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Issue 281 – December 22, 2011

Rule No. 46:

  • Despots can’t be cured; only overthrown. Before they hurt yet another Scout, rise in overwhelming force and throw the rascals out.

Rule No. 47 (for Scouts):

  • The probability that your Scoutmaster happens to be looking your way is directly proportional to the stupidity of what you’re doing at that moment.

Dear Andy,

We encourage monthly Roundtables for adult unit volunteers.  These are really valuable for information exchange, training, and community building.  

Have you, or any of your readers, ever heard of a round-table for troops’ youth leaders?   It seems like Senior Patrol Leaders could benefit from a roundtable especially for them, for all the same reasons that they help adult leaders.

I’d sure appreciate knowing what experience there might be in holding bi-monthly or perhaps quarterly Senior Patrol Leader Roundtables. (Name & Council Withheld)

OK, folks, there’s a need here… If anyone has experience in bringing Senior Patrol Leaders together in a forum, please write to me and I’ll be happy to publish your observations and insights.

Dear Andy,

Is there a way to get a net feed each time you add a new column?  I subscribe to Scout-L and Cub-L and enjoy reading the posts there.  I check your website about two to three times a week to see if there’s a new column online but it would be so much easier if I could get new columns right to my inbox. (Bill Doody, DC, Three Fires Council, IL)

Here’s what our Netcommish (and webmaster) has to say…

You can follow us @NetCommish on Twitter and you will get a notification each time we publish an article, including the popular “Ask Andy” columns. You can click on the RSS feed button to subscribe to that (you can generally view RSS feeds from your browser or add-on apps for email clients).

We also update the U.S. Scouting Service Project presence on Facebook with articles that we publish.  (I’m not sure whether that has a notification feature, but any updates there can show up in your news feed on Facebook if you like the page or subscribe to it.)

We don’t offer direct emailing to visitors for a number of reasons.  Collecting email addresses and protecting them adds a lot of overhead costs and tends to significantly impact the small amount of revenue we earn from advertising, which is necessary to defray the expense of running the site.

Dear Andy,

I belong to a Hindu temple.  We’re interested in starting a Cub Scout pack.  The advantage of doing this through the temple is strong financial support as well as ample meeting space.  I’d appreciate your advice on how to go about establishing this. Thanks so much, Andy!  (Shalin Shah, Sugarland, TX)

Sugarland is in the service area of the Sam Houston Area Council-BSA, headquartered in Houston (no surprise there!).  Their online link is  Reach out to the Scout Executive there and tell him what you’d like to do… I’m sure you’ll be given all the help and guidance you’ll need—right there in your own back yard!

Dear Andy,

In reviewing the end of year Journey To Excellence results with one of the troops I serve, we noticed that Eagle Palms are apparently not considered advancements according to Item 40 in the JTE FAQ’s on the BSA website.  This would seem to unduly penalize the troop.  Eagle Scouts in a troop are still registered youth members of the troop, and if they can’t “advance,” per the JTE rubrics, they’ll be pulling down the overall performance of the troop.  For example, in one troop in our district, there are five Eagle Scouts out of 33 Scouts in total—that’s 15% of the troop who can’t show advancement by earning palms, according to JTE criteria, and this is a significant handicap for troops striving for the Gold level!  This hardly seems fair.  Can anything be done? (James Macdonald, UC, Transatlantic Council)

You raise a powerful and very valid point!  While an Eagle Palm is technically not a “rank” (Eagle is considered the highest rank, of course), the process for earning a palm is identical to that of a rank, including active tenure, performance, leadership, living the Scout spirit, Scoutmaster conference, and then a board of review.  When this isn’t included as a measurable milepost for the JTE program, it definitely penalizes a troop—especially one that doesn’t buy into the “Eagle-as-exit-rank” mentality!

The JTE program as currently written is beyond “pilot” status but not beyond tweaking.  I’d definitely bring this conundrum to the attention of your Scout Executive and council advancement committee.  Thanks for spotting this!

