Author Avatar

Issue 388 – March 11, 2014

Serving over 30,000 youth across 22 counties, the GREATER ALABAMA COUNCIL is one of the largest in the U.S. Their UNIVERSITY OF SCOUTING this past Saturday, with some 300 wonderful Scouters and youth members participating on a delightful sunny and warm day, was a highlight for all…especially me! Sincere thanks to KENDALL BROWN, RANDY THOMAS, BRIAN GODSY, and ROGER ETHERINGTON; and to J.T. DABBS and CLAY PRUITT! And thanks to the great folks—volunteers and professionals—who enjoyed the opening presentation, came to the two facilitated sessions later on, and stopped by to chat throughout the day. You’ve ALL re-charged my batteries, and I hope I did yours, too! Have a grrrrrreat Scouting year!
Dear Andy,

Your answer to the troop Committee Chair who asked about the relationship between the committee and the Scouts was perfect! In a few paragraphs, you crystallized the key to what makes Scouting different from every other youth program, and underscored the importance that we all get this critical aspect of the program right.

Without youth leadership firmly established, we simply don’t have Boy Scouting. Without youth leadership firmly established, we aren’t delivering the promise of Scouting to the boys or their families and are cheating them out of their expectations. Without youth leadership firmly established, we might as well be an adult-run camping club.

Every adult volunteer in Boy Scouting needs to read, understand and live your explanation. We have way too many “world’s oldest patrol leaders” in our ranks. (Frank Maynard, CC, “I used to be a Bobwhite”)

It’s great to get a letter like yours, letting me know me there are folks who “get it.” Thanks! (“I used to be an Owl”)
Dear Andy,

I’m a new Council Advancement Chair in the. I just responded “No” to an important question but want some clarification. The question was, “Can someone other than the Scoutmaster sign off on ‘blue cards’ for a Scout to begin a merit badge?” My thoughts were that, if this occurred, it would circumvent the Scoutmaster’s opportunity to get to know the Scouts and their interests. This is why it’s a Scoutmaster-specific responsibility according to the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. Moreover, the “blue card” doesn’t say, “Unit Leader OR DESIGNEE.” Am I on the right path here? (David Bardos, Crossroads of America Council, IN)

You have it exactly right, for exactly the right reason. Folks may argue, “Well, it doesn’t say we can’t have somebody else do this,” to which the reply is: “Correct. Just as the BSA doesn’t say be sure to not wear a silly hat when counseling Scouts. The BSA policies and procedures concentrate on WHAT TO DO and is absent most ‘Do Not’ stuff because that list is simply too long and as soon as it’s constructed to be idiot-proof somebody will invent a better idiot.”
Hello Andy,

Our troop has been struggling with board of review guidelines. This GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT statement below seems to be contradictory: “Though one reason for a board of review is to help assure the Scout did what he was supposed to do to meet the requirements, it shall become neither a retest or ‘examination,’ nor a challenge of his knowledge.”

Can you help me understand how a board of review can “assure that a Scout did what he was supposed to do” without re-testing?

Can you give me some ideas of when it’s reasonable to not pass a Scout at his board of review? For instance, what if he doesn’t remember (or is too stressed to recall) how to orient a map, or signs of heatstroke, or some other skill? It seems that this sort of not passing, for these reasons, happens too often in our troop, all under the guise of “having a rigorous program that makes sure the Scouts are ready to advance.”

It’s abundantly clear in all BSA writing on the subject that there is to be no re-testing, but if there’s no re-testing then how could there ever be a question of “pass” or “fail” at a board of review? (Kelly Atkinson, Capitol Area Council, TX)

Let’s start here: Scout’s don’t “fail” boards of review, and they don’t “pass” them either—they complete them. If your troop committee isn’t getting this right, then they’re missing the point of boards of review as a way to endorse what a Scout’s learned and done and encourage him to keep on learning and doing!

In addition to what I just mentioned, boards of review are for the troop committee to learn how well the troop’s uniformed adults are delivering the Boy Scout program. You all find this out not by asking the Scout to orient a map, but by asking him how he learned how to do this; not asking him to describe the symptoms of heatstroke but determining how he learned this: From whom (ideally, his Patrol Leader) and under what circumstances (ideally while on an out-of-doors adventure). When you hear that he learned this stuff by sitting in a stultifying “troop class” run my some well-meaning but completely misguided adult, you know there’s work to be done—not with the Scout but with the quality of the troop program as delivered by the Scoutmaster and any ASMs.

