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Issue 284 – January 2, 2012

Rule No. 48:

  • Want to create half-hearted Scouts?  It’s easy: Just wear a half-hearted uniform.

Rule No. 49:

  • No boy can be saved from his own parents.

My “Winter Tale” must have struck home for many readers… Thank you for your responses!  I’ve chosen one to represent all… This one is from a Scouting volunteer in Alaska whose troop “adopted” me as their Unit Commissioner…

Dear Andy,

A big heartfelt thank you for that story.  As I was reading it, I kept trying to read faster to keep up with the action.  I kept thinking that no one writes like this today, yet the story had all the buzz-words of today’s boys in it, like “texting.”  Now you know that you have another skill, and I’d be proud to sign you off on your “Storytelling” merit badge. (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

Hi Andy,

Is the Webelos ceremony for bridging into Boy Scouts a Cub Scout or a Boy Scout function?  I’m not sure who’s responsible for this, and I don’t want to step on our Scoutmaster’s toes.  Thanks for your help! (Mary Pat Tempert, WDL, Las Vegas Area Council, AZ)

The “bridging ceremony” is done at a pack meeting, and is directed by the pack’s adult volunteers; representatives of the troop or troops selected by the Webelos Scouts are invited to be present and to be part of the ceremony–the culmination of the ceremony, in fact–as they receive the new boys into their troop.

Thanks!  I just want to make sure I wasn’t going to step on the troop’s toes if I went ahead and planned this event for my second year Webelos. (Mary Pat)

Just be sure you stay in close contact with the Scoutmaster, so he can invite the boys to visit, conference with them, conference with their parents, and then come to the pack meeting  prepared to shake their hands and welcome them into the troop when the boys cross to the other side of the bridge.

Dear Andy,

We have a small cub pack. My 4th grader son started as a Wolf, and is now a first-year Webelos.  As a Wolf, he was the only boy his age, so I functioned as his Den Leader and we met with the Bear den but worked on our own requirements.  When he became a Bear, we had two boys his age, and I was again the Den Leader.  But this year my son is the only 4th grader in the pack, and he’s been meeting with the 5th graders so far this year, including attending Webelos adventure camp with the older boys this past summer.

My son has a November birthday, so he’ll be 10-1/2 by next June.  If I read the requirements correctly, he could complete the Arrow of Light requirements probably by June, before he starts 5th grade, and join a Boy Scout troop then.  Or, he could join Boy Scouts as a 5th grader when he turns 11 next November. He’s expressed an interest in moving on to Boy Scouts sooner rather than later, because he has to do quite a bit alone, mostly without a den his own age.  Another possible option might be for him to meet with the current Bear Cub Scout den, but they’re a school-year behind him and he doesn’t know them as well (but we could probably live with it for a few months).

Our pack’s traditional Arrow of Light and crossover ceremony is in late February.  I know you’re not a fan of cutting the Webelos program short, but given that his relationship is with the older boys (there are no boys his own age in the pack), maybe cutting it short makes sense here. What do you think? (Jim Witte)

You’re right that I’m not a fan of rushing a boy through a year of Webelos Scouts and into Boy Scouting just for the sake of speed.  But each situation, as you’ve discovered, is unique.  In the case of your son, Cub Scouting has probably been a pretty lonesome time for him, even though he’s had Dad as his Akela. If he’s indeed the only 4th grader in the pack, you’ve definitely made the right decision to not send him backwards.  Since—assuming he’ll complete Arrow of Light by next June—at 10-1/2 plus that rank he’ll definitely be eligible to be a Boy Scout, graduating into Boy Scouts at that time seems to make most sense.  The disadvantage to June is that he likely won’t have had time to bond with a troop before it’s time for summer camp, and you’ll definitely want him to go to camp in his first summer as a Boy Scout.  So, in this case, I’d suggest that as soon as the new year begins, he should start visiting a couple of troops so that he can begin to form a relationship as early as possible, right along with the fifth grade boys.  This way, when he graduates in June he’ll be ready to swing right into the troop of his choice and get to camp with them.

Here’s the most important thing you’ve done: You’ve listened to him and learned what he would like to do!  Now you both can make it happen!

Dear Andy,

In reading the requirements for the Scouter’s Key and other awards that can be earned, they always refer to the term “Scoutmaster.”  Does this mean you need to be a Scoutmaster,  or can you be an Assistant Scoutmaster to earn these awards? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’ve read correctly: Scoutmaster.

