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Issue 271 – October 10, 2011

Rule No. 34:

  • All blanket statements have exceptions, including this one.

Rule No. 35:

  • While on tour and staying in a hotel, the very first thing all Scouts will do upon entering their assigned rooms is check to see if there’s access to the TV’s “adult” channels.

Dear Andy,

For the Disability Awareness merit badge requirement 3a (“Talk to a Scout who has a disability and learn about his experiences taking part in Scouting activities and earning different merit badges”), if a Scout with a disability is interviewed by another Scout, does that disabled Scout also meet the requirement? My knee-jerk reaction would be yes, because I don’t like the idea of two Scouts being involved in the same activity but only one gets credit for something. Any opinion? (Name & Council Withheld)

Fortunately, you don’t need my opinion. All you need is the language of the requirement itself and then to recognize that the disabled Scout sought out for the conversation isn’t necessarily speaking with a likewise disabled Scout (nor is he necessarily interested in or working on that particular merit badge).

Dear Andy,

Can a Scout’s family fund their son’s Eagle project? Where can I find verbiage on that? What if a Scout blatantly lies and then changes his story to try to cover his tracks? The original story, told by his parents, was that they took money out of their own savings to make up for a funding shortfall on their son’s project. But when this was told back to the Scoutmaster, the Scout and his parents changed the story from “My parents donated” to “There was a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.” The Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project workbook (page 11) asks the Scout to list any donations received, and the amounts, so I’d imagine a disclosure of some sort must have to happen. But although I’m insisting on it, so far there’s been no response. This incident bothers me because it tells me that this Scout isn’t committed to Scouting’s ideals (“On my honor,” “Trustworthy,” etc.). (In my estimation, he’s just not a committed Scout; for instance, he sat for two years at Life rank.) Although he had his service project plan signed off on a year ago, he didn’t actually start the project work until about four months ago, when he had an epiphany. I think his parents want this more than he does and even though they don’t make phone calls or send email about this to the Scoutmaster or the committee chair or members, I know they’re freaking because they know this kid is going to run out of time and hit the 18th birthday wall. The 12 Steps from Life to Eagle are clear in stating the requirements for the Eagle project: “Plan, develop, and provide leadership to others…” How do you measure a Scout’s level of leadership and do you do so with a level of proficiency? Also, how does the board of review appeal process work? (Committee Chair’s Name & Council Withheld)

The BSA makes no pronouncements of any sort regarding any necessary funding that may be needed for an Eagle (or any other) service project, other than the blanket statement that an Eagle project cannot be exclusively a fund-raiser. This means, of course, that the door’s wide open here, and the range can be from the Scout’s own piggy bank to the recipient buying everything needed and giving it to the Scout and his helpers, to anything in-between. This ultimately means that it didn’t matter one bit where the additional money came from.

Interestingly, I’ve received a letter asking a nearly identical question, and I’m willing to bet it’s from the family of the Scout you’re talking about. Here’s my best guess as to where this became messy: They decided to change the story about the funding because they were afraid that the actual truth may have been rejected by someone (you, perhaps?) and would have killed the chances of there being an Eagle Scout here. Fear like this is usually founded in something, so I’m wondering just how judgmental (instead of supportive) this young man’s troop leaders have been. I get the feeling that the answer’s going to be: Not very. Worse, I get the feeling that somebody’s out to damage this young man for things he has and had nothing to do with (for instance, his father was the Scoutmaster until a conflict between him and a committee member arose).

As to the past issues you mention: They’re past. Bottom line: Has the Scout completed the requirements as written? If the answer’s yes, then folks need to stop trying to resurrect whatever history there may be. Here’s the 64-dollar question: Can the potential members of this young man’s upcoming board of review enter into the review unprejudiced? Unless the answer is yes, unequivocally and without intent of evasion, then they don’t get to sit on the review. Can’t be any other way.

