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Issue 422 – November 18, 2014


The Chicago Area Council’s annual University of Scouting was tops! Broke past attendance records, great Scouters, and a fine group of Scouts to boot. Thanks to all, and especially Rich Carroll for inviting me!
Dear Andy,

I have a Scout in the troop who’s being held back in advancement, or being forced to repeat requirements on his path to First Class because, according to our advancement chair, “other members of his patrol are behind him and need to be allowed to catch up, first.” This particular Scout attends nearly all events and meetings, while other members of his patrol have missed several. I know what this advancement chair is doing is unfair and wrong, and this Scouts parents know that, too. But the advancement chair believes he’s in the right and is stick to it. Is there some place in the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, or SCOUT HANDBOOK, that these parents can show the advancement chair, to back up their position? (Frustrated Troop Leader)

The difference between “being right and “believing” you’re right is as disparate as lightning and the lightning bug.

As for sources material, the most current handbook alludes to it, the 11th Edition says it best, and with complete clarity (see pp. 1 and 14): “YOU will set positive goals FOR YOURSELF and then follow clear routes to achieve them;” “You can advance AT YOUR OWN PACE” (EMPHASIS MINE). Moreover, it’s a fundamental principle of Scouting that, once completed, a Scout never has to repeat any requirement for a rank or merit badge.

Advancement chairs, or more accurately “advancement coordinators” are record-keepers; they are definitely not arbiters of what does or does not constitute “advancement.

Scout advancement isn’t a race. Every Scout has the opportunity to advance, and he does so at his own pace; not at the whim of anyone other than himself. To inflict the sort of this you’ve described is the antithesis of Scout advancement.

A Scout who advances more rapidly than others in his patrol is setting the best possible example. To artificially and arbitrarily impede his progress is the antithesis of Scout advancement aims and goals. We are not here to enforce the lowest common denominator; we’re here to encourage and support individual initiative and resourcefulness.

Unless this self-appointed game-flattener is willing to abandon his misguided “beliefs,” he must be politely and instantly removed before he further damages the Scouts of this troop. There is simply no room in Scouting for this sort of pedantry.

If you decide to approach this from his erroneous perspective, demand that he show you—in writing—any BSA statement supporting his “belief.” I personally guarantee: He will fail.

All this said, don’t allow this Scout’s parents to go it alone. The Scoutmaster and every ASM, plus the Committee Chair and committee members need to tell this yahoo he’s wrong, and to cut it out instantly. Scouting has only one place for self-appointed policy-makers: the trash can.
Dear Andy,

After several years as a Scouting volunteer I’ve just taken on the role of Assistant Scoutmaster. We have an advancement guy on our troop committee who’s insisting that Scoutmasters and ASMs aren’t allowed to sign off on a Scout’s rank requirements. He’s also saying we can’t be present at any boards of review. Can you tell me what the official rules are, for requirement sign-offs and participation in boards of review? (New to ASM but not so new to Scouting)

All advice from self-appointed experts should be graciously accepted and rigorously verified. The part about Scoutmasters and assistants being ineligible to sign off on Scouts’ completed requirements and ranks is utter nonsense, as the Scouts’ own handbooks verify. As for boards of review, a quick check of the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT verifies that neither Scoutmasters nor their assistants sit on boards of review for any rank; however, they can certainly be present to introduce the Scout and remain present to address any questions about the troop program that the reviewers might have. All of this is “in the Book.” It just requires a bit of well-spent time reading: RTFM means Read The Friendly Manual!
Hi Andy,

Who is allowed or authorized to sign off on rank requirements? I’ve seen some troops where Scouts of higher ranks can do this, but I’ve also seen troops where the only one allowed to do this is the troop’s advancement chair. Is there a BSA policy anywhere that can help sort this out? (Ben Hayes, MC)