So to be eligible, I need to form my own troop.  And if so, then being an Assistant Scoutmaster seems to be a waste of time after a few years. (N&CW)

To be eligible to earn the Scouter’s Key as a Scoutmaster, one would need to be a Scoutmaster.  However, there are many volunteer positions in which one can earn this award—check out:

Understand that one of the requirements for the Scouter’s Key is earning the Scouter’s Training Award, which is definitely available for Assistant Scoutmasters… Have you done this?

As for Assistant Scoutmaster being “a waste of time”—If you believe that helping boys and young men grow in citizenship, character, and physical and mental acuity is a waste of your time, then you definitely need to go find something to do that’s more rewarding for you.

Hello Andy,

I’m a Boy Scout parent. Recently, we received updated troop guidelines for advancement, and I’m wondering if these are actually things a troop can enforce (there are others, but these came out screaming at me)…

“The BSA has defined many ‘positions of responsibility’ from which our troop has selected and classified the following as ‘leadership positions’: Patrol Leader, Instructor, Troop Guide, ASPL, JASM, or SPL. The troop believes scouts benefit most by serving in leadership positions to meet the appropriate rank requirements for

Life and Eagle.  The troop expects Scouts to serve actively in one of the leadership positions listed above, especially Patrol Leader, before completing their rank requirements for Life.”

“Merit badge Counselors must be approved before any work can be completed on the merit badge (e.g., signing “blue cards”). Only the Scoutmaster can approve Eagle-required merit badges. The Scoutmaster reserves the right to disallow any advancement or merit badge signed off by an unapproved individual.”

“Parents are not authorized to approve advancement or merit badge requirements for their son except when serving as merit badge counselor or instructor for a group of scouts at the same time.”

          Can a troop make these stipulations? (Name & Council Withheld)

Scouting volunteers are expected by the BSA to deliver the program as written; in fact, volunteers signed what is effectively a covenant with the BSA to do so when they first applied.  What a troop’s volunteer adults may or may not happen to believe is not relevant.  Scouting units are prohibited by BSA policy from imposing more (or less) stringent requirements on scouts’ advancement that what the BSA has specified; no troop’s “beliefs” may supersede written BSA requirements in any way.  The BSA has stated that a Scout will meet Star requirement 5 or Life requirement 5 by holding any one (or more) of these positions for a period of four or six months, respectively: Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, Venture Patrol Leader, Troop Guide, OA Troop Representative, Den Chief, Scribe, Librarian, Historian, Quartermaster, Bugler, Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, Chaplain Aide, Instructor, Troop Webmaster, LNT Trainer.  Any troop imposing more limited boundaries than these 16 positions it is in violation of BSA policy.  (This is not my “opinion”–this is fact.)

Councils, not troops, approve Merit Badge Counselors.  Councils provide lists of vetted and registered Merit Badge Counselors to troops.  Troops are expected to direct Scouts seeking a merit badge to one or more of the counselors on the council or district list.  It is a BSA national policy that only registered Merit Badge Counselors are authorized to sign applications (aka “blue cards”) signifying completion of the requirements for a merit badge.  Furthermore, no re-testing of any signed-off merit badge or merit badge requirement(s) is permitted by anyone, ever.

Being a Scout’s parent does not authorize the signing off of any requirement for any rank or merit badge.  Requirement sign-offs may be done only by persons authorized to do so by way of their registration with the BSA. (In other words, Boy Scouts isn’t “Webelos 3”)

Further, the BSA permits registered Merit Badge Counselors to counsel their own relatives (e.g., son, nephew).

Based on what you’ve forwarded to me, it strikes me that your son may well be in a perhaps well-meaning but nevertheless highly autocratic (to the edge of renegade) troop.  Are you certain you want him to grow up in this sort of distorted Scouting environment?

Dear Andy,

Can I give our local Boy Scout council $1,000 and direct that it to go into the council account for a specific unit and earn the James E. West award, or does the money have to go directly to council and stay there? I know it can’t be used for FOS money. (Mandy Martensen)

James E. West Fellowship donations must, by policy, go into a council’s endowment fund and may never be spent—only the interest or dividends endowment funds produce, never the principle, may be used by a council.  This means that however worthy and considerate your idea, the James E. West Fellowship isn’t the route to take to achieve your end-result of having the funds flow directly to a specific troop.  You’re also correct that FOS donations stay with the council and become a part of the council’s general operating fund.

