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Issue 272 – October 18, 2011

Rule No. 30:

  • The moment you decide to wear the medal you received for your modesty, you no longer qualify.

Dear Andy,

I’m a parent and troop committee member. Recently I’ve been engaged in a discussion with the troop’s Scoutmaster on a topic on which we have opposing views. In the exchange of ideas, I’ve extracted some of the Ask Andy Q&A’s germane to the topic and shared these with the Scoutmaster and other members of the troop committee. The Scoutmaster discounted the information with the following:

“One problem may be your source of information. There are literally thousands of Scout-themed websites that are not sanctioned by the BSA, the content is unreliable and often a sounding board for disgruntled people, as appears to be the case with the discussion board from which you selected to cut and paste your information.”

I responded by continuing my line of discussion using quotes only from official BSA-published documents, but I feel that a great resource has been taken away simply due to the “not sanctioned” argument.

My question: What rebuttal might be offered in the face of arguments along the lines of “not sanctioned,” “unreliable,” and “representing disgruntled points of view”? (Craig Taylor)

Thank you for being a loyal reader and for taking the time to write, providing the background on your situation. I think the first person who should address the issue and your question is the U.S. Scouting Service Project’s Webmaster:

From The Netcommish:

Thank you for writing to us at the U.S. Scouting Service Project’s family of websites and specifically about the website of which I am the owner and operator. We are organized as a non-profit corporation not affiliated with BSA or WOSM with the core purpose of supporting Scouting worldwide through the dissemination of program information that advances the Scouting Movement generally and improves the quality of the Scouting experience for youth members specifically. We have been in continuous operation since 1994, having started as one of the first and subsequently one of the largest Scouting websites in the history of the worldwide web.

One of the questions we get from time to time is whether or not we are officially sanctioned. The short answer is that the only websites sanctioned officially by BSA are those which it operates directly and over which it has complete content control. But here’s the thing: That’s not the right question to ask when attempting to gauge the value of the information we provide here, because, first, it’s not necessarily relevant or important to the value of the information, and second, it doesn’t seek to determine whether the site is recognized for its value. In this arena, actions always speak louder than words, so here are a few of the actions the BSA has taken with regard to this website that would demonstrate that “sanction” is incorrect terminology and value is what’s truly important:

– The NetCommish web site has been featured in “Scouting Magazine.”

– The BSA Public Relations Department people asked for our corporate support in publishing information to promote the Centennial of Scouting, which we gladly gave.

– The editor of “Boy’s Life” long ago asked us to support and promote that publication’s Reading Program, which we’ve done for years.

– Our websites have been used as references in training materials provided at the Philmont Training Center, local council training courses, and internationally by other Scouting Associations.

– Our websites have been referenced in training courses for professional Scouters.

– At the recent BSA National Meeting, the National President asked the Chief Scout Executive why BSA couldn’t do more on the web like what we are doing.

– In my own case, I was honored with the Silver Beaver Award primarily because of the work I’d done on the web to support Scouting.

So while we’re not “officially sanctioned” by the BSA or any Scouting Association (keeping in mind that no Scouting website is actually “sanctioned”), I think it’s safe to say that we’ve earned the respect of both volunteers and professionals because of our deep and lasting commitment to support Scouting as much as our meager resources will allow. Now let’s talk about the people involved in this specific web site. There are two of us who provide the primary support for the site. Both of us have over 50 years of experience with Scouting either as active volunteers or as supporters. Both of us have served as Commissioners in various capacities ranging from Unit to Council level. Both of us have participated as trainers at regional Scouting events. More importantly, we both have spent thousands of volunteer hours supporting Scouting because we have a deep love of the Scouting Movement and what it has done and can do to help youth. We are hardly a group of “disgruntled and disaffected adults.”

Let’s also talk a bit about what we do and don’t do. We’ve purposely limited our scope to only those areas where we can provide support to Scouting’s programs. We do not and will not engage in discussions about popular controversial issues affecting any Scouting Association or the internal management of any Scouting Association. In fact, we have the highest respect for and appreciation of the dedicated professional cadre and volunteers in Scouting.

