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Issue 287 – January 22, 2012

Rule No. 54:

  • The more logical and simple the Scouting procedure or policy, the more it will be ignored.

Dear Andy,

I’m a pack Committee Chair struggling with the definition of an Arrow of Light Scout visiting “a troop meeting with his den.”  Our Scouts are always invited to events with the troop we feed, such as Christmas and Halloween parties.  Do these accomplish the goal of the requirement? (Brian Anders)

The elegant beauty of all BSA requirements, across all programs including Cub Scouting, is that they’re to be taken word-for-word without alteration or interpretation.  So, when a requirement such as the one you’re referring to says, “…with your den…” it means exactly, precisely that: The Arrow of Light den (formerly Webelos II den), as a den, makes the visit.  In fact, you’ll notice that indeed there’s another requirement that specifies, “Visit with your parent or guardian…” and further specifies that this second visit is to take place only after the two den-oriented visits have been accomplished.

Please be sure that all of your Webelos Den Leaders understand exactly how these requirements are worded; the goal of these requirements should be quite obvious.

Dear Andy,

We’re a 50+ year-old troop that has traditionally had around 30-40 Scouts.  Last year, we had a whole bunch of new Scouts join, and now we’ve got 54.  Looking at our potential Patrol Leader inventory for next year (after accounting for those turning 18), the Scoutmaster, Assistant Scoutmasters, and committee felt that five patrols of 12 Scouts each (60 Scouts in total) is the limit, and we’re pondering what to do if more than six new Scouts want to join.  Over time, we recognize that we could get bigger, but we just don’t feel comfortable doing it now because we’re short “boy leadership.”

Is there a best practice for dealing with the situation of more Scouts than spaces?  We thought about “first come, first serve,” but were thinking about doing Scoutmaster conferences for prospective Scouts.  We aren’t looking to exclude any boys, but rather are trying to optimize the few spaces available for those that will be compatible with our boy-led, very outdoor oriented troop.  Any suggestions? (Dave Baran, CC, Pacific Skyline Council, CA)

My very first suggestion, with all due respect to your commitment to Scouting and desire to get it right, is that you all—Scoutmaster, Assistants, Committee Chair, and committee members alike—need to  re-read the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK and re-take your position-specific training. Yes, I’m deadly serious.

Patrols are at their maximum when there are eight (8) Scouts in them.  Six (6) is even better.  In fact, Baden-Powell’s original structure called for no more than six Scouts–what we call “patrols” led by “Patrol Leaders” in the BSA are called “sixes” and led by “Sixers” in England.  I’d actually recommend patrols of six, because (a) they have room to grow when Scouts recruit their non-Scout friends to join up and (b) managing five others is a lot easier than managing seven others.  (Anyone ever taken Wood Badge training?  If so, you’ll remember that, in Wood Badge, the groupings are by six; not eight, and certainly not ten or twelve!)

So, with a troop of 60, not counting the Senior Patrol Leader (who’s not a patrol member while holding that position) and perhaps one or two Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders (who aren’t patrol members, either), you’ll have nine to ten patrols, which means a manageable Patrol Leaders Council (for making program and activities decisions) of about ten or eleven (the Senior Patrol Leader and the Patrol Leaders, with the troop’s Scribe to take notes), and that’s just fine.

“…Short boy leadership”?  Nonsense!  Every one of those nine or ten patrols elects their own Patrol Leader, who in turn selects an Assistant Patrol Leader of his own choice.  THERE IS NO ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE TO PATROLS ELECTING THEIR OWN LEADERS.  Do anything else, and you’ve utterly failed to deliver the Boy Scout program.  This isn’t my “opinion,” by the way… Baden-Powell himself stated: “‘The Patrol Method’ is not ‘a’ way to deliver Scouting; it is the ONLY way.”

The Patrol Method is, therefore, not a “best practice;” it’s the ONLY practice.  Deliver this and you’ll be delivering the finest Boy Scout program in the neighborhood!  Trust me!  And trust the handbooks!

Dear Andy,

The church that sponsors our Scout troop asked if we would want to disassemble playground equipment that’s made of metal piping.  Do you think the Scouts could use reciprocating saws?  We have a few older Scouts (one is 13 and five are sixth graders).  We’re wondering what you think of the reciprocating saws being used by the younger Scouts, with adult supervision. (Reciprocating saws seem to be in the chain saw “family” and not the electric screwdriver family to me.) (Jane Hair)

Scouts disassembling the playground stuff using hand tools should be just fine.  Cutting the stuff up (so it can be discarded, I’m guessing) is better done by the church’s maintenance personnel, to my way of thinking.  If that can’t happen, then non-electric hacksaws are the obvious way to go.

