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Issue 411 – August 28, 2014

Hi Andy,

Does the BSA have any sort of instructional film or video (a “reality show” would be even better!) that shows a troop being run as it’s supposed to be run, including what meetings look like (the SPL’s in charge), how PLC meetings are run (chaired by the SPL), how troops go camping and hiking by patrols, and what a Scoutmaster’s really supposed to be doing?

Our troop’s Committee Chair is urging me to sign up for the Wood Badge course. He’s mentioned how educational it was for him and the Scoutmaster before me, but—and here’s the rub—these guys didn’t necessarily stick to The Patrol Method, which I consider the key to a successful troop, as it was intended and supposedly is “taught” at Wood Badge, and our troop is suffering for this absence. A few months ago, when I first wrote to you about our troop’s problems, you really helped me out. Since then, we’ve acted on your suggestions and our present Senior Patrol Leader has stepped up to run troop and PLC meetings the right way, including using the Troop Meeting Plan as his (and my!) guide. Our meetings have gotten much better since we started doing things the right way. So THANKS! But what about Wood Badge? (Joe Powell, SM, Georgia-Carolina Council)

It used to be part of the “Scoutmastership” training course (as it was called back in the 90’s) to organize the participants into patrols throughout the course, and especially for the outdoor camping component (patrols planned and organized their menus for the weekend, bought their own food, arranged their own transportation, made sure they had tents and camping/cooking gear for all, established a “duty roster” that rotated all members except the Patrol Leader, etc.). The obvious purpose of this was so that these Scoutmasters would be “living the patrol method,” which they could then bring back to their troops. Mostly this worked, but sometimes it didn’t. Some Scoutmasters (and ASMs) never figured out that what they were doing throughout this training was exactly what their Scouts were supposed to be doing back in their home troops! Some of them actually thought that “this was just a way to organize the training course.” (Ouch!) So they’d go home and “run” their troops just like the guy before them had… Scoutmaster is in charge, everything’s planned and organized by the committee, lots of merit badge “classes” as part of troop meetings, parents plan the food and transportation, and on and on… They never figured out that what Scouting’s all about is THE PATROL METHOD. It didn’t dawn on them that Scouts’ first loyalties are to their fellow patrol members; that “the troop” was merely the “umbrella” under which Scouts function, learn from one another (i.e., not from adults, except for merit badges), and lead one another.

Those who did figure out what was going on brought it back and sometimes received flak from the “old-timers” in the troop who clung to the “we’ve never done it that way, so why change” mentality.

Nobody bothered to actually read the Scoutmaster Handbook or—even more important—the PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK! Nobody used the “Troop Meeting Plan” (Google it—download it, and give it to your SPL!).

But… those who did “get it” went back and made the necessary changes (they use this as their position: If we don’t deliver what their Scout Handbook promises, we’re not delivering Scouting) and enjoyed wonderful success. And…they had happy Scouts!

So get your committee folks and your ASMs to read two books: The SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK and the PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK. If you all follow what’s in these two books, you’ll have a fabulous troop!
Hi Andy,

I’m a Merit Badge Counselor. Many people I come in contact with, in various professions, are very willing to assist a Scout in some of his requirements; however, they aren’t interested in becoming registered Merit Badge Counselors. I’ve had Scouts’ completed requirements reviewed and or gone over by the professional, and I’m with the Scout during these reviews so I can then sign their “Blue Cards.” This appears to be permissible under the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT Topics (“Merit badge counselors who do not meet specific requirements may use the services of others who do so”), (“If there are questions that requirements were met, a counselor may confirm with adults involved”), and (“Guest experts assisting registered and approved counselors”). Do I have this right? (Name & Council Withheld)

I can’t find two of your citations—the first and the third—in the GTA, so let’s deal with it this way: If you, as the registered MBC for a particular merit badge, are satisfied that the Scout has completed the requirement(s) as written, then you sign off; but only if you’re authorized by your council for that particular merit badge.
Hi Andy,

My council has decided that all Merit Badge Counselors must attend an in-person training class before they’re approved. The kicker is that the classes are held two hours from our town, so asking someone living in our area to be a counselor is an almost impossible task now.

Has something changed at the national level to add this “must take a training class” requirement? I’m not talking about Youth Protection; this is a council-developed training class I’m talking about. From the two people that did take it, their feedback was that it’s nothing more than reading the Merit Badge Counselor Guidebook, and showing the same thing in a Power Point slide show.

