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Issue 293 – March 1, 2012

Rule No. 60:
• The extent of “politics” in any organization is inversely proportional to its ability to show results.


A marlinspike is a tool used in rope-work, to unlay rope for splicing, untie knots, form a toggle, and more. It’s been the essential rope-working tool of sailors for centuries untold.

Two absolute experts in knotting and splicing are Gary Summers and Eric Wickizer, both of Indiana, whom I had the pleasure of meeting while I was attending the Prairielands Training College a couple of weeks ago. Not only are they dedicated Scouters and incredibly skilled but they’re superb teachers! If you ever have the opportunity to meet them, or invite them to your own “Scouting Skills Day,” you sure won’t be disappointed! Here’s their contact stuff…

Gary Summers: (317) 213-5476 –
Eric Wickizer: (317) 979-6213 –

And be sure to check this out:

Dear Andy,

In our council, Venturing is a relatively young program and there’s not a lot of emphasis placed on it. Because of this, we’re having trouble growing our crew. At meetings, all we do is business-related stuff; we don’t do anything that’s fun. Do you have any suggestions to help our crew get off the ground and for it to be a fun and active program? (Becky Everly, Crew President, Sagamore Council, NY)

Venturing is all about getting’ out there and doin’ it! The meetings you have are indeed for planning events and making them happen; they’re not for “fun,” in the sense of games and such. The “fun” is in the doing! The crew’s business meetings are agenda-driven and cover whatever’s necessary to make the chosen event happen, and then you’re outa there. (That said, don’t rule out having your meetings at a local pizza parlor or hamburger joint!)

I get that Venturing is about being out and doing things, but our problem is that we don’t have enough people to do this. At our last meeting, only two crew members showed up. At this rate, I’m afraid our crew’s going to fall apart. Do you have any ideas on how to get more people interested in our crew? Right now, we have six registered crew members, but one is “on paper only” and has no plans to be active (he only joined so he could go to Philmont this summer with his old troop), and another finished his Eagle last summer and we haven’t seen him since. So, realistically, we have four crew members. Any ideas? (Becky)

OK, four members. No biggie. You can still have the fun you all joined up for. Let’s start with this: What would you all like to get out there and do? Rock-climbing? Rifle or pistol shooting? Caving? White-water? Downhill or x-country skiing (if there’s snow)? Mountain-biking? Hunting? Backpacking? Bowling? Skeet or sporting clay shooting? Scuba? Ice climbing? What? It’s up to you all to sit down and decide what you want to do, and then use the meeting time (along with some pizza and a pitcher of pop isn’t a shabby idea) to decide where and when you’re going, how you’re going to get there, what you need, and who you can invite to come along!

Get your Crew Advisor to show up, so he or she knows what resources you’ll be needing that you can’t put together for yourselves (like a driver with a six-seat van or SUV).

Then, to start growing, once you’ve picked what you’re going to do, and when you’re going to go do it, you can invite your friends along, as guests, and have even more fun!

Hi Andy,

Why is it every time I need to find something I’ve read I can’t find it on the BSA site!

Anyway, isn’t it the Senior Patrol Leader’s responsibility to take charge of a troop’s weekend outings, just like he does troop meeting? I’m asking because in our troop we assign a Scout to our monthly outings—he gathers the information on the location and brings it to the Patrol Leaders Council, and then if they decide to go there, he then works with a troop adult to make the reservation, collect the money, and so on—so our troop’s adult leaders figure that this Scout should be the “Acting SPL” of the outing, so that he enjoys the satisfaction of seeing the results of his work. My own thinking says the leader at the outing should be the elected Senior Patrol Leader, period. Besides, since the regular SPL isn’t a patrol member, what does he do, eat with, etc.? Somewhere, there’s a troop organization chart that should be followed; taking away someone’s normal responsibility isn’t cool. This would be like one of the dad drivers taking charge, instead of the Scoutmaster. What they want to do just doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m just the Scoutmaster. How do you see it? (Dave, SM)

Why can’t you find stuff at Simple: It’s a conspiracy… They deliberately hide stuff so that you have to write to me, instead!  Anyway…

A troop has one and only one Senior Patrol Leader. This SPL chairs the Patrol Leaders Council meetings, runs all troop meetings from start to finish, guides the ASPL(s), delegates to the troop’s patrols via their Patrol Leaders, and is in charge of the patrols and Scouts on all outings. This is described in more detail in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK. If a troop deviates from this, that troop is moving away from the essential aspect of Scouting that makes this youth program unique and special, and a true growing experience for our young men.

