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Issue 301 – April 5, 2012

Rule No. 67:

  • “No” and “Let me think about that” have identical meanings.

Dear Andy,

I’m a pretty new-out-of-the-box Assistant Scoutmaster for a troop that’s been around for some seven decades, with a Scoutmaster who acts like he’s been around even longer.  I’ve done my “Scouter’s homework” and feel pretty confident that I’m up on how things are supposed to be done, but among the things that puzzle me is why only committee members can sit on boards of review, and not Scoutmasters or Assistant Scoutmasters.  The guy wearing the Scoutmaster hat in this troop must feel the same way; whenever a board of review comes up, he just gets a bunch of adults—me and other ASMs, parents, whatever—and tells us to go do the review.  I’ve asked him a couple of times about why we do it this way when the BSA literature says otherwise, and his answer’s been pretty much the same both times: “Just go do the review.  Nobody at ‘council’ checks, anyway, and we need to get these done.”  I’m feeling sort of uncomfortable about this, but it does seem pretty harmless, and the Scoutmaster’s also on the council executive board, so he must know what’s right.  But is this really OK? (Name & Council Withheld)

It’s absolutely not “OK” to deviate from a stated BSA policy…even when it’s unlikely that you’ll get “caught.”  To do so because you figure it’s unlikely that you’ll be “caught” is reprehensible.  So much for “Scout’s Honor.”  This is exactly the kind of miscreant that needs to be busted, and have his sorry butt kicked out of the troop and the council, and into the middle of next week.  If you get my drift…

Meanwhile, you may be interested in what Matt Culbertson, member of the BSA national advancement committee advisory panel, has to say about what that board of review policy is in place (and why it’s an act of at least stupidity to ignore it):

Hi Andy!  Let’s address the “why” of that policy… One of the key purposes of boards of review is to assess how the troop is doing from the viewpoint of the Scout.   Typically, committee members have little if any interaction with Scouts, unlike the weekly meetings that include the Scoutmaster and any ASMs.  Thus boards of review provide the Committee Chair and committee members with feedback directly from the “end-customers” on how well the troop’s Scouting program is really working.  This can provide further valuable (although largely anonymous, in the event of negatives, obviously) feedback to the troop’s direct contact adult volunteers on the quality of the week-to-week and weekend program content to which they provide oversight, from the perspective of the Scouts.  This policy also provides Scouts with opportunities for additional adult interactions. (BTW, drives me nuts when folks say they’ll do what they want because no one will catch them.  Nice ethics and values message there!  Maybe we should go back to the district- and council-run boards of review for all ranks, like the days of yore!  

And let’s add one further thought, for those who complain, “I can’t get anybody to volunteer for the troop committee!”… This procedure provides a solid incentive to be a committee member instead of yet one more standing-on-the-sidelines ASM, because committee members get to see the end-results of the BSA advancement plan!

Dear Andy,

The BSA’s ADMINISTRATION OF COMMISSIONER SERVICE fieldbook states that Unit Commissioners can’t be registered as unit leaders.  Can you define unit leaders for me?  My take is that this would include Scoutmasters, Assistant Scoutmasters, Cubmasters, and Assistant Cubmasters.  The PowerPoint presentation on “District Commissioner Basics” (MCS 409) shows these four positions, only, as being excluded from Unit Commissioner assignment.  Also, can a UC assigned to Pack “A” also be a Committee Chair (or committee member) in Troop “B”?  Last one… Can a Commissioner be assigned to a troop that he was a Scoutmaster of, at some time in the past? (Don Wiater, DC, Bucks County Council, PA)

Let’s start here… COMMISSIONER FIELDBOOK FOR UNIT SERVICE (p.23): “Commissioners must not be registered as unit leaders… Although some commissioners may be registered on a unit committee…their principle Scouting obligation must be with commissioner responsibilities.”  So, as you can see, this applies to more than just unit-level Commissioners; it applies to all Commissioners.

On your further questions…

“Unit Leader” refers to, essentially, uniformed, direct-contact adult volunteers: Scoutmasters, Cubmasters, and their assistants, obviously, but in keeping with the principle should probably include Den Leaders, too (for pretty obvious practical reasons, despite their not being specifically mentioned—but this part is my own personal thought, having been a DC; it’s not a stated BSA policy).

The BSA makes no similar stipulations for unit committee members (including chairs, who are still committee members, of course).

Finally, we’re taking about contemporaneous positions; a Commissioner having held but no longer holding a unit leader position would be a “wash.”

