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Issue 405 – July 15, 2014

Dear Andy,

During our troop’s recent week-long summer camp in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, our Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster did something leaving me seeking advice. I’ll admit that the senior patrol, which I’m a member of, had been slacking a little in performance. Although we were still cooking all our meals, in the morning some of us were waking up later than we should have. One morning, our Scoutmaster took control of our patrol and made us relocate our tents and change our tent mates. He told us that, until we move our tents, he would not allow us to eat breakfast. I didn’t believe he had the right to do that and reported him to the camp administration. After they spoke with him, both my Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster told me to leave camp—they sent me home. Their reason was that I was being disobedient towards them. I was the only Scout of the eight in my patrol brave enough to stand up for what I believed was wrong, and I was sent home for it. Is this right? Can a Scoutmaster punish Scouts by not allowing them to eat? (Name & Council Withheld)

Well, the first thing you should know is that you sure lived up to “A Scout is brave”! I’m sorry your whole patrol, especially your Patrol Leader, didn’t speak up, because what you’ve described is truly an injustice and completely inappropriate to both the spirit and intent of Scouting.

Yes, it may have been wiser for your whole patrol together to have a second talk with your Senior Patrol Leader and Scoutmaster. This whole thing is wrong from a procedural perspective, but more on that point in just a bit… Let’s start with Reveille, which lots of Scout across the country—for years and years—have sort of ignored from time to time. This is hardly a big deal, especially if you all eventually did roll out of the sack and get your breakfast made, even if it wasn’t exactly “on schedule.” The thing is this: Did you all get your patrol site cleaned up so you could get on with your day? If the answer’s yes, then so what! Yeah, you probably shouldn’t have slacked off, since you’re the “senior patrol” and expected to set the example for the other patrols. But this is hardly a “prison-worthy offense.” Besides, it’s probably the result of a great day before plus some yakking in your tents after lights out and Taps. So anybody with a decent sense of humor and an understanding of what teen-aged young men like yourselves are like wouldn’t have given you all so much as a second glance. Why? Simple. If getting up later than you needed to put you all behind for the day, and you wound up not being able to do all the things you wanted to at camp that day, you all would have learned another “life lesson”—Get to the party late and all the good munchies are gone!

Tent mates? That’s for you and your patrol to work out. Changing you all around? Like, what’s that supposed to accomplish? Frankly, I just don’t get that one. But what I do get is that this is nobody’s business but yours…unless, of course, somebody needs to be quarantined, and for him it’s off to the Health Lodge!

But the “no breakfast” thing is serious. Punishment in any form simply has no place in Scouting. First off, you’re a patrol, not a “squad,” and you’re in a troop, not a “platoon.” And you have a Senior Patrol Leader and a Scoutmaster and maybe an Assistant Scoutmaster, and if any of them thinks he’s a Master Sergeant, he’s in the wrong kind of outfit and needs to change uniforms.

In Scouts, we don’t “punish.” There’s no “Drop an’ gimme twenty,” or “You’re on KP,” or “You get to clean the latrines for a week.” And it’s absolutely not about threats to withhold meals till Scouts do what they’re told. Scouts is all about growing up, and making little screw-ups along the way but in a safe haven, learning for yourselves, and self-correcting.

Want proof? It’s fundamental. It’s The Scout Law itself—deliberately written in the positive: “A Scout IS…” instead of “Thou shalt not…” or “Do not…” This is one of the things that make Scouting unique and special. Heck, it’s one of the reasons you joined up and stayed in!
So what about a Scoutmaster butting in? Nope. That’s not what a Scoutmaster’s there for. Sure, every now and then your Scoutmaster will have a conversation with you, like, “How’s summer camp going for you?” or “Is your patrol having fun this week?” But he’s not the “Top Dog” in your troop. Your troop’s Top Dog is the Senior Patrol Leader you all elected. The Scoutmaster’s his advisor, coach, and mentor. This means that, in the situation you described, the first guy whose job it is to get you guys up and out of the rack is your Patrol Leader, and if he has a problem he gets some help from the Senior Patrol Leader. If, between the two of them, you’re still curled up in your sacks, they can go to the Scoutmaster for some ideas, but that’s it. Bottom line here: Your Scoutmaster needs to read his handbook, the same way you read yours.