I know from reading your past columns that when a troop loses its sense of where “True North” is, we need to determine whether it’s fixable or not and, if it’s not then, find another troop. But what do you do when your council takes its eye off True North? (Name & Council Withheld)

Not only via letters from readers like you over the past dozen years but in my own personal experience as a Scoutmaster (twice) and boots-on-the-ground Commissioner for the past 25 years (and I’m also a MBC myself, and have been for over 20 years and some 150+ Scouts), I’m excruciatingly familiar with Merit Badge Counselors who just don’t get what they’re supposed to be doing. This has ranged from clueless to tyrannical to not giving a darn to thinking merit badges get passed out like lollipops. Here are just a few highlights of the horrors I’ve personally witnessed…

MBC to Scout: “Carve me a ball-in-box and I’ll give you the Woodcarving merit badge.”

MBC to Scout who’s just completed a requirement: “Well, that might be what ‘the book’ says, but for me here’s what you’re going to do…”

MBC to Scout who’s earned Swimming merit badge: “You’re too young to start Lifesaving merit badge, so come back when you’re older.”

MBC to Scout: “Well, keep your Personal Management records like to book says and come back to me in three months and I’ll tell you if you got it right or not. If you didn’t get it right, you’ll do another three months.”

MBC to Scout: “What makes you think you’re ready for Personal Fitness merit badge? Come back to me in a year or two, after you’ve grown a bit, and I’ll tell you whether you can start or not.”

MBC to Scout who shows up with notes (only): “Yeah, the requirement says, “Tell your counselor,” but for me, I expect a written report.”

MBC to Scout: “You failed.”

MBC to Scout with merit badge pamphlet: “That book only shows the ‘minimum’ requirements. I’m going to expect a lot more out of you.”

MBC to Scout: “I only run ‘classes’ and I won’t be starting another class for three months. Call me back in December.”

Need more? I’ve got a ton of ’em.

So my hat’s off to any council advancement committee that sees the need to educate MBCs well beyond the simplicity of YP training, and does something about it.

(Some years ago for my present council, I created and ran a two-hour orientation session for teaching staff and staff MBCs during summer camp staff development week, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that this is critical! In its absence in prior years, Scouts were definitely left holding the fuzzy end of the lollipop stick!)

The Guide for Merit Badge Counseling (Cat. No. 34532) has been around for quite some time, but it’s rarely “mandatory reading” for new or experienced MBCs. In fact, I’ll bet that most working MBCs don’t even know it exists!

Let’s look at it from the Scout’s perspective. In his Scouting life, he’s going to encounter upwards of two dozen MBCs on his way to Eagle. If, in this process, he encounters two dozen different ways of counseling, what sort of Scout are we turning out, and what will his memory of his Scouting experience be?

To anyone resisting the sort of training your council’s instituted, my response is simple: If you’re not willing to devote the time and effort to learning how to get it right, I don’t want you as a Scouting volunteer, because the youth of America deserve trained counselors, mentors, coaches, and guides who get it right.

That said, I’m going to suggest an option: “Testing through.” For anyone who’s an experienced MBC I’d offer a quick quiz like the one I’m sending you, and I’d also provide the MBC overview like the one I’m also sending. This way, if the council’s advancement committee is able to determine that you know the score, you’re free to proceed. But if you need some help then they can ask you to make the time to participate in the orientation.

I’m also going to suggest to your council advancement team that, instead of sort of rote “going through the book,” they ask every participant to read the book before showing up, and then devote the orientation session itself to Q&As plus batch of “what if…” scenarios (the way you’d run a Roundtable or—better yet—the way you’d handle Scouts going for a merit badge!) so that the MBCs can interact with one another and the facilitators!
Hello Andy,

We’re having trouble figuring out how to register an 18 year-old Eagle Scout in our troop. He’s not planning on going to college or going in the military, and he’d like to stay involved with the troop. Without registering him as an Assistant Scoutmaster, what other options might be open to him? (Lisa Williams)

He can check with your district’s District Executive about registering as “Scouter Reserve” (different from “College Scouter Reserve”).
Dear Andy,