Scouts reinforce the skills they’ve learned and knowledge they’ve gained not by being re-tested ad nauseam but by getting out there and using this stuff on the trail and in the campsite.

Thanks, Andy. I’ve always been uncomfortable with how our troop has done this and since I became Committee Chair I’ve had conversations with one of the Scouts who hasn’t been advancing. He’s been denied advancement for “not knowing his skills” on two boards of review; since then he’s been too discouraged to keep trying (talk about the antithesis of the Aims of Scouting!). That really got me going on this, and now I’m starting an initiative to make changes and get this right. I expect that some of the old-timers will tell me I’m watering down the advancement process. My response will be that the changes are designed to make the program better; not some test harder. (Kelly)

Good for you, for fixing this. As for old-timers, and any “watering down” wisecracks, your answer is simple: Baloney! Wrong is wrong, and that’s that. It’s high time this troop started doing things the way Scouting’s designed to be done instead of thinking they have the collective brainpower—to say nothing of authority—to “improve” on a successful hundred-year track record.

Thanks again, Andy. But I do have one question: If there’s no re-testing at boards of review, does this mean it shifts to the Scoutmaster conference? (I didn’t think that was really the purpose of conferences, either.) Also, does all this mean that a Scout really can’t fail a board of review? (Kelly)

The Scoutmaster conference isn’t for re-testing either. There’s simply no re-testing, ever. Once a requirement has been signed off or initialed in the Scout’s handbook, it’s considered completed, and that’s that. The purpose of the Scoutmaster conference is described very well in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK. Use that as your guide.

As for “failing” a board of review, unless something extraordinarily weird comes up in that conversation (like the Scout announces he’s recently decided he’s into devil-worship, or he’s working hard to overthrow the U.S. government) boards of review are destined to be successful—and that’s the whole idea!

Bottom line: Boards of review are designed to provide the opportunity for reflection on his accomplishments and destiny by the Scout and support and encouragement by the troop committee.
Hi, Andy —

You recently had a conversation in your column about a pack where the parents kept their sons’ medical forms for pack outings. That red-flagged me because I teach this portion of BALOO and there’s a place for the forms and reason behind it. Per BALOO training: “The forms should be collected and stored in a binder with the first aid kit.”  Per the BSA website Health & Medical Forms FAQ page: “Units are encouraged to keep paper copies of their participants’ Annual Health and Medical Records in a confidential medical file for quick access in an emergency and to be prepared for all adventures.” Per the Guide to Safe Scouting: “This form is to be filled out by participants and parents or guardians, and kept on file for easy reference.”

Nowhere is it suggested that parents keep their own forms for the unit (or pack, in this case). Parents/guardians should certainly keep a copy of their records if they wish, but the original forms should be kept in a central location which can be found easily and quickly in case of emergency. If the injured person keeps the form in his vehicle and it’s far away in the public parking lot, it will take time to get there, time to find the correct vehicle, find the form in the vehicle (if he remembered to bring it!), and then return or meet the rescue vehicle. If all the forms are with the First Aid kit in a commonly-known place, like the outing leader’s tent or camping kitchen area, then the necessary medical information for the injured party is as close as the medical supplies.

Also, it’s not just the youth members who may get hurt on an outing. Adult leaders, parents and guardians can get hurt, too, as well as faint, have heart attacks, strokes, or may collapse for any reason. That’s another good reason to keep this information all together and close-by.

Thanks for your service! I’ve learned so much about Scouting in the short time that I’ve been on your email list! (Steve Erwin, UC & CSRTC)

Thanks for the additional information. I’ve not taken or staffed BALOO, so this is great to have and you’ll see it published soon. I’m glad to be of service, and I sure welcome yours!
Hi Andy,

I have a question about Camping merit badge Requirement 9a: “Camp a total of at least 20 nights at designated Scouting activities or events. One long-term camping experience of up to six consecutive nights may be applied toward this requirement. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. If the camp provides a tent that has already been pitched, you need not pitch your own tent.” So, if a Scout does six nights at council summer camp and four nights at a council winter camp—in both cases the tents were already set up at the camps, per standard council camp procedure—are those considered two long-term campouts, or are they considered one long-term and one short-term campout? (Andre Thompson-Lakpa)

The requirement calls for 20 day/nights of camping and allows for a maximum of 6 consecutive days/nights of long-term camping. Consequently, for this Scout, the 6 days/nights at the council’s summer camp count, leaving 14 to go. The days/nights at the council’s winter camp are duplicative and so don’t count for this merit badge. This means that the Scout will want to go overnight camping with his troop or patrol enough times so that these short-term overnights add up to a combined total of 14 days/nights of Scout camping.