Last item: Sending you home. Baloney! You learned absolutely nothing from this, except to get really annoyed at “authority figures” who get it wrong. Great “life lesson,” right? This was a patrol issue and should have stayed in the patrol, for all of you to solve together.

I’m sorry this happened to your patrol, and especially to you. The only thing I can hope for is that your takeaway on this has two components. First, when opposing an injustice, outnumber the opposition: Your entire patrol needs to stand together as one, always. In fact, when they found out you were being sent home, they should have stood beside you and demanded to be sent home too—in a patrol, it’s One for All and All for One! Second, when you don’t like the candy being served at the party, go find another party.

Thanks for writing to me. That’s pretty brave, and I respect that. As for your Scoutmaster and his assistant, in this situation you describe what they did is tantamount to abuse of minors, which in most jurisdictions is a chargeable offense.
Hi Andy,

One of the Eagle requirements states: “While a Life Scout, serve actively in your unit for a period of six months in one or more of the following positions of responsibility.” Does that mean the Scout must serve a six-month term in one single position, or can he serve three months each in two different positions? (Dave Melton, Orange County Council, CA)

“One or more” means just that. Over a total six-month period, which doesn’t have to be consecutive months by the way, a Scout can hold an unspecified number of individual positions. In addition to your example of three months in one position and three months in another, he can serve (to exaggerate the point) two weeks as a Den chief, four weeks as an Instructor, five weeks as a Patrol Leader, and the balance as an Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, just so long as the total adds up to six months.
Hi Andy,

I’m a Committee Chair for our troop, and I’m struggling with it. I was asked to take the position when no one else would do it, so I first made it perfectly clear I had no idea what I was doing. We’re a small troop and not only am I the CC but I’m also trying to teach multiple merit badges—at least three a year—while my husband is the Scoutmaster.

What I need right now is something in black-and-white stating specifics or details such as who should sit on boards of review, the responsibilities of paid versus unpaid committee members, who is allowed to vote in committee meetings, and more, like how long after he’s completed his requirements for a rank should a Scout wait for his board of review? Any suggestions for where I should start looking would really help. (Name & Council Withheld)

I respect your commitment and appreciate your reaching out for some guidance. Locally, you need to contact your District Commissioner—a Scouting volunteer just like you and your husband—and ask for help. You can be assigned a local Unit Commissioner who can help you all through your “growing pains” with guidance, counsel, coaching, and experienced wisdom. In addition, there’s online training available to all. It’s called “Fast-Start” and position-specific training for committee chairs and members, and Scoutmasters and assistants. Get online and review these as soon as possible. Also, you need at least three books, all available at your local Scout shop or online at the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK, and SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK. Meanwhile, here are some answers to your situation and questions, and please understand that these aren’t my “opinions”—they’re how Scouting works.

No adult volunteers are paid by anyone (that’s why they’re called “volunteers”). The only salaried positions in the BSA are those of the professional, administrative, and clerical personnel at your council’s service center. No unit-level people receive compensation unless you’re in a severely depressed neighborhood operation under a special BSA-sponsored “Scoutreach” grant program.

To counsel Scouts for merit badges requires a separate registration as a Merit Badge Counselor and this must be for specific merit badge subject matter in which, by way of career or serious avocation, one has in-depth subject matter experience. These “universal” applications may be in addition to unit-specific positions; they’re approved by the council advancement committee.

Even if you’re a duly registered Merit Badge Counselor for one or more badges, it is not a BSA-advocated procedure for such merit badges to be “taught” to Scouts as a part of troop meetings. If you do a web search for “troop meeting plan” (which you’ll also find in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK) you’ll instantly see that “merit badge classes” aren’t a part of the seven elements of the Troop Meeting Plan.