Dear Andy,

Our troop committee has a number of people on it without a specific job, such as secretary, advancement coordinator, etc. We’re getting ready to recharter, and the Committee Chair wants to recharter only those folks who have a job.  When they heard about this, some of the committee members stated that they want to be on the committee, but they don’t want to commit to a specific position or area of responsibility.  What are your thoughts on this, and does the BSA have any policies or guidelines on this subject? (Name & Council Withheld)

Your Committee Chair is thinking correctly.  Use the TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK (BSA No. 34505B) as your springboard.  There, beginning on page 14, you’ll find descriptions of the positions/responsibilities a well-structured and -functioning committee needs to fill.  These include: Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Activities Coordinator, Advancement Coordinator, Chaplain, Training (for adult volunteers; not Scouts) Coordinator, Equipment (supports the troop’s Quartermaster) Coordinator, and Membership Coordinator.  That’s nine.  Beyond this, the GUIDEBOOK states: “…with more members than positions listed, assign each additional member to assist in one of the areas,” which is how strong committees assure continuity as members move on and in.  There’s simply no need (or room) for “members-at-large”–there are too many areas that need attention and responsibility.  Now if you’re lucky enough to have more than 18 committee members, then you would continue to assign further levels of assistance to critical areas.  For example, the Advancement Coordinator might keep Scouts’ advancement records up-to-date, the First Assistant AC might schedule boards of review, and the Second Assistant AC might be responsible for turning in advancement reports and buying the necessary badges and advancement and merit badge cards.

Also, keep in mind that all registered committee members will be expected to take both Youth Protection and position-specific training, and newly registering members will be expected to take these trainings as prerequisites to registration.

Dear Andy,

I’m a new Unit Commissioner, with a Cub Scout pack I’m trying to save.  The underlying difficulty is that the Cubmaster and the Committee Chair are a husband-and-wife “team.”  The husband, who is the Cubmaster, is well-liked and good at what he does.  His wife, the Committee Chair, is very outspoken and a “drama queen”-type person who micromanages or simply does everything.  She has “her rules only” and she’s losing parent cooperation rapidly—some are just flat-out walking away from the pack!  Her husband just stands by and lets this happen.

I’m hoping maybe there’s some BSA statement somewhere that says a Cubmaster and Committee Chair can’t be husband-and-wife. 

Already, some of the parents ready to “walk” have gone to the pack’s Chartered Organization Representative with their complaints, but his response was that he’s tired of hearing this stuff so the pack needs to go find a different sponsor.  What do I do now? (Name & Council Withheld)

Believing in “democracy-in-a-nutshell,” the BSA leaves unit governance in the hands of the chartered organization that owns the unit, and the volunteers it vets for this responsibility.  The BSA has no rules or policies regarding the relationships between unit volunteers.  This means that no one can “fire” either the CC or the CM (or both) on the basis of a BSA policy.  However, this doesn’t mean that the chartered organization can’t take the situation in hand–which is their right and obligation, in fact–and remove one or the other (or both) of these people from their positions, on the basis that they are not acting in a manner compatible with the mission and goals of the chartered organization.  This would be the preferred action, rather than the chartered organization deciding to cut the unit loose.  However, an alternate opportunity has presented itself as a result.  The challenge now, of course, is to find a new sponsor, but that new chartered organization will have the opportunity to vet all adult volunteers, including the positions they hold.  The new sponsor will have the authority to require that the positions of Cubmaster and Committee Chair not be related to one another.  When this happens, the problem will likely be solved; however, it’s entirely possible that the woman who is presently the CC will demand that she either retain her position or both she and her husband will resign.  When this happens, the sponsor can accept their resignations while you, quietly working back channels, will have two replacements ready to step up.  As a result, you’ll now have a fresh pack with a new sponsor, ready to deliver the Scouting program with no further acrimony or discord.  Yes, it’ll take a little work, so recruit your District Executive and District Commissioner to help you make this happen.