Your side remark about “two years as a Life Scout”: So what. Boy Scout advancement is based on individual initiative; there’s no “magic time.” I personally know a Scout who was Life rank before he was 13 and finished his last Eagle requirement at age 17-and-10-months. That was his decision, and it has to be just as respected as the Scout who nails everything for Eagle six months, flat, after making Life rank.

You say “he had ‘an epiphany’.” Stop and think: Isn’t that exactly what we hope happens with all of the youth we’re here to serve?

Regarding the extent to which the Scout provided leadership to the helpers on his Eagle project: This is specifically for the members of the board of review to determine, based on their conversation with the Scout. That’s, in part, what the review is for, and it says so in “the book.” This is where good, impartial judgment is supposed to prevail.

Regarding the appeal process, this is described in detail in Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures and so I’m not going to regurgitate it here. What worries me, however, is that you’re already anticipating a possible “Kangaroo Court” for a teenager, perpetrated by a group of adults intent on ganging up on him. Someone’s already scared him enough for him to bend the truth when it wasn’t necessary; now who’s going to use this to sink him? I’m getting a real ugly feeling here, and I’d appreciate your telling me I’m wrong…

Hi Andy,

Which ones of the 15 leadership positions that a Life Scout must serve in are appointed and which are elected? (Nigel Andrews, Jersey Shore Council, NJ)

The Senior Patrol Leader is elected by the Scouts of his troop; Patrol Leaders are elected by their patrol members. All other positions are appointed; most all of them by the Senior Patrol Leader.

Dear Andy,

Can an Assistant Scoutmaster sit on a non-Eagle board of review? (Mike Bowman)

Nope. Neither can a Scoutmaster. Nor anyone who’s not a registered member of the troop committee. And as far as boards of review for Eagle rank are concerned, the Scoutmaster and/or any ASMs can’t sit on these, either.

Are you saying that a board of review member (for all but Eagle) must be a registered committee member of the troop?

Yup, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Dear Andy,

I’ve been told that the BSA now allows sheath knives as long as they’re less than four inches long. Is this true? (The Guide to Safe Scouting seems somewhat ambiguous on this.) (Kane Kanetani, SM, Aloha Council, HI)

The GTSS says this: “Avoid large sheath knives.” Note that sheath knives aren’t taboo, but also note that “large” isn’t defined. This is where good (not “common”) sense on the part of the Senior Patrol Leader and other youth leaders, and the Scoutmaster, will come into play. It should go without saying that the first thing that must happen is that any Scout or adult (yes, adult… we try to avoid double-standards in Scouting) who wishes to carry and use an edged tool needs to earn a license to do so (just like driving: the license comes first). In Scouting, that’s the Totin’ Chip (//

Then, apply good judgment. If an outdoor activity is likely to involve clearing brush or removing large shrubs or trees, then obviously machetes and axes (hand and felling) may be needed; but if not, then there’s no point in lugging these sorts of edged tools around. If you’re going fishing, and you intend to eat what you catch, then a filleting knife (a Swedish company makes lovely filleting knives, and they’re usually of the classic non-folding, full tang variety) is certainly going to be needed. But if some Scout (or adult!) wants to carry along a foot-long pig-sticker of a Bowie knife, just to show he can carry two pounds of steel off his right hip, feel free to tell him to leave it home. You see, here’s the deal: A troop is permitted to determine its own policy on safety issues–including edged tools–so long at the policy is “safer” than any corresponding BSA national or council policy.

That said, you may not want to ban all non-folding/sheath knives, because we need to keep in mind that a lock-back folding knife, once locked at full blade extension, can be just as potentially unsafe as a non-folding (i.e., “sheath”) knife of the same length.

(Sorry for the long-winded answer, but this is one of those questions that can get you a lot of “Well, what if…?”-type questions.)

