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Issue 306 – April 30, 2012

Rule No. 72:
• The BSA trainer’s motto: “Look Prepared.”
Dear Andy,

Some of the finest leaders in Scouting are female, and we want to find more! I’m a male District Commissioner; one of our district’s best Unit Commissioners is female, and together we’re trying to create a course for this fall’s University of Scouting. Our idea is that it would be created by, led by, and for the benefit of female Scouters (or those who might be, if encouraged).

We’re going to call this session “Camping with FLO” (“Female Leaders Outdoors”). We want to educate people on the many roles women can play in Scouting, the leadership positions they can consider (including UCs!), and strategies for facing uber-male egos, stereotypes, and the like. Ultimately, this would lead to an outdoor “Camping with FLO” event the following spring, where women leaders who don’t yet have outdoor skills can acquire them.

Are you aware of any existing courses or curricula that we could borrow, or any advice to offer us while we’re in the planning stages? (Eric Hoadley, DC, William D. Boyce Council, OH)

Scouters, Eric’s given me permission to publish his email address ( so if you have anything you can share with him, go ahead and write to him directly!
Dear Andy,

You recently had a question about a troop buying an AED for campouts. I agree that an AED is not practical for camping. If they do want to spend some money on safety, I’d recommend a satellite phone. Reliable communication is good in all sorts of emergencies, whether medical or search-and-rescue. Also, they could hold a unit training session on wilderness first aid (anyone over age 14 can take it). For our troop, this is one of our Philmont trek shakedown activities. (Walter Underwood, ASM, Pacific Skyline Council, CA)

Thanks! Those are all good ideas.
Dear Andy,

Our 19-year old Eagle Scout son, handicapped, is working at our council camp this summer. Usually, one would wear full uniform at flag-raising and –lowering ceremonies, but he has mega-trouble with shirt buttons. What alternatives are there? And why does the BSA’s website not mention handicaps anywhere on it? Leaders and merit badge counselors need guidance from this website! (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m happy to advise you that the BSA website does, in fact, specifically address disabilities. Go to SCOUTING FOR YOUTH WITH DISABILITIES MANUAL ( In addition, there’s a merit badge for Scouts themselves on this very subject: DISABILITIES AWARENESS. Further, the BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book has a special section on advancement for Scouts with disabilities.

As for dealing with his Scout uniform shirt, have you considered replacing the buttons with Velcro? This can be accomplished at a reasonable price by most tailors and seamstresses, if not done at home. Remove the buttons from the right side, attach the Velcro strips under the edge of the left front panel and atop the edge of the right front panel, and then sew the buttons on the outside of the left side, directly over the buttonholes. If this isn’t affordable or practical, your son may want to have a personal conversation with the Camp Director who hired him, so that they can reach a decision that will work for your son and also for the camp (Camp Directors are pretty savvy and “Scout-sensitive” folks!).

But most important, thanks for supporting your son and encouraging him to continue his Scouting journey!
Dear Andy,

I should know this being that I’m retired military, but they tell me that the Flag Display Code don’t apply to this situation because we’re talking about a troop gateway. My question: If I’m standing outside the troop-site facing the gateway, on which side would the America Flag be? Would it be to my (the viewer’s) right, or to my left? My council is telling me that it should be to my right, but the Flag Code (as I understand it ) says should be to my left because no flags can be on the left of the U.S. Flag when you’re facing it. Please, can you get me the correct information about this, so I can talk to the council people and we can get this right? (Name Withheld, Central Florida Council)

Let’s begin with expressions used in theater productions: “stage left/right” and “house left/right.” If a person or prop is “stage right” this means that, from the stage looking toward the audience, the person or object is to the right. Simultaneously, anything that’s “stage right” is “house left”—it’s to the left when looking from the audience area to the stage. OK, now here we go…

The U.S. Flag, when presented from a stage, or the front of an entrance or gateway, is always to its own right (“stage right”), so someone facing the entrance or gateway will see the U.S. Flag on the left (“house left”). A troop flag is always displayed to the U.S. Flag’s left (“stage left”—”house right”). For more information on this, use a search engine for “u.s. flag code.”
Dear Andy,

