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Issue 279 – November 30, 2011

Rule No. 44:

  • Never argue with idiots.  They’ll drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

Dear Andy,

I’m a member of the National Scout Council in my country, Liberia, Africa.  Scouting says, “We are volunteers, and non-political…” Why aren’t Scouts permitted to participate in national politics when we’re (supposed to be) training boys with leadership skills?  How, then, do we develop their sense of duty to their community and country? (Moses F. Shellu,)

Scouts are absolutely permitted (and encouraged) to be involved in the democratic process of their home country.  I personally remember how, as a Scout many years ago, my troop and many others across the country placed GET OUT THE VOTE “doorknob hangers” on the front doors of every residence in our town, especially in presidential election years!  This is still done today, some 50+ years later.  Scouts are also encouraged via several rank and merit badge requirements, to speak with elected officials in their communities, thereby learning more about their responsibilities and the responsibilities of involved citizens. Moreover, the very structure of a Scout patrol and troop is designed to model the democratic method of elected representation.  The only “political” aspect not permitted, for reasons that should be obvious, is for Scouts to engage publicly in partisan politics—that is, encouraging others to vote for particular candidates or issues versus others.

Hi Ol’ Wise One,

A troop is going to do a 50-Miler on bikes and apply for the award. The Scoutmaster’s told the Scouts that they have to “carry their own gear.” One of the parents didn’t think this was right and put his son’s gear in a chase vehicle that also carried  food and camping gear, giving the pack and other gear and supplies to his son each evening of the ride.  The Scoutmaster thereupon gave the 50-Miler patch to each of the Scouts on the trip…except this one Scout.  Now, his parents have gone to the council personnel, claiming that the Scoutmaster discriminated against their son and added requirements to earning this award.

(Now I do know that we’re not to add to or subtract from the requirements for ranks or merit badges, but would this BSA policy also apply to something like a 50-Miler?)

I’m thinking that if you take the Scout off his bike and put him in a canoe, he has to carry his pack…If you put him on foot, he has to carry his pack…if you put him on horseback, he’ll need to have his pack with him; therefore, I find myself agreeing with the Scoutmaster: If you don’t carry your pack with you, you don’t get the patch.  But others have observed that “Boy’s Life” magazine has featured other troops using support vehicles to earn their 50-Miler.  But there’s this question: Is it really safe to require a Scout to carry a 40 lb. pack on his back while pedaling a bike? Many fellow Scout leaders say it’s not.

What are your thoughts on this one? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s start with these three thoughts…

  • You can’t save boys from their own parents.
  • There’s no cure for stupid.
  • Some folks never get it that Boy Scouts isn’t “Webelos 3”!

So here’s the deal: It’s not a rank and the poor kid had no choice—so give him the patch for his back pack and make this go away.

Meanwhile, what’s with the Scoutmaster?  Has he never heard of “No”?  I don’t understand why he, with his Committee Chair’s support, didn’t simply tell these well-meaning but misguided parents, “You come back with that vehicle to pick up the pack, and you’ll pick up your son and take him home with you, too.  That’s how the mop flops and the Mercedes Benz.”

Dear Andy,

Can a troop make rank advancement requirements stricter than what’s required by the BSA?  

This is a point of disagreement between another Assistant Scoutmaster and me.  His position is that it’s the troop’s option to make requirements stricter than what’s specified by the BSA.  For instance, the troop is requiring Scouts who hold leadership positions to attend 90% of all meetings, camp-outs, and other activities, while 70% attendance is required for all other Scouts, and unless they comply they don’t advance.

My position is the opposite: Troops must follow all requirements precisely as stated by the BSA and aren’t permitted to either take away or add to these requirements, not only for ranks but for merit badges as well.

Which one of us is closer to what’s supposed to be happening? (Randy Williams, ASM, Cape Fear Council, NC)

This is the kind of bone-headed malarkey that kills the Scouting program faster than a grenade with a pulled pin.

The BSA strictly forbids any individual, unit, district, or council from adding to or subtracting from any requirement.  This is widely published and generally known; consequently anyone attempting to do so needs to be considered renegade; if he or she persists in doing this despite having been made aware of the BSA policy, then we’re dealing with a despot mentality.  For easy confirmation, refer to BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS… any edition.

