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Issue 297 – March 13, 2012

Rule No. 64:
• The length and complexity of PowerPoint presentations are most often in inverse proportion to their value.

Dear Andy,

I just read your column about the unit with adults “allowed” able to carry sheath knives and pepper spray without the Scouts being able to do either. Left me somewhat speechless. About the only time anyone would ever need to carry pepper spray would be deep in bear country, and even then it’s about number 32 in my Top 10 list of things that Scouts need to do to be safe. There are lots of black bears down here in Georgia and the only real hazard is slipping when you step in the bear scat. Something is seriously wrong with that unit! (Rob Harrison, CC, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

Boyoboy, that’s a step in the right direction! Scary stuff, Huh!

Dear Andy,

Is a boy allowed to be registered in a troop and a crew at the same time? I thought the answer was no, but every Commissioner I’ve spoken to says there’s no problem. If I’m right and it’s not allowed, please tell me exactly where it says this. I’ve just recently been recruited to be a UC and haven’t even yet had the basic training, so I have no clue where to begin to search for this, nor do I want to appear argumentative as a new guy. Of course, if I’m wrong I’ll just smile and keep quiet. (Michael Badger, Buffalo Trace Council, IN)

Smile and keep quiet. It’s absolutely OK for a young man to be registered in, and participate with, both a Boy Scout troop and a Venturing crew. In fact, this is encouraged.

Hi Andy,

Where does a Scout wear the Outdoorsman Award? Also, where does it say what you can wear above your right pocket? (J.M. Shaffer, National Capital Area Council, MD)

Centered on the right pocket. The BSA Uniform Inspection Sheet (you can use any search engine to find it) tells us that Interpreter strips (if any) and one Jamboree badge are worn above the right pocket—that’s all.

Dear Andy,

What are you thoughts on new Scouts who just crossed over into our troop getting 2011 JTE patches to wear? They weren’t in the troop when we earned the award, but they’re part of it now. I see both sides of the issue but just to be clear, it’s not about the cost of the patches. (Kyle Riel, SM, Voyageurs Area Council, MN)

Let’s keep in mind that it’s the troop, not the Scouts, that earns the JTE bronze, silver, or gold-level JTE award. Therefore, definitely give your newest Scouts the badge for their right sleeve, and reinforce to them, and their parents too, that their sons are joining a top-level troop! (Be sure folks know where it’s to be sewn on!)

Dear Andy,

What should a unit do about what I’ll call “generic” committee members? That is, they don’t have a specific title, like secretary, treasurer, or advancement coordinator. We just got a bunch of new Scouts who crossed over, and I’m starting to get questions from parents about signing on as volunteers, but right now all the standard committee positions are filled. On the other hand, we need to look to the future. To complicate things further, the BSA’s training requirements mean that simply volunteering isn’t enough; training must be taken in order to register. As far as I know, the BSA doesn’t have a generic “adult volunteer” position; only Scoutmaster, Assistant SM, Committee Chair, Committee Member, and Merit Badge Counselor. I’d like to avoid the “at-large” way of handling committee members so that we can avoid personality clashes and also so we don’t have people with no specific responsibilities simply showing up to throw their weight around. Any advice? (Name & Council Withheld)

How about we first clear the deck of Merit Badge Counselors: These aren’t troop-level positions; they’re council-level positions. MBCs may be recommended to a district’s or a council’s advancement committee, and that committee will accept the application and vet the applicant—not the troop. In short, MBC is not a troop position.

The TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK points out (page 14) that there’s no maximum limit to the number of registered committee members a troop may have. We know that the minimum number to charter the troop and maintain its charter is three, and we also know that key positions include the Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Outdoor/Activities Coordinator, Advancement Coordinator, Chaplain, (Adult) Training Coordinator, Equipment Coordinator, and Membership Coordinator. That’s nine. But there can be more, including Transportation Coordinator, Court of Honor Coordinator, Publicity Coordinator, and assistants (understudies, actually) to the first seven (or more). The fundamental idea is that everyone has a specific responsibility: There are no “members-at-large” (this eliminates folks who, as you’ve noted, like to throw their weight around but have nothing they’re directly accountable for). One “carrot” to dangle, to encourage folks to sign on, is that they get to sit on at least six different kinds of boards of review.

If you have more folks wanting to step up than the responsibilities I’ve mentioned, that’s absolutely wonderful (and pretty rare!). Just find out what they’d like to do and, if it makes sense, add ’em into the mix.

Be open-minded and creative; I’m sure you can find a place for everyone!

