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Issue 315 – June 15, 2012

Rule No. 81:
• It takes just one careless match to start a forest fire, but it’ll take a Scout the whole box to start a campfire.
Dear Andy,

May I use your Memorial Day piece at an upcoming meeting? (Gary Marquardt)

Any number of Scouters like you have asked about this, and the answer is definitely Yes. With attribution, is all I’d ask in return, and I’m honored that you’d consider doing this.
Hi Andy,

Thanks for sending me “How A Scout Troop Works”! Fantastic! This is the most succinct document I’ve ever seen. It’s comprehensive and right on-point. Can you make this available on (Mike Smith)

Done! And thanks for asking—Requests for this have been coming in so fast, by so many, that we wasted no time in getting it up on the site.
Hi Andy,

My sons belong to a troop sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. Many of the adult leaders of the troop belong to the church that the KofC is affiliated with, and they award a large number of service hours to Scouts who support the Knights’ activities through the church. For example, the troop requires that Scouts show up and bring food for the Knights to give to the hungry, help serve the food, and so on. These activities aren’t planned by the troop or the PLC. Instead, they’re organized and managed by Knights who are members of the church and troop. As I read the BSA requirements for Scout service hours, the “service” is supposed to be planned and carried out by the troop. My family and I are members of a different church entirely, and our sons actively participate in our church’s outreach activities, but the troop refuses to acknowledge their similar efforts for their own church as “service hours.” Is this right? (Name & Council Withheld)

I think we need to start with what you’ve been reading, that produced the idea that “service is supposed to be planned and carried out by the troop.”

I’m reading BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS-2012, Second Class rank requirement 5: “Participate in approved…service project(s),” and Star and Life rank requirement 4: “While a (First Class/Star) Scout, take part in service project(s)…These projects must be approved by your Scoutmaster.” Now I’m reading the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, Service Projects ( “Service projects required for Second Class, Star, and Life ranks may be conducted individually or through participation in patrol and troop efforts.”

The BSA has long encouraged service to one’s chartered organization; the likelihood that such service would not be “approved” by one’s Scoutmaster seems a virtual impossibility, wouldn’t you think. That said, if a Scout wishes to provide service to his own church, I cannot fathom how any right-minded Scoutmaster would deny this—It’s in fact the leading thought in the Scout Oath.

I do have a problem with the notion of “do this=get service hour credit.” The big idea in Scouting is to give service to others unselfishly and without regard for reward. So I’d hope your troop wakes up to the idea of service to others on the principle of “this is what Scouts do!” and not along the lines of “show up and you’ll get ‘service hour credit’.”

If your sons’ troop is getting this right, or is open to the idea of getting it right, that’s wonderful. If not, then I’d advise getting out there and spotting a troop that gets this stuff (and much more!) right, so that you can transfer your sons into a real Boy Scout troop!
Dear Andy,

Can Scoutmasters and troops set their own policies on merit badge eligibility and location? A troop in our town has certain “traditions” regarding merit badges. Here’s one: A Scout must be First Class to start an Eagle required merit badge. Another: Eagle-required merit badges can only be done at troop meetings; they may not be done at BSA camps, BSA camp Eagle weeks, council merit badge “universities,” BSA National Jamborees, or any place beyond the troop. One more: Certain merit badges can only be earned at certain locations; such as Swimming, must be done at a BSA summer camp (working with an individual Merit Badge Counselor at a local pool, for instance, is strictly forbidden).

Beyond the usual “we’ve always done it this way,” the stated rationale for this is that the troop does a better job of teaching, and that non-troop venues lead to “partials.”

In rare cases, a Scout approaching his 18th birthday is allowed an exception to these rules to complete his Eagle requirements.

We parents think these “rules” are both arbitrary and flat-out wrong, but even a professional staffer at our local council has said that no one can come between the Scoutmaster and his right to approve or deny starting a merit badge.

The other Scoutmasters in town mentor Scouts interested in any merit badge, and then refer them to Merit Badge Counselors. Boys talk, and the disparity between troops is evident to them. As a result, a number of Scouts in this troop have transferred to other troops. But many of those who remain despite knowing about this unfairness do so to be with their friends. Several of these have simply given up on earning the Eagle rank.