I’m a troop’s Committee Chair. We right now have a Scout mom who thinks she’s a member of the troop committee because, three years ago, she was one of the members of a board of review for Eagle. Currently, her son is working on his Eagle Project. It seemed to me that it was taking way too long to get completed, so I casually asked her about it. She told me that her son was adding some other things to it, in response to a request from our town’s mayor. I quickly advised her that the project shouldn’t be added to: It shouldn’t include stuff that’s not part of what we originally approved back in the proposal review step. Instead of hearing me, she went to our District Executive to get my advice dismissed. But that didn’t happen; the D.E. agreed with me. Not satisfied, she then called the District Advancement Chair. But he, also, told her that the advice I’d provided was correct. Now, she’s hoppin’ mad and makes our open committee meetings difficult at best. So (finally) here’s my question: If our Scoutmaster, our Chartered Organization Representative, and I all agree that we don’t want her on the committee, can we terminate her from this? (Maybe I should add that I’m a woman, also, just so you know this isn’t a “gender bias” thing here.) (Name & Council Withheld)

You have a couple of little hiccups to fix here… Nothing “lethal” but it’ll make everybody’s life easier and simpler if you get them fixed.

First, unless this parent is duly registered as a committee member, she’s not. Period. And you’re under no obligation to accept her if she offers to volunteer. You simply need to say that committee’s full at the moment but if an opening ever appears you’ll consider her. That should take care of that part of the equation.

As for her son and his Eagle project, you’re talking to the wrong person (and sort of empowering her when you do this). Stop talking with her about her son and, instead, speak directly (and only) with the Scout himself.

If she continues to make a fuss, just do your best to politely ignore her. The more you engage, the more “power” she’ll believe she has.

Meanwhile, if you have to move your committee meetings to a different time or location, so that she stops showing up, do it. Or get your CR to lock the door before the meeting starts.
Dear Andy,

Can Cub Scout leaders earn the Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit, or are they only youth awards? (Name & Council Withheld)

The Chip and Chit are for Boy Scouts (not Cub Scouts) to earn. Cub Scouts can earn the Whittling Chip. None of these three is for adult volunteers. If your council’s Scout shop sells patches corresponding with any of these, please remember that these idiotic patches are mementos only—they’re not for sewing (or gluing) on uniforms.

Thanks Andy. I’ve spoken to different Scouters over the years who’ve earned both the Chip and Chit, their rationale being that it shows the Scouts that what’s expected of a Scout is also expected of a leader (“lead by example”), and, sure enough, some leaders have also had their Chip or Chit taken away. (N&CW)

Yup, you’ve discovered that there are Scouters “out there” who either don’t understand that these are for Boy Scouts only, or who do know this but have made up some malarkey to justify their acquiring same. I didn’t give you an opinion—I gave you BSA policy. So remember Rule #1: Stupid has no cure.
Dear Andy,

I was a member of an Eagle board of review last night. The scout did great and the decision to sign off on his Eagle rank was unanimous. He wants to submit his college application before its December 1st deadline and include that he’s an Eagle Scout, but some of the board members said he couldn’t do that until confirmation came back from the BSA National Office. I’ve always thought that, when a Scout successfully completes his board of review, he’s an Eagle Scout. I’d appreciate your advice on how to handle this. (Name & Council Withheld)

You aren’t incorrect: The date that will show on this young man’s Eagle Scout certificate is the date of his board of review. This is the date that, among other things, the national office confirms. While those other reviewers are being justifiably cautious, we need to keep in mind that the deadline is still a couple of months away and confirmation can be obtained electronically or even by phone if he’s pressed for time. So, I’d advise this young man to keep going on his resume and complete it, but hold onto it till all the t’s are crossed. (The odds of a “rejection” at this point are, frankly, miniscule.)
Hi Andy,

I currently have an outstanding group of adult volunteers who deserve recognition. I currently have a new Scoutmaster who I’ve set up with checklists to start working on both his Scout Leader Training Award and his Scoutmaster’s Key, and I’ve got him working with his assistants to earn theirs, also. They’re also working with our Senior Patrol Leader and PLC to earn the National Outdoor Challenge Award and the National Honor Patrol Awards. Overall, this is a very good and very active troop.

But I can’t seem to find anything for our committee members to earn! I’ve been searching all over the Internet including for awards or “square knots” and I’m coming up with zilch. Do you have a direction I can go to find things for our very deserving troop committee? (Glenn Harrop, CC, Rolla, MO)

Troop committee members can earn the Boy Scout Leader’s Training Award too! Check it out here:

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. 411 – 8/28/2014 – 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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