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for clarification on who should sit on a board of review. According to the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, “Unit leaders and assistants may not serve on a board of review for a Scout in their own unit.” The guide further states that the board should consist of members of the unit committee. While I understand that the unit leader (i.e., the Scoutmaster in most cases) wouldn’t be on the board, having just completed a Scoutmaster conference with the Scout, I’m curious about why the GTA states that Assistant Scoutmasters may not sit on a board. In many units, I find that Assistant Scoutmasters may also be doubling-up, in a role on the unit committee. I also find units with so many trained adults who are registered as ASMs that there are few adults actually registered as committee members. So, to stay within the guidelines, should I suggest to my unit that we limit the number of ASMs and register more adults as committee members? Or, it appears that there’s really no record-keeping of who the adults were who sat on a board of review, so should I be thankful that I have so many ASMs willing to help and keep in mind that the GTA is just that: a guideline? (David DeVeydt, MC, Greater St. Louis Area Council, MO)

First, a troop, unless it’s absolutely huge, rarely needs more than one or two ASMs. Second, the BSA’s GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT is a book describing BSA national policies and procedures; not “guidelines” or “suggestions” or “recommendations” that can be played fast and loose with. The BSA is very specific regarding the composition of boards of review for all ranks from Tenderfoot through Life plus Eagle Palms: Registered troop committee members—no less than three nor more than six. Period. Moreover, no member of any board of review may be present if it’s his or her own son who’s being reviewed.

Further, the BSA also stipulates (see page 2 of the BSA Adult Volunteer Application) that no individual may hold more than one registered position in a Scouting unit. This policy makes it literally impossible for anyone to be simultaneously registered as both an ASM and a committee member (the only exception to this is that the person who is registered as Committee Chair [Code: MC] may also register as Chartered Organization Representative [Code: CR]). That’s it.

As far as the “no one will really know” notion is concerned: YOU ALL will know. You all will know that you’re deliberately violating a BSA policy. You’re correct that nobody’s likely to “police” what you’re doing, so it’s very simple: Do you intend to do what you’re supposed to be doing, even though no one will be looking over your shoulder, or not. To reach you decision, just ask yourself this: If a Scout came to you with a similar “dilemma,” what would your advice be?

When units get themselves in trouble and an Assistant Scoutmaster or Committee Member is thinking about trying to fix things “from the inside,” I typically advise that this will only lead to frustration and possibly rancor, and usually fail.  But, as I’ve already mentioned, every “rule” has an exception (including this one).  So here’s a success story that warmed my heart… Someone who took a virtually impossible situation and turned it inside-out.  It’s a true example of what can be accomplished when intelligent and diplomatic pressure is relentlessly applied to a problem. Read on…

Hi Andy,

I want to share with you all that’s happened since over the past six or seven weeks since we last spoke and try to give you an accounting of what I’ve done as an Assistant Scoutmaster for a troop stagnating under an absentee committee and a Scoutmaster who’d rather be out playing golf or something, instead…

The change began to take place when I took your advice and reached out to the Scoutmaster by asking him to lunch. At first he was too busy, which I knew would be his initial response. So instead I met with the only committee member that attends our troop meetings. This was a very risky way to handle things because it could easily create a contentious atmosphere among our troop’s volunteers. To my surprise, he spoke about much of what I’d found very frustrating, and then said, “You know the direction we need to go and how to get there.” I went home and created a sort of “how hard can I push” plan.

My first goal was to get a troop flag. A troop in existence for over two years without a troop flag: not good, because the identity of a troop is important and a flag plays a role in this. The Scoutmaster acted as though this was a difficult matter, but eventually told me I could order it. So I did and we now have it (and I was even reimbursed by our sponsor!).

My next step was to test the financial support waters even further. I felt that if the sponsor wasn’t willing to financially invest in the troop then their support was limited and headed toward failure rather than success. I knew from reading the sponsor’s bylaws that they weren’t big supporters of fund-raisers, but would rather support a troop through their own financing. So I approached the Scoutmaster about getting some troop gear (even after two years, we had nothing to support the Scouts on camping trips). The money gained from our one-time popcorn sales will be used for summer camp fees, but not gear. So I asked the Scoutmaster what he thought about tents for the Scouts, and he liked the idea. So he asked me if I’d be willing to write a letter to the Committee Chair outlining every specific regarding the tents, and I spent the next three days researching tents and then wrote the letter. After no action for about a month, I wrote a second letter. That one did it, and we had approval to buy tents (which I promptly did). OK, so we now have tents for camping, but these are gear only; they’re not what ultimately makes a Boy Scout program work.

