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Issue 362 – August 18, 2013

Dear Andy,

I’m re-reading “What Would You Do?” (page 22) in the May-June 2013 issue of SCOUTING Magazine. I’m troubled. There seems to be a disconnect between the contents of this feature and not only Scouting processes and procedures but with Scouting’s fundamental principles as well.

The question posed is “Getting Scouts to Eagle,” and that’s where the problems start. “We” adult volunteers don’t “get” Scouts to any rank; we provide the opportunities, and we encourage, but a fundamental principle of advancement is that the Scout himself is in charge of this and moves through the ranks at his pace, not ours.

“J.O.”—the question poser—is “looking for ways to get older Scouts to mentor their younger peers.” This should be happening naturally: This is the role of Patrol Leaders and Senior Patrol Leader-appointed Instructors, regardless of “age.”

The first suggestion—by “N.H.”–is to, quite literally, “bribe” Scouts into doing this by offering “rewards”… But it’s actually only one reward, to the “winner,” making all others who have been bribed into helping their fellow Scouts “losers.” Then “J.M.” describes how, in his troop “older” Scouts participate alongside the Scoutmaster in Scoutmaster conferences. And if that’s not off-the-mark enough, J.M. refers to “older” Scouts participating in boards of review…as reviewers! A little further along, “D.B.” puts Troop Guides to use as instructors, instead of keeping them focused on their actual responsibilities as coaches and mentors for elected Patrol Leaders of new-Scout patrols.

Of course other Scouters also wrote in with suggestions, and these followed the Scouting program and could be potentially useful. But here’s my question: Is this feature written and edited by people at the magazine who actually understand how the Scouting program is supposed to operate? And, since it looks like they’re not, maybe the BSA’s national office might consider having features such as this reviewed in advance by someone who knows the program. This way, readers won’t be misled into thinking this sort of stuff is approved by the BSA.

As a Commissioner, I’m well aware of the myriad variations in the Scouting program going on “out in the field,” and I work hard to help folks get it right. When misinformation such as I found here, in the BSA magazine for Scouting volunteers, gets read, and folks buy into it because “it’s official,” my job only gets more difficult. Somebody really needs to double-check this stuff! (Eric Mitchell, Quad Cities Council, IA)

I’ve just re-read that feature myself. Your points are well-made. The problem is real: The more the BSA itself incorrectly communicates how the Scouting program is supposed to be delivered, the greater the opportunity for mayhem to rule, and the big losers are the very youth we’re supposed to be serving. Your solution is appropriate and sound. My recommendation to you is to write to the magazine’s Editor in Chief and Managing Editor, and also to James B. Kobak, Chair of the Magazines Advisory Committee. Tell them exactly what you’ve told me, including your suggestion for correcting this problem.
Hi Andy,

Thanks for your August 13th piece on the word “kids” has become part of the Scouting vernacular. I’ve noticed the tendency to describe Scouts as “kids” creeping into professional Scouters’ vocabulary (and publications) too—beginning about a year and a half ago—first in our council Scout Executive’s newsletters; then in materials from the BSA national office. In fact, I did a word search for “kids” at the website that generated over 100 page hits! Scary!

At summer camp a professional Scouter asked me how my kids were doing. I replied that my “kid” is 27 and currently out of the country on business, but the Scouts in Troop 287 are doing quite well, thank you. My differentiation between the two words went unnoticed.

Maybe forwarding your article to the PR folks at national will get some notice—and some results. (Eric Augustine, SM, Greater Cleveland Council OH)

Yup, the “kid” syndrome is widespread and no one seems immune—not the professional folks and certainly not us volunteer types. Its biggest “competitor” in the misuse arena is, of course, the right-hand handshake instead of steadfastly making sure we use the left.

The point is simple: If we’re going to be Scouts then we need to act and speak and conduct ourselves like Scouts.
Dear Andy,

Can a summer camp counselor complete a merit badge that he originally gave a “partial” for, with a Scout outside of camp? (Jerry Groome, Northern New Jersey Council)

If that staffer is a duly registered (meaning: beyond summer camp) Merit Badge Counselor for that merit badge, absolutely! Your son just needs to call him up and ask.
Dear Andy,

I read your comment about dodge ball. Did you happen to see the Ga-Ga Ball pits at the Jamboree? The game is similar to dodge ball in some respects, although far less likely to produce injuries. (Bill Mills-Curran, Knox Trail Council, MA)

Didn’t see it at the Jamboree, but I just read the rules and “You Tubed” it… Pretty darned safe and harmless. I like it!

