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Issue 358 – June 8, 2013

Gonna be at the NATIONAL JAMBOREE? Be sure to stop by the NESA exhibit tent at the Summit Center’s LEGACY VILLAGE on Monday or Tuesday, July 22-23. I’ll be there both days for a couple of short talks each day and some quality Q&A time with you!
Hi Andy,

I have question about the First Class requirement on asking a friend to visit your troop. My son is in 9th grade and has earned his Tenderfoot and Second Class ranks, and all but this one for First Class. He had significant medical issues with his ears as a young boy and didn’t learn to swim at an early age because of this. But he didn’t give up and, after almost six months of lessons, he’s completed both levels of swimming requirements for his ranks. But the “invitation” problem remains. Because he pretty much “grew up” in Scouts along with his friends, they’re either in his troop or in other troops. He does have two other friends who aren’t Scouts—they’re into sports and AP classes. He’s invited these friends on numerous occasions, but for naught. They just haven’t had time to show up. My son’s spoken with his Scoutmaster and tried to make other arrangements, but nothing’s presented itself. Do you have any ideas on how best to help a Scout who’s worked so hard to get to this point? (Concerned Scout Dad)

From your description, it sounds like your son’s already completed First Class req. 10. Let’s remember that no one can guarantee the actions of another person. Your son, as you’ve described, has invited not one but two friends to visit a troop meeting. The fact that these two friends have declined is irrelevant. Check the precise language of the requirement: “Tell someone who is eligible to join Boy Scouts…about your troop’s activities. Invite him to a troop outing, activity, service project, or meeting. Tell him how to join…” Nowhere does it state that an actual visit must take place. So congratulations to your son for trying twice, and congratulations even further for overcoming his challenge in learning to swim! He sure sounds like a First Class Scout to me!
Dear Andy,

My son is a Scout in a troop that’s horribly unskilled in today’s world. For instance, for a lesson in “citizenship” for the merit badge, they showed 13 and 14 year-old Scouts the cartoon movie, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”! My son wants to go all the way to Eagle, but I’m losing him to Scouts because of its antiquated adult leadership. What can I do? My son and several of his friends in the troop are ready to
throw in the towel. Can my son be a “Lone Scout”? And, if so, how do I do it? I’ve had leadership training online and offered to help with this troop, as have a few others, but we’ve all been rebuffed by the present adults there. (Scout Mom)

Some troops “get it”—some don’t. It sounds like your son and his friends are in the latter type. Unless you’re prepared to step in and turn the troop upside-down (which I truly don’t recommend trying) your (and their) best bet is to check out neighboring troops. Look for one that doesn’t run “merit badge classes” in troop meetings, that has an elected Senior Patrol Leader who runs the troop and troop meetings, intact patrols with elected Patrol Leaders, and a Scoutmaster who’s trained and gets what this program’s all about. As soon as you find it, transfer your son and his friends into it.

Thanks, Andy. But I’ve checked out another couple of troops and they’re similar to the one he’s in. What about Lone Scouting? (SM)

“Lone Scout” applies when there are no available units around. It was originally created by William D. Boyce himself, for boys on farms “50 miles from nowhere.” To try doing this in the midst of several nearby troops isn’t its purpose.

Here’s the best bet: You son and his friends should visit all available troops, and then decide for themselves which one they like the most, and join it. Fundamental rule here: WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK THE SCOUT.

The toughest job for any parent is in letting go, especially when it comes to Boy Scout-aged boys. Boy Scouting isn’t a “parent-and-son” experience; it’s a Scout-to-Scout experience. So take a deep breath and give your son and his friends the opportunity to make this decision for themselves. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

Here in Nigeria, we Scout Leaders wear green long-sleeved shirt and brown or olive green trousers. Although red epaulettes are no more in use, can I still wear them, to match with a red beret? (Samuel Iheagwam, 5th Oriade L.A., Ojo Division, Lagos State, Nigeria)

I don’t know the Nigerian Scout uniform policies. In America, the policy is that no uniform part ever becomes “obsolete.” So, if you were here in the United States and wanted to wear a red beret (from the 1970’s here) and red shoulder loops (from the 70’s through about 2009), that would be okay. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

I’ve read many of your columns and have noticed that many of your answers you are very disparaging toward Scoutmasters. This is my first year as a Scoutmaster, although I’ve been in Scouting for over 20 years, many as an adult leader. What advice do you have in regards to keeping older boys interested in your troop? We follow The Patrol Method and try to do things the Scouts are interested in. Our dilemma comes when the Scouts plan a campout and then all of their plans go out the window—they don’t seem to have the motivation to do the things they’ve planned. This then leads to the Scouts not wanting to go on campouts, because they’re poorly planned or poorly carried out. How do I, as Scoutmaster, help these Scouts have a better camping experience, and a better meeting experience? (Mark Kociemba, Northern Star Council)

If you’ve read carefully, you’ll notice that I will absolutely nail to the wall any so-called Scoutmaster who thinks he’s God… these are the martinets who block Scouts from earning merit badges, think they have final say-so on merit badge requirements, stall and delay Scouts’ rank advancement ambitions, refuse to use The Patrol Method, appoint SPLs, run all seven parts of troop meetings, act as though they’re “the world’s oldest SPL,” and the list goes on…and on!

