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Issue 373 – November 25, 2013

Dear Andy,

(I am using my mom’s email address and she is okay with me sending this.) I noticed today on my Webelos handbook that there is a mistake as there is only one bucket of water by the fire. I learned from my Den Leader that there should always be two fire buckets filled with water. I think the BSA should change this mistake. (Robert)

In the twelve years that I’ve been helping people by writing these advice columns, you’re the first Webelos Scout to ever write to me! That’s a pretty brave thing to do. Congratulations!

About your question, here’s the good news: Everybody’s right!

Your Webelos Handbook tells you that, when you build a fire you should always have a pot or bucket of water handy, in case the fire should throw sparks that could start another fire nearby. You’d use that water to douse those sparks right away, so a second fire doesn’t happen. Soon, you’ll have a Boy Scout Handbook, and it will say the same thing: “Place a pot or bucket of water close by to put out the flames if they begin to spread.” Both of these are all about what to do when you’re using the fire. But when you’re done using the fire and want to put it out for good, that’s when you’ll want to use a lot more water than what’s in just one pot or bucket. You’ll want to use more than this, so that the fire is completely out and the ashes aren’t even warm anymore when you touch them, to check. So your Den Leader is right, too. When you’re ready to put out the fire, two buckets is a really good idea!
Hi Andy,

Would you please provide some additional clarification to your November 8th column concerning the Scoutmaster requiring a Scout to add work to his proposed Eagle Scout service project? In one place, you said that the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook notes that a Scout’s helpers “…are expected to be unskilled,” but I haven’t found that anywhere in the workbook. While in many cases the Scout’s helpers might be unskilled, it isn’t necessary or required that they be unskilled or that they be youth. As you said “…if the work gets done by others that is a success.” In another place you said the Scoutmaster was correct that there wasn’t sufficient work for the Scout’s helpers to do, but then you said the Scoutmaster shouldn’t be adding to the Scout’s own idea and the original project proposal should have been more than enough to stand on its own. However, in the last paragraph, I was left with the impression you were suggesting the Scout still needed to do additional work developing his project to meet the requirement. If the original project was sufficient to stand on its own, then what else would the Scout need do? (Wayne Huddleston, District Committee, Mid-America Council)

First, let’s understand that I don’t write BSA policy. Further, I don’t “interpret” BSA policy. My responsibility, as a Commissioner, is to help Scouts and Scouters apply BSA policy.

Your questions are all interesting, but they’ve been taken out of the context of the entire Q&A in that column. Because I don’t “blog” but, instead, deal with specific questions, it’s often inappropriate to take a statement out of its context and attempt to generalize it. This was the situation in that particular Q&A and I’d suggest you re-read it in that light. I’m suggesting this because that particular Scout’s situation was a bloody mess, and the Scoutmaster—although well-intentioned, I’m sure—wasn’t helping; he was making the whole thing messier.

That said, I’ve further distilled a couple of your questions, and here are some insights that might help…

The BSA does state that the labor for such projects shouldn’t require any special skills—anyone should be able to do the work. Dig around and you’ll find this. The thinking behind this is plain: The BSA doesn’t want Life scouts contracting with licensed craftsmen to do the work; the BSA wants the Scout to show the sort of leadership necessary that friends will show up to help out, and the judgment to know which friends to ask.

As an aside to the above, at a board of review some years back, I asked the Eagle candidate what was the biggest “lesson” he learned from his service project, and his answer was poignant: “I learned that, if I promise somebody I’ll do something I absolutely will honor what I’ve committed to doing.” I asked what prompted that, and he told us, “I asked my friends to help me with my project and they all said yes, and then none of them showed up. I was so bummed out. I couldn’t believe they’d let me down like they had. It was awful. So I promised myself right then and there that I’d never do that to anyone, ever.”

A Scout’s helpers can be anybody willing to help him who has the capability of helping. Fellow Scouts, classmates, neighbors, relatives, teammates—these all count. But, obviously, the Scout has to apply good judgment. If Mom or Dad are going to take charge of his project, then it’s a good idea to include them out. Same with Uncle Fargus, who likes nothing better than being in charge.

The Scoutmaster’s biggest error was in making statements instead of asking questions, like: “Okay, so tell me…How many helpers are you going to need, and what are they going to be doing?” and “Hmmm… There doesn’t seem to be much that you’ll be doing in actually leading the project. Can you think of any ways you can expand your leadership role?”

As Scouters guiding youth, when we make statements we sound just like every other adult “in charge” in a young man’s life. The way we can stand out as different, become more approachable, and truly help young people grow is by asking well thought-through questions for which answers rise from within the young man. This way, he will “own” the ideas instead of ideas being poured into the top of his head.

Finally, one non-Eagle project plus another non-Eagle project doesn’t equal an Eagle project. Simple as that!
Dear Andy,
Our troop supplies enough Den Chiefs to its affiliated pack to have one per den. The other day, one of the Den Leaders asked if another Scout who wants to work with her den as a Den Chief can do so. But I don’t think her current Den Chief wants to give up his position. So can a den have two Den Chiefs? Is that allowed, or is there a strict limit on the number of Den Chiefs-per-den, like there is with one Denner in a den and one Patrol Leader per patrol? (Richard Heimbach, ASM, Linglestown, PA)

The DL-DC relationship is that of a team, with the DL acting as leader, coach, and mentor to the DC. It’s intended to be a one-to-one relationship. For a den of six to eight boys, more than one Den Chief is a redundancy and a waste of youth leadership talent. The framers of the Scouting program didn’t waste a lot of time crafting lists and lists of DON’Ts—instead, they expect us to apply good judgment. Good judgment, in this situation, tells us that more than one Den Chief per den will cause confusion among the Cub Scouts in the den and ultimately split their loyalties, just like good judgment tells us, for instance, that non-swimmers don’t jump into water over their heads.

