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Issue 357 – May 20, 2013

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Dear Andy,

I’m a pretty new Scout dad, and I’m confused by my son’s troop. I was a Scout, and a Senior Patrol Leader in my troop. As SPL, I ran the troop meetings and also chaired the Patrol Leaders Council (it was called “Troop Leaders Council” back in my day, but there was no difference other than the name—the composition was the same as today’s “Patrol Leaders Council”) that included just the Patrol Leaders, with the troop’s Scribe for taking notes and the Scoutmaster as backup if the SPL needed help or a clarification. In my son’s troop today, the PLC includes any Scout with a position badge on his left sleeve—Quartermaster, Historian, Webmaster, Bugler, whatever—and consider this “democratic.” To me, this is nonsense, because these other Scouts with left sleeve badges are already represented at the PLC by their Patrol Leaders. Including extra Scouts defeats the whole idea of a “council,” it seems to me. But it gets worse. The troop’s PLCs are held just before troop meetings start, and any Scout who might happen to wander in early is also invited to join the PLC meetings—not as observers, but with actual decision-making capability. Again, this seems like nonsense to me. I’ve spoken with the Scoutmaster about this, but he has no interest in changing. Other parents have told me to mind my own business because the Scoutmaster’s an Eagle Scout, so he should know what’s right, or not. Am I really off-base here? (Confused Scout Dad, Cornhusker Council, NE)

Nope, you’re not off-base at all. Any BSA writing on the subject—including the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK—shows clearly that the PLC is the Patrol Leaders (plus Troop Guides for new-Scout patrols, if any), chaired by the SPL and supported by the Scoutmaster, for precisely the reason you’ve expressed. (And, would you believe, there’s nothing in BSA writing that says, “Do it however you like—you’re obviously smarter than this century-old program.”)

Your son’s Scoutmaster—Eagle Scout or not—either hasn’t taken any training for his position or, having done so, is flagrantly violating what he’s supposed to have learned. What a pity.
Dear Andy,

I have been asked recently what the correct procedure(s) are to remove an ineffective Scoutmaster. Obviously, I don’t want to speculate on an issue such as this without doing some research before offering an answer. One of my sources says all it takes is majority vote of the troop committee; then the Committee Chair has the unpleasant duty of removing him. Another source suggests that the Scoutmaster serves at the pleasure of the chartered organization, which approved him in the first place. Therefore, the chartered organization’s Executive Officer and/or Chartered Organization Representative, working with the Committee Chair, should make the decision.

The Scoutmaster in question has done nothing that would violate YP or GTSS policies or procedures. He’s a good person. The problem, as it has been described to me, seems to boil down to “burnout.” He’s no longer engaged: his attendance at unit events is significantly diminished; he rarely attends campouts; he doesn’t meet with the unit committee; he sets a very low standard for the Scouts (e.g., uniforms at meetings are optional); for rank advancement, he’ll sign-off on almost anything a Scout puts before him. I’m told that the troop has suffered in membership retention because of this and the active adult volunteers agree that a change is long overdue.

When approached recently about stepping down over the summer so that the troop would have time to prepare for such a change, he refused to discuss it. He has no plans on giving up his position any time soon. So, this won’t be easy for the troop. But they do need to know the proper steps to take. This won’t be taken lightly, so any guidance from you would be appreciated. (Max Wells, Council Advancement Committee Chair, Indian Nations Council)

It’s always a sad situation when a volunteer starts to burn out. The program suffers, the youth suffer the most, and units themselves can become manifestly jeopardized when a “burnee” remains in place. Ideally, when he or she is approached, it should be with an offer to take on another, less demanding role, so that someone with fresh energy can bring things back to where they need to be. In the case of a Scoutmaster such as you’ve described, this is simply done by the Chartered Organization Representative in concert with the Committee Chair (no committee or other “vote” is necessary). If both the CR and CC positions are held by the same individual, then it’s a good idea to collaborate with the head of the sponsor (CO “executive officer”), with both people having a conversation with the Scoutmaster (one-on-one isn’t the best way to go in this situation). Of course, it’s always best to have previously identified, selected, and recruited someone who is prepared to step into the Scoutmaster role immediately. But even if you don’t have this in place, don’t wait…if you do, you may have no troop by the time a replacement is found, if you leave the burned out Scoutmaster in place!