Regarding the issue of participation (also referred to as the “active” requirement), per the new GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT it is permissible for a unit to set reasonable expectations for participation; however, if draconian standards are being enforced this should be immediately brought to the attention of your council’s advancement committee, who will counsel the troop leaders and help them make things right.

If the problem persists, Scouts now have an alternative path for their boards of review, if these aren’t being provided by their troop. Personally, I’d hope it doesn’t come to that, because it would mean significant embarrassment, not of the Scout, but of the troop and its adult leaders.

As for merit badges, the troop and its leaders—whether youth or adult—have absolutely nothing to say.  The only authority for signing off a Scout on completion of the requirements for a merit badge rests with the Merit Badge Counselor–this is, again, a national policy of the BSA. Moreover, no one has the right to test or re-test a Scout on any merit badge or its requirements once the MBC has signed, demonstrating it is completed.

Hi Andy,

The GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING allows Webelos Scouts to camp overnight with a troop; however, it doesn’t set a ratio of adults-to-Webelos except to say that a specific adult is to be responsible for each Webelos.  Obviously, the camp-out needs to be age-appropriate for both the Scouts and the Webelos, and the den needs to provide enough adult leadership to adequately supervise the Webelos.  From the book: “A Webelos Scout may participate in overnight den camping when supervised by an adult. In most cases, the Webelos Scout will be under the supervision of his parent or guardian. It is essential that each Webelos Scout be under the supervision of a parent-approved adult. Joint Webelos den-Boy Scout troop campouts including the parents of the Webelos Scouts are encouraged to strengthen ties between the pack and troop. Den leaders, pack leaders, and parents are expected to accompany the boys on approved trips.” So what ratio is expected? (Name & Council Withheld)

While “camping overnight with a troop” isn’t a requirement for the Arrow of Light, participating with one’s den in an overnight or day hike certainly is, and so is visiting a Boy Scout-oriented outdoor activity with one’s den.  The GTSS advises us that in no case can a Webelos Scout (or Arrow of Light Scout, as second-year Webelos are now designated) camp overnight absent his parent/guardian or a parent/guardian-approved adult, and this will be done on a one-on-one basis.  That’s a ratio of 1:1. That’s the deal, straight from the BSA.

Dear Andy,

We have a small troop and a large number of the Scouts are from single-parent homes—they live with their mothers, mostly. As Scoutmaster, I’m taking a lot of heat from these mothers about how I’m doing things, like giving their Scout-sons the freedom to make (correctable) mistakes, allowing them to lead themselves (rather than me being the “big boss”), and so on. Now I’m certainly not a perfect Scoutmaster, but my life would sure be easier if even just a few of these women would get off my case and pitch in, instead, as committee members!  What do I do here? (Name & Council Withheld)

Women, if they like you, will give you the shirts off their backs!  And if they don’t, they’ll consider every time you mess up grounds to rip your eyeballs out!  And never mess with Mama Bear or get between her and her cub!  But, there’s definitely something you can do that’ll make a difference… Invite them—one-at-a-time—for a cuppa java, with the understanding that your wife’ll be there, too.  Then, if you meet at a coffee shop, don’t sit in a booth—sit at a four-sided table, and don’t put the mother between you and your wife (that is, don’t “book-end” her), so that no one feels ganged up on.  Chat, but make sure the women get to chat more.  Talk not with your wife but with the woman you’ve invited.  Have, in the back of your mind, two possible jobs you believe she can handle, that will help the troop.  Tell her about both jobs, including the good stuff and how it makes a real difference and the bad stuff that every new job has (but don’t overdo it here, and keep persons and personalities out of it, or you’re going to poison her before she even says yes to anything!).  Then it’s her choice… Ask, “Which one of these—just one—would work best for you, do you think?”  And when she picks, immediately take the other job off the table and focus on what needs to be done right away, a little ways away, and at no rush at all.  Give her the name, if possible, of someone she can go to, to get answers (maybe that’s your wife, which would be a wonderful bonding opportunity!)

