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Issue 385 – February 18, 2014

SAVE THE DATE! SATURDAY – MARCH 8th. If you’re in the area, consider signing up for the Greater Alabama Council’s UNIVERSITY OF SCOUTING! It’ll be held on the campus of Jefferson State Community College, 2601 Carson Road in Birmingham. I’m honored to have been asked to be their keynote speaker that day, and I’ll also be facilitating two sessions—“The Most Common ‘Ask Andy’ Questions” and “Solving Problems.” It’s sure to be a great day, and I’d enjoy meeting you there!
Dear Andy,

I’m a Scout nearing First Class rank. I’ve already begun thinking about the Star rank and its requirements. On one requirement, a Scout is required to have served 4 months in a leadership position while First Class. While I was a Tenderfoot, I was elected Patrol Leader. At the latest election, I wanted another Scout to have the opportunity to become Patrol Leader, so I decided to run for Webmaster. However, my Scoutmaster said, “We don’t want a Webmaster.” As I near First Class, I’ve thought more and more about that requirement. I’ve decided that Instructor suits me better. I have two questions about this. First, can my Scoutmaster, or even the troop itself, decide what leadership positions it wants or needs? Second, can an Instructor help Scouts learn to play a musical tune for the Music merit badge? (I can play piano, guitar, saxophone, xylophone, trumpet, and recorder, so I think I would be a great help to Scouts with little or no music background wanting to earn the Music merit badge.) (Kevin)

This will probably come as a big surprise to you, your Scoutmaster, and your Senior Patrol Leader: All non-elected positions in a troop (Instructor, Quartermaster, ASPL, Scribe, etc., etc.) are selected by the Senior Patrol Leader; not the Scoutmaster. (This isn’t my “opinion”—this is in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, and elsewhere as well.) So, in a troop that’s getting this sort of stuff right, the person you’d actually be speaking with about a position of responsibility is your Senior Patrol Leader. How about that!

OK, so you’d like to be an Instructor, which is a darned good position! I’ve never yet seen a troop that couldn’t use a Scout who’s an expert in certain areas. But this usually involves more Scouting-type skills than a skill like music, so you may be fighting an uphill battle on this as your area of focus. So here’s another thought: Troop Bugler. That’s right, Bugler. (Doesn’t mean you can’t use a trumpet, BTW.) Use bugle calls to gather the troop, for flag ceremonies, at the close of the meeting… It can be really awesome! And here’s the best news: While Bugler doesn’t qualify as a position for Eagle, it’s perfectly OK for both Star and Life ranks!
Dear Andy,

I have three questions about the Junior Assistant Scoutmaster (“JASM”) position. Is the JASM appointed by the SPL? (From what I’ve read, the JASM is appointed by the SPL with the advice and consent of the SM.) Is it appropriate for the Scoutmaster to appoint a JASM without the knowledge of the SPL? Is the JASM a member of the Patrol Leaders Council? (I’d think the answer is “no” since he reports to the Scoutmaster and isn’t in the BSA’s standard troop organization chart). (Name & Council Withheld)

Here are your answers…
1. Yup. You’ve got that one exactly right.
2. Right again. It’s absolutely not appropriate to do things that way, especially when the Scoutmaster is the SPL’s chief role model!
3. Right once more. The JASM doesn’t even sit in on PLC meetings!
Go to the head of the class!

But there’s more, and it’s what’s undermining what Scouting’s supposed to be… If you were to ask these folks, “Why are you doing things this way?” their most likely answer will be something along the lines of, “We’ve been doing it this way for years!” as if somehow that makes it alright. It doesn’t. I’m going to guess that back in the dim, distant days of this troop’s history, some self-important martinet strayed from True North. Instead of understanding that THE SCOUTS ALWAYS COME FIRST and WE HAVE A COVENANT WITH THE BSA AND THE YOUTH WE SERVE TO GET THINGS RIGHT, he or she replaced these with “What WE say comes first” and “That BSA stuff is only guidelines.” Both are wrong, but they’ve been done this way without challenge for so long that they now seem right…to people who don’t get it that their job is to deliver the kind of Scouting the boys and young men in the troop signed up for—not what THEY choose to do, or choose to witlessly repeat again and again without ever questioning whether they’ve got it right or not.

