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Issue 409 – August 12, 2014

Last week, I answered a question from Doug Niebch about the Chartered Organization Representative (“CR”) position and searched for the CR position patch. I was pretty sure there was one, but when I checked the Index in the GUIDE TO AWARDS & INSIGNIA, I came up with nada. Oh well, I thought, I guess my memory’s slipping. Nope, it wasn’t… I just hadn’t dug deep enough. Thanks to a bunch of loyal readers with sharp eyes, I did some double-checking and there it was, under the heading “Council and District Badges of Office” (p. 72 – Cat. No. 490). So I’ll take twenty lashes with a wet lanyard for quitting too soon!

Dear Andy,

My son’s troop has a dilemma. We’ve done a good job with reaching out to the packs in the area and as a result we may be bridging anywhere from 20 to 30 Webelos into the troop in February. This will take us from 70 to possibly 100 Scouts! We’re wondering how we can this kind of a jump in membership. Here are the questions we’re wrestling with…

Should we consider restricting membership and putting potential new members on a waiting list?

If a troop is considered too large, would splitting it by maintaining the original troop and creating a new troop be feasible? (Obviously youth leaders would be transferred from the old troop to the new one and the chartering organization would remain the same—we’d simply have two troops.)

What’s the ideal size, if any, for a troop be, to maintain a program that provides a quality Scouting program?

Thanks! (Yunchi Hsaio, MC, Silicon Valley-Monterey Bay Council, CA)

The goal of the BSA and Scouting units is to include as many boys and young men as possible, so that Scouting’s values can be imbued in them for the purpose of citizenship and character development, and mental and physical growth. Therefore, to create a “waiting list” is a guarantee that these youth will be lost to Scouting—the antithesis of our most important mission.

Creating two or more troops from one large one, to provide a personalized, nurturing program has been implemented across the country from the very beginnings of Scouting. This is, in fact, one of the key ways Scouting in our communities grows! In your current situation, while you might figure out a way to manage 100 or so Scouts in a single troop this year, then next year at a similar growth rate will approach unwieldiness. So do it now. The second unit can have the same sponsor, or not—consult with your Unit Commissioner and District Executive on the best way to handle sponsorship of a second (or even a third) troop (there’s nothing inherently wrong with a troop of 30 or so Scouts!).

When the split is made, keep paramount in everyone’s minds that the essential unit of Boy Scouting is the PATROL, so that it’s the PATROLS that should be given the opportunity of starting a new troop, to which they move, intact. Resist the temptation to do this any other way.

For a troop of 100, there should be some 14 or so patrols of 6 to 8 Scouts each. This could easily become three troops, each with four to five patrols, depending on how the Scouts would like to do this. The beauty, in your case, of having three rather than two troops in total is that there’s ample room for future growth of all three!

B-P himself informs us that the optimal troop size is 32: That’s four patrols. If you use National Jamboree troops as your guide, each has four patrols, one Senior Patrol Leader, possibly one or two ASPLs (the ASPL position is a “nice to have”—not a “mandatory”), one Scoutmaster, a couple of ASMs (again, ASMs not mandatory), and a committee consisting of other Scout-parents.
Hi Andy,

As a new Scoutmaster for a long-standing troop, I’m trying to move us closer to the BSA way of doing things, particularly with patrols. Right now we have several too-large ones of 12 to 15 Scouts each. Our usual habit has been to simply add newly crossed-over Scouts to already existing patrols, on the rationale that they’re somehow better off with older Scouts than being on their own as “newbies.” We also lose new Scouts within the first year, so this keeps patrols closer to 12 in total once several of the new Scouts in each drop out.

I’ve read a lot of your columns, and also the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, and you both say the same thing: Keep the new Scouts together in a patrol of their own, create Venture patrols for the older Scouts, and keep all patrols at no more than eight Scouts each.

But how do we get there? Part of the problem with new Scouts is that several packs feed their graduating Webelos to us, and they all cross over at different times. Most join in February, but one pack sends them to us in January or sometimes even December. If we get just one or two Scouts from that pack, do they make a patrol of two and wait for others to come along? What if we only get four or so total? Is this new-Scout patrol supposed to stay together, or do the Scouts transfer into “regular” patrols once they reach First Class or at the end of their first year in the troop?

For the already-existing patrols—which are already too large to be practical—we’ve struggles with how to reorganize them because some have high attendance while others have only a couple of Scouts show up on outings (this makes camping and cooking difficult). Balancing them out seems like the way to go, but we don’t really want to lump all the no-show Scouts together, either.

