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Issue 393 – April 15, 2014

Hi Andy,

My son just crossed over into a pretty good troop. Based on my own experience as a Scout (my two highlights were being elected Senior Patrol Leader and making it to Eagle along with my two best friends) the troop seems to be getting lots of stuff right, like using The Patrol Method, the Senior Patrol Leader runs the meetings, there’s an active Patrol Leaders Council with minimal need for Scoutmaster intercession, meetings run on time and have lots of fun activities, and my son’s in a new-Scout patrol with a Troop Guide who understands he’s not an “acting Patrol Leader.” But, despite all this good stuff, there’s something weird, and it’s about their uniforms. First, the so-called “senior Scouts” are the ones who wear jeans and khakis with their Scouts shirts, while all the younger Scouts wear full uniforms. This strikes me as self-defeating because these older Scouts are supposed to be setting the example for the younger and new ones, and if anything it’s exactly the opposite. The other thing is patches. Yes, I know that “we should be thankful they’re in uniform and not worry about whether or where they wear patches, but there are two that weren’t around when I was a Scout that really bug me: The mini-flap-shaped “Totin’ Chip” patch and its mate the “Firem’n Chit” patch. I’ve lost count of the number of Scouts in the troop who wear one or both of these on their shirt pocket flaps—are they really “legal” to be worn there (or worn at all)? I remember, as a Scout, we carried cards instead. There were like licenses: They said we know and will follow correct safety procedures with woods tools and fire-building. We even signed them, promising to follow safety procedures! What’s the deal here? (Hal Facre, Scout Dad, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

As a working Commissioner, I’m sworn to uphold and advocate for the policies and procedures of the BSA. But there’s nothing that says I have to agree with the wing-nuts in the Supply Division who create these silly things just to make a buck or two. Next thing you know, we’ll have patches for “I Brush My Teeth Up-and-Down” and “My Mommy Doesn’t Dress Me Anymore,” and heaven knows where these will get stuck on Scouts’ uniforms! But maybe I should save that for next year’s April Fool’s column?

In Boy Scouting, the only “legal” flap-shaped patch (worn on the right pocket flap) is the Order of the Arrow lodge patch.

The BSA’s GUIDE TO AWARDS AND INSIGNIA says that neither the “Totin’ Chip” nor the “Firem’n Chit” patch is for uniform wear except centered on the right pocket (the “temporary patch” position, which would better be named the “at the wearer’s discretion” position) or on the back of the merit badge sash. Trouble is, you need to “read the fine print” to find these cautions, and we both know how many folks do that!

There’s little you, as a parent, can do to stop or reverse this silliness, unless some day you become Scoutmaster and convince your troop’s advancement coordinator to stop handing them out, or convince the Scouts to stop wearing them in the wrong place(s). For your own son, just try to convince him that getting it right is important in Scouting because, later on in life, he’s going to need to get other things along the same lines right, too.
Dear Andy,

My son is signed up to attend a state-wide Jamboree. At the orientation meeting, we were told that he must have at least three pairs of shorts and five pairs of socks, and all of these must be official BSA—nothing else can be used or substituted. Is this really necessary? He’s already being required to purchase a new uniform shirt with the council contingent troop number (although “secondary” shirts with his home troop number, etc., can be brought, too). This trip is already costing a small fortune and this requirement seems excessive to me. What’s so wrong about wearing non-BSA shorts and socks if he’s got his uniform shirt on? (Scout Mom, Council Withheld)

Yes, BSA uniform shorts are necessary. There are no alternatives, except “experienced” shorts. So ask around in your troop to see if anyone who’s not going to the Jamboree has your son’s size. Then offer to buy them, or ask to borrow them on the basis that you’ll return them fully cleaned after the Jamboree! The reason why these are necessary is so that the whole contingent is “suited up” the same—the same way sports teams, marching bands, orchestras and choral groups, and other organized groups wear identical uniforms. (If your husband owns a tuxedo or blue blazer, you already know about “uniforms” and their importance in certain situations—this is no different and teaches your son an important “life lesson”!)
Dear Andy,

I’m looking for some clarification on the Camping merit badge. Req. 9 says, “Camp a total of at least 20 days and 20 nights. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. The 20 days and 20 nights must be at a designated Scouting activity or event. You may use a week of long-term camp toward this requirement. If the camp provides a tent that has already been pitched, you need not pitch your own tent.”

