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Issue 320 – July 8, 2012

Rule No. 84:
• If God is indeed watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining.
Dear Andy,

Thanks for all the great information you provide. My question’s about BSA trek safety. Reading the GTSS information, it seems to say that all activities now require two adults: one at least age 21, and one at least 18. Am I reading this correctly? (Brad Fleming, ASM)

Here’s the exact current quote on accompanying adults on activities like treks, from the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING (online version): “Two registered adult leaders, or one registered leader and a parent of a participating Scout or other adult, one of whom must be 21 years of age or older, are required for all trips and outings.” So yes, this does mean that one “adult” can be 18 to 21 so long as the other “adult” is 21 or over, and at least one of these two adults must be a registered BSA volunteer.

So does that mean no more patrol activities without two adults present? (Brad Fleming)

Not at all! Read the next letter for some details about patrol activities.
Dear Andy,

Our patrol wants to go on our own day-hike at a park in our town that has some cool trails, animals we want to try to spot, and a lake we can fish in. I talked with our Scoutmaster about us doing this, but he says we can’t unless we have two adults to keep us safe. We want to do this for ourselves. If we weren’t a patrol, but just a bunch of guys who wanted to do this, no sweat. He says there’s this rule and we have to follow it, but that’s not what we want to do. Our dads are OK and all, but when they come they think they have to tell us how to do everything. I just made First Class and the other guys in our patrol are Second Class. We all have our Totin’ Chips. We want to take pictures of ten types of plants and make camp gadgets with lashings, for First Class requirements, but our Scoutmaster says we can’t unless we have two fathers with us, and one of them has to be with the troop. I thought Scouts was about things for ourselves. That’s what our handbooks says. What can we do? Are we stuck with what the Scoutmaster says? (Patrol Leader’s Name & Council Withheld)

No, Scout, you and your patrol aren’t “stuck.” The BSA has a book called GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING and while it does say that two adults (with lots of details that I’m not going to bother with here, because they don’t apply) are required “for all trips and outings” by the troop, it also says this: “There are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when the presence of adult leaders is not required and adult leadership may be limited to training and guidance of the patrol leadership. With the proper training, guidance, and approval by the troop leaders, the patrol can conduct day hikes and service projects” (the underlines are by me). This quotation is straight from today’s GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING, so go online to, do a search for “guide safe scouting,” copy the whole page that it’s on, and all of you show it to your Scoutmaster.

In addition to maybe forgetting the BSA rule that actually applies, your Scoutmaster may have forgotten that Second Class Scouts know the rules of safe hiking, what to do if lost, how the Buddy System works and why you use it, how to identify poisonous plants, first aid and what to do if there’s an accident, how to use a compass, and how to “Leave No Trace.” He’s perhaps forgotten that you’ve all taken a hike of five or more miles using map and compass, and you know how to build and extinguish a fire. Plus, you’ve made our first aid and “ten essentials” kits. In addition to all this, you, as a First Class Scout, know how to find directions both day and night without a compass, lashings, and several more useful knots, and have even more safety and first aid skills. The summary is that you and your fellow patrol members have absolutely all the knowledge and skills you need to go on your own patrol day hike. In fact, this is exactly what the Boy Scouts of America wants you to do—Get out there on your own, with all the skills you need to have a great time together!

If your Scoutmaster still disagrees, show this conversation to your dads, ask them to read the quote online; then ask your dads to stand up for you to the Scoutmaster. Then go and have a blast!
Dear Andy,

Your June 30th column had an exchange about “well-trained dogs” on hikes and camping trips. I’d like to add some personal experiences to your “Leave ‘em home” response that may help others understand just why Bowser should stay home.

Some years ago, when I was a tyro Scoutmaster, one of my ASMs asked if he could bring his dog along. Against better judgment, I said OK, mostly because I needed his experience to help me learn the ropes. Luckily, his dog was well-behaved and we never had a problem. But it established a precedent that came back to bite—hard.

Couple of years later, another ASM came on board, but he never bothered to ask—he just showed up on a camping trip with his dog. Since the first ASM was still bringing his dog along on trips, I was stuck: I had to go along. Big mistake for us both, and the dog. This second dog, as it turned out, didn’t like the woods and whined and whimpered most of the time, until he tangled with a porcupine and wound up with a bunch of quills jammed into his snout. I don’t even want to guess what the vet bills were!

On a family outing, we made the mistake of bringing along my uncle’s St. Bernard dog, who was very friendly with people. What we didn’t know was that he wasn’t very friendly with other dogs. Here we were in the woods, and this lumberjack of a dog starts attacking any other dogs in sight (or smell). She got stuck in quagmires, was unable to negotiate steep rock ledges, and when she got wet…well, just stay at least ten feet away from her or you’ll be just as wet.