In conversations during local Senior Patrol Leader roundtables, the SPLs themselves noted that “regular” dodge ball can not only produce injuries but also provide and “environment” for latent aggression to exhibit itself. As a consequence of these observations (pretty astute and sensible on their parts, IMHO), most have abandoned the game in their troops, finding other, less potentially injurious games for their Scouts and patrols to play. Matches up pretty well with Andy’s Rule #4: When in doubt, ask a Scout.
Dear Andy,

I’m Scoutmaster for a troop of 72 Scouts. A former Assistant Scoutmaster who’d gone to another troop for a while recently rejoined us with his younger son. (They transferred from that other troop after a conflict with that troop blocked his son’s advancement to Star for being “immature,” even though he’d completed all the requirements. His son achieved Star in our troop shortly after rejoining about six months ago.)

I’d invited the dad to again be an ASM for our new-Scout patrols, and he accepted, but he’s consistently failing to follow BSA advancement requirements, plus a few troop procedures as well. For example, if a requirement states “demonstrate X skill,” he’ll sign of even if the Scout only “discusses” that skill but doesn’t demonstrate it. I’ve counseled him several times on this and other points, to no avail. Plus, his general attitude and behavior on outings and at meetings has alienated all the other troop volunteers.

What is the best approach for the Committee Chair, the Chartered Organization Representative and I to remove him from his position, possibly to one of no authority or influence with the Scouts? (Scott Field, SM)

You have two issues here. Let’s first deal with an adult volunteer who’s made it clear that he’s not going to follow BSA procedures and policies. Right now, this is manifesting itself as he interfaces with Scouts, and there’s no assurance at all that, if you were to move him to a “non-contact” position, he’d change his ways. This means he needs to be dropped from the roster as a troop-level volunteer.

Because this is a volunteer organization, the general rules in an employment situation don’t apply. There’s no “three strike” rule, there’s no “documentation” stipulation or the like. The matter is simply and expeditiously handled by the Committee Chair, supported by the Chartered Organization Representative and Scoutmaster. The team of the three of you simply takes this guy aside and tells him, “Thank you for your services to the troop. They will no longer be needed.” That’s it. There is no opportunity for him to “think it over.” It’s done. And he has no recourse through the district or council. (You’ll have proof that you’ve made the right decision when he threatens to pull his son from the troop.) As a very wise District Executive once counseled me: Make your decision ruthlessly; carry it out compassionately.

Now, the second issue… One of the Methods of Scouting is “association with adults.” This doesn’t, however, mean “instruction” by adults. Scouting is designed to be a peer-to-peer organization, so when it comes to learning new skills, Scouts needing these skills learn from other Scouts. These latter may be Patrol Leaders, or Instructors, but they’re definitely youth; not adults. So, as soon as you’ve fixed the first problem, focus on correcting the second. When you do this, you’ll have a better, happier troop with happier, more involved Scouts!
PS, For the fundamental first three ranks, consider having the instructing Scouts actually do the sign-off in the handbooks; if you’re uncomfortable with this, then have the instructing Scouts tell you that the Scout(s) they’ve been working with have mastered the requirement(s) and then you take their word for this (Scout’s honor at work!) and do the signing.
Dear Andy,

A Scout in our district is facing a dilemma in advancement. His fear of water is so strong that he’s highly unlikely to be able to complete the BSA swim test for First Class rank. This is his only remaining requirement, so he’s not physically or mentally disabled, at least by the definitions we noted when we read the Alternative Requirements section at This water phobia is truly disabling to this Scout. Do you have any guidance on how we can help him advance in a fair and equitable manner? (Eric Hoadley, District Commissioner, W.D. Boyce Council, IL)

Of course, I’m obliged to ask how it was that he was able to complete the swimming requirement for Second Class rank, but let’s start here: Advancement is ultimately up to the Scout; not his leaders or other volunteers (our job is to encourage and support Scouts’ efforts).  As to the question (which I’m sure somebody’s thought about) of whether the First Class swimming requirement can be “adjusted” in this instance, the answer is no, it can’t. These considerations understood, and in the absence of a BSA-defined disability (i.e., he is unable to secure documentation by a licensed medical practitioner that he has a permanent disability), the best way you can help this Scout is by encouraging his parents to seek professional help for him, with the goal being to help him help himself overcome his fear of water. ________________________________________
Dear Andy,

