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Issue 335 – November 17, 2012

Rule No. 98
• “I think I can fix that” always solves more problems than “Somebody ought to do something…” (Thanks, Diana Cilluffo)
Dear Andy,

Is it OK for pack leaders to decide not to attend a planned pack event and instead attend a neighborhood alcohol-laced Halloween party, including being photographed in lewd costumes with drinks in their hands, and then posting these pictures online for all to see? The respectable half of the pack was at a corn maze, singing camp songs and drinking hot chocolate at the same time. Our Cubmaster tried to pressure me into changing the date of the pack event, but when I refused, hardly any leaders showed up, including him (an Eagle Scout, no less). They all opted to go to the other party.

Apparently, the district closes their eyes to this behavior and other atrocities happening within both our pack and troop: They’ve not responded to my emails, even with pictures attached. It truly is the “good ol’ boy” system here. I’m out! This and other activities they’ve been a part of are despicable. (Name & Council Withheld)

Of course you already know the answer to your question. It coincides with my Rule No. 1: There’s no cure for stupid. But, as we also know, Scouting has no “exclusive” on stupid.

This is an issue for your chartered organization to deal with; the BSA council has no specific jurisdiction over the volunteers approved by the pack’s chartered organization (aka “sponsor”), especially since no local ordinances have apparently been broken. So, if you’re going to aim your arrows anywhere, best to aim them at the right target: the sponsor.

Meanwhile, it’s likely that this sort of dumb behavior isn’t going to go away on its own. Consequently, you have two choices: (1) round up all the irate parents and have a face-to-face with the head of your pack’s sponsor, to demand these yoyo’s be replaced (be prepared to replace them from amongst yourselves) or (2) get out there and find a nearby pack for your sons where they get it right. If you do decide to leave instead of fixing the problem, do it with grace; try to avoid rancor.
Dear Andy,

When can a Scout who’s Life rank begin work on his Eagle Scout service project? Can a troop make it a policy that a Scout can’t start his project until he finishes all the merit badges required for Eagle? (Name & Council Withheld)

A Scout can begin to develop his Eagle Scout Service Project the very moment his successful board of review for Life rank has concluded.

No troop has the authority to insist that a Life Scout complete the balance of merit badges he needs for Eagle before beginning work on his project. Or the other way around. Or anything else that deviates from, adds to, or subtracts from the advancement policies and procedures of the national council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Your question suggests very strongly to me that the troop in question is abusing other advancement areas as well. So, if you have more questions about this autocracy-disguised-as-a-troop, let me know and we’ll deal with them.
Dear Andy,

What are the requirements and/or restrictions for choosing an Eagle Mentor for our troop? (Mike Hanson)

“Eagle Mentor” is a delightful option available to the new Eagle Scout. He can choose a person (or more than one, if he so chooses, but it’s typically just one) who he considers has helped him most along the trail from Tenderfoot to Eagle, and present that person with the EM pin at the court of honor. This would not include a parent, because Dad receives an “Eagle Dad” pin and Mom receives an “Eagle Mom” pin, both also presented by the Scout at the court of honor. (All three of these pins, by the way, are for non-uniform wear.)

Sorry, Andy. What I meant to ask is about the adult that serves as the person who guides Life Scouts through the Eagle process. Are there restrictions or requirements that would keep someone from filling this position? (Mike)

Nope. It’s an unofficial position with no specific registration code, although this responsibility often falls to a committee member.

That said, if you’re considering someone, make sure he or she understands all the in’s and out’s of the Life-to-Eagle process, how the new service project process is handled, and is 110% boy-oriented! Also, be sure this person has no latent biases or idiosyncrasies, such as “a boy 13 years old isn’t ‘mature’ enough to understand or earn Eagle rank,” or “Eagle service projects must be overwhelmingly huge or the Scout won’t qualify,” or “we’ll just fudge that date a bit…” etc.
Dear Andy,

The boys in my den have completed all the requirements for their Arrow of Light rank. When I asked our Cubmaster that they’re ready to receive these at our next pack meeting in November, he told me that the Arrow of Light is only give out at the pack’s “cross-over” next April. That’s almost six months away! I talked to our committee and they said that that’s the “pack rule”—no changes, ever. I feel that the boys should receive the ranks as soon as they’re earned. What can I do? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, let’s get this straight: You’re 100% on-target—All Scouts (including Cub Scouts and Webelos) receive the badges and ranks they’ve earned at the earliest possible time. This is especially true of Cub/Webelos Scouts; these should be presented at the soonest pack meeting available after all requirements are completed.