Your own dog may be just fine in the outdoors, but if someone else with a dog you don’t know brings that one, too, you may have not one but multiple dog “situations.” Moral: Bowser stays home. (Stephen Sassi, ASM, Theodore Roosevelt Council, NY)
Hi Andy!

There’s a question in your Column No. 316 that’s near and dear to me: unit leader “approval” of Scouts for merit badges. I agree 100% with your answer, partially excerpted here: “Further, the BSA’s national advancement team has stated clearly and without equivocation that a Scoutmaster cannot “decide” to withhold his signature from any registered Scout seeking to begin any merit badge, at any time. The “approval” means only that the Scout is indeed a registered youth member of the BSA; it means nothing more. No Scoutmaster is permitted to apply “judgment” regarding any Scout’s age, abilities, rank, or interest. He is to sign the merit badge application and provide the Scout with name and contact information of a registered Merit Badge Counselor. End of story.”

But after reading through the new Guide To Advancement and other BSA publications, I can’t find any place this is stated. Can you refer me to where you found this issue addressed? (Jack Boyle, Northern New Jersey Council)

The source for reference I provided is email message on this issue, directly from the BSA’s Advancement Team. This means you’re not going to find this in published BSA literature…yet. But let’s not despair, because we actually have all we need, and it’s been “in writing” for a considerable length of time. It’s right on page 20 of BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (2012): “…any Boy Scout…may earn any (merit badge) at any time” and “Talk to your unit leader about your interests…Your (unit) leader will give you the name of a (Merit Badge Counselor)…”

The key to understanding this is in what’s not said. Nowhere does it say “at the unit leader’s discretion” or “if you are found qualified” or “in his infinite wisdom, your Scoutmaster will determine your eligibility” or any other sort of restriction. The meaning of this is simple and crystal clear: No one is permitted to throw roadblocks up that in any way deter a Scout from his ambitions. Like the Scout Law, most BSA policies don’t contain laundry lists of “don’ts”— Instead, what we’re supposed to be doing is spelled out straightforwardly.
Dear Andy,

I love your columns and have learned a great deal from them (I met you in Champaign, IL, at the Prairielands Training College this past February). Here’s some further information on Roman Catholic religious emblems…

A parish priest can’t order the Light of Christ medal (or any other Catholic religious emblem) and, unfortunately, many priests aren’t aware of these programs and can’t give counsel to families about what to do next once the workbook is completed and signed, appropriately, by the parish priest.

Each Catholic parish is part of a diocese, which is headed by a Bishop or Arch-Bishop. Each diocese also has a Catholic Committee on Scouting and it’s the responsibility of this committee to review the completed application and arrange for an appropriate presentation of the medal, and then (hopefully) also the presentation of the religious emblem’s square knot at the Scout’s pack (or other unit as the case may be) meeting. The name of the Diocesan Chaplain and the Diocesan Committee Chairperson, either of whom can help families with this, can be found on the National Catholic Committee on Scouting website at

Hope this helps. It isn’t quite the same as the other P.R.A.Y. medals are handled. (Linda Atherton, Chair-Diocese of Peoria Catholic Committee on Scouting, Prairielands Council, IL)

Thanks for the additional background! That was a great day, and I remember meeting you, too!
Dear Andy,

Thanks for all the great help and wisdom over the years. It’s helped me be a better Scouter. Here’s a question that has me stumped…

The Summertime Pack Award is a wonderful program. Our Pack has earned it since 2009 and is on track for the 2012 summer. We’ve never used summer camp as an “event” for this award’s requirements; we consider that a den activity that could span two to four days and nights. Instead, we have bike rodeos, raingutter regattas, pack bike rides and hikes, water bottle rockets, baseball sleepover nights, local parades, and disc golf outings, and other events like these—one each month. But I’ve been asked if a pack use summer camp for the Summertime Pack Award. I don’t see it mentioned on the form that we submit to our council, or at I also did a search on the USSSP’s website that yielded a hit on “Baloo’s Bugle,” but nothing that suggests summer camp as a “pack activity.” My thinking about this award is that it’s pack-based; not den-based. The award is also geared towards providing an event during the non-meeting times in summer, to help keep Scouting in the minds of the boys and their families. Am I on the right track here? (Adam Cox, CM, Cascade Pacific Council, OR)

As usual, the BSA is pretty specific: “A pack can earn the National Summertime Pack Award by doing three pack activities when school is out for the summer—one activity each in June, July, and August. Packs that qualify get a colorful streamer for their pack flag. Dens that have at least half of their members at the three summer pack events can earn a den ribbon. Pack members who take part in all three events are eligible for the National Summertime Pack Award pin, to wear on the right pocket flap of their uniform.”

