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Issue 334 – November 12, 2012

Rule No. 97
When doing it right collides with doing it the way we’ve always done it, the latter wins.  Every time.
Old friends continue to write, as a result of that SCOUTING magazine article. Here are two worth sharing. Once again, sometimes we don’t realize the impact we may have until many years later…

Do you remember me? Twenty years ago, you drove me back from Camp Kern after I broke my nose! You were Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 351, in San Marino, California. After becoming an Eagle Scout I went into Exploring and worked at the South Pasadena Police Department. Explorers led to a career there for almost six years, until I decided to switch to the real estate world of title insurance. I’ve been doing this ever since. Besides work, Scouting keeps me extremely busy, as well as rushing my seven year-old daughter off to ballet four times a week. Where has the time gone?! (Erik Wanson)

I saw the article on you in Scouting magazine and thought, “You must be the same guy I worked with professionally about thirty years ago! If so, I have you to thank for my career trajectory: You got me the interview with Carnation Company at that time and since then I’ve been at Nestle, Schwab, and now Wells Fargo. The move to Carnation was a big one for me, and got me going the way I wanted to. I’m an Eagle Scout, too, and my dad has the Silver Beaver. Now my son is on the path to Eagle; he’s been in Scouting since Tiger Cubs. I’ve really been enjoying being involved again; I’m Committee Chair of my son’s troop. (Paul Peterzell)
Hello Andy!

A Scout in our troop is trying to finish his Eagle rank requirements this year—the 100th anniversary of the Eagle Scout rank. He’ll complete a required merit badge by in another month, in time for the following month’s Eagle Scout board of review. Does the merit badge he earned satisfy the rank requirements, or does he have to receive it at a court of honor? (Patrick Lesley, ASM, Bay Area Council, TX)

It’s considered earned the very moment the Merit Badge Counselor signs the merit badge application (aka “blue card”).
Dear Andy,

For troop leaders who want to know how to set expectations for their troop’s youth leaders (mentioned in your column 331), they need look no further than BSA publication no. 30521, is described at www.scoutstuff.org as: “This complete set of youth leader position description cards is a resource for troop leadership training and is designed to help adult leaders prepare youth to effectively take on new troop responsibilities.” There’s no better place to look for expectations than the BSA position description. Every troop should have copies of these cards. There’s one for each position. (Bob Elliott, Northern Star Council, MN)

Yup… when in doubt, you’ll usually find the BSA’s got something in print that makes the questions go away!

Dear Andy,

About that question regarding what qualifies for passing a Scout on his swim test in your October 10 column, I hate to nit-pick, but there may be more to this question. Many BSA programs requiring a BSA swim test (day camp, summer camp, etc.) have specific requirements. For example, a local council summer camp that only has swimming in a lake will not honor a swim test done in a pool. Some of these programs require the test be done at camp or at one of the designated pre-camp tests. I have seen many parents take issue with the specifics of his requirement. Also, any test should follow Safe Swim Defense and have a qualified lifeguard on duty. If that Scouter asked the question for something other than signing off Scout advancement, there may be more to it. (John Pinchot)

The question was being asked from the standpoint of a troop, and the test for Second and First Class ranks. It’s a firm procedure for all BSA-operated facilities with swimming facilities to test every youth and adult who intends to enter the water, regardless of what may be signed off or certificates held. I remember, when I was a camp aquatics director, having a Scoutmaster show up at the waterfront with a wallet-full of BSA, Red Cross, and YMCA certification cards, expecting to receive a buddy tag on the strength of these. He was rather taken aback when I told him, “Wonderful! Those cards mean you should have no trouble completing the swim test today.” He stormed off, only returning two days later, after he found out from the camp director: No swim test means you don’t even stick a toe in the water.
Dear Andy,

A Scout recently asked me if, as Assistant Scoutmaster, I could present him his Eagle badge, instead of the Scoutmaster. Can I do this? (Name & Council Withheld)

There’s no policy or rule on which troop volunteer officiates for Eagle rank, although by tradition it’s most often (but certainly not exclusively) the Scoutmaster. But let’s keep in mind that the most frequently followed ceremony works like this: (1) Mom pins the medal on her son, (2) the Eagle Scout pins the “Eagle Mom” pin on his mother, and then (3) the Eagle Scout pins the “Eagle Dad” pin on his father, followed by (4) the Eagle Scout presents the “Eagle Mentor” pin to the non-parent he’s selected. Whoever else is on the stage, platform, or dais merely choreographs these actions and hands the appropriate people the medal and pins. I’ve seen everyone from a Scoutmaster, to the town’s mayor, to a Council Commissioner, to a police chief, etc. handle the officiating!
Dear Andy,

In your column 249 of April 1, 2011, you mentioned that Cub Scouting was adding Mini Cruise Missile Distance Launching to their activities list. In searching the Internet I’m unable to locate additional information. Your assistance would be appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