Dear Andy,

I’m a Counselor for Family Life merit badge.Two weeks ago, a Scout called and asked to work with me, and we’ll get together this week. Req. 3 states that he does a duty or chore list for 90 days, keeping track of at least five chores that he as done. He wants to use dates from the past, since he does these chores all the time. When I reviewed the clarification note from national, it states that these 90 days don’t have to be in a row but can be from any time while a Boy Scout. It makes no sense that you can use chores from the past.My feeling is that the chart should be started after he starts working with me and shouldn’t be used from the past. (Karin Kukura)

One of the difficult aspects of being an adult volunteer in Scouting, particularly when you’re a Merit Badge Counselor is that we’re obliged to follow the language of the BSA, even when we think there may be a better way to do something. Family Life merit badge req. 3 (“Prepare a list of your regular home duties or chores [at least five] and do them for 90 days. Keep a record of how often you do each of them”) may be one of these.

Let’s step back for a moment and ask ourselves: What’s the objective of this merit badge? Well, let’s say it’s to instill in young men an ethic of understanding the responsibilities and sharing that must go on in a family in order for that family to be successful. If we can agree that that’s sort of close to the objective that the BSA has in mind, then we next need to take a look at this particular Scout and ask: Is he getting the idea here? In fact, we could ask this: Is he already traveling along a path that will help instill in him the objectives of this particular merit badge? If the answer’s affirmative, then perhaps it’s appropriate to agree that he’s already completed this particular requirement.

Yes, we could take a harder line and say that the requirement actually has two parts in sequence (1. Make a list. 2. Carry it out.) and since he didn’t follow the sequence he has to start over from zero. But then we need to ask what this will have accomplished, other than to add 90 more days of tasks and chores to the family responsibilities this young man has already been carrying out—apparently for much longer than 90 days already. If you go this route, what lesson will you have taught this Scout? Will it be one of positive reinforcement of his ongoing conduct as a contributing family member? Or will it be possibly one of pedantry and “make-work” to fulfill the arbitrary predilections of one particular MBC? Yes, that sounds harsh, but let’s understand that our responsibility here is to help mold tomorrow’s happy, responsible, productive citizens. And let’s also understand that if he disagrees with your decision, he has the right to walk away from you and work with a different Counselor who doesn’t share your point of view on this.

Finally, you’ve already done enough of your own research to know that it is perfectly OK with the BSA if a Scout has completed one or more requirements of a merit badge prior to meeting with a Merit Badge Counselor; consequently, you already know that your real decision here must be to bury your personal perspective and honor the BSA’s language and intent.

That said, if you want the BSA to consider revising one or more requirements for this or any merit badge, then do take the time to write to the BSA National Advancement Committee describing what change(s) you’re suggesting and your rationale for the change(s), and in the meanwhile, follow the requirements and advancement policies as written, until they’re changed.

Hello Andy,

Please help me better understandthe Order of the Arrow troop election process. Who decides how Scouts and Scouters are selected? (I understand basic camping requirements.) Who votes for Scouts? Who votes for Scouters? Is it OK for a ballot to include “All of The Above” as an option? How is the voting handled? Who is in charge of voting process? Who counts the ballots? Does the Lodge do more with this process than the Call-Out? Thanks. (Patrick Lesley, ASM, Bay Area Council, TX)

Go here:

Then here:

But let’s get a few points taken care of right now…

Ballots are “closed”—They’re written on ballot slips given to each Scout and written on by each Scout, then folded in half so that the names don’t show until the ballot slip is opened and tallied by the tellers (plural–there need to be two tellers)

“All” or “All of the above” or anything similar isn’t acceptable. Any ballot containing this should be thrown out.

Only Scouts vote for their peers; adults don’t vote for Scouts.

All Scouts—whether or not OA members already—vote for the Scout candidates.

A Scout has the right to opt out of candidacy, if that’s his personal choice.

And finally, troop elections can be done by OA lodge or chapter election teams, or by the Scout in your troop who holds the position of Troop OA Representative.

