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Issue 403 – July 1, 2014

Independence Day is just three days away so let’s consider what Benjamin Franklin had to say about democracy and liberty… “DEMOCRACY is two wolves and a lamb deciding the lunch menu; LIBERTY is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”


Dear Andy,

Can an Assistant Scoutmaster sign off on a merit badge requirement if he is not a Merit Badge Counselor for that badge? I am referring to the individual requirements – not the sign off on completion of the badge. I can’t find the answer in the Guide to Advancement. (Name & Council Withheld)

You’re spot-on that only registered Merit Badge Counselors can sign that all merit badge requirements have been completed.

Did you know that the MBC can be registered (for the merit badge sought, of course) in any council—it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Scout’s “home” council. Also, once signed-off by a registered MBC, the merit badge must be awarded to the Scout; it can’t be challenged, re-tested, or “reviewed” by anyone.

So how does a Scoutmaster help the Scout and his MBC? Simple. He writes a note that Sammy Star Scout just visited a national monument on such-and-such a date with his patrol or troop; or Sammy cooked a meal for his patrol, including planning the menu; or Sammy was Emcee at the troop’s court of honor, including planning the event and rehearsing those with “speaking parts,” etc. Sammy can then give notes like these to his MBC when they meet next, and keep moving forward. But, no, nobody but the MBC signs off on any of the actual requirements—this is for the MBC only.

Dear Andy,

What’s the BSA policy on youth visitors participating in a troop meeting or activity? I’m specifically looking for policy vs. “best practices.” Are their restrictions of any kind? Since one of the First Class rank requirements is to recruit a non-Scout friend to attend, success is often linked to personally participating in an event and enjoying the fun. (Stan Stolpe, ASM, National Capital Area Council)

Yup, active participation rather than just standin’ around watchin’ is the whole idea! And don’t worry—all visitors like this are automatically covered under the BSA “umbrella” insurance (no papers to file beforehand)!

When a non-Scout friend of a troop member visits, the one who invited him is his “buddy” for the whole meeting. There should be introductions all-around, including names and shaking hands with the Scouts patrol mates, meeting the Senior Patrol Leader, being included in games and activities, and of course meeting the Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster will also want to meet the parent(s) who bring the young man and tell them about all the great stuff the troop does and will be doing.

But here’s a twist on common thinking… I’ve often seen it backfire when somebody blurts out “Wanna JOIN???” Instead, consider saying, “Hey, you’re a great young man and you seem to fit in with the rest of the guys pretty well. How’d you like to come back next week? Next week, we’re gonna (fill in the blank with something a boy would really like to do!)…” This way, the boy and his parents decide that Scouts is pretty cool after all, and it becomes their question “How does our son join up?” or, even better “Can I join your troop?” You’ve “set the hook,” and the “fish” just swam right up and jumped outa the water for you!
Dear Andy,

Can a Boy Scout use any type of power tool? Our Eagle board members say No—only the adults can use these for an Eagle project.

If I can ask a second question, when a Scout goes before his troop committee for his Eagle project concept approval and, later, his board of review for rank advancement, is there anything “BSA Official” that states he can’t wear shorts. (Brent Jones, SM, Chattahoochee Council, TN)

The BSA’s GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING pretty well describes the kinds of tools Scouts can use. As you and your Eagle candidate start reviewing this, he needs to keep in mind that one of the possible problems when adults use the power tools for a Scout’s Eagle project is that it’s sometimes tough for the Scout to still be “the leader,” and leadership is one of the most important aspects of doing an Eagle project in the first place. So unless there’s no other way, this Scout might want to consider sticking to non-electric hand tools. There’s nothing wrong with crosscut and rip saws, hammers, and even “eggbeater-style” or brace-and-bit drills, and these make that whole issue go away! Same with painting, if that’s part of the project—stick to brushes and forget the power sprays (which can be miserable to clean, anyway).

For your second question, the BSA firmly stipulates: Uniforms are always best, but they’re absolutely not mandatory. No one can “ding” a Scout because he’s not in uniform, even for his board of review or court of honor (check the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT if you need backup on this).

That said, let’s talk about uniforms for a minute… There are two combinations the BSA considers uniforms (check page 33 in the SCOUT HANDBOOK). A Scout can wear his Scout shirt, belt, and socks with either long pants or shorts (remember, also, that the BSA offers long pants that zip off above the knee to make shorts). So, understanding that shorts with the rest of the uniform are perfectly okay, but definitely not required, let’s consider one further aspect on this subject…

Any executive recruiter will tell you: If you’re going for a job interview, regardless of the job, if you don’t wear a jacket-and-tie you’re making a huge mistake because you can count on being judged—fairly or not—by what you wear. Taking an important “life lesson” from this, a really smart Scout will show up in full, complete, and accurate uniform (even if he needs to borrow some of the stuff—socks, belt, pants, neckerchief, whatever—from a Scout friend who’s the same size). We know that it’s not mandatory, but we also know that it just makes good sense.
Dear Andy,

I’ve been an involved Cub Scout parent in the pack since my now-11 year-old was a Tiger. He bridged to a Boy Scout troop a few months ago. There’s such a plethora of information out there about Boy Scouting that I’m feeling overwhelmed. Where do I find out the basics? Our Scoutmaster has said he’ll answer any questions I might have, but I want to do my homework first. Do you have any suggestions for a new Boy Scout parent on how to understand the basics of the program? (Amy Benso)

It’s easier than you may think… Borrow your son’s BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK and start reading the first couple of chapters! But, as you do this, please keep in mind that Boy Scouting (unlike Cubs) definitely isn’t a “parent-and-son” program. This is where you’ll want to take a less visible, less direct hands-on role, so that your son can begin to grow as an individual and develop solid peer-to-peer relationships with his fellow Scouts and the youth leaders of his troop.
Hi Andy,

