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Issue 349 – March 25, 2013

Hi Andy,

I’ll be going to camp this summer with my son and his troop. The camp offers the Mile Swim award. According to both the BSA’s “Scout Stuff” ( and “advancement” section of the U.S. Scouting Service Project ( the Mile Swim is for both youth and adults.

At, the Mile Swim card (#39394) is described: “This card is used to honor each Scout and Scouter who accomplishes the feat of swimming one (1) continuous mile. There are spaces on the card for the Scout or Scouter’s name, the signature of the person who witnessed the completion of swim, and the date of the swim…”

But I can’t find anything else about this, either on the BSA’s main site ( or in BSA literature or handbooks, except for the INSIGNIA GUIDE, which says the badge is for Boy Scouts and Venturers (does this mean adults can receive the card, but not the badge?). Do you have any idea what’s what? (Jonathan Rigden, Greater St. Louis Area Council, MO)

This is one of those “rare as hens’ teeth” situations where we have an actual error in the advancement arena of the website—triggered, most likely, by an incorrect statement at

It is indeed correct that the Mile Swim badge and card are available only to Boy Scouts and Venturers, as stated in the BSA’s INSIGNIA GUIDE. Moreover, it only appears in the BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book, and specifically doesn’t appear in the “adult awards” section of the BSA’s website. But, just to be certain, I took this one step further—to the BSA National Advancement Team. I can report that we have confirmation from the BSA National Advancement Team that this is definitely not something any adult can (or should try to) “earn,” and the folks over at the supply division will be instructed to remove the language they took upon themselves to add.

But do keep in mind: This doesn’t mean that adults aren’t “allowed” to swim a mile; it simply means that the badge is for the Scouts and Venturers.
Dear Andy,

Is there a specific date on which “Scouting for Food” should be conducted? I’ve searched and searched, and haven’t been able to find anything from the BSA on this. Our council website says, “The campaign is flexible and units may schedule their campaign at a time convenient for their members and based on the needs of their local pantry.” Despite this, I’m being told by several people that “Scouting for Food” is supposed to be conducted in February, on the Sunday after Scout Sunday. Even though they can’t show me this in writing, they continue to insist that BSA says it must be on this date. Can you help? (John Pinchot, Longhorn Council, TX)

Trust your council website—it’s correct. And be sure to let those “several people” know that they’re mistaken, so that they don’t mislead others. If they argue, your position is simple: “If you folks can’t show me this, in writing by the BSA, I’m obliged to ignore you.”
Dear Andy,

Must merit badges counted toward Eagle palms have to be earned only after a Scout has reached Eagle rank? (G. Hanes)

Nope! Any merit badge beyond the 21 for Eagle counts toward palms. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

Can you clarify from what point the count of the 20 days and nights for Camping merit badge requirement 9a should begin? We have a group of Scouts—all First Class and higher—who’ve recently submitted blue cards to the Scoutmaster, to begin working on this merit badge, but they were pretty unhappy when they were told that their prior nights of camping with the troop over the past two or more years don’t count, because they didn’t have the blue card signed at the time. When I questioned this, I was told that it’s BSA policy, which has even been discussed at our district’s roundtable. Despite that, I can’t find any documentation of that, as a BSA policy. I’ve noticed several other merit badges for which the Scout is instructed to get Counselor approval before beginning work on a section, which suggests that prior work wouldn’t be counted, but I don’t see anything like that for this Camping merit badge requirement. It would seem to me that our troop is effectively adding a requirement. Do you know of a policy or reference, one way or the other, that would help us clarify this situation? (Trina Rodriguez, North Florida Council)

Folks are handing you a bunch of baloney, and penalizing Scouts while they’re at it!

Just turn to page 20 in BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (any edition!) and there it is, highlighted no less, and pertaining to all merit badges: “At the first meeting, you and your merit badge counselor will review and may start working on the requirements. In some cases, YOU MAY SHARE THE WORK YOU HAVE ALREADY STARTED OR COMPLETED” (capitalization mine). Then read up at the top of page 21: “Unless otherwise stated, WORK ON A REQUIREMENT CAN BE STARTED AT ANY TIME” (capitalization mine).

It obviously cannot possibly be made clearer than that: All prior work—including Boy Scout camping trips to qualify for Camping merit badge requirement 9a—absolutely count! That’s the BSA policy, and that means it can’t be meddled with.

So now, in addition to making some Scouts pretty happy, you have one more step (and I hope you’ll take it): Since whoever “informed” you is probably misleading others as well, it’s worth the effort to alert that person (or those people) that what you were told is 100% incorrect.