It’s certainly laudable that one or more Scouts assigned such tasks as making reservations and collecting money are diligent, but these two items are supposed to be the responsibility of one or more committee members. That’s what the troop’s committee is for. The Scouts, by patrol, do such things as menu planning and buying, gear-listing and checking (and “borrowing” from the troop’s “tent inventory,” via the Quartermaster—a Scout; not a committee member). Making reservations (in effect, a contract, which a minor can’t legally make), collecting permission slips from parents, keeping Scouts’ and adults volunteers’ medical records current, collecting money for trips, etc. are the responsibilities of the troop committee; not the Scouts. The Scouts have other responsibilities, through their Patrol Leaders as directed by the Senior Patrol Leader, including establishing patrol duty rosters, helping PLs create their own patrol duty rotations, deciding who’s bringing what, etc.

As Scoutmaster, “course-correction” is one of your responsibilities, which you carry out by coaching and advising the Senior Patrol Leader (and simultaneously collaborating with the Committee Chair to assure that committee members don’t meddle with the troop program or the Scouts as they function as the BSA program intends for them to).

Dear Andy,

I help run the only special needs unit in our. It’s made up of boys and young men ages 11 through 19. Our troop would like to hold annual joint camp-outs with other special needs troops. I’ve had no luck getting any information on the number of special needs troops in the country, what troops might be nearby us, or contact information. How do I go about getting this information?

Also, I’d love to help form a “Facebook” page or forum for exchange of ideas and best practices, or inspiring or fun stories. Any assistance you could provide would be greatly appreciated. (Cindy Pope, Ozark Trails Council, MO)

Your best bet would be to reach out to the council professional at your service center who oversees special needs units and ask him or her to bird-dog this for you in other districts and perhaps a couple of adjacent councils. That said, I did just try “Google” by plugging in “special needs troop” and several popped up immediately. Now these might not be nearby, but it’s a good start! As for Internet sites and connections, your council service center folks will have a set of guidelines available, that all BSA units follow. Good luck!

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for information on Venturing consultants. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that consultants, due to their often one-time participation, don’t have to registered BSA volunteers (like Merit Badge Counselors, for instance). The current advancement guide says that “Consultants generally would be considered qualified to counsel merit badges related to their expertise. To do so, they must be approved and registered as merit badge counselors, according to the procedures below.” This doesn’t specifically state that they don’t have to be registered, but it implies this. Can you point me to a written statement as to whether or not a Venturing consultant must be BSA-registered? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’ve identified the correct statement: Counselors on subject matter for Venturers are typically recruited on a one-time basis (meaning: they don’t need to be registered MBCs); however, if they wish to become MBCs then they would go through the vetting and registration process as such. In effect, counselors for Venturers are recruited as guests of the crew to provide their expertise as teachers, coaches, or facilitators related to the subject matter or activity the crew members have decided to engage in. An NRA safety instructor might, for instance, be asked to take crew members through firearm safety prior to their engaging in a shooting sport. Or a fly-casting aficionado for a planned catch-and-release fishing trip. Or a ski patrol member if the activity will be Nordic or Alpine skiing. Or maybe a licensed ship pilot or Power Squadron instructor for boating.

Consultants are all around you. They may be Merit Badge Counselors (your council has a list) who’d enjoy working with older young men and young women. Or they may be local folks who are known experts in some subject for which there’s no merit badge. Ham radio operators come to mind, for instance. Then you have Captains of local rescue squads, Fire Chiefs, Police Chiefs, sports coaches from your local high school, owners of auto repair shops, and the list goes on and on.

