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Issue 400 – June 10, 2014

The universe is composed of three things: matter, emptiness, and opinions. Unfortunately, the latter two are often confused with one another.


Hi Andy,

Our troop and district have always told Scouts that they can’t use pressure treated lumber for Eagle service projects and such. But I can’t find anything online stating why, and I see many, many Scouting projects across the country that use pressure treated lumber. Do you know of any BSA policy that restricts the use of pressure treated lumber? (Ed Champ, ASM)

According to various authoritative sources (available online), pressure treatment is a process that forces chemical preservatives into wood that will be used in outdoor, ground-touching environments. The wood is placed inside a closed cylinder, and then vacuum and pressure are applied to force preservatives into the wood. These preservatives help protect the wood from attack by termites, other insects, and fungal decay. Today, virtually all pressure treated wood uses preservatives that are both environmentally friendly (e.g., no creosote except for railroad ties and telephone poles, neither of which are regularly used for Scouts’ projects) and completely safe to handle without protective skin coverings (e.g., gloves). Non-pressure treated wood will rot, will be subject to termite and other insect damage, and can absorb a variety of fungi, thus speeding deterioration as well as promoting generally unhealthy “environments” (e.g., sitting on non-treated picnic benches, etc.). Consequently, it’s a complete mystery to me why anyone would ban the use of a safe, better-lasting, healthier, and environmentally product. Certainly, the BSA national council places no restrictions on such use, so I suspect you’d need to ask someone on your council’s risk management committee why Scouts are being prohibited from using products that would be in standard use throughout all BSA council camps across the country.
Dear Andy,

Our troop needs some guidelines for organizing merit badges. Right now, we have an adult who functions as troop merit badge manager, who gives out “blue cards” when he’s there. But he only attends about one meeting a month. On top of this, we have no formal procedure for merit badge counselors. One retired professor recently volunteered to teach Electricity and other electric-related merit badges and has filled out the merit badge counselor application form, but he’s received no feedback from the troop yet.

For a troop of about 55 Scouts, would we be better off with two merit badge managers instead of just one? No one wanted to discuss this issue at the last committee meeting, probably because we’re not sure what to do. (Joe Powell, ASM, Georgia-Carolina Council)

This may come as a surprise to you, but unless your troop is somewhere north of Nome or in the middle of Death Valley, you don’t need “troop Merit Badge Counselors” at all. Every BSA council, through its advancement committee and administered by its districts’ advancement committees, maintains a list of registered Merit Badge Counselors that’s available to every Scoutmaster in the council. The reasons why you don’t need (or want) a “troop merit badge manager” is that this is very specifically the Scoutmaster’s responsibility, not designed to be delegated. The reason why Scouts go to their Scoutmaster when they’re interested in a particular merit badge is so that the Scoutmaster has an ongoing knowledge of which Scouts are doing what. Plus, since the “blue card” is signed by the Scoutmaster (“unit leader” on the card, to account for Venturing Advisors and Scout Team Coaches) and no one else, it makes even more sense for the Scout to go to his Scoutmaster for the card. Third and finally, it’s the Scoutmaster who, using the MBC list provided by his district, gives the name and contact information for the appropriate Merit Badge Counselor to the Scout, so the Scout can call up the MBC and schedule an in-person meeting to get started.

So, my recommendation to your troop is to follow the procedure laid out by the BSA, which has been used successfully by thousands of troops for decade upon decade.
Hi Andy,

I’m a Merit Badge Counselor for the three Citizenships. I just finished leading Citizenship in the Nation for my home troop during a portion of several troop meetings. We had great turnouts, but not all of the Scouts completed all of the requirements. For these, I offered an option of contacting me via email to turn in their written work and to set up an appointment with me to complete any “discussion”-type requirements during upcoming troop meetings when we’d have “two-deep leadership.” I’ve done this in the past and it’s worked fine, but now I have a problem.

The father of two Scout brothers, both apparently emotionally challenged. Until very recently, the father had no involvement with his sons’ Scouting endeavors, and his sons have been generally cooperative when it came to contacting me via email because they’d missed some meetings and therefore the accompanying requirements. But now their father is trying to push me to sign off on requirements that his sons didn’t complete “so that they can get the merit badge and ‘make rank’.” The father is now being quite aggressive, and I’m getting very uncomfortable with this. He’s now taken this to the point of applying to be a MBC for the Citizenships and has announced that he will be taking over and “completing” his sons on their missing requirements.

What do BSA rules say we can do? Do we have the authority to remove him as ASM (his current registered position with the troop) and report his actions to our council? (Name & Council Withheld)

Your troop’s Committee Chair, with the collaboration of the troop’s Chartered Organization Representative and the agreement of the Scoutmaster, absolutely has the right to remove this individual from the troop roster as an adult volunteer immediately. This being a volunteer organization, you do not need to have “documentation” or apply a “three strikes” rule. The CC and CR simply tell him that his services are no longer required and he has been removed as a registered volunteer with the troop. (Importantly, he has no “recourse” for reinstatement through either the district or the council.)

