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Issue 256 – May 19, 2011

Andy’s Rule No. 13:

  • Once you’ve hit “send” Mister Flame-Mail is no longer your friend; neither is he the missile you wrote him to be…He’s now a boomerang. 

NetCommish Comment: Bad news travels like wildfire and can show up in unexpected place. The infographic below shows how a flame email can spread, but with a result you didn’t intend. Your audience is the email recipient (one person). Their audience is potentially hundreds or thousands of people across the Internet. Who wins?

Flame Email
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Dear Andy,

Couple of years ago, I asked you about alternative requirements for one of the Scouts in our troop—he’d given up on trying to earn his Eagle rank because his doctor didn’t want him doing Personal Fitness merit badge (the young man had a pre-existing documented health problem). At that time, you pointed out that there were correct procedures for dealing with situations like this. Finding out that there were alternatives, and ways to solve this dilemma got him moving again, and it turned out that it was possible to find an exercise plan that both the Merit Badge Counselor and the doctor were happy with, and it met the requirement!

Well, thought you’d like to know that he’s just had his Eagle court of honor.

His Eagle service project is worth particular note because he mounted a community effort to greatly improve the lives of those waiting in the same hospital where he’d spent a great deal of his early childhood (adding games, coloring books, blankets, and things like that, which make a big difference to the children and their families who spend long hours waiting during serious medical procedures and surgeries).

Your advice contributed to a Scouting success. (Rob Harrison, CC, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

Congratulations to your Eagle Scout, with a wish for his continuing success in life, and sincere thanks to you for having written to me in the first place! (You do know that you and he have just given me the best “paycheck” I could ever hope to receive.)

Dear Andy,

What is the “official” date that a Scout earns the Eagle rank? I think it’s when theEagle Scout Rank Application is returned to the local council from the BSA national office as approved, and usually with the date of the board of review as the date earning the Eagle Scout rank.

Unfortunately, a situation arose here in which a Scout wasn’t allowed to go to an Eagle Scout dinner even though he had successfully completed his Eagle project and workbook write-up, Scoutmaster conference, all other requirements including his merit badges, and his board of review, and the rank application had been properly sent to the national office and returned from there approved, and all confirming documents were in the hands of the troop two weeks before the Eagle recognition dinner.

The reason he was prohibited from attending the dinner was: He was not an “official” Eagle Scout because he hadn’t been given the “Eagle Charge” at a court of honor. (Name & Council Withheld)

Somehow, “genius” isn’t coming to mind here.

Courts of honor aren’t inaugurations or coronations and Eagle charges aren’t oaths of office. The “charge” is pure invention and a ceremonial nicety—a bit tedious at times in fact (and I say this as an Eagle Scout).

That young man was an Eagle Scout on the date of his successful board of review for the rank. That is, in fact, the date on his Eagle Scout rank certificate. No other date ever applies; no other date ever supplants this. Moreover, when the certificate comes back to the local council from the national office, this merely means that the rank is confirmed as originally earned; it absolutely doesn’t mean that “now” it’s somehow more “official” than before. So the bottom line is that somebody’s ignorance—and we adult volunteers and professionals absolutely do not have the right to be “ignorant” when the well-being of the youth we serve is at stake—is no excuse for an insult like this.

I’m hoping that someone now has the spine to stand up and admit to this error and the integrity to find a way to at least partially amend this insult.

Dear Andy,

I’ve just recently started reading your columns and consider them a great resource for all Scouters. Respectfully, I’d like to expand on the last question in your May 6th column, about left-handed hand shaking. Is the left-handed hand shake actually appropriate if either or both of the parties isn’t in Class A uniform? An example would be if I’ve come straight from the workplace and asked to sit on a board of review. The Scout is in his Class A uniform and he knows that I’m the Committee Chair, but I’m wearing, let’s say, a dress shirt and tie, or other “civvies.” Should I extend my left hand to greet the Scout, or do I extend my right hand because I’m not in my Class A uniform? (Ed Koeneman, CC, Grand Canyon Council, AZ)

A few summers ago, I was on vacation in Scotland and ran into a Scout group on their way to a Scottish version of a Camporee. The leaders were all in kilts, Scouter’s shirts, neckers, woggles, wood badges, and tams. I was dressed in a black polo shirt, hiking shoes, and tan Eddie Bauer shorts. I walked up, smiled, and extended my left hand, saying nothing. Every bloody one of them grinned from ear to ear, shook my left hand with theirs, and asked what Scout group I was with, in what country. In Lisbon, speaking no more than a few words of Portuguese, I did the same thing with three Scouts-Portugal leaders in full uniforms, while I was wearing pretty much the same as in Aberdeen. The hand-shaking proceeded precisely as before, except with broken English and a hesitant “Muito Obrigado” from me.

