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Issue 389 – March 18, 2014

Hello Andy,

I’ve been reading your archive issues as well as your current ones. Looking back at your Issue 87 (October 2006), may I gently chastise you for your response about the “World Brotherhood” crest? At that time, you said, “Yup…The World Crest isn’t mandatory. So any Scout or Scouter who doesn’t wish to support the concept of the World Brotherhood of Scouting need not wear this universal badge, which, by the way, is worn around the world by over 25 million non-American Scouts and Scouters. J”

As I recall from the past (going back maybe a dozen-and-a-half years), that crest was already sewn on the uniform shirts when they were purchased, along with the American flag and, I believe, our council patch too. When I was a Den Leader a few years back, I noticed that the patch was no longer on the shirts. At a time when the price of uniforms was rising, I offered my den parents the option of purchasing the patch but told them it wasn’t required. As a parent myself, I’ve not purchased it for my youngest because it was one less patch to move from one shirt to the next as he grew. But the absence of the World Crest doesn’t mean we don’t support the world brotherhood of Scouting. It’s my understanding that the uniform itself, worn by all Scouts is indicative of that brotherhood; not the particular patches on the uniform.

Recently, our troop’s advancement committee almost rejected my older son when he was up for the rank of Life Scout because he didn’t have the World Crest sewn on his uniform shirt, so it’s important to state clearly that it’s not mandatory.

Aside from this, I thoroughly enjoy your columns and have learned a great deal from your wise advice. (Karen Carroll)

I’ll take twenty lashes with a wet lanyard for humor too oblique to register. That little “J” you see at the end of my commentary on the World Crest (today’s price: $1.99) is how this website interprets a winking “smiley,” which I used as a way of suggesting that my commentary was tongue-in-cheek. Obviously, it didn’t work! So thanks for your sharp eyes, thanks for your in-depth reading, and thanks for taking the time to write!

Thanks, Andy. I think it was clear that your commentary was tongue-in-cheek, but I did think it was helpful to have another perspective, given the lack of experience and zeal of many of our great volunteers in Scouting. But digging deeper into the question, and looking to the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, the regulations stipulate that the advancement committee can’t impose additional requirements for advancement. The GTA and the INSIGNIA GUIDE clearly identify mandated procedures with words such as “must” and “shall.” Other options and guidelines are identified with words such as “may” or “can.” So here’s the quandary… The UNIFORM GUIDE says the World Crest “may” be worn, which means it’s not mandatory. But when I look at the BSA site ( the World Crest and others are shown as “required.” This is contradictory.

I’m not splitting hairs here as some academic exercise. As I described in my first letter to you, one member of our troop advancement committee wanted to reject my son for Life rank because he didn’t have the World Crest on his uniform shirt. They actually called a halt to the board of review to consult with the Scoutmaster. When he said it’s irrelevant to advancement whether the patch is there or not, they actually argued with him; but he stuck to his position and the review ended up successful for my son. Since this particular board of review was a “practice run” for our new advancement chair, we want it to be crystal clear what is and what’s not expected of the Scouts. (Karen)

All patches, badges, and even uniforms are inconsequential when it comes to advancement and boards of review. If a member of your troop committee is so much of a pedant and martinet that he or she would actually consider something like the wearing (or not) of the World Crest as grounds for not advancing a Scout, one of two things needs to happen immediately: (1) he/she makes an instant course correction, or (2) he/she is thanked for services to date and removed from the committee before other Scouts are damaged and the Scouting program in your troop is poisoned. While uniforms are important—they’re one of the eight Methods of Boy Scouting, in fact—we must always remember that these young men are Scouting’s very first volunteers. We also need to remember that the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT and its predecessors have long stated that uniforming is not to be used as a criterion for Scout advancement.
Dear Andy,

You’ve frequently made such comments as, “It’s therefore correct that no questions that require specific knowledge or skills are appropriate at a board of review, because that’s not what this review is for.”

You and I will just have to agree to disagree on this point. In a board of review, I expect a Scout to be asked at least one specific question (e.g., Tie a bowline). In my opinion, we’ve gotten so far afield with this “no re-testing” thing that it’s dropped off the deep end.

