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Issue 382 – January 28, 2014

Hi Andy,

I enjoy reading your column—it’s extremely helpful. Now, I have a question… We’re a troop of 17 Scouts. Seven of these are Life rank, two are Eagles, and only one is under age 13. We have two patrols. We’re expecting between six and eight new Scouts shortly (Webelos cross-overs), so our Scoutmaster is planning on adding a new patrol made up of these incoming new Scouts. But this got shot down by the Committee Chair, whose opinion was that this would make these new Scouts feel isolated and not a part of the troop. Another committee member supported this idea, saying that it would be better for the new Scouts to be with the older Scouts, so they could learn. Our Scoutmaster countered these opinions, observing that he’s seen how older Scouts don’t like to “babysit” new Scouts. But the committee’s decision was that the new Scouts would be “integrated” into the two existing patrols and, concurrently, some of the older Scouts would be removed from their current patrols and put in a new third patrol. I’m not really sure this makes sense. Do you have any words of wisdom I can share, on why it’s advantageous and in the best interests of the Scouts and the troop and Scouts to follow the BSA recommendation? (Name & Council Withheld)

This troop is not only making a huge mistake in considering “salting” new Scouts into existing patrols, it’s actually flying in the face of longstanding BSA standards. Here’s the fatal flaw in the current thinking: The fundamental unit of Boy Scouting is NOT the troop—it’s the PATROL. The troop is simply the “umbrella” under which patrols function. A primary foundation of solid peer relationships is age (6th graders don’t hang around with 8th graders, high school seniors don’t hang around with Freshmen). The second foundation is rank within the overall group (corporate directors and managers don’t hang out with production line personnel, college deans don’t hang out with students, brothers three and four years older than their younger brothers don’t hang out with their younger brothers and their friends).

If you’re going to get a group of new Scouts, they absolutely must be in the same patrol. If they’re joining up coming from the same Cub Scout den, they’ve already bonded and it would be a monstrous mistake of judgment to break them up. But even if they’re coming from multiple packs, their age alone is all the reason you need to “bundle” them into the same patrol!

As a brand-new patrol, the hope and goal is that they remain together—and grow together—as a patrol straight through Boy Scouting!

In this regard, while they’re assigned a Troop Guide (an older Scout, solidly grounded in how to lead a patrol), and the Troop Guide is, in turn, assigned an experienced Assistant Scoutmaster, neither of these “takes over” or “leads” this patrol. The patrol elects their own Patrol Leader, in the same way that any patrol does. The purpose of the Troop Guide is to act as a coach for the newly-elected Patrol Leader. The TG does NOT function as “acting Patrol Leader”—not for one second! The purpose of the ASM is to provide second-tier guidance to the TG, if and when the TG needs some help in coaching the new patrol’s PL. The ASM is absolutely NOT a “glorified Den Leader in disguise.”

ALL of this has been in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and an important part of position-specific training for Scoutmasters and ASMs for decades. It truly needs to be followed. It’s not subject to somebody’s “opinion.” It’s not subject to a “Well, in this troop…” mentality. It needs to be followed because (1) It’s the Scouting way and (2) it WORKS!

Finally, it’s up to the Scoutmaster to champion doing things the right way, and so long as we’re talking about Troop Program, this is the Scoutmaster’s responsibility—neither the Committee Chair nor the committee (even if they “took a vote”—which would be baloney, anyway) has the authority to override the Scoutmaster when it relates to troop program and the Scoutmaster’s got it right!
Dear Andy,

We had a Scout go for Eagle. He sent his stuff to the council service center. It came back saying he didn’t have enough time in a “position of responsibility”. They said he was two days short.

The requirement says “a period of six months.” It doesn’t define a month or specify a certain number of days (e.g. 6×30=180). Can you provide more information on how the six months is calculated and what troops can do to avoid this issue?

Our troop has elections every six months. The elections are scheduled at the earliest convenient troop meeting in the month. It’s always been scheduled based on other activities, troop program, holidays, etc.