As to your troop’s situation, I’ve found that the more the Scouts themselves have “skin in the game,” the more likely they are to stick with Scouting and make it happen for themselves. Let’s begin with PLC meetings. These are to decide on and then plan troop outings. Outings are carried out by individual patrols; NOT by “the troop” (the “troop” is merely the umbrella under which the patrols operate). So the Patrol Leaders decide they want to go camping at a specific place and weekend. What happens next? Does each patrol make up their duty roster, plan their own menu, buy their own food, arrange for needed tents and other gear with the troop’s QM, and arrange for their own transportation? Does each patrol member have a specific responsibility with regard to the trip? Or does the troop committee and/or other parents start getting involved at this point, and start getting the equipment, planning the menu, food-buying, and transportation-arranging? If the latter, then it’ll ultimately not work and Scouts won’t show up because there’s no personal “investment” in the trip.

Your job, as Scoutmaster, isn’t to “help them have better camping experiences.” This will happen naturally when you train, guide, and coach the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders on leadership skills, so that they can truly lead their troop and patrols. If you haven’t already, get a SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK and a bunch of PATROL LEADER HANDBOOKS!

For keeping older Scouts involved and active, the best way I’ve seen is for the PLC to plan hikes and camp-outs that have two paths to the campsite: One “easy” route for younger Scouts and a second, more challenging, route for the older Scouts. Additionally, how about the older Scouts creating a “Venture Patrol” (not a Venturing “crew”—still a patrol of Scouts, but older) who plan and go on their own special trips! ________________________________________

Hi Andy,

In our town, there are two Cub Scout packs that send their boys to join our troop every spring. Both packs end their Webelos/Arrow of Light programs in May of the boys’ 4th grade year, and quite a few of the boys are interested in crossing over to Boy Scouts right away. However, we’re encountering some age issues regarding the Arrow of Light requirements and the Boy Scout joining requirements. As we understand it, to join a Boy Scout troop a boy has to be 11 years old, or have completed the fifth grade, or earned the Arrow of Light award and be at least 10 years old. For Arrow of Light, a boy has to have been active in his Webelos den for six months after the completion of 4th grade or for at least 6 months after turning 10 years old. I do understand that a boy who’s home-schooled, for instance, could be six months past the end of his 4th grade work and still be under 10-1/2. But for the boys in these two packs who simultaneously complete 4th grade at their school and the Webelos badge requirements, they can’t actually earn Arrow of Light unless they’re already 10-1/2—is this correct—and, by extension, they’re not eligible join a Boy Scout troop until they are 10-1/2—is this also correct?

Should our council be catching the age discrepancies of the too-young boys whose paperwork is sent in for the Arrow of Light award? We feel like we have to be the BSA’s “age police” at the moment. (Maria Marwill-Magee, Circle 10 Council, TX)

I understand your concern, and I’m going to suggest that you leave Cub Scout advancement to the pack. The BSA informs us that, if a boy has earned his Arrow of Light rank and is at least 10 years old, he can join a troop as a Boy Scout: (

This is especially important now, because you’ll want to get him registered with the troop and signed up for Scout summer camp right away. Boys who miss their first summer past Cub Scouting very often drop through the cracks over the summer. If you try to “find” them come September, the likelihood of them becoming Boy Scouts is very low.

So, accept the pack’s word for what they’ve accomplished, and welcome them! Never lose sight of the fact that, since they first became Webelos Scouts, the whole objective has been that they move on to Boy Scouting!

Thanks, Andy. We can certainly do that for the boys who are already 10, but some won’t turn 10 until June or July. Presumably, they need to wait until their birthday to join. (MMM)

It’ll be great to transition the 10 year olds w/Arrow of Light and yes, those who you’ve been told have earned their Arrow of Light yet are still age 9 (which is, I agree, a little weird) do need to wait for their birthdays.
Dear Andy,

Can an Assistant Scoutmaster do Scoutmaster conferences for younger Scouts? Can this be done in lieu of the Scoutmaster, or even if the Scoutmaster’s present at a meeting, but multiple Scouts need their conferences?

We’re finding that Scouts sometimes wait weeks for their Scoutmaster conferences. Even when the Scoutmaster’s at a meeting, multiple Scouts need conferences and if just one person—the Scoutmaster alone—does them, Scouts sometimes still need to wait weeks. It would be much more efficient if Assistant Scoutmasters were allowed to perform this function. What do the “official” BSA rules say about this? (Steven Rudich)

First, let’s clarify: The only BSA policies and procedures that exist are official ones; there is no distinction between “official” and “unofficial” because the latter doesn’t exist.

