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Issue 417 – October 14, 2014

Dear Andy,

Looking at the Cooking merit badge requirements, I’m wondering how to handle the requirements on planning and preparing meals, for instance as sole individual tasks or as patrol member and patrol cooking tasks, for example requirement 4(a): “Prepare and serve for yourself and two others, the two dinners, one lunch, and one breakfast. Time your cooking so that each course will be ready to serve at the proper time.” Does this require a group of three scouts to eat for a weekend campout with only one scout cooking, in order for that one Scout to complete the requirement? Or can three Scouts share in cooking for each other, so that all three complete the requirement on the same weekend? (Ben Sanders)

If I were the Merit Badge Counselor for Cooking, and I had only one Scout working on this, I think I’d start by recommending that he enlist a buddy in his patrol to go for the merit badge too, and then prepare those meals in parallel with one another, so that, between the two of them, the whole patrol gets fed. This would cover both 4a. and 6. If that can’t be done, then it’s a little more difficult. Maybe the Scout will need to complete these requirements by preparing the required meals for more than just himself and two others; maybe he’ll need to do this for his entire patrol (remembering that each Scout working on this merit badge needs to complete all requirements himself—the requirements don’t provide for shared cooking (e.g., one Scout drops shell bits in the scrambled the eggs while another burns the bacon). Yes, it’s a bit tricky, but not insurmountable with a bit of pre-planning (which is a part of these requirements, anyway).
Dear Andy,

I’m wondering if I’m confused about a phrase in the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING. In the section on two-deep leadership, the statement, “…and a parent of a participating Scout or other adult…” seems excessive; sort of like saying, for instance, “a dog or other mammal.” Am I missing some deeper meaning? Are they implying that a parent would be better but another adult is acceptable? What? I don’t really care if the GTSS is wordy, but I do care if I’m misunderstanding something important. Thanks! (Sam Mize)

The wording’s that way for a reason: The accompanying parent must be one whose own son is participating in the activity; not “any old person who happens to be a parent” who might be available but his son isn’t there.
Dear Andy,

My older son is a Webelos and my younger’s a Tiger. I’m hoping that my Webelos son could serve as the Denner of the Tiger den, but as I’m reading about it, it looks like a Denner serves his own den. Can you clarify for me and let me know if there are any other leadership roles my older son could be? (Jennifer Thomason)

Your research has pointed you in the right direction: Boys from other dens definitely don’t become Denners in a different den. Your Webelos son is eligible to become a Denner in his own den, and your younger son is eligible to become Denner in his Tiger den. If you’re a Den Leader yourself, and you’d like help in addition to the Assistant Den Leader you’ve already recruited (hint, hint…), contact your nearest Boy Scout troop and ask if any Scout would like to help out as your Den Chief!
Dear Andy,

I’m the dad of a 17-1/2 year old Life Scout who’s stalled in his service project—his last requirement before Eagle—and it doesn’t look like he’s going to bother finishing it. How do I convince him to follow through and finish his Eagle requirements before his time’s up? (Concerned Second-Generation Eagle Scout Dad)

Tell your son this, then leave the rest to him (it’s no joy to be an Eagle if you’ve been dragged across the finish line!)…

A wise District Executive once told me his “secret” to recruiting adult volunteers. He looked for the guys who were Life Scouts, and stopped. He told me that these guys were invariably the best, hardest-working adult volunteers in all of Scouting! Why? The answer’s simple. These are the guys still trying to make up for having Eagle in the crosshairs and then just not taking that last shot. It’s painful to them because in their hearts they know they could have done it, and—worse—they believe they should have done it and now they never can. And this feeling never, ever goes away. So your son needs to ask himself just one little question: Does he really want to find himself in this position? Because, once he’s 18, that’s it, game over, and he can’t hit the “re-do” button.
Dear Andy,

My son just finished the physical part of his Eagle Scout project. But a sudden change in our family circumstances will have him joining a new troop in a new council. He needs to finish the paperwork, submit it, etc. Is it possible for him to submit his project through his new troop and council? He’s 14 and he has the time, but I’d like to see him to finish this while he’s still on a “high” from accomplishing his project. (Chris Howard)

Scouts, for a whole host of reasons, change troops all the time. There’s absolutely no “stigma” associated with this.

Yes, your son should definitely plan to bring his project work (thus far) to his new troop, request an Eagle advisor or mentor, and continue the process to completion with his new troop. He’ll want to be sure to get sign-offs for the work itself from his present troop, especially that of the recipient of the work, stating that it’s completed as originally agreed upon. This is a major “paperwork” effort, so it will help him to have an adult at his side to guide and assist, and there’s nothing says this can’t be his own father! Don’t let him go it alone, but don’t do it for him, either!

Your son will also want to be sure he has hard copy (or a thumb drive) with all his advancement and tenure-in-position records to take with him.

Now about his age… Actually this isn’t a situation in which “he has the time”! That might sound surprising, and I know a lot of folks mistakenly think, “Hey, if he’s 14 he has almost four more years to get it done, so why sweat it?” But the cold, hard facts are that high school work and activities will be increasing exponentially for him, and he’ll want to get past this as soon as possible. (Besides, he’ll get to wear his Eagle badge on his uniform longer than a lot of other Scouts who mistakenly thought they had lots of time…and didn’t).
Hi Andy,

I just recently became a Scoutmaster and one of the first things I’m noticing is that our Senior Patrol Leader is having a hard time getting the Scouts to listen when he’s trying to talk to them. Do you have any advice on what he should be doing, and what I should be doing, to help the Scouts pay closer attention? (New Scoutmaster)

You bet I think I can help! (Been a Senior Patrol Leader myself, back in the “peach-fuzz days”!) Here’s the key to the whole thing: The Senior Patrol Leader doesn’t “talk” to the troop; he talks to the Patrol Leaders and the Patrol Leaders lead the Scouts in their patrols!

