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Issue 307 – May 6, 2012

Rule No. 73:
Learn a subject or skill so well that you can teach it; by teaching it you’ll understand it and it’ll stay with you for life.

Rule No. 74:

Commissioners: If you want to learn a unit’s greatest weakness, listen to what they brag about.

Hi Andy,

Can you let your readers know that the BSA national Advancement Team now has a “Twitter” account? We’re sending out a few “tweets” every week addressing some of the questions we’re regularly asked—another way to help Scouters understand the national advancement policies and procedures, and the rationales behind them.

Folks can follow the Advancement Team on Twitter at “@AdvBSA” or “BSA Advancement Team.”

They can also link to the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, the EAGLE SCOUT SERVICE PROJECT WORKBOOK, “Advancement News” Archives, and the Eagle Scout Rank Application at:

Thanks for your support and for being the voice of reason for so many! (Chris Hunt, Advancement Team Leader, Program Impact Department, BSA-Council Operations)

Thanks for reaching out, Chris!   Readers, check those links out!
Hello Andy,

Last year when our troop was re-organizing under new leadership, I had a question about committee membership and the duties of each member and you were able to help me with that question. I hope you will be able to help me the same way this time…

Our troop went to a summer camp last year that was out of council—one that they’d not been to before—and they loved it. We wanted to return to the same camp this year, but we weren’t able to, and we won’t be going to our own council camp for a variety of reasons. Instead, we’ll be going to the Florida Keys in June for a week-long Scuba diving trip, for the new Scuba merit badge.

We’re wondering if this Scuba trip would count as “summer camp” for the Scouts. Are there criteria for calling a camp such as we’re doing count as a “summer camp”? (Roslyn Potter)

Before I try to help here, a couple of questions… What sort of accommodations will be provided at the Scuba operation? Will it be tents? In this regard, what is it that prompts the question of, “Will this ‘count’ as a ‘summer camp’?”

The Scouts will be camping out and cooking their own meals in a local park, both to save money and to count as a camp-out (our troop is trying to earn the Camping Award again this year). The committee wanted this to be as close to a camp as possible.

We’ve never missed a year of going to camp. A mother of one of our Scout doesn’t want her son to miss a camp if this would affect his chances of becoming an Eagle. This brought up the broader question of whether or not it’s mandatory for Scouts to attend camps and if so, how many must they attend to become an Eagle Scout? (RP)

Your description sure sounds like camping to me! But apparently some folks need to read up on Boy Scout rank requirements. Certainly, camping is a significant part of the Boy Scout experience, and BSA council-run summer camps are cool! But there’s not one single requirement for any rank or merit badge that demands attending a council summer camp! Camping, definitely yes; summer camp, nice but hardly mandatory. It’s time for folks to read their sons’ handbooks!
Hi Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster with a very frustrated Senior Patrol Leader. Almost every time, at our opening ceremonies, we waste time with discussions as to who’s saluting correctly for the Pledge of Allegiance. Adults at the meeting will stop and disrupt the ceremony to correct Scouts using the “Scout saluting” incorrectly, they say, because the Scouts doing this aren’t in full uniform. We also have some Scouts using the Scout salute while others hold their hands over their hearts and still others using the “Scout sign” over their hearts.

After checking with me (I agreed, and he confirmed with the Patrol Leaders Council), the Senior Patrol Leader decided that since these are all Boy Scouts at a Boy Scout meeting and in formation, regardless of attire they should used the Scout Salute. I told the other adults I backed him up on this and informed them that this is what’s been decided. I thought this solved the problems since it worked well at the next several troop meetings; however, the committee members brought it up to me at our last committee meeting that the Senior Patrol Leader was wrong in doing things this way.

Is it OK for our PLC and Senior Patrol Leader to implement this type of policy? Is it OK for Boy Scouts standing in formation at a troop meeting to salute the U.S. Flag if they’re not in full uniform, and what is, and what isn’t, enough uniform to be able to employ the Scout salute? (Larry Kula, SM, Michigan Crossroads Council-Water & Woods Service Center)

The Scout Salute is shown on page 20 of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. But of course the troop’s “saluting problem” isn’t the problem… It’s a symptom. This symptom would go away instantly if the Scouts were uniformed as the BSA intends (and as your troop should, too). So the first issue you all need to deal with is getting your Scouts in uniform. Consider a “reward” system based on The Patrol Method: The patrol(s) with every Scout completely and accurately uniformed gets something special. This could be a trip somewhere with the Scoutmaster and ASM, or a contribution toward summer camp for all Scouts in the patrol, or a simple candy bar for each patrol member. Just keep in mind: Reward and reinforce the positive; never “punish” the negative; do this only by patrol—never by individual Scout. The faster you get all patrols showing up in uniform, the faster page 20 will apply to all, with no more arguments from the curmudgeons in the back of the room.