What should the troop advancement coordinator do? What are the options for the frustrated Scouts and parents? (Name & Council Withheld)

The BSA states: Any Scout can work on any merit badge at any time. No troop, individual, or other entity has the authority to supersede a BSA national advancement policy. This means that the troop you mention is dead wrong and completely wrong-headed. I hope someone is able to show them how far adrift from Scouting’s True North they are, and that they get the message and set a course that’s right.

None of the three examples you mentioned has any merit whatsoever. The BSA makes no provision for any troop or individual to put such limitations in place. This means that that erstwhile professional has it all wrong, too.

Unless this troop drops this nonsense and gets on track immediately, I’d recommend that every parent immediately remove his or her son from that troop and transfer him into a troop that follows BSA procedures instead of making up its own youth-damaging, straight-jacket “rules.” For those who “don’t want to leave their friends”—get those friends transferred, too! And don’t waste another minute!

Despots can’t be “cured”—they can only be overthrown. Or walked away from.
Dear Andy,

What is the role of the Unit Commissioner for a Cub Scout pack? I’m asking because we have a former Den Leader with no sons in the Pack anymore, but can’t seem to let go. He’s become the Unit Commissioner and suddenly feels some sort of empowerment. He attends all leader meetings and pack meetings, and even wants to participate with his Boy Scout son, as if his son were still a Cub Scout! He’s a nice guy, don’t get me wrong, but we really don’t need this sort of “help”—because it’s really not any “help” at all! How do we keep this intrusive pest at bay without hurting feelings? (Name & Council Withheld)

You may not be able to achieve two opposing goals, but your best bet is to reach out to your District Commissioner. Relate exactly what you’ve just described to me and then ask the DC to manage this Unit Commissioner, not excluding reassignment to another pack.
Dear Andy,

My son has been working on his Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook and plan with a new Eagle mentor in the troop. He reached out to a potential benefactor, got approval of his idea, and wrote up his concept. He told the recipient that he wanted to have the project completed by the end of this coming September. His Eagle mentor knew all of this.

In early April, my son then spoke to the troop’s Committee Chair, intending to obtain the signatures approving the project’s start, but he was told that he wouldn’t be able to present his project to the committee until September. When my son asked if a special presentation time might be arranged, either in May or June, he was told that the calendar was too full and it wouldn’t be possible to convene the committee until five months from now.

What can he do? He really wants to get the project completed by his deadline for many reasons, one of which is the ability to complete it over the summer when he doesn’t have as many obligations; another is that his uncle, a skilled carpenter, will be visiting over the summer and was going to help teach him some of the skills he’s going to need for his project. Plus, the summer is when most of his planned helpers would be available, with no school, sports, or band commitments.

Can he present his concept to someone at the local council, or does it have to be the troop committee? Can he reach out to committee members on his own, to see if they’d be willing to review his concept and sign off on it? How many committee members must see the presentation, to approve it? (Name & Council Withheld)

One quick question: Is the “Eagle mentor” your son’s working with a registered member of the troop?

Yes, he’s an Assistant Scoutmaster. He’s been great with my son…no complaints in that department!

OK, time for you to step in, Dad. Your son can’t—and shouldn’t be expected to—compete against stone-walling adults. Sit down with that ASM/mentor. Agree between you that a “presentation” to the troop’s full committee isn’t what’s called for here. Take a look at the four signatures asked for on page 10 of the workbook: Unit Leader, Beneficiary, and unit committee—meaning: any registered member of the unit committee. It doesn’t even ask for the Committee Chair! Plus, the statement below the signature line there is in the first person singular; it’s not “we” this and “we” that. So, just as it says, a single person, “authorized by our unit committee to provide approval…” is all that’s needed.

So now you and the ASM agree. Next step: the ASM loops the Scoutmaster in and together they both tell the committee chair, “We want a committee member NOW. It’s completely unfair and not in keeping with the Scouting program we’re trying to deliver, to expect a Scout to wait four months or more for a single signature.”

