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Issue 401 – June 18, 2014

Hello Andy,

I’m the camping coordinator for a BSA troop based in England. We’d planned on attending British camp this summer, but the camp isn’t going to open this year due to low sign-ups and funding problems. Consequently, we and a neighboring troop have decided to put together a program for our Scouts as our own, two-troop, five-night “mini-camp” at a local campground and run by our Eagle Scouts and other senior youth leaders, with guidance by several dedicated adult volunteers who can take a week of holiday. Between our troops we have several registered merit badge counselors and planned to offer several including Cooking, Camping, and several others. Together we’ll have between 30 and 40 Scouts going and have offered adjacent campgrounds to several other troops nearby. Meals will be cooked over stoves, ground- or altar-fires, using The Patrol Method, and the Scouts will prepare their own campsites and pitch their own tents. We all think we’ve developed a pretty wonderful solution to what might have been a disappointing summer.

But we’re wondering how best to handle Camping merit badge, which requires 20 camping nights in total. Several of our Scouts completed their six “long-term” camping nights (for req. 9a) last year when the camp was operational. So how do we “count” the five nights of this “mini-camp” for them? Is this considered another long-term campout and therefore can’t count toward total camping nights for these Scouts? Or is it simply five more nights of camping that do count toward the 20 total that they need in order to qualify? Plus, we have one Scouts who will be with us for only four nights (he and his parents will be taking an extended holiday on the Continent beginning on what would have been the fifth day)? Can you help us figure this out so that the Scouts get the greatest benefit? (Paige Wells, Transatlantic Council, UK)

Notice the precise language of Camping req. 9(a): “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” (my capitalizations). Importantly, the requirement says MAY; not “must.” So whether it’s one, two, four, or six nights, they all can count toward the total 20 required. However, at some time during these 20 nights, the Scout must (that’s MUST) do two of the activities described in req. 9(b), plus, he needs to complete a conservation project per req. 9(c). So, all in all, I’d say every Scout’s situation you’ve described will be useful for adding into their total nights of camping.

Thanks Andy! Your perspective on this helps a lot! For us, it’s not so much a question of “did a Scout experience a long-term campout at some point” (I understand that they could do 20 individual nights, all separate, no long-term, and that would be fine); it’s more of a “make sure we aren’t counting two long terms.” Here’s our present thinking on this…

If Sam Star Scout goes to some kind of Scout camp for six or seven or even 20 or more days, he gets credit for a maximum of six of these nights and he can’t count any additional nights toward the Camping “magic number” because they’re long-term campouts that can’t exceed six nights, and he can’t spend just four nights of a long-term campout as a way to consider the campout “short-term,” because the remaining 14 nights of camping for the merit badge must be on campouts that are no more than four nights. And, even if Sam goes on a five-night camping trip, even if he pitches his own tent (or sleeps under the stars) and cooks all meals using the Patrol Method (as opposed to going to a camp with platform tents and a dining hall), it still doesn’t count because he’s already done his six-night long-term campout. Is that right? Thanks again! (Paige)

Yes, it’s correct that “up to” six nights definitely means “no more than.” And “long-term,” per the BSA means more than 72 hours (i.e., three nights), so a four-night campout wouldn’t qualify and a Scout can’t “buy” three of them and “throw the fourth away.” That said, what’s most important is for a registered Merit Badge Counselor for Camping to be counseling these Scouts on what counts and what may not.
Dear Andy,

You consistently emphasize that troop meetings aren’t for merit badge “classes.” I get that and wholeheartedly agree. Is there any problem with having merit badge sessions as a group outside of the actual troop meetings? For instance, if several Scouts are interested in the same merit badge, can the troop organize this for them on a non-troop meeting day? (Joe Sefcik, Connecticut Rivers Council)