When not in uniform, greeting a Scout or Scouter who is, just be the first to extend your left hand. Yup, it’s that simple.

Thanks for the clarification. I’ve observed several experienced Scouters, when not in uniform, extend their left hand to a Scout, only to pull back at the last second, once the Scout has in-kind extended his own left hand, and then proceed to admonish the Scout: “If I’m not in my Class A uniform, we shake hands with our right hands.” Comments? (Ed)

The salient point is this: We’re always Scouts in our hearts first, so that being in uniform or not has nothing whatever to do with how we shake hands—it’s with our left (the reason’s made clear in any handbook).

Second comment: Shame on those dunderheads who have nothing in mind except to demean boys and artificially puff themselves up. That clevah little “trick” is even more mean-spirited than it is stupid. They’re not only teaching a mistake, they’re doing it in the absolutely worst way humanly possible. Talk about tiny-brain, tiny-ego jerks!

Dear Andy,

In our council, at the district level we have a Key 3: The District Executive, the District Commissioner, and the District Chair, to whom the District Advancement Chair reports. At the council level, we likewise have a Key 3: The Scout Executive, the Council Commissioner, and the Council President. Who, then, does the Council Advancement Chair report to?

Right now, we have a council board member who is serving as Council Program Chair, and it’s my thought that the Chair of the council advancement committee reports to him, along with the chairs of the camping and the activities committees. However, in conversation with the Council Advancement Chair, he’s expressed confusion as to who he’s supposed to report to, because at various times he’s been told it’s one of the District Executives, the Scout Executive, and the Council Program Chair.

I’m thinking that, the chain ought to be: Council Presidentà Scout ExecutiveàProgram ChairàAdvancement Chair. Yes? No? (Name & Council Withheld)

In the classic district organization there are four essential functions: Membership, Finance, Program, and Unit Service. The first three are the responsibility of the district committee, under the direction and guidance of the District Chair. The fourth is of course Commissioner service, under the direction and guidance of the District Commissioner. The District Executive, of course, is the third of the “Key 3” in a more-or-less advisory and support capacity to the two volunteers. If we were to draw an equilateral triangle and then stand it up like a pyramid, the District Chair would be at the top point with the DE and DC forming the two base points. Membership is usually a single committee at the district level, and Finance also often is, while allowing for some components, such as Popcorn sales, FOS, Alumni Giving, etc. But Program is definitely a multi-faceted function. Program, in fact, has its own four functions: Camp Promotion, Activities and Civic Service, Training, and Advancement (soon to be called “Youth Development,” or so I’ve heard). Each of these functions has a chair, and all four of these chairs “report” to the Program Chair who in turn reports to the District Chair. There can be further breakouts, depending on district size and emphasis. For instance, the Camp Promotion committee might have sub-committees (and sub-committee chairs) for Scout camping, Cub Family camping, Camporees, Cub-O-Rees, Venturing Moots, or others. Training might have distinct Boy Scout leader, Cub Scout leader, and Youth Leader training chairs and staffs or committees. And Advancement might have Boy Scout, Cub Scout, Venturing, and Adult Recognition as sub-functions, too. But ultimately, these all come together at the District Program Chair, who reports to the District Chair.

Check here:

Then here:

Between these two, you’ll see how the two entities—the council and the district–reflect one another in structure and function…and in who “reports” to whom.

At the council level, the Advancement function reports in to the Vice President of Program, just as, at the district level, Advancement reports in to the District Program Chair.

So the bottom line is that your thinking is right on the money (except take the S.E. out of the middle)! Which means you can definitely help both the Council Program Chair and the Council Advancement Chair, by bringing them together!

Dear Andy,

We’re sending a crew of 18 Scouts and six adult leaders (they’re all Assistant Scoutmasters) to the BSA Northern Tier Canoe Base shortly. Last night,we had another crew meeting to discuss more details about the trek. The Assistant Scoutmaster leading the trek decided to let the Scouts vote on what they would wear while traveling…at the airport, on the planes, and so forth. He asked for a show of hands for Class A, Class B (polo shirt with a BSA logo), or Class C (tee-shirt with a BSA logo), and the Scouts chose the Class B (no surprise).

I expressed concern over this and pointed out that, when they wear their Class A uniforms, the Scouts act more like Scouts and they’re treated more like Scouts, plus there’s a safety issue: If a crew member gets separated, he can be identified in a crowd by the crowd itself.

