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Issue 386 – February 25, 2014

Dear Andy,

Why does the BSA want the Scoutmaster to be the “messenger” between the PLC and the troop committee? The BSA Troop Organization Chart clearly shows this relationship. Moreover, the Senior Patrol Leader Handbook does not include as one of his duties contact or communication with the committee. And the Troop Committee Guidebook clearly states that the Scoutmaster is to be the conduit between the committee and the PLC. Why, according to the BSA, does the PLC not have a direct “link” to the committee? (Randy Jones, CC, Central Florida Council)

You’ve hit on the key to Boy Scouting…the aspect that makes this youth program different from virtually all others. In sports, music, school, church, and beyond, adults are largely in charge and youth report to adult coaches, band/orchestra directors, teachers, pastors, etc. In Boy Scouting, Scouts report to one another! Boy Scouting is all about peer-to-peer relationships. Yes, one of the Methods of Boy Scouting is “association with adults,” but this is quite different from reporting to or taking direction from adults. In a Boy Scout troop, patrol members are responsible to their elected Patrol Leaders, who in turn are responsible to the Senior Patrol Leader they all have elected. More, all other youth positions of responsibility—Scribe, ASPL (if any), Quartermaster, etc.—are all appointed not by any adult but by the Senior Patrol Leader. The Scoutmaster is the SPL’s advisor and mentor, but not the SPL’s “boss.” Even further, the SPL doesn’t report to the troop committee either. Nor does the Scoutmaster or troop committee have any sort of “approval” or “veto” authority over the plans set by the Patrol Leaders Council. (Yes, they can provide advice and suggestions, but that’s all.) This is why the Scoutmaster is, among other responsibilities, the liaison between the PLC and the troop committee. This insulates the SPL and PLC from “reporting” to the committee and preserves the peer-to-peer “mini-democracy” of the PLC. When the Scoutmaster informs the committee of the PLC’s plans, the committee can offer suggestions, which the Scoutmaster judiciously brings back to the SPL for consideration, but that’s the extent of it.

When it’s not done this way, things go wrong. Too many times in my past 25 years as a working Commissioner (including 13 years writing this column) I’ve seen both Scoutmasters and troop committees either running roughshod over the troop’s youth leaders or taking on responsibilities that rightly belong to the PLC (e.g., planning troop outings, arranging transportation, planning the menu and buying the food, etc., etc.), and when this happens what we have is no longer Boy Scouting–it’s more like “Webelos 3”!

The importance of this aspect of Boy Scouting can’t be emphasized too much. This is perhaps why the three resources you’ve cited are absolutely consistent about who does what.

Thanks for noticing this consistency and asking a great question. I’m hoping every reader takes note of this one—it’s critical to providing the best kind of Boy Scouting program to the boys and young men we serve!
Dear Andy,

We have several Scouts who have earned all the religious emblems for Cubs and are working their way through the Boy Scout emblems. It’s a question of what should be worn and where. Conventional wisdom says the only Cub Scout award worn on the BSA uniform is the Arrow of Light. Looking at the PDF, it says up to 5 medals may be worn above the left pocket, but doesn’t say what medals. Is it better for a Boy Scout to wear the youth “square knot” with the Cub and Webelos hardware or do they get to wear all the medals? To me, wearing that much hardware makes ’em list to port, but more power to them if it’s allowed. (James Flynn)

For non-ceremonial activities the youth religious “square knot” (just one, but may have program devices attached for multiple levels) can and should be worn. For ceremonial situations (e.g. courts of honor), the Scout wears the medal as well (even if Cub Scout), pinned centered immediately above the left pocket. (This isn’t an “opinion” or even “conventional wisdom”—it’s in BSA literature on the subject.)
Hi Andy,