What is considered “long-term camp”? My son has camped 16 days and nights, with just 4 to go for this requirement. But he’s just been told that he could not add on 3 days and nights of camping completed at winter camp, since 6 nights of camping had already been counted from summer camp. I’ve not been able to find any documentation of what is short-term and what is long-term. The only thing I’ve seen is specific to Order of the Arrow requirements, not the Camping merit badge. When I asked someone at our council, the response was that long-term is 72 hours or more; however, she was basing that on an old medical form, adding a further comment that, “that’s just something we know.” I have trouble accepting that answer. No one has been able to document anything further. So, are 3 days and nights of camping considered long-term or short-term? (Melinda Stewart)

The BSA defines short-term as up to but not exceeding 72 hours. However, there’s more to be considered. I’m doing some guessing here, but if that “winter camp” was a “council resident camp,” and not a troop or patrol camp-out, then even if it fit the correct time it wouldn’t necessarily count because your son already has the “long-term camp” (implying “resident camp”) portion of this requirement completed. This would especially be true if your son is “borrowing” those 3 days and nights from a longer total winter camping time-frame.

But there’s more… On at least three of the camping experiences that, when totaled, add up to 20 days and nights, your son needs to have also carried out at least two of six different sub- or side-activities. Please suggest to your son that he discuss Req. 9(b) with his Camping Merit Badge Counselor.
Dear Andy,

For the red BSA Jac-Shirt, the regulations aren’t clear about wearing a six-inch Order of the arrow “jacket patch” along with another, such as the oversized NESA (National Eagle Scout Association) patch: “The Order of the Arrow has adopted the jac-shirt as its official jacket, and members may wear the six-inch national Order of the Arrow patch centered on the back,” and “The large Philmont, NESA, Jamboree, National Camping School, and International Participant emblems are approved to be worn on the back of the jacket. Only one such emblem may be worn at a time.”

So does this mean you can wear the OA patch with the NESA patch, or do you have to choose between the OA patch and the NESA patch? (Hillman Terzian, Eagle Scout ’03, National Capital Area Council)

Choose the one that means the most to you, and wear it. The sum of what the BSA is saying is: One, only. Once you start adding other stuff, your jacket starts looking more like a patch blanket.
Dear Andy,

The BSA seems unclear as to where the cloth badge for the Commissioner’s Arrowhead Honor is worn on the left uniform sleeve relative to the “Trained” strip. In the GUIDE TO AWARDS AND INSIGNIA (20012, No. 33066), page 55 shows the Trained strip between the Commissioner’s badge and the Arrowhead, but on page 65 it shows the Arrowhead between the Commissioner’s badge and the Trained strip (this is for the shirt with no sleeve pocket). Placement on the Centennial shirt is clear. Can you clarify this? Is there one standard, or two? (Frank Pellegrine, ADC, Greater Niagara Frontier Council, NY)

There are now indeed two positions, depending on the shirt you have. If it’s one with a pocket on the left sleeve, then the Arrowhead goes immediately above that pocket. If no pocket, it goes immediately below the Commissioner badge.
Dear Andy,

I recently became Chartered Organization Representative (“CR”) for my son’s troop. The Scoutmaster (let’s call him “Phil Mont”) has been involved with the troop for a total of at least ten years, at least half of that time as Scoutmaster. His own son has aged out of Scouts and is now in college, but Phil keeps postponing a decision to step down. He’s an Eagle Scout himself, cares deeply about Scouting, and can be wonderful with the Scouts. Over the years, he’s been an inspiration to a great number of young men and has made a significant, positive difference in the lives of many of them. He runs an outdoor program that’s solid, if not inspired. But there’s a dark side to this story…

Despite these fine (if sporadic) qualities, he has little difficulty publicly embarrassing parents—especially new ones—when they ask questions or make mistakes. He frequently sets Scouts up for failure by continually failing to provide leadership training for them leadership positions. When Scouts make mistakes, which they inevitably will, he’ll disparage them publicly, often fails to distinguish between behavior (“You made a mistake”) and character (“You’re a screw-up”). He seems to enjoy passing judgment on Scouts, along the lines of, “You’re not worthy of being a (insert rank).” On hikes and camp-outs, it’s okay with Phil if the Scouts he likes or who have been with him for a long while to pack cell phones and use them for non-Scouting activities, but confiscates new Scouts’ phones. Although he has several Assistant Scoutmasters, he keeps them carefully cordoned off from the Scouts, permitting no interaction, while simultaneously complaining that these same ASM’s “don’t step up to the plate” and get anything done. He’ll berate any parent or committee member who he believes is having direct contact with any Scout—even if the Scout himself initiated the conversation. And, if Phil thinks any other adult—volunteer or parent—is attempting to “usurp” his “power,” well, get ready for a verbal fire storm. Rather than employing The Patrol Method for outings, Phil insists on buying all the food for the entire troop and then cooking it himself for troop meals instead of patrol cooking/dining. He like to buy equipment he thinks the troop will need (whether the troop does or not) and then submits the bill for reimbursement even though he had no conversations beforehand with the Quartermaster, committee, or Patrol Leaders Council (last year, we were obliged to pay Phil some two thousand dollars for stuff he bought). There’s more, including flat refusals to work collaboratively with parents—particularly those of the female persuasion—accusing most of them of being “hovercraft.”