Moreover, crossovers in April went out with buggy-whips. (The actual year was 1989—that’s 23 years ago!) Crossovers are expected to be done in February, most usually in conjunction with the pack’s Blue & Gold Banquet. Which leads us to this question: Why are B&G Banquets held in February? Simple: February is the birth-month of both the BSA (1910) and Baden-Powell himself (1857)! The B&G is, in fact, a birthday party!

What can you do? Well, maybe ask the Cubmaster and committee to re-read the CUB SCOUT LEADER BOOK, so they can start doing things the way the BSA intends for them to, instead of they way they like (which is both arbitrary and inappropriate, and severely damages the Cub-to-Scout transition).

If that doesn’t work, reach out to your district’s Commissioner staff and ask for someone to come in and educate these surely well-meaning but nevertheless misguided folks.
Dear Andy,

My son and I were comparing badges. He really liked my 1970’s-era rank insignia because of the bright colors. We swapped out his drab First Class badge for my old bright red one. He liked it and nobody said anything. Now that he’s reached Star, he’d like to wear my old blue one. This got me thinking…

I’ve heard that all insignia, regardless of era, are valid. Could this be considered a “legacy” or “honoring the past”? But, there’s a reason they call it a uniform: All Scouts should look the same. Any thoughts…? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’re on the money with your first points: The BSA informs us that no BSA uniforms or badges earned ever “expire.” So, yeah, if your son thinks yours are cool, and you’re OK with this, and so is his troop, then so’s the BSA!

“Uniform” includes the apparel…the pants, belt, shirt, socks, and so forth. Badges earned or awarded express each Scout’s uniqueness. This is why they work so well when worn correctly!
Hi Andy,

Can a Webelos II Scout earn a Mile Swim patch? I didn’t see an application for it in the Cub Scout advancement materials. Also for the Mile Swim, where can I find the adult application? Or are these specifically for Boy Scouts? (T. Graham, UC, Golden Empire Council, CA)

Yup, you’re on the right track… The Mile Swim is for Boy Scouts and Venturers. It’s not for either Cub Scouts or adults volunteers. That’s precisely why you couldn’t find it among Cub Scout awards and you couldn’t find an adult application for it.
Hi Andy,

Can a Unit Commissioner also be a Scoutmaster? (Shiraz Heraj)

Nope! Commissioners are specifically restricted from holding unit leader positions, and that definitely includes the Scoutmaster position. That’s a national, not a local, policy!
Dear Andy,

In your October 21, 2012 column you stated: “No BSA volunteer is authorized to refuse a Scout a ‘blue card’ when he asks for one or to refuse to provide the name of a council-registered Merit Badge Counselor.”

However, the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK says that the Scoutmaster is to “approve” the blue cards. It specifically says that a Scout can work on a merit badge, “assuming he has approval.”

The March 2012 BSA “Advancement Newsletter” also appears to continue the muddying. I understand the purpose behind having the Scout speak to his Scoutmaster, to let him know he wants to work on a merit badge and to get the information for a counselor; however, in our troop, the Scoutmaster wants the Scout to first meet with the counselor and then, after than, come to him for the blue card. He also doesn’t want to sign the blue cards currently being requested by the Scouts because he believes that Scouts shouldn’t be working on multiple merit badges at the same time—the Scouts should complete one before starting on another. Several of the merit badges in question have requirements for the Scout to do something or track something over a period of several months, so getting started earlier rather than later seems to make sense, but the Scoutmaster won’t budge on this unless I can show him an official BSA policy in writing. Can you help? (Name & Council Withheld)

Before tackling your situation, let’s get something straight: We’re not talking about just “any” Scouting volunteer and “blue cards”—we’re talking about Scoutmasters. Scoutmasters sign blue cards; blue cards aren’t signed by ASMs, committee members, or anyone else. Yes, the card says “Unit Leader.” However, this is purely to accommodate Coaches of Scout teams, Skippers of Sea Scout ships, and Advisors of Venturing crews, since all three of these unit-types can have young men earning merit badges, in addition to those in Scout troops.

There’s no “muddying.” The BSA National Advancement Committee is attempting to guide Unit Leaders into understanding that “approval” doesn’t mean “in my infinite wisdom I’ll decide if the Scout is ‘worthy’ of attempting this (or any) merit badge.” If, however, you perceive “muddying,” I’m happy to advise you that the wording on the blue card will shortly be changed, so that the “in my infinite wisdom…” misinterpretation will be significantly reduced if not eliminated altogether.

