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Issue 419 – October 28, 2014


The Chicago Area Council’s annual University of Scouting is coming up on Saturday, November 15th. It’s going to be held at the Veterans Memorial Campus, 4248 West 47th Street, Chicago. Registration opens at 7:30 a.m., and the program kicks off at 8 a.m. sharp! I’m honored to be the Keynote Speaker, and I’ll also facilitate a couple of sessions during the day. So c’mon out if you can! For more info, check out:
Atta’ Boy, Andy!

Wow, was I glad to read your KISS approach to Flag Detail last week! I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster and a veteran myself, and I always cringe when I hear “those in uniform salute, those not in uniform place your right hand…etc.” First, it’s awkward (“place your right hand…”?), in some cases wrong (we have Canadian parents among our guests), and in some cases inappropriate (we have military parents who sometimes attend in uniform). For what it’s worth, I once heard a Girl Scout detail simply request the audience to “Please honor our flag” before reciting the pledge. I really liked that. (Craig Snodgrass, ASM, Rose Bowl District, San Gabriel Valley Council, CA)
Dear Andy,

My son earned his Communication merit badge in one day at our council’s “Merit Badge Weekend.” Looking at the requirements, it seems pretty obvious that, had they been followed to the letter, this would be impossible. I’ve also seen many merit badges virtually given away like Halloween candy—the counselors cut corners and take the easy way out for the Scouts. I know that is not acceptable, but there’s no way to stop it! One of the places where merit badge shortcuts are taken is at summer camp. Last summer, while at camp with my son’s troop, I tagged along to see how these were taught, thinking I would see some awesome Scouting in action. I was wrong. Maybe it was lack of time, or maybe it was the young age of some of the staffers operating solo as counselors, but there were some merit badges that the Scouts were saying were “super easy.” Sometimes, a 50-minute session would be ended early because they’d already gone over everything that needed to be covered. It seemed a lot was left up to the individual counselor as to how difficult to make it, or how easy. It’s sure a shame that nothing can be done to assure that Scouts get a full measure of what they’re supposed to. (Name & Council Withheld)

There’s no acceptable reason for your son or any other Scout to be short-changed by MBCs who don’t help Scouts complete all requirements as they’re supposed to. There’s definitely a way to take action when you believe, or you’ve witnessed, the failure of a Merit Badge Counselor to follow the requirements as written. Topic, Section 11, of the BSA’s GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT provides a form titled, “Reporting Merit Badge Counseling Concerns” (No. 512-800, 2013 Printing). Read it, then follow the instructions for filling it out and submit it to your council’s advancement committee. (This form is available online. Simply Google “bsa form 512-800”)
Dear Andy,

Recently a Scout in our troop was preparing for his Eagle board of review, convened by the usual review chair for us. This Scout is considered by his peers as well as us “old guys” as one whose “Scouting compass” always points the right way. Second in overall academics in his high school graduating class, he’s also been elected Senior Patrol Leader, OA Lodge Chief, and Senior Patrol Leader of the council’s NYLT youth training staff. This is particularly remarkable when we consider that he’s challenged by significant dyslexia.

On the day of his Eagle board of review, he couldn’t find his project workbook, so he quickly re-wrote it from notes and memory. On bringing it to the review, the chair proceeded to grill him, not on the value of the project or his leadership role but on several typos and incorrect spellings, and then added another hour of grilling on his Scouting background and completion of rank and merit badge requirements. Not one word about his future or the value of what he’d accomplished! The end-result was a “pass” (this chair thinks in “pass-fail” terms) and a young man who has absolutely no further interest in further Scouting anytime soon, if ever.

So I guess I’m looking for your guidance and the answer to this question: What do we do about a board of review chair who treats Scouts this way? (Name & Council Withheld)

What would you tell a Scout who’s being bullied by a fellow Scout to do? Or, if you witnessed bullying, what action would you take? Well this is no different, except this bully’s an adult. This person needs to be reported to the Council Advancement Chair by as many adult witnesses to his overbearing abuse of presumed power as possible. Now.
Dear Andy,

So here’s the situation… A Scout sets up a council popcorn sales display in front of a popular store. Lots of folks buy the popcorn, but some don’t, instead preferring to make a donation. The Scout sets a container on his selling table labeled “Donations.” First, is this proper? Second, is the Scout allowed to keep these donations? (Name & Council Withheld)

On the first question, about a specially labeled “donations” container: No, it’s not proper. No one associated with the BSA may request donations, either implied or in fact. However, if donations are offered spontaneously, and without any urging or suggestion, then BSA members are permitted to accept them. So no special “donation” container, but don’t hesitate to say “Thank You!” with a big smile as the money is safely tucked away.

