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Issue 295 – March 6, 2012

Rule No. 62:
• Beware what a new acquaintance tells you he’s best at… This usually turns out to be his Achilles’ heel.

Hi Andy,

About that Scout who was kicked out of his troop for mouthing off… Our troop used to have some hard-and-fast rules about suspending Scouts who misbehave. Instead, I used some of your earlier observations and those of others to replace those rules with the only ones that matter: The Scout Law. I agree with you that we can’t instill the values of Scouting in boys who aren’t in, or active in, the troop. A Scout is Friendly, Courteous, Kind, and Obedient, and his behavior doesn’t change when he takes off the uniform. Like the rest of the Scout Law, it defines who he is, and guides what he does.

The expectations for Scout behavior at meetings and campouts are now few, fair, simple, and straightforward. We hope all Scouts follow these guidelines. Unfortunately, on occasion it may be necessary to ask a Scout to excuse himself from participation if his behavior is consistently deviating from the Scout Law. Should it become necessary, a private conference between the Scout, his parents, and the Scoutmaster will normally define the best course of action.

We had similar issue of behavior with one of our Scouts, about a year ago. A frank discussion between the Scoutmaster, the Scout, and his parents led the Scout to decide to hold back from participating for a few months. We didn’t kick him out, and we re-registered him when our charter time came around. When he started showing up again, he just picked up where he’d left off, and nothing further was needed.

Thanks for your great story about your experience as an Aquatics Director—It was a great way to turn a negative into two positives. (Frank Maynard, CC, Great Lakes Council, MI)

When I was in my first Boy Scout troop, one of the other Scouts I got to know…Neil was his name…had a hearing problem: He was stone deaf in his right ear. Whenever the Scoutmaster talked to him, Neil would cant his head to the right, so that his hearing-ear on the left could pick up sound better. But the doofus of a Scoutmaster never figured out the deafness problem, barked at poor Neil, “Don’t you dare look at me sideways like that!” and make him do “duck-walks” for the rest of the troop meeting, while we Scouts looked on in horror. Neil eventually left the troop, and so did I over another incident of cluelessness. This is why I’m a bit sensitive to accusations like “talked back”… It often means a Scout stood up for himself. “Foul language” is another one that may or may not be real… I’ve actually had parents write to me aghast that Scout songs include such awful words as “darn,” “heck,” and “gosh” (yeah, I’m serious—That really happened). Anyway, I think my Rule No. 1 applies in way too many situations.

Dear Andy,

Several years ago I saw information from the BSA national office on the need and importance of a Unit Commissioner to be assigned to a newly organized unit and to stay with that unit for at least two years. The information also gave statistics of new units failing after some set amount of time without the direct assistance of a Commissioner. I’m contacting you because, well, I just can’t locate that statistic. If you’re aware of percentages, could you please let me know? (Bill Yoder, Mason-Dixon Council, MD)

The statistic included in the new-unit commissioner training is 67% failure rate in the first three years.

Dear Andy,

This morning I received a message from a council representative concerning the “Fundraising Application” portion of the new Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook.” Here’s an excerpt from that message: “If the Scout will be doing any fundraising or soliciting for donations from people or businesses outside of himself, his family, his troop, the chartered organization, or the beneficiary, the new fundraising application must be completed. There are three signatures needed: The unit leader, the beneficiary, and the council.” The message further stated that the council signature must be that of the Program Director.

It seems to me that there’s a lot of attention and focus being placed on the fundraising application—maybe a lot more than in the past? Any idea why? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’ll find the explanation on the very next page of the packet: 18. As for obtaining the “council signature” from the “Program Director,” this isn’t a BSA national office stipulation, so you’ll need to ask your council’s advancement committee chair why this particular position was chosen. (BTW, one of the points that this description and procedure makes very clear, that’s often been “muddy” in the past, is that the funds being raised are on behalf of the recipient of the service and not for the BSA, the council, troop, or the Scout.)