Then buy the coffee (or breakfast) and make sure she doesn’t throw in one thin dime!  Hug (briefly and formally) in the parking lot, and you’re on your way!  Next day, send her a little personal thank you card, signed by you or you and your wife.  (No email thank you can ever be as powerfully meaningful as a mailed card.  People put these on their mantles and leave ’em there for years, by golly!)

Don’t wait for the cows to come home — Do this right now!

Hi Andy,

I’m trying to find a specific policy on knives for Cub Scouts.  I’m a Bear Den Leader and there seem to be a lot of opinions about what’s allowed and what’s not, concerning type and size (mostly size), but no one can point to an official document from BSA and say that that’s the real deal.  Can you help? (Tom Doyle)

Let’s make this easy… Take a look at the size of the Cub Scout pocket knife available at your Scout shop or at… Next, notice that, at the Bear level (meaning: Not Tiger or Wolf), Cub Scouts can earn the “Whittlin’ Chip.”  Once they earn the Whittlin’ Chip, just tell them (and their parents) that they can carry a pocket knife no larger than the official Cub Scout pocketknife to activities where a knife might be needed (this obviously excludes pack meetings and probably most den meetings, for instance).

Is there a written BSA policy on this somewhere? (Tom)

No worries… Pocketknives are OK on a limited basis beginning with Wolf, says the BSA’s GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING, so that’s your first policy. Your second policy is in the WOLF HANDBOOK, page 223, where it’s stated that a pocketknife is an essential for camping (italics mine); however, there are neither Wolf achievements nor Wolf electives that involve the use of any edged tool, including a pocketknife.  This doesn’t happen until the Bear year, and that’s where you’ll find your third policy.  It’s in the BEAR HANDBOOK, page 147: “Keep your knife at home unless your parent…and Den Leader tell you otherwise” (italics mine).

Dear Andy,

I’m a new Cubmaster, and I’ve encountered a conflict between two committee members.  (I’ll most likely be talking with our Unit Commissioner about this, but I’d like to get your viewpoint, as well.)   

The start of this Scout year brought a new committee chair, and me as the new Cubmaster.  My committee chair had difficulty with initiating communication at the beginning of this transition period, from which a conflict emerged and has now gotten out of hand.  Another new pack leader, who had recently moved into the area had—via pre-move emails—offered his “extensive Scouting resume” to the pack.  Based on this resume, I offered him an Assistant Cubmaster slot.  But it seems that, unbeknownst to me, members of the pack committee had the opposite reaction…they were turned off by his “resume.”  Then, before ever meeting anyone personally, he suggested changing our pack’s usual fall campout event to, instead, going to a council-wide even for packs.  Our pack’s secretary (who, having run our own event for years, was considerably “attached” to it), fired off a shouting flame-mail, which achieved “How Dare You!” return-fire.  As with messes like these, both had used “reply all” with unhappy results all-around.  Computers all around town were exploding!  I stepped in, as best I could, and offered to manage this back down to molehill size.

Then, a surprise… Turned out I really liked where this guy was coming from!  We agreed that, between us, we can take this pack to exciting, positive places it’s not been before in anyone’s memory.  So I smoothed things over with the secretary, and all seemed well…

On the committee’s first meeting of the year, our Chair couldn’t attend, so I led the meeting. All seemed OK.  My new Assistant Cubmaster sat to my immediate left; the Secretary to the right.  I directed my remarks forward, to the committee members.  At a point, the secretary interjected a remark which was directed to all, generally, but, instantly and unexpectedly, the ACM directed his own remark laterally behind me, directly to secretary, and the result was a re-performance like the emails, but this time face-to-face. Not to let the meeting devolve into rancor, I rapidly and delicately as possible ended the meeting.

In a post-meeting de-brief, the ACM saw himself as doing nothing wrong except sticking up for himself when “cornered” and the secretary was too emotional to settle down.  After a brief cool-down moment, the secretary apologized for here original email while the ACM mildly allowed as how his outburst may have not been in the best of judgments.  But the damage is done and the tension amongst the pack’s adult volunteers is now catastrophic, and I’m smack in the middle. 