That column, on April Fool’s Day, was entirely tongue-in-cheek (check my other April 1st columns, for a few more chuckles).
Dear Andy,

I’m a troop committee member. Last night, I was asked to be on a board of review for a Scout to get Star rank. Another committee member was holding the Scout’s handbook and toward the later part of the review I asked to see it. I was surprised to see that the Scout hadn’t had a Scoutmaster conference. I’m new to this troop, so I deferred to the other two committee members, both of whom said that it’s not clear if the Scoutmaster conference was really required to be done before a board of review or not, and they didn’t see it as a problem that this Scout hadn’t had one yet. In my former troop, we would have stopped the board of review and told the Scout he needed to come back after his conference—in fact, the board of review would never have been allowed to even start! Do I need to “lighten up,” or is this OK now? (Name & Council Withheld)

Yes, definitely approach this with a friendly smile… But stick to your guns. The Scoutmaster conference is indeed a requirement that is to be conducted and initialed before a board of review. It’s not mandatory, however, that it be the final requirement, although it usually is. It usually is, because it’s the Scoutmaster—not the Scout—who tells the troop’s advancement coordinator that the Scout is ready to have his board of review and advance in rank. So, what you’re actually telling me is that this troop has a hiccup in its advancement process that needs to be fixed. Once it’s fixed, those initials will be where they’re supposed to be before the board of review’s held. Gently help this troop fix its procedure, if you can, for the benefit of all Scouts.
Oh Mystical Andy,

Please peer into your crystal ball and answer this question: Will the current cooking merit badge be “grandfathered in” for the “Eagle” cooking merit badge once it’s issued, or will I have to re-earn it as an “Eagle” Merit Badge? (James, Second Class Scout)

My crystal ball tells me you have nothing to fear! At Second Class, you’re going to have lots and lots of opportunities to cook more and learn about nutrition some more, so earning a second version (if that becomes law, of course) is gonna be a no-brainer for a Scout who’s already earned the current version of Cooking! Just keep smilin’ and keep on keepin’ on!
Dear Andy,

Can the satisfactory completion of one merit badge requirement be used for another merit badge requirement? For example, one of the requirements for Communication merit badge is to give a five-minute speech; for Citizenship in Community, one of the requirements is to give a presentation (which could be a speech) to a group. Must the Scout give the speech twice, or would once suffice? (Bo Cook)

It would seem to me that, if the Scout’s Communications speech and Cit-Community speech conformed equally exactly to the language of both requirements (precise length for one, subject matter for the other), he’d be just fine. He might need to deliver it twice, seeing as how he’d most likely have different counselors—one for each merit badge—but having done it once, the second time should be pretty much a no-brainer.
Dear Andy,

I’ve got a question about age-appropriate activities for Boy Scouts. The committee for the troop where I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster and that my older son belongs to recently published a set of guidelines for a backpacking program that restricts it to those who are 13 years old or older. It also states that no first-year Scouts should go backpacking.  But when I checked “Age-Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities” at www.Scouting.org/filestore/pdf/34416_Insert_Web.pdf, it lists “Backpacking-Overnight, Backcountry” as age-appropriate for Boy Scouts and doesn’t restrict it to older Scouts. How do you deal with a troop committee that’s restricting activities like this to only “older” Scouts?

I’m now looking for a new troop—one that encourages boys seeking adventure and outdoor activities. I feel if the BSA says it’s age-appropriate it’s then up to the parents and Scout to decide to participate in the activity. (Name & Council Withheld)

You’ve answered your own question. When you find a troop that’s setting arbitrary stipulations on what Scouts can and can’t do, you go find another troop. That said, I agree that “age” is arbitrary; however, rank isn’t necessarily arbitrary. Some troops limit high adventure-type backpacking and other expeditions to Scouts First Class rank and above, because they’ll need those skills and won’t have time to be “taught” out there on the trail, and that’s not unreasonable. So, just to be sure, you might want to ask about the purpose of this limitation on backpacking. Who knows until we ask… It just might make sense. If not, then back to the search!
Dear Andy,

I’m writing about an item in your September 22, 2012 column; in particular the item about Scouts asking a Unit Commissioner for Scoutmaster’s conferences. I’ve been having a similar problem: A Scoutmaster has been asking me to do some of his conferences for him. Now, he’s asked me to do an Eagle Scout Scoutmaster’s conference while he “sits in.”

