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Issue 354 – April 29, 2013

Hi Andy,

In your last column, you mentioned, “…By the way, your son gets to wear the God and Family religious “square knot” badge on his Boy Scout uniform.” I’ve never seen a Scout with a square knot. Fer real? (Mitch Erickson, Commissioner, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Absolutely! The religious emblem has had its own square knot for youth (and adults who earned it as a youth) for decades! (Would I make this kind of mistake? )
Hi Andy,

Our troop runs a lot of merit badge classes, in which an adult talks about the requirements in a lecture format, and then making arrangements for the Scouts. Perhaps I’m biased by my own experience earning 36 merit badges and a Silver Palm on my own initiative, but I think this approach does a disservice to the Scouts by denying them the opportunity of initiating and then doing the work themselves. When I earned my merit badges, I taught myself what they were—I didn’t have some adult telling me what they were. I recall that for one of the citizenship merit badges you had to sit in on a court proceeding, and I clearly remember going to the courthouse, finding my way to the docket office, looking at the proceedings, selecting a trial to sit in on, and then going to the court room and sitting, watching, and listening to the proceedings. When things concluded for the day, I made my way to the judge’s chambers, introduced myself, explained why I was there, and asked if I could get a note from him to show my counselor that I’d met the requirement. I can’t help but think that this whole experience benefitted me more than if an adult had set up the whole thing. Your thoughts? (John Rekus)

I’m in complete agreement; more importantly, so is the BSA. Your well-meaning friend needs to do some homework of his own, because his aberration defeats the purposes of the BSA Merit Badge program. In the first place, none of the seven parts of a troop meeting contains any language pertaining to ongoing merit badge “classes,” “sessions,” or “orientations.” Moreover, in the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, Section, he’ll find this statement about the merit badge process: “…beginning with a discussion with a Scoutmaster, continuing through meetings with a counselor, and culminating in advancement and recognition.” The whole merit badge program is based on Scouts taking the initiative. Absent this critical factor, merit badges become little more than “make-work.” Boring, boring, boring!
Dear Andy,

Our troop requires that all Scouts fill out a merit badge work-sheet for all Eagle-required merit badges, prior to awarding them. I’m not sure if it falls within BSA guidelines to require these. Can you help me out here? (Name & Council Withheld)

Sure I can help. Here goes… This is nonsense. The only person authorized to state that a Scout has completed the work on any merit badge is the registered Merit Badge Counselor, so says the BSA and this can’t be superseded by any so-called “troop rule.” Moreover, no merit badge, if the “blue card” is duly signed by the MBC, can be challenged by anyone: Done is done. Period. This troop needs to toss its “rule book” in the nearest dumpster and start following BSA procedures. ________________________________________
Hi Andy,

The troop my son chose to join last year failed to tell us that they only allow Scouts to earn merit badges in troop classroom settings, at camps, or at district or council events. In other words, the whole idea of a Scout (and his buddy) going to an individual Merit Badge Counselor and working on his own is taboo. (I only found out about this quaint little “troop rule” two months after my son chose this troop.) As of right now, the troop is standing firm on their “rule” won’t allow my son to work on a merit badge outside their stated “procedure.” I know and understand the BSA Merit Badge Program. Is there anything they may know that I don’t, that says they can run a merit badge program this way?

(My son chose the troop after visiting six others. For me, red flags popped up that he was with the wrong unit. I only bring this up now because I chose to let the first year program (first year=First Class) ride. Turns out they let him down here too because he just made merely Second Class a week ago.) (Name & Council Withheld)

Ever hear the story about God, and how He likes playing Scoutmaster?

These folks, although I’m sure they think they’re inflicting this nonsense “in the best interests of the Scouts,” are on some strange planet called “Scouting our way.” They’re bad news. Get your son out of that troop fast as you can, and tell him this doesn’t mean he’s a “quitter”—it means he’s not going to put up with people who know better but insist on continuing to do it wrong.

Here’s what the BSA says, and this is national policy: Any Scout can earn any merit badge he wants, any time he wants, with any registered merit badge counselor he wants. End of story.

Dear Andy,

My council is hosting a STEM camp this summer and it looks fantastic. The problem is they are requiring all participants to be First Class or above. This seems to go against the spirit of BSA policy. My son just crossed over and will be going to an out-of-council camp this summer, but since this is a school-based troop it shuts down for the summer—except for camp—because there’s no meeting place (of course, my thought is that outdoor meetings are still obviously possible). Anyway, my son is very STEM-focused and actually wants to be an inventor. It seems a shame they’re limiting the camp’s STEM program to First Class and above because there are few other Scouting activities this summer for him and none with his troop.