I’m a unit commissioner in a council that consolidated about three years ago. One of the prior councils had two districts and the other had three, so at that time we kept all five districts. But about a month ago we heard that the council had appointed a special committee to review our districts, with an eye toward redistricting. The committee was supposed to keep everything confidential, which they did, so that no one on the volunteer side except for the committee members knew anything about this—not even the District Executives, District Commissioners, or District Chairs. Then, at last month’s district committee meeting, it surfaced that there was such a committee and they were examining the idea of redistricting. Our District Executive said that everything was above-board and no decision had been made, so there was nothing to report. But one of the people on that committee was also at the district committee meeting, and commented that nothing much was really happening. Then, just last night, we found out that the committee is recommending going from five districts down to three. The same person who’d said nothing much was happening then informed us that that’s not how the last special committee meeting ended, but folks started claiming “liar”! It was as if the special committee didn’t want to hear anything the volunteers “in the trenches” had to say, as if we don’t matter. They’re now claiming that we need to “forget about tradition” and that this is “best for the Scouts.” They went on to say that this would help the District Executives, but apparently the Des weren’t asked! My own current district was a council for years, until we merged about twenty years ago. We’re a JTE “gold” district and for at least the last fifteen years we’ve had very strong volunteer leadership and solid programs for our Scouts, as well as a very strong FOS program. We’ve tried to talk with the council’s professional staff, but can’t find an ear to listen. We’re angry and frustrated, and don’t know where to turn. Any ideas? (Name & Council Withheld)

Sometimes, “stuff” happens. When it does, confusion and accusations often abound. Is there any recourse in a situation like this? Maybe not. But we do need to remember that, ultimately, our loyalties are to our home units first and, by extension, to our council. Districts are operational and administrative arms of councils, but not “entities” exclusive to themselves. (Did you know that the BSA actually has a policy prohibiting district patches?)

So is there any recourse? Possibly. Speak with your District Commissioner, who may be able to bring this issue up at a Key 3 or DCs meeting with the Council Commissioner. Also have a chat about this with your District Chair, who is a member of your council’s executive board and therefore has a “voice.”

Do also keep in mind that three districts well-managed have a 40% lower impact on a council’s future manpower budget than five, so the decision may have more to do with economies, which all volunteers would be grateful for (consider FOS!).

This isn’t to say I’m in favor of the change, or that I’m not. Sometimes, change itself is what causes folks to gnash their teeth, more than the potential benefits of the change!

I wish I could offer more, but the “supreme court” on matters like this is ultimately your council’s executive board (which, we’re reminded, is made up of volunteers just like you).

Thanks for your response .  Our Council Commissioner was one of the members of the special committee and both our District Commissioner and District Chair are fighting this. We were told there would be no addition or reduction in professional staff, so no savings there.

We all understand change but I thought in Boy Scouts honesty, transparency, and cooperation between staff and volunteers was high on the list. I guess only the Scouts need to live by the Oath and Law; not the high-level volunteers.

First, let’s recognize the difference between “secret” and “private.” I can understand your district having once been a council, but my gosh that was two decades years ago! It just might be that some folks are trying to look beyond today’s sunset. What will Scouting in your council look like ten, twenty years from now? Maybe this is the leading (right now, bleeding) edge of a longer-range plan than anyone’s presently aware of?

Of course Scouting ethics apply to all. But we all mess up communications from time to time, so maybe we need to take a deep breath and ask, “How can we make this work best for the units we serve?” After all, councils and districts exist to serve units—that’s their numero uno responsibility! Trying to shovel the water back upstream, with a pitchfork, isn’t exactly an effort headed for success!
Dear Andy,

Is a Unit permitted to require NYLT as a prerequisite to hold the position of Senior Patrol Leader? I realize we’re not permitted to make additions to rank or merit badge requirements, but do troop leadership positions fall under that policy? (Ann Babb, ASM)

Yes, the BSA informs us that troops do have the latitude to establish criteria for Senior Patrol Leader candidates, in order for them to be eligible for election. However, when a troop requires a Scout to have attended NYLT, then it needs to be prepared to provide funding for any Scout who meets NYLT eligibility criteria and wishes to attend the course. If the troop doesn’t do this, and insists that a Scout go to NYLT on his family’s pocketbook, then a “false” selection process, based on a family’s financial situation, happens, and that’s hardly a fair approach. (A very nice and highly practical alternative is to time troop elections so that the newly elected Senior Patrol Leader can be sent to NYLT by the troop. When he returns, he’ll be knowledgeable, charged up, and ready to hit the launch-pad!)
Dear Andy,