At this point, I believe mediation is only answer, and it will come most likely through our Unit Commissioner.  However, with your experience, what would you recommend? (Steven Marquez)

OK, several thoughts here…  First, you need to caution both the secretary and the ACM, separately of course, that there’s a choice: You can be right, or you can be happy—take your pick.  They also need to be told, privately, that there’s a big difference between being right and being righteous.  Think “cooperative inventiveness.”  From now on, they can only use the words “…and so…”  No more, “Yeah, but…”

What happened at that meeting is classic group dynamics stuff. You, as the leader of the meeting, occupied the “power position.”  So what did your two buddies do?  The secretary took the “power position’s best friend” seat to your immediate right and the ACM (maybe because the right-hand chair was already taken) took the “power position’s second-best friend” seat.  With those two seats in place, the mayhem had to happen!  It’s always a duel between those two seats!  In any sort of group… volunteers, business, education, whatever!  What happened was virtually inevitable, and there’s almost nothing you could have done to stop it, except get up and change seats before starting the meeting!

There are only two kinds of leaders: Those who lead from authority and those who lead from influence.  Almost never can anyone come from both places at the same time; inevitably, one “style” will dominate over the other.  From what I’ve gathered so far, your ACM is leading from authority and your secretary is leading from influence. This is oil-and-water… actually, it’s more like gunpowder and fire.

Here’s something to try… You and the Committee Chair need to be a team.  The CC’s job is to keep the secretary away from the ACM (including non-overlapping emails), and your job is to keep the ACM away from the Secretary.  This is do-able…

Since pack committee meetings in a very well-run pack don’t include either Den Leaders or ACMs, and CMs only part-time, and leaders’ meetings led by the CM include any ACMs plus DLs, and no committee members, get these two different types of meetings in place and you’re halfway to a solution.  Further, since pack committees aren’t supposed to have anything to do with creating pack program (they only support; they don’t decide), the secretary won’t be showing up at the leaders’ meeting, or making decisions about what the pack as a whole does or doesn’t do.  And your job is to control your ACM before he annoys the Den Leaders, too!

It’s sorta like two kids who can’t get along… Keep ’em away from each other!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been reading your column for some time and now I have a question for you… For an Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, how does the BSA define “giving leadership to others”?

I’ve read both the 12th and 11th editions of the SCOUT HANDBOOK; and the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK, Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project workbook, NYLT syllabus, TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK, plus, and can’t find any formal guidelines for the Scout or those who are supposed to be mentoring him. 

The reason I’m asking is because many troops require adults to supervise the Scout on-site, even though the Scout is supposed to be doing the leading (and supervising).  How can a Scout lead if he’s being directly supervised by some adult?  

Moreover, I’ve noticed Scoutmasters and unit committees—instead of the Scout—do the asking and arranging of helpers for Eagle projects, even though the BSA says that Scout is supposed to be organizing the personnel needed for his project

          When this sort of stuff happens, how can any Scout from troops like these truly “give leadership to” his own project? (Bob Fario, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

First, let’s understand this: The BSA doesn’t formally define what “leadership” is, as pertains to a Life Scout’s service project for the Eagle rank. The BSA does say, however, that one of the responsibilities of the members of the board of review for Eagle rank is to determine the extent to which the Scout showed leadership in the carrying out of his project.

Second, now that the BSA has rewritten the rules, it is, in fact, required that adults provide “two-deep leadership”… However, the word “leadership” in this instance needs to be understood to mean “safety net” and not “taking charge” or “supervising.”

(Although you didn’t bring this point up, the typical rationale for having multiple adults present at a Life Scout’s work-site (assuming there’s construction, of course), is the whole “power tool” issue, which can easily be made to go away by simply using hand tools.)

Third, it is assumed that the Life Scout will take charge of all aspects of his project, including recruiting his helpers.  (If I were sitting on a board of review for a Life Scout whose Scoutmaster or Committee Chair or some other misguided-but-well-meaning adult had participated in some major way toward recruiting help, and the Scout allowed this to happen, I’d have serious misgivings about the “leadership quotient” here—but do understand that this is my personal value and not necessarily the BSA’s.)

