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Issue 253 – April 30, 2011

Andy’s Rule No. 4:

  • When in doubt, ask a Scout!

Andy’s Rule No. 5:

  • The apology you’re willing to make to your fellow Scouter causes you to grow, not shrink, in your own and everyone’s eyes.

Andy’s Rule No. 6:

  • Pray not so much to win but to do your level best.

Andy’s Rule No. 7:

  • The first thing to do after delegating is: Get out of the way.


Dear Andy,

You’re an aquatics guy, so I have a question for you…Is the Mile Swim something an adult can earn? I know that adults can earn BSA Lifeguard, and I’ve seen adults participate in the mile swim while at camp, but can they wear the patch? (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

That stuff’s really for Boy Scouts (let’s start here: It’s in the Boy Scout Requirements book). That said (and if lightning strikes me right now I’ll know why), I personally suppose that nobody’s really gonna squawk if some studly guy like you or me trots around with a Mile Swim badge on his Speedo’s. But don’t compare this to the BSA Lifeguard, which is an actual certification; not an “award” (you maybe noticed that it’s not in the Boy Scout Requirements book, which should tell you something). But if you just can’t resist the urge, then you need to remember one more rule: If you pull on your Speedo and you can’t see it, you’ve just exceeded the Speedo Limit! <grin>

Dear Andy,

I was just reading one of your columns, when you’re talking about the National Scout Jamboree patches sold at the on-site trading posts, compared to the NSJ “participant” patches, which were apparently identical to one another! As a First Assistant Scoutmaster, I was disappointed to learn that this was allowed to happen. The only comment that I’d add is: Are you really being “trustworthy” if you sew that NSJ patch on your uniform, knowing that you were a visitor; not a participant? Others will be asked about their Jamboree experiences, and what are you going to say? For those of us who were chosen to represent our council at an event so large and humbling in many ways, I very proudly wear my leader’s NSJ patch– I sweated for ten days and had the time ofmy life, but I absolutely earned the right to wear that patch! (Amanda Smith, Cherokee Area Council, OK)

Having participated as a Scout in the 1957 Jamboree, then as a First Assistant Scoutmaster at the 1993, and finally as a National Staff member at the 2001 Jamboree, but most recently in 2010 as a non-patch-wearing day-visitor, I couldn’t agree with you more—especially on the part about “sweat equity”! Conscience, however, will prevail, I’m sure. Conscience is what tells us what the right thing to do is, when nobody’s looking!

Hi Andy,

I am a new advancement coordinator and I’m getting inundated with the same question by parents, Scouts, and even the (new) Camping Merit Badge Counselor himself. The questions always boil down to the same issue: How are a Scout’s camping days and nights counted? The merit badge’s req. 9a requires, “…at least 20 days and 20 nights…You may use a week of long-term camp toward this requirement.” So, if a Scout attends long-term summer camp twice, do both camps count, and does it matter if it’s the same camp twice or one camp one time and another camp the second time? Our previous advancement coordinator only counted the first long-term camp, regardless of whether or not a second long-term experience was at the same or a different camp. I realize this is a question for the Merit Badge Counselor to determine, but he also is uncertain about how to do this. Can you help us? (Andrea Bertke, Silverado Council, CA)

In the first place, exactly as you’ve stated, this is between the Scout and his Merit Badge Counselor, and troop advancement coordinators have neither input nor say in how this is done, and cannot override the decision of the Merit Badge Counselor, which is final, and all of this is per BSA policy; none of this is my “opinion”—I’m giving you the straight “poop from group,” as we camp staffers used to say.

That said, the direct answer to this question is: The maximum number of days and nights from long-term camping (i.e., summer camp) that may make up a portion of the 20 days and nights required by this merit badge is seven (7)—seven days and nights being the length of one week. The remaining fourteen (14) (or more, if need be) days and nights required here must be on Scouting-related campouts (troop campouts, patrol campouts, Camporees, etc.) where the Scout pitches the tent or sleeps under the stars. Everyone will serve themselves best by not attempting to “interpret” or “read into” requirements, and, instead, straightforwardly take the requirements to mean precisely what they state, as they were written. Do this and 99.99% of all questions will immediately evaporate.

Dear Andy,

My grandson will receive his Eagle, at a court of honor in just a few weeks, and I will be doing the Eagle Charge. Can you help me… What percentage of boys entering Scouting earn the rank of Eagle? Thanks! (Andy Powell)

Nationally, the historical proportion usually given is 2%; however, I’ve more recently heard 5% as the more current percent.

Congratulations to your grandson and best wishes to you and your family!

