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Issue 356 – May 12, 2013

Want to visit the 2013 NATIONAL SCOUT JAMBOREE at Bechtel Summit in July with a group of other fine Scouters? Long-time Scouter David Cooper, of the Cradle of Liberty Council, PA, has put together a wonderful four-day special trip and tour that may be just what you’re looking for! For the brochure and registration information, contact Dave directly at DWCOOPER3@VERIZON.NET Enjoy the trip!
Dear Andy,

At the end of my son’s troop meetings, following the Scoutmaster’s minute and benediction, there’s typically a bit of free time before the other parents come by to pick up their sons. This is when we usually allow the Scouts to play dodge ball. In the winter, we often let our Scouts go outside for a good, friendly snowball fight. Our Unit Commissioner has told us that maybe these aren’t such good ideas, because both of these involve “human targets.” Does the BSA have anything in writing about playing dodge ball or snowball fights? (Just Curious in Wyoming)

Your Commissioner’s giving you some pretty solid advice. Of course, dodge ball’s inherent objective is for Scouts to hit other Scouts with a ball, and that’s how we get to the “human target” issue. Snowball fights are fundamentally the same—hit the other guy with a snowball. While the BSA doesn’t have anything specifically in writing about the game of dodge ball, or snowball fights, and such, there’s plenty in writing about human targets. For example, you’ll find in the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING that boxing in particular plus most all martial arts including karate are excluded from being Scouting activities because they involve one person striking or hitting another (Aikido, judo, and Tai Chi are the exceptions because no hitting or striking is involved). Further, no type or firearm may be pointed or aimed at any individual, ever, nor are targets other than bulls eyes (i.e., no silhouettes or mannequins) ever permitted. And, of course, hunting has never been an authorized Scouting activity. Regarding paintball, laser tag, or similar shooting or simulated shooting activities, the GTSS informs us that participants can only aim at targets that are neither living nor human, nor representations of animals or humans. So, by very straightforward linear extension, any activity that involves humans as targets to be aimed at or struck—dodge ball, snowball fights, etc.—would be considered in this same safety envelope. To those who might consider these “loopholes” because the BSA doesn’t specifically mention them, I can pretty much guarantee you that, should a Scout be injured in the course of these, any BSA “insurance” you might think is covering your tail is going to hang you out to dry. Such an occurrence wouldn’t be an “accident.” It would be an incident of striking. Your troop’s Commissioner is a wise resource. Please pay attention.
Dear Andy,

In a recent column, you commented on a Scout not being elected to or “given” a qualifying “position of responsibility” in his troop. But you left
out a very important possibility that a Cub Scout pack would sure appreciate: Den Chief (which is specifically noted as meeting the “position of responsibility” requirement). Den Chiefs really help Cub Scout packs and dens if the Scout has the right attitude and dedication, and we can really use the help. Also, good Den Chief can be a big influence on whether or not a Cub Scout becomes a Boy Scout too! (Robby Wright, CSRTC, San Diego-Imperial Council, CA)

Yup, you’re right. I did forget that one. I’ll take twenty lashes with a wet lanyard. Den Chief is a great position for a Scout with some spunk and grit!
Dear Andy,

I’m looking for a job description for the troop Committee Chair position. For instance, do CCs have an actual “voice,” or are they limited to just running the committee meeting? Also, do CCs have a role in troop meetings? (Lookin’ For Some Basics)

For a description of all troop committee positions and their respective responsibilities, refer to the TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK.

As for adults and troop meetings, except for the last 60 seconds of meetings—this is when the Scoutmaster delivers his “minute” to the troop—there are rarely any adults actually involved. The “troop” belongs to the Scouts. All troop meetings and outings are run by the Senior Patrol Leader. (Adults are present, 99% as “wallpaper,” in the event of emergencies. This is why it’s called BOY Scouting.)
Dear Andy,

In order to incorporate the values of Leave No Trace, my troop has decided to add The Outdoor Code to the troop opening. This would follow the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Scout Oath and Law. As a matter of protocol, should the Scouts render the Scout sign while repeating the Code? Has BSA established such a protocol? (Gary Peterson, ASM)

What a very nice idea! We already know that the Scout sign can be used for more than just when repeating the Oath and Law, so why not do it for the Outdoor Code too! The handbook certainly doesn’t say you can’t do this, so I’d go for it!
Dear Andy,

My son crossed over into Boy Scouting a couple of months ago and I’m getting conflicting information about merit badges. I work with a man who’s a Scoutmaster, and he says he lets his Scouts pick the merit badges they want to do, and when they’re done he signs them off. Now, my own son’s Scoutmaster says I need to drive my boy 30 miles each way so he can to go and meet with a Merit Badge Counselor to get the one he wants—Wilderness Survival—because that’s the closest one to us. Can’t my son’s Scoutmaster sign off on this, just like the Scoutmaster I know from work does? Do we really need to make a 60-mile round-trip just to meet with somebody who’s just going to sit there and listen to what my son has to tell him he’s already done—and has been doing for about three years now, because he’s gone to a survival camp every summer since he was a Bear Cub Scout? (Confused Scout Dad)

Sounds like your son’s got a pretty good Scoutmaster! Yes, this is how merit badges are earned. Refer to your son’s BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, page 49, and especially BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS, pages 20 and 21.