Dear Andy,

As troop advancement coordinator, on more than one occasion I’ve been approached by parents acting as Merit Badge Counselors on the issue of work done prior to starting a “blue card.” I know that on the one hand a Scout’s not supposed to start work on the badge until the blue card’s been filled out and signed by the Scoutmaster, but the BSA website section on Introduction to Merit Badges says that “In meeting with your Merit Badge Counselor, you should also discuss work that you have already started or possibly completed.” So I’m not clear on how those two provisions relate, as they seem contradictory. Does the BSA provide further guidance? I couldn’t find any additional information. (Beth Auch, Greenwich Council, CT)

Yes, there does at first blush seem as if there’s a discrepancy here. The solution, however, is a simple one: Apply good sense. Suppose, just as an example, that a Scout visits with his MBC for Camping merit badge and, because it’s their first meeting, he brings his pamphlet, Unit Leader-signed “blue card,” and a letter from his Unit Leader confirming that this Scout went to Scout camp for six days-and-nights this past summer. The wise Counselor will without hesitation let the Scout know that he’s already done six of the 20 days-and-nights he needs to complete requirement 9a. The pedantic, rule-frozen Counselor will, equally without hesitation, tell the Scout that, since those days-and-nights occurred before their first meeting, they won’t be credited toward req. 9a.

The possible mix-up occurs when we need to establish an actual start-date with a Merit Badge Counselor, which is different from any requirements having already been accomplished, in full or in part. That actual start-date is the date that the Scout and his MBC meet personally, eyeball-to-eyeball. And that’s when they begin by reviewing the requirements and seeing if anything’s already been done.

The reason for having the signed blue card before calling any MBCs is so that the Scoutmaster knows which Scouts are interested in or working on what merit badges!

But here’s something that’s sort of bugging me: What did you mean by “parents acting as Merit Badge Counselors”? Please tell me that these parents are indeed MBCs and registered as such with your local council and that they’re not acting like informal activity badge counselors in some sort of screwy “Webelos 3” scenario!

Dear Andy,

Can a Scout put his Snorkeling BSA badge on the back of his merit badge sash? (Mike Bowman)

This patch goes on his swim trunks… on the left side, in fact.

Dear Andy,

My question’s about the World Conservation Award patch for Boy Scouts. Some of the other leaders believe it can be worn beside the World Crest (above the left shirt pocket) as a permanent patch. I’ve always thought it was a temporary patch that’s worn on the right pocket. Could you please clarify this for us? (Tim Titzer, ASM, Buffalo Trace Council, IN)

The BSA (check the Insignia Guide—any edition) says it’s worn centered on the right shirt pocket. Nowhere else. And it’s the same for all uniforms… Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Venturer, and adult, too!

Dear Andy,

I am a member of our district’s Eagle committee. Among other things, we review the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project workbooks when they’re submitted to the district for approval. A question that’s arisen concerns the first item in the “limitations” section of the workbook: “Routine labor (a job or service normally rendered) should not be considered.” Can you clarify what constitutes “routine labor”? It seems that different members of our committee have different ideas, which has lead to some heated discussions. I’ve searched, but haven’t been able to find anything more specific than that one sentence. (Name & Council Withheld)

If you want an actual “OBS” (as in “Official Boy Scout”) answer, you’ll need to contact the BSA national office in Irving, Texas. But if the perspective of a fellow volunteer of several decades experience including reviewing a few hundred Eagle project proposals and workbooks would be useful, then here we go…

First, let’s see if the BSA has anything written that we all, here in the trenches, can refer to. And here we have something: The 2011 Boy Scout Requirements book (page 21) says that a project for Eagle must be “big enough, appropriate, and worth doing.” We also know, from Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures (page 28) that an Eagle service project must be “of real value” to the recipient.