Dear Andy,

I’ve looked and looked, but can’t seem to find any information addressing this issue… In general, I believe it’s best for a Scout to fulfill rank requirements as they come up in the “Trail to First Class” and merit badges should be worked on separately. However, one Scout dad brought up that if his son can complete the Swimming merit badge he can clearly complete the Second Class and First Class rank requirements. Does the BSA have an official position, or a guideline, on this issue? (This may be acceptable for swimming, but not for cooking, as specific tasks are required in cooking.) (Mahir Agha, ASM, Monterey Bay Area Council, CA)

Once he’s received his “Scout” badge, a Scout may work on any of the requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, or First Class ranks in any order (although his Scoutmaster’s conferences and boards of review must ultimately be done in appropriate sequence). Merit badges are, essentially, “elective,” and any Scout may conference with his Scoutmaster on what he’d like to pursue, contact a Merit Badge Counselor, and work toward completing any merit badge, at any time. It’s quite rare that one or more merit badge requirements will be exact matches for any of the requirements for rank advancement. Aquatics-related merit badges are the rare exception, for reasons of both safety and competency. The Second Class and First Class “swim test” requirements are indeed duplicated in Swimming (req. 3), Lifesaving (req. 1), Small-Boat Sailing (req. 2), Rowing (req. 3), and Canoeing (req. 3); however, it would be foolhardy to not complete the Second Class and First Class swim tests in anticipation of working toward any of these merit badges. Better to complete these rank-related requirements and then use these completions as demonstrations of in-water competency when working on the merit badges.

As for that dad, it’s important to have a separate conference with him, explaining that, in Boy Scouting (unlike Cub Scouting), the Scout—not the parent—directs his own advancement.

Dear Andy,

I’ve heard differing opinions on this: Scouts are not allowed to carry sheath knifes but it’s allowed for adults. On a related issue, is it OK for adults to carry pepper spray on camp-outs? (Name & Council Withheld)

The BSA’s GTSS recommends against, but does not forbid, sheath, or non-folding, knives. For anyone to set up a “have’s-and-have-not” situation between adults and youth suggests a meanness of intent if not character: It’s a not-so-subtle way of saying “We’re privileged and you’re not.” I don’t like this; in fact, I think it stinks.

Pepper spray? What for? This is just plain silly. Dangerous, too.

Dear Andy,

I’m not trying to be a square knot cop but I have two questions about what I’ve seen and/or been told. The first is about religious award knots worn by adults. There’s one for youth (earned) and one for adults (by nomination), but I’ve seen adults who didn’t receive the religious emblem as a Scout wearing both knots because, as it was explained to me, they’d received more than one religious recognition as an adult volunteer so they were “allowed” to wear the youth knot as the “second” religious recognition. The other is also about two knots… I’ve seen a Scout Executive wearing two Eagle Scout knots: One was the normal Eagle square knot and the second was the NESA Life Member knot. Proper or knot? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Thanks for your never-ending advice to us all! (Greg Carr, DC, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

I’m guessing you already know the answers to both questions… In the first place, the BSA policy on “duplicate” knots is that they’re not to be worn (that’s why there are those little brass “devices” that we place on knots that represent more than one accomplishment (e.g., the “Scouter’s Key” knot can have devices worn on it for Boy Scout leader, Commissioner, District Committee member, etc.). In the case of the religious knots, if the youth religious emblem wasn’t earned, then quite obviously its knot shouldn’t be worn, and there are no BSA exceptions to this. If a Scouter has received more than one recognition as an adult, then pinning two or more appropriate devices on the adult knot wouldn’t be out of line at all. As for wearing two Eagle square knots, even NESA explains that the Life Member special-border knot replaces the original and is definitely not work in addition to it.

That said, it would be more than inappropriate for anyone to attempt to “correct” these relatively minor “infractions”– It won’t change anything and will only serve to annoy the wearer (see my Rule No. 3).

Dear Andy,

My dad and I were looking at old patrol emblems… The ones that are black, on red backgrounds, with “BSA” on the bottom. Can we still wear these old patrol patches if I can get enough for everyone in my patrol? (Dylan Callaway)

Absolutely! And, the courteous thing to do would be to have a conversation with your Senior Patrol Leader and Scoutmaster first.

Dear Andy,

At a recent fund-raiser at our church, our Scoutmaster, with the help of some Scouts, set up a temporary canopy. But they didn’t tether it down. It got picked up by a gust of wind and damaged a vehicle. So now who pays for the damages? (Name & Council Withheld)

The Scoutmaster, being the adult in charge, is likely the one whose personal liability insurance would pick up the cost of repairing the damage. The BSA liability insurance is typically the last insurance to kick in, after all insurances preceding it are exhausted. That said, do understand that I’m not a risk management expert, so the Scoutmaster should definitely check with your council’s risk management committee. That said, what he does need to do first is contact the owner of the damaged vehicle!

Dear Andy,

Is there a limit to how many times a Scout can consecutively serve as Troop Historian? (Name & Council Withheld)

The BSA itself sets no rules or policies on consecutive or repeated non-consecutive tenures for any Scout position of responsibility, elected or appointed. This is at the discretion of the troop.