The purpose of asking about a specific skill is exactly as you’ve also said. It’s a way for (in your words) “the troop’s committee members (to) get to learn about how well they and the Scoutmaster are delivering the Scouting program to (the Scout) him and his friends.” This can’t be done without a few specific questions.

Related to this, which I like to emphasize to Scouts, is the importance of practicing and keeping their skills up-to-date. When a Scout, in a board of review, struggles with a specific question, this is a perfect time to review the “P” word (“Practice-Practice-Practice) and how this relates to knowing a skill and being able to teach it.

In 25 years we’ve never “failed” a Scout because he couldn’t tie a square knot or remember the difference between hypothermia and hyperthermia. We have, however, had some really good discussions about how skills are taught in the troop, how the troop can do better, how important some skills are to keep sharp, and something about personal responsibility.

Your statement, “It’s therefore correct that no questions that require specific knowledge or skills are appropriate at a board of review, because that’s not what this review is for,” isn’t in the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. It’s an interpretation. The GTA even says, “Periodic reviews of members’ progress can provide a measure of unit effectiveness. A unit might uncover ways to increase the educational value of its outings, or how to strengthen administration of national advancement procedures.” I’m really not sure how that can be done without asking a few specific questions.

Now I understand that, in a forum like yours, nuance is difficult to achieve. The difference between “retesting”, “reviewing”, “re-examining”, and “challenging” might be difficult.

I’ve been a Scoutmaster and troop committee member for over 25 years. I’ve never failed to ask at least one specific question in every Scoutmaster conference and board of review I’ve ever been involved with, but I don’t believe that I’ve ever “re-tested” a Scout, and I’ve certainly never “failed” a Scout. It appears to me that the current trend in this area is to push things so far off center that it gets silly sometimes. (Larry Geiger)

Because this is a matter of neither opinion nor interpretation, whether you and I happen to agree or not isn’t the point. The point is whether or not Scouters like you are prepared to follow the policies and procedures of the BSA. Regarding my so-called “interpretation,” I refer you to the GTA section “…a board of review…shall become neither a retest or ‘examination,’ nor a challenge of (the Scout’s) knowledge.” End of story.

OK, Andy, I’ll let it go. However, they should then remove the section that I quoted (“Periodic reviews of members’ progress can provide a measure of unit effectiveness. A unit might uncover ways to increase the educational value of its outings, or how to strengthen administration of national advancement procedures”) because it’s quite impossible to achieve this if you don’t ask some questions. (Larry)

The key word is “Progress.” “Progress” means how well the troop is providing opportunities for learning and advancement, such as sufficient hikes, camping trips and other outdoor activities, the frequency of boards of review, inter-patrol competitions within troop meetings to use skills learned, guidance by the Scoutmaster, accessibility to merit badge counselors, leadership opportunities, community service opportunities, etc. When a troop is delivering well in these areas, Scouts have better opportunities to advance at the velocity they set for themselves… this is what “progress” and “unit effectiveness” are all about!

In a board of review, the question isn’t “Can the Scout tie a Carrick Bend?” or “Can he demonstrate the proper procedure for administering CPR?” It’s all about where and how he learned this, from whom, and what is the troop doing to provide opportunities for him to reinforce and refine what’s he’s already learned.
Hi Andy,

Got a huge question here! I’ve got a Scout turning 18 next month. He’s done all requirements but one: His six months’ tenure. But then, about a month or two ago, his Scoutmaster lost—and can’t find—the dates of his Star and Life boards of review. We have had many people search, but to no avail, and he’s close to the end of his six months’ tenure for Eagle. But without the Star (about three years ago) and Life (about a year ago) board records, what do we do? How do we go about fixing this, so that this Scout can make Eagle? (Name & Council Withheld)

The records you’re all looking for are kept by (in this order): (1) The Scout, (2) his troop, and (3) your local council service center.