In a situation like this, can we simply have the Scout serve in a specific position for a short period of time, like two days—for instance, appoint him as an Instructor for two days? That just seems silly. (John Pinchot, Longhorn Council, TX)

Yes, it’s a matter of dates. If something starts on January 1 and ends on January 31, that’s a month. And if it starts on February 1 and ends on February 28, that’s a month, also. But if it starts on, say, January 1 and ends on January 29, that’s not a month. So yes, if the Scout needs two days, then make sure he gets those two days.

That said, why don’t you give me the dates actually listed and I’ll give you an answer that’s reality- instead of hypothetically-based.

Hi Andy! Our next election is Monday, April 7th. The election after that will most likely be the first Monday in October, which would be October 6th. Since the term would start on the 7th of the month and end on the 6th of the month, would that mean they’re one day short? And what if something happens and the election has to be moved to April 14th. Do we delay the elections in October? This would impact the terms that follow after that. This all seems silly. (John)

“Silly”? Keep thinking this way and you guarantee a breakdown.

A Scout is expected to hold a position of responsibility for six months. If July 5th is the date he’s elected, then his term begins that day and he needs to hold that position till the end of the day on November 4th if it’s to be for 4 months, or January 4th if it’s to be for 6 months, because the requirement doesn’t say “or thereabouts.” If a Tenderfoot Scout is to do his physical fitness program for 30 days, then it’s 30 days; not “or thereabouts.” If a Scout earning Personal Management merit badge is expected to track his income, expenses, and savings for 13 weeks, it’s 13 weeks; not “or thereabouts.” If a Scout earning Swimming merit badge swims 149 yards (per requirement 5), he’s one yard short. If a Scout is to identify 10 kinds of native plants he can identify 11 and he’s just fine, but if he identifies 9 he’s not met the requirement.

If their teacher tells them to write a 500-word essay and they write 499 words, they’ve not met what’s been asked of them.

If their coach tells them to do 25 push-ups and they do 24, they’ll be catching splinters or worse.

If their boss tells them to show up at 9 o’clock sharp and they show up at 9:01, they’re late.

If they tell the father of their date that they’ll have his daughter home by 10, and they bring her home at 10:01, they’re history.

If the posted speed limit it 35 and they exceed this, they’re breaking the law.

If your boss tells you you’re getting a $100-a-week raise, and your paycheck shows $98 instead, is your insistence that you’ve been shorted by two bucks “silly”?

Are you getting this? I hope so, because Scouting isn’t about being pedantic, but it’s definitely about setting goals and reaching them. These are more than mere “requirements” and far from “silly”—they’re lessons for living.

We in Scouting have the opportunity to develop in the young men we’re here to serve a sense of responsibility and rightness, we’re succeeding. If we communicate to these same young men that standards are “silly,” well, I’m sure you can see the consequences…they’re all around us. So let’s drop the “silly” stuff and get it right.
Hi Andy,

We need some help with the Chaplain Aide position. It’s for a new troop with 13 Scouts. They have a new Scout who’d like to be Chaplain Aide. Everyone agrees this Scout would be a great candidate for this position; the problem is that he doesn’t meet the qualifications. He isn’t First Class, and he isn’t working toward a religious emblem for his faith (he won’t meet the eligibility requirements for several months).

The Troop would definitely like to have a Chaplain Aide. They could have this Scout do the Chaplain Aide work without officially holding the position, and without wearing the emblem. Or, they could go without a Chaplain Aide until he qualifies, which will likely be a year or so down the road. Or they could ignore the BSA qualifications and let him be Chaplain Aide (but the troop tries to always follow the rules, so this would be a first for them). What are your thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

How about we start here: Who is the troop’s Chaplain? (I’m asking because, without a Chaplain, there’s no one to “aide”)

Hi Andy. Although this troop isn’t chartered by a church, one of the parents—whose educational background is in theology—is the troop’s Chaplain. (N&CW)

According to this BSA website page——this troop is already pushing the envelope a bit, because unit Chaplains are expected to be ordained clergy; not laity. Yes, an educational background in theology looks good on paper, but it hasn’t hit the bullseye. This hiccup aside, with an acceptable Troop Chaplain in place, this troop can have a Chaplain Aide. And—tis is good news—according to this same BSA source, being First Class rank isn’t a requirement—it’s a recommendation. This means rank isn’t a roadblock. As for his personally earning his religious emblem, if he’s, as you say, just a few months away from being age-eligible to start, I don’t see this as a stumbling block either. Of course, I’m unsure as to why “age” is an impediment (can’t say for sure since I don’t know what faith we’re talking about), because ( most religious faiths’ and denominations’ programs are grade-based rather that age-based and have no gaps between one level and the next (e.g., God and Family [grades 4-5]-God and Church [grades 6-8]-God and Life [grades 9-12]). So all in all, unless there’s something here I don’t know, I’d say go for it!