The second problem you need to fix—this one’s the Scoutmaster’s job, with the full support of the Committee Chair—is to make it crystal clear to all adults, registered or simply parents, that they are never, ever to interfere with the Senior Patrol Leader when he’s running the troop meeting, or with any of the Scouts either, for that matter. No adult should be conversing with any Scout (except for the Scoutmaster-to-SPL mentoring), at any time, during troop meetings (use any search engine for “troop meeting plan”) because everything from the opening ceremony up to the last 60 seconds before the close of the meeting is for the Senior Patrol Leader and his Patrol Leaders to handle.

Finally, the Senior Patrol Leader needs to stop managing the entire troop and turn the responsibility for managing each patrol over to the Patrol Leaders—It’s the Patrol Leader’s responsibility keep his patrol organized and focused; not the SPL. In short: Use The Patrol Method and stick to the BSA’s prescription for how a troop of multiple patrols is managed. This also means, by the way, that all plans and programs are made and carried out by the Patrol Leaders Council.

Well, there you have it. Do these things and not only the “saluting” issue but lots of other side issues will all evaporate.
Dear Andy,

My son can’t swim. We’ve taken him to both private and school-sponsored swimming lessons, and it just isn’t happening for him. One problem is that he’s autistic (Asperger Syndrome). At this point in his life, he’s totally afraid of water—even in the shower he has significant problems when he has to get his face wet.

He has every requirement completed for both Second Class and First Class ranks, except the swim tests. Is there any alternative to swimming? We can get a doctor’s note, if necessary. Any help would be appreciated. (Concerned Scout Mom)

I’m sorry your son has this difficulty in his life right now, but I’m delighted that he’s in Scouting! Yes, definitely get a written statement of his challenge from a licensed medical practitioner, then—with your son’s troop committee and Scoutmaster—read up on how the BSA provides an alternate advancement path. It’s described in BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (BSA Item #34765 – $4.99) available at your Scout shop or If you need more, get the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (available at
As you proceed, do keep in mind that his present problem may not last the rest of his life, so when you speak with him (or anyone else) about this, refer to him this way: My son hasn’t learned to swim yet. Avoid at all costs saying, “He can’t swim”—our life-horizons are limited only by what we’ve been convinced we can’t do!
Dear Andy,

I’m wondering about the presence of the Senior Patrol Leader at troop committee meetings. Looking at the TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK, I see that this is supposed to be a meeting of the committee members and Scoutmaster, and yes, I know that the Scoutmaster isn’t a member of the committee.

In our troop, the committee has the Senior Patrol Leader at the meeting and asks him to give a report of plans made by the Patrol Leaders Council, which invariably leads to questions like, “Why are you doing it that way?” “Have you thought about…?” and “What about…?” (luckily, along with “Thanks” and “Good job!”). But after his five-minute (or so) report, he just sits there waiting as the rest of the meeting continues. I’ve asked why they keep him there and the answer I get from the committee is, “We’ve always done it this way”.

Back when I was a Senior Patrol Leader, I certainly didn’t interact with the troop committee at their meetings. As a present-day Scoutmaster, I’m having a hard time getting comfortable with the way this committee is handling this. This isn’t the “fun” part of Scouting, and I’m not convinced there’s a lot of value here. Am I the only one uncomfortable here? (Well, I know that sometimes the SPL is uncomfortable as well). (Name & Council Withheld)

So the long and short of this is that your Senior Patrol Leader gets grilled, then gets bored out of his skull for the rest of the committee’s meeting time. Wow, what a concept!

This is one of the reasons why the BSA stipulates that, while the SPL runs the Patrol Leaders Council meeting where troop decisions are made, it’s the Scoutmaster who delivers these decisions to the committee (briefly… the Scoutmaster doesn’t have to stay through the entire committee meeting, either).

If the committee has any constructive ideas for the PLC to consider (or reconsider), the Scoutmaster departs to committee meeting and counsels with the SPL he’s mentoring, so that the SPL can (selectively) bring up any further points that he and the Scoutmaster agree on to the Patrol Leaders in a brief “second round.”

If these good folks would take a moment to “RTFM” (as in Read The Friendly Manual) they’d understand that they need to change the way things are being done and get on track with the way the BSA has been saying for generations to do things. Why? Simple: They work!