Are we a “sounding board” for “the disgruntled”? If by “disgruntled” you mean those involved in Scouting who are trying to find the best way to help deliver the program to youth members and who have encountered obstacles by others who have put personal ego, pride, or other issues ahead of what’s best for the youth we’re supposed to be here to serve, then the answer is yes we are. If you mean those who would seek to destroy Scouting or who pursue various agendas at odds with Scouting, then the answer is absolutely not, never has been, and will not be tolerated. What we are doing is providing an online service where parents, volunteers, and others can ask questions and get answers from experienced Scouters about how to execute the program. We provide advice on what we think the best answer is, and when it’s an issue of BSA policy, we provide that policy absent opinion of it.

Are we always right? While we try hard to give the best possible advice, we’ve made it a policy that if we make a mistake, we’ll announce that in our next issue along with the correct answer. Over the years we’ve had a pretty good track record, but in those few situations where we’ve gotten something wrong, we’ve been darned quick to correct it publicly. We always encourage readers to write to us and let us know what they think.

Are we ourselves an authoritative source of information? No, nor do we pretend to be. We defer always to official information published by the various Scouting Associations including BSA.

I don’t know what issue has generated the questions you’ve raised, but I’ll repeat a few simple words that I learned in my first Scoutmaster training course and which I’ve repeated often as a trainer in later years: “If it isn’t for the boys, its for the birds.” It’s that simple. If what we do doesn’t benefit youth, we’re not doing it right. The BSA has given us wonderful resource materials along with definitive guidance on issues like safety, leadership skills, advancement, and much much more. If an action isn’t comporting with that guidance, it needs to be changed so that it does. Scouting is not the Wild West, where leaders can willy-nilly cherry-pick what they want to do or do not do—there’s a program to follow and it’s pretty easy to do so. Doing so improves the quality of the experiences we offer to the youth whom we’re here to serve.

To which I’ll add this thought…

What often happens in any walk of life when a person’s point of view is refuted in some way by a third party (i.e., my Ask Andy columns), is that the usual first move on the part of the one confronted is to belittle, dismiss, criticize, or attempt to undermine the credibility of the source, thereby allowing that misguided person to continue on his path with impunity (he hopes). What’s often overlooked, of course, is that in 90% or more of my columns, it’s not my “opinion” that’s presented to the person with the question—It’s the BSA’s policy. It’s therefore quite obvious that this Scoutmaster has never seen nor read any of my more than 260 columns, which means that the accusation made is in fact about himself. That’s typical. The fundamental insight on this is: Listen to the accuser’s accusations because these will tell you precisely what that person is himself guilty of. This never fails.

Dear Andy,

What is the Physician emblem and how is it awarded? I can’t find anything on it anywhere. (Jim Reynolds)

The Physician emblem (BSA #00441) may be worn by a Scouter who is a licensed medical practitioner, in the same manner as the Chaplain emblem may be worn by a Scouter who is ordained clergy. It’s worn on the left sleeve, below the council shoulder patch, in what the BSA refers to as “position 3.”

I’m a physician by profession, and an Assistant Scoutmaster. Is this something I should consider? (Jim)

Good question, and here’s the fundamental principle: The position badges we volunteers wear on our left sleeves aren’t there to define who we are, personally or professionally; they’re there to describe our primary contribution to the Scouting program. If you’re providing voluntary service to Scouting as a physician, then by all means wear the Physician badge; if you’re providing voluntary service in the capacity of an Assistant Scoutmaster, then that’s the badge to wear. Your choice.