As to your question, “How can a Scout…truly give leadership?” we can only take deep breaths and hope that the district or council advancement committee present at the board of review counsels the troop’s adult leaders afterward (without punishing the Scout for the failure of the adults to “get it”), or, somehow, the district advancement committee picks this up during the project concept sign-off process and counsels that troop’s adult volunteers.

What else might be done?  Well, this would be a wonderful topic for a Boy Scout Leader Roundtable!

Dear Andy,

I’m a relatively new Unit Commissioner, but this is my third “tour” in Scouting (youth for nine years, Scoutmaster for five, and district level for five more).  I read with interest your comments, a while ago, about the Scoutmaster who made Scouts do push-ups for even slight and harmless “infractions.”  While I was reading, I was remembering when my Scoutmasters when I was a Scout had been Army and Marine Corps Sergeants (I’m a proud Army brat)—We got a lot of “Drop an’ gimme ten”!  But never for stuff like forgetting a handbook! In an era when students could get paddled, at school, by both teachers and principals, ten push-ups was hardly considered “corporal punishment”!  But that was then.

Fast-forward to today, when things that were common practice once are permitted no longer.  What that Scoutmaster himself may have been subjected to, years ago when those things were accepted by society at large, bears no relationship to what’s acceptable today.  Today a Scoutmaster should not be treating Scouts any differently from how he’d want his own son to be treated by a teacher.   He’d probably go ballistic if his own son was made to “drop-and-do-ten” in front of the class or out in the school hallway for forgetting to do his homework (or for any other reason, for that matter).  So, Scouting must be no different.  I hope all it took was a face-to-face with the Committee Chair and Chartered Organization Representative, and that the guy became the kind of Scoutmaster our sons need most—because no one who cares about the Scout themselves wants a Scoutmaster to fail, any more than we want our sons to fail.

As you’ve said countless times, Scouting is intended to teach the right behavior when we mess up.  It can be done with carrots as well as sticks (better with carrots, usually).  My own son’s Scoutmaster instituted a “Troop Cup” patrol competition that the Scouts really loved and responded to very well—points were awarded to each patrol at each troop meeting for the number of handbooks that showed up, whether they had their patrol flag, and how well they hollered out their patrol cheer. (Obviously, the number of handbooks couldn’t exceed the number of Scouts present, and since each patrol had eight Scouts, that put a premium on regular attendance with their handbook by every Scout, and those who missed a meeting or came but without his handbook let his whole patrol down.  It was a big deal when the Scoutmaster announced the points earned by each patrol that week and for the six-month “point period.”  What was the “prize”?  A simple “We’re Numero Uno!” (Name & Council Withheld)

Thanks for your point-of-view!  I also remember being a Scout in a troop Scoutmastered by a former NCO (who’d been “busted” three times, or so he bragged), who made us do “duck-walks” and “drop n’ gimme ten” if we so much as hiccupped.  I quit that troop after two fun-for-nobody-but-the-Scoutmaster meetings. Today that duckwank would be charged with abuse of minors, and the arrest would be righteous.

Dear Andy,

I have a Scout in my troop who is awaiting his Scoutmaster conference for advancing to Star rank.  I’ve been making him wait on this conference for three months because he’s not been displaying a lot of Scout spirit towards other Scouts or towards classmates at school. The latest incident happened when he took money from a Scout at a troop meeting without asking. The other Scout was paying his dues and was due to get change back; instead, the Scout in question kept the change. I was about to give him his conference that night, but that made me very unsure of how best to proceed. This Scout has instigated several incidents that have almost started a fight with another Scout. The worst was at summer camp, where he was almost sent home. Any guidance you can give me would be most appreciated. (Mike Hom)

Let’s get some details out of the way, first… Like the dust-up at camp last summer.  Whatever happened, it was dealt with, and the decision to keep the Scout at camp was made.  That’s the end of that story, unless someone like building up cow-chip arsenals.  As for the unreturned change from a dues payment, I first need to ask why dues are given from one Scout to another instead of from a Scout to the troop’s (adult) treasurer.  But, if you’re absolutely certain that this was deliberate on the “problem” Scout’s part, what was done?  How was he helped to learn, right then and there, that there are consequences to our actions?  Merely withholding a Scoutmaster conference is a semi-“punishment” and hardly relates to the behavior — Where’s the “learning moment” here?