Is it the unit’s prerogative as to what criteria would allow Scouts to move up to a Venture patrol, or should the patrol itself decide that it’s shifting from a “normal” patrol to a Venture patrol? (Is this the same as a Venture crew? The SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK confuses me because it says the Scouts wear a “Venture” strip and go back to the red shoulder loops. Or is that outdated?) Thanks! (Confused SM)

As a new Scoutmaster, you have an excellent opportunity to be the troop’s “new broom.” Act immediately. Don’t try to “ease into” a new format for the patrols and troop. Do it right away and make it stick. Confirm with your Committee Chair beforehand, so that the two of you are on the same page. Next, if there are any Assistant Scoutmasters, clue them in on what’s about to happen.

As you’re moving forward, read, read, read. The SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK for backgrounding; the SCOUT HANDBOOK so that you’re very clear on what these boys have been promised; the SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK so you understand the roles of the troop’s real leaders; the TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK so that you understand how the committee supports the Scouts’ program. Gobble up all the training opportunities offered, and attend Roundtables. Enlist the aid and guidance of a Unit Commissioner.

Now, here’s the game plan…

In a single meeting, right now, with all Scouts attending (call it a “mandatory meeting” if necessary and be sure the parents know their sons are absolutely expected to be there), do the following:

Assemble the entire troop and elect a Senior Patrol Leader (unless your troop needs an ASPL to guide the Scribe, Quartermaster, etc., the SPL will be the only Scout who won’t be in any patrol). Then…

Describe to the Scouts that, while the troop is the “umbrella,” the essential and irreducible unit of Boy Scouting is the PATROL.

Ask your SPL to gather all non-brand new Scouts together and tell them that you want them to form groups of no less than five and no more than seven Scouts each, with no stragglers or “singletons”—every experienced (i.e., more than a year in the troop) Scout must be in one of these groups. Then step away (and keep all parents and committee members away) and give the Scouts about five or six minutes to do this. Left alone, they’ll be successful.

If you have a lot of Scouts aged 14 and over, they’re a separate bunch, and they’re given the same instruction: Groups of 5 to 7 Scouts (or, if this overall bunch is smaller, groups of 4 to 6, with no single stragglers—every Scout must be in a group). These become the troop’s Venture patrols (Note: A Venturing crew is a separate entity, co-ed, and extends up to age 21.)

As these experienced and older Scouts are grouping up, ask your SPL to collect all brand-new Scouts (regardless of what patrols they may have been in up to now) and have them do the same for themselves.

When this is completed, play a couple of team-building games—group against group. (You’re doing this so that each group’s natural leader will emerge, evident to you, your SPL, and to each group.)

Following the team games, the SPL asks each group to come up with a name for themselves (5 minutes to do this). Then, the SPL asks one representative from each group to report to himself and you, to confirm the names (this is to assure they’re all more-or-less harmless and won’t give their parent conniptions). Then, instruct the representatives to pick another Scout in the group, who will write down the names of every Scout in that group on a single sheet of paper, along with the patrol name. The representatives return to you with the lists. (Bring supplies for this to the meeting.)

Finally, the SPL asks all patrols to elect the Scout who will be their Patrol Leader for the next six months (he checks off those names on the patrol rosters he just collected). The SPL next asks each elected Patrol Leader to select his Assistant Patrol Leader.

Now play a couple of more team-oriented games, give ’em a Scoutmaster’s minute (yes, these do last a minute…two at the very most), and send ’em all home with the request that, when they all show up next week, they’ll bring their Scout-designed and -made patrol flag with them.

As for Cub Scouts about to join, first have a conversation with each of the “feeder” packs’ Cubmasters. Tell them that the optimal time for their graduates to join the troop is in February (beginning of March at the very latest) and convince them to follow this guideline (BTW, it’s been a driving aspect of the Webelos Scout 18-month program since 1989!).

All brand-new Scouts join new-Scout patrols. They’re absolutely not “salted” into older Scout patrols. (If you don’t do it this way, the newest Scouts will always be “low on the totem pole” and will always be dished the crappiest jobs by their older patrol members…Scout spirit goes out the window here, and natural boy-to-boy dynamics take over. This is why your troop loses some of these new Scouts in the first several months.)

Your new Venture patrols are simply patrols of older, more experienced Scouts, who may want to have some adventures of their own that are more rigorous than other patrols. But they still have their own names, elect their own Patrol Leaders, and in all other ways function just like all other patrols. Yes, they can wear the “Venture” strip over their right pocket in addition to their patrol medallion on their right sleeve (forget shoulder loop colors—these should match the rest of the Scouts).