Hi Andy,

I’m puzzled about the definition of the term “direct contact” for adult leaders. I can see how Scoutmasters, Cub Scout leaders, Venturing crew leaders and the rest of us uniformed leaders would fall in the definition, but don’t troop committee members when they sit on boards of review or go camping with the Scouts in the troop, and Merit Badge Counselors when they meet with Scouts, fall within that definition as well? (This question came up while I was looking into “required training” for the specific jobs held by registered adults.) (Mike Ingles, SM, National Capital Area Council, VA)

The BSA has published a very concise summary of what makes for a trained Scouting volunteer:

If you check this out you’ll certainly notice that there’s training for unit committee members, merit badge counselors, and others. Maybe what’s missing from the “direct contact” expression is the word “regular” or perhaps “ongoing.” Certainly, unit committee members might have contact with one or more youth, occasionally, but this is certainly not on either a regular or ongoing basis, even in the context of Boy Scout boards of review. Moreover, on the Cub Scout side, “regular” or “ongoing” direct contact with youth by unit committee members is virtually nonexistent within the context of their primary volunteer positions. There’s more to this overall equation, of course, and I think that if you check out the resource I’ve provided here things will become pretty clear. Just don’t get tied up in your own knickers over this!

Dear Andy,

What is the official BSA position on a troop contributing part of its fundraising dollars to each boy’s individual Scout account? We’retrying to discuss it amongst ourselves but we’re starting to go in circles. Many are saying it’s no big deal; a minority says such accounts aren’t allowed, several say it’s ifthe money’s used just for camp fees, uniforms, and yearly registration. Can you help clarify things here? (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course, the best way to get at the facts (and reduce blather time) is to ask the person with that strong point of view to point you to a BSA publication and page number that supports that view.

As a Scouting volunteer myself, and a former Scoutmaster, I’d say the simplest way to handle this is to stop calling the Scouts’ accounts “accounts”—All funds go into the troop’s bank account, and a simple recording book can show how much each Scout is credited with for Scouting purposes (meaning: The Scout himself is never given any actual money; the amount he’s credited with can help underwrite summer camp fees, Camporee fees, canoe rentals when the troop takes a canoe trip, and others along these lines, etc.) I’d personally stay away from using the credits to purchase individual gear, uniforms, or equipment for any Scout, since that’s the virtual equivalent of giving him cash, but that’s me. Maybe what you want to do is ask your council’s chief financial officer. Every council has one, and they’re there to help folks with questions like yours!

Dear Andy,

Over on the Scouts-L forum we’ve been having a great deal of “fun” discussing the changes to the BSA’s definition of “active.” It appears that the BSA’s gone down a path that you discussed back in 2007 (Ask Andy95 – “What’s ACTIVE All About?”) except that they’ve chosen to allow units to set their own participation standards. IMHO, this change has opened the door to the tin pot dictators that lurk in a lot of troops. (Peter Pate, UC, National Capital Area Council, VA)

Thanks for writing and good luck over in the forum…We’ll be keeping a sort of “straw poll” on folks’ reaction to this new philosophy and method of determination.

Dear Andy,

I’ve read many times in your columns that Scoutmaster conferences aren’t forums to “test” Scouts on skills, merit badge requirements, etc., and I fully agree. Here’s a situation that I haven’t seen addressed before and I’d greatly appreciate your take on it, any BSA policy you’re aware of, and some guidance as to how to proceed…

Last weekend, some Scouts from our troop were providing community service at a local charity bike race, preparing and serving refreshments for the riders. A Scoutmaster from another troop approached our Scouts and began quizzing them about knot tying, to the point of demanding that they show him they can tie a bowline. Unfortunately, at least one of our Scouts had particular difficulty with this sort of pressure and was unsuccessful, resulting in that Scoutmaster ridiculing them. He provided neither instruction nor encouragement. Our own Assistant Scoutmaster, who was there and observed this did nothing to stop it; his personal belief is that “any Scoutmaster can quiz any Scout at any time about any Scout skill.” I wasn’t there, but when I found out about it, I blew a gasket! In the first place, here we have Scouts actively involved in providing service. Second, no Scout should ever be subjected to this sort of “inquisition” at this or any other time. Third, the learning of Scouting skills is primarily through each Scout’s patrol, following The Patrol Method. And fourth, nobody from another Scouting unit has the right to overstepping his or her authority with impromptu “tests” like this. It strikes me that the absence of any instruction or encouragement by that misguided Scoutmaster demonstrates that his actions were motivated by nothing more than his own need for “one-upmanship”—flying in the face of Scouting’s stated goals.