The Assistant Scoutmaster responded by point out that the troop is boy-led and since most of the Scouts are a little older (they’re 13 to 16 years old) it’s different and we don’t have to worry about them.

What do you think? (Name & Council Withheld)

What do I think? That’s pretty easy: Genius doesn’t come to mind.

In the first place, that erstwhile Assistant Scoutmaster repudiated himself at the very outset by being “in charge” of having a vote. Where’s the Crew Leader in all this? Obviously, the ASM is the crew leader and whatever Scout is eventually selected (by his fellow Scouts, I’d hope you all would at least get that right) is going to be little more than that ASM go-fer. So let’s toss out the “boy-led” nonsense as nothing more than a ruse for the ASM to get what he wants.

About “boy-led,” apparently no one know that this refers to program content; it doesn’t refer to uniforming. Some reading might be a good idea. Try the Scoutmaster Handbook.

Regarding uniforms, while you all may have polo shirts and tee shirts and such, the BSA (RTFH) recognizes only one uniform: It has a Scout hat, a tan Scout shirt, khaki Scout pants or shorts, Scout web or leather Philmont belt, Scout socks, and only the neckerchief is optional by vote of the troop (which is so specified, which tells anyone claiming even partial literacy that the other items aren’t optional).

Finally, safety. Any adult who actually believes that 13-to-16 year-old young men are “no worry” should not be allowed to accompany such a crew as this.

Bravo to you for speaking up. Now, somebody needs to do something about this. How it’s rectified is up to the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair, and may involve some re-thinking about what adults you actually want to inflict on your Scouts. But make no mistake: This absolutely needs to be rectified.

Hi Andy

In your May 6th column, you and a new Scout dad were talking about his getting involved in his son’s Scouting activities, particularly going to summer camp together. I completely agree with your point of view, especially as it relates to summer camp. However, I just want to say that certain activities outside of normal troop activities can be good in a father-son way. For instance, three dads from my troop took their four sons and a fifth Scout to SeaBase for the Out Island Adventure. All of us agree, even 20 years later, that it was one of the best times we had in Scouting and with our sons and our sons with their dads. A Philmont trek or a Jamboree trip might also be an option for this dad and son. Every father and son that I know that have been on a Philmont trek have said what a great time they had with their son/father.

Also, if he wants to spend some time with his son and at the same time be productive and make a difference, he and his son might want to volunteer for a week in a camp or program to help out. They could volunteer to be Campmasters one weekend a month at their council camp. Or they could volunteer a week supporting their local district’s Cub Day Camp.

I am absolutely sure that there are ways for a father and son to find things to do without it interfering with the Scout’s normal progress in the troop. (Larry Geiger, SM, Central Florida Council)

These are all excellent ideas! Thanks for taking time to think outside the box and then take the time to write!

Hi Andy,

In one of your columns some time ago, I remember you saying that an adult could be a Scouter in both a troop and a pack at the same time. Can a registered Scouter fill two positions in the same troop? (We have only ten Scouts and several of them are brothers or cousins, so we don’t havea large pool of parents to draw from.) (Dan Steel, Georgia-Carolina Council)

The only “double-up” positions in a troop are Committee Chair-and-Chartered Organization Representative. That’s it! But, hey, what’s the problem… Ten Scouts, let’s allow for two sets of brothers and two single-parent households, still gives you some 14 parents to draw on. You need just one Scoutmaster (Assistants would be silly at this juncture), leaving 13 folks who can be troop committee members. So, what’s the problem here…? (Or haven’t folks figured out that the more who volunteer to help the troop, the less work for all and the more their own sons benefit?)

Hi Andy,

Do Assistant Scoutmasters vote at committee meetings? I’ve looked in lots of books to see if I could see it written down, but the only thing I can find is that the books say the Scoutmaster can’t vote, but they say nothing about Assistant Scoutmasters. (Shawn Spratt, ASM, Katahdin Area Council, ME)

The Scoutmaster doesn’t vote because that position isn’t a member of the troop committee; logic tells us the same would apply to Assistant Scoutmasters. Thanks for asking –

Dear Andy,

My question pertains to the Citizenship in the Community merit badge. Does volunteering at one’s public school qualify as time serving a “charitable organization?” It seems as how one of our Scouts—for the first time—volunteered as a Safety Patrolman for one semester. This is more than ten hours of service, but is a school OK? (John Voros, Samoset Council, WI)

That’s a decision for that Scout’s Merit Badge Counselor to make, and that MBC’s decision is final and unassailable. My personal observation is that the Scout may have been wiser to consult with his Merit Badge Counselor first, because the school is an educational institution; not a charitable organization, and the difference is, to my mind, a significant one