You’ve got the concept: It’s pack-based and it’s activity-based; it’s not den-based and it’s not about “going to camp.” The activities you’ve been doing—bike rodeos, raingutter regattas, and such—are perfect summertime pack activities. One each month, and you’re there!
Dear Andy,

My son just graduated from the National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience (NAYLE) at Philmont. There appears to be some confusion as to where the NAYLE emblem is placed on the uniform. I have documents showing it alone above the right pocket and others next to a Jamboree emblem above the right pocket. The Philmont NAYLE staff told him it’s the only emblem other than a Jamboree that can be worn above the right pocket, but when I go online I see the “patch police” saying that the NAYLE emblem can only go directly on the right pocket, but no guide or regulation is cited. Is this confusion a byproduct of the particular generation uniform on which the NAYLE patch is worn? My son has both the new and older generation uniforms. You may have to break into your older documents to answer, but can you please clarify? Thanks! (Mark Smith)

The BSA is one hundred percent clear on where the NAYLE patch goes. It’s in the category of “temporary” (which really means “at the wearer’s discretion”) and therefore the only place it can be worn is centered on the right shirt pocket. Check the BSA INSIGNIA GUIDE so you know this isn’t my “opinion” and I’m not playing “patch police.” As to the “historic” aspect, it’s been this way without variation or deviation for the past six decades at the very least. So if you see it worn anywhere else except on the back of a merit badge sash, you’re looking at someone who’s clueless.

While neither you nor I should mount our trusty steeds and become members of the “Patch Police,” isn’t it nice to know that the BSA rarely if ever has patch placement hiccups! This one’s perfectly clear and I sure hope somebody has a chat with the Philmont folks (and others—I’ve seen photos of otherwise knowledgeable Scouts with—I kid you not—an NJLIC emblem above the right pocket and a NAYLE emblem above the left!)
Dear Andy,

First, thank you for your time and effort. Your column has opened my eyes to what’s been happening in our own troop. It’s the “We’ve always done it that way” syndrome and during our summer camp it was the last straw for me. Our Scoutmaster held a Scout back on having earned a merit badge even after the counselor signed off on it. However, in my own opinion, while the Counselor did sign off on the badge as having been completed, at least one of the requirements was skipped completely. I remember your mentioning, in one of your columns a while ago, the idea of having a troop meeting that—without saying anything about the merit badge—essentially completes any missing or truncated requirements, with the understanding that the Scouts get the merit badge anyway, because it has a registered counselor’s signature on the “blue card.” But here’s what I’m wondering: What are the repercussions of not following BSA policies? I’ve read the advancement policies and understand what you can and can’t do; however, in this troop pretty much every policy is violated in some way. This includes Assistant Scoutmasters sitting on the troop committee and participating in boards of review, re-testing Scouts on knowledge and skills already signed off as completed, re-testing on merit badge subject matter, and the list goes on. Are there actually consequences or repercussions to stuff like this, and if so, who does it get reported to? (Name & Council Withheld)

You raise an interesting and valid question about “consequences” and “repercussions” if adult volunteers ignore or violate BSA procedures and/or policies. The repercussions are huge and the damage is often irreparable. When the Scouting program is compromised, we damage the young man’s experience and color his outlook on life, often permanently.

Here are the three “biggies” in the “we’ll do it our way” arena…

– Apply some made-up arbitrary “rule” that’s not in the handbook and you teach our young men that rules don’t matter–we can just make ’em up as we choose, or break ’em whenever we want to.

– Allow a Scout to “slide by” and you teach him that less is OK so long as no one’s looking.

– Do something for the young man that he should be perfectly capable of doing for himself and you teach him that “responsibility” isn’t important because someone will always rescue him or do the work for him.

Neither the BSA nor local councils or district provide “cops” to assure that violations like these don’t exist, or are stropped, but that doesn’t mean there’s no one to stop this sort of stuff. The buck stops first at the doorstep of the unit’s Committee Chair: If the Scoutmaster’s screwing up and refuses to change, he gets the ax. The next place the buck stops is the Chartered Organization Representative: If the CC and SM refuse to get it right, they both get the ax. Third, the sponsor’s executive officer: Same routine as one and two. But we haven’t gotten to the big guns yet: The Scout himself and his parents. Scouts have the right to expect the Scouting program delivered the way his handbook says, and his parents have the right and responsibility to demand this of the sponsor and the unit.

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. 320 – 7/8/2012 – 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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