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Issue 410 – August 19, 2014

Hi Andy,

We have a three-way mini-controversy going on here that maybe you can help with. It’s about Commissioners-as-unit leaders. One of us is saying that A Unit Commissioner can also be a unit leader (i.e., direct leader), just not for his or her own unit. Another is saying that Commissioners can’t hold a leadership role in any unit, but that they can hold a non-leader position, like committee member just so long as the unit they serve as Unit Commissioner isn’t the one they’re registered in. The third in this discussion is saying that it’s perfectly okay for a Commissioner to simultaneously be a unit (that is, “direct”) leader, such as a Scoutmaster or Cubmaster. What’s the story here? Can you help us sort through this? (Name & Council Withheld)

This sounds like another case of “RTFM,” as in “Read The Friendly Manual”! One of the Commissioner Fieldbooks contains the statement that Commissioners cannot simultaneously be unit leaders (e.g., Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, Venturing Advisor, etc.). The further (and obvious) general rule-of-thumb is that a Unit Commissioner (the only unit-serving of all Commissioner positions [except in unusual, one-off, temporary situations]) would not serve a unit in which he or she is simultaneously registered (e.g., MC, CC) because it’s too difficult to separate which “hat” is being worn at any time; plus, since Commissioners are, essentially, advisers, it’s ineffective for them to be advising themselves.
Dear Andy,

Are you familiar with the concept of merit badge universities, or group merit badge classes? What I’ve observed is that an instructor—usually an adult—presents material addressing the requirements of the merit badge while the Scouts, sitting there, try to take it all in. The good instructors will try to engage the Scouts in discussion, but my observation is that all Scouts don’t participate equally in all the discussions even though, at the conclusion, all the Scouts get a signed blue card. This strikes me as doing these Scouts a disservice. The BSA’s publications on advancement point out that the Scout must do what the requirement stipulates (e.g., explain, demonstrate, show, etc.); not listen to an adult explain or demonstrate. By doing the Scouts’ work for them we deprive them of the real learning experience—learning by doing—and replace that with “learning by listening/watching.” I’ve observed that in these large group settings there’s very little opportunity to assess the skills or knowledge of individual Scouts, to see if they’ve each actually completed the requirements. Instead, they more-or-less complete one merit badge “station” and then move on to the next. At the end of the day they may leave with a dozen signed blue cards, but what have they actually learned? I’d appreciate your own thoughts on these sorts of events. (John Rekus)

Merit badge fairs n’ such can be wonderful opportunities, when run right! But, when run as you describe, they definitely short-change our Scouts. You’re absolutely correct that each individual Scout is supposed to be completing each requirement as written and not simply thrown into a “classroom”—the very antithesis of what Baden-Powell had in mind. Scouting is designed to be “hands-on”—not merely sitting around while some “expert” lectures at them.

The only way to change something like this is from the top. I hope you’ll consider take charge, and then insisting on the changes needed to get it right!

Thanks, Andy! BTW, have you ever observed a merit badge fair that’s been run right? If so, could you describe the mechanism? (John Rekus)

The very best “merit badge fair” I’ve ever encountered was actually Scout-led, except for final signatures by registered and qualified merit badge counselors. This was part of a council-wide “Scout Expo” day, and here’s how they did it…

First, the Scout Expo steering committee collaborated with the council advancement committee and selected a group of merit badges all of which could be completed in an hour or two without resorting to partials” and didn’t require either prerequisites or going off-site. The final list included merit badges like Automotive Maintenance, Basketry, Computers, Leatherwork, Metalworking, Painting, Plumbing, Public Speaking, Textile, and a bunch of others that I no longer remember (this was 20 years ago!).

Once the list was prepared, troops throughout the council were offered the opportunity to sign up for running that merit badge on the day of the Expo. The criteria were: The troop would provide or recruit an already registered Merit Badge Counselor for the badge they selected, provide all necessary equipment and supplies that would be needed, and provide knowledgeable Scouts (any age or rank, and regardless of whether they’d earned that merit badge or not; however, pre-training by a qualified MBC was encouraged) who were capable of “teaching” their fellow Scouts on a one-on-one basis (no “adult instructors” allowed—no exceptions!).