I asked about this because the merit badge work sheet states that the IRS considers not-for-profit schools as charitable organizations and our public school districtdoesn’t earn a profit. The Scout would have volunteered at the school regardless of whether it qualified or not. The Counselor wasn’t sure, which is also why we wrote to you. Thanks again. (John Voros)

Those merit badge work sheets are the “labor of love” of a devoted Scouting volunteer but are in no way “official”—just as I’m a volunteer and when I provide “official” policy, etc., I make a point of saying so, and when it’s my own perspective, I’ll state that too, so that there’s no confusion. I’m delighted to learn that the Scout is indeed working with a Counselor right now, rather than working on his own, using those sheets. There are, unfortunately, situations in which the Scout starts working on a merit badge on his own, without ever having met first with the Counselor, which is 100% backwards. In addition, those work sheets, even though constructed by a devoted volunteer in the movement, take on a cloak of authority simply because they exist, and if a MBC wants to approach a specific subject or requirement differently from the way the work sheet does it, there can be confusion if not controversy.

The IRS, for instance, states that a “charitable organization” is classified in category “501(c)(3)” and so the Scout can actually call his board of education and ask them if they are a 501(c)(3) (Pronounced “Five-Oh-One-Cee-Three”) organization and whatever they tell him is what it’ll be. Or, of course, the MBC can do this, too—because, actually, it’s he who needs to know, most of all!

Dear Andy,

A Scout in our troop failed a board of review—it was a mixed vote; not unanimous. Afterward, we learned that apparently he has disabilities. His mother said that he has trouble processing information, and that if he doesn’t understand the meaning of any particular word in a question, he won’t answer. In addition to this, he also has “perfectionist” tendencies, which exhibit themselves as: If he doesn’t think he can state the “perfect” answer to a question, he’ll instead simply say, “I don’t know.” On top of this, when this young man’s father heard (via a phone call) what had happened, he called and yelled at the troop advancement coordinator, because he (the father) had already specifically stated to those involved that the boy had learning disabilities. (I guess we’re supposed to figure out for ourselves how to drag the necessary information out of the Scout.)

The council representative told this Scout’s father that where there are disabilities present, the parents need to contact the council’s Scout Executive andwork that out with him.

The father then went on to say something about how it’s BSA policy that Scouts advance one rank a year, which further exacerbates the problem because, apparently, the father is fighting cancer.

To my point of view—and the reason why, on that board of review, I voted to advance the Scout—the confident ability to communicate with adults is simply not a rank requirement! I know that there’s Communication merit badge, and I noticed a new requirement for Life where a Scout will teach a skill using the E.D.G.E. method, but for Tenderfoot through Star, there’s nothing that says a Scout needs to answer every question thrown at him as if he’s a modern-day young Demosthenes!

The father’s now saying that the board of review members didn’t try hard enough. He’s also saying that he’s not pushing his son, but I happened to walk by the two of them at a troop meeting the other night, and while the father was telling his son to ask for a Scoutmaster conference, all the boy did was keep saying, “Huh…?” At the meeting before that one, he spent most of the time wheeling his wheelchair-bound friend around, while one of the parents was trying to talk about aviation. And after he didn’t pass his board of review he simply skipped off to go play again (at least he seems to be getting along socially).

The council rep. did tell the father that he probably should take some time with his son reaching Eagle, and the father seemed to listen, but had reservations about violating BSA policy. The rep. pointed out that the boy probably couldn’t yet communicate well enough to carry out an Eagle project, so some time is needed. Is all of this typical, or do we have some sort of unusual case here? (Name & Council Withheld)

Well, the first thing you all need to do is take deep, relaxing breaths, and let yourselves relax a bit. The more you all are willing to do this, the more easily you’ll be able to find equitable solutions for these difficulties, all of which are soluble!

Find a place were you can all get together personally, and all of you take a look at what I’m going to do my best to try to explain for you here. Do this in a relaxed, living room-type setting if at all possible. Try to avoid the “across the conference table” arrangement (no, not even a dining room table!). You all need to be sitting in such a way that there are no “barriers” between any of you, if you can possibly find a place to do this. (Hint: Churches often and sometime libraries have rooms set up like this, and that’s what you want… especially since it’s “neutral territory,” too!