Dear Andy,

Page 10 of the new Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project Workbook has a place for five signatures; the old workbook only required four.  The new required signature is the first to be signed: it’s that of the Life Scout proposing the project.  But it’s not just a signature of approval or request for approval; it’s an Oath/Promise that must be signed.  Well this got my blood boiling and I feared that Baden-Powell might be restless in his grave, for the first law of a Scout is about trust.  At one time, older editions of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK/HANDBOOK FOR BOYS stated that if a Scout were to violate his honor by telling a lie or by cheating or not doing what he was trusted to do, he might be required to turn in his Scout badge.  In the current edition of the handbook, it states that a Scout tells the truth, he is honest and keeps his word and that people can depend on him.  Yet now, in BSA year 101, after a Scout has had six formal reviews of his verbal agreement to be trustworthy, he now has to sign his name to it.  I’m wondering what your take on this is. 

You certainly raise an interesting point.  To see if we can discover an answer, let’s go back to the early 70’s…

Beginning with the eighth edition of the SCOUT HANDBOOK in 1972, the historic “Scoutmaster conference” was changed; it became the “Personal Growth Conference.” This conference (still with one’s Scoutmaster) had as its objective a specific goal that the Scout would set for himself and commit himself to, describing this in much more formal language than in previous handbooks.  This more formally-structured type of conference remained in place for the next 18 years; not until 1990 did it return to the more benign form we know today.

Not having been a member of the national advancement task force, I can’t speak directly to the thinking that went into the newest GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT and Eagle project workbook.  However, it strikes me that perhaps some attention to that near two-decade period of more formal commitment was examined, and used as a springboard for the new workbook.

The page you refer to, that contains the “Candidate’s Promise,” seems to me to be fairly benign—It provides the Scout the opportunity to state that he’s indeed read the entire workbook—it in fact encourages him to do so—particularly the “Message…” section that describes in detail what is own rights are and his commitment to personally leading the project (which means not abdicating his role to well-meaning but misguided “helpful” adults or others!).  Looking at the Scout’s rights, I can state with absolute accuracy that over the past decade that this advice column has been available the number of Scouts who have been mistreated by adults holding sway over him is not tiny; therefore, I’m particularly hopeful that this will help to reduce such abuses of power.  I’ve also been informed by at least one national advancement task force member that this abuse-of-Scouts’ projects is by no means limited to those who have written to me: They have seen vastly more abuses than I can even begin to comprehend.  I’m consequently of the strong belief that their intention here is to reduce such machinations by helping to assure that Scouts learn what their own rights are, so they will stand up–with parental and other support–to the tin gods that have infiltrated this movement.  As for the “On my honor…” part, I have no quarrel because this is now closer in concert with what Eagle rank candidates have been signing their names to on the actual application, for years: “On my honor as a Boy Scout…” (see “Certification BY Applicant” on page 2 of the application).

Dear Andy,

We have several Scouts finishing up their Second Class rank requirements.  The question’s come up about receiving the “Totin’ Chip” with the completion of Second Class requirement 3c (“Demonstrate proper care, sharpening, and use of the knife, saw, and ax, and describe when they should be used”).  The Totin’ Chip card says they must “read and understand woods tools use and safety rules from the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK.  But the Totin’ Chip requirements go on to say that the Scout must subscribe to the Outdoor Code, which the handbook describes on pages 28 and 245.  Do the Scouts need to demonstrate these Outdoor Code ideals while, say, on a camping trip?  Since all of these Scouts have already been on several outings, do they just need to describe the Outdoor Code?  A little guidance here would help. (Bob Mitchell, ASM, Golden Empire Council, CA)

First, let’s understand that Second Class requirement 3c isn’t the equivalent of the requirements for earning the Totin’ Chip certification; it’s the beginning.  The Totin’ Chip has more extensive requirements, and can be earned by any Scout of any rank.  Plus, if a scout has indeed earned his Totin’ Chip, the Second Class requirement should be a “gimme.”  As for the “Subscribe to the Outdoor Code” Totin’ Chip requirement (number 6), in this context it means “agreeing to.”  No memorization is required here; understanding and agreeing is sufficient.  As for “demonstrating,” this can be done anywhere, but of course on a camp-out would be optimal.