Based on these statements, any district or council advancement committee, and certainly any Scoutmaster or unit committee representative can realize without much difficulty that trash collections (even town-wide), or leaf-raking, or lawn-mowing, or other labor that would ordinarily “evaporate” over time and require continuing repetition would not be “Eagle-worthy.” Even re-painting something that will require frequent and continuing repainting in the future would probably fit this genre, too. How about making sandwiches for a soup kitchen or food pantry? Well, if these are made day in-day out, or week in-week out, they’re probably pretty routine, too, when we consider that “routine” generally means pretty low-level and equally uninspired. So, with these as sort of ideas about stuff that wouldn’t be Eagle-worthy, it’s fairly easy to figure out the sorts of things that would indeed be worth consideration. But these do need to be taken on a one-by-one basis, and evaluated on their own merits (or lack of).

Dear Andy,

I have a small side business where I sew patches on Scout shirts. A while back, a Scout’s parent gave me a shirt with a lot of insignia to sew on. I returned it to her with everything in the correct place. In the batch, had been included three “temporary” patches with no instruction on which one to put on the right pocket. So I took a guess that most Scouts who have a brand new “Whittling Chip” patch enjoy displaying it prominently, so I chose to put that patch in the “temporary” spot, centered on the right pocket.

At the next pack meeting, that parent and our new Cubmaster came up to me and asked me to put something else in that spot, and to move the Whittling Chip patch to the pocket flap. I had to tell them that, although that patch has a shape similar to a flap, it isn’t a pocket flap badge and the only place it can be correctly placed is on the shirt’s “temporary” position. But instead of listening, the Cubmaster chose to relocate the Whittling Chip patch herself.

(I’ve read your responses to other “badge situations,” and just had to share this!) (Jen Haubrich, Cornhusker Council, NE)

Thanks for the story, and I’m with you 110%! Next to starting a bonfire with all those silly patches-for-the-sake-of-having-a-patch, my greatest joy would be to string up all the self-proclaimed “experts” on where this stuff goes, and put them out of their misery.

Hi Andy,

After reading about what a service project is in the Boy Scout Handbook, I have a question… Can a Scout get service hours for a service project he actually led or took part in for his troop? For instance, would cleaning out the troop shed, locker, or closet count? The handbook says “service to others, your community and to the environment,” so I’m understanding this to mean outside of the troop itself. What are your thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

Service for the Second Class, Star, and Life ranks require approval (best to get this in advance!) of the Scoutmaster. Best for the Scout to ask the Scoutmaster if what he’s about to undertake would be OK for the requirement he’s looking to complete.

Cleaning a troop shed, locker, closet, or storage area seems to me to be more of a general housekeeping sort of thing, rather than a service that goes beyond the routine and what’s normally expected. This is sort of like expecting a gold star next to your name on the fridge just because you took out the garbage, or getting an increase in allowance because you put your clothes away… Let’s look for some more significant and perhaps meaningful stuff, yes?

Hi Andy,

My son crossed over to Boy Scouts this past March. I was up at summer camp for a few days helping the Scoutmaster out (I’m YP-trained and will be serving on the troop committee soon). We have a troop of about 18 Scouts; ten of whom were at camp. While there, the Senior Patrol Leader filled in the duty roster and left himself conspicuously absent from any of the campsite duties. A number of the Scouts complained about him not doing any work. His response was that that’s not the Senior Patrol Leader’s job.

I have a major problem with this attitude, since it doesn’t seem to be helpful, kind, or courteous. I can understand in a larger troop where the Senior Patrol Leader wouldn’t put himself on the duty roster since he’d be busy supervising. In my opinion, ours should be leading by example, since there are so few Scouts there to do the work. But since I’m new to Boy Scouts, maybe I’m wrong to feel this way. What do your think? (Mitch Marcinauskis, Housatonic Council, CT)

In a word, yes, you’re a bit off course here. That Senior Patrol Leader was correct in not placing his name on the duty roster, because, effectively, it’s already there—As Senior Patrol Leader he’s responsible for the troop and for the duty roster to work effectively. If he took one of the duty roster jobs, who would be the overall leader? Not the Scoutmaster, because that’s not his job!

