Author Avatar

Issue 383 – February 4, 2014

Hi Andy,

What kind of training is available for new troop committee members, especially as it relates to how to conduct boards of review? (Name & Council Withheld)

For general training, the BSA offers “The Troop Committee Challenge” as a training course all members of the committee would benefit by signing up for. It’s offered by your local council’s training committee. In addition, you can all get yourselves copies of the TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK — Buy it from your local Scout shop or online at For boards of review specifically, I’m sending you two presentations that might help. Use them liberally!
Hi Andy,

My son’s troop will be interviewing two different people to fill the role of Scoutmaster. Is there a standard set of interview questions to ask applicants for this position? (Lisa Robinson)

Let’s start by taking a look at the primary responsibilities of a Scoutmaster…

The Scoutmaster (1) is the primary uniformed adult volunteer in the troop; (2) trains, guides, and mentors the troop’s youth leaders; (3) attends troop meetings & outings; (4) advises the SPL who runs the Patrol Leaders Council (the PLC plans & carries out the troop program); (5) reports on progress to troop committee & chair; (6) orients new Scout parents; (7) conferences with Scouts on advancement and their life in the troop; and (8) selects and trains Assistant Scoutmasters.

Responsibility #2 is the most important: Training youth leaders to run their own troop. The Scoutmaster doesn’t plan anything, or run troop meetings. His is really a “background” job; not an “up-front” job in front of the troop every minute.

So you want a person who understands that the true troop program-planners are the Scouts themselves (this is what the Patrol Leaders Council, run by the Senior Patrol Leader, is for) and that the PATROLS are the most important “units” in Boy Scouting.

You want a person who believes in the eight methods of Scouting and considers each of these as important as all of the others.

Your want a person who understands that the only time he actually speaks to the entire troop at one time is when he delivers the “Scoutmaster’s minute” (which lasts 60-to-90 seconds!) at the end of the troop meeting.

You want a person who understands that Boy Scouting is absolutely not “an opportunity for family- or dad-and-lad camping.” That peer relationships are critical to success.

You want a person who has a “boy-spirit” in him. Who understands that his job isn’t to be “the leader” but to be the coach and mentor of the true troop leaders: The Scouts themselves.

How you determine these aspects is up to you. Open-ended questions and then careful listening usually work best.
Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster right now, but I completed Seabadge training in 2012. Since the Seabadge knot is apparently discontinued, should the SB pin be worn above the right pocket, as stated in the Sea Scout uniform inspection sheet? Thanks! (Frank)

Yup. In lieu of a Seabadge “square knot” the pin is worn just as described: Centered above right pocket (and “BSA” strip).
Dear Andy,

First I would like to say how much I appreciate your columns and enjoy reading them—you’re providing a very valuable and much-needed service!

My problem has to do with the Youth Religious Emblem of Faith “square knot.” Our troop has three Scouts who’ve just completed their third level in religious faith training: God and Church. They’ll receive recognition, P.R.A.Y. certificates, and the BSA youth religious emblem on Scout Sunday during a service held by our chartered organization—a church. I’m a member of the troop committee (former ASM) and, at a recent meeting, I suggested that we present the medals to the Scouts in lieu of handing them a third “square knot.” (A third patch seems superfluous and I personally think the medals are more appropriate, in light of what these Scouts have accomplished.) My suggestion didn’t go forward for two expressed reasons: “We’ve never done that before” and “The medals are too expensive.”

So here’s my question… Does it make sense to give yet another square knot (this will be the third time), and is it even proper to have more than one square knot for the same recognition? Somewhere in the past—and I’m not sure of where, how or whom—I recall learning that you can only wear one religious square knot emblem on the uniform (one youth and/or one adult). But our troop’s Committee Chair keeps saying that you can wear every one earned. Can you help us out here? (David Wilson, Allohak Council)

Congratulations to these Scouts!

These scouts should absolutely be receiving their medals. That one’s a no-brainer. The G&C medals cost approximately $10.50 (plus tax if any and shipping). If the troop can’t afford them, then they would, sensibly, reach out to the church that sponsors the troop, and ask for aid. But what worries me is that “They’re too expensive” more often means “We don’t see any value in the program.” So here’s something I’ve never offered anyone before: If neither the troop committee nor the church will spring for these, write back to me and I’ll personally buy them for these Scouts. (Just give me your mailing address, and confirmation from the pastor that they’ve been earned, and I’ll order them immediately.)

As for the square knots, only one is ever worn (or awarded). Your Committee Chair is wrong. However, the good news is that there are “devices” to be worn on the square knots, indicating the level at which earned. Check the BSA’s GUIDE TO AWARDS AND INSIGNIA.
Dear Andy,

My question’s about the National Honor Patrol. Req. 8 states: “Have eight members in the patrol or increase patrol membership over the previous three months.” What does a small patrol or a small troop do so that this award may be achieved?

Our troop’s one patrol has six second-year Scouts and can’t get any new boys to join; therefore, they have no growth or the maximum eight Scouts. They’ll never be able to earn this award, even though they excel in every other area. Any ideas would be appreciated. (Fred Weissert, ASM, Mt. Lebanon, PA)

That requirement is as straightforward as all the others. If a patrol holds only one meeting a month instead of two, no dice. If a patrol has less than 75% of all their Scouts in full uniform, no dice. Same applies to req. 8: If a patrol has six members and there’s no increase, no dice.

These requirements are the same as all others in Scouting: Five months, for example, in a position of responsibility, instead of six, doesn’t qualify for Life or Eagle. Swimming 90 yards instead of 100 doesn’t qualify for the First Class swim test.