Now, to your problem. To figure this out, let’s go back to basics…

Most troop meetings last about 90 minutes. Of the seven standard parts of troop meetings, the Scoutmaster’s role includes just one: The Scoutmaster’s minute. Of course, he’d be present for the opening ceremony, so between this and the Scoutmaster’s minute at the end of the meeting, let’s cut 10 minutes off the 90, leaving 80. Let’s now cut another 5 or so, to allow for perhaps conferring with the SPL, or any ASMs. We now have about 75 minutes.

A Scoutmaster’s conference takes between 5 and 10 minutes, and 75 minutes a week are available, so this means that, in one troop meeting, a Scoutmaster can conference with as many as 7 Scouts. In a month, that’s close to 30 Scouts. Plus, with at least one weekend for camping–typically, a 36-hour stretch with about half of that in daylight while the SPL and Patrol Leaders are running the troop–that should allow something like 10 more hours available for conferences. At ten minutes each, one weekend will provide for as many as 60 conferences, but let’s chop that in half, just for argument’s sake.

So, between troop meetings and one weekend outing, the average Scoutmaster can conference with somewhere between 50 and 60 Scouts.

Is your troop so very large that 50 to 60 conferences each month can’t keep up with Scouts advancing? If so, you either have one enormously large troop or every Scout is advancing every single month.
Hello Andy,

As Scoutmaster, I tell my Scouts they can’t use a training program—like the 12-week physical fitness program for Personal Fitness merit badge—for another merit badge. Another example would be using the time one spent caring for dog, for Dog Care merit badge, and then using the same time for Pets merit badge. To my mind, this sort of non-duplication would encourage Scouts to keep active; not just do it once and get all the merit badges they can from it. Is this correct? (Patrick Baumann, SM, Voyageurs Area Council, MN)

I believe your intentions are good and honorable; however, they seem to be perhaps overstepping your role as Scoutmaster. If you were talking about ranks, you’d be just fine and on solid ground when you explain to the Scouts that, for instance, the overnight for Tenderfoot req. 2 can be counted as one of the five activities for Second Class req. 3a, and that all of these can be further counted toward the ten activities for First Class req. 3. However, when it comes to merit badge requirements, this is between the Scouts and their Merit Badge Counselors (MBCs are the only people authorized by the BSA to pass Scouts on merit badges and their respective requirements, and an MBC’s decision cannot be overruled by a unit or adult unit volunteer).

As for your Dog Care-Pets merit badges example, the BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book already states that Dog Care req. 4 and Pets req. 1 are mutually exclusive—something the Scout will learn for himself when and if he decides to earn either or both of these.

To keep Scouts active, encourage pursuit of merit badges because of the cool stuff Scouts will get to learn and do; not just “because they’re required”!

As for “doing it once and getting all the merit badges they can from it,” it’s my personal experience that 99% of all Scout-age young men just don’t tend to think this way. This means, I think, you can relax a little bit and focus on your primary responsibility: Training, coaching, guiding, and mentoring the youth leaders of the troop you serve, so that they can run their own patrols and troop.

Thanks, Andy. I used the term, Scoutmaster, when I wrote, even though I’m also a Merit Badge Counselor—another duty in this small troop. I agree with you completely and I’ll endeavor to be the best leader possible. I was writing to make sure I wasn’t overstepping my bounds and you made that clear. So, I’ll be happy to step back and simply lead by example. (Patrick)

If you’re a MBC for Dog Care and Pets, it’s totally appropriate to keep that little wrinkle in mind…but only when Scouts have earned one and then want to earn the other, I’d think. Beyond that, it starts to sound like “legalese,” and that’s about the last thing we want in Scouting (it has about as much attractiveness to teenaged boys as Scoutcraft or merit badge “classes”).

Let’s also remember, as fellow MBCs, that merit badges are introductions to subject matter; they’re not “certificates of competency” like BSA Lifeguard, etc. I was brought up short on this point a bunch of years ago by my own son—a computer wiz before even kindergarten. When he was a Boy Scout, I suggested that he go for Computers merit badge and he said, “No thanks, Dad. I can already do all of the stuff that badge requires, so it would be sort of meaningless, don’t you think?” Man, what a lesson! Merit badges are all about learning new stuff; not getting a piece of embroidered cloth for something that’s a no-brainer! (“When in doubt, ask a Scout!”) ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

I’m wondering about Eagle Scouts’ achievements. Should an Eagle candidate have good grades in school to qualify? (Ray)

Although Scouting itself is an educational movement, instilling the ideals of good character, responsible citizenship, and physical health, Scouting makes no “academic” demands on boys and young men (or young women, in the case of Venturing). The requirements for each of Scouting’s six ranks and all merit badges are stated, and the only place academics comes into play is Scholarship merit badge. That’s it. There are no requirements for the Eagle rank that relate to activities or endeavors outside of the Scouting program, and no individual, unit, district, or council is authorized to implant or insist on any.

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. 358 – 6/8/2013 – 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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