If the den is too large for a DL-DC team to handle, then good judgment tells us to divide the den into multiple dens of manageable size. If the DL and DC don’t get on very well, then the DC can be replaced, but not without a conference with the DL and another with the DC first.
Dear Andy,

My son is eight years old and a Bear Cub Scout. How can he earn the religious emblem for Presbyterians? (Cathy McCluse)

Your local Scout shop is likely to have the Presbyterian “God and Me” work booklet, that your son will share with your church’s pastoral staff member responsible for youth. If not, go to and you’ll find it there. Get the necessary materials, then have a conversation with your church’s Youth Minister about working with your son.
Hi Andy,

I’m currently trying to work out a plan for fundraising for my Eagle project. I want to know whether it’s allowable for a Scout to use his own money to pay for materials if the materials need to be purchased before the fundraiser is completed, and then afterwards be reimbursed by the funds from the fundraiser. I know another Scout who’s done this during his Eagle project, but I’d like to make sure it’s allowed because it’s likely I’ll have to do so as well. Thanks in advance for your advice! (Sean, Life Scout)

There are any number of materials or funds sources available to you. In the first place, it’s not unusual at all for the beneficiary to provide the materials and supplies you need—there’s absolutely no “rule” that says you have to provide or buy these. Or, the beneficiary can give you the money required—based on your budget—to go out and buy what’s needed. You can also pay for the materials yourself, if you wish, or ask your family to help out (I’d hope we’re talking about a modest amount, especially since “building something” isn’t mandatory for Eagle projects). The next way is to solicit the materials from local merchants and retailers (or at least ask them if they’d be willing to offer a discount, in light of what you may be doing). Finally, if absolutely necessary, you can create a fund-raiser of some sort (car wash is a good example, especially because you get to “show leadership” with your volunteer helpers). But dipping into your own wallet first, and then hoping you can raise some money somewhere along the way to pay yourself back is tricky and should only be considered as a very, very last resort. Try to avoid going that route if you possibly can!
Dear Andy,

Starting January 1, 2014, Cooking merit badge will be required for Eagle. We have a Life Scout—he’s 15 years old—who can complete all requirements before December 31, 2013, but probably won’t complete his board of review by then. Will he have to earn Cooking merit badge, or does this fall into the 18 year-old category, where his Eagle board of review can be done within 90 days of his 18th birthday? I looked through the advancement book and couldn’t find anything that talked about this. I also spoke with our Eagle advancement person and he’s pretty sure the board of review can be after December 31,2013. Thanks for your help, if you can clear this up! (John Tomecek, CC & advancement coordinator, Blue Grass Council, KY)

The good news for this Scout is this: If he completes all current requirements for Eagle rank by December 31, 2013, he won’t need to earn Cooking merit badge for the rank (this isn’t to say he shouldn’t go on to earn this and a whole bunch more in his next two-plus Scouting years—it simply means it’s not necessary for Eagle at this moment). The board of review is the final step in the process, but it’s not a “requirement” (as are those listed on the application from 1 through 6).

If you’d like to confirm this, just forward our conversation to:
Hey Andy,

In your column no. 371 you were asked about “Flag Detail Captain” as a “legal” position of responsibility for advancement. If, in that troop, their Flag Detail Captain has duties that require real leadership and responsibility, the Scoutmaster might consider recognizing it as a “Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project to help the unit” (which can be used for Star and Life ranks).

For myself, I’d want to see more substance than following a simple procedure week after week. The Scout could be given a real opportunity to think, grow and lead. Maybe the troop’s flag detail will support community events and give flag history programs at schools, thereby improving the troop’s community service and overall visibility in the community.

As another example, my troop has a number of Scouts who love the STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) topics, but the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders not so much. So we have a Scout “STEM Resource Leader” who organizes and provides such programming for the troop and patrols, as directed by the SPL and PLs. I certainly consider this to be an adequate level of leadership and responsibility to justify advancement.

Or at least I will once the Scout handling this gets to First Class rank. Right now, he’s doing it for fun and to help his troop. (He’s not even getting a patch! I may have to ding him on Scout spirit for that. Where did I go wrong??? (Sam Mize, SM, Circle 10 Council, TX)
I admire your ideas and especially your sense of good humor! Here’s another idea, to follow yours… Instead of the same old, same old “Post the colors, salute, Pledge, Oath, Law…” how about an actual opening ceremony each week… A history of the American flags, what each element of the flag stands for, famous American flags (“Old Glory,” Iwo Jima, etc.)… In other words, let’s actually learn something each week in a way that’s fun and interesting. (But maybe that’s asking too much? After all, aren’t Scouts supposed to just go through the motions, week after week…?)

Happy Scouting and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


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. 373 – 11/25/2013 – 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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