This is wrong. This damages your son, and the sons of your friends. These people need to fix this. If they don’t, you and every other father have the right to say, “This stinks!” and pull your sons out of the clutches of these little tin gods.
Dear Andy,

My son wants to start earning merit badges. He told his Scoutmaster which one he wanted to start with and asked for a “blue card” and the name of a Merit Badge Counselor in the town we live in. His Scoutmaster told my son that he can’t earn any merit badge from an out-of-troop counselor if that merit badge is offered by the troop (e.g., Camping, Personal Management, and most every other Eagle-required merit badge). Have you ever heard of a “local troop policy” like this? Does the BSA permit troops to do this? The troop has a generally good reputation, but it seems to have some strange regulations all its own. (Name & Council Withheld)

This notion of “merit badge classes” run by the troop is—in a word—wrong. The BSA’s policies on requirements and merit badges (including Counselors selected by Scouts; not volunteer adults) are in place to prevent exactly this sort of nonsense. Troops can’t make up such “rules”—they’re flat-out not permitted. Go find a troop for your son that gets stuff like this right and leave those knuckleheads in the dust.
Hey Andy,

At our troop meeting this week, one of our Scouts got his Scoutmaster conference for the Life rank, finishing off all the requirements. The Scout then went to the troop’s advancement chair and asked if he could get a board of review that night, but she said that since there were already two other reviews going on and it was already time for the meeting to end, this Scout would have to wait until the next meeting—two weeks away. She apparently didn’t realize that his 18th birthday was only six months and two days away. It’s already too late for him to get his board of review in time to have six months tenure as a Life Scout so that he’d meet the requirement for Eagle. I feel the adults let him down by not realizing how close he was to the deadline. Sure, it’s his responsibility to know the requirements and maybe push harder to make sure he gets what he needs, but I feel bad for this Scout. Is there any remedy for him? (Name & Council Withheld)

The first mistake this troop’s adult volunteers are making is that Scouts don’t ask for boards of review—this is the responsibility of the Scoutmaster. Following completion of all requirements for a rank (the Scoutmaster’s conference doesn’t have to be the last one, BTW!), the Scoutmaster informs whoever calls boards of review and tells ’em the Scout’s ready to advance, so let’s have a review.

Since it’s the adults, not the Scout, who screwed things up, it’s up to the adults to fix this. They can do this by either immediately calling a board of review. Just meet at someone’s home and do it. For Life rank, we’re taking about maybe 15-20 minutes, tops! Or if it’s indeed too late for that (like, you’re now inside the six-month mark) then you adults immediate file for an extension, citing your own lack of attention to dates as the reason.

In short, we never, ever penalize Scouts for adults’ errors.
Dear Andy,

I signed on as Scoutmaster a while back, and noticed that we have a Scout who joined the troop two years ago who’s now Life rank and just had his Eagle project proposal approved. He’s 12 years old. He’ll likely have all of the Eagle requirements done by age 13.

If there are any Scoutmasters out there that think that 12 is too young to earn the rank of Eagle, I say BANANAS! It’s the Scout, not any adult, who determines how he wants to tackle advancement. (Just letting you know, since the “too young” argument is something that’s going on all the time.) (Matt Price, SM, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Congratulations to your Scout, and to you, too, for not abiding by the “too young” nonsense!
Dear Andy,

I’m wondering how many merit badges my Scoutmaster can sign off for me. I’ve been told so many different things, from one to as many as I can earn. (Shawn)

None, unless he’s registered as a Merit Badge Counselor for specific merit badges. You’ll need to ask him what he’s certified for. Scoutmasters don’t have “automatic” privileges to sign off on merit badges just because they’re Scoutmasters.
Dear Andy,

This is about merit badges worked on at camp or at a merit badge university or fair. Often, the Scouts don’t complete the merit badge at camp or at the merit badge event (they get “partials”). In our troop, any Scout in this situation is required to meet with a counselor specifically from our troop to finish up the merit badge. There are disagreements about what the Scout must do to complete requirements he’s begun elsewhere. Some believe they can re-quiz the boy to see if he understands the materials that were signed off at camp or the merit badge event, while others believe the Scout needs only to finish off any requirements that weren’t previously signed off.

I believe that BSA has registered merit badge counselors teaching the classes, and so I can’t rightfully go back and say a Scout has to redo a requirement. But what happens if I don’t believe it was taught or learned to standard? If merit badge university or camp says a requirement has been completed, can I insist it be done again? (Name & Council Withheld)

First, all “partials” are valid up to a Scout’s 18th birthday. Second, the BSA does not permit any form of re-testing or repeating any requirements already signed off as completed. Third, a Scout can elect to go to ANY Merit Badge Counselor of his choice. His Scoutmaster can make a recommendation, of course, but if Scout “A” would prefer Counselor “X” over Counselor “Y” that’s his choice. Fourth, while it’s acceptable to have a conversation with the Scout about his experience in completing the requirements shown, this shouldn’t be an “inquisition.” Moreover, the only “standard” to pay attention to is the precise wording of the requirement–Counselors are not at liberty to set any sort of standard other than the written requirement, per the BSA. So, in counseling a Scout toward completion, the primary focus is on what’s not signed off only.