I realize that the actions of this Scoutmaster were petty and probably don’t warrant a response on my part; however, I feel that someone—his own Committee Chair or his troop’s Unit Commissioner, for instance—should be made aware of his actions, because deliberately embarrassing Scouts, much more, in public, isn’t good for the Scouts or for Scouting. Can you suggest a course of action here? (Kevin Silva, Greater Yosemite Council, CA)

There are bigger fish to fry than some clueless little tin god geezer who’s not going to stop until somebody takes him out back and shoots him. Yeah, he was way out of line, and the Assistant Scoutmaster from your own troop was derelict in his responsibilities when he didn’t immediately tell this miscreant, “Hey you! Stop harassing my Scouts!” But it’s over, so refocus on the Scouts, which is where you can make a difference. How about a quiet “campfire chat” with the Scouts about how bullying can come in all shapes, sizes, and uniforms, and turn this into a learning moment for the Scouts instead of a vendetta that will—I promise you—leave you less than satisfied with the result. Meanwhile, that Assistant Scoutmaster of yours needs some serious “educating” and sooner rather than later. Unless he changes his own attitude, I’d bounce him on his ear, out of the troop’s adult volunteer corps.

Thanks. As usual, you’re right. Besides, I get the feeling that pushing my buttons was exactly what this guy wanted, and a confrontation would probably thrill him even more. Guys like him never seem to figure out that Scouting is more than tying knots and is never about lording it over some imaginary fiefdom. (Kevin Silva)

Anyone who gets his jollies by intimidating young boys isn’t worth the rope to string him up. These guys simply get told, “Go somewhere else and pound sand down a rat hole—you’re neither needed nor wanted here.”

Dear Andy,

Thanks so much for this great column. I found it a couple of years ago as a new Den Leader, and it’s truly been invaluable. I’ve often thought about writing, but having searched through old columns, I’ve usually found my answer. But I have a question now that I’m not sure has been answered before…

I’m the Den Leader for a Webelos II (now called “Arrow of Light”) den. About half of my Webelos Scouts are also involved in sports—football to be specific, which is something of a “religion” in this town. Here, the team members are told that if they miss a practice, they don’t get to play in that week’s game. To accommodate the boys on the team, I’ve taken pains to schedule my den meetings on a day when there’s usually no practice. But the coach has scheduled impromptu practices twice now—on precisely the same days as our last two den meetings. These are meetings that I’ve planned for sometimes months in advance, and the practices the coach has called give no more than a day or two notice. Needless to say, rather than risk not getting to play in that week’s game, the boys go to their football practice and skip the den meeting. Putting aside my own personal disappointment at them not respecting the commitment they’d previously made to attend den meetings, I’m also getting stuck on what to do about their Arrow of Light rank requirements, especially the one that says to be an “active member of your den for six months…” If they skip meetings like this, how can I count them as active? I’m pretty sure that most of these boys won’t continue on to Boy Scouts, and I can also acknowledge that some of my frustration is that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to assure that all of them have the opportunity to earn as many activity badges as possible (I have three who are on target to earn all 20!). Can you offer any insights? (Eileen Stahl, WDL, Northern New Jersey Council)

Having been both a Den Leader and a Webelos Den Leader early on in my adult Scouting experience, I can certainly sympathize with your disappointment and frustration when coaches’ demands supersede den meetings. But, as you’ve pointed out yourself, the sport’s practically a religion in your area, so try to imagine the anguish the boys themselves are put through: I’m sure they don’t want to disappoint you, and at the same time they want to play in the week’s game and they know they won’t if they don’t show up for the practice. Ouch! For a ten year-old boy, that’s just plain tough! But Scouting’s always been a program of great accord and flexibility—after all, the boys don’t have to show up at all, if they didn’t really want to! They are the ultimate “volunteers,” and we can’t ever forget that. So take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that, even when they miss a meeting because of a practice called at the last moment, they’re still living up to theCub Scout motto: They’re doing their best! Isn’t that what we’re here to help them learn? Will they “learn better” if we deny them, perhaps a little harshly, a rank they’ve already been working toward for over a year? Cut them some slack. They’re little boys, still, and you’re a caring “aunt” to them in many ways that may not be recognizable at the moment.