Once the crew has decided what their activity will be, help them develop a list of qualified people to call, and then leave it up to the Venturers to make the invite.

Dear Andy,

I’m trying to find a set of guidelines for how a troop is to properly suspend and reinstate a Scout. Our Scoutmaster recently suspended a Scout for bad behavior. The Scout had talked back and used foul language, and came close to fighting with another Scout. He was talked-to several times about his behavior. He was put on three months suspension. At the end of the three months, the Scout returned, bringing a letter of apology with him, and went up to the Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster told him that he had to go to the committee meeting the following month to ask permission to return, even though it was the Scoutmaster, not the committee, who suspended the Scout in the first place. Looking at when our unit registration comes due, making this Scout wait a fourth month guarantees that he’ll miss re-registering when we recharter. Our Chartered Organization Representative is asking me to find the procedures in the BSA guideline. Can you help? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s recognize that we can’t help youth grow, or instill the values of Scouting in him if we’ve booted him out of the troop. “Talking back” and “using foul language” are symptoms, usually, of the male adolescent maturation process: Boys want to know where the line in the sand is drawn, and they’ll test to find out. Moreover, these allegations are both vague and nonspecific—hardly ground for removal, even temporarily, from a troop. Yes, a consequence (not a punishment–we don’t punish, in Scouting) for inappropriate verbal behavior may be called for, but to remove a boy from a troop for this is definitely the wrong way to go. As for “coming close” to a fight, this is miles away from actual physical contact. That said, if a Scout indicates that he will bring physical harm to himself or others, this is definitely grounds for a conversation with the Scoutmaster and, if it doesn’t stop immediately, then a second conversation with the troop’s Committee Chair and committee members is in order, and can definitely lead to suspension from the troop until such time as the Scout expresses a sincere willingness to cease such behavior permanently—which, apparently, he did.

In the situation you’ve described, proper procedure as described in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK wasn’t followed. The Scoutmaster arbitrarily and inappropriately jumped the gun. But that’s now past. What’s important is what the Scout subsequently did. Since this included a formal apology, he should absolutely be welcomed back into the troop, without further hesitation. Heck, if you all don’t do this, how are you going to use the methods of Scouting to help him become the kind of future citizen this country needs!

Here’s a “war story”…

“You’re DOCKED!” was the classic summer camp Waterfront Director’s shout, at the merest of infractions, back when I was a Boy Scout. This means that, for the remainder of the Scout’s time at camp, he didn’t get to go swimming—same as being “benched.” Ouch! For some boys in the area I grew up in, camp was the only place we ever got to go swimming, and now some poor Scout’s been “docked” for the rest of the week! Seeing this happen seemed totally unfair to me, even as an eleven year-old, and I swore that if I were ever a Waterfront Director, I’d never do that—I’d find another way of handling it. Well, about ten years later, that’s exactly what happened. I became a Scout camp Waterfront Director. And, yeah, Scouts occasionally messed up. But I never docked a one of ’em. Instead, they still got to go swimming every day, but, in their free time, they reported to me and I gave ’em a small service project to do, that would improve the waterfront area and simultaneously provide a “consequence” for breaking one of the area’s safety rules. Maybe it was painting a section of the dock, or scrubbing the bottoms of a couple of rowboats—you get the idea. Turned out they actually came to admire their own work, they put in the “sweat equity” that taught the lesson, and—most important—they still got to swim every day! Everybody won, and the waterfront always looked sharp!

So somebody needs to have a serious conversation with an apparently trigger-happy Scoutmaster and, in the meanwhile, since no new application’s required, just re-register the Scout when it’s rechartering time. End of story.

Howdy Andy,

What are your thoughts about Scout summer camp that offers a week-long program for Scouts to…
– Learn advanced orienteering and first aid
– Use night-vision goggles
– Visit a C-130 drop zone
– Hold combat weapons like M-16s and grenade-launchers
– Visit an Air Force base and tour a submarine
– Climb and rappel
– Use camouflage
– Use hands-free radios.

