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Issue 347 – February 28, 2013

We talk about “Scouts in Action”… How about a “Scouter in Action” in one of the least-probable locations on the planet!? Check out this video, sent to me by John Fox, of the Daniel Webster Council, NH. It’s the story of Keith Blackey, a veteran of the Vietnam War with a lifelong involvement in Scouting. But what he’s doing now isn’t in the good old USA; he’s in Afghanistan! Here’s the NBC news report by Mandy Clark (and you thought they only reported the “bad” stuff!). Check it out:
Dear Andy,

Here’s a statement from a troop’s “discipline policy”…

“…for a second offense, the Scout is placed on probation, urged to remain active and improve his Scout Spirit. No rank advancement may occur during probation period. The length of probation is determined by the Troop Committee.”

Is this sort of thing even permitted, under BSA advancement guidelines or other BSA policies? To me, it seems this would likely drive the Scout out of the troop, especially if the length of probation is weeks or months. I’d think that maybe asking the Scout to do a service project in line with the “violation” could be more constructive. Any thoughts on this one? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’re absolutely on the right page, and that so-called “troop discipline policy” is full o’ beans. There is no room whatsoever in Scouting for “discipline” or–worse–“punishment” (like “probation”). Yes, there are consequences, in the form of learning opportunities, but that’s it. This is why any sort of “troop policies” are utter nonsense. The BSA has provided all the policies necessary to run a troop. They’re in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK, and that’s it. Nothing need be added. If a Scout messes up, he learns, and he self-corrects. Most mistakes a Scout will make are handled by his Patrol Leader. “Larger” errors might include the Senior Patrol Leader, but unless a Scout has demonstrated the likelihood of bringing actual harm to himself or another Scout, there is absolutely no need for any member of the troop committee to have any say in the matter. In most situations (like 99%) a candid Scoutmaster conference would be the highest level necessary for learning and self-correction. My advice is simple: Throw out that “policy” book and maybe the rascals who wrote it, too!
Dear Andy,

I’m a Merit Badge Counselor for Reptile & Amphibian Study. A few of the Scouts I’m working with have completed the month of care before their “blue card” was signed by their Scoutmaster. Can the work done before this count toward that requirement? (Janathan Roche, National Capital Area Council)

Absolutely! The BSA states clearly that prior work/accomplishments can count, so long as they fulfill the letter of the requirement(s). ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

I’ve been asked a question that no one at our council service center can answer and I’ve struck out with Google. Here it is: When the “Journey to Excellence” program talks about “short-term overnight campouts,” what does that mean? Surely at least one night, yes? Tents? Scout program? Specifically, I was asked if the following scenarios qualify per the JTE as “short-term overnight campouts”…

– A troop goes to a local YMCA camp, spends Friday night in heated cabins, has breakfast Saturday at McDonald’s, spends the rest of the day at an indoor swimming facility (or museum tour), and then goes home Saturday later afternoon or early evening.

– A troop goes out to the council camp Saturday morning, but can’t stay over Saturday night because their chartered organization—a church—prohibits activities on Sunday.

Can you provide any guidance on these? (Tom Linton)

The JTE for Troops, Req. 5 Discusses short-term campouts; Req. 6 discusses long-term camps. A “short-term campout” is an over-nighter lasting up to 72 hours (it can be less, of course, including one night). This can mean overnight Friday only, overnight Friday and Saturday nights, and–in the case of, say, three-day weekends, overnight Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Obviously, it does not include day hikes or other day outdoor events, “day” meaning that there’s no “overnight” aspect of the event. Day-long (only) events, while certainly important and fun, don’t accrue toward JTE “credits.”

While your first scenario sounds like a lot of fun, the deciding question is: In this situation, how do Scouts get to use the camping skills they’re learning or have learned through the three foundational Boy Scout ranks? Good judgment (i.e., more than “common sense”) will provide the answer.

Scenario number two is quite obviously not a “campout.”