If the troop followed standard BSA practice of long standing, each time this Scout advanced in rank via a board of review, the chair of the review filed an Advancement Report with the council service center. At the same time, again following standard procedure, they would have initialed and dated this Scout’s handbook (see pages 432-443). Finally, at a troop court of honor, this Scout would have been presented with his rank card (see BSA items 33054 and 33055 at which, of course, would have contained the dates of his respective boards of review. So, check this young man’s handbook, ask him to produce his rank cards, and—concurrently—check with your council service center for copies of the advancement reports your troop submitted.
Hi Andy,

I’m our troop’s Committee Chair or our troop. We’re trying to put together a “Troop Handbook” for Scouts and parents. In creating this, a question came up… Are troops actually allowed to set their own requirements, that may or may not agree with BSA national standards? For instance, if a Scout hasn’t completed a merit badge within a year, can the troop insist that this Scout re-do all of that merit badge’s requirements, even if the Merit Badge Counselor has signed them off? (Isla)

The only “handbook” you all should be using is the SCOUT HANDBOOK. “Troop rules” and “troop policies” are absolutely not needed. As for that incredibly wrongheaded troop stipulation on merit badge completions, the BSA has long stated that a Scout may work on requirements for merit badges until their 18th birthday and NO TROOP IS EVER AUTHORIZED TO SUPERSEDE BSA NATIONAL POLICIES related to advancement or any other aspect of the Boy Scout program. To “not agree” is silliness.

Your mandate is to deliver the BSA program as written. You absolutely do not have the authority to change things to fit somebody’s arbitrary “opinion.”

Thank you so much, Andy! My son’s troop is trying to only let them have just one year to complete the merit badges once started and I was saying that this is not national standard. I’m glad I have something to use when we go through the handbook and vote on things that do not agree with national. (Isla)

However well-intentioned they may be, volunteers aren’t permitted to “go through the handbook” and “vote on things that don’t agree” with BSA national policies and procedures. You all are expected to deliver the BSA program as written. To do otherwise is as inappropriate as “voting” to have a basketball team practice with a football, or insisting that all Scouts wear polka-dot skirts because somebody “disagrees” with the notion of wearing BSA uniform pants.

You all have one job: Present (not “invent”) the Scouting program.

I’m now pretty discouraged, Andy. Our advancement chair is insistent that they can set their own rules that are more stringent than the Boy Scouts, and has even said, “If you don’t like it, go find another troop.” (Isla)

When it comes to advancement and requirements, your advancement person has it pretty much backwards: Unless he’s willing to adhere to the BSA policy that I provided to you, the next sound he’ll be hearing is himself, soloing.

You’re the Committee Chair. You have the authority—with the collaboration of the Chartered Organization Representative—to fire his sorry butt, on the spot. More than this, you have an obligation to protect the Scouts in the troop—including your own son and his friends—from a self-appointed renegade tyrant. Do it. No “committee vote” required. Dump the tin god jerk.
Dear Andy,

I just noticed that there’s been a change in the Life rank requirements. My son is currently working towards that rank and his handbook doesn’t have requirement 6 (“Use the EDGE method to teach another Scout…) in it. My son’s had his handbook since he became a Scout in 2009. Does he go by what’s in his handbook, or does he need to do this new requirement? I know that if you start a merit badge and the requirements change you can continue with the requirements you’ve been doing, but I’m not sure about rank advancement. Do I need to get him a newer handbook? (T.B.)

The handbook that became official in 2009 is the 12th Edition. Life req. 6 is listed in that handbook. For Scouts working on Life rank at that time, using the requirements from the prior (11th edition) were “grandfathered.” However, after more than four years and the fact that your son was certainly not a Star Scout working toward Life in 2009, he’s expected to follow the current requirements, and that includes req. 6. Moreover, the BSA book, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS, has a new and current edition published every year.

So if that’s the “bad news” here’s the good news… This requirement is hardly difficult, and is fully explained on page 53 of his handbook. So, I’d say this is in the “just do it” category. A conversation between your son (not you) and his Scoutmaster would be an excellent starting place!

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. 389 – 3/18/2014 – 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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