At a recent Roundtable I asked some Commissioners why none of the troops have a summer program; their answer was that schools are closed and people going on vacation. I get the schools stuff, but who goes on vacation for more than a couple of weeks? It seems to me that summer is the best time for Scouting—no conflicts with school, homework, or sports.

I understand needing to be First Class for “Supernova,” but this isn’t what they’re offering—just Nova- and STEM-related merit badges. What’s up with this? (Jonathan Rigden, Greater St. Louis Area Council, MO)

I can understand that Scout summer camps are finite operations, limited by physical facilities and staff concentration and capabilities. It would be wonderful if all Scout camps could offer everything to all Scouts, but sometimes this just isn’t possible.

Couple that with the fundamental philosophy that a Scout who’s First Class now has all the fundamental knowledge and skills of a “top Scouts.” After First Class the advancement program changes and is much more flexible and Scout-driven (merit badge and leadership options, etc.). So getting to First Class is important! It’s a requirement for Philmont treks, Jamborees, and other nationally-sponsored activities because it’s foundational.

Your son is young, I’m guessing. First Class should be an important goal for him, and I encourage you to encourage him to achieve this rank. However, that shouldn’t be a barrier to him at camp—there are lots of STEM-related merit badges that should be available to him, both at camp and “at home.” So maybe his best bet is, while working to make First Class, he gets into a couple of the STEM-related merit badges, so that he can pursue the strand he’s interested in, and at the same time become a “top Scout”! (This is assuming, of course, that the camp is imposing no restrictions on STEM-related merit badges, and I hope I’m right!) ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

As a former Scout who became a Scouter, I did some online research to find out how the official materials all came together in the real world, and stumbled upon your column. Thank you for your ongoing efforts. I now know that the Boy Scout troop I was so proud of as a Scout was adult-led and totally wrong.

The reason I am writing is that despite your getting 99%+ of your answers correct and consistent, you had an inconsistency in your answer in Column No. 336 to the Assistant Scoutmaster who wanted to be the Family Life Merit Badge Counselor for his son. You told him to “find another Family Life MBC for your son,” when I’m sure you meant to say, “tell your son to take his blue card to his Scoutmaster and ask to be assigned an appropriate Merit Badge Counselor.” (David Mitchell, CM, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

Yes, I could have advised what you suggested. I didn’t, for a specific reason: It was this ASM/father who was already beginning to counsel his son (and other Scouts), and I believed that, since this was an error of the father, it’s up to the father—as with any adult in Scouting who might err—to fix the problem rather than making the Scout (in this case, his son) fix the problem. This way, the father could describe to his son why the change is important, and then help his son transition over to an alternate counselor. Seemed to me to be a bit more compassionate that way. That said, it’s equally important to understand that it’s the Scout who ultimately has his choice of Merit Badge Counselors, to the point that if he’s having a problem with one of them he indeed can go back to his Scoutmaster and request another.
Dear Andy,

I’m a new Cubmaster who’s recently taken over a pack that’s going through some difficult times. We’re a small pack with challenges with parental involvement—especially den leadership. The Den Leaders that we do have, have good intentions, but don’t always make the time to put together fun and interesting den programs, resulting in the Cubs viewing den meetings as just one more “chore” they have to do. The meetings have been dull and boring, and seemed a lot more like “classrooms” at school. I thought that we might be able to use some Den Chiefs from our affiliated Boy Scout troop to assist in creating a more interesting program, and tried this out. I found and recruited a couple of First Class Scouts, and got the OK from their Scoutmaster.

These two Scouts started helping out last September and, by all accounts, they’ve been a rousing success! These Den Chiefs have responsibility for planning and running about half the den meetings and have helped out at the pack meetings as well. The Den Leaders, parents, and Cubs rave about how enjoyable the meetings have become. I really thought we were making progress!