Dear Andy,

I’ve been asked by a few families if they can come along on troop campouts.  What guidance is given to us by the BSA regarding this question?  We plan a troop campout every month and follow the principles of a boy-led troop.  If we were to invite families at large to come along, to see what their sons are doing,  I can foresee a possibility of tensions arising if the Scoutmaster has the Scout do something and the parent doesn’t agree.  Also, in this day and age, Youth Protection policies must be followed at all troop events.  My thought would be to plan a separate campout from the regular monthly campout, so the families could see what their sons are learning, but would a line be crossed if we called it a troop event?  (David Purtee, CC, Simon Kenton Council, OH)

The way to handle this doesn’t come from a “rule book”… Describe to these well-intentioned parents that Boy Scouting is based on peer-to-peer relationships, which get sharply interfered with if troop campouts become “family camping trips.”  Then tell these folks that they can take all the family camping trips they like, and when they do to be sure to ask their Boy Scout sons to “help” them figure out the best campsite, how and where to pitch the tent, and so on, so he gets to “show off” and use the new skills he’s learned when he goes camping with his fellow Scouts.

By the way, Scoutmasters don’t issue orders, instructions, or even requests to Scouts; this is done by the Scouts’ Patrol Leaders, in a truly boy-led troop.

Dear Andy,

I was looking at the list of religious emblems at your website ( The list doesn’t contain the emblem for Sikh religion.  The Sikh religion originated in India and is practiced by more than 25 million people worldwide. I and my family also follow this religion, and I’d like my Webelos Scout son to earn the emblem for the Sikh religion.  What is the process for adding emblems to this list? (Harpreet)

Thanks for finding us, and for writing.  First, we need to understand that the religious emblem programs, while recognized by the BSA, are distinctly not BSA programs (the BSA is non-sectarian); they’re programs provided by the world’s various religions and denominations.  For deeper information, go to  If you don’t find anything fitting there (even when you employ your 5 K’s!), contact your own religious guide and see if, between the two of you, you can find a comparable program for your son.  If you’re successful, please write to me again and I’d be delighted to publish what you’ve discovered in an upcoming column, for all to read about and gain from.

Hi Andy,

My son is going for his “heavy shoulder” as a Webelo I and he’s up to the Sportsman activity badge.  We’ve finished the first three requirements, but, as for requirement 4, my son’s just not into sports.  Joining two team sports is just not his thing.  Is there anything else he can do besides, baseball, soccer, and the other sports listed?  He’s into archery and hunting, for instance. (Gina)

Of course, you do know that, in the Webelos/Arrow of Light program for Cub Scouts, your son is supposed to be attending den meetings and working specifically with his Den Leader on activity badges—not his parent(s).

That point established, the purpose of the Sportsman activity badge is to help a Webelos/Arrow of Light Scout become a well-rounded young athlete and team member.  This is why there are two separate requirements—3 and 4—involving sports activities.  Req. 3 encourages individual sports, as described.  Req. 4 encourages team sports, as described.  A fundamental principle of all BSA advancement programs is that requirements are not alterable or subject to “interpretation.”  This means that if your son wishes to earn this particular activity badge, he will need to complete all four requirements as written, with no variations.  Doing so always remains his own choice: If he chooses not to participate in at least two of the seven team sports listed, that’s his decision.  There are, after all, 19 other activity badges he can earn, if he chooses.

By the way, it’s “Webelos”—Webelos is both singular and plural, like deer and deer, fish and fish.

Dear Andy,

About a year ago, while at troop campout at a Scout camp, while having lunch I began choking.  A Tenderfoot Scout saw me coughing, hunched over, and using the universal distress signal for choking.  He recognized my signal and instantly yelled at the other adults there for help (they were all involved in conversations at another table and didn’t see me).  He got their attention and one of them applied the Heimlich maneuver that rescued me.  It was this Scout’s paying attention to his “environment” and his yelling for help that truly saved my life.  I gave the Scoutmaster of the troop about three or four months to recognize this Scout, and when nothing happened I wrote to the local Scout camp, asking that this Scout at least be recognized on “parent’s night” last summer, but this didn’t happen, either.

Who is allowed to recommend an award for actions like this?  I want this young Scout to receive the recognition he deserves for helping me and saving my life.  What do I do? (Fred Sayin)

The folks you need to contact are the advancement chair and committee of the council you and this Scout are in.  Describe to them exactly what you’ve described to me.  Add in names of witnesses, for corroboration.  DON’T ask the Scout to pursue this—This is for you to do!  Such recognitions are presented by the BSA National Council, through the advancement committee channels.  You can read up on these by going to

Dear Andy,

Are Order of the Arrow election procedures consistent across the board?  I mean, are they the same in every lodge in the BSA?  I’ve read in several places online that a Scout must earn at least 50 percent of the votes of his fellow Scouts, and if every Scout candidate gets at least 50 percent, then they’re all in.  But our Scoutmaster is claiming that only the top two vote-getters are in.

The annual troop OA election is coming up soon, and I just want to make sure that the election is fair and being held per correct OA procedure. (Mike Kaferle)

Yes, troop OA elections are conducted per national, not local council, district, or unit procedures and use a national form for reporting results.  (I’ve been a member of four separate lodges, across four different councils from one coast to the other, so I can make this statement with complete confidence and assure you that what I’m saying isn’t my “opinion”—it’s fact.)