The merit badge opportunities were promoted throughout the council, with advance sign-up opportunities based on merit badge session (we absolutely refused to call these “classes”—no “Scout school” here!) start- and end-times. Session lengths varied, depending on the complexity of the subject matter and skills to be mastered. The only requirement for Scouts signing up was that they needed to bring with them a duly signed merit badge application (“blue card”) on the day of the Expo.

At the Expo itself, the troops set up their merit badge areas, each capable of handling at least a dozen Scouts simultaneously. Sessions ran concurrently throughout the day. Each troop’s Scouts worked in shifts, so that they could go out and earn some of the other merit badges offered by the other troops.

My own troop (I was Scoutmaster at the time) selected Computers. We arranged for electrical connections and the Scouts who would be instructing brought their own desktops, laptops, and other materials they’d designed in advance to use for instruction. Meanwhile, I’d pre-recruited a MBC for Computers to check each Scout coming to the sessions, oversee the Scouts instructing, and sign the participating Scouts’ blue cards on completion of all requirements.

In all, this was an outstanding success! Scouts throughout the council were exposed to subject matter they might not have ordinarily gone for, the Scouts who instructed had a blast, the whole thing was peer-to-peer, and not a single “partial” was handed out that day!

How’s that for “Scouting In Action”!
Hi Andy,

Our Scouts came back from summer camp with a bunch of “partials.” I spoke with our Scoutmaster about supporting the Scouts so they could finish up their merit badges with a Merit Badge Counselor here at home and was surprised to be told that one of the troop’s Assistant Scoutmasters was going to handle this. The plan was simply for the Scouts to turn in worksheets for whatever requirements remained for any of their partials. “Don’t we need to give these Scouts their ‘blue cards’ so they can locate and contact a registered Merit Badge Counselor?” I asked. The answer I got was, “Nope. Those cards stay with the troop advancement files.” So how does a Scout finish his merit badge as the BSA intends if all he has to do is turn worksheets in to an Assistant Scoutmaster? The ASM can’t sign off, or am I behind the times here? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s use the “KISS” method here… From the time he gets his Scoutmaster’s signature to start work until the time his Merit Badge Counselor signs off that all requirements have been completed, the Blue Card is the property and responsibility of the Scout himself. Being responsible for Blue Cards and the like is one of the “life lessons” we try to imbue in Scouting, right?

For summer camp “partials,” it’s up to the Scout to find a home Merit Badge Counselor so that he can finish whatever remains to be done. His Scoutmaster can help him with this by referring to the Merit Badge Counselor list (with contact information) provided by the council advancement committee.

On completion of all requirements, the Scout gives the “Counselor” segment to his Merit Badge Counselor, then returns to his Scoutmaster for signing that completion has been recorded and gives the “Unit” segment to the Scoutmaster while retaining the “Applicant” portion for himself. End of story. (“Work sheets,” while sometimes used by Merit Badge Counselors, are never substitutes for Blue Cards.)
Dear Andy,

We’re changing the structure of our fundraising proceeds distribution. Some parents would like to incentivize their sons to sell more by allowing them to use some of the earned credits at a local outdoor outfitter for camping and hunting gear. Are there any restrictions on allowing parents to convert their sons’ fundraising credits to retailer gift cards? (Tony)

“Scout credits” are tricky things to handle. They sometimes also fly in the face of fundamental fundraising rules and guidelines (check the BSA Fundraising Policies). Why not have a simple “top 3 prizes,” but handled on a patrol basis (promotes The Patrol Method!), based on “per-capita” funds raised. These don’t have to be huge amounts; just enough to encourage patrols to get out there and get the job done!

Another way to handle this, of course, is through your council’s annual popcorn sales program. Most councils have individual as well as unit incentives, so that you all don’t have to worry about this sort of stuff at all! This allows you all to focus on the important stuff, like supporting what the troop’s Patrol Leaders Council wants to go and do!
Hi Andy,

Have you ever seen the Disney movie, “Follow Me Boys”? If you have, what did you think? (Personally, I thought it was awesome!) This summer, it was shown at summer camp on a rainy night, and my younger son loved it. I’m in process of buying it, so both my sons and I can enjoy it together. As I’m doing this, my older son was looking at the requirements for Citizenship in the Community merit badge and asked me if watching it would satisfy one of the requirements. Do you think this would be okay? (Joe Sefcik, Connecticut Rivers Council)

I’ll eat my Commissioner’s hat if your son’s Cit-Community Merit Badge Counselor doesn’t say yes to this film qualifying for req. 5!

