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Issue 418 – October 24, 2014

Dear Andy,

I’m a pretty new Scoutmaster. About a week ago I met an “old” Scout in our troop for the first time in a very long while. He hasn’t been to a troop meeting, he told me, in probably two years, and hasn’t been to more than maybe five meetings over the last four years. But he showed up last week because—guess what?—he thinks maybe “Eagle” might look good on his cv.

Having been a troop parent and, later, committee member, I’m aware that this young man’s ascent from First Class through Life ranks was more based on an overzealous advancement coordinator who checked off requirements indiscriminately than on the Scout’s actual efforts. Although the Scout might be admonished for allowing himself to be carried bodily from one rank to the next, it’s really the result of an adult volunteer in the troop deciding that ranks and merit badges and such should be treated like Easter candy.

While I’m certainly all for helping Scouts advance by teaching and guiding them, and encouraging them to deal with challenges, I’m obliged to confess that this particular young man has less Scouting in his heart than a puddle of mud. It’s our “bad” that we allowed him to cruise through even boards of review using rarely more than two words: “I dunno…”

His 18th birthday’s about three months away. When he showed up (in civvies, of course) last week, he started talking about Eagle, almost as if we’re to carry him over that finish line too. How do you suggest we handle this? (BTW, his parents did make sure his dues were paid each year, so he’s indeed on the troop roster as a registered youth member.) (Name & Council Withheld)

The starting line, of course, is the date this Scout was recorded as having earned Life rank. Then, if he is considered to have been “active” (per BSA advancement guidelines) and also held one or more positions of responsibility (again, per BSA advancement guidelines) for a total of six months (they need not be consecutive) between the date of his Life board of review and what will shortly be the day before his 18th birthday, and completes the necessary merit badges and his Leadership Service Project in time, he has the right to be granted a board of review. If, however, all of these can’t be accomplished by the deadline date, then it’s over and done with—Eagle rank is unobtainable.

As for the past, it’s the past. It can’t be changed. But it doesn’t have to be used as a Sword of Damocles either.

Thanks, Andy! I do think there’s some question lingering as to whether he served as a mostly absent ASPL some years back, or not. There’s also the question of whether simply paying dues once a year with no accompanying attendance qualifies as “active,” especially since the lackadaisical (at that time) troop committee didn’t keep any attendance or event participation records. (N&CW)

We really don’t want to “penalize” a Scout for the past slip-ups or lack of attention to details by adults, even if we believe the Scout was himself complicit. That said, as Scoutmaster you certainly have the right to conference with this young man and tell him that, effective immediately, you do have a set of expectations for him, for the next three months, and this will include showing up, and the only reason for not attending meetings is going to have to be legitimate (meaning: “I had homework” is too lame to be considered a legitimate reason, because every Scout has homework) and verifiable (meaning: “I had/have band/team practice” works only when the name and phone number of the music teacher, coach, etc. are provided—with the understanding that that person is going to get a phone call from you, personally). Lay out your expectations up front, in a tone that tells this young man that, if he does the work, he’ll be just fine (meaning: you’re not going to be “a cop” but by the same token, he can’t just blow off responsibilities as he may have before). Same with a position of responsibility: Talk to the SPL and find an appointed “job” for this young man, describe its responsibilities, and let him know that you’ll coach him through it, but he’s got to grab hold for himself. Then there’s his service project. Assign a savvy and knowledgeable other adult (can be an ASM or MC) to coach him and help him stay on track, without spoon-feeding or “carrying” him, so that he knows it’s up to him and no one else.

Do these things and, if he makes it to Eagle, you may well have helped him turn his life around! And, if he doesn’t, nobody can squawk about it, because expectations have been set in advance and both help and monitoring have been in place throughout.
Dear Andy,

At this week’s troop meeting, this week the topic of patrol patches came up. Our “senior patrol” doesn’t wear patrol patches, and noted that none of the previous iterations of the senior patrol ever had a patrol name or wore patrol patches. Just because it’s “always been done that way” doesn’t make it right. My own thinking on this is that the senior patrol should have a name and a corresponding patrol patch.

The BSA Uniform Inspection Worksheet mentions the patrol patch on the right shoulder in reference to where to place the Quality Unit patch. However there is no check box for a patrol patch. So perhaps the patrol patch isn’t mandatory?