If the CC doesn’t agree, and continues to play hard-ball, you’re all in the wrong kind of troop. Either work to get the CC dumped or find another troop right away. This is baloney.
Dear Andy,

Can a board of review be interrupted if new evidence comes to light during the review on “Scout spirit” from someone not involved in the review itself? Here’s the situation…

A Scout was in his board of review. The Committee Chair walked by, looked through the window of the room where the review was being done, saw the review taking place, and walked in. He announced to the reviewers that he’d received an email message about the Scout showing poor Scout spirit—it was a rude comment he made under his breath on a recent trip—and immediately stopped the review. The reviewers are now scheduled to meet at the next troop meeting, after the CC speaks to the trip coordinator who sent the email, to discuss next steps.

Is this permissible? What are some types of outcomes that could happen? Can a Scout be held back from advancing, for something like this? (Name & Council Withheld)

Can you describe the “rude comment” to me?

The comment was about a tour guide, who didn’t hear the comment. The Scout whispered to another, “I like your lisp,” said in a way that imitated the tour guide’s lisp. Only the Scouts sitting near him heard it, and one of them brought it to the attention of the trip coordinator. All the Scouts who heard the comment have confirmed that it’s accurate.

As it turned out, the review was reconvened this week and the Scout advanced after a long talk about Scout spirit. (He’s apparently a “repeat offender”—not foul language, but making fun of others—he says he’s “working on” correcting his propensity to do this.)

Being new to the advancement coordinator position, I’m unclear if this was handled correctly or not. (N&CW)

It sounds like you handled the situation well. That young man sounds like he has some latent issues that the Scoutmaster needs to explore in Scoutmaster’s conferences… This isn’t about “making fun of people.” It’s about some sort of underlying anger. Someone needs to find out more about his home-life, school, etc. No, we’re not professional counselors, but we’re definitely here to help boys like this find the good in themselves. Otherwise, “the other wolf” is going to win!

But let’s revisit the original board of review for a moment. Where it went wrong is that suspending it is the decision of whoever’s chairing the review; not the CC or anybody else who happens to wander in. Why this wasn’t simply put in front of the Scout, right then and there, is a mystery to me. We’re talking about teenaged boys here; this isn’t a courtroom. We’re mentors and guides; not judges.
Hi Andy,

There’s some confusion in our troop and crew about boards of review. Can Assistant Scoutmasters (troop) or Associate Advisors (crew) be on boards of review for Scout rank advancements?

We’ve asked two people from our district; one said yes and the other said no. We want to follow the BSA guidelines correctly. Can you tell me which it is? (Huong Do, Advancement Chair)

For a Boy Scout troop or a Venturing crew, for all ranks from Tenderfoot through Life, and for Eagle Palms, it’s registered committee members only, or—in very rare exceptions due to unplanned health, automotive, weather, or other unforeseen problems—a parent may substitute for the missing committee member, so long as that parent is thoroughly briefed on the meaning, purpose, and process of boards of review in advance.

As for unit leaders, in no instance ever does a Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster, Venturing Advisor or Associate Advisor ever sit on a board of review for any rank, including Eagle.

For Eagle Scout boards of review, refer to the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT and your local council’s procedure.

Thank you! Now I’ve been asked if this is a BSA rule, or just a “guideline.” Can you tell me this? Also, may I ask (with due respect and no offense at all) if you’re with the BSA national headquarters in Texas?

We’re going through difficult times to clarify certain procedures in regards to boards of review and advancements, but some things aren’t clear to some of us. (Huong Do)

The BSA doesn’t provide “guidance.” The BSA provides procedures, policies, rules, and regulations that all volunteers are expected to respect and carry out—as written. Where the BSA allows for “slack” or “slippage,” this will be clearly pointed out. When the reader can find no “wiggle room,” that’s because there isn’t any. Simple as that.

So, what I described to you about who can—and can’t serve on boards of review—is the BSA policy; not some arbitrary “opinion” of mine. As a Commissioner (just to nail this door shut), when it comes to BSA policy and procedure, it would be completely out of line for me (or any Commissioner) to substitute my “infinite wisdom”for the way the BSA says things are to be done.

As for me, personally, I’m a registered and active Scouting volunteer. I’m not in Irving, TX, nor am I an employee of the BSA or any local council. What I provided to you is available to ALL volunteers: It’s direct from written BSA policies and procedures of long standing.

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. 314 – 6/15/2012 – 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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