Hi Andy,

I was a Scoutmaster back in the early 1970’s, and we used those flat plastic, orange-colored marine distress whistles at the time. Well, I came across a bunch of them and I’ve given them to my friends, neighbors, and so on, for the same use: distress signal while camping. The problem is using the most logical “code,” and I couldn’t find much of anything, anywhere! We tried using what I remembered from back when, and what I remember some mates in Australia uses to use… Where one blast means “Where are you?” two blasts means “Come here” and three blasts means “Help!” with a one=blast response to acknowledge having heard the message. But what’s the best code to use? (Andy Voelkle, retired SM, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

If you Google “whistle signals on the trail” you’ll eventually find a Boys’ Life from August 1916, and an article by Dan Beard on exactly this subject! And as you explore further, you’ll discover new worlds of railroad and military whistle code systems, all of which can be adapted by some canny Scouts into a current-day secret language uncrackable by the most sophisticated electronics and hackers! Have a blast! (Pun intended)

Hi Andy,

Can you please tell me where I can buy the American BSA merit badges? My son is a Scout here in Great Britain and he collects badges for his camp blanket. He has a vast collection of both British and foreign ones, and he’s keen to add to his collection. Many thanks. (Annie Shillabeer, Scout Mum & Taxi Service)

The BSA merit badges here in America are earned and not just available to buy at random from the BSA, I’m afraid! But there are lots of others for purchase if you go to Also, there are always Scout badges for auction at eBay… Just enter “scout badge” or “scout patch” in the dialogue box, and have at it! (We Yanks tend to call them “patches” more than “badges” so if you want the ones from this side of the pond, use “scout patches.”) Happy badging!

Hi Andy,

Is therea belt loop for recycling? My den would like to tour a recycling facility nearby, and we’ve done some recycling and reusing. We’ve also talked about natural resources and how to reduce our use of them. There’s also an achievement in our book that goes along with recycling, so it would be neat to have a belt loop to give the Cubs for all this. (April Bourque, Calcasieu Area Council, LA)

If you go to the “advancement” and then “Cub Scout” section of the website, you can check on all belt loops available. I don’t think you’re going to find “recycling” among them; however, you may discover that something along the lines of what you’re doing is an elective, depending on whether you have a Wolf den, Bear den, or other, so that your Cubs can get credit toward an Arrow Point! If not, well… guess what… maybe we don’t get a badge or something like it for everything we do—maybe sometimes we do stuff just because it’s fun and interesting! But if you really want them to have a “memento” of this learning experience, maybe they can “recycle” a pop bottle top into a dangle to wear from the button of their right uniform pocket!

Dear Andy,

Can a 14 year-old girl from a Venturing crew be a Den Chief? She doesn’t like to camp or hike or do much outdoors, she isn’t a leader, and she’s not a example for a Den Chief to be like. Is there anything in the BSA books that says she can be a Den Chief, or not? (Her Den Leader mom wants her to be one, so she can help her with her Cubbies.) I’d rather she didn’t. (SM’s Name & Council Withheld)

Yes, the BSA states firmly that 14 year-old female Venturer can be a Den Chief—this is 100% legal. And, maybe this is what this girl needs in order to develop some leadership skills, because there’s a Den Chief’s Handbook to learn from and most councils offer Den Chief training at least once a year that she might further benefit from. BUT, unless this girl herself wants to do this, and isn’t merely knuckling under to her mother’s want of a “go-fer,” then something quite positive might happen here. If, on the other hand, the girl really doesn’t want to do this, then she needs to take care of herself and speak up. Neither you nor I can or should stop this girl, if she wishes to do this. The position of Den Chief is one of the most challenging leadership roles in Scouting, so she doesn’t need your criticism of her lack of hiking, camping, and leadership skills, or your pejorative use of the term, “Cubbies.” She needs support and encouragement, because what we’re here for, sir, is to grow young people into tomorrow’s citizens. Got that?

Dear Andy,

My son has finished his Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project and has just one more merit badge to earn for Eagle. This past week, he went to his troop meeting, as usual, where he was given an “Eagle Scout Letter of Recommendation” form by one of the adult leaders there, and he was then told that he needed to obtain five letters of recommendation for his Eagle board of review. Is this correct? Is the Scout actually supposed to go out and gather these letters himself? (Confused Dad)

To comply with the purposefully precise wording of that requirement, your son’s responsibility is to provide the names and contact information for up to six people in a variety of categories (parents, educator, religious, etc.) who have agreed to recommend him. Some councils request that the Scout send each of these people a letter of request, including a statement that the letter written by the reference be returned to someone other than the Scout himself. At this point, the Scout’s obligation is complete, and it’s now up to someone else (the troop advancement coordinator, usually) to actually obtain the letters. It is actually forbidden by the BSA that the Scout himself obtain these references, whether in letter or other form. Further, there is no BSA specification as to how many letters must be received, and the board of review cannot be held back pending receipt of all such letters or other methods of obtaining references. This is BSA policy; it is not “opinion,” and it is not negotiable.