Hi Andy,

When it comes to “movies for Scouts,” don’t forget the oldies but goodies, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”! (AT Ballenger, SC)

Yup, those are classics, and definitely make their point, too!  Except for “Follow Me, Boys!” I try to stick with more current options, for today’s young audience.

Dear Andy,

On movies about individuals or groups bringing about change in a community, may I also suggest “Invictus” and “Radio.”  While both deal with race issues, they’re both heartwarming true stories that have many different nuggets of wisdom and inspiration for any viewer, Scout or not. (Christopher Boix, ASM, Connecticut Rivers Council)

Both good suggestions, and I’ll add them to the list.  Also consider “Remember The Titans” and “We Are Marshall” in the sports genre.

I also just watched “Secretariat,” a Disney movie that’s definitely not a happy-family-feel-good.  It’s real, gritty, serious, and not only shows a model of steadfastness of purpose but shows what happens when we stand up to bullies and refuse to be stepped on.

Dear Andy,

We have a new troop Chaplain who is very energized about this role.  He’s doing a great job, and incorporating new ideas into our troop, but perhaps because of his new-found his zeal, he’s presenting more of his own faith-based tenets than remaining “denomination-neutral” to include all Scouts’ faiths.  Any thoughts on how to address this matter? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s start by checking with the BSA.  The duties of the Chaplain are described on page 17 of the TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK.  No more; no less.  Proselytizing is not a part of these duties; this must be made very clear by the troop’s Committee Chair.  The BSA is very clear on the point that we are to be nonsectarian and nondenominational; any inroads in this direction must be terminated immediately. (This is, for example, why the “Scout benediction” refers to “The Great Scoutmaster of all Scouts,” and not Thor, Allah, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammed, Mithras, Zeus, etc.)  All faiths—organized and otherwise—must be acknowledged; there is no alternative to this; there is no “wiggle room.”  If this person cannot follow these principles he must be asked to find another area of responsibility.

Now this doesn’t mean that we can’t ever go to a religious institution or event; for instance, on Scout Sunday/Sabbath, there’s no reason why the entire troop shouldn’t all attend a single service/mass/gathering together (especially if a religious institution is your sponsor!).

(My own troop, “back in the day,” was sponsored by a Presbyterian Church.  After the Scout Sunday service there, we’d gather, by patrols, in the courtyard, for brief conversations… While some of the Scouts were likewise Presbyterian, others were Jewish, Baptist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and even Hindu and Buddhist.  The conversations were lively and smart; the Scouts compared and contrasted their own faiths with what they’d just experienced, and all came away understanding more than they had before.  I’d call this a positive and winning experience for all!)

Dear Andy,

About how long would it typically take to plan an Eagle ceremony, after the Eagle board of review? (Mike bowman, SM)

Unless we’re talking about a brand-new troop, an Eagle court of honor would, I’d hope, have a fairly standard “template”—they’re not all that terribly complicated.  That said, my own personal preference is to not have courts of honor for Eagles only, because they often put undue burdens on both the troop’s volunteers and parents but on the Scouts as well.  Case in point, I’m currently the Commissioner for a troop with four new Eagles, and each one is having a separate event, each scheduled about a week away from the others, in addition to regular troop meetings and outings and separate from their “regular” courts of honor (for all other ranks, merit badges, etc.).  It strikes me that the best courts of honor include all ranks, from Tenderfoot through Eagle and Palms, so that all parents and all Scouts can see the entire “trail to Eagle,” beginning with the Scout badge and including all six ranks plus palms as earned.  Let’s face it, to expect an entire troop and all parents to show up, and turn the Eagle ceremony into a virtual “coronation” is, to my mind, more burdensome than celebratory.  But that’s me.

Dear Andy,

During the majority of our district’s Roundtables, some Scouters prefer to stand in the rear and kitchen area of the meeting room.  We have no problem with them standing; it’s the conversations that start off as a light buzzing sound but grow into noisy competition with the presenters that’s the problem.

As Roundtable Commissioner, I’ve tried slowly milling around the room, to gently and quietly “shush” this.  Our District Commissioner has also done this.  But it seems that these attempts at a “fix” last only a few minutes.  We have discreetly asked these folks to stand outside to have their conversations, and we’ve had one-on-one conversations with the “repeat offenders” before the meeting, but each month it starts in again, as if they have no clue they’re disrupting the meeting.