Merit badge “workshops” as special sessions either before troop meetings or on a night other than the troop meeting night can work very well when it’s Scout-initiated and requested, and the counselor’s willing to commit to this. But it doesn’t work if a counselor “announces” that he or she is “starting a ‘merit badge school’ for any Scout who’d like to sign up.” And it also doesn’t work if the troop’s adult volunteers attempt to set up something along these lines. Why? Because this defeats one of the two purposes of the BSA merit badge program—the one about merit badges being Scout-initiated based on their interests. When it comes from the Scouts it can work like a charm. Example: As a counselor for Family Life, I was approached by a group of Scouts some years ago and this is exactly what they asked for, and I was happy to accommodate them. Since the idea came from them, none of them ever missed a workshop (we never called them “classes”!) and all Scouts completed the requirements and learned a bunch of other stuff from one another about different family dynamics!
Hi Andy,

I’m hoping that you can clarify something for me. In your February 10, 2014, you noted that “…Neither is there an age requirement for any rank or merit badge. As long as he is registered and in good standing (i.e., dues paid) and has not reached his 18th birthday, a Scout upon completion of the stated requirements is eligible to advance in rank or receive the merit badge. Again, this is BSA policy; it’s subject to neither “opinion” nor alteration, for any reason.”

The question I have is about the “dues paid” part. The only place in the 2013 GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT that I find “good standing” is in relation to the definition of “active participation” for Life through Eagle ranks, where it’s defined as “not dismissed for disciplinary reasons” (Topic Further, since paying dues is unrelated to advancement requirements, a Scout can’t be rejected at a board of review for non-payment (GTA Can you clarify your use of “dues paid” as an example of “good standing”, and are there any other things that can be considered? Am I missing something?

I’m asking about this because our troop—the adult volunteers, that is—is writing “troop bylaws” and there’s language in the current draft that would withhold the presentation of ranks and merit badges until a Scout’s financial accounts are current or other arrangements have been made to bring them current. I disagree with this idea and had planned to reference the GTA. But then I saw what you wrote in that column and figured I’d check with you in case someone else in the troop brought it up. (Name & Council Withheld)

Yup, “good standing” fundamentally means the Scout’s dues are paid and he’s a participating troop member (i.e., not dismissed for behavioral problems). But this is the little issue. The much bigger issue is the whole idea of spending all sorts of unnecessary time and energy creating “troop bylaws.” I’m sure you all have the best of intentions, but what you’re doing is completely unnecessary. It short, you’re wasting your time and talents.

Let’s begin by remembering that a troop isn’t a legal entity. And if you want to operate per “bylaws,” the BSA has already provided all you’ll even need: – “Charter and Bylaws and Rules and Regulations of the Boy Scouts of America.” Moreover, there’s hardly a point to all this labor, since no unit’s “bylaws” or “rules” are ever permitted to supersede those of the BSA National Council

As for how a troop is to be managed and led, what the responsibilities of the chartered organization, troop committee, Scoutmaster and assistants, and—most important—the youth leaders are, you’ll find this already written for you in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDE. If you want to know how to manage advancement, the BSA’s also done this for you already; it’s call the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. If you want to know what the youth leaders’ responsibilities are, use the SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK and the PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK. These are all you’ll ever need.

If you’re trying to create “rules of conduct” for troop meetings and outings, this is the responsibility of your troop’s Patrol Leaders Council. It might include such things (be sure to keep them in the positive, just like the Oath and Law—Scouting is the only haven for boys and young men that isn’t loaded with “don’ts”—such as “We’ll arrive at least ten minutes before troop meeting start-times,” “We’ll treat on another the way we ourselves want to be treated,” “We’ll be respectful at all times to all fellow Scouts and our adult volunteers,” “We’ll wear our full uniforms to all meetings and everywhere we go,” etc. But these ideas come from the Scouts themselves, led by the SPL (with guidance-with-a-feather by his coach, the Scoutmaster).