Advancement is a significant part of the overall troop program, and the manager of this process is the Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster may recommend that the youth leaders—Patrol Leaders and Senior Patrol Leader—sign off Scouts on requirements for the three foundational ranks (Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class), but after this, the main responsibility falls to the Scoutmaster (for verification, check the requirements for Star, Life, and Eagle). The Scoutmaster may appoint one or more ASMs to assist with this, but committee members have different sets of responsibilities that aren’t troop program-related. As for the troop’s advancement coordinator (or “chair” in some troops), this position is largely one of record-keeping; definitely not “policy-making”!
Dear Andy,

I was recently at a district roundtable where they did a Wood Badge beading ceremony. Strangely to me, they didn’t sing “The Gilwell Song.” I asked about this and they told me that “this song can only be sung while on the Wood Badge course” and not anywhere else. I was pretty shocked. Is this true? (John Urban, Bear NE-IV-207)

That’s either pure baloney or a very weird local “tradition.” It’s certainly not universal at all! (WE4-58-89 – Owl PPL)
Dear Andy,

There’s a parent in my troop, who also sits on our troop committee as our advancement chair. This adult scouter really disappointed me lately. They came to my place of work and accused me of not liking or supporting their work as advancement chair because of their gender. Then, at a recent meeting where we were talking about a Philmont trek, I was reading where the Philmont Guide says: “…there are no gender restrictions for adult leadership at Philmont” and “…Female advisers must be responsible for female participants; male advisers must be responsible for the male participants.” I understood this to mean if we had an all-male youth Philmont crew we’d need to have all male advisers. This adult told me I was wrong, so after doing some checking I discovered that yes, I was wrong, and informed this adult leader of what I’d learned. My thinking was that this would resolve the situation; I was wrong. The next day, they yelled at our Committee Chair for a half-hour on the phone, followed by a lengthy email, threatening to report me to our council for having been wrong about the Philmont gender issue. This adult leader has been through Wood Badge recently, but several other parents and leaders have noticed that this leader likes to join in and participate in the Scouts’ activities rather than remaining on the sidelines. I had been really hoping Wood Badge would open their eyes as to what our role is, but I’m afraid this hasn’t happened. They claim that since I’ve been in Scouting since I was a youth I should know all the policies and procedures, but I’ll be the first to say I don’t know everything. I volunteered to be Scoutmaster because I know what a difference the Scouting program can make in the lives of young men. What I didn’t sign up for—nor did our Committee Chair—is having to deal with an overabundance of drama from another volunteer. Any advice you can give, I would really appreciate. (Name & Council Withheld)

Although you’ve worked pretty assiduously to obscure who’s who, it’s fairly obvious that you’re male and the “parent/adult Scouter” you’re talking about is female. But so what? There’s no need to obfuscate, because the essential problem—based on your description—is that of a contentious, negatively aggressive volunteer who’s interfering with the proper functioning of a troop, to say nothing of being a morale-buster as well. So, gender issues or not, the prescription is the same…

You and the troop’s Committee Chair together need to sit down, face-to-face, with her and explain that negative behavior among volunteers is just as disruptive to the troop as the same would be if you were talking about a Scout: It’s unacceptable and must stop immediately, and that the consequence of its not ceasing immediately is removal from the troop roster.

If she’s willing to stop this stuff, then all’s well. If not, then the Committee Chair has the authority and obligation to thank her for services to date and inform her that tenure in position ends right now. No email. No letters. No “three strikes.” No “second chances” unless she agrees to cease this behavior instantly and without further argument about who’s right and who’s wrong (this cannot be allowed to become a debate).