Yes, the requirements, especially those for National Honor Patrol, can’t be altered, no matter how much we’d like to help our Scouts along. National Honor Patrol and all the others would lose their meaning if we just let stuff slip by.

Besides, one of the requirements for First Class involved inviting an eligible non-Scout to visit…The obvious intention being that, with luck and a good troop program, they’ll want to join up!

My recommendation—especially since even a Tenderfoot Scout can work on a First Class requirement (without being Second Class)—is to emphasize this with the Scouts of the troop and give them the “tools of persuasion” they’ll need to succeed!

So, what can be done…? Show Scouts how to develop a “hit list” of friends, classmates, neighbors, sports team, church group, and other boys potentially eligible to become Scouts. Then, brain-storm with them on how to “do the ask,” remembering that the best joiners are those who ask, “Can I join your patrol?” (Notice, it’s “join the patrol”—not join the troop! That’s because the fundamental and most important “unit” of Boy Scouting isn’t the troop; it’s the patrol!) Teach your Scouts how to “buddy-up” with the newly invited friend, and not just let him drift or wander around during the troop meeting or patrol activity. Show your Scouts how to welcome visitors by name, with personal introductions more than “This is my friend, Johnny.” Introductions need to be more like, “This is my friend, Johnny, and he’s in 6th grade. His favorite subject is math and he hates history; he’s a star Little League pitcher and plays a skilled piano. Johnny was a Cub Scout, but didn’t cross over to our troop a year ago because his parents thought he couldn’t play sports and be a Scout too! His favorite breakfast cereal is Cap’n Crunch and he likes Big Mac’s.” (Are you getting this? Are you getting that, for this kind of introduction to happen, the Scout who invited Johnny has actually gotten to know him better than he ever did before? This makes Johnny feel real special, and removes the barrier of his feeling like and “outsider”!) Then, in the troop meeting, be sure to play some inter-patrol games that non-Scouts (with a little instruction from their friends) can join in on and enjoy! Finally, let your Scouts know that it’s more than okay for them to invite their friends again—including an upcoming camping trip (even though they haven’t joined up!).

Yes, it takes effort. And solid coaching. And it’s best done by the Senior Patrol Leader, who coaches the Patrol Leaders so they can go back and coach their patrol members! (Peer-to-peer always works better than adult-to-youth among boys and young men of Scout age!)

“Wow, Andy! That’s a lot of work!” you’re thinking. And you’re right! Tell me: What is there of true value that doesn’t come by solid, smart effort?

But now there’s one more thing… You mentioned that this troop has just one patrol. One patrol isn’t a troop! A troop is defined as a Boy Scout unit with two or more patrols. This means, if I understand you correctly, that you don’t really have a troop yet, if you really have only one patrol. Moreover, with only one patrol, there’s no Senior Patrol Leader and there can’t be any inter-patrol competitions! So, if this is really the situation, and you only have six Scouts in the entire troop, then the very first thing that has to happen is to have two patrols of three Scouts each. These Scouts need to divide up (let them pick which three Scouts will be in each of the two patrols–DON’T do this for them!). Then, “borrow” and older Scout from a neighboring troop to act as Senior Patrol Leader for a couple of months (we can talk more about this if I’ve actually read your situation correctly here). Each patrol of three names itself (two new names—not one patrol keeps the “old” name and the second patrol doesn’t get this opportunity), and then each patrol elects its own Patrol Leader. NOW, they can really go do some recruiting, because they want to get a fourth member as fast as possible, to make it easier to go camping (two-man tents!) and such!

Also, be sure to recruit from local Cub Scout packs (we’re entering “open season” on Webelos dens right now!), and, when a den does join, be sure they’re kept intact and not “salted” into the existing patrols.

How does a small troop “recruit” Webelos dens in order to grow? Simple. The Scoutmaster tells the parents this: “Yes, you’ll find larger troops, and they’re good ones. But your son’s about to enter a new stage of development and maturation. In our troop, I can personally guarantee you this: He won’t get ‘lost in the crowd.’ As his Scoutmaster, I’ll know him personally, and he’ll know me as a person he can come to, to learn, to grow, and—yes—when he has a problem and he’s not quite sure who to turn to! It’s my responsibility to get to know your son and what makes him ‘tick,’ and I take that responsibility very seriously.”

You all can make this work, and have a healthy, growing troop. I hope you all decide to roll up your sleeves and make this happen!
Dear Andy,

I have a question about the Den Chief Service Award. I’m a Wolf Den Leader, and I have Den Chief who will complete the requirements for the Den Chief Service award in a few weeks. Should he receive it at the pack meeting, or at a troop court of honor? (Robyn Warner)

How about BOTH!
Dear Andy,

Why do some of those guys on Scouts-L have to fight everything with the BSA? (Mike Walton—Settummanque)

Well, the good and bad news is that Scouting has no “exclusive” on jerks. Every walk of life has a bunch of ’em! Sometimes, they gather ’round the old water cooler. Sometimes it’s at a bar after work. Sometimes it’s in the men’s room (or, to be fair, ladies room). Sometimes it’s Facebook or Twitter, or in writing reviews. And sometimes it’s on Scouts-L. I’ve occasionally read some Scouts-L stuff. Usually I avoid it. Seems that everyone there has two things: A keyboard and an opinion. Often, the opinions are more diatribes and back-and-forth arguments that devolve into name-calling and worse. You’d wonder just what sorts of role models these jerks are for the youth we’re supposed to be trying to lift up. Makes me scratch my head in wonder sometimes.

Happy Scouting (anyway)!


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. 383 – 2/4/2014 – 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

Comments are closed.