On your second question, of course the Scout doesn’t keep the donated money! What is he thinking? That people who make a donation to Scouting mean for him, and not Scouting, to have the money? Personally keeping money donated to a charitable organization like the Boy Scouts (or the American Cancer Society, or Red Cross, or Boys and Girls Clubs, etc.) is completely improper. In fact, the law has a term for it: Theft by deception.
Dear Andy,

My question’s about the National Outdoor Badge. The “Adventure” req. 3.g. states: “Attend any national high-adventure base or any nationally recognized local high-adventure or specialty-adventure program.” Would attending the 2013 National Jamboree at the Bechtel Summit, as part of a contingent troop, meet this requirement? (Victor Stephenson)

This is tricky… In 2013, the Summit was the site of the Jamboree, but since then it’s been opened as the BSA’s newest high adventure base. So, while Jamborees aren’t typically considered in the same category as Philmont, Northern Tier, or Sea Base, this last Jamboree did have a fair share of special events that might possibly be considered “high adventure.” I’d recommend checking with your council’s advancement committee.
Dear Andy,

As a parent, what do I do when I discover that my son’s best friend, who is also a Scout, has been stealing from him? As a family, we met with our son’s friend’s family to discuss this. But it ended with the boy’s father simply saying, “My son told me he didn’t do these things and I believe him because he wouldn’t lie to me.” Our son was crushed by this, especially since his friend’s father refused to believe him. Making things more difficult, this boy continues going to troop meetings, where he repeats the Scout Law. My son’s response to this is, “A Boy Scout is trustworthy and he’s not!” We don’t want to change troops, but what do we do? (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m sorry this happened to your son. It’s not, however, unique. This happens between boys (and between girls, too) from time to time. The point is: This isn’t about “Scouting”…it’s about two boys who happen to be Scouts (just as could have happened to be on the same soccer team, or classmates, or neighbors, etc.).

You’ve had your family-to-family conversation, and the other boy’s parents defended their son (would we really expect a different result?). So we can’t press the re-set button and call for a do-over. That part’s done. But there are definitely a few things you can do to help your son…

First, sit him down and explain to him how the Scout Law works. Boys aren’t instantly “trustworthy,” “loyal,” and so forth the moment they strap on a Boy Scout uniform. The Scout Law is an ideal to be striven for. It’s also dependent on the Scout Oath: “On my honor I will DO MY BEST…to obey the Scout Law.” Obviously, your son’s friend is having some trouble “doing his best” to live up to the twelve points of the Law, as happens with boys, young men, and even adults from time to time. So, once he understands that his friend has problems in some areas, your son will learn how to protect himself from these shortcomings (and the shortcomings of others as well).

Now, one option is cutting off his friendship with the other boy. Another option, if he still wants to have him as a friend, is that he—with your guidance but not interference—continues to interact with his friend, but in an environment that’s “temptation free” (meaning: there’s nothing available to be stolen).

You also might consider—in fact, I think I’d recommend this—finding ways to quietly replace your son’s personally important items that have gone missing.

As far as the other boy’s father, that man’s done nothing wrong except having a blind side when it comes to his own son. This is hardly a crime, or a threat to your own son.

Well, that’s about it. Your son learned a lesson about friends and their imperfections, and about how the Scout Law really works. And he has supportive parents who won’t turn this into a vendetta but will quietly try to make things right.
Hi Andy,

I’m wondering if I’m allowed to take an axe or machete on hiking trips. I’ve already earned my Totin’ Chip. (Jake)

A Totin’ Chip’s a good start, but here’s the question: How do you intend to use the axe or machete? Is there something about the hiking trip that would demand having one or the other of these? Such as, you’re going to clear a trail or you’re going to build something from felled and limbed timber. Unless there’s a specific need, there’s little point in adding this sort of extra weight to your pack. Maybe you can enlighten me as to what you have in mind?

Hi Andy! It’s one of those “just in case” sort of things. (Jake)

A good pocketknife, well-sharpened, is really all you’ll need. It’s also a heck of a lot lighter, less cumbersome, and less likely to cause inadvertent damage than either a machete or axe. But if you absolutely need to carry “something extra” for “just in case” moments, consider the collapsible, light-weight, and blade-protected Sven Saw. And be sure your Scoutmaster knows you’re carrying it… Just in case.

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. 419 – 10/28/2014 – 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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