In managing the troop as he did, he was “loyal,” “helpful,” “friendly,” “courteous,” and, I hope, “cheerful”! Actually, the Scouts who were complaining about this are the ones who need a bit of attitude adjustment! If you do some further homework, and take a look at the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, you’ll discover that the Scout who leads this service project leads best when he never picks up a hammer, saw, or paint brush—He leads.

Thank you so much. I can appreciate what you said about Eagle projects, but for tasks around camp, should the Senior Patrol Leader just sit in his camp chair and watch the Scouts work, with no directing, no motivating, no helping…just barking out orders? (Mitch Marcinauskis)

Of course you know you’ve just given me new information, that might change things somewhat. It won’t change the need for the SPL to not list himself on a duty roster, but it does bear on the coaching he’s been getting from his Scoutmaster. You see, it’s the Scoutmaster’s primary responsibility to train the troop’s youth leaders. So if the SPL was trained to do as you’ve described, or allowed to do as you’ve described without any coaching or guidance provided, then shame on the troop’s adult leaders, especially the Scoutmaster, for permitting this to happen! Boys and young men don’t learn leadership skills by osmosis or by listening to the ether; or even “by observation;” they get it from intelligent, strong, caring adults who actively guide and mentor them.

Dear Andy,

Our Webelos den was just about to finalize their democratically selected choice fora patrol emblem when a few parents piped up tome that the choice the boys were about to make—a toilet bowl (which somebody found online)—was unacceptable. The boys’ proposed name was “The Toilet Tippers,” although no one’s quite sure what that means, except that the boys thought it sounded cool. Boy, did a few parents get up in arms over this seemingly harmless selection!

I made what I thought was a fairly impassioned plea that the right way to handle this was if the parents weren’t happy they should educate the sons about their concerns and influence the boys’ democratic decision process, and if the parents weren’t successful, well, then that would be the result of the electoral process. But as you might guess, the parents weren’t pleased with this approach. As a result, our Cubmaster was forced into a mediator role, and approached a Unit Commissioner for advice. The Commissioner considered the whole thing inappropriate. Then, somehow, a District Executive became involved, and his take was that it’s a pretty lame idea.

I communicated to my den’s parents thatwe were investigating and all discussions regarding patrol patches were going to be tabled until official guidance could be obtained. But now these parents have started making calls of their own and this is pretty much becoming a nightmare for me.

This has all transpired over a few days, and I’m now losing sleep over this. I know the District Executive personally and could call him, but then I found your columns and so I’m asking for some help here, as well.

What is acceptable with respect to patrol patches for Webelos Dens? Is it different for Boy Scout patrols? Is a toilet bowl an acceptable addition to the Class A uniform? If not, why not? Any help or guidance would be appreciated! (Drew Donnalley, WDL, Sam Houston Council, TX)

My own take on this is pretty simple: Not a chance, kiddies. Just because somebody makes a patch stupid enough to have a porcelain throne on it doesn’t mean you or anyone else around here gets to wear it on a Scout uniform. End of story.

I’m going to guess that you don’t condone scatological language, jokes, skits, or songs in the den and pack, so that logically means that a patch depicting a toilet is out of the question, too.

“Freedom of speech” is fine, and America permits this to the point of absurdity sometimes; but that doesn’t automatically give Scouts the right to do this as members of an educational movement whose aims include citizenship and character development.

As for “democratic process,” that’s lovely but it’s not a stated objective of Cub Scouting. That’s why there are adult leaders like you to guide these boys and teach them by word and action what’s right and what’s not.

So send everybody home and tell the Web’s that they get to keep their den numeral until they come up with something that, in your judgment as their wise leader (and primary role model), is in keeping with being Scouts. Maybe when you take charge and do this the parents will cool their jets. If not, well, you’re back in the weeds my Scouting friend!

Happy Scouting!



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October 10, 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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