Great movie! I saw it when it first came out and bought it a few years ago for my “Scouting collection”… I’ve watched it a couple of times since then and continue to enjoy it!

When you watch it again, notice how the troop evolves… Starts out with the Scoutmaster doing everything, and virtually no uniforms, and then moves over to a Scout-led, uniformed troop!
Dear Andy,

This is just a check to see if things are changing or if something was taken out of context at our council’s most recent NYLT training…

One of our Scouts came home from NYLT telling us stuff I’ve never heard or seen before, like out troop should have an ASPL for every two patrols plus an “event ASPL;” and we should have two Scribes so there would be no questions as to what happened with a Scout’s money or dues; and we should have two Quartermasters, each in charge of separate aspects of the troop gear; and the list went on and on.

This is the first I’ve ever heard of stuff like this, so anything you can help with would really be appreciated. Have troop structures changed so much in recent years? (Name & Council Withheld)

Nope, the structure of Scout troops hasn’t changed.

Troops—and by “troop” I mean THE SCOUTS—are pretty “flat” organizations. The key is the Patrol Leaders Council (“PLC”). The Senior Patrol Leader is in charge (runs six of the seven parts of all troop meetings, for example) and chairs the PLC, which key members are the Patrol Leaders. ASPL isn’t an “intermediary” position inserted between the SPL and PLs. An ASPL has specific responsibilities but NOT with regard to the PLs. If you take a look at page 15 of the SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK, you’ll see how the ASPL reports to the SPL and is responsible for the non-elected troop leaders: OA Troop Rep., Instructor(s), Quartermaster, Scribe, etc. Meanwhile, if your troop has a new-Scout patrol, there’s a Troop Guide (and older, leadership-experienced Scout) to coach the PL for that patrol. Again for emphasis: ASPLs do NOT fit in between the SPL and the PLs.

But there’s more…

ONE Scribe is all that any troop needs. Two of these is redundant. The “second party” or “back-up”—if one is actually needed, which I strongly doubt—is the ASPL the Scribe reports to.

ONE Quartermaster is all that’s needed. Having more than one will guarantee confusion and the possibility of equipment getting misplaced (“Hey, I thought cook kits were YOUR responsibility…” is what you’re going to start hearing.)

The other positions—Webmaster, Chaplain Aide, etc.—are filled by the SPL, who selects them on an as-needed basis, but they’re definitely NOT members of the PLC; they’re regular members of their own patrols except when called upon to carry out their troop-related responsibilities.

And, just so everybody’s clear on this: The SPL is elected by the troop, the PLs are elected by their respective patrols (PLs, in turn, choose their APL), and all other youth positions are chosen by the SPL, with the guidance of the Scoutmaster.
Hi Andy,

I’m wondering if you can explain the difference between two district-level positions: District Member-At-Large and District Committee Member. I’m having some trouble understanding what the responsibilities are for each position, and which I should be registered as. (I’m currently serving as the Training Chair for my District.) Thanks! (David Goldsberry, Golden Empire Council, CA)

If you’re District Training Chair, you’re automatically a member of the district committee. Councils handle “member-at-large” designations differently, so you’re best bet is to ask your District Executive. If that doesn’t work, your council’s registrar is where the buck stops.
Hi Andy,

I’m on the Eagle Board of Review staff for our council and I have a question. When a Scout has successfully completed his Eagle board of Review, we all give him the Scout handshake and tell him, “Congratulations! You’re now an Eagle Scout!” Can the Scout then wear the Eagle patch on his uniform, even though we haven’t heard back from the National Office and he hasn’t had his court of honor yet? I’m asking because some scouts don’t have their courts of honor for a whole bunch of months after their Eagle review. (Ben Hale)

Although I’d be tempted to wait till after hearing from the National Office that everything’s Kosher, the answer’s ABSOLUTELY! Buy the badge for him, or buy the Eagle Scout Award Kit (item no. 14124 at your local Scout shop) when you submit his advancement report, take the badge out of it, and give it to him to wear. This is a great idea and I sure wish more troops—every troop for that matter!—would do this.

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. 410 – 8/19/2014 – 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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