In this regard, it’s not required that only camping trips since the Scout began working on the merit badge (meaning: since he asked for and received a “blue card”) count. Every Scout camping trip he’s been on with his troop or patrol since he became a registered Boy Scout can count.
Hello Andy,

We provide tours at our airport for Scouts throughout the year and would like to give the Scouts a Long Beach Airport patch for participating. Are there guidelines we need to follow or is it okay for the Scouts to wear these patches? Before we move forward with producing them, we’d like to be sure it’s okay. (Kimberly McMahon, Public Affairs Office, Long Beach Airport, CA)

What a great idea and offer! For the patches, it’s best for you to double-check with the folks at the nearby BSA council offices (Los Angeles Area Council-BSA, Long Beach Area Council-BSA, Orange County Council-BSA, San Diego-Imperial Council-BSA, Western Los Angeles County Council-BSA, etc.–they all have websites with contact information); however, even if they’re not sewn on uniforms they’re wonderful souvenirs of the experience!
Dear Andy,

I’m the OA Lodge Advisor and we have two chapters that are merging. Is there a list of questions, or do you have some good questions, for interviewing adults for Chapter Advisor? (Sean)

Nope… no list. Since you presently have two Chapter Advisors and you’ll soon have just one slot available, how about meeting with them both and asking them what they think is a good way to handle this?
Dear Andy,

I could use your thoughts on driving to a campout that’s a seven-hour drive away, for a three-day weekend.

Some parent-drivers want to do a full day of work on Friday, then load the cars at 5 PM, and drive seven hours to the camp-site (this means arriving at about 1 AM). I want to err on the side of caution by departing early Saturday morning fully rested, and get to the site by maybe 1 or 2 PM, leaving the rest of Saturday and all day and evening Sunday for Scouting stuff, then drive home at a reasonable time on Monday.

BSA driving rules say that we can drive for up to 10 hours with sufficient rest and stops, but doesn’t say anything about already putting in a full day’s work. I’d rather be rested versus adding more risk to the driving equation…sort of falls under the “common sense” part of Scouting. Is there any further BSA guidance on this? (Gill)

GOOD SENSE always trumps “rules.” You’re right: If these parents think this through, they’ll have the cars loaded by 6, and they’ll need at least one major stop along the way (there goes another hour), so that the seven-hour drive puts them at the destination by 2 AM. Now, let’s add one more hour for setting up camp and climbing into sleeping bags, etc. It’s now 3 AM. Arising at 8 AM means a maximum 5 hours sleep—drastically insufficient and a virtual guarantee that somebody’s going to have an accident of some sort during the day (to say nothing of general grumpiness). Better to leave at, say 5 or 6 AM on Saturday, and plan on the return drive starting no later than Noon on Monday.

That said, I’m thinking that, unless this place is extra, extra special, the driving demands might be a bit excessive, especially if this is a national holiday weekend, with hoards of cars on the road to slow you down (to say nothing of the “crazies” that instigate fender-benders)!
Hi Andy,

Can you wear (or is it okay to wear) the tan-and-white Scoutmaster Award of Merit “square knot” along with the new square knot for Unit Leader Award of Merit? (Mike)

If, as a Scoutmaster, one was honored with the Scoutmaster Award of Merit, and then, in the capacity of Cubmaster, Advisor, Coach, or Skipper, was honored with the Unit Leader Award of Merit, it would certainly be appropriate to wear the square knot for each separate recognition. Remember: This is a recognition that finds the exceptional volunteer; it’s not something to go out and start trying to earn.
Dear Andy,

Many Scouting units don’t know about either the youth religious emblems (these are earned) or the adult religious awards (these are awarded) that are available through various faiths and denominations. Could you make mention of those options in a column?

These are very helpful in recognizing religious growth among Scouting youth and for recognizing adult volunteers for their moral leadership in our faiths, communities, and country. Not only are we thanking leadership for exemplifying reverence in personhood and action, we are also recruiting more support and membership in Scouting!

Could you comment on these and help your readership see the potential in using these religious awards? (A.T. Ballenger, National Association of Presbyterian Scouters)

Done! Thanks for writing, and for being a loyal reader.

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. 388 – 3/11/2014 – 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.