In the category of “teaching an old dog a new trick,” I learned something today. I was talking to a customer who happens to also be a Cub Scout leader. Their pack does something interesting (and when I say dens, I really mean “parents of the Scouts in that den”, not “den leaders”): Wolf dens “own” running the pinewood derby, Bear dens own running the B&G Banquet, the Webelos I dens own running the spring campout, and finally the Cubmaster and committee own running the fall campout. This gives the Tigers a year to see it all. (They’ve considered giving the Pinewood Derby to the Webelos IIs, but felt that campout ownership needed to be the most senior parents.) I see a lot of merit to this. It seems so obvious I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it or thought of it before. This solves the usual volunteer recruiting of problem—instead of recruiting special pack volunteers for these events, it’s just a part of the commitment of being in the pack. And, it can work for any size pack! (Carl Sommer, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Yup, I’ve seen this work! One of the packs I served as Commissioner for a number of years did it this way, and it sure saved a whole bunch of recruiting effort and time! And yes, they got excellent results, because everyone knew up front what would be expected of them. Plus, they could “shadow” the den in front of them!
Dear Andy,

We have some Scouts involved in other activities that prevent them from attending troop meetings, sometimes from two to three months at a time. These activities don’t count against them as far as being active in the troop goes; however, I have a question as far as satisfying a troop leadership position. If their position is for 6 months and they only serve, say, 3 months, should they still get credit for 6 months in that leadership position? I guess that I look at it as sort of getting full pay for doing half the job. The other problem I have with that is that if they get full credit then what is there to stop Scouts in the future from seeking a leadership position when they know that they’re going to be involved shortly in football or play practice or whatever else comes along and so won’t have to fulfill their whole term. Not to mention that when we have one or more of these Scouts in Patrol Leader positions missing PLC and troop meetings, it makes it more difficult for the other youth leaders. Is this best handled before they assume a leadership position, by having a second Scout to fill the vacancy when it occurs, or is it better to not have them do it at all until they can make a full commitment? (Name & Council Withheld)

Before a Scout is elected by his troop (Senior Patrol Leader), elected by his patrol (Patrol Leader), or appointed to a position of responsibility (APL by his Patrol Leader; all other positions by his Senior Patrol Leader), he should have been given—via conversation is always best—a detailed idea of what will be expected of him during his tenure-in-position.

If, say, a potential Scribe’s told that he’s expected to attend most every troop meeting and most every PLC meeting for the next four (Star rank) to six (Life and Eagle) months, and he tells his SPL that he won’t be able to do this because of other activities that will keep him away from meetings for an extended period during this tenure, then he’s effectively saying he’s not qualified to hold this position. Same would apply to PLs, the SPL, Troop Guides, and some others. However, if the position is, say, Webmaster, most of the Scout’s work won’t be happening in troop meetings, so an extended absence may not be problematic because he can work from home in odd hours and still get the job done. In short, it’s on a situation-by-situation basis.

For Scouts who’ve had this conversation and then more-or-less “disappear” when their roles are such that they’re needed at a significant level of attendance, then a conversation about relinquishing the position to another Scout is in order. But, without question, the Scout does get credit for all “time served” until he turns over his position to another.

If expectations aren’t set and agreed to in advance, then the Scout can’t be “dinged” for not fulfilling expectations that weren’t provided to him up front.

There’s lots of latitude here, but it takes talking with Scouts! Let’s take another example: A Scout would like to be Quartermaster, but can only commit the next two months to doing the job. That’s OK. He just serves for those two months (and receives in-position credit) and then another Scout picks up the next two to four months (and receives credit).

Keep in mind, also, that a Scout can hold multiple positions sequentially. If we’re looking at these for rank advancement, a Scout can, let’s say for Star rank, be the troop’s Quartermaster for 2-1/2 months and Instructor for 1-1/2 months (and these don’t even need to be back-to-back) and he’ll qualify for 4 months in positions of responsibility!

