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Issue 406 – July 22, 2014

Dear Andy,

Why is it that the Boy Scouts doesn’t have a “square knot” for our American military veterans? In thinking about the “do my duty…to my country” part of the Scout Oath, it just seems so natural, especially since the Scouts’ founder, Lt. Gen. Baden-Powell, wore his military ribbons on his Scout uniform. Who can I suggest this idea to? (Mark Pugh, “Semper Fi”)

While Scouting around the world aims at the betterment of citizenship, character, and fitness in youth, all of which are benefits to those who pursue military careers (even including those who don’t intend for this to be a permanent career path), the BSA in particular has steadfastly (but not universally) separated itself from military overtones, such as BSA uniforms only (Sea Scouting is an obvious exception), no “military” insignia or substitutions for uniform parts (for instance, we really don’t want to be substituting “camo” pants for official BSA pants), and no side-arms, swords, or rifles…not even “mock.”

Of course, by simple observation we can see (in addition to Sea Scout uniforms), many carry-overs from the military, including the Scout salute, the color of our uniforms, the use of shoulder braids for Den Chiefs, the American flag just below the shoulder seam (which you’ll find on many other uniforms, including UPS drivers, gas station attendants and mechanics, etc.), and—perhaps the most obvious—the use of the space above the left pocket for “Been There” square knots (instead of ribbons). Plus, where do we think the concept of “Patrol Leader” came from… Couldn’t be Squad Leader, could it? Of course, Scouts are also a bit different from the military in that they elect their own leaders!

Personally, I like the idea of a uniform-worn recognition for military service, be it a square knot or something else. But that’s just me. To put this idea forward, I think your best place to start is with the National Advancement Team:
Dear Andy,

I’ve seen a number of Q&As in your columns about what counts as camping in a tent or under the stars as it applies to rank advancement and Camping merit badge, and I pretty much get what does and doesn’t count… with one specific exception. What about camping as a Den Chief?

My older son is a Den Chief. He’s gone camping with the Webelos den he’s responsible for, to help teach them camping skills for their Outdoorsman Webelos Activity Pin. As a Den Chief, he’s also gone on pack family camping weekends. Each time, he’s set up a his own tent and slept in, and he’s shown and helped the Cubs in setting theirs up. Do these times he’s gone camping this way count towards the camping requirements for Camping merit badge and rank advancement? (Joe Sefcik, Connecticut Rivers Council)

Interesting wrinkle, and I’m happy to tell you that a Den Chief who’s gone camping with the den he’s responsible for can count those days-and-nights toward the 20 needed to complete req. 9(a) for Camping merit badge—assuming, of course, that he’s able to accomplish the related req. 9(b) activities along the way. This works, and here’s why: All camp-outs since he became a Boy Scout, so long as they’re a Scouting activity, count; since Cub Scouting is a Scouting program, his camping as a Den Chief is completely valid. That said, now take a look at the camping requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class. They’re indeed different. For these, it’s not just any Scouting-related camping; it’s specifically camping with his patrol or troop. This is specifically stated in T req. 2, SC req. 3a, and FC req. 3. So thanks for being a loyal reader, and for asking a unique and pretty important question!
Dear Andy,

Here’s one I bet you’ve heard before…”a Webelos Scout who’s completed his requirements and earned Arrow of Light can start completing Boy Scout requirements.” Logically, a boy can’t “earn” a requirement until he is a Boy Scout, and he isn’t a Boy Scout until he’s duly registered with a troop or team. So a Webelos with his Arrow of Light can’t start in on Boy Scout requirements, right? That’s just another “urban legend,” yes? But what’s the best source of information to prove or disprove this? (Name & Council Withheld)

It should go without saying that Boy Scout requirements are for Boy Scouts. Many of them, in fact, use that exact language: “While a Boy Scout…” and “since joining…” Moreover, the BSA states: “Merit badges, badges of rank, and Eagle Palms may be earned by a registered Boy Scout…”

Based on just these few statements, it’s obvious that this isn’t an area where anyone’s “opinion” counts. So the bottom line is simple: Anyone who can’t figure out that Boy Scout advancements are for Boy Scouts doesn’t belong in the program. But I’m guessing you need more than that, so here goes…

From the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT: “Webelos Scouts who have earned the Arrow of Light Award have also learned most of the requirements for the Scout badge. The Scout badge, however, should not be presented to the Webelos Scout until he has joined a troop and his Scoutmaster has initialed his joining requirements in his Boy Scout Handbook,” “Scouting Ranks and Advancement Age Requirements: All Boy Scout awards, merit badges, badges of rank, and Eagle Palms are for registered Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Lone Scouts; and also for qualified Venturers or Sea Scouts who are not yet 18 years old.”