Registered Merit Badge Counselors are the ONLY Scouting volunteers permitted to counsel Scouts and sign off on requirements for (and ultimate completion of) merit badges.

As for the fellow you work with, who’s a Scoutmaster, it’s possible you may have misunderstood him. Yes, Scoutmasters do sign Scouts’ merit badge “blue cards” on completion, but that’s only after the Merit Badge Counselor has signed that all requirements are completed. The Scoutmaster’s signature merely means that the completed blue card is received and recorded.

If the distance to the nearest available Merit Badge Counselor for Wilderness Survival is untenable to you, then the alternative for your son is to go to Scout summer camp and meet with the camp staffer responsible for this merit badge while there.

To be completely clear: Scoutmasters are not automatically authorized to sign off on any merit badges at all, unless they are doubly registered as MBCs, and this must be for specific merit badges—there’s no such thing as a “universal MBC”!
Hi Andy,

How does a deployed member of the armed forces renew his or her BSA membership while out of country? Is there a registration code for this situation, like we now have for our college students? (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

Yup! It’s “Scouter Reserve” (Registration Code 91)
Dear Andy,

I’m trying to get information on ceremonies for my Wolf Cub Scouts, who are moving on up to Bear. Any help would greatly be appreciated. (Dan Binette, ADL, Tampa, FL) is selling “Cub Scout Den & Pack Ceremonies” (SKU 33212) for $7.99 instead of the usual $9.99 right now. Go for it!
Dear Andy,

I’m very active in my troop. I’ve been a Patrol Leader and then Assistant Senior Patrol Leader for the past 18 months straight. I’m a Life Scout and almost have Eagle. My troop leaders say we’re a “boy-run troop,” but really that isn’t the case at all. The adults make all the decisions, and take no input whatsoever from outside of their own circle. The idea of “The Patrol Method” just isn’t here. I’ve done some reading and found Green Bar Bill, who said, “Before you go about any task as the Scoutmaster, or any other adult leader, you need to ask yourself is this something a Scout could be doing?” How do I, as a Scout in the troop, bring this up with the adult leaders? I know I can change troops, but that’s just not something I want to do, if I can help make some changes here instead. But whenever I, or any other Scout, brought this up to our Scoutmaster, it’s usually a confrontation that gets nobody anywhere. Do you have any suggestions? (Almost Eagle)

You’re right: It’s not the Scouts’ troop (which it’s supposed to be!) unless the Patrol Leaders Council is making the decisions and the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders are actually running the troop.

I’m sorry conversations with the Scoutmaster turned into confrontations. But, through this, you all learned something: When it comes to conversations about Scouts actually running their own troop, one-on-one isn’t going to work. So, how about getting the Senior Patrol Leader and all Patrol Leaders together, and you all agree that you want to run your own troop. Then, when you’re all agreed, you ALL talk to the Scoutmaster TOGETHER, and tell him what you want to do.

Before you do this, have a couple of conversations with your dad about what you want to do, and get his advice on what works best when Scouts are going to talk with an adult. Get a couple of other dads—the fathers of some of the Patrol Leaders—into this conversation, too. Make a plan. Have a good idea of what you want to do, with your dads’ advice. Then, go do it.

When you all do this together, the Scoutmaster ought to get the message. If he still refuses, then ALL of you do the same thing again, but this time with the Committee Chair for the troop. If this doesn’t give you a yes, then it’s definitely time to go looking for a troop that understands what you want to do and why you want to do it…and this time ALL of you can switch troops together!

Remember this: None of you is “married” to this troop—you can be in whatever troop YOU decide! This is YOUR Scouting experience!

As for those adults who want to be the leaders of the troop and don’t get it that you all are the leaders, when you all leave they’ll finally find out: They’re the leaders of nothing.
Hi Andy,

A few months ago, I took over as training chair for my district. As part of my responsibilities, I’ve been paying close attention to standard no. 18 of the District Journey to Excellence, which discusses the percentage of “direct contact” leaders within our units. I’ve been asked several times why assistants (Assistant Den Leader, Assistant Scoutmaster, Assistant Crew Advisor, etc.) aren’t counted as direct contact, even though they often have as much contact with the youth as the person they serve under. I don’t know the answer and I’m hoping you could shed some light.

Also, regarding the Troop Journey to Excellence, standard no. 4, if a troop has a registered Leader of 11-year-old Scouts, does that person count as an Assistant Scoutmaster to fulfill the bronze level requirements? (David Goldsberry, Golden Empire Council, CA)

Sea Scouting, founded 101 years ago, got it right on “day one.” There’s a Skipper, and there’s no “assistant skipper.” The Skipper’s backup is called Mate.