The BSA glossary doesn’t list “camping” or “campout,” so we need another source. Let’s try the Camping merit badge pamphlet and requirements: “Camping” means “sleep under the stars or in a tent you have pitched.” Thus, sleeping in a cabin, lean-to, or other permanent structure isn’t considered “camping” per this merit badge (although the merit badge requirements do provide a provision for up to six days/nights at a long-term resident camp, with pre-pitched tents). I’d say—and this is a personal call—that the first scenario is a wonderful junket but not camping or a campout. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

I’m currently Scoutmaster of a troop that has revitalized itself and, consequently gone from nearly moribund to active and robust in activities and youth members. But now we’re encountering a problem none of us would have predicted. It revolves around our Chartered Organization Representative (aka “CR”). He’s the former Scoutmaster, and had been mostly hands-off, until—maybe it’s a coincidence; maybe not—we started to get healthy. Now, he’s acting almost like he’s a sort of “Scoutmaster Emeritus,” and hardly hands-off. He’s gruff and sometimes blustery, often preachy, and quick to single out and criticize the Scouts themselves. It’s now reached the point where Scouts aren’t showing up for meetings or campouts, as a way to avoid him. When I’ve asked him to settle down, or simply keep away from the Scouts, his response has been that he’s “old school” and can’t help it. This carries over to things like uniforms, too. Now I understand the uniform is important and is one of the methods of Scouting, but I’d rather have a Scout show up out of uniform or in partial uniform than not show up at all! His way is pretty much the opposite of mine, right down to “infractions” like not wearing BSA socks. The BSA points out that uniforms are a method; not a mandatory requirement of some sort, but having a conversation with this CR from this point of view gets…well, you can guess.

This CR also constantly points out to the committee and parents that we’re off-track and need to “get back on track,” which ultimately means run the troop with an iron fist and teach via criticizing and finding fault.
“Boy-led leads to chaos” is his fundamental viewpoint. He doesn’t seem to understand that a Scout-run troop is sometimes less than perfection, that things may be imperfect and messy at times. To me, they’re boys, and how are they going to learn if we don’t give them room to try, and the patience to let them try again.

Right now, I’ve about had it with this negativity and meddling. I could resign, but I really don’t feel that that’s the right thing to do. I’ve tried to ignore his negativity, deflect his little personal jabs, overlook his idiosyncrasies, and deal with his “old school” attitude, but it’s wearing me down. It’s also wearing down our Committee Chair. What do we do? (Name & Council Withheld)

“I’m old school” is the most-used excuse in all of Scouting for continuing to be an interfering curmudgeon. It’s baloney. It must stop, or be stopped.

The simple fact is that a CR is not to have direct contact with the Scouts of any unit. The CR’s interface is strictly with the CC; never with the Scouts. Get yourselves a copy of the booklet, THE CHARTERED ORGANIZATION REPRESENTATIVE (No. 33118), and you and the CC read it first. Then, you and the CC together give this chap a copy of it, with your key points highlighted, and review it with him. Tell him where you want his help, and tell him directly that you need for him to remove himself from direct youth contact. If he refuses, you’ll need to go directly to the head of your chartered organization and ask for a replacement, before the troop is further damaged and you start losing Scouts because of him.

Dear Andy,

My wife and I have been Merit Badge Counselors for over a decade. Scouts come to our home to discuss the badge. They may come in pairs, or with a parent, or with a parent who stays in their car, or alone. In the latter two cases, my wife and I make sure that a second adult is in the house during the visit, and we’ll inform the Scout of this as he enters. Following “two-deep leadership,” we’ve always thought we were within both the letter and spirit of the principles of safe Scouting. Upon recently reading THE INTRODUCTION TO MERIT BADGES, its “Buddy System” paragraph is silent on the presence of a second adult not known to the Scout. The “Buddy System” allows another Scout, so, as I read it, a session with the Counselor and two Scouts is OK.

A correlated challenge during the session is that the third person is present for “Safe Scouting;” not as a participant. I’ve had parents who sit through the session with a book and are as quiet as the furniture, but also parents who actively participate in the discussion or, worse, answer questions for the Scout, even when I’ve directed the question to the Scout (in essence, the parent is doing a requirement for the Scout). In one case, the second adult had to take the parent to the other room (is this “safe”?) so that the Scout could converse with me for himself, because the parent had been answering for him. So, I have questions…

Are any two adults sufficient, or does one person need to be known to the Scout?