In short, use the “ARF” Method—Absolutely Rigid Flexibility! And be happy that these Scouts are “out there” and involved in lots of stuff—just like normal boys should be!
Dear Andy,

My son has his Gold Eagle Palm board of review tonight. Does he have to wait till the next court of honor to officially receive it, or can he be recognized and receive it at the next troop meeting? (Patrick Lesley)

Just like ranks and merit badges, the palm can be presented to the Scout at the very next troop meeting, and then acknowledged a second time at the next court of honor. A Scout is eligible to be presented his rank or palm beginning immediately upon conclusion of his successful board of review. Courts of honor are for the purpose of acknowledging rank advancement, merit badges, and palms since the last court of honor; they’re not for the purpose of giving out the badges.
Hi Andy,

Back in your December 10, 2013 issue (I’ve been busy, so I’m catching up) you had a parent ask about who should hold onto the medical forms in the unit. When our guys were in Cub Scouts, the parents were with the boys on outings, so they retained their own forms. As Webelos Scouts, the Den Leader held the forms when needed. Now, in our troop, we have a master set which is kept by our Health and Safety Chair (his primary duty is to maintain the file) with a duplicate rotating binder for the Scoutmaster or adult in charge of an outing, which the Scoutmaster keeps in between outings. Reason being, should anything happen to damage the travel binder, or if it should get lost, we still have the originals. (Jim Kangas, Northern Star Council, MN)

Great way to handle those forms! BTW, for the medical release forms, it’s always best to carry the originals (with the parents’ actual signatures) because some medical facilities don’t accept copies of signatures.
Dear Andy,

Our Wolf den is working on the Leave No Trace and World Conservation badges, for which one of the requirements is to earn the Fishing belt loop. One of our Cubs will miss the outing, but it turns out that he has significant experience in crabbing (emptying the traps, baiting them, returning them to the water, and cleaning the crabs in preparation for steaming them). It seems to me that this is more than an equal substitute for a half-hour’s basic lesson in fishing, as currently planned. Is there a process by which this Cub’s experience in crabbing can be substituted for the fishing belt loop? (Dennis Obermayer, ADL, National Capitol Area Council)

If this were for a Boy Scout rank leading to Eagle, a Boy Scout merit badge, or even a Cub Scout rank or Arrow Point, I’d be obliged to say “no substitutes.” However, this one seems pretty harmless, and the Cub is obviously “catching” stuff. So a very unofficial judgment call on my part says OK, in large part because the BSA offers no official “alternative” process in the Cub Scouting arena, and in equally large part because the alternative seems more than adequate.
Dear Andy,

About your commentary (your issue No. 380, January 15, 2014) on the Scout who omits “under God” from his Pledge of Allegiance…

WELL SAID! I can’t tell you how much it thrilled me to read your answer to that Scoutmaster, and as far as that Unit Commissioner is concerned I’ve seen far too many like that among Commissioners of late.

My Scouting experience began in October 1970. Since then I’ve earned Eagle rank, served in leadership positions from Den Leader to Assistant District Commissioner, and I’m currently a Unit Commissioner. Since I took on the UC position I’ve regularly run into “ignorance” issues like that. It boggles my mind how people can get to that point in their misguided beliefs.

I’m a Navy veteran and what this Scout believes and is respectfully doing with his belief is one of the very ideals for which I joined the Navy and swore to uphold and to protect. To my knowledge, they haven’t changed that oath since I took it, so perhaps those “military” parents and committee members should remember that, before they start to judge and puff up over something like this.

In that Scoutmaster’s situation, had I been his Commissioner, I would have reminded him of his duty to watch over and protect his Scouts and go with his instincts to back him up, as I would have done with him and his Scout. At any rate, I just wanted to say WELL DONE and THANK YOU. (Charles Rider, UC, Last Frontier Council, OK)

Thanks for writing. You weren’t alone! Thank you to all readers who commented on this issue!
Hi Andy,

Thanks for great columns! I found you with a specific question, that you answered in a column back in 2010. Just want you to know I’ll be recommending your column to my Scouting friends. Thanks for your dedication! (Tom Perez, Greater New York Council-Brooklyn)

Thanks in return! Send your friends to my URL and let ’em know they can write and ask as many questions as they like! There are also some 380 archived columns, going back over 12 years, 95% of which are still accurate and relevant!

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. 386 – 2/25/2014 – 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.

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