The next thing was our annual council-sponsored cold-weather camping/training weekend. I saw this as a great opportunity to get our Scouts involved with other troops in the council. When I suggested to the Scoutmaster that we do this, he immediately hesitated, saying that we could accomplish the same thing here without having to drive a bunch of miles round-trip. I responded that it would be a great experience for our Scouts followed up by telling him that I’m going, no matter what. This one event would tell me a lot about the commitment and dedication of our troop’s adult leadership, so I had to push. The Scoutmaster finally relented, but wasn’t sure if he could go, himself. I acted as event leader and prepared all the necessary paperwork, arranged for the transportation, and all of the other details. At the next meeting prior to the trip the Scoutmaster got to see our Scouts so full of enthusiasm and exuberance that he announced that he’d be going, too. Now the good part about this was that the sponsor gave financial support in the form of gas money. The first evening of winter camping, when we all met for a cracker-barrel at the Scout lodge, our Scoutmaster told me, “This was worth it!” I thought, of course it is: fun, laughter, Scouts everywhere, even while camping in temperatures of some 50 degrees below! Something was beginning to change at this point!

OK now the real focus: how to implement a real Scouting program. As an Assistant Scoutmaster I only have so much pull, and had to find a way to do this by gaining support and not offending anyone. By this time I felt that I’d gained the respect of the other men involved with the troop, and must act accordingly.

Our troop was in total disarray. We have a strong Senior Patrol Leader, but he’s had no training. We have two patrols in name only and the Scouts really don’t remember what their patrol names are. Bottom line: We have no patrol or even troop structure. It was crystal clear: start all over again! It was time for me to take the big leap, so I suggested to the Scoutmaster that I’d like to restructure the troop according to the BSA program. I outlined my suggested changes with a brief time-line for completion, and communicated to him that the end result would be Scouts led by Scouts under the guidance of an adult who would be himself guided by the BSA program and training. Wow! He bought-in!

I immediately prepared for the next troop meeting. Change is sometimes met with trepidation and even anger, so I had to be very sensitive to the Scouts and how they saw themselves within the old troop structure. When the meeting started, the Scoutmaster spoke with the SPL, and the SPL turned the meeting over to me. The Scouts were very receptive to the new plan, and we spent the rest of the meeting restructuring. Two new patrols were formed, elections took place, each with a new name, and we ordered their new patrol emblems. The SPL choose his first ASPL, and they were informed that their positions stand outside the patrols. Meanwhile, each patrol began designing their patrol flag. I took aside the two Patrol Leaders, ASPL, and the SPL, and explained to them what a Patrol Leaders Council is. We ordered Patrol Leader handbooks. We even have a Scout that wants to be the troop bugler!

We now have two solid patrols of five (not the best number but very doable) Scouts each and a troop led by a good Senior Patrol Leader. Leadership training will need to happen soon, and remain ongoing, but for the time being I think we’re well on track. When the Patrol Leaders Council met for the first time, I gave them brief instruction and then turned it over to them. Twenty minutes later the Scouts adjourned from their meeting and the SPL went straight to the Scoutmaster and informed him that the Scouts wanted to go on a swimming trip so they could work on their Second and First Class swimming requirements. You guessed it: The Scouts went swimming and advancement is now at a fever pitch. The Scoutmaster and the Scouts are already looking forward to the next swimming trip.

I informed the SPL that I had made a six-month troop event calendar, which I presented to the Scoutmaster, telling him that its’ only filled in with council events and that the PLC, the Scoutmaster, and I should get together and plug in our own troop events for the next six months. I know that in the ideal Scouting program this is not quite how to do things, but since we have no working troop committee (yet!) we must take it upon ourselves to adapt, plan, and move ahead.

The PLC met again last week and presented the Scoutmaster with a request for a winter campout about 16 miles out of town at a real nice location. Looks like the Scouts are going camping in about two weeks—this will be their first opportunity to practice their skills in real Patrol Method fashion. The Scouts took it upon themselves to have the PLC meeting to pick the time and place for the campout. After the SPL presented the request to the Scoutmaster, he asked me if I had anything to do with it. “No, I replied, “It looks like Scouts leading Scouts, and we’d better be there to give proper direction.”

Well, it’s been a lot of work, but I feel much better about the future of our troop. The Scouts are enthusiastic and the adult leaders’ heads are spinning! Yep, we actually are starting to look like a Boy Scout troop! (Name & Council Withheld)

And that’s a wrap, Folks —

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to me at 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. 297 – 3/13/2012 – 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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