Dear Andy,

I have two questions for you… One is pretty easy and I just need to have a backup; the other is kind of opinion.

I’ve begun helping a unit because my best friend’s sons are in it—I take them to troop meetings when my friend’s work schedule gets in the way.  I have no desire to register as an ASM or in any other capacity with the troop; I understand  that the primary mission of a Commissioner is to be a Commissioner, and I don’t want to load my plate with any more duties (it’s full enough right now!).   But recently, they’ve begun asking me to help with advancement during troop meetings, including signing off on Scouts’ requirements for ranks.  I’ve adamantly refused on more than one occasion.   But other than my personal wish not to be a leader there, is there any BSA policy stating that since I’m not registered with the troop, I’m not allowed to sign off on anything?  I’d like to be able to show them something like this and put the question to bed.

My second question’s about National Camping School. I’m trying to go this coming spring, preparatory to working on camp staff for the first time, and I’d like to know what you think about National Camping School as a resource to the program and to Commissioner service in general.  I’m applying to be a Camp Commissioner in 2012, so I’m figuring that the same-named course at NCS would be appropriate.  Any thoughts here? (Chris Snider, UC)

On your first question, you’ve been correct in keeping a distance; this is the only way you can avoid confusion as to which “hat” you’re wearing when you visit that troop, and it also keeps you from getting overloaded.  Commissioners need to make unit service their primary focus, which is why the BSA actually has a policy prohibiting unit leaders from serving concurrently as commissioners (it’s, I believe, on page 54 of the COMMISSIOER FIELDBOOK FOR UNIT SERVICE).  And you’re equally correct that, not registered with the unit, you have no sign-off authority when it comes to Scouts’ rank requirements.

That said, you can still help this unit by showing them how to recruit parents to step up and help in a variety of capacities, including advancement.  Then, after you coach them on how to accomplish this, stay by their side to help them achieve success.

On NCS, I’ve been there twice: Once for Camp Program and again for National Aquatics School.  I can say without hesitation that, for folks who’ll be working at a summer camp–either on salaried staff or as a volunteer–there’s no finer training available anywhere!  If you can make the time, it’s definitely worth the effort.

Dear Andy,

On putting up the Scout sign and zipping your lip, you gave an A Number 1 suggestion!  My own “two cents” on this to anyone using the Scout sign is to be brave and not be afraid of silence.  You may have to stand silently with the sign up for a minute or so the first time (it’ll seem like hours) but it’s the only way to get a unit on track.  It’s actually kind of fun watching the waves of response.  Some immediately put the sign up in silence; some, lost in their own world, just continue on with their conversations and activity;  some poke and shush there inattentive neighbors; and the funniest is when two Scouts, both
with the sign up, continue their animated conversation!

If it’s clear that the group at hand needs some re-education I tell one of two stories…

For Cub Scout leaders, I relate the story of Mowgli being shown by Baloo the bear on how to perk his ears at the Council Rock.

For Boy Scout leaders, I tell of the time I attended a “University of Scouting” in a neighboring council.  The meetings were held
in a big, modern suburban high school with a very large atrium adjoining the cafeteria, where several hundred Scouters were noisily milling about, coffee cups clutched, chatting exuberantly with their colleagues.  I noticed that the “Chancellor” of the training day was approaching the edge of an overhanging balcony.  I saw him raise his hand in “The Sign” and I began silently counting to myself.  Before I could finish “Three Mississippi…” the entire place was silent.  So surely if several hundred still-sleepy, slightly grouchy Scouters could respond, certainly a group of several dozen bright young Scouts could do even better!

For anyone who thinks shouting “Sign’s Up” is a good thing, I relate how all Scout safety training is a “hamburger,” with “Qualified Leadership” the top bun, “Discipline” the bottom bun, and how the Scout sign and the Buddy System are the key ingredients in that bottom bun. (Andy Kowalczyk, BS Leader Roundtable Commissioner, Hoosier Trails Council, IN)

Way to go!  Keep on keepin’ on, and…

HappY ScOuTing!


(No. 281 – 12/22/2011 – 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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