Our district, and our troop have both maintained that Scouts can’t use pressure-treated lumber for projects. But I can’t find anything—online or by asking—on why this policy’s in place. I’m confused, because I read about many Scout projects across the country that use pressure-treated lumber. Do you know of any BSA policy that prohibits using pressure-treated lumber? (Ed Champ, ASM)

According to various authoritative online sources, pressure treatment is a process that forces chemical preservatives into wood that will be used in outdoor, ground-touching environments. To pressure-treat, 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 (i.e., 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” (meaning: you really don’t want to sit 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, to say nothing about public parks, etc.
Dear Andy,

My son, a Life Scout, just turned 14 and decided to join a new Venturing crew. We went to the first meeting, where the crew discussed upcoming activities. After the “business” portion of their meetings, they usually have some sort of “fun” activity. Last meeting it was a low COPE course. Next meeting, they wanted to go to—you guessed it—a laser tag place. I mentioned to one of the other parents there that this is a BSA-prohibited activity, but he countered that Venturing crews get a “pass” because they go up to age 21. I re-read the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING and didn’t see anything like that. Can you help me clarify this rule? (Jen Haubrich)

This one’s a no-brainer. The GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING (p. 59) states: “11. Pointing any type of firearm or simulated firearm at any individual is unauthorized. Scout units may plan or participate in paintball, laser tag or similar events where participants shoot at targets that are neither living nor human representations…The use of paintball guns, laser guns or similar devices may be utilized in target shooting events with council approval and following the Sweet 16 of BSA Safety. Council approval means the approval of the Scout Executive or his designee on a tour permit specifically outlining details of the event.” End of story.
Greetings Andy,

I am currently a Unit Commissioner working toward my Commissioner Key and District Committee Key.

For the Commissioner Key, it says “complete personal coaching orientation including orientation projects.” I’ve asked about what this is and what to do, and was referred to the Unit Commissioner Handbook for answers, but alias I’m still lost. Similarly, for the District Committee Key it says “your district must earn the Centennial Quality District Award (now JTE) at least once within a 3 year period.” I’ve been asking whether our district has done this or not, but nobody seems to know. Any suggestions would be really appreciated. (Tom Barber, Southern Sierra Council, CA)

On the UC Progress Record for the Commissioner Key/Arrowhead Honor, there’s a section titled “Training.” It cites three sessions you’ll need to complete: “Why Commissioners?” plus “Units: The Commissioner’s Greatest Priority” plus “How to Help a Unit.” In addition, three separate unit visitations will occur, each one with a fellow Commissioner-coach. The “orientation projects” generally refer to what the training Commissioner will do before, during, and following the unit visitations. To complete this portion of overall progress, three avenues are available to you: Group training, self-study, and personal coaching. The third avenue—personal coaching—most usually relates to the three unit visitations and the training and work surrounding these. The three main subject areas can be accomplished by attending Commissioner training; for the personal coaching for unit visitations, you’ll need the help of an ADC or your District Commissioner (although in some cases—especially when an ADC or the DC aren’t available—an experienced fellow UC can certainly be your coach). So, assuming you’ve completed (or are in process of completing) the three training sessions, you’ll need to find a Commissioner-coach to guide you through the three unit visitations. Then, when the three training sessions and the three unit visitations are completed, you’ll ask for a signature-and-date “approving” your having completed this section of the Progress Record. To put this into action, have a conversation with your District Commissioner and develop a mutually agreed-upon plan for completing these sessions and visitations.

For the District Committee Key, I can assure you that the one person who will know for sure whether and when your district qualified as a Quality District (or JTE comparative) is your local District Executive. Why this person? Because his or her own employee evaluation will include this.

(My personal viewpoint on this particular requirement is that it really doesn’t belong in an individual’s performance goals, because it makes that individual’s achievement completely dependent on the actions of others, and we already know that no one can ever guarantee the actions of another. Thus, to tie your personal “fate” to what others may or may not do is unfair to the individual. But this is strictly a philosophical opinion and in no way mitigates the necessity to adhere to the requirements as stated.)

Very best wishes for success! In the case of Commissioners in particular, the more you do to achieve personal excellence the more effective Commissioner—and the better the Scouting units you’ve stepped up to serve—you and they will be!
Hello Andy!

I am writing to you because I am finishing my master’s degree and for my final thesis I chose a topic on Scouts and competencies that you get over the years by being a Scout. I have been a Scout for more than 14 years now and in that time I have learned a lot of interesting things, but there comes a problem of interpreting my skills to employers. I would like to write my thesis on that topic because I believe it could benefit other Scouts in my country, by increasing their chance of getting employment easier. But since in Slovenia we don’t have any practice with it I would like to know how is being a Scout and having a lot of informal trainings helps with employment of Scouts or former Scouts in your country. If there is any way that you could help me with information about that or some kind of relevant information about that, I would be most appreciative. (Nejc Kukovic, Slovenia)

Throughout my professional career, whenever I have had the opportunity to hire people for my department, division, or company, I have always paid attention to whether they have been Scouts.

If a person—man or woman—has been a Scout, I know he or she knows about being a contributing team member. If that person has been a youth leader in Scouts, I know he or she understands group dynamics and has leadership skills that can be put to use in the workplace. If that person has had advancement in Scout rank through personal effort, I know he or she understands how to set goals, make action plans and timetables, and achieve the goals. But, most important, I know that this is an honorable person.

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. 403 – 7/1/2014 – 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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