And, just to cap this off, Scout’s don’t “submit” Blue Cards to their Scoutmaster for his signature; the Scoutmaster is charged with providing the Scouts with Blue Cards for whatever merit badges the Scouts want to earn! (Yup, that’s straight from the BSA, too—Just check the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK.)
Hi, Andy,

Can (or should) an Eagle Scout be nominated for the Senior Patrol Leader position? This particular Scout earned Eagle in November, 2012, and will be off to college in September this year. He doesn’t need the position for rank advancement, but other Scouts who have been nominated do. What would be the purpose of allowing an Eagle Scout to run for the Senior Patrol Leader position when he doesn’t need it for advancement? (I should mention that this Eagle Scout is right now a Junior Scout Master. Can he hold both positions?)

On another sort of SPL-related issue, our troop’s Scoutmaster recently told the current SPL that he’s a “bad, weak leader” who “can’t make decisions” because he asked the Patrol Leaders Council for ideas on what they and their patrols would like to do for activities, what skills they’d like to learn, and what games would be fun to play at troop meetings. (I should probably mention that this was done “in public”—in front of the Patrol Leaders at the most recent PLC meeting.) (Name & Council Withheld)

The minimum age to qualify for the Junior Assistant Scoutmaster (“JASM”) position is 16; and JASMs are appointed by the troop’s Senior Patrol Leader, with guidance from his Scoutmaster.

JASMs don’t run for election as Senior Patrol Leaders; they’re already past that stage in their Scouting careers. And they certainly don’t hold both the JASM and SPL positions at the same time!

But yes, an Eagle Scout can absolutely be elected by his fellow Scouts to the Senior Patrol Leader position—even if he’s held it before! Here’s the deal: Scouts interested in earning the Eagle Scout rank should be focusing on earning it by their 14th or 15th birthday. This means they have three to four more solid years in the troop, and they’re certainly qualified for SPL by way of the leadership positions they’ve already held along their trail to Eagle, plus the leadership skills they’ve honed during their service project for the rank. So let’s take advantage of this, and elect them! But, conversely, other Scouts, who may be Star or Life rank, may be reasonably qualified as well, and shouldn’t be arbitrarily excluded from seeking this position—after all, it’s the top leadership position in the troop!

Further, on “needing” a position of responsibility: We don’t exclude Scouts because they “don’t need” such positions any more than we shove unready Scouts into such positions because they “need” them to advance in rank. Rank advancement, including stepping up to positions of responsibility, is Scout-driven; it’s not adult-driven.

Finally on this subject, it’s not about giving “back.” No Scout should be made to feel he must give “back.” It’s all about SERVANT-LEADERSHIP… Primus Inter Pares (Latin: “First Among Equals”).

As for a Scoutmaster who tries to tell a Senior Patrol Leader that he’s “bad” or “weak” because he asks for input from the troop’s Patrol Leaders, this is sheer baloney and it’s terribly misleading—and it’s compounded by stultifying insensitivity when this is done in front of the troop’s Patrol Leaders. Seeking input and ideas from the Patrol Leaders and then helping them decide on what they and their patrols would like to do is precisely what a good SPL does!

As for the Scoutmaster you’ve described: Fire his sorry butt. Based on your description, he shouldn’t be allowed within a hundred yards of young people.

Thanks, Andy! I wish I’d been able to find this information within the BSA rules and regulations. In a very recent conversation with our Unit Commissioner, he told us that the BSA’s rules and regulations are “just guidelines and don’t have to be followed because they’re not really rules.” Is this true?

What I’ve stated for you is straight out of the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK. That UC is completely incorrect. The BSA doesn’t provide “guidelines.” The BSA describes specifically how a Boy Scout troop is to be organized, run by the Scouts, and guided and supported by the adult volunteers. When you, as adult volunteers, signed on, you promised to deliver the Boy Scout program to the youth you serve according to the BSA procedures for doing so. I recommend you all re-read the commitment you made. It’s right on your application. If you fail to follow these procedures, you are failing to deliver the Boy Scout program. Yes, it’s that fundamental. If you need more than what you’ll discover in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, I recommend you read your son’s BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, because what’s in there is what’s promised to every boy and young man who joins up—Scouts are Scouting’s first “volunteers” and they deserve to be given the program as written. Otherwise, it’s like telling the basketball team you coach that “basketballs are only a guideline; we can do whatever we want, so we’re going to play this game with footballs.” Unless that UC is willing to change his tune, he deserves to follow your erstwhile Scoutmaster out the door. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