Our troop has been asked to provide a color guard for a parade hosted by the city we meet in. I know there’s no issue with us carrying the American, Texas, city, and troop flags; where I’m not sure is this: The city would also like for us to carry parade rifles. I think it would look great, but I don’t want to get crossways with Scouting on this. What do you think? (Greg Brown, CC, Longhorn Council, TX)

“Color Guard” is a military term; not a Scouting term (although it’s commonly misused, as here). The correct term for Scouts is “Flag Detail.” A Color Guard literally “guards” the American flag, with actual or, more usually, ceremonial rifles, or sometimes sabers. A Flag Detail carries and presents the colors and carries no weaponry. Per longstanding BSA policy, Scouts don’t carry weaponry (i.e., rifles, sabers, etc.), and do not present themselves as militarily-related.

So, while one might think it would look sort of cool to have Scouts carrying “parade rifles,” this isn’t what we want to do—not only for policy reasons but also because the Scouts would be conveying the wrong impression of what we’re all about to the viewing audience.

Dear Andy,

I’m moving from a volunteer position (Commissioner) to the professional side of Scouting, as a District Executive with the Anthony Wayne Area Council in Indiana. Andy, you’ve been a Commissioner for a long time, and you’ve interacted with countless professional Scouters. I know you have some unique insights that can help me make this transition from the volunteer world to the professional side as easy and productive as possible. What advice would you give to a Commissioner who’s now taking a District Executive position? How can he best put the training and experience he has to good use, or does it all have to go out the window and start over with a new brain and new facts? (Chris Snider)


As a Commissioner, you learned that your most effective “tools” were (a) understanding the Scouting program and its underlying mission and (b) knowing that your primary skill would be in the area of diplomacy. You practiced creative persuasion, defined as gentle pressure applied relentlessly. You rolled up your sleeves, but the purpose of this was to guide people into helping themselves and using their own talents to raise the Scouting program. You resisted the urge to solve all problems yourself and, instead, guided people to solving their own problems. You recognized that you represented scouting at its finest, its most ideal, and never succumbed to pettiness, back-stabbing, or duplicity. In short, you lived by the Oath and Law in your daily life and in dealing with fellow volunteers. Where petty “politics” existed, you stayed above the fray, never took sides, and encouraged those embroiled in interpersonal controversy to work out their differences for themselves, always for the good of the young people they’d promised to serve. You resisted the temptation to walk small around misinterpretations of the BSA’s policies and procedures and faced difficulties straight on, face forward and head held high. You were always a team player, and a team leader when the situation called for this.

As a District Executive, you’ll use all of these same skills, principles, and discipline. But your focus will be different. Now, you’ll be a member of a new team, but your objectives and principles will remain the same. Again, you’ll roll up your sleeves and help people help themselves. You’ll continue to be a “missionary,” and you’ll focus on helping your district achieve its goals. You’ll count yourself as an equal to the District-level key people–the District Chair and District Commissioner–with whom you’ll be most closely working, and you’ll put the same intelligence and energy into being the very best team player you’re able.

Whereas, perhaps in the past, you may have had the luxury of letting responsibilities slide a bit (after all, you were a volunteer, and couldn’t treat your mission as a full-time job), now you’ll always be a man of your word. When you promise to do something or deliver something, you’ll agree upon a deadline and then develop a reputation for always beating that deadline and delivering beyond expectations. There will be even more “politics” (you’ll be confronted with two groups of people–the “inside” folks on the payroll like you and the volunteers whom you’re there to serve) and you’ll find ways to avoid the entanglements and side-taking that will surround you daily. You’ll ask yourself, every morning you arise, “Who am I going to help today?” You’ll steadfastly avoid the temptation to slip back into your “comfort zone” by doing what you know how to do or used to enjoy doing and, instead, take on new challenges…even those that may frighten you a bit or seem scary because they’re unfamiliar, relative to your past experiences.

You’ll keep the watchwords “Primus Inter Pares” (first among equals) always before you, and practice the fine art of servant-leadership. And, when you get down, get weary, get frustrated, get annoyed, you’ll remind yourself that ultimately you’re helping people grow tomorrow’s generation of happy, productive, responsible citizens of the finest, bravest, most giving country this world has ever seen.

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. 362 – 8/18/2013 – 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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