OK, ’nuff sed.  Let’s move on to the “Scout spirit” aspect…

How about we start with what this Scout’s handbook tells him about such conferences: “…Every Scoutmaster conference is an opportunity for you to review how you are doing…”  Now let’s add what your own handbook tells you, as Scoutmaster: “…The Scoutmaster conference can be used as a counseling tool at any time and for a variety of other (i.e., not necessarily precursors to rank advancement) reasons…”

Based on these insights, this Scout needs a conference right now.  If you don’t do this, how will you ever get to the bottom of what’s troubling this young man, that he’s doing the things you’ve described? When you do this, without waiting any longer, you demonstrate to this Scout that he’s important and that you care.  It doesn’t mean he’s “ready to advance”—Such a conference isn’t a shoo-in; it’s structured so that the Scout can self-evaluate.  You’re the facilitator; not inquisitor or lecturer.

After you’ve asked him how it’s going at school, with his brothers and/or sisters (if any), with his parents at home, and so on (one-by-one, of course), you might open up the key subject something like this…

“Well, you’ve completed almost all the requirements for your next rank, so here’s where we get to chat a bit.  One of the sort of undefined requirements is ‘Show Scout spirit,’ which means living the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life.  How well do you think you’ve been doing this…?” (Then you stop talking, and remain silent until he speaks up.  If he doesn’t speak up, you simply say, “OK, well, when you figure out how you’re doing in this area, come see me and we’ll talk again.”)

The very next week, if he doesn’t seek you out by about halfway through the troop meeting, take him aside and ask him, “Say, you’ve had a week to think about Scout spirit… I’d like to hear from you on how you think you’re doing…” (Then, same follow-through as before.)

At some point, it’s going to dawn on him that he needs to speak up.  Maybe sooner; maybe later.  Give him time, and don’t pressure him, because this needs to come from “inside” him and he has to know you’re not “the enemy.”

If his reluctance persists, you may need to say to him, “You know, I’m not your teacher, pastor, parent; I’m your Scoutmaster, which means that anything you and I talk about stays between us.  With that understanding, how about we talk a little bit about what you believe Scout spirit really means.”  Then give him a chance to talk, and follow up with, “OK, if that’s Scout spirit, how do you think you’re doing?”

A few guidelines…

  • Don’t badger him
  • Stay open (including your “body language”)
  • No desk or other furniture between you
  • Don’t accuse; don’t bring up whatever happened at summer camp (that’s way past!)
  • Never ask a “why” question (e.g., “Why did you…?” “Why didn’t you…?”)
  • Remain nonjudgmental at all times
  • You’re not his “friend” or “buddy” but you are like an uncle or big brother.

Waste no time.  This boy needs someone like you NOW!

Thanks. You’re very clear in your advice but I didn’t give you all the information.  I’ve had numerous conferences with this Scout about how he handles himself in front of other Scouts and how things in the troop and his life in general affect his attitudes toward his peers.

          It seems to me that he just makes bad decisions at the worst of times.

          There’s one Scout in the troop who just seems to draw the worst out of him at times. I’ve sat both of them down together and also separately, to try to come to some kind of settlement for them.  I know I’ve got my work cut out for myself with these two; any further advice would be greatly appreciated. (Mike)

As Scoutmaster, I once had two Scouts who “hated” (their word) one another; they refused to be tent-mates, even though they were in the same patrol.  I told each one of them this (separately): “OK, I hear you.  But before I ask your Patrol Leader to split you two up, I want you to come back to me knowing everything about that other Scout… I want you to tell me his favorite subjects in school and the ones he hates; I want to know how he gets along with his brother(s) and sister(s); I want to know what his favorite football, baseball, and basketball teams are; I want to know what sports he likes playing and which he doesn’t; I want to know who his best friends in the troops are and who he’d just as soon avoid; and I want to know what his favorite foods and snacks are and what vegetables he can’t stand; heck, I want to know what his favorite gum is and what his favorite computer or x-box games are.  When you can come back and tell me these things, I’ll think about splitting you up.  You’ve got two weeks to do this.”  Can you figure out what happened?  Yup… you’re right!  Worth a try…?