Imagine my surprise when I learned that their troop wasn’t going to recognize the Den Chief position for these two Scouts, for Star rank req. 5: Position of responsibility. The Scoutmaster’s point of view is that “BSA policy prohibits First Class Scouts from being Den Chiefs,” so he’s not going to count their tenure in this position. He actually said, “Maybe they’d like to be troop Buglers, instead”! I haven’t found a single BSA reference saying Den Chiefs can’t consider this fulfillment of Star requirement 5; neither can the Scoutmaster, but that isn’t changing his mind. I’ve tried to reason with him, pointing out the references to Den Chief as a qualifying position in the SCOUT HANDBOOK for Star rank advancement, and also pointed out that the BSA only states that a Den Chief should be “an older Scout” (which can be taken to mean “not 10-1/2”. It seems to me that when you’re dealing with Bear and Wolf dens, a 13 year-old First Class Scout should be just fine. I also pointed out that the age requirement has a lot more to do with maturity level and ability to handle the responsibility than it does with actual age. Both of our Den Chiefs have demonstrated the ability to handle the role. But I’m still unsuccessful in changing the Scoutmaster’s opinion—which is obviously all it is, at this point. Do you have any suggestions? (Rich Petrich)

So, if I get you right: A Scoutmaster, on being shown (BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, page 438; BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS-2012, page 14) that the position of Den Chief is a qualifying position for a First Class Scout advancing to the rank of Star, has refused to acknowledge this and will not “credit” two First Class Scouts in the troop with being on their way to fulfilling Star rank req. 5. If so, then that Scoutmaster, while he may have been misinformed before, is now in violation of BSA national policy.

Since Scoutmasters ultimately report to the troop’s Committee Chair, take this problem straight to the CC, repeat a showing of the key documents, and demand immediate remediation.

Meanwhile, be sure to present these two fine Scouts with their Den Chief cords (BSA item no. 388) at a pack meeting, in front of the Cubs and their parents! Then, request of the troop’s CC that these Scouts receive their Den Chief position badges (BSA item no. 387) at the soonest troop meeting possible.

As for the Scoutmaster: His refusal to see makes him worse than blind.
Dear Andy,

Why is it that Assistant Patrol Leader isn’t considered a qualifying position for rank advancement? (Name & Council Withheld)

Senior Patrol leaders are elected by the entire troop; Patrol Leaders by their fellow patrol members. All other troop-level positions of responsibility—Quartermaster, Historian, Scribe, etc.—are appointed by the Senior Patrol Leader. Patrol Leaders function as “troop-level officers” by way of their developing and running the troop program (not just troop meetings) through the Patrol Leaders Council.

Assistant Patrol Leaders, by contrast, are selected by their Patrol Leaders and their responsibilities except in rare circumstances are limited to their patrols—not the troop—and as “back-up” at best. Thus, while providing excellent “training grounds,” these aren’t troop-level positions. Consequently, the BSA decided, many decades ago, that the APL position isn’t substantial enough to qualify for the Star, Life, or Eagle ranks.
Hi Andy,

I just came from my son’s troop meeting. The parents were asked to attend a special meeting in another room. In this meeting we were told that the Scoutmaster was just informed that he’s being removed. This announcement was made by an Assistant Scoutmaster who is also the Chartered Organization Representative, without consultation with the Committee Chair (or anyone else, for that matter), along with the announcement of a newly-appointed (by the CR) Scoutmaster.

So is there a BSA policy, bylaw, or anything that states how to remove a Scoutmaster? I’m asking because many of the parents are concerned with how this was handled. We’re also concerned that the CR can remove anyone for any reason without consulting committee members. (Some committee members, and parents as well, are now looking to have the chartered organization appoint a new CR.) (Name & Council Withheld)

Yes, a Chartered Organization Representative (Code: CR) is authorized to appoint and remove unit-level volunteers. However, there must be some sort of registration glitch or hiccup here, because only a troop’s Committee Chair (code: CC) or a committee member (Code: MC) are permitted to double-register as CR. The CR position isn’t available to anyone else.

Parents concerned about what’s just happened should first have a conversation (stay away from email!) with the CC, to find out more about what transpired and how the CC feels about this. Following that conversation, you all—parents and CC—may need to go directly to the head of the chartered organization (pastor, priest, rabbi, bishop [if LDS], club president, etc.) to voice your concerns and see if the situation can’t be rectified.
Dear Andy,

My son is in eighth grade and will be starting confirmation classes soon. Will this make him eligible for a religious emblem? (Karin Garrett)

Not automatically. Go to and obtain the workbook appropriate to his age/grade and religious preference, then show it to your son and both of you go and have a chat with his ordained religious leader.

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. 354 – 4/29/2013 – 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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