Hi again Andy. Can you please clarify something? You said: “So, for this Scout, in the first place, being First Class rank isn’t a requirement—it’s a recommendation.” The Manual for Chaplain Aides and Chaplains ( states: “2. The chaplain aide must be at least a First Class Scout…” This led us to believe he had to be First Class, which conflicts with your response that it isn’t a requirement, but only a recommendation.

As for his religious emblem, he’s Roman Catholic so it’s the Ad Altare Dei. He has to be finished with 6th grade to start working on it. That happens in early June, which is why my original note said he couldn’t work on a religious emblem for several months.

I’m sure he could “do the job” of a Chaplain Aide without the official title, emblem, etc. He doesn’t need a position for rank now, so that wouldn’t matter. I think the preference for would be for him to be an official Chaplain Aide, though. (N&CW)

As you’ve probably checked out by now, the BSA source I quoted from used the word “recommended” that he be First Class. So take your pick. Or, consider making Chaplain Aide the incentive for this Scout to finish up First Class in the next couple of months, which would coincide with his eligibility for starting the Ad Altare Dei. That sounds like it could be a win-win. It’s also a great “life lesson” in that we don’t always get exactly what we want the very moment we decide we want it! As for rank, remember that he’s First Class the moment his successful board of review has concluded—he doesn’t wait till the next court of honor rolls around!
Hi Andy!

My cousin—a Den Leader in another district—my husband—a former Webelos Den Leader—and I—current Cubmaster—were talking. We’d just held our Pinewood Derby, so the discussion naturally turned to Cubs making their own cars versus dads doing too much of the work, which led to some thoughts about power tools. My cousin made a comment about Cubs not being allowed to do anything with power tools, but my husband commented that the handbooks for Bears and Webelos both mention power tools. So I decided to dig a little.

The Guide to Safe Scouting shows that Scouts need to be 14 to use any power tools including an electric sander and 18 for many others, including jigsaws. The Bear Cub Scout book mentions a hand drill and drill bits, so although some might see drill bit and think “electric,” I can see that that’s a misinterpretation and the Bear handbook is actually in line with Guide to Safe Scouting. But then the Webelos “Craftsman” activity badge says, “With adult supervision and using hand tools, construct two different wood objects…use a coping saw or jigsaw for these projects…” As far as I can see there’s no such thing as a non-electric jigsaw. And I’m pretty sure they used an electric jigsaw at Webelos camp.

I’m curious as to your take on this apparent inconsistency. Thanks! (Carrie Setzkorn, CM, Heart of America Council, KS)

I believe the key to this issue is “adult supervision.” Yes, a jigsaw would typically be electric-powered; however, with proper adult supervision this shouldn’t be a major issue. What we’re looking for is good (as against “common”) sense on the part of the adult who’s supervising. Good sense says one-on-one, rather than eight Cubs lined up with power jigsaws and an adult trying to keep an eye on all of them.

Fact remains: All tools are pretty much foolproof these days, but none is “idiot-proof”! The other fact is that the BSA provides pretty good guidelines on this sort of stuff while at the same time anticipating that most adults have a “good sense gene” operating that will signal when a “bad idea” is about to happen.
Hi Andy,

I’m frequently dazzled by your very articulate and well thought-out comments on such a wide variety of Scouting topics! Have you formed any thoughts about this new organization called Trail Life USA, which seems to be a variation on Royal Rangers? (John Rekus)

Ahh… Flattery will get you…everywhere! <grin>

I personally appreciate all youth-serving organizations—Trail Life USA, Royal Rangers, etc.—that are values-based and help our youth to grow into better men and women!

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. 382 – 1/28/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]


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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