I’m wondering about any BSA rule for carrying a handgun during a Scout backpacking trip. The gun would be for protection purposes only; it wouldn’t be fired for fun or handled by any of the Scouts. (Mark Francis)

The BSA’s GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING says: NO. To which I’ll add: If you’re taking a group of boys somewhere, where you believe bringing along a firearm of any kind would even remotely be needed for “protection” then you’re going to the wrong place.
Dear Andy,

Is there any official policy regarding the wearing of “parent pins” by adults who are also uniformed Scouting volunteers? Specifically, can a uniformed adult wear such pins on their uniforms? If not, is it okay to wear the pins on an adult’s BSA cap or hat? If not, is there a clothing accessory the pins can be worn on when wearing the adult leader uniform? (Wes Bradford, WDL, Harrison, AR)

“Parent pins” are for non-uniform wear. There’s no “ribbon” or such made to be worn on a volunteer’s uniform on which his or her “parents pins” can be worn. For more detail, check the BSA INSIGNIA GUIDE.
Dear Andy,

I’m a Scout and an eighth-grade student. I’m doing a project about the value of Scouting in today’s society. May I ask you a question and ask for an answer that I could quote in my research paper? Here’s my question: “In your opinion, what value does the BSA program have in today’s society?” Thank you very much. (RG, Star Scout)

I’m 70 years old. My professional career has spanned five decades. In that time, I came to discover I had a reputation among my co-workers, friends, colleagues, and clients, and it was this: Here’s a guy you can count on to be always honest—if he promises to complete a task or deliver something, he always does it on time or sooner, and it’s always exactly as he promised it would be. He’s friendly to all—he doesn’t speak badly about others and makes friends quickly and candidly. He’s a good team-player—he doesn’t try to “take over” when someone else is leading, and is willing to work side-by-side with just about anybody. He’s a good leader—he’ll say, “Let’s go! Follow me!” and never “Go there!” And he’s generally a pretty happy guy—he sees the best in everyone and can see “sunshine” even when things look pretty dark and gloomy.

So how did this happen? Where did these “character traits” come from? Well, certainly, some of them came from my parents, and my church. But a lot of them came straight from Scouting! You see, I joined Cub Scouts when I was eight years old, was a Boy Scout, too, and stayed involved in Scouts till I was 22 years old. In those 14 years, a lot of what Scouting’s all about not only “stuck” but I think actually got into my veins. For instance, I didn’t learn to “be” good so much as I learned to DO good in the world. I was chosen captain of my high school varsity tennis team not because I was the best player (I sure wasn’t!) but because I always played “for” my doubles partner instead of just “with” him, and when I played singles, I was willing to give up my slot on the team if we had another team member who could play against a particular opponent better than I might have.

“What are you? Some kinda Boy Scout?” was something I heard others ask me, most of my adult life. Even when it was nothing more than opening a door for a woman or child. And I always answered, with a smile, “You bet I am!” (Yup, in case you’re wondering, I’m an Eagle Scout—but I’ve never bragged about that.)

You see, Scouting isn’t something we learn to do, so much as it is something we become. It becomes a part of who we are and how we treat others—our friends, our teachers, our family members, our co-workers.

Today, we read so much about people who steal, cheat, bully, whine, complain, and even murder. Maybe if they had had Scouting in their lives, it might have been different. Because Scouts isn’t really about how to tie knots or go camping. Scouts is all about how to live a good life.

Think about just this one simple thing: Where else but in Scouting do you get to carry the American flag and promise to do your duty to the country it represents?

Andy, I can’t thank you enough for answering my question about your opinion of the value of the BSA program in today’s society. I think you just topped off my research paper! I really appreciate your time and effort on my behalf, especially when you don’t know me. I think your response is an example of Scout spirit. I was excited to see that you were an Eagle Scout—I mean ARE an Eagle Scout. You’ve inspired me to try to earn the same reputation that you have through Scouting—to become an example to others. (RG, Star Scout)

Of course I know you! I know you’re a Scout—and a Star Scout as well! So I know you’re a young man who does his best to live his life by the Scout Oath and Law, and is interested in lots of different stuff (that’s how you earned those merit badges!), and is liked by his fellow Scouts (otherwise, they wouldn’t be willing to have you lead them!). So think about it—do I really need to know much more than that? Of course, I don’t know if you have blue eyes or brown, or the color of your skin or hair, or other stuff like that, but that’s only the “outside”– It’s what’s on the inside that really matters, and I do know something about that, and that’s enough!  Live a happy life—

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. 349 – 3/25/2013 – 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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