Would you please weigh in on whether patrol patches are required or if I’m getting my feathers ruffled over a non-issue. Thanks! (Ed Koeneman, Grand Canyon Council)

Good question, and the best part is that we don’t have to rely on our opinions (or anyone else’s opinion) for the answer. The BSA is very clear on this exact point—check your SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK. The Senior Patrol Leader is not a member of any patrol; therefore, for him to wear a patrol medallion (as they’re officially called) would be, straightforwardly, incorrect. As for other Scouts in the troop, of course they’re members of a patrol and should be identified as such. Heck, the point folks forget way too often is that Scout is first a member of a patrol and then, second, that patrol is part of a troop. Plus, the whole notion of “senior patrol” runs to risk of creating a false atmosphere of elitism.
Hello Andy,

I have a question about how our troop handles camping trips. Usually, there’s an insufficient number of Scouts from each patrol attending the camping trip to function efficiently. So our troop forms “camping patrols” for these trips by combining Scouts from different patrols into “camping patrols” for the weekend.

I understand that this consolidation of Scouts into new groupings is necessary as a matter of practicality when camping. I always assumed that the “camping patrols” are composed as much as possible by Scouts of similar age, development, and interests (from the BSA definition of a patrol). However, I found out recently that mixed-age “camping patrols” were created for the last camping trip (I don’t know if this is done regularly or not). I have a gut feeling that mixed-age “camping patrols” aren’t a good idea, but I can’t find any guidance from the BSA when I search the web.

It was reported that there was a bullying incident (the older boys in the “camping patrol” who were age 15 and 16 picking on the younger Scouts during the last camping trip. I wonder whether it’s inappropriate to set up these mixed-age “patrols” and if they’re supposed to consist of boys of “similar age, development and interests,” so that this behavior is less likely to happen.

I’m also concerned about five Scouts—three ages 15-16 and two age 11—sharing the same tent. I realize that technically this isn’t a violation of Youth Protection, but it still seems unwise.

Before I pursue this further with the Scoutmaster and others, I’d appreciate any oversight you can provide. Thanks! (MC/Scout Parent)

While the BSA makes no specific policies regarding patrol composition, the BSA strongly recommends that patrol members be the same approximate age, so that they can all move through the Boy Scout program together, as an intact unit. That’s because the fundamental unit in Boy Scouting isn’t the troop–it’s the PATROL!

Any troop that fails to understand this, and simultaneously believes that “patrols of convenience” for weekends, etc., make sense, simply doesn’t understand the Boy Scout program, how it’s supposed to work, and why it’s to be done that way. If there’s no “Patrol Method” in a troop, it’s simply not Boy Scouting.

To be even more direct, there’s no such thing as “camping patrols.” This is pure fiction, made up by people who are running a dull, unimaginative program that boys simply aren’t very interested in.

Go find a troop where they get what it’s all about and transfer your son. It’s his right to get the best Scouting has to offer, and if his present troop can’t or won’t deliver on that, he has every right to dump them! Then, after he’s transferred, tell the parents of his friends what you’ve found!

Tenting: It’s two-to-a-tent and they should be Buddies from the same patrol. The idea of throwing two 11 year-olds into a tent where they’re outnumbered by three significantly older boys is pure stupidity.
Hi Andy,

Our troop hosts a camping event for Cub Scouts to camp with our Boy Scouts. Several of the Cubs and their parents have asked if they can earn the Boy Scout Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit from us and have it carry over to when they graduate into Boy Scouts. Is there any official policy on this? (Carolyn Campbell)

Let these Cubs and parents (and their sons’ Den Leaders) know that the Whittlin’ Chip is available for Cub Scouts to earn, and that the Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit are both for Boy Scouts. That’s official, BTW.
Dear Andy,

As a Scout, Venturer, and now adult volunteer, I’m often asked to “Call the Colors” for our Scouts’ color guard. My question is how are military and veterans not in uniform incorporated in the flag salute (referring to the law that all military and veterans are allow to salute the flag in uniform or not). For instance, in our troop we say, “Audience, please rise, Scout salute, those not in uniform, please place your right hand over your heart.” Shouldn’t military veterans be addressed? My brother was in the military and he knows about the law, but many veterans and older military don’t realize they have this right. (Stephen Chompff)

First, there’s no such thing as “call the colors.” There’s “call to the colors,” meaning enlisting in the armed forces. And there’s a bugle call, “To The Colors.” But that’s it. Moreover, in Scouting there’s no such thing as a “color guard” (check my earlier columns for further commentary on this)…In Scouting the correct terminology is “Flag Detail.”

As to what to say when you’re about to call for the Pledge of Allegiance, how about applying the KISS principle and keeping it to a simple, like this: “Please joint with me as we pledge allegiance to the flag of our country [AT THIS POINT YOU SALUTE APPROPRIATELY]… I pledge allegiance…etc.”

The Scouts already know what to do, those in civvies know what to do, and military/former military in uniform or not absolutely know what to do. So just relax and expect the audience to get it right without any need for “instruction.”

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. 418 – 10/24/2014 – 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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