Waste no time. The longer you delay, the more damage will be done all around. And stop the pussy-footing.
Dear Andy,

I’ve noticed that, in several of your columns, you state that Boy Scouts conducting a flag ceremony are a “flag detail” and not a “color guard.” I get your point about a color guard being armed (or simulation of same), and it makes sense to me. So my question is: Where can I find the term “flag detail” in official documentation? I’m asking because I’d love to have something to show people when trying to get them to accept the change. Thanks for all that you do! Your attention to detail is a wonderful help in trying to get folks to recognize the difference between “traditions” and true policies and procedures. (Rob Landquist, SM, Potawatomi Area Council)

If you mean “Official BSA,” you’re pretty unlikely to find that granular a level of detail for something like this… Sometimes it takes some honest research and then good sense—not “rules” to follow unthinkingly. As Scoutmaster, just counsel your Senior Patrol Leader and make the change. Most folks won’t even notice, and those who do, you just tell ’em, “We’ve got this covered. Thank you very much.” In short, just do it. There’s no “convincing” or “selling” involved, and you sure don’t want to get into the hairball of “asking permission.”

BTW, if you’re looking for cool (and highly detailed!) flag ceremonies, the best ones online are by the Girl Scouts! Just use your favorite search engine!
Dear Andy,

We are trying to come up with a troop anti-bullying policy. I’ve read that the BSA has a “zero tolerance” policy on bullying. One of your columns gives an example from business: “If there is a zero tolerance drug policy at my office and I test positive for drugs, I get fired.” I assume by implication that the offending scout would be expelled from the troop upon one instance of bullying. What I read in the GTSS and other BSA literature and training is quite to the contrary (the GTSS uses the term “may;” not “shall”): “All members of the Boy Scouts of America are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the principles set forth in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. Physical violence, hazing, bullying, theft, verbal insults, and drugs and alcohol have no place in the Scouting program and may result in the revocation of a Scout’s membership in the unit.” BSA training and literature are also clear that the offending Scouts are not to be labelled ‘bullies”. The BSA training and literature I was able to find make sense. Depending on the severity, troops are free to impose any number of sanctions or penalties as relates to bullying. This takes into account an attempt to rehabilitate or educate the offending Scout which I think is in line with the goal of Scouting: to mold and educate boys into young men of good character who are good citizens. Scouting specifically recognizes that children are not born with the innate sense of right and wrong. Depending on the severity of the behavior, any number of penalties can be imposed. These range from a warning to expulsion. But nowhere do I find that the offending Scout “must” or “shall” be expelled from the troop. Common sense comes into play. Could you give me some further guidance on the zero tolerance policy? (David Bernhardt, ASM, Heart of Virginia Council)

Yes, there was a “business-related” statement about what zero tolerance can mean in the workplace; however, you’ve incorrectly attributed it. It was not a statement I made; it was made by a reader who’d written to me. (Go back and check it: It’s the last Q&A in Issue 207, September 25, 2010.)

That said, let’s tackle your question… In the case of a Scouting unit, I believe it’s fair to interpret “zero tolerance” to mean that the Scout MUST stop this aberrant behavior immediately; it is not to be repeated. In order to build boys into men, we need to educate and counsel them. Immediate dismissal from a Scouting unit would therefore be counterproductive, because no counseling or mentoring can take place with a young man who really needs it. Nonetheless, if the young man’s behavior is such that he has or demonstrates the potential for harm to himself or others, then he must be removed from further contact with his fellow Scouts until counseling—by professionals rather than by volunteers—has taken hold and he can safely return to his Scouting unit.

Do understand that my viewpoint on this is not official– I’m a boots-on-the-ground volunteer just like you! For further clarity, I recommend your home council’s risk management committee.
Dear Andy,

Where does an adult volunteer, or a Scout, wear their “square knot” for the God and Family religious emblem? Also, does God and Family have to be re-earned yearly, or can it be transferred from one’s Webelos to Boy Scout uniform? Thanks! (Don Cole)

Upon earning the God and Family religious emblem, the purple-and-silver “square knot” is worn on the Cub Scout/Webelos Scout uniform shirt, above the left pocket. When he becomes a Boy Scout, the two recognitions that carry forward from Cub Scouting are the Arrow of Light rank (his handbook shows the location) and the religious square knot. If a uniformed adult volunteer has earned a religious emblem while a youth member of Scouting, he wears the same purple-and-silver square knot on his uniform shirt. Once earned, it stays earned.

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. 422 – 11/18/2014 – 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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