Hello Andy,

My son recently crossed over into a Boy Scout troop. At his first troop meeting, he wore his Boy Scout tan shirt, but he wore non-Scout shorts because we were waiting until after the summer to purchase his $40 green Scout shorts (Why are they so expensive? Similar shorts in major stores are $20!).

Some background: He’s had Graves disease and is hypothyroid, and one of the results of that is his weight has fluctuated greatly—45 pounds and three pants sizes—this past year, so we’re trying to see if he’ll grow more, or lose weight, before the end of the summer.

I spoke with one of his troop leaders about this situation, and she suggested we look through the “experienced uniforms” the troop has. We’ll be able to do this at the next meeting, but in the meanwhile my son was disappointed because he couldn’t be a candidate for Patrol Leader because he didn’t have the right shorts. This sounds a bit over the top for just a meeting. Why is it so important to have the expensive shorts?

As a family we’ve tried to instill in both our children that it’s not what a person wears that’s important, but what’s inside of the person. This is the first time in my son’s life that the brand mattered. We’ve avoided $100 Nikes and such, but the pressure from the Boy Scouts is intense. Is it like this in all troops, or did we pick one that is too upscale? (Scout Mom)

First, let’s do a price check: Boy Scout uniform shorts cost $31.99 and the socks to go with them cost between $4.49 and $11.99, depending on the ones worn by the troop. “Switchback” pants/shorts, which have zippered legs and are therefore both long pants and shorts, are $39.95.

That you and your son were instantly offered the opportunity to check the troop’s “experienced uniform bank” is a wonderful gesture, and I hope you take advantage of it. The fact that they have such a resource should tell you a lot of positive things about the troop!

Boy Scouting has been a uniformed movement from its inception a hundred years ago. Uniforms are worn by Scouts, in all countries around the world. The uniform levels the playing field—it leaves no room for “status brands” (like Nikes) and such—and at the same time provides for individuality: Scouts wear their adventures and accomplishments on their shirts, as badges. The uniform helps the boy feel a part of the troop and patrol. The uniform helps the boy conduct himself in a Scout-like manner, by reminding him at all times that he’s a Scout. The uniform identifies him as a member of the largest and most influential youth movement the world has ever known—there are 28 million youth around the world who wear the Scout uniform just as he will, starting next week!

So, since this really isn’t about “brand” or even about “price” I’m going to suggest that you keep your son in Scouting, because he’ll get to do stuff in Scouting that just isn’t available to boys and young men anywhere else. Is the troop “too upscale”? Not with a uniform bank it’s not! Is it all about “brand”? Hardly. Is it about following the rules and getting stuff right? You Bet! But here’s an interesting bottom line: Scouting doesn’t actually demand that any boy be in uniform, just so long as he also understands that there are some advantages to wearing one and sometimes some disadvantages to not.

Dear Andy,

I’ve completed all of the requirements for the Commissioner’s Arrowhead, but don’t know who signs off on my card. Does the District Commissioner sign it? (Barry Farnsworth, UC, Old Colony Council, MA)

Have you printed out the “Unit Commissioner Progress Record for the Commissioner Key/Arrowhead Honor Award”? (Google it or check your home council’s website “forms” section). It’s completely appropriate for your District Commissioner to sign off on this.

Commissioners are Scouting’s backbone—Congratulations!

Dear Andy,

I’m a relatively new Scoutmaster (year-and-a-half on the job) and have a question about the merit badge program. Recently, my Patrol Leaders Council completed the Troop Annual Planning Conference for upcoming Scout year. They created a calendar with different program themes for each month. This calendar was presented to the troop committee. The only problem the committee had with it was that there were no “required” merit badges included in it. The Patrol Leaders had used what was suggested by their patrol members and came up with a program based on the Troop Program Features Vols. I-III. What are your feelings on this and any suggestions on how to handle this?

Speaking of the committee, they meet the same night as troop meetings. I mentioned this to my Chartered Organization Rep. and told him this wasn’t fair to me or any of my ASMs, because we’re unable to attend the full committee meeting when we’ve got a troop meeting going on in another room (they meet starting at 6:30 and our troop meeting starts at 7:00). How can I convince them to change to another night? They give me the excuse that they have other meetings that they must attend to or it’s just a matter of convenience for them (I didn’t mention to them that I’m also a volunteer firefighter, Master Mason, OA committee advisor, and more).

Any suggestions you can give me I’d greatly appreciate. (David “Big Lou” Salser, Bucktail Council, PA)

We can make this short and sweet –

There’s no place for merit badge work inside troop meetings. There never was. There won’t be in the future. The troop committee is 100% wrong on this point. Moreover, they do not have the authority to veto a plan put together by the Patrol Leaders Council. Yes, they can make suggestions to the PLC, which is your responsibility to communicate. But that’s exactly all they can do. The PLC did a fabulous job of using the program features books, and deserve a big atta boy! If the committee questions this further, you may want to suggest that they either take Scoutmaster training, or Troop Committee Training, or just read the Scoutmaster Handbook.