There’s one more thing to do at the end of this first meeting… Call for a Patrol Leaders Council meeting, to start 45 minutes before the next troop meeting. This way, you can begin training the new Patrol Leaders right away, and begin using the “Troop Meeting Plan” (Google it) right away.

At the next meeting, you present the SPL with his badge of office, he presents PL badges to the new Patrol Leaders, and the PLs present the badges to their assistants (bring safety pins, so they can wear them immediately) which you’ve bought in the intervening week.

Then, stand back so that the SPL can run the meeting, through the PLs.

Looking toward the future, a Senior Patrol Leader can join a patrol—by mutual agreement—upon his completion of tenure, but, if he’s 16 or older, he can become a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster instead! ASPLs are not simultaneously patrol members, but other Scouts with positions of responsibility (e.g., Scribe, Quartermaster, Historian, etc.) are patrol members. The SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK will tell you that the ASPL, QM, Scribe, etc. are all appointed positions—appointed by the SPL!

As you proceed, always keep at the forefront of your vision that the essential “unit” of Boy Scouting is the PATROL. It’s never the troop. The troop is the umbrella for the patrols, only. EVERYTHING that these Scouts do, they do BY PATROL. In a troop run right, a patrol will maintain itself for some seven years–from the time the boys join straight through till they turn 18 and graduate out of the troop. This means that each new-Scout patrol stays together for the long haul; they’re not busted up when they’re 12, or when they earn First Class rank, or for any other reason.

Now let’s cover some things that can happen along the way…

If an experienced Scout transfers in, let him hang out for a while with a patrol of Scouts approximately his own age. If the “fit” looks good (this is when the SPL and the PL confer), then this Scout joins up with that patrol. (This is why you didn’t form patrols of eight at the beginning—this leaves room for natural growth.)

To make the problem of “only two or three Scouts in a particular patrol show up for a campout,” with a troop structure as I’ve described this won’t happen more than once. That’s because, from Day One, everything gets done by patrol. No more committee members buying food “for the troop.” No more parents arranging car pools “for the troop.” No more anything being done for outings on a troop basis, except for writing up the Tour Plan, getting any permits you all may need, reserving campsites (if necessary), or contracting for canoes (if necessary). The patrols do everything else.

To understand this better, let’s take a look at the Gruesome Grizzlies Patrol…

The GG Patrol’s PL appoints a patrol Grubmaster, Quartermaster, and Scribe. After the patrol members decide on their menu for the weekend and make a list of what needs to be bought, the Grubmaster buys the food (all the Scouts chip in to cover the cost). Meanwhile, the patrol’s Quartermaster checks out a patrol box, tents, etc., from the Troop Quartermaster (a Scout, let’s remember). Then, the patrol members tap their parents and arrange their own transportation to and from the campsite or trail head. They also get “permission slips” from their parents and the patrol’s Scribe turns these in to the Troop Scribe. The PL checks with the SPL on what time to be at the campsite or trail head and makes sure the parent-drivers know the schedule. At the outing, there’s a patrol “duty roster,” so that every Scout in the patrol has a job (on a rotating basis). (Google “patrol duty roster”—there are a bunch of good ones out there!)

So, if the Scout responsible for buying and bringing the food doesn’t show up, this is a patrol problem; not a “troop” problem. The SPL and PL confer, to arrive at a solution. Or, if not enough Scouts in the patrol show up, and the Scouts who do are overburdened by the duty roster tasks, this won’t ever happen again thanks to boys dealing with boys! (Trust me: While this will happen, it’ll only happen once!)

Why do it this way? Two reasons. The first is: THIS IS TRUE BOY SCOUTING! The second: Unless every Scout has “skin in the game,” they can ditch the outing and not give a rat’s tail one way or the other!

Are parents going to freak out? You bet they will! So bring as few as possible along on actual outings, and make certain they camp separately (literally out of sight and ear-shot) from the Scouts. (The only two adults who camp alongside the patrols are the Scoutmaster and an Assistant Scoutmaster—that’s it!

You can’t teach a boy how to lead, how to be responsible, or how to cope if he’s never been anything but a follower whose parents are still “doing” for him and “protecting” him from making mistakes.

Keep a boy from making mistakes and you ultimately keep him from making anything.

Go for it! You’re going to be making a true and permanent difference in the lives of these boys! You’re on your way to growing boys into men!

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. 409 – 8/12/2014 – 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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