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Issue 345 – February 3, 2013

Hi Andy,

I’m our troop’s Committee Chair. We’re trying to put together a “handbook” for Scouts and parents. We’ve been told there’s one in existence, but none of us has ever seen it. We’re wondering if troops are allowed to set their own standards on requirements that don’t agree with BSA national standards. For example, if a Scout hasn’t completed a merit badge within a year, can a troop force the Scout to retake all of the requirements that have already been signed off (assuming, of course, that he’s not 18)? (Name & Council Withheld)

The only “handbook” you ALL should be using is the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. “Troop rules,” “troop policies,” and “troop handbooks” are absolutely not needed. As for the example of a “troop stipulation” regarding merit badge completions, the BSA has long stated that a Scout may work on requirements for merit badges until their 18th birthday and no troop is authorized to supersede BSA national policies related to advancement or any other aspect of the Boy Scout program. To “not agree” is silliness. Your troop’s mandate is to deliver the BSA program as written. You absolutely do not have the luxury of changing things to fit somebody’s arbitrary “opinion.”

Thank so much, Andy! This troop’s leaders don’t agree with BSA national policy and are trying to demand one year to complete the merit badges once started. (N&CW)

Straight from the BSA: “No council, district, unit, or individual has the authority to add to, or to subtract from, any advancement requirements” and “‘Partials’ have no expiration except the 18th birthday.” End of story. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

Can a dual-registered Boy Scout-and-Venturer wear his Venturing uniform to a Boy Scout troop meeting? (Dan Baas)

Hmmm… Why would a Scout want to wear his Venturing uniform to a troop meeting, especially since he already has a Scout uniform to wear?

Because he’s proud of his Venturing uniform and is looking to recruit others into Venturing by them asking “what’s the green shirt?” (DB)

Fundamentally cool idea. So how about he promotes Venturing to non-Scouts… His fellow Scouts are already “in the program.” Meanwhile, he might have a personal chat with his Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader and see what they have to say. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

In our council, we’re having some difficulty with keeping the merit badge counselor list up-to-date. We’ve tried several methods with no success. Any suggestions? (Paul Markoff)

There are, I’m sure, many methods available. The one I used was managed on a district-by-district basis. Each district generated a mailing list of all counselors and the merit badges they handled. Once a year, we sent them all a first-class letter with their name and address on it (and the envelope, too, of course) and a listing of the merit badge(s) they covered. We asked them to initial the letter and mail it back to us (in a postage-paid envelope we enclosed), indicating (a) that they wished to continue in this capacity and (b) whether they wished to keep the merit badges listed (they could cross off any they no longer wished to do). We provided a deadline and informed them that they would continue so long as we received their letter by the date specified (internally, we allowed an extra week, in case of unforeseen delay, weather, etc.).

By using first class mail, any that were undeliverable would come back to us, and we could then cull them from the list. Those whose replies we received were kept on the list.

This (a) kept the list current and (b) quickly identified any “holes” we might have in merit badge coverage.

This was a while ago. Today, with email addresses pretty available. Email might be used as a partial or even complete replacement for regular mail, but with a caution that you’ll invariably get folks who complain about getting dropped because either they don’t pay that much attention to all email messages or their “spam-blocker” kicked it out, etc. (One caution: Your council folks might squawk a bit about the cost of the outbound-and-inbound postage, but there’s just no way around that!)
Dear Andy,

My son is working on his Eagle-required Camping merit badge. He’s been involved with two different troops, and has been on dozens of overnight campouts. But with a scarcity of good records between the troops, we’re finding it tough to produce weekend tent nights. We do remember three trips to one summer camp as well as several to others, over the years. Are we really only allowed six days/nights of total credit for the six weeks or so he camped on an extended basis? (Wayne Smith)

Yes, you’re correct: The maximum number of consecutive days/nights at a long-term (residence) camp that can be counted among the 20 required for this merit badge is six (6).

Your son might want to check his own records and calendars for further details, and then discuss this with his Merit Badge Counselor (the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK has a “Camping Log” on pages 444 and 446).
Dear Andy,

For the rank of Life Scout, does having been a Den Chief count as a leadership position? The Scoutmaster’s saying that because the Scout served as a Den Chief with a den and pack and not his troop, he couldn’t be observed, so this doesn’t count. (Name & Council Withheld)

Yes, Den Chief is a rank-qualifying position of responsibility. As far as the Scoutmaster “observing” or not, this is not germane and should not influence advancement decisions.
Hi Andy,

I’m a troop advancement coordinator, and I’m tasked with documenting for the National Outdoor Award. One of our Scouts went to a National Jamboree “shakedown last year,” and so I was crediting this as one item under “Adventure-3g” and the individual events he did at the shakedown (whitewater rafting and mountain biking) in the appropriate rocker tab (Aquatics & Cycling). However, this Scout’s mom thought that the shakedown should be credited as multiple items under Adventure-3g (one time for each adventure activity done at the shakedown) and also for the individual activities as I was planning. Any thoughts on this? (Bret Morrow, Connecticut Yankee Council)

Let’s take a look at the Outdoor Awards badge requirements (NMOA req. 3)…

– If this Scout took a whitewater trip lasting two or more days and covered 21 or more miles without food resupply, he gets credit for this toward the “Adventure” NOA badge. Or, if this Scout completed at least 50 hours of whitewater activity, he gets credit for this toward the “Aquatics” NOA badge.