As Scoutmaster, which means you’re the SPL’s coach and mentor, here are some things you can suggest to him, to promote in the very next Patrol Leaders Council and then carry out with his Patrol Leaders beginning with the very next troop meeting…

First, play a game in the troop that reinforces the use of the Scout sign. In effect, this will train the Scouts (yes, they’re Scouts, not “boys” or “kids,” and this alone will improve conduct and decorum) in how to respond to the Scout sign.

Second, everything the SPL does, he does through the Patrol Leaders. So it’s Scout sign and then, “Patrol Leaders, please assemble your patrols over here…”

Next, the PLs, not the SPL are responsible for their Scouts’ behavior. The SPL never addresses a “discipline/decorum” request directly to any Scout. Here’s how it’s done (SPL Bill to PL John): “John, please ask your patrol members to sit down and settle down.” Then (PL John to his patrol): “OK, Rattlesnake patrol, time to settle down. Billy, this means you, too.”

Now if your SPL is really clever, he’ll use an online search engine to find “Scout Silent Signals,” which he’ll teach to the PLs, who will then teach the same to their patrol members during “patrol corners.” Then use these at every meeting, without fail. Trust me: THEY WORK!

Finally, conference with your SPL on “attention span.” Boys and young men of Scout age have an attention span—when they’re a “listening-only audience”—of maybe ten minutes, tops. So never talk to them for longer than ten minutes (five is much, much better!) without including some sort of active, kinetic, hands-on activity.

BTW, does your troop use the PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK? How about the SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK? If not, crack the troop piggy bank and get these for all elected leaders. Then put ‘em to good use!
Hi Andy,

One of the units I serve as Commissioner—a Cub Scout pack—has just lost an entire den of third-graders, and all but one of their second-graders to another pack. Any advice about how to essentially start over with these two dens? The good thing is that it’s still reasonably early in the scouting year. I plan to introduce myself and give some words of encouragement, but any ideas before doing so would sure be welcome! (Ann)

It’s pretty unusual for dens to move en masse from one pack to another. I think your quest may begin with determining why and how these switches happened.

For creating new dens to replace those two, I think the best bet will be for the pack (with your guidance, but not your hands-on “rescuing”) needs to have a “school night for Scouting” at their local school, concentrating on (but not limiting to) second- and third-grade families. Their local District Executive can help them directly with promotional materials, etc., so consider getting the D.E. involved and attending a pack committee meeting with you—the “Buddy System,” if you will.

Thanks, Andy. I’ve checked and, for a reason they won’t express, the women Den Leaders don’t want to work with our (male) D.E. Instead, they say they’re happy to work with our District Commissioner, who happens to be a woman and who passed this task on to me. I just had a successful email exchange with one of the leaders, so we are planning on meeting up next week—so far so good! I’m learning now that the second-grade den didn’t actually leave with the third-grade den that did—they just don’t have many second-graders. The other levels in the pack are okay. I’m getting the impression that the departing third-grade families followed the Bear Den Leader when he (yes, he!) changed packs. So we’ll go from there and see what develops. It could be that these women Den Leaders think the D.E. is some sort of “Council Cop” instead of understanding that he’s in the best position to make a school recruiting event happen! I’ll see how this goes, and thanks again!

Yup, eventually you want to ferret out what their problem with the D.E. is, because it’s the D.E. who can help them the most, and most directly. As for you, stay firm on not doing the pack’s job for them! This is their problem to solve, with your counseling!
Hi Andy,

I have a comment on your discussion about whether it’s appropriate for a Scoutmaster to delegate conference duties to an assistant. While I agree generally with what you said, there is one limited situation where I disagree. As a Scoutmaster with two sons in the troop, I do delegate their Scoutmaster conferences to an assistant. On one hand, I talk to them all the time about what going on with Scouting and with their lives, so this is in some ways an ongoing Scoutmaster conference. In addition, I think my sons benefit from having this experience with someone who isn’t dad, and furthers the adult association method. And perhaps least importantly, it avoids any appearance of favoritism. (Paul Silich)

Well guess what… we don’t disagree! I can fully understand a Scoutmaster perhaps wanting his sons to conference with an ASM instead of himself, or—better yet—if the Scoutmaster asks his son(s) what their preference is, and then goes that route. On the other hand, the informal conversations about how they’re getting along in the troop, what their goals are, etc. are already Scoutmaster’s conferences! Scoutmaster conferences, remember, are informal conversations. They’re not Scouting’s version of “orals” any more than boards of review are!

Moreover, you’re talking about a Scoutmaster-to-particular Scout(s) relationship, while I was discussing the overall philosophy of Scoutmaster conferences and why they’re not to be delegated. As a newly-minted Eagle Scout recently confided to me, “One of the things I learned in Scouts is that you can delegate authority but you can’t delegate responsibility.”

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. 417 – 10/14/2014 – 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.

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