Delegating to Commissioners just doesn’t compute. I’m going to decline, but should I go one step further and sit him down and get him to understand that he has no business delegating Scoutmaster’s conferences at all (with the possible exception of his own sons), or should I leave that to current Unit Commissioner to do? (UC’s Name & Council Withheld)

Sometimes, in learning the “how” we neglect the “why.” The purpose of the conference with the Scoutmaster (and no one else, or it would say “leader conference”) is so that the Scoutmaster can stay in touch with the Scouts he’s serving. If the buck is passed on this one, all the Scoutmaster gets to do is look at a bunch of tan shirts with faces he barely knows! Same with “blue cards”—When the Scoutmaster inappropriately delegates this to someone else (typically an ASM or troop advancement coordinator) the Scoutmaster is guaranteed to lose track of what Scouts are working toward which merit badges! Bad idea!

So, how about this… Instead of you doing the conference with that Eagle candidate, consider coaching the new Scoutmaster on what to do and how to do it, and then sitting sort of behind him (as a coach) while he does the conference?
Dear Andy,

I just finished reading your September 26, 2012 column. I was struck by the contrast between the unit that “gets it” (the “savvy Scoutmaster” who let the boys figure things out for themselves at summer camp), and the unit that doesn’t (the Scoutmaster overrode a patrol’s own plan to satisfy their First Class requirements). I was Scoutmaster for several years of a troop that at times fell into both the “gets it” and “doesn’t get it” categories.

When I first joined the unit as an ASM, the Patrol Method was merely given lip service. The troop elected the Senior Patrol Leader, but the Scoutmaster alone chose every other position, including Patrol Leader. The SPL had minimal duties; no other youth leaders had any! There were no Patrol Leaders’ Council meetings. The troop committee was on paper only. The Scouts did cook, but not by patrols: A cooking detail was chosen—sometimes by the SPL; sometimes by the Scoutmaster—and they cooked for the entire troop, including all adults. A separate cleaning detail, similarly chosen, cleaned up everything afterwards. I could go on, but you get the picture. I didn’t blame the Scoutmaster for this stuff—it was like that when he took over, and had probably been that way as long as anyone could remember!

When I became an Assistant Scoutmaster, I took the necessary training and boy, were my eyes opened! I hadn’t been a Scout, myself, so the training was critical. I saw The Patrol Method in action! I visited with our Scoutmaster, who had already asked me to be his successor, and suggested that we start implementing The Patrol Method, starting with cooking by patrols. We dragged the patrol boxes out of storage, dusted them off (they hadn’t been used in years!) and the Scouts did just that on the very next camping trip. Gourmet chefs they weren’t, but no one starved, either. And they liked it! They had… Fun!

When I later became Scoutmaster, I figured out two things right away. First, I was working at this too hard. Second, we were short-changing the Scouts something awful. About this time, our council was holding a Wood Badge course. I’d always sought out training when I could get it, and I’d heard about what great training Wood Badge is, so I signed up right away. So! THIS is how a troop is supposed to operate! THIS is how a patrol works! Now I knew what I had to do!

After our next troop and patrol elections, we started monthly Patrol Leaders Council meetings. We started youth leader training. We started having the Scouts decide on troop activities, instead of us telling them what they’d be doing. It was often a bumpy ride. Our meetings and activities were often derided as “chaotic” by some of the parents. I got push-back from some of the older Scouts, who’d been perfectly happy as the “world’s-oldest Webelos,” and from some of the parents, who seemed to think that Boy Scouts was some blend of super-Webelos and low-cost travel-and-babysitting agency. We were making progress— not as fast as I wanted, but progress.

One of the last things I did as Scoutmaster was to go with the troop to a district event, where we had been asked to teach a Scoutcraft skill to all participants. Our youth leaders made sure the Scouts knew what they were going to be presenting, and how to do it safely. This turned out to be my proudest moment in Scouting, as all there was for me to do during the day was to sit in my camp chair and sign cards; the Scouts did everything else, and did it extremely well. There was no sign of chaos anywhere, and the activity was completed successfully. I was never so proud of a group “my” Scouts as I was that day.

When I stepped down as Scoutmaster, I had fears the troop might slip back to being a “Webelos III” troop, but it didn’t happen: The Scouts themselves, through their empowered PLC, kept that from happening!

Here’s the irony. There wasn’t anything I did that was the least bit novel. The Patrol Method was worked out by Baden-Powell a long time ago. All we adults need to do is make sure it’s in place, then step back and let it work.

If you’re a leader in a troop that isn’t using The Patrol Method, start using it, today. If you’re a parent of a Scout in a troop that’s not using The Patrol Method, insist that the troop institute it–immediately. If they won’t, there’s another troop out there that’s already getting it right!. Find it and move your son(s) there without delay. (Name & Council Withheld)

This is an absolutely wonderful testimony to Scouting as it should be, and not as the uninformed or recalcitrant decide to “reinvent” it! Thanks for taking the time to write, and for finding Scouting’s True North and sticking to the helm!

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to askandybsa@yahoo.com. 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. 334 – 11/12/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012]

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy 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: 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 & Cliff Dochterman Awards, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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