– There’s no “Cycling” NOA badge, so if he competed 200 miles of cycling he gets credit toward the “Riding” NOA badge. Or, if there’s a spot for this in the “Adventure” NOA badge, he can receive credit there.

Note that requirements aren’t exact matches, so that one may not necessarily fit another. Where “multiple credit” is permitted, this is stated.

Of course, the first thing to be managed is parental interference. Sounds like it’s time for someone to counsel this mother on the concept of Boy Scouting: It’s not “Webelos III.” Her son may need some counseling, too, on the concept of Boy Scouting: It’s not “Mommy-and-Me Scouting.”
Hi Andy,

I started my Scouting in India and I’ve earned the highest rank in India: the President’s Badge. It’s the same as Eagle Scout. I don’t have the patch with me, so can I put the Eagle Scout square knot on my uniform? (Shiraz Kheraj)

First, congratulations for earning the Bharat Scouts and Guides’ highest rank—the Rashtrapati Puraskar! In the BSA, Eagle is a rank badge (and square knot) worn only by Eagle Scouts. Your idea, while it might seem to make sense, just isn’t permitted. That said, maybe somebody in India can track down the one you earned and mail it to you?
Dear Andy,

I wrote to the BSA Health and Safety team about the Whittlin’ Chit and Totin’ Chip, to find out, among other things, whether these were mandatory or not. They said that nowhere is it written that the card must be carried with the youth to be able to carry and use a pocket knife, although they suggest that this be done. So, can a pack committee make it a policy that all youth in that unit must earn and carry a Whittlin’ Chit to be able to carry a pocket knife at a pack function? Likewise, can a troop committee make it a requirement that Scouts must earn and carry a Totin’ Chip to be able to use the associated tools (knife, axe, saw, etc.) at a troop activity? (John Pinchot, Longhorn Council, TX)

The purpose of the Whittlin’ Chit and Totin’ Chip is to promote safety. So, I suppose a unit could do what you have in mind, so long as (a) it’s not made into a “requirement” of some sort for advancement, (b) the unit provides ample and ongoing opportunities for Scouts to earn these “licenses” (yes, licenses; they’re not an “advancement”), and (c) the unit equally insists that every adult earn the same (this prevents
a “double-standard” mentality).

However, before proceeding, consider that such actions as “tearing off corners” or taking back the card if someone is found to be using an edged tool improperly are considered abusive. The correct action is re-instruction–applied to both youth and adults.

As for Boy Scout troops in particular, since the use of woods tools is a part of the program function of a troop, it would be inappropriate for a troop’s committee to make this decision. The best place for this particular decision to emerge is from the Patrol Leaders Council
Dear Andy,

Can you please tell me how a merit badge sash is oriented? Which way does the point go, and on which side? A picture would be a big help! (Gloria Rogers)

The sash goes over the Scout’s right shoulder; the pointy part is on the left side, about waist-high. Go to, for instance, Google-Images and do a search for “merit badge sash.” That should help a lot!
Hi Andy,

Do you happen to know if the BSA is considering including arrow points to the Tiger Cub program, instead of the beads for the electives? We have quite a discussion going in our pack. It seems that one of the trainers in a recent Cub Scout leader training course encouraged the Tiger Cub Den Leaders to promote belt loops over the TC electives, so that the boys would have some “bling” to carry along with them through their Cub Scout years instead of the beads-and-totems, which don’t carry forward. I have some reservations about steering the boys away from the age-appropriate and varied Tiger electives, but do you know if arrow points are even being considered? (Ann Olson, UC, Northern Star Council, MN)

The Cub Scout Academics and Sports program is a supplemental program; it is ancillary to the standard Tiger/Cub/Webelos Scout advancement program (i.e., age-appropriate achievements and electives for ranks and arrow points).

“Bling” isn’t what either of these programs is about. Whoever used this term is possibly misguided, however well-meaning he or she may have hoped to be.

Focus on achievements and electives as the primary thrusts of your pack’s and dens’ programs. There’s no limit on arrow points and their only drawback is that they’re a pain to sew on! Use the Academics and Sports program to supplement. It’s a fun program for both the boys and their Den Leaders!

Thanks, Andy. Our Tiger Den Leader’s complaint is that the Tigers can’t earn arrow points, just the elective beads, which she is saying don’t travel with them like arrow points do (on the uniform). I agree that the belt loops are supplemental, and the program is what it is. I guess arrow points will be something for them to look forward to. (Ann)

Yes, it’s correct that Tiger Cubs don’t earn arrow points. Arrow points are a part of the Cub Scout advancement program. The Tiger Cub advancement program is unique to Tiger Cubs. It is, in effect, a “pre-Cub Scout” program. A boy becomes a Cub Scout when he earns his Bobcat badge, and a new journey begins, in the Cub Scout program. On completion of the Cub Scout program, the boy moves on to the Boy Scout program. At that point, the only Cub Scout recognition that carries forward into Boy Scouting is the Arrow of Light badge, which is permitted to be worn on the Boy Scout uniform. Similarly, when a boy moves from the Tiger Cub program to the Cub Scout program, the one recognition that carries forward is his Tiger Cub badge.