“Assistants” don’t have as much “direct contact” with youth as primary adult volunteers in direct contact positions (e.g., SM, CM, DL, etc.), and never have. So they’re not counted here for the same reason that “assistants” don’t qualify for certain national Scouter training awards.

As for troops, no adult actually “leads” Scouts. The Scoutmaster is an advisor to the Senior Patrol Leader and a coach-mentor to all youth leaders; he does not actually “lead” anyone. ASMs, similarly, are valuable assets as advisors to Troop Guides, who are in turn advisors to the elected Patrol Leaders of new-Scout patrols, but ASMs don’t “lead” Scouts either. (Note: “Leaders of 11 year old Scouts” only applies to troops chartered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.)

If a troop has an adult acting as an advisor to a Troop Guide, then he must be registered as Code SA (Assistant Scoutmaster) in order for the troop to receive JTE “credit.”
Dear Andy,

Our troop committee, with a district advancement representative present, just declined a Scout his Eagle rank. He’s otherwise a fine young man, but, he described himself as not believing in any power higher than himself.

As our conversation with him turned to the Scout Oath and Law, we came to the idea of reverence. That’s when this Scout responded that he had no personal belief in God. He went on to say that he doesn’t believe in any power higher than himself. When we inquired as to how he might consider himself “reverent,” his reply was that he “allows others to have their religious beliefs.” Frankly, we were surprised and shocked at his responses. The most current GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT ( Principles) clearly states that all that is required is the acknowledgement of a belief in God as stated in the Scout Oath, and the ability to be reverent as stated in the Scout Law. But this Scout clearly stated that he had no such belief. (As to how this has slid through seven prior Scoutmaster conferences and five prior boards of review remains a mystery.)

This gave us no choice but to decline his advancement to Eagle rank. The district advancement representative present agreed that we were all—including him—in full compliance with the principles of Scouting in denying the rank to this young man. The family thereupon submitted an appeal. As a result of this, the district appeals board convened and merely asked the Scout if he was “reverent.” The Scout attested that he is reverent because he allows others to have their beliefs and he removes his hat when others wish to say grace at mealtimes. The appeals board accepted this and granted him the rank of Eagle. There was, apparently, no discussion of the part of “Reverent” that states: “A Scout is reverent toward God” (BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, page 25).

When I later spoke with our District Executive, he told me that both the review and the appeals boards did what they believed was correct, but had different opinions. I don’t understand this. It’s my personal opinion that the appeals board bypassed and ultimately diminished the rank of Eagle Scout and rewarded a Godless and therefore unqualified young man with the rank. Was this to not “make waves”? To perhaps ward off a potential lawsuit? I don’t know. Now I’m more than confused, and I’m reaching out for some insights.

It gets worse. This young man, now an Eagle Scout and 18 years old, has just filled out a BSA Adult Volunteer application to become an Assistant Scoutmaster for this troop, and neither our Chartered Organization Representative nor our pastor (we’re sponsored by a church, to make the irony even more poignant) will sign this application. Yet we have other adult volunteers in the troop who are claiming that this young man has the right to be an agnostic or atheist if he so chooses, and still be a Scouting volunteer. Any insights would be enormously appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

As a purely personal note, as a former Scout and now Scouting volunteer I’ve observed many Scouts and non-Scouts, too, over many years, remove their hats when grace is said before a meal, or simply when sitting down to eat, and I’ve always considered this the polite thing to do. As for this particular act being construed as “reverent,” I’ll confess: that point of view has never crossed my mind.

I also have difficulty understanding how or why a young man would have spent seven years in a movement that has a central principle founded in belief in God—the very antithesis of his own professed belief.  But moving to your primary concerns, especially those for the future…

Your reference to the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK is accurate. With regard to “reverent,” the BSA definition in full is: “A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.”

As a fellow Scouting volunteer, it’s my personal viewpoint that the order of these three statements is deliberate and purposeful.

Turning to the BSA Youth Application, you’ll find these words: “The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God.”

As for adults, the BSA Adult Volunteer Application states: “QUALIFICATION: Adult citizens…(who) agree to abide by the Scout Oath or Promise and the Scout Law…and to subscribe to the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle.”

In a very recent nationwide statement published by the Boy Scouts of America, this statement is made: “The Scout Oath begins with duty to God, and the Scout Law ends with a Scout’s obligation to be reverent. Those will always remain core values of the Boy Scouts of America.”

The board of review and appeal are past. We are obligated to conclude that each made the best decision they were capable of, at the time they needed to make it, with the information they chose to have available to them. It’s now time to move forward.

Your Chartered Organization Representative will want to use the BSA’s statements above to assess the eligibility of this person to serve as an adult volunteer with the sponsored troop. Since all Scouting units are literally owned by their chartered organizations (aka sponsors), that organization does have the authority to determine who will be the role models for the youth served by the Scouting unit. The decisions of the chartered organization can’t be overturned by a unit, district, council, or individual.

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. 356 – 5/12/2013 – 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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