The argument that “we’ve always done it that way” simply means that they’ve always been wrong. End of story.
Hi Andy,

Google has surprisingly failed to answer my question, and I’m thinking, what better person to ask than you! I’m new to Scouting. I earned my Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit badges about a month ago. I asked my Scoutmaster where they go on my uniform and he told me it doesn’t matter what side I put them on. So I’m asking, what pocket do the Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit go on? I’m asking because even though my Scoutmaster told me it doesn’t matter I’d still like to have the badges I earn to be in the right spots. Can you help me with this? (Scout’s Name & Council Withheld)

Thanks for finding me, and for writing. Yes, where those patches go definitely does make a difference. But before I tell you where they’re OK to put, let me also mention that there are some patches we get that we don’t always put on our uniforms. These two are in that category. Here are your choices: You can wear one (but just one) of them centered on your right pocket, in what’s called the “temporary patch position.” (Which one you choose is up to you.) Or, you can put them both on the back-side of your merit badge sash. That’s it. There are no other options except on a “patch blanket” or Scout collection box.

Yes, I know they’re both shaped like “pocket flap patches,” and this is very unfortunate, because their shape suggests that you can wear them on your Scout shirt’s pocket flaps. You can’t. Period. No exceptions. And if you see another Scout who’s done this, just know that he didn’t do his research first, like you’ve just done.

Thanks a bunch. You were a big help without people like you I probably would of put them in the wrong spots and then where would I be (LOL).

You displayed resourcefulness by checking things out before jumping—Just like smart Scouts do! (Oh, yeah… If anyone tells you, “Well, that’s just Andy’s opinion,” tell ’em, “Nope, Andy did the research at the BSA website and others, too, and this is a fact, Jack!”
Dear Andy,

I had a unit self-assessment meeting last night with one of the packs I serve. In attendance in addition to me were the new Committee Chair and the new Cubmaster. Both have been with the pack a few years, but they’re new to these positions. The Cubmaster asked if he has to give up being a Den Leader to take the Cubmaster slot (He’s been a Tiger and Wolf Den Leader and enjoys it). To be Cubmaster he’ll give up the den if he has to, but he’d prefer to do both. He asked if that’s possible. My answer was that I’d look into it, but told him that it’s preferred he do one or the other but he can do both—that’s normally a situation of necessity, since a pack must have a Cubmaster, but there may not be anyone to take over as Den Leader. In this case I don’t think there is an issue finding a new Den Leader for his den; the parents are involved and the Cubs maintain an excellent attendance record. He just has a lot of time and heart vested in his den.

I’ve read through the CUB SCOUT LEADER BOOK, spent an hour on the BSA’s web site, and I can find nothing that precludes his holding both positions. Is there a BSA policy in this regard? (Steve Erwin, UC, Longhorn Council, TX)

The answer to the question is found on page 2 of the BSA Adult Volunteer Application: With certain very limited exceptions, it’s prohibited to register in two positions in the same unit. He needs to choose: Cubmaster or Den Leader, but not both.
Dear Andy,

My son received his Eagle rank a few years ago.  I want to compose a scrapbook of his Scouting memorabilia and would like to know if we can get congratulatory letters from the President and others who were in office at that time. Is there any way to do that? (Cynthia Lange, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

If you go to our main website——you’ll find a list of people to contact and description of what to do. (I’m happy to tell you that “Scouting” magazine has recently honored our site for what we do in this regard.)
Dear Andy,

Our troop has five young men who recently earned Eagle Scout ranks and, having turned 18, are now newly appointed Assistant Scoutmasters. Board of review regulations state that a Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters aren’t permitted to sit on them. However, I feel that adding them to the boards of review for Star and Life bring an age-related level of connectivity with the Scout being reviewed. If these young leaders are non-voting, do you see a problem with us adding this to our unwritten troop operating procedures? (We could put an age-cap on the Assistant Scoutmasters, if necessary.) This idea has the support of many adult leaders in our troop, so I thought I’d bounce the idea off you. (Joe Bosche, Troop Advancement Coordinator, Keystone Area Council, PA)

Here’s the “bounce” part: I understand your reasoning and give you full credit for your interest in the youth-to-slightly older youth connection. But that can happen on a limited basis in troop meetings and camp-outs, so that’s where it should end.

Now here’s the BSA policy part: For all boards of review, neither Scoutmasters nor Assistant Scoutmasters may participate (although silent observation is permitted—but the BSA does mean silent, which is considerably more than merely “non-voting”) and for boards of review for Tenderfoot through Life ranks and Eagle palms, only registered members of the troop committee may participate.

So if these 18 year-old Assistant Scoutmasters are willing to sit there, mute, it’s OK… Just horribly boring for them and ultimately adding little other than having the reviewed Scout wondering why they’re there!

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. 307 – 5/6/2012 – 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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