Of course, the Scoutmaster you’re describing has it backwards. I’ve just checked four editions of the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, dating back over six decades. They all cite these four steps: (1) The Scout has an interest in a merit badge subject, (2) He discusses this with his Scoutmaster (aka Unit Leader), (3) The Scoutmaster gives him a signed application (aka “blue card”) and a counselor’s name and contact information, and (4) The Scout contacts the counselor and begins work. In the current edition, refer to page 123, which states this in unequivocal language.

Further, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (any edition) states the same. In the 2012 edition, refer to pages 20-21, including this statement: “…any Boy Scout…may earn any (merit badge) at any time.”

More, the 11th edition of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK states the same steps (refer to page 187).

With these resources in your quiver, put the onus where it belongs: on the Scoutmaster. Insist that he show you—in writing by the BSA—that the procedure he’s following is acceptable, and that a Scoutmaster may restrict the number of merit badges a Scout chooses to work toward concurrently. He won’t be able to do this, of course, and that should conclude the conversation on this. If this Scoutmaster still “refuses to budge,” fire him.

Dear Andy,

I’m Committee Chair for a Cub Scout pack. We have a mother of one of the Cubs who’s not married, but her boyfriend is their son’s father. I’ve spoken to her about the BSA rules stating only married couples can share a tent because the BSA follows traditional family values. I guess this made her upset, because she went to our District Executive, who told her that it’s OK. I didn’t see why there would be an exception, even though the two people are the boy’s parents. Can you please clarify this for me? (Name & Council Withheld)

The boy has two parents, and the three of them are functioning as an intact family unit. They deserve our congratulations and support. I recommend abiding by your District Executive’s recommendation, unless you’re actually able to produce a written BSA policy to the contrary. District Executives are members of the council’s professional staff and, as such, we expect them to get this sort of stuff right. But, most important, since the Cub Scout program was created to strengthen the relationship between boys of this age and their parents, I’d sure be the first to say let’s honor the intent of the program.
Dear Andy,

We have a couple of helpful and enthusiastic JASMs (Junior Assistant Scoutmasters) in our troop. We can’t seem to figure out where they should stand at meetings, during the opening and closing flag ceremonies. Would they stand alongside the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters, or at the front-center with the Senior Patrol Leader and ASPLs, or in line with the patrols? (Name & Council Withheld)

JASMs would most reasonably stand with the Scoutmaster and any other assistants.
Dear Andy,

The District Commissioner for our area regularly shows up at the units I serve as Commissioner without prior communication. I’ve asked him to just let me know, so there are no surprises. His response was, “I’ll show up anytime I want, whether I let you know or not.” I suggested that appropriate meetings for a D.E. would certainly be courts of honor, for example, but that just dropping by troop meetings unannounced is sort of jarring to everyone. His response was that he more or less doesn’t care; he’ll show up when he wants to, and that’s that. What’s going on here? Any thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

In the arena of Unit Commissioner-District Executive relations, yes, it would definitely have been a courtesy for that person to let you know he was going to drop by one of your units. But, it’s not mandatory that this be done. So, rather than make this confrontational between the two of you, consider having a quiet conversation with your District Commissioner and then let him manage the D.E.—they are, as you know, both members of the “Key 3,” where matters like this can be informally brought up and dealt with. In the meanwhile, relax a little… Your D.E.’s not necessarily “evil”… he’s likely just a bit in need of some coaching.
Dear Andy,

Can an Assistant Scoutmaster also be a troop’s advancement chair at the same time? Related to that, can an Assistant Scoutmaster sit on boards of review? (Steve Kidd, New UC)

Assistant Scoutmaster is a registered position (code SA) with responsibilities quite far afield from that of a troop advancement coordinator. A troop’s committee is made up of members (code MC) and there is but a single “chair” position: Committee Chair (code CC). The committee member responsible for maintaining advancement records, submitting advancement reports, and such, is called “advancement coordinator.” It’s entirely inappropriate for an Assistant Scoutmaster to be carrying out the responsibilities of a committee member. Assistant Scoutmaster is, in corporate parlance, a “line” position; the advancement coordinator is “staff.”

The BSA is completely clear on the point that neither Scoutmasters nor Assistant Scoutmasters are ever members of boards of review for any rank, or for Eagle palms.

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. 335 – 11/17/2012 – 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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