We understand that they’re coming to the Roundtables to see their friends and catch up, but speaking while the Scouter or guest is presenting is, in my opinion, disrespectful.  Do you have any ideas on how to permanently stop this habit? (Suzanne Johnson)

Yup, I’m more than a little familiar with this type of behavior (if not disregard) at RTs.  Can’t fight fire with fire, remember; we need to fight fire with water!  So, close off the kitchen area and run the chairs right up to the back wall, leaving no space at the back of the room for “klatches.”  Second, make your RT sessions interactive, with questions by the speaker to anyone who’s carrying on side conversations.  Third, use the Scout sign or Cub Scout sign, depending on the session, without ever using the words, “sign’s up,” and remain so until everyone in the room gets what’s going on.  Fourth—and this one’s critical—when voices at the back or sides start to get louder, the speaker at the front of the room lowers his or her voice, right to the point where it’s difficult to hear above the yakking in the back, and let the audience self-discipline those who’ve gone wayward.  Finally, publish an agenda that lets everyone know there will be “cracker barrel time” near the end of the meeting, where folks can mingle and chat amongst themselves— In other words, create a specific time for them to do what they like doing: Build camaraderie and friendships and catch up on personal news.

Now don’t be tempted to “cherry-pick” from these… do ’em all, for maximum success!

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for some guidance, preferably BSA national guidelines and procedures, concerning integrating special needs Scouts into a troop.  Presently, we have six special needs Scouts in our troop.  Our scoutmaster has all these Scouts in one patrol with a few other Scouts.  I feel the special needs Scouts should be integrated into the two other patrols as well. (Darren Johnson)

The BSA used to publish a booklet titled A GUIDE TO WORKING WITH BOY SCOUTS WITH DISABILITIES (No. 33056C – $2.00), so I’d recommend tracking it down and starting there. If having all the challenged Scouts in a single patrol (which, by the way, is too large, as you’ve described it—better when patrol size is six) is working, best to let it alone.  However, if it’s not, then yes, it’s often infinitely better to integrate challenged Scouts one-by-one into a variety of patrols.  This has to be a call at the troop level, and maybe input and final decision by the Patrol Leaders Council is your best option. (Rule No. 4: When in doubt, ask the Scout!)

Dear Andy,

We have Scoutmaster conferences and boards of review by committee members for the Scouts so we can to ask them questions, and they can ask us questions, so we can make sure they’re enjoying Scouting and to make sure they’re safe and our Scoutmaster and PLC are keeping them involved.  But I have not found where we do this same thing with our adult leaders and other troop volunteers.  I was talking with our D.E. and he suggested we do this: Have reviews with our leaders to make sure they’re OK, doing what they’re there to do, and maybe get their perspectives on the program and where they see themselves next year, and so on.  Are you aware of any programs that the BSA or other troops may have, that would support this idea?  These wouldn’t be reviews like you’d have in the workplace for promotions or raises, but a time for scoutmasters and ASMs to be up-front and honest with their interests and feelings without being judged.  Does this make any sense?  I’d appreciate your insights or thoughts on this. (Larry O’Neal, SM, NC)

While don’t have personal experience with your idea, I like it a lot!  I’m seeing it more as a series of one-on-ones: Committee Chair with Scoutmaster, Scoutmaster separately with each ASM, Committee Chair separately with each committee member, and so on.  Nothing strictly formalized; rather, a periodic way of getting barometer readings on satisfaction levels and maybe suggestions for delivering an even better program to the youth we’re all here for.  It’s also something Unit Commissioners can do regularly with each Committee Chair and unit leader!  Sorta like what we do at home… “Hey, son, how’s it going at school?” kinda thing.  (If you decide to go ahead with this, I’m sure our readers would be interested in what you all learn!)

Dear Andy,

I’m wondering why there’s no “color guard” patch for Scouts.  I’ve been troop color guard for a year and a half, along with three other Scouts.  There should be a patch for active color guard duty for six months, like the regular Patrol Leader and APL, Webmaster, Librarian, etc., where they can wear a patch on their sleeves. (First Class Scout, Mt Diablo-Silverado Council, CA)

I’m guessing there’s no specific patch for this because most troops rotate which Scouts act as color guards, meeting by meeting.  Honestly, I’m not aware of any troops (and I’ve seen lots of them) that have the same designated Scouts to be the color guard, week after week, for a whole year or more.  It’s an interesting idea, but let’s face it… In an average troop meeting, maybe it takes two or three minutes?

But you still might want to suggest to your Senior Patrol Leader and Scoutmaster that maybe you could wear a special arm-band or something similar while you’re performing your color guard responsibilities.

As a First Class Scout, you’re sure ready for a more active leadership position in your troop—Patrol Leader, Troop Guide, and more—and I hope you’re interested in these, too!  Stay on the Scouting trail, and have fun while you’re at 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. 301 – 4/5/2012 – 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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