In a situation where the Scoutmaster isn’t interested in an alternative position, or otherwise resists stepping aside, only one option remains: Thank him for his years of service to the troop, tell him that you’d like to honor his service at the next troop court of honor, and advise him that, effective immediately, there will be a new Scoutmaster for the troop. Be diplomatic, of course—this is, after all, a person who’s already give a lot. But make it happen; no “I’ll think about it,” or “Well, maybe after the summer,” or anything else that will delay the transition. The reason for quick and clean is that, if this drags on, it’s the Scouts (and future Scouts, to say nothing of the future of the troop) who will suffer most.

A very wise District Executive taught me this, years ago: “Make your decision surgically; carry it out compassionately.”
Dear Andy,

My dad is a long-time Scouter who’s been involved for almost 25 years—ever since I was a Tiger Cub. He’s being recognized with a District Award of Merit at an upcoming banquet. As a gift to him, I’m putting together a new uniform with all of his awards that he’s received but never had on a uniform before. I’m confused about how to construct the left shoulder, though. In his role as a Roundtable Commissioner, he doesn’t wear a unit number, right? Then what’s the spacing on the patches there? He’s also going to receive the Commissioner Arrowhead Honor at the same banquet, so where will that go? Uniforming guidance is surprisingly hit or miss on the Internet, especially for district-level Scouters. (Sam, National Capital Area Council)

Congratulations to your dad!

Start here:

However, you’re correct: This sheet doesn’t state what happens to the left sleeve of the uniform shirt when on is a commissioner. For that, we need to reference page 65 of the BSA’s GUIDE TO AWARDS AND INSIGNIA (SKU 33066) which shows that, since the Commissioner badge (any one of them) is a district- or council-level designation, (a) silver shoulder loops are worn (instead of unit-level color) and (b) no unit numeral is worn. The Arrowhead and then the “trained” badge go directly under the Commissioner emblem on a left sleeve with no pocket, but above that emblem if the shirt sleeve has a pocket.

Hi Andy,

When is it appropriate to use your unit flag when presenting the colors? When should you not use it?

Our unit has four flags: US, state, town, and troop. Certainly you’d use your unit flag at troop meetings, but what about times when you’re providing a service to others? Maybe you’re presenting the colors before a school board meeting, or your town’s board meeting. And what about when multiple units are represented? For instance, there might be Scouts from three or four troops attending the same school, and all might participate in presenting the colors at a school function—that would be a lot of unit flags! Units could rotate who does it when, but since it happens only once a year, that really isn’t an alternative. We want all the Scouts to be involved, and all units represented, so all participate in some way. What’s the best way to do this? (Puzzled Scouter)

For Scouts, it’s always appropriate to include the unit flag when presenting the colors. When multiple troops participate in an opening ceremony, not only is it a fine thing to do, to have all troop flags present, but you can even have multiple American flags, if you choose to. But you can also have a single American flag in the lead, followed by all troop flags, and all flags posted on the stage. State and city flags are a fine tradition, so don’t feel in any way you need to abandon this, either.

When we pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, we’re simultaneously pledging allegiance to “the republic for which it stands.” As for troop flags, these—singly or multiple—represent the troop and all of its scouts and adult volunteers, and, as such, should always be present as well, even though we don’t salute them.

Flags have been emblems of countries, states, and other significant groups from time immemorial. They have a place in our various cultures around the world that symbolize unity of people, ideas, ideals, and values. In the case of troops, while all include national BSA standards, each is unique to the troop itself–and all troops everywhere have their own unique “personalities,” although the fundamental underpinning of each is identical. So bring them all, and make a statement about who you are and what you stand for!

I’m reminded of a community in which I served as Commissioner some years ago. There were four Cub Scout packs and three Boy Scout troops in the town—each with a different sponsor, in fact. Once a year, we held a community-wide public Scouting event that included all units. Present were fourteen flags: Seven American flags, four pack flags, and three troop flags. I can’t express sufficiently how impressive this was to the audience, and the degree of pride the members of each unit felt on seeing their own pack or troop flag!

Dear Andy,

My son’s troop has decided to elect the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader and let him automatically assume the role of Senior Patrol Leader after six months, instead of holding a new troop election for SPL, who then appoints his choice for ASPL as described on various Scout websites and the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK. Is this an acceptable way for a Troop to choose its SPL, under BSA guidelines? (Andrew Friedman)

Nope, it’s not. The BSA has described how this is supposed to be done (SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, page 13). I can’t imagine what’s possessing these folks. When the process has been described, and there’s no provision for an alternate method, by what stretch of imagination do they think they have the right or authority to simply disregard process and do things their own way?