Troop committees needn’t waste time establishing “troop policies” because these have already been established by the BSA and are found in the literature I’ve recommended to you. The purpose of the troop committee is to support the program and activities that the Scouts want to do. The Scouts decide what they want to do in Patrol Leaders Council meetings. These PLC meetings are chaired and run by the troop’s elected Senior Patrol Leader (not the Scoutmaster) and include the Patrol Leaders plus the troop’s Scribe to take notes. This is where the “voting” on program takes place—it doesn’t take place at committee meetings. The Scouts decide, for instance, where they want to go camping or hiking, they report this to the Scoutmaster; the Scoutmaster takes the PLC’s plan to the committee and asks for support so the Scouts can make this happen. Committees absolutely do not “vote on” or consider the false notion of “vetoing” what the PLC wants to do; the committee supports the Scout-run troop. (You’ll learn more details about how this works once you all start training and reading.)

If a “vote” is absolutely necessary—this can happen when it comes to deciding on next year’s troop budget and member dues—this is done by those registered per codes CC and MC. Neither the Scoutmaster nor any assistant is a member of the committee; they might provide input and suggestions, but they have no voting authority.

The next book you need to procure (same sources as I mentioned earlier) is the BSA’s GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT-2013 (SKU 618673). Refer to GTA Topic Section 8. Here you’ll learn, among other things, that (a) these should be scheduled promptly as soon as Scouts are ready to advance (and) not delayed, (b) Scouts shall not be denied this opportunity (boards of review must be granted), and (c) a board of review will consist of no fewer than three nor more than six committee members or—in rare and exceptional circumstances—knowledgeable parents, and that no member of a board may be a Scoutmaster or assistant or a parent of the Scout being reviewed. Note that these rules apply to all ranks from Tenderfoot through Life, plus Eagle palms (“Scout” is presently not a rank, so there’s no board of review, and Eagle boards of review are specially managed).

To reiterate: These aren’t “suggestions” open to discussion or debate; they’re BSA national standard procedures that don’t permit arbitrary variations.

Very best wishes for success and don’t hesitate to write as often as needed. I’m here for only one purpose: To help you succeed in delivering the Boy Scout program as written.
Dear Andy,

I’m wondering what does and doesn’t qualify as service “project” hours towards the Star rank. The Boy Scout Handbook lists several examples (helping with Eagle Scout projects, community cleanups, serving at a soup kitchen, etc.), but there was an issue with a type of service our Scouts perform. Every month, our chartered organization—a church—holds a pancake breakfast, and our Scouts volunteer to be their waiters. Up to now, the hours the Scouts put in on this counted as service hours towards rank; but then a parent raised an objection, since this type of service wasn’t explicitly shown in the handbook. To me, at a bare minimum, any hours worked up until this point should count, since we’ve always told the Scouts that these hours count. Even so, this type of work is no different than serving community members at a soup kitchen, too. In any case, I’m wondering if there’s any more definitive official BSA guidance than what’s listed in the handbook.

(Ironically, I heard that when it was pointed out to the complaining parent that if he has such an objection, his son should have his hours cancelled out and hand back his Life rank, since just about all of his service hours were spent at the pancake breakfast, and that parent instantly turned red-faced and silent.)

My own opinion, I’d suggest that half the hours could be from the breakfast serving and the other half should come from other service projects (Eagle project help, patrol service projects, etc.) so that the Scouts would actively look for other service opportunities.

The good news is that I’ve heard that the pancake breakfast volunteering has led to other service opportunities. Some of the senior citizens who come out see the Scouts’ presence and have asked our troop for help. One recently widowed elderly woman had a huge yard and needed it raked in the fall, so our troop turned out in force and did the chore for her in a few hours. I’ve also heard of other requests that probably wouldn’t have happened without the Scouts’ presence at these breakfasts. (Joe Sefcik, Connecticut Rivers Council)

It’s impossible for the BSA (or anyone else, for that matter) to list every single service possibility for Scouts; besides, it’s sort of a waste of time because as soon as the list is printed somebody will come up with something new that’s not listed. That’s why examples are provided. Helping one’s sponsor—a church, no less!—more than qualifies as valid service. As for mandating a “split”… Put your energy (and that of the Scouts) somewhere else And the next time somebody thinks “examples” are the full extent of possibilities, tell ’em to go jump in the lake and see if they take you literally

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. 405 – 7/15/2014 – 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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