So yes, by earning the Arrow of Light, a boy in the Cub Scout program will be prepared to meet with his new Scoutmaster and complete all of the requirements (except for 9 and the forms part of 10, which require collaboration with one’s parents) necessary to receive the “Scout” badge…as soon as he formally registers as a youth member of the troop.
Dear Andy,

Is it possible to be a member of two troops at the same time? (Name & Council Withheld)

Yes, it’s technically possible, and most often occurs in a joint custody situation where the parents live too far apart to get their son to the same troop meetings and outings, or the same Scout summer camp as the one his troop normally attends.

But, while it’s technically possible it’s often (i.e., almost always) phenomenally difficult logistically (attendance and advancement record-keeping, position of responsibility tenure, service project time, etc.) and psychologically (your son would wind up a member of two different patrols; he’d need to attend two troop meetings a week; he’d be torn between two different camp-outs on the same weekend; he’d have two different sets of Scout friends, and the list goes on…), and then what about the normally simple matter of his uniform. What troop numeral does he Scout wear? Does he need to have two Scout shirts? So yes, it can be done; but no, it’s absolutely not a great idea.
Dear Andy,

I was a Den Leader for my oldest son from Tigers through Webelos. When he bridged up to the troop, I took a break, not because I didn’t want to be involved, but because I needed to give my son and his den friends who’d crossed over to Boy Scouts the opportunity to learn to work with and rely on their peers and youth leaders in the troop.

But, as a Merit Badge Counselor who drops by troop meetings every now and then, I’m seeing a bunch of unhealthy friction between the troop’s adult volunteers and the parents of the boys who just crossed over from Cubs. These parents don’t understand the concept of “boy-led” and feel that the troop should be run the same as the pack, with adults in charge of everything. I’ve spoken with our Committee Chair and even our Chartered Organization Representative about holding a short series of parent orientations in the weeks leading up to cross-overs, and try to get these current new parents involved in this, too. The biggest thing that I want to educate these parents on is “boy-led” versus “adult-led.” Do you have any recommendations for how to approach this with new Scout parents? (Erika Saccardi, MBC, Heart of America Council)

You bet I do! Before the “WIIIS” (“Webelos III Syndrome”) takes too firm a hold on your troop, a parent orientation is definitely prescribed, and the sooner the better! For parents who’ve come through the Cub Scout program, the frequent impression—as you’re discovering—is that Boy Scouting is just a continuation of Cubs, except the uniforms are tan-and-khaki now, instead of blue, but everything else stays the same. So consider an introduction along these lines…

Parents, your sons have been Cubs, as in Cub Scouts, and now, in Boy Scouting, they’re boys. Soon they’ll be young men, and in the not too distant future they’ll become the men of good character and responsible citizenship we all—you and I—are hoping they’ll become. In the animal kingdom, “cubs” are nurtured and guided by their parents, but they soon grow past this playful stage with not a care in the world and shed their “cub-like” ways. They mature, just as your sons have matured and become boys in their own right. Parents of cubs are ever-present, to teach them and keep them from harm. But these parents know by instinct that the day will soon come when they’ll leave the den as more mature individuals to whom you’ve given the skills to fend for themselves. They now meet life head-on, using the nurturing lessons learned when they were tiny and unknowing.

Scouting recognizes this normal maturation process, which is why Scouting provides a progressive continuum of age- and maturity-appropriate programs, of which Boy Scouting–with specific emphasis on the BOY part of that–is the next logical step.

