then, does Scout himself evaluate how well he’s leading his troop or patrol? Here’s what that same source tells him (boldface mine): “The first clue that you are leading well is that you are doing your best.” Further, “You are using the knowledge you have and the resources around you to help the troop… You…set an example for others.” Have you noticed who evaluates? Yes, that’s exactly right: The youth leader himself evaluates himself. He’s the only one who can. A Scoutmaster might assist the Scout in doing this, by asking directed questions, such as, “I believe you’re doing your best… What might you want to consider doing that would raise your own bar by a notch?” or “Are there any resources that you might want to consider using more, or in a different way” or “In what way or ways do you think your Patrol Leaders/the Scouts in your Patrol look up to you the most?” The very worst possible thing a Scoutmaster can do is to set himself up as judge and jury… The instant this happens, we no longer have Scouting; we have a teacher-student or a parent-son or a pastor-parishioner relationship—Fundamentally, a “me-versus-you” situation, and it takes ten times as much effort to diffuse that as it took to incorrectly put it in place. The instant a Scoutmaster starts “taking attendance,” he’s taken off his uniform and donned the habit of a pedant. Boys have enough watchdogs in their overly controlled lives already; the very last thing they need is yet one more, disguised as a Scoutmaster. Any troop that finds itself with a pedantic bore like this needs to either effect an instantaneous change in the person’s thinking or an immediate change in the person occupying that position.

The true managers of the troop need to decide whether they want a troop modeled after “We Are Marshall” or after “Shawshank.”

Hi Andy,

You deserve to hear some good news occasionally. I wrote to you around six months ago for guidance for my son with his troop. You said that my son was being treated like a doormat long enough (ouch) and that I should find another troop—one that follows BSA policies. Well, Andy, I’m happy to report that we did find another troop. It’s been wonderful! It’s a warm, happy,encouraging environment. They don’t hold it against my son if he’s trying to better himself in an area other than Scouts. These people are truly living the Scout Oath, Law, and Spirit.

I’m glad that I wrote to you, and then followed your advice. Thank you!!!

The beauty of this all is that I also have a Webelos II, so this is my “do-over.” The new troop is so nice and they’re welcoming him with a kindness that I can’t put into words. I know he’ll earn his Eagle (if he wants), and we won’t have to go through all of the other things his older brother had to go through.

Thank you, Andy, for helping us Moms who were never Boy Scouts understand the way the program’s supposed to work. (Linda Rush Hindmand, Northwest Suburban Council, IL)

Yes, I do remember you and your son, and I’m very grateful that you took the time to write again. Letters like yours are truly worth more to me than the best paycheck I’ve ever received.

Happy Scouting!



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March 20, 2011 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2011)

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

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