As far as the “bling” concept is concerned, that’s not what any of these programs is about. They’re all about personal growth and development. Badges and such are not the goal; they merely represent certain key stepping-stones along the journey. To make “bling” a goal is to misunderstand the purpose of the Scouting movement and its various programs of youth growth and development.
Dear Andy,

In our district, the advancement sub-committee (falls under the program committee), in addition to holding boards of review for Eagle candidates, has now has taken it upon itself to hold district-level boards of review for all Scouts advancing to Star and Life Ranks. They’re claiming that these district reviews for Star and Life aren’t mandatory, but are—their words—“strongly encouraged.” Despite their non-mandatory status (at least for the present), most troop leaders in our district are afraid to not go to the district for Star and Life reviews, lest they offend the committee with the possibility of negative consequences when their Scouts are ready for Eagle.

For these district reviews, the Scouts must bring with them: their handbook with all initials and dates in place, a printout of the troop’s advancement records for himself, and the multi-part (NCR paper) Troop Advancement Report pre-signed by the troop’s leaders. The Scout must appear in full and complete uniform.

If anything is missing, the Scout is turned away, and this has happened. Scouts have also been subjected to uniform inspections and turned away because—literally—they weren’t wearing BSA-issue socks.

Before I have a chat with the advancement folks, I want to do a –pre-check with you, if that’s OK. 

First, the whole idea of district-level reviews for Star and Life seem to contradict the intention of the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. Its Section specifically states that, for these ranks, reviewers should be unit committee members.

Second, “encouraging” a full uniform is a great idea, but demanding it is expressly prohibited (GTA-Section specifically states this).

Further, requiring that a hand-written version of the Troop Advancement Report be used seems unusual. Again, the GTA (Section says that district advancement committees should be encouraging 100% use of online advancement.

Related to this, the fact that a Scout doesn’t have committee-level paperwork such as the “Member Unit Advancement Summary” or hard copy of a Troop Advancement Report seems like a poor reason to reject a Scout from having his board of review. If the Scout has done the work, and has a signed-off handbook for everything including his Scoutmaster’s conference, then it seems to me that this should be all he needs.

My concern is not just about knowing ahead of time that I’m on the right track—I think I can point at enough stuff in the GTA for that. My big concern is that confronting the existing committee with this will cause them to hold a grudge when, down the road, there’s a Scout from my own troop going up for his Eagle board of review.

I believe this needs to be made right, but I’m afraid that making waves is going to cause problems for the Scouts, who shouldn’t be caught in or potential victims of administrative disputes between adult volunteers. Can I ask for your overview of these points, and your advice on how to proceed? (Name & Council Withheld)

The cold fact is that your district’s advancement committee is in violation of national BSA advancement policy. Boards of review for all ranks and palms except the rank of Eagle are conducted at the troop level. This procedure is one of long standing and the BSA makes no provision for any alternate. For some group of volunteers to have taken the step you’ve described is completely out of line. Moreover, the demands they’re placing on the Scouts is, quite literally, unconscionable. What this whole thing smacks of is little people trying to make themselves bigger by making others smaller. There is no place for them in Scouting.

That’s the easy part. The critical part is how to put an immediate end to this unauthorized an abusive practice.

I’m going to suggest two concurrent steps. First, see to it that every troop in the district immediately stops sending Scouts to district-level reviews for Star and Life. Simultaneously, employ some back-channel conversations with both the District Vice Chair-Program and the District Chair to find out (a) whether they’re aware of this renegade procedure and (b) what their thoughts are regarding it. If you discover that they’re unaware of it, alert them and request that the advancement committee stop this immediately. If they’re aware, advise them that this is prohibited and insist that they stop it immediately. If, however, they’re aware and condone it (or take a laissez faire stance regarding it), then you’ll need to take a third step.

The third step—which I’m hoping won’t be necessary—is in two parts. The first part is to alert the council’s Advancement Chair of this violation. The second is for every troop in the district to rally together and demand that the District Chair put a stop to it.

The bottom line is that this cannot be permitted to continue. However, absolutely do not attempt to make this a one-person or one-troop crusade. Strength is in numbers and in resiliency. United, your troop and all others in the district can end this nonsense.

Final point: This issue isn’t open to an exchange of opinions or general discussion. It’s wrong and it must stop. Right now. If it comes to it, rise up and demand that the rascals be thrown out.
Dear Andy,

Why must Cub Scouts brush their teeth every day? (Duncan Daughnaut)

Oh good grief. They’re obeying the law of the plaque.

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. 345 – 2/3/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]


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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