OK, now about these disabilities… First, you all need to know that the Boy Scouts has provisions for all mental, emotional, and/or physical disabilities and/or limitations! There are even BSA pamphlets with titles like “A Guide to Working with Scouts with Disabilities,” and they’re only $1.99! If you need to order them, you’ll be looking for Cat. no. 33056. Check your local Scout shop or

Also, get a copy of the 2011 Boy Scout Requirements book (Cat. no. 34765 – $4.99), and in there (p.13) you’ll find a full page that discusses how to collaborate for developing alternative rank requirements. The parents do need to understand that it’s absolutely critical to obtain a clear and concise statement from a licensed health care provider, in the case of a physical disability, or a certified educational administrator, in the case of a learning or emotional disability, that describes the nature and extent of the disability. In other words, the disability must be clinically documented; it can’t be in the form of a parent’s statement that his or her son has ADHD or is autistic or has Aspberger’s syndrome, or has learning disabilities, or has something else, without licensed or certified written corroboration.

In this regard, this documentation can’t be “kept secret.” The whole purpose of the documentation is to bring the problem—whatever it might be—into the light, so that it can be dealt with. As a “for instance,” there’s no way members of a review board for a rank can take a mental or emotional disability into consideration in evaluating a Scout unless they know about it in advance, in clear and straight-forward language.

That said, it must be equally clear to all members of the troop committee (yes, it must be these people specifically, because they are the only people whom the BSA permits to carry out boards of review, for all ranks from Tenderfoot through Life) that a board of review is not an interrogation of the Scout… He is not asked to repeat any of the requirements for the rank his Scoutmaster has just said he’s qualified receive; no question asked of him can be of a nature that suggests he is being quizzed on his knowledge or skills– this is absolutely forbidden by the BSA!

There are only three purposes to a board of review, all of equal importance: To ascertain that the Scout has indeed completed the requirements for the rank, to determine how good an experience the Scout is having in the troop, and to encourage the Scout to progress further. So if you really think about it, after introductions are made all-around, everyone’s shaken hands, and the Scout is made to feel welcome and relaxed, a “short form” review actually needs to ask only three fundamental questions: (1) How well were you able to handle the requirements for this rank; did any give you any problems? (2) Is the troop and its leaders—your Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Scoutmaster—giving you and your fellow Scouts enough fun and interesting opportunities to complete requirements for your ranks? (3) How can we, your troop, help you earn (next rank)? That’s right: That’s it! Yeah, you can ask some more questions, like which Patrol Leader, in your opinion, is the easiest to learn from? Or how did you like that last overnight, when you and your patrol got to camp at (location)? Or what merit badge do you think you’d like to earn next? How did you happen to pick that one? But the bottom line is that while these are nice and mutually beneficial questions to ask, the first three really do the job when you boil it all down!

I’m going to assume that you all do know that (a) while the members of a review can certainly “vote,” a unanimous “yes” vote is only stipulated with regard to Eagle rank, and—most important—no Scout can ever really “fail” a board of review! That’s right: Failure is not an option. If there’s some sort of major hiccup, a review may be suspended, to be reconvened at a later date, when whatever needs to be “fixed” is fixed, and the review is re-started and the Scout describes what he did to meet the reviewers’ request, and then he’s congratulated! Oh and by the way, if a suspension is called for, the reviewers must provide the Scout—in writing—with what they need for him to do, and in what time-line, and this is definitely a BSA policy. So, you all are following policy on boards of review, yes? Good! Because if you’re not, you’re going to get seriously embarrassed if the parent of any so-called “failed” Scout takes this upstairs to the council advancement committee—which is 100% a parent’s right to do.

Oh, yeah…What’s this nonsense about “a rank per grade”? While that’s true in the Cub Scout program (first grade is Tiger, second is Wolf, and so on), that absolutely doesn’t apply in Boy Scouting. There’s a lot to be said for the 13 year-old Eagle (and 14 and 15 are pretty darned good, too)! To begin with, these guys actually get to wear the oval badge, and earn a whole bunch o’ merit badges, get involved with the OA, get on camp staff, and on and on!

Dear Andy,

As a Merit Badge Counselor, I’m looking for specific movies to use for Citizenship in the Community, to meet the requirement of watching a movie showing how the actions of an individual or group can have a positive effect on a community. (Steve Shatynski, Orange County Council, CA)

There’s a whole bunch of movies that deal with subjects from leadership to taking responsibility to one individual having an effect greater than himself. Some titles are (in alphabetic order)…

Apollo 13

Coach Carter

Cool Runnings

Cowboys, The

Follow Me, Boys!



Master and Commander – The Far Side of the World

Memphis Belle


Norma Rae

October Sky

Pay It Forward

Remember the Titans

Rookie, The

Rough Riders

Twelve O’Clock High

We Are Marshall

White Squall


Happy Scouting!



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

May 19, 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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