With that though in mind, also keep in mind—and this is straight out of the Webelos Den Leader Book—that your own primary mission is indeed to graduate them into a Boy Scout troop! You can do this by showing them and their parents, too, that Scouting and sports are absolutely not mutually exclusive—The two coexist very nicely and have for some hundred years, and the Scouts who have the most fun in Scouting are also the ones who are just as into sports, music, arts, drama, computers, robotics, skiing, water sports, and the list has no end. So help your boys finish the “grammar school” of Cub Scouting and go on to the “high school” of real Boy Scouting, where they become their own leaders and have adventures, fun, and challenges that no other youth program in the world can deliver!

(BTW, If you think there’s “competition” for boys’ time and energy in Northern New Jersey, try Southern California—that’s where I cut my teeth as a Cub Scout leader and graduated all eight of my Webelos Scouts into Boy Scout troops!)

Dear Andy,

What’s the reason for Blue & Gold Banquets? Why celebrate “blue-and-gold”? Any history on this would be appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s a birthday party, simple as that. Lord Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting Movement was born in the month of February 1857, and the BSA was founded here in the U.S. in the month of February 1910, so the Blue & Gold Banquet—held in February, obviously—celebrates both of these birthdays and uses the Cub Scout colors as the theme.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Nationally Registered Emergency Medical Technician (NREMT)-Intermediate. Is there any BSA authorization to wear an NREMT badge on the Scout uniform? If not, who would I contact to consider authorizing this badge to be worn? I’m asking because I believe that it would be very beneficial to assist with identifying who has advanced medical training while at a Scouting function in case of a life-threatening emergency. (Sean Barnette, UC, Last Frontier Council, OK)

The BSA’s standing policy is that emblems and such from organizations other than the BSA are not to be worn on official BSA uniforms. Simple as that. However, to answer your second point,no badge is needed; what’s needed is exactly what you’re trained to do: Take correct action at the occurrence of an accident or emergency, remembering that “Command Presence” needs neither a uniform nor a badge to get the job done.

Dear Andy,

A few years ago we ran a district event and had a “Scout’s Own” service Sunday morning that included Chaplain’s Aides from a variety of local troops. It was a really nice service. But I got a lot of flack from one set of parents because we hadn’t scheduled a separate Roman Catholic mass. Since then, all district events that include a Sunday morning always have Roman Catholic masses, but seldom anything else (or there might be a slap-dash “Scout’s Own” organized at the last minute). Does the BSA have guidelines for religious services at district events? (Phyllis Krasnokutsky, CC, National Capital Area Council, MD)

As we know, the BSA is completely nondenominational. A “Scout’s Own Service” typically embraces faith multidimensionally so that in the absence of specific clergy all may honor their God by whatever name. If there are people of a particular faith who wish to see that there is a service in that faith, any council or district would be correct in honoring their zeal by offering awindow of time concurrent with the Scout’s Own Service for them to arrange whatever they might have in mind.

To offer a service that is entirely specific to a single particular faith or denomination is not in accordance with the BSA statement of religious principles, it would seem to me.

I recommend that your district’s and council’s key leaders waste no further time to consult directly with the Catholic Committee on Scouting, the Jewish Committee on Scouting, the Protestant Committee on Scouting, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Committee on Scouting (not necessarily in that order) at the very minimum.