Dear Andy,

Hi my son just earned his Tiger Cub rank. I noticed that there are 100 “paw prints” for electives in the back of the Tiger Cub book, but there are only 50 electives. How many elective beads can a Tiger earn? Are their more electives listed somewhere else? (Kenny Mike, Scout Dad, Mad River Council, CT)

Turn to page 78 of your son’s TIGER CUB HANDBOOK, and you’ll notice that it says a boy can complete an elective and receive credit for it more than once.

Dear Andy,

In starting up our new troop, I’m doing the things you suggested the last time I wrote to you. Now, I have a couple of more questions… For instance, I’ve been told that a Scout can work on the requirements for more than one rank at a time (for example, Tenderfoot and Second Class requirements). Is that true? Also, I’m told that since we’re just starting out and since we only have one patrol, consisting of the Senior Patrol Leader and six more Scouts, we should rotate the Scouts through the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leader positions once a month until every Scout has had a chance to lead. It seems to me that this wouldn’t really give us ample time to train the Scouts on what they need to do in those positions, plus, we have the complication that the Scouts currently in these positions were voted there by their peers. Do we make an exception to that because this is a new troop? (The same person said that, as far as a Patrol Leaders Council, we should have all the Scouts there this year instead of just the SPL and PL, for the same reason—that we’re new and have only one patrol.) What’s the right thing to do in a situation like ours? (Jason McClure)

First let’s clear this up: You don’t have to be “told” by anyone… You can read in the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, the BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book, and the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK that it’s perfectly OK for a Scout to complete various requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks based on his own participation and initiative, as opportunities present themselves. Of course, his Scoutmaster conferences and subsequent boards of review need to be in the proper order, but even these can be on the same date so long as they follow the proper sequence.

In a troop with a single patrol, there’s no point to having a Senior Patrol Leader; a Patrol leader will suffice because with a single patrol the SPL has nothing to do. Plus, there’s no way to play inter-patrol games with only one patrol. So you need to immediately “disband” this patrol and ask the Scouts (excluding only the elected Senior Patrol Leader) to create amongst themselves two patrols of three scouts each. Now, they can each elect their own Patrol Leader. Which means you can take six months to train the PLs and the SPL before the next troop-wide election. Moreover, with patrols of three each, there’s room for each patrol to grow, when the Scouts invite their friends to come to troop meeting and outings and—ultimately—to join up!

To form the two patrols, simply ask the Scouts to divide themselves into two groups of three Scouts each, however they prefer. Once they’ve done this, they each elect a Patrol Leader and each PL selects his Assistant Patrol Leader. Make the terms for each no longer than six months.

The Patrol Leaders Council is absolutely not all the Scouts; it’s comprised of the PLs only, with the SPL as the “chair” of their meetings. The PLs are there to represent the interests of the other Scouts in their respective patrols.

These are the right things to do. Anything else isn’t Scouting, simple as that! If you start off on the wrong foot, only to correct and get it right later on, it’ll be painful and likely unsuccessful. The Patrol Method is the only way this troop will get itself off the ground and become a magnet for new boys to join up.

Finally, whoever is “advising” you needs to be disregarded and asked to stop all further “advice,” because so far it’s completely wrong.

Dear Andy,

Our troop has a patrol of Scouts in the 11-12 year-old age range. So far, there have been two elections for positions. My son was elected Assistant Patrol Leader the first time, and Patrol Leader the second time. He wants to run for Patrol Leader again. He’s very good at it and enjoys it, but he was told that he can’t run for a position again because there are other Scouts who are interested. Is there a rule that says he can only run once, or twice, or should his patrol be able to make that choice with their votes? (Name & Council Withheld)

Well in the first place, that troop’s a little bit off Scouting’s True North… Assistant Patrol Leaders, according to the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, are appointed by the Patrol Leader, who is himself elected by his patrol. While there’s nothing “official” by the BSA about being elected for one term only or for more than one term as Patrol Leader or Senior Patrol Leader (these are the two elected positions in a troop; all other positions are appointed by the Senior Patrol Leader with the Scoutmaster’s guidance except for APL, which, as I just mentioned, is appointed by the PL), your son may be better off in the long run by considering another position of responsibility with the troop. He might want to have a conversation with the Senior Patrol Leader about being an Instructor or Troop Guide, or even perhaps an Assistant Senior Patrol Leader. There are lots of other positions, too, which your son can read up on in his BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, and this would be an excellent time to start spreading his wings even further when he finds an area of responsibility he’d like to try (like Webmaster, maybe, or even Den Chief).

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. 295 – 3/6/2012 – 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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