If you want to give money to a troop, it’s permissible for the troop to accept the donation (the BSA fiscal policy on this states that while no Scouting unit may actively solicit donations, if someone wishes to spontaneously give money directly to a unit, the unit is at liberty to accept the donation).  So, if you want to give that sum to a troop, and would like it to be a legitimate tax deduction per IRS standards, ask the troop to provide you with the tax ID number of their sponsor, because the sponsor is most likely a 501(c)(3) organization and since it literally owns the troop its own tax ID number applies.

(All of this stated, do understand that I’m neither an IRS employee or expert, a CPA, or an attorney; I’m simply paraphrasing BSA fiscal policies and guidelines.  Check with your council’s revenue development committee or legal counsel before proceeding further.)

Dear Andy,

I’m the awards chairman for my council.  I have a problem concerning the Silver Beaver Award.  We have folks on different sides of an issue and I’d like to find the official policy on it.  Here is the issue:  We have a person who has been involved in Scouting for many years and has been nominated for the Silver Beaver Award.  By vocation, this person is a school teacher, and so is employed by our council in the summer as Camp Director—effectively a paid employee, not a volunteer, during these summer weeks.  One side of the argument is that if a person is, or has even been, a council employee, then he or she can’t be considered for Silver Beaver.  The other side is that this person has been involved as a Scouting volunteer at the unit, district, and council levels for many years, and only works at the camp for a few weeks in the summer; thus should be eligible for Silver Beaver recognition based on the volunteer service to Scouting.  Can you help us sort this out? (Name & Council Withheld)

The answer is here:  This is where you’ll find the BSA’s policy and not my or anyone else’s opinion.  The Silver Beaver Award is for volunteer contributions to Scouting.  Service as the result of employment is not a consideration.

Those who would like to nominate this (or any other) person for the Silver Beaver Award should go to the link I’ve provided, fill out the nomination form as written, and submit it for your committee’s consideration.  If, in the case you’ve described, this person has indeed rendered service to youth of an exceptional nature, and employment is not described (because there’s actually no place for it on the form!), then this person can certainly be considered a viable candidate.  Having been employed by the council in a seasonal position should in no way disqualify a person from Silver Beaver or any other recognition, provided the volunteer commitment and performance “above and beyond” is there.

Dear Andy,

          I’m the new Scoutmaster of a 50 year-old troop.  I’ve taken the necessary training before taking on this position: Fast-Start, Youth Protection, Position Specific-Scoutmaster, and Intro to Outdoor Leadership Skills.  Along the way, The Patrol Method, including the Patrol Leaders Council (PLC), has been addressed, but this troop and my training don’t seem to match up.  Training says the PLC is led by the Senior Patrol Leader and includes the Patrol Leaders (or APL if the PL is absent), and Troop Guides if there are new-Scout patrols still in their first year of Boy Scouts, plus the troop’s Scribe to take notes, and that’s all. But this troop includes every Scout with a “position patch” on his left sleeve—Scribe, Quartermaster, Historian, Webmaster, all Instructors, OA Troop Representative, all Den Chiefs, and even the Chaplain Aide—and when I asked the answer was this is what they’ve always done.  What’s right?  Or are both right?  I need some help here. (Hal Facre, Three Rivers Council)

The training you took was correct and the troop is doing it wrong.  The Scouts that hold positions other than Patrol Leader are patrol members and are therefore already represented at the PLC by their own Patrol Leaders.  To include them as well not only creates an imbalance in representation but it also creates an unwieldy mass of Scouts, all vying for a “voice” in the meeting.  Any troop organization chart in any BSA publication shows this clearly, and absolutely consistently.

As the troop’s new Scoutmaster, you have an excellent opportunity to fix this so the troop and its PLC operate more efficiently and ultimately effectively.  First, have a conversation with your Committee Chair (bring your SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK to the table, so you have an authoritative document right in front of you, for you both to look examine), describe to the Committee Chair what you intend to do (you do have the individual authority to make this change, because, as Scoutmaster, you’re responsible for troop program, and troop program emanates specifically from the PLC), and reach an agreement that this is what will happen at the very next PLC meeting.

One more point: This isn’t something to “ease into”… It needs to happen just once, completely, and then move on.  Finally, folks need to not worry about making this change when they’ve been doing it this way “forever,” because, unfortunately, what that they’ve been doing has been wrong “forever.”

HappY ScOuTing!


(No. 284 – 1/2/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012)


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.

Read Andy's full biography

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