But this doesn’t solve the merit badge problem. The only rule that applies here is my own, number 49: No boy can be saved from his own parents.

However, you letter does point up some other aspects that could use some fine-tuning to get closer to Scouting’s True North…

First, merit badges are specifically not designed to be done in troop meetings. The standard Troop Meeting Plan, as provided by the BSA for the Patrol Leaders Council to use in creating the agenda for all troop meetings has no place for “group” or even individual merit badge work. I recommend you stop this practice, and conduct merit badge counseling outside of troop meetings.

As for the Cit-Nation merit badge, there are only two requirements—5 and 8—for which writing is involved. All other requirements stipulate that the Scout is to tell or discuss. These requirements can’t be altered: tell means tell, discuss means discuss, and the Scout isn’t permitted to substitute writing for any of these. As a counselor, you’re expected to follow the requirements as written, with no deviations.
Hi Andy,

In your May 27, 2014 issue (No. 398) you recommended to a Scouter that he get a 15-year service star. But the BSA Supply Division doesn’t make a 15-year pin. <grin> (Brian Catalano, MC)

Ya know, if I hadn’t been in “Ready-Fire-Aim” mode I might have figured that out! <red-faced grin> Of course you’re right… Need to wear a 5+10 or some other combo.
Dear Andy,

Is there any difference between the 2003 and 2005 versions of the Bear Cub Scout Handbook? Having a tight budget, the cheapest I can find is a used 2003 handbook for $7.99. Is this a good buy? (Troy Madden)

Nope, there’s no difference, and the current book’s price is $10.99 (but no shipping charge if you go to your local Scout shop and buy it off the rack).

Hi Andy,

We have a new Scout who has nighttime urinary incontinence (that is, bed-wetting). Our concern is how to deal with this in regards to his tent partner(s) and other Scouts at summer camp and other overnight outings. For obvious reasons, it isn’t something the family openly discusses, and the Scout and his family would prefer to keep it private, so discussing it with the Scouts ahead of time probably isn’t an option.

Our troop normally puts two or three Scouts in a tent. Putting this Scout in a tent on his own to protect his privacy would look suspicious. Plus, he would miss out on the camaraderie that comes from tenting with other Scouts.

As good as our Scouts are, they’re still boys and who knows what they’ll say if an accident happens. Once information like this gets out, there’s no taking it back, so we need to do handle things correctly from the beginning. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

First, let’s put this in perspective. According to the National Association for Continence, approximately one in twenty boys of early Scout age will suffer from nighttime incontinence. This makes this particular Scout’s difficulty hardly singular, especially when we consider the tens of millions of boys who have participated Scouting over the past more than one hundred years.

This is a situation that the boy and his parents will need to deal with and proactively seek help for. It is not a “troop problem” nor should the burden for a solution be placed on the troop and its non-professional adult volunteers. This is a family problem that shouldn’t be placed on the troop as a whole or you and your fellow adult volunteers.

An immediate, candid, and factual conversation with the parents is the best course of action here. The troop can’t and shouldn’t be expected to make special accommodations it’s not equipped to handle and which might tend to single out this Scout and his current (and likely short-term in most instances)difficulty.

His parents need to consult a professional medical or psychological practitioner to identify the cause and seek resolution. Simplistically, this may include special undergarments, restricting beverage consumption after a specified hour, or other stop-gaps until a permanent solution can be effected.

You’re correct that the troop can’t accept the burden of this problem; it’s for the parents to deal with on behalf of their own son. I recommend an in-person Scoutmaster-to-parent conversation (no emails) as soon as possible, so that this Scout can fully enjoy the Scouting program, including normal patrol tenting procedures.

Thanks for bringing up this issue. It’s not unique, it’s not this Scout’s fault, and it can be managed with wise parents and proper professional help.
Hi Andy,

Who can write the personal recommendations for Eagle? Are relatives permissible? Also what do you do when one recommendation doesn’t arrive? How much time do you allow for it? Do you ask someone else? (Karen Langeman)

The Eagle application tells the Scout that he’ll provide no less than five names and contact information: Parents (or guardians), religious (doesn’t have to be clergy, and can be a relative other than a parent, but does need to have knowledge of the Scouts “Duty to God”), educational (usually a teacher he knows well), employer (if he has a job, even if part-time), and any two others (non-relative, Scout’s choice). (If he’s not employed, “employer” can be omitted.)

Typically, letters that request a letter of recommendation are sent by an adult troop volunteer (definitely not the Scout himself—his responsibility is only to provides the names and contact info), describing (briefly) why they’re being asked, requesting candor, and stipulating a deadline for responding. Enclose a pre-addressed (to the writer, not the Scout), pre-stamped envelope, and include a deadline request in the letter. If there’s urgency, phone calls can substitute for the request letters and replies, with the person calling takes notes on the reference’s responses. These references (in any form) are held privately and then reviewed by the members of the board of review outside the presence of the Scout.

There’s more detail available in the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (available as an online download).

By the way, there’s no stated minimum number of recommendations received.

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. 400 – 6/10/2014 – 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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