Although these are, I’m told, very popular, frankly, as a multi-tour combat medic veteran, the last thing I want to see in Boy Scouting is a program that glorifies the military… or am I just “out of the loop” with today’s youth? (Name & Council Withheld)

You pose an interesting question, and concern. The best I can do is share my personal perspective and viewpoint on this subject, with the understanding between us that this is indeed personal and doesn’t represent either the viewpoint of the BSA national office or even the local council whose camp and programs this is about.

I think we should start here: The relationship between the American military community and Scouting has always been strong. Boy Scouts helped sell war bonds for both world wars, collected scrap metal and rubber for war materiel, and performed other state-side services to support the U.S. military efforts, as did virtually all Americans in those times. All branches of the military have presentation certificates for Eagle Scouts, and Eagle Scouts on joining the military are automatically bumped on e pay-grade. National Jamborees have been held at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia—an active military base—for decades. There is a higher proportion of military personnel who were in the Boy Scout program as youth than in any other career path. Various docked battleships, carriers, submarines, and military bases and military academies around the country are highly popular visiting sites for Scouts of all ages (West Point, for example, holds an annual Camporee on its grounds that’s “sold out” year after year, and merit badge “universities” are held frequently at Annapolis).

I believe it’s also important to acknowledge that, in Baghdad as well as in Afghanistan, many of our American military personnel and CIVs with Scouting backgrounds have devoted significant portions of their off-duty time to bringing Scouting to the street children there!

Nevertheless, there are limits. The BSA doesn’t permit the use of “silhouette” targets of either humans or even animals (bulls-eyes only), paint-balling isn’t permitted, and no merit badge directly involves the killing of a live creature (not even fishing merit badge demands this). Nor is there any merit badge that smacks of military or combat activity. Moreover, although the “martial art” of Aikido (a defensive technique that uses an attacker’s momentum) is permitted as a Scout activity, head-on attack-type martial arts such as Karate are not.

However, in the past there were definitely various requirements here and there that might be considered to have possible military application, ranging from “silent swimming” for swimming merit badge to stalking for First Class rank, and even Morse code or semaphore signaling (also for First Class, “back in the day”). But “military application” was not spoken of… It was simply “learn how to do this, to complete the requirement.”

Looking through a different window for a moment, we need to understand that America is made up of a wide variety or regional “cultures.” No, I don’t mean “ethnic groups”—I’m thinking about ways of living and ways of thinking that vary by region of the country. It’s been said, for instance, that the Pacific Northwest is the most “eco-friendly” and/or “eco-sensitive” area of the country, that southern Florida is erstwhile “capital” of the entire Caribbean area, that several New England states are the birthplaces of the country’s “Liberals,” and so on. Well, if there’s any substance to these generalities, let’s see where this camp is located, and maybe take that into consideration here. While not unique among states, we should probably take notice that, in the state in which this council and camp are located, there are no permits required for buying either long guns or handguns, no required registration, and no “assault weapon” laws. Consequently, it’s likely (and apparent!) that folks in this area see little error in this camp’s program for Scouts.

But I do. While I think any number of the program’s activities—advanced orienteering and first aid, climbing and rappelling, radio and alternative communications techniques, for instance—and planned visits—touring a submarine, visiting a USAF base, for example—are right on the money. But stuff like using camo’s and handling M-16s is, to me, a bit (actually a lot!) over the top.

As a medic, you undoubtedly got to see the worst and least “glorious” side of combat. I believe your point of view is significantly more on-target (if you’ll forgive the expression) than mine, and I respect it completely. My own “bottom line,” now that you’ve made me think this through, is this: I believe promoting military service to our country is more than OK; promoting the killing side of the equation isn’t.

Thanks for taking the time to write. Your question’s an incredibly good one and I appreciate your having raised it.

Happy Scouting!
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 293 – 3/1/2012 – 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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