Thanks, Andy. I agree with you. However, I think where the problem arises is when our Scouts go to summer camp and merit badge university, and a “blue card” isn’t issued and the counselors at the time don’t sign off on the requirements they’ve taught. Instead, a list is sent to our troop stating the requirements that were worked on, by whom. Our Scouts then meet with one of our counselors (who are given a list of completed items from camp) who then signs off on the entire merit badge when it’s completed. Because our counselors are marking off the items on the blue card, they claim that if they’re going to put their names on requirements completed, then they want to make sure the Scouts actually did the requirements. In my mind, I see no reason to do merit badge university or summer camp if the Scouts have to pretty much regurgitate the whole merit badge.

I do plan to talk with our council advancement coordinator about this. I understand that our troop wants our Scouts to really learn when they do a merit badge, but I think the approach we’re taking is unreasonable, especially when a Scout might have a merit badge “partial” for some years. (N&CW)

It sounds like somebody needs to find a better process for handling merit badges, especially at summer camp! Blue cards are the obvious way to go, especially since they tip Scoutmasters off on what their Scouts are interested in doing. Besides, these put the Scout in charge of their own destinies (they’re responsible for their own blue cards!), instead of some “adults-only” data base.

Further, “the troop” shouldn’t be giving merit badge records to follow-up counselors. This is (again) the responsibility of the Scouts themselves. (How can we expect them to develop a sense of responsibility for themselves if we’re doing this stuff for them, and all they do is shuffle between on adult volunteer and another?) Again, you all would do well by these Scouts to develop a system that works for them and not the record-keepers. They need to be their own record-keepers!

Yes, I already hear the outcry… What happens when a Scout loses his blue card? Well, it’s part of growing in responsibility to track down the original counselor and get a duplicate blue card from him or her. Look, it works this way: If we keep a boy from making mistakes, we ultimately keep him from making anything!

On to the issue of what a counselor needs to do when he or she gets a blank blue card and some sort of scrip saying what a Scout’s done for such-and-such merit badge. While we don’t re-test the Scout on requirements his record shows he’s completed, we can certainly ask how he went about it. For swimming, for instance, we could ask about the water temperature and weather conditions on the day he took his swim test. For Cit-Community, what “public meeting” did he go to? For Basketry, show me the basket you made—I’d love to see it! For Small Boat Sailing, how many times did he capsize when he wasn’t intending to do this and what was it about his sail-and-tiller handling that he had to adjust to stop this from happening? For Nature, what plant or animal was the toughest to identify? You get the idea…

Now, some commentary that’s mine alone. This isn’t coming from the BSA or the BSA Advancement Team (which you’re free to contact on any advancement-related question:…

I’m a counselor for both Swimming and Lifesaving. It’s my signature that will ultimately attest to the competency of a Scout in the water. Even if he’s done all the in-water requirements and only has a couple of “talking” requirements left, I’m going to arrange for him to get in the water. While I won’t have him repeat a requirement, I want to see how confident and competent he is. I want to watch him swim and surface-dive. I want to see the strokes he knows, and does he really know how to float (floating is a learned skill for 95% of all Scouts—it’s not merely staying on top of the water, as most think it is) and I want to assure myself that he knows the elementary backstroke and to execute it correctly (most don’t, and it takes just a couple of minutes to “polish the chrome” on this one). If it’s Lifesaving, I want him to at the very least recite the order of rescue and describe the various releases (these can save his own life!), and I want to see him enter the water as a life-saver should. That’s because, if he should drown and it’s my name on his blue card, I don’t think I’d ever forgive myself. But that’s me.
Yo Andy,

So, what silly complaint should I make today to illustrate that I don’t need training despite never reading the handbook and making a complete screw-up of my unit? (Ivan)

How about these… “If I can run a (company/department/business) I certainly know how to run a (troop/pack/den)!” and “I’ve been in this job since B-P wore knickers and nobody’s complained yet!” Or, “That BSA stuff is just ‘guidelines’!” Or—my favorite—“In this troop, we produce better Scouts.” Or—my second-favorite—“Well, it doesn’t say we can’t do it this way.”

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. 385 – 2/18/2014 – 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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