The Netcommish adds

Andy has given you some good advice. I will give you some additional more local advice. I live in the NCAC area and was formerly an Assistant District Commissioner. In those days it was a general policy at the district level to only organize a Scout’s Own Service that was multi-faith in nature. For each event where such a service was to be held, the district’s Program Chair was to contact the various council-level religious committees to notify them of the event and give them an opportunity to provide additional alternative services if they opted to. There are Roman Catholic, Protestant, LDS, and Jewish Committees on Scouting in your council. You can find contact information for them at 16934&orgkey=1988. In addition, at Roundtables when an event was announced, there was a statement that there would be a Scout’s Own Service, but that any other faith wishing to have a separate service was welcome to do so. In the 90’s, many Camporees featured as many as four services. Essentially, the district’s primary responsibility in this area is to provide a Scout’s Own Service that’s multi-faith for all Scouts and the rest is up to the various committees or volunteers.

Dear Andy,

My son is in a troop of about 20 Scouts, and it’s just a bit over a year old. Now that all of the Scouts areFirst Class or above in rank, the troop meetings have devolved into announcements, followed by merit badge classes and then dodge-ball. This just isn’t fun for my son, especially when he has no interest in or already has the merit badge currently being offered. It seems that the troop’s leaders are at a loss as to what to do in troop meetings when none of the Scoutsneeds to have Scout skills signed off anymore. I know that merit badges should be done outside of troop meetings, but what shouldwe suggest that they do instead? I’ve noticed that other parts of the program are stuck in a rut as well, and withmy husband about to take over as Scoutmaster in a few months we could reallyuse some ideas on how to get the Scouts excited again. Can you give us any tips? (Name & Council Withheld)

For troop meetings, your two best tools are 1) the Troop Meeting Plan (use any search engine to find it—then stick to it, just as written) and the three volumes of Troop Program Features, which can be purchased for about $7 each and each one will give you a ton of information, by subject, for running twelve months’ worth of meetings… enough to last you at least three years! Present both of these to your Senior Patrol Leader, so he can guide the Patrol Leaders to making choices, in the Patrol Leaders Council meetings.

BTW, while some work on merit badge requirements will be included in some of the program features suggestions, do understand that direct work on merit badges under the guidance of Merit Badge Counselors is expressly not a part of troop meetings because this defeats one of the two primary purposes of the Merit Badge Program.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Tiger Cub Den Leader for my son’s pack and I’ve noticed a difference between his Scouting experience and mine. When I was a Cub Scout back in the 70’s, as near as I can recall, the Cub Scout sign was two fingers aligned together and the arm raised and bent at the elbow. Now, of course, it’s two fingers spread apart and the arm raised straight up. Am I misremembering? If not, do you have any insights as to when and why the change was made? (Mike Sierra, National Capital Area Council, VA)

Of course I can’t comment on what you remember, but if that’s what you remember, the pack you were in didn’t get it right and consequently misled you all. The Cub Scout sign is in every Cub Scout book, and it’s always been as I’ve described. (I just opened a sixty year-old Wolf Cub Scout Book. Pages 6 and 7 show the sign with the index and middle fingers of the right hand splayed and the arm straight up from the shoulder. Page 10 tells the Cub Scout that his two fingers represent the two parts of the Cub Scout Promise.

Dear Andy,

Should pets (excluding service animals) be allowed to come along on a Boy Scout campout, family campout, etc? (Name & Council Withheld)

Absolutely not! And don’t go looking for a “BSA policy” on this one… All that’s needed is something other than a vacuum between the ears and some good (not “common”) sense. I’m assuming we’re talking about dogs; not cats, snakes, ferrets, goats, canaries, and such. The answer’s still no. Can you imagine… “Where’s Billy?” “Oh, he’s out of the campsite looking for Sparky, who got off his leash and ran away.” “Where’s Johnny?” “Why he’s over there, patching up Rags, who got in a fight with a raccoon…and lost.” “Who pooped in front of my tent?!” “Mister Jones, Ralphie forgot to bring the dog food so we gave Pookie some hot dogs and fried onions and now he doesn’t look so good…” “Why is it all wet on my sleeping bag?” Need more? I sure hope not. But thanks for asking.

Happy Scouting!



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October 18, 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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