While reading Eagle Scout magazine, I saw a reference to the new Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook, so I downloaded it to see how it had changed. The first thing I noticed, and the reason I’m writing, was that the word “Leadership” had been dropped from the title of the workbook! It used to be called the “Eagle Scout Leadership Service Workbook”—a mouthful to be sure, but indicative of the purpose of the requirement. When I sit on Eagle boards of review, one of the questions I often ask the candidate it why does he think a project is required for Eagle rank. Many times, the Scout will focus on the service aspect. I then ask him to read the title on the workbook, which leads to a realization that the leadership aspect is the primary purpose for the project, and it’s great when that light bulb clicks on! So I ask you, why did they drop “Leadership” from the title of the Eagle Service Project Workbook? (Vince, Former ASM, Las Vegas Area Council, NV)

Good question! Here’s what Matt Culbertson, a member of the BSA’s Advancement Task Force has to say about it…

“The requirement is more than leadership…’Plan, Develop and give leadership to others.’ The Eagle Scout Service Project requirement involves each of the three aims of Boy Scouting. Planning and development primarily represents an exercise in personal (mental) fitness, while giving leadership works more toward character development as the Scout meets the challenge of shaping his leadership styles to the varied personalities of his helpers. He may be directing the efforts of adults, family members, friends, and Scouts both younger and older than he is, and each often requires a different approach. That the vehicle for these developmental experiences is a community service project ties in to the citizenship aim. The previous title had the effect of emphasizing leadership, which of course is important, but not more so than the other elements.

“Some have said that not including ‘leadership’ in the title means BSA doesn’t care about leadership, or that the project has been ‘dumbed down.’ When this sort of thing is alleged, I personally become concerned that somebody’s not read the pertinent material in the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. If anything, the language there, with respect to leadership, was strengthened, and that aspect of the requirement did not change.”
Dear Andy,

Our Troop is relatively new. This first year has been challenging. At time it feels like it’s a “Webelos 3” or “Webelos 4” program. The problem, mostly, is that the parents just won’t let the boys go—they want to do everything for them. The more the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair “push back,” the more the parents push the other way. Our current problem is with merit badges. We have a few parents who regularly surf the Web, looking for group-session merit badges for their sons to go to, so all of them can get the merit badges together. The Scouts themselves have no say in any of the selections—they wind up going where Mom and Dad take them! Then the parents tell our Scoutmaster that their sons are taking a trip for such-and-such merit badge and he’s expected to give the Scouts their “blue cards” for this. There are no conversations between the Scouts and the Scoutmaster—it’s the parents, saying, “Give my son his blue card.” The Scoutmaster pushes back, saying that’s not how it’s done, and that’s when the battle begins. The Scoutmaster wants to limit the number of “group” merit badges (which might help solve the problem), and the Committee Chair agrees with the Scoutmaster on this, but they’re not sure that that’s allowed. Do you think this idea can work? What would you recommend? (Name & Council Withheld)

On the merit badge situation, that’s a no-brainer: The Scoutmaster tells the parents that unless their son comes to him, personally, to discuss the merit badge and receive a counselor’s name from him, there will be no “blue card,” period. No exceptions.

But that’s not the problem; that’s merely a symptom of a much bigger problem. What these parents are doing is nothing less than keeping their sonny-boys in diapers. It must stop.

It’s time for a mandatory parents meeting, led by the Scoutmaster with the Committee Chair and entire troop committee at his back. And this absolutely must be a “come to Jesus” meeting. (I’m sending you a pretty good “Reader’s Digest” version of how a troop is supposed to operate—borrow all of it, or as much as you like. Copy it and give it to all parents.)

After the Scoutmaster’s told the parents how the troop is going to run, from now on, he needs to tell them one more thing: Any parent who interferes with this will be told to go find another troop; this one isn’t going to pass out baby bottles any longer, and if they don’t want it that way, check out right now.

Get your Unit Commissioner on board with you, so he can stand by the Scoutmaster, too (but don’t ask him to do your job for you—his is a position of support).

So stiffen your spines, gather your feet under you, and make this happen!

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. 306 – 4/30/2012 – 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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