Dear Andy,

If a registered Scout leader is enrolled in or attending anger management classes or counseling, can he or she hold any registered leader position or perform any functions as a registered leader?  What about contact with youth? (Name & Council Withheld)

Well, it’s good to know whoever it is, is getting needed help!  As for the legalities of this situation, and its ramifications, best to ask your Scout Executive.

Dear Andy,

We have two Scouts who are unable to complete their First Class requirements because they can’t swim four laps. All their other requirements are completed, and we’ve worked with them on swimming the distance three or four times, now.  Is there any other way they can complete First Class? (Kimberli Brewer)

Nope, no other way unless they have some sort of medically-confirmed mental or physical disability.  That said, I have to believe they’re going to feel pretty left-out if they’re not swimming by next summer’s Scout camp experience with their troop.  So, based on what you’ve told me, they need to build up their stamina so that they can swim 75 continuous yards using any stroke other than the elementary backstroke and then complete to continuous 100 yards using the elementary backstroke.  This may take pool-time and practice, but it’s hardly impossible for just about all healthy, enthusiastic Scouts! (Maybe they’ll try a little harder, and accomplish this, if they know that there’s no “Get Out Of Jail Free” card in the deck!)  Let them do this on their own… It’s their rank and they need to own it.

But, before you cut them loose to work on this for themselves, be sure to re-cast their situation… It’s absolutely not that they “can’t” swim 100 yards; it’s simply that they haven’t done so, yet.

Here’s what another Scouting reader has to share, that may help these Scouts…

Dear Andy,

Here’s one for “weak swimmers”… Learn the breaststroke! This is the easiest to learn of all swimming strokes, and is perfectly OK for the First Class swim test.  Forget the “American crawl” or “freestyle,” which is a difficult racing stroke that has become the basis for most learn-to-swim programs. (Tom Trask, MC, Colonial Virginia Council)

Hi Andy,

If someone earned the Scoutmaster Award of Merit and then later earns the Unit Leader Award of Merit, can he or she wear both knots?

Also, are we supposed to stop wearing the centennial ring around the World Crest on January 1st?  Or does it get worn “forever” so long as you were a registered BSA member in 2010?  (Name & Council Withheld)

The original Scoutmaster Award of Merit has historically been a white knot on a tan background; now, a square knot of a different motif is used more broadly to signify Award of Merit for Cubmasters, Coaches, and Venturing Advisors as well.  Should someone who’s already wearing the SAM square knot be accorded the comparable award for Cubmaster, Coach, or Advisor, he or she would continue to wear a single square knot, but would now attach two devices to it: One for Scoutmaster and one for the second (or third) program in which it was received.  These devices use the classic “butterfly-on-post” clasp and are pinned to the badge itself. (We try not to wear duplicate square knots, and these devices are the solution to this situation.)

(By the way, one doesn’t actually “earn” these recognitions in the sense of completing requirement; these are by nomination only and seek the recipient.)

The centennial “donut” made for wearing around the World Crest can stay in place in years beyond the centennial.

Dear Andy,

          We have a gentleman in our district who was presented the Robert E. Burt Volunteer Award medal and plaque by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1990 for his outstanding service to youth and Scouting. Since the Community Organization Award didn’t come out until 1992, would he be entitled to wear this square knot on his uniform today? (David Pottorff)

My research tells me that the Robert E. Burt Boy Scout Volunteer Award is the name for an award for Scouters of the Sons of the American Revolution; an honor due to members of the SAR who act as role models and provide dedicated service to the young men in the Scouting movement.  It’s awarded by the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution and is recognized by the BSA in the COA category.

It therefore strikes me that if the gentleman you’re speaking of received the medal, he should certainly be eligible to wear the “square knot.”  Heck, if he received it today, he sure would!
HappY ScOuTing!


(November 30, 2011 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2011)



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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