So please stop trying to reinvent the program of a worldwide movement that’s the finest a young man can be a part of, and focus on keeping Scouting FUN-WITH-A-PURPOSE! If you persist on your present course, you’re going to wind up with (not really a joke) things like “The floggings will continue until morale improves.” Trust me on this one: The fastest way to create a dull, hide-bound, stultifying program is to go where you’re headed at the moment.
Dear Andy,

Just the other day I was at a local parade, where a bunch of Cub Scouts carried a huge American flag. They carried it flat (parallel to the ground), with a dozen or more Cubs all around the flag, holding its edges to keep it flat and not touching the ground. I’m a U.S. military veteran and I was standing with fellow veteran friends; we were all feeling a bit uncomfortable with what we were seeing these Cubs doing. From our training, we all knew that the American flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.” In fact, the U.S. Flag Code actually specifies this. My friends and I talked it over and decided, later, to send a brief email message to the Cub Scout leaders, pointing out that carrying the flag flat isn’t the best way to go (we cited the Flag Code and the specific section in point). We did get a response. The Cubmaster noted that both he and the Cub Scouts were aware of the Flag Code, but carried this flag—which apparently belonged to the Cubmaster—horizontally because it’s too big to be carried on a parade flag staff. He mentioned that his Cub Scouts don’t have a “normal” size flag, so he chose to use this one because “it’s patriotic” and usually well-received at parades, especially by veterans and even military service personnel in uniform.

We were pretty disappointed with this response because it seems like he’s teaching the Cubs in his charge that it’s okay—even “patriotic”—to disregard our country’s standards for displaying and carrying the American flag. Now I should add that we’re well aware that it’s not entirely uncommon to see a huge American flag held and carried flat at sports events. But the one group we’d think would want to get it right is the Boy Scouts (Cubs included). Unfortunately, some folks do think that the bigger the flag, the more patriotic the display, even though a flag specifically designed for parade use should be just fine. But when the bigger flags are questioned, sometimes folks think it’s their “patriotism” that’s being questioned, which can make things downright complicated and unnecessarily adversarial.

Our other concern is that very few Americans are aware of our nation’s Flag Code (it isn’t taught in school), and even those few seem to not care, since it is advisory only. We see violations every day. But Scout leaders uniquely have to opportunity to instill in our youth the real values of knowing what’s not only patriotic but simultaneously correct, if only they’d take the initiative and time to do so. (American Military Veteran)

Thanks so very much to you and your friends for your service to our country.

I completely agree that Scouting may well be the last bastion of correct information to American youth about our flag’s special protocols.

As to your conversation with this Cubmaster, Occam’s Razor provides the most straightforward of solutions: How about you and your fellow veterans purchase a proper “parade flag” and flagpole for these Scouts and make a formal presentation of it at one of their upcoming meetings. This would also make for a wonderful “photo op” for your local newspaper and you could use the presentation to demonstrate how to correctly carry the flag.

(NOTE TO MY READERS: These veterans did it! They offered this Cubmaster a free parade flag and pole paid for out of their own pockets. The result? The Cubmaster said “no thanks” apparently because he personally owns the “big” flag and like to see “his” Cubs carrying it in parades. What’s that famous quote about “No good deed goes unpunished”?)
Hi Andy,

On that thing about “182 day,” “180 days,” and so on (couple of columns ago), you missed the point! As you’ve made famous, “Requirements can’t be changed by anyone”! So when the SCOUT HANDBOOK says to serve actively for four months for Star and six months for Life and eagle, with not one word about days, this alone should clear it up. (David Koesel, SM, Gulf Ridge Council, FL)

Yup, and these aren’t the only places the BSA uses “months.” The fundamental problem here is that a bunch of knuckleheads in some council decided to parse where no parsing’s needed and, as a result, ultimately screwed things up for every Scout in the council. It was crystal-clear already. But, like my Rule No.1, Stupid has no cure.

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. 401 – 6/18/2014 – 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.

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