At your son’s present age, their natural maturation will lead them to new relationships than when they were younger. No longer to they reach out for and cling to those proverbial “apron strings.” Instead, they seek the company of their peers–their fellow Scouts. This is completely natural; it’s the normal progression from dependence to independence, from being attached to their parents to seeking their own individuality and identity.

Boy Scouting is built to foster these natural urges–the urges to seek out one another, to become their own persons, to learn their place among their peers, and to grow into their own skin.

We adults who guide the Boy Scout program for the next seven years do so not with apron strings but with guidance-from-a-distance, so as to provide room for their growth. If we were to keep them wedded to our every word and action, we keep them small and dependent. By letting go, we give them the room to flex their own physical and intellectual muscles.

Where, up to now, we did everything we could to keep them safe and keep them from making mistakes, that paradigm shifts to providing “space” for these growing boys to learn on their own. Now, we make certain that the mistakes we know they’ll make will happen in a safe environment. We no longer rescue them before the mistake happens; we instead provide the safety net that keeps them from injury when mistakes occur.

The proverbial “Bubble Boy”—kept in a sterile environment and safe from all life has to offer—will suffer greatly when that bubble bursts and they shockingly find themselves in a world unknown to them. Our responsibility in Boy Scouting is to assure there are no Bubble Boys at all. Each boy in our care is captain of his own ship; master of his own destiny.

One quick example: In Cub Scouting, we parents managed our sons’ advancement, year-by-year and rank-by-rank from Tiger through Arrow of Light, one year at a time. In Boy Scouting advancement happens at the speed of the boy’s own initiative, based on his personal motivations. Where we used to keep all boys moving forward pretty much in lock-step, now the game of Scouting changes. The Eagle Scout rank, for instance, is available to all Boy Scouts. Some will climb the trail to Eagle in a matter of a few years; others will take longer–perhaps as many as the full seven years available–and still others will have minimum to no motivation in this area at all. All three scenarios are okay, because each boy–as his handbook tells him–has set his own goals and pace.

Isn’t this what we adults have done in life? Some of us may be proprietors of a single small store; others will have become corporate executive vice presidents of large retail chains. Some of us will be sole practitioner craftspeople; others will have built a new industry. Some will achieve fame early in our careers; others will have no interest in fame, or will be happy as it happens in the sunset of their lives. In all of these scenarios, the result has been based on our own, personal preference and life-decisions.

Our sons deserve the same opportunity. If we make all their decisions for them, if we spoon-feed them, they’ll never figure out what they personally want out of life, and may never stick their own fork into the meat of it!

Boy Scouting, in fact, is the ONLY place in our sons’ lives where we adults and parents aren’t programming and running their lives—they get to run their own lives!

Think about it. In school, the teacher—an adult—is in charge of what each student will learn, and the pace at which this learning will occur, in regimented rows of desks and a completely controlled environment. In sports, the coach is in charge of the training and the umpires and referees—adults all-are in charge of infractions and penalties. In churches and synagogues, the clergy—adults once more—are the authority figures, the ones in charge. Other examples include drama, music, and all performance arts: Who’s in change? Yet another adult. There is, in fact, no place our sons can be themselves, learn what they want at their own pace, and lead their own team except in Boy Scouting.

When your son decides to earn a merit badge, do you rush to sit down with him and lay out a plan for him so that he can complete all the requirements and earn it? If you do, ask yourself: Who actually just earned that merit badge–you or your son? Or—worse—do you tell him what to earn and when to earn it, and he becomes merely a task-follower with no goals of his own?

Or, when he’s about to go on a camping trip with his patrol friends; who packs his pack? If you do, and you forget to put in his flashlight, the result is that you get the blame, so that the only “life lesson” in that scenario is that parents can’t be trusted to get it right. But if your son does the packing and forgets his flashlight, the lesson learned is “Maybe next time I’ll make a list of what I need, and then follow it.” Which lesson do you want your son to learn?

Okay, I’ve made my point. The rest is up to you. You can keep your sons “small” and dependent and with tiny self-determination “muscles.” Or you can take a few steps back and let them grown the muscles that will lead them to happy, fulfilling, competent, self-confident lives. Your pick…

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. 406 – 7/22/2014 – 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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