I’d be uncomfortable with a session with only the Counselor and two Scouts, with no two-deep adults.

Is it advisable (or mandatory) for the second adult to be in view of the Scout and Counselor?

How does one handle meddlesome parents without compromising safe Scouting?

Sources state:

“Use the Scout Buddy System. You must have another person with you at each meeting with the merit badge counselor. This person can be another Scout, your parents or guardian, a brother or sister or other relative, or a friend.”

“Two-deep leadership. 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.”

“No one-on-one contact. One-on-one contact between adults and youth members is not permitted. In situations that require personal conferences, such as a Scoutmaster’s conference, the meeting is to be conducted in view of other adults and youths.”

Your thoughts would help. (Mitch Erickson, MBC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Occam’s Razor applies, I think. The simplest way of handling things is probably best, and keeps us from hurting our brains.

For example, to keep from “one on one” situations, any other human being nearby (as in adjacent room, unless it’s one or more Scout buddies working on the badge, too) is just fine. If we’re talking about a parent, just park ’em in a room nearby. If it’s an interfering parent, your responsibility is to ask (i.e., insist) that they park themselves in an adjacent room and cease interfering with their son and what he’s trying to accomplish. (If the parent refuses, you have the right to end the session right then and there—you are definitely not subject to the whims of an overly “protective” parent.)

As for “two-deep leadership,” the GTSS informs us that this applies only to outings.
Hi Andy.

My son is receiving his Eagle next week and he’d like to give the Mentor pin to his aunt. Is this OK? Would it be appropriate or possible to give the Mentor pin to his aunt, who has participated in Scouts for over ten years and has raised three fine young men who have all earned Eagle? (Kristen Dent)

The Eagle Mentor pin isn’t an “award”—it’s a way to say “Thank You.” So, if your son’s aunt played an important role in his attaining the Eagle rank, it would absolutely be appropriate to present it to her. (BTW, it’s not designed to be presented to a parent, under any circumstances.)
Dear Andy,

A Scout in our troop is raising money for his Eagle project by selling a legitimate product in the neighborhood. He’s asking those who buy to make any checks payable to his troop. The funds would then be identified separately in the troop account and subsequently disbursed for toe project. In an accompanying information sheet, he is stating that all money is being raised on behalf of the beneficiary and any funds left over will go to there as well. Our council folks are telling us that we can’t handle the funds through the troop’s bank account. But if you read the Eagle project workbook (page 18) it says that this is OK. Which is correct? (Name & Council Withheld)

Deposit the money in the troop’s account, keep precise records, and disperse any remaining funds to the recipient after the project’s complete.

Just be sure this Scout isn’t the only one selling the products… He needs to show leadership by teaching others how to sell, and then turning them loose!
Dear Andy,

My son was elected Senior Patrol Leader about two months ago. One of the things with the troop that he wanted to change was to make it more Scout-led. The Scoutmaster isn’t comfortable with what he sees as the chaos that could ensue from allowing the Scouts to make decisions, even including the patrol they’d like to be in. Since my son was elected, the Scoutmaster has missed three troop meetings and a Patrol Leaders Council. Now, he’s refusing to sign merit badge blue cards. Luckily we have some Assistant Scoutmasters and an active Committee Chair who are picking up the slack and acting as go-betweens, but this can’t continue. The Scoutmaster believes the “problem” is my son’s lack of respect for following troop policy on patrol placement, etc. He’s now at the point where, with the Scoutmaster essentially blocking any progress by the Scouts in leading themselves, he’s considering resigning. What should happen here? (Pam Lindquist, MC, Chief Seattle Council, WA)

If a Boy Scout troop isn’t boy-led, it’s simply not Boy Scouting. Period.

This troop’s problem is that the wrong person is Scoutmaster. Your Committee Chair and CR need to find a replacement for him, and make it happen—Now! The longer he’s there, the more damage to the Boy Scout program he’s going to inflict. If this means outright firing the Scoutmaster, straighten your spine and do it. Worried about “hurting his feelings”? Forget it! Just look at the hurt he’s inflicting on your sons.

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. 347 – 2/28/2013 – 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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