Now I get it that no one is all bad or all good, and I want to believe his intentions are well-meaning. But I think he’s tired out and doesn’t recognize that he’s slipping.

The Committee Chair and are in agreement that there needs to be a change in “management style” in this troop, including getting the youth leaders correctly trained, having functioning patrols, and a bunch of other stuff that’s clearly missing from the Scouting program this troop. In short, we’d like to be able to convince Phil step aside voluntarily so we can publicly thank him for his overall dedication at our next court of honor. But we also realize that it may be necessary to relieve him if he won’t step down on his own. Maybe we could offer him a sort of “Scoutmaster Emeritus” position?

Do you have any suggestions for ways to convince Phil that it’s time to move along? (Name & Council Withheld)

Your description is of the very worst kind of adult role model Scouting could possibly have. If you were to put this duck wank’s supposedly “good” qualities on one end of a balance beam, and the damage he’s doing on the other, which end do you think would be the heavier? Phil’s got to go. There’s not a moment to waste, because the damage he’s doing is pervasive, ongoing, and—in several ways—just plain nasty.

Here’s the good news: As CR, you’re in the catbird seat, especially since you and the CC are of the same mind. So make your decision surgically; then—as you’ve considered—carry it out compassionately. But “Scoutmaster Emeritus”? What’re you smokin’? If, when you and the CC meet privately, eyeball-to-eyeball, with him to tell him it’s time he moves on voluntarily, and he declines, fire his sorry butt on the spot and remove him from the troop charter roster immediately.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Life Scout with everything for Eagle rank completed. My Scoutmaster signed my Eagle application, but our Committee Chair refuses to, because, he says, I went around our troop’s Eagle advisor by obtaining signatures and then finding another Eagle advisor (yes, I did, because the first Eagle advisor was stalling me for no reason other than it wasn’t “convenient” for his). Time is important. I turn 18 in a week. What do I do now? (Name & Council Withheld)

Your Scoutmaster is your best ally. Go to him and tell him what you’ve just told me. Ask him to go to bat for you. “Eagle advisor” is an unofficial position. There’s no BSA “registration code” for it. Tell your Scoutmaster why you found it necessary to make the switch, and get your new Eagle advisor on your side, too. Meanwhile, don’t panic! An Eagle board of review definitely can take place after your 18th birthday because it’s not a “requirement” in the technical sense—although it must, of course, be done. If the Committee Chair continues his refusal to sign, your Scoutmaster can guide you through the “Board of Review Under Disputed Circumstances” procedure described in detail in the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT.
Hi Andy,

Thinking about service stars and dual program registration, if a youth spends, let’s say, three years as a registered Boy Scout (only), and then two years as both a Boy Scout and Venturer, it would seem reasonable that he could to wear a “5 Year” pin with green background plus a “2 Year” pin with a red background. If this is not the case, would one simply choose which stars to wear to add up to the correct total (which seems odd to me)? If this person were to then spend 5 years as an adult Scouter, he could then wear three stars: 5 Years green, 2 Years red, and 5 Years blue. But if you combine them (as many Scouters would) this would be 12 years, while the actual time spent registered with the BSA is only 10 years, so it now seems more reasonable to wear a single 10 Year pin with a blue background disk. The BSA AWARDS AND INSIGNIA GUIDE doesn’t seem to mention anything on this subject, although it does mention “primary registration,” but I am not sure what exactly that is indicating. Are you aware of any official guidelines or rules on this? If not what are your thoughts? (Wayne Brown, UC, San Diego Imperial Council, CA)

Service stars should add up to the total number of Scouting years, simple as that. The wearer has a choice as to what colors for how many years in which program. As for overlapping years, you’re correct: The BSA doesn’t have a specific “guideline or rule.” I imagine this is because these are neither ranks nor awards nor special recognitions—you can buy them by the fistful at your local Scout shop and nobody’s going to challenge you. So let’s just use a little bit of discretion and a lot of what God put between our ears.
Hey Andy,

My questions are about a Scoutmaster’s responsibilities in relation to the troop committee. Should the Scoutmaster be deeply involved in committee decisions? Should he be reigning over the committee? Does the Scoutmaster have a vote in the committee? What’s the relationship between the Scoutmaster and the Committee Chair? (John)

The Scoutmaster isn’t a member of the committee; he reports to the committee regarding the troop program. The troop’s program of activities and meeting content is decided on and planned by the Patrol Leaders Council (“PLC”). The PLC is headed by the Senior Patrol Leader; the Scoutmaster acts as the Senior Patrol Leader’s consultant.

The Committee Chair of course heads the troop committee and delegates responsibilities to its members. Ultimately, the Scoutmaster serves at the pleasure of the Committee Chair (and Chartered Organization Representative).

This same structure applies to Cubmasters relative to pack committees, and Crew Advisors relative to crew committees.


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. 393 – 4/15/2014 – 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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