At troop OA elections, all qualified Scout candidates who receive 50% or more of the votes of their fellow Scouts (both Scout OA members as well as Scout non-OA members participate in the voting) are thereupon elected to participate in the OA Ordeal, and beyond.

This Scoutmaster is misinformed.  The best ways to verify and demonstrate this are (1) confirm what I’ve just told you with your OA lodge’s advisor (a fellow volunteer) and concurrently (2) insist that this Scoutmaster verify his viewpoint by showing you an OA publication supporting his position (of course, he won’t be able to, and that should put that unfortunate myth to bed).

By the way, it’s the lodge election team that ideally conducts the annual troop election, and the Scoutmaster is a bystander, as are all other troop Scouters.

Dear Andy,

I’m an associate advisor of our Order of the Arrow lodge.  For the last couple of years, our lodge’s executive committee has wanted to purchase some needed equipment for our local camp (e.g., a power washer for cleaning the camp’s pool and bath house).   For the last two years, however, our council’s Scout Executive has vetoed these decisions, with no explanation.  The lodge has plenty of money, and would like to put it to use for better camping.  I’ve read the OA Lodge Finance Manual and can’t find anywhere that a Scout Executive even has a voice in matters like this.  I’ve repeatedly tried to discuss this with him, and all I get is, “Resubmit it and I’ll take a look at it.” What should we do? (Jerry)

Assuming your council and lodge are following standard guidelines, unless he has assigned the position to an alternate, your council’s Scout Executive is your lodge’s Chief of the Fire, or staff adviser to the lodge.  In this capacity, he provides guidance but is not himself a decision-maker.  Your lodge’s advisor (a volunteer position) is concurrently a member of your council’s camping committee.  Consequently, if the lodge’s executive committee wants to purchase equipment that will benefit the council’s camping program, the lodge advisor can present this to his fellow camping committee members and get their agreement, following which the donation can be carried out as intended.  Should be a slam-dunk!

Dear Andy,

Ever heard the term: “a Scout’s handbook is his official advancement record”?  I’ve got a case now where the Eagle Scout Rank Application, although supported by a “Scoutnet” printout, is accompanied by a handbook that’s blank on the rank and merit badge check-off/sign-off pages in the back of the book. Whatcha think? (Matt Culbertson, Review Panel Member, “Guide to Advancement”)

Every couple of years, when I’m visiting the troops I serve as UC, I’ll ask the Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader for 5 minutes with the Scouts… I announce that we’re going to have a “Best-Looking Handbook Contest” and ask the Scouts to get their and hold ’em out so I can see ’em. I’ll walk around the room till I find what I’m looking for: The most disheveled, beat-up, been through the mud and rain, dog-eared handbook in the lot, and announce: “We have a WINNER!”  Of course, the Scouts (and sometimes the adults, too) are shocked.  That’s when I give that Scout a prize of some sort (patch, candy bar, Philmont beener, whatever I’ve brought with me that night) and hold the book up as a shining example of what a handbook that’s actually read and used looks like.  Sometimes lots of light bulbs start glowing above their heads; sometimes the room stays pretty dark.  Mostly, though, they do get the point.

Thanks to “Scoutnet,” “Troopmaster,” and such, plus troop adults believing that “Scouts can’t be trusted to keep their own records,” coupled often with the paternalism that accompanies the “Webelos 3 mentality,” the Scouts themselves have no clue as to where they are in advancement until they’re told.  Handbook records?  Sometimes, but certainly not universal.  So I think we need to cut individual Scouts some slack, understanding that many of them are doing what they’re told the troop does.

Dear Andy,

Our Unit Commissioner is putting a lot of pressure on us to graduate our Arrow of Light (formerly Webelos II) Scouts in February at our pack’s Blue & Gold dinner.  We do graduate our boys at the B&G, which we hold in April.  Why the pressure and rule-quoting?  We’ve been doing it this way for many years, and our pack likes it this way. (Name & Council Withheld)

First, let’s recognize that Commissioners have no business pressuring anyone, quoting rules to anyone, or in any other way attempting to plant their feet on the uplands of authority.  They have no direct authority over your pack; they’re supposed to be serving your pack.

But let’s also acknowledge that, somewhere in the dim past, your pack ran off the track.  The Blue & Gold Banquet is intended to be a “birthday party” for Scouting (founded February 8, 1910) and Scouting’s founder, Robert S.S. Baden-Powell (born February 22, 1857); thus, holding this event in any month other than February is…well…sort of silly.

Turning to graduation, the BSA states this: “The pack’s annual Blue and Gold banquet in February should be the target date for Webelos Scouts (now Arrow of Light Scouts) to transition to Boy Scouting.”

Although your Commissioner took a less-than-optimal approach to communicating, he did have his facts correctly, and concurrently, although your pack graduates its Scouts at the correct event, the timing of the event is patently incorrect.  So, while your Commissioner might learn some better “Commissioner manners,” your pack might consider using a more accurate calendar.

HappY ScOuTing!


(No. 287 – 1/22/2012 – 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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