Suppose a basketball team decided to follow this example and, for instance, award five points for each successful free-throw shot, or play the game with a football instead of a basketball, or give all baskets beyond the three-point line just one point, instead? Silly, you say? There’s no difference between this silliness and what this troop is doing. The procedure’s there to be followed. There’s nothing in any handbook or guidebook that says, “Well, just do it the way you want to.”

Let’s take it a few steps further. Let’s say the troop decided that all Patrol Leaders are appointed, but all Assistant PLs are elected. Based on what the troop’s doing right now, they can do that too, right? Or, how about, instead of the Scouts themselves electing whom they believe should be in the Order of the Arrow, the troop committee chooses. Is that OK? Go into my archives and find my column titled “Are We Really That Smart?” Then make sure everybody in the troop—adults and Scouts alike—read it.

To come back to your main point: How about asking somebody to show you, in writing, where the BSA says, “…the ASPL is appointed by the Senior Patrol Leader…or not…or whatever…”

Hello Andy,

The other day, I was speaking with a Scouter about the Order of the Arrow qualifications. He made the statement that he never approves a “young” Scout for a troop OA election—even if the Scout’s First Class rank and has camped the necessary days and nights, he’ll absolutely not be approved if he’s 11 years old and probably not if he’s 12, either, because “these Scouts don’t have the maturity” to be “left alone” at the Ordeal weekend.

That pretty much surprised me. I thought the only age requirement was that the Scout had to be under 21 and if there were a lower bounds, that it would be stated. I’m really not asking whether this viewpoint has merit (it was pretty obvious to me this was a personal opinion). What I’d like to know is under what circumstances should a Scoutmaster actually withhold his approval. If “maturity” is indeed a part of the eligibility, how would it be invoked? (Robert McLemore, DC, Heart of Virginia Council)

As you accurately pointed out, there is no “minimum age” eligibility hurdle in the OA. Induction into the Order of the Arrow is a special experience and a proper Ordeal weekend is never without Elangomats (“guides”) who assure that every Scout succeeds. Candidates are first elected by their fellow Scouts, and it’s our obligation to trust these Scouts’ own judgment—when we do this, we’re hardly ever surprised. When we have the good sense to stand aside, Scouts can and will make very good decisions about their peers!

So what you have here isn’t a “maturity” problem or an “OA” problem—It’s a Scoutmaster problem. Here’s a Scoutmaster who, I’ll bet dollars to donuts, holds Scouts back from advancement and won’t tolerate “young” Eagles either. I’m betting his “infinite wisdom” tells him that they’re not ready, not mature enough, etc., etc. He probably hold back some merit badges, too, for similar reasons. In short, he’s an egotistical tyrant who sees himself as “above” Scouting. He’s made himself the omniscient arbiter on how far Scouts will be “allowed” to succeed. In short, he’s poison and needs to be tossed in the drink right along with his Napoleonic, holier-than-thou mind-set.

Alert the troop’s chartered organization and Committee Chair that it’s way past time for a replacement.
Dear Andy,

I’ve been a Unit Commissioner for about eight months. I have a troop where I’ve spoken with the Scoutmaster on several occasions and been in front of the committee a couple of times and still they refuse to use The Patrol Method—there are no patrols at all in this troop. The most frustrating part is that the Scoutmaster’s an Eagle Scout and knows the right way but refuses to let the Scouts lead themselves. (Chris Overbey)

One of the most frustrating elements of being a UC is this sort of situation: when the leaders of a unit you serve probably know what’s right and refuse to do it. Has the Scoutmaster ever described why he insists on not using the Patrol Method? Has he explained to you how he intends to fulfill his primary responsibility: To train the youth leaders of the troop so that they can run the troop? Has he taken the Scoutmaster training available to him, and—if he has—is he still refusing?

Just because he’s an Eagle Scout doesn’t amount to squat when it comes to being a Scoutmaster! And it doesn’t mean “he should know better.” For all you know, he was in exactly the same kind of autocratic, Scoutmaster-as-Senior Patrol Leader troop (or worse: Scoutmaster-as-Den Mother) as he’s creating here, when he was a Scout (this happens much too frequently!).

You might want to show him and the troop committee this quote by Baden-Powell and ask them to respond to it: “The Patrol Method isn’t ‘a’ way of conducting Scouting; it is the ONLY way.”

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. 357 – 5/20/2013 – 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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