If needed, Google “Troop Meeting Plan” and print it out. Then challenge the committee to show you where it says “merit badge work.”

I assume the troop committee meets once a month—this would be normal. If so, then once a month is OK for you, as Scoutmaster, to sit in on the meeting for as long or as short as you like. This is also a good opportunity for you to make a “training experience” for one of your ASMs. Just do keep in mind that since neither Scoutmasters nor ASMs are actually members of the committee, there’s no reason why you need to sit through the entire meeting!

Dear Andy,

In this day and age, it seems that more and more kids carry cell phones. In our troop, I think almost all have them. We found it necessary to update our troop manual to not allow cell phones at any Scouting function, after we found several Scouts making calls and texting friends from their tents late at night when they need to be asleep. We now have a Scout’s father upset over this policy. After we took the cell phone away from his son, while at a camp out (of course we gave it back to the Scout in the parking lot back home, after the trip), this father told us how he’d specifically purchased that cell phone for his son to have in case of emergency, and told us that he wants his son to have the phone on camp outs or he’ll pull him out of the troop. So my question is: What’s your opinion on cell phone use by Scouts in situations like this? (Randy, CC, Dan Beard Council, OH)

Let’s start here instead: What do I think of parents who try to bully troop leaders into doing what they, the parent, want, regardless of what these volunteers consider appropriate and safe for their sons? Answer: Honor the threat. Accept that father’s resignation of his son from the troop and wish him Godspeed. Enough of that horsepucky!

On cell phones: IMHO, cell phones for Scouts while on troop outings (hikes, camp-outs, summer camp, etc.) are totally inappropriate, if not dangerous. I personally agree 100% with your troop policy. Don’t back down; no exceptions, ever.

Hey Andy,

What’s the story on the Arrow of Light and Boy Scout rank pins (instead of cloth badges)? I’ve never seen anyone wear these, but they’re sold in Scout shops. (Bill Bishop)

Pins can be used instead of cloth badges, if a unit decides to do this. We had the same options when I was a Scout, and the preference was for pins, so that advancements could be pinned on as soon after the board of review was completed as possible and no one had to wait around for the cloth badge to get sewn on. The other viewpoint, of course, is that pins can fall off and get lost, so that argument is for the cloth. Bottom line? It’s “dealer’s choice.” (But, whichever way you go, don’t expect to please everybody!)

Hi Andy;

A short time ago, our pack went to a council Scout camp for our annual Cub spring campout. This a three-day, two-nightcabin camp. As Scouts and their partners started to show up, afew mothers came to me to find their sleeping quarters. The cabin they were assigned had two four-person rooms and two large bays, and I directed them to the two rooms. This is where things got sticky. My committee chair said that the Cubs ( a Tiger, two Bears, and a Webelos ) aren’t allowed to sleep in the same room as the women, for reasons of differing genders. My response was that the issue between a couple of boys and a couple of mothers is much easier to handle than the issue of a mother having to walk through a room of even more boys, plus men, to attend to her son, if needed. Which is the best way to handle this, to alleviate any problems with the BSA or—primarily—the parents? (Bill Swift, CM, Three Rivers Council, MI)

Oh, wow! Cub camping is supposed to be parent-and-son. If it’s Cub son and Mom, of course they can bunk together!If it’s multiple Cubs and multiple Moms, then you’ve got a sticky wicket. Based on your description, I’d think your judgment was pretty admirable under less-than-accommodating circumstances. The only other approach I can think of would be to leave it to the parents to work out, so that your own judgment isn’t called challenged (sometimes it’s better to keep your dog outa the fight).

Dear Andy,

An elderly woman in our area wants some Scouts to help her pull weeds and to move furniture in and out of her house while she gets her floors done. It seems to me that Scout service is more of a community service. Is doing free work for a single person a thing that troops should take on as a service project? (Lynne Ballatore, Las Vegas Area Council, NV)

Is this woman a neighbor or friend of one of the Scouts in your troop? Well, anyway, this sounds like it would be a nice thing to do, unless, that is, your Scouts insist on only helping her cross the street! <wink> Hey, why not! Doesn’t “community service” begin with one person at a time? And, think about this: What’s she gonna tell her friends and neighbors about “Those Boy Scouts who refused to help me…What’s the world coming to?!?” On the positive side, don’t we do stuff like this, not to “get hours” or “get credit” but because that’s what Scouts do? So give her a hand… Smile… And be sure to refuse any money she might offer!

This doesn’t have to be some sort of formal “troop service project”—this is simply helping a person in your home-town. Remember the Scout who took Bill Boyce to meet Baden-Powell on that foggy London night? Isn’t that sorta what we’re talking about here?

Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)April 30, 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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