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Issue 430 – January 7, 2015

Happy New Year Andy,

As a regular reader, I’ve been able to serve as a more effective commissioner. I got a “paycheck” last night that I want to share with you. It was at an Eagle court of honor for a Scout that had needed help navigating around some adults. I used advice you’ve written about from other situations and was able to show him the path to get around the artificial obstacles. Mind you, I didn’t do much other than offer advice. So imagine my surprise when he asked me to come forward and then presented me with an Eagle Mentor pin! You share a piece of this success story, and I just wanted to thank you. (David Olson, ADC, Northern Star Council, MN)

What a wonderful thing! I’m truly happy for you, and best wishes to that new Eagle Scout. The difference you made in that Scout’s life is something he’ll remember his entire life. That’s a mighty big “paycheck”!
Dear Mr. Andy,

I am a 12 year old Patrol Leader of a very small troop; we have about ten Scouts. Can our Senior Patrol Leader be a patrol member at the same time? The handbook says otherwise, but we’re thinking maybe it’s flexible. Are we correct to think that he can be part of a patrol? We’re thinking about having him attend one (or both) of our patrols as a fellow Scout, but we’re not sure, since we’re so small. (Javier)

With a troop of ten, you’ll have a Senior Patrol Leader and then two patrols: One with 4 Scouts and one with 5. But other patrol members definitely can hold appointed troop positions, like Quartermaster, Scribes, and so on. It’s only the SPL who wouldn’t be a patrol member.

As for “small,” that’s merely a state of mind! (If you ever think you’re “too small” to make a difference, just spend one night in a closed bedroom with a mosquito!)

“Webelos Season” is coming up very soon. Get out there and recruit just one Webelos den to join your troop, and have them join all together, so that their den becomes a brand-new patrol! Now you’ll have three patrols! Also, all of you can go after the First Class requirement 10 and invite a friend, classmate, or neighbor your own ages to a troop meeting or—better yet—a troop hike. (You don’t have to wait till you’re Second Class before you can do this requirement!) If each one of you invites a friend to a troop hike and, as a result, half decide they like what you all are doing, there’s your next patrol of five Scouts, and they’re already your friends!
Hi Andy,

I’ve heard through the grapevine that the Order of the Arrow has a new recognition, corresponding to the OA’s centennial. Do you know anything about this? (Hal Facre, San Gabriel Valley Council, CA)

You bet! Here’s the website, with all the info:
Dear Andy,

As an Eagle Scout myself, I’ve been asked by my nephew to write a letter of recommendation for him for his own Eagle advancement. I’ve known him since the day he was born, so I’m honored to write the letter. However, is there some sort of protocol as to who it should be addressed to? “To Whom It May Concern” seems too “generic” and impersonal. (Joe Sefcik, Housatonic Council, CT)

It should be addressed to the person who sent it to you; not to the Scout. Whoever sent the request should have included a self-addressed envelope (protocol says pre-stamped, but not everybody gets this part right). If you don’t have a person’s name you can start the letter two ways: Re: (Scout’s name) or Dear Board of Review Members,… Your choice. That said, be sure you don’t reveal to the Scout—even though he’s your nephew—the contents of your letter. These are treated confidentially.
Dear Andy,

What’s the difference between “Show” and “Demonstrate” when it comes to requirements? I’ve tried looking this up in various Scouting literature as well as online and can’t seem to get a clear understanding of the difference between the two. The BSA is usually very specific in wordings, so there must be a reason why one requirement would say “Show” while another requirement says “Demonstrate.” Can you clear this up for me? (Mike Pease)

As a current Merit Badge Counselor and former Scoutmaster, I’ve generally considered these simply two words saying essentially the same thing, except for perhaps a very subtle (and highly subjective interpretation) nuance: “show” how to tie a clove hitch, for instance, might be done with a visual aid like a poster that shows the steps, while “demonstrate” how to tie a clove hitch, to my mind, means use your own hands and a length of rope. But—and this is important—this is me speaking; not the BSA.
Dear Andy,

I’m a Scoutmaster. Been in this role for the past three years (out of the past 16 as a Scouting volunteer). I just came across your columns and find your advice on the varied issues we face as adult leaders in Scouting to be very insightful and helpful. I have a particular issue I’m struggling with in my troop of 40 Scouts, and I’m hoping you can give me some direction…

As a troop, our Scouts determine their calendar and then patrols take on the assignments of creating and executing the detailed planning of a particular month’s activities (troop meetings and outing). We have a fairly structured model for them to follow, with initial planning starting three PLC meetings before they need to execute their plan, and all presentations, games, demonstrations, activities, etc., are then fully fleshed out at the PLC immediately prior to their assigned month.

As with all things Scouting, this is always a work in process and some patrols take to this readily, while others need more encouragement. My problem lies in that we have one particularly unmotivated patrol: they seem to have no desire to take any initiative or put any effort into the activities for which they’re responsible. I have tried various tactics—both “carrots” and “sticks”—but nothing seems to work. I’m at a loss as to how to motivate these particular Scouts. I’ve appealed to their sense of duty to the troop, to pulling their weight in doing their part to make the program successful. I’ve tried challenging them to think outside the norm of what’s typically done for the type of outing they’re responsible for putting together. But nothing I’ve tried in the past three years has had any impact with them. Some fresh ideas would be greatly appreciated. (Name & Council Withheld)

Three years is a long time for a patrol to not “catch the spirit”… especially since, in these three years, you’ve probably had five to six youth leadership turnovers! So, to start, I’ve attached a piece written by a Scouting friend that boils down how a troop works.

Now, let’s see if we can kick that patrol out of first gear and get them going. To do this, we’re going to start with the PLC and take a “top-down” approach. (The Patrol Leaders Council is, of course, the key to success, because it’s these Scouts who, quite literally, run the troop.)

With a troop of 40 or so, there should be six to possibly seven Patrol Leaders, plus your Senior Patrol Leader. This is perfect, because they’re just about the right size to be a “patrol” of their own (the PLs are the “members” and the SPL is their “Patrol Leader”). Start by sitting down with the SPL and going over key chapters of the SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK, because everything that the PLC will do will key off the SPL and his understanding of his role. Next, get copies of the PATROL LEADERS HANDBOOK into the hands of all your current Patrol Leaders and ask them to read up on their jobs and how they contribute to the troop’s program. But try to keep this from looking like “homework” or some sort of “Scout school.”

The best way to do this is your next step: The PLC goes on a weekend camp-out of their own—as a patrol! Then, under the guidance of their “Patrol Leader” (the SPL), they decide where they want to go, arrange for their transportation to and from the location, decide on their menu for the weekend (they’ll be cooking for ten: themselves and the SPL, plus you and one ASM), do the food-buying (including collecting the money for purchasing—shared by all ten of you), and create a duty roster that rotates responsibilities day-by-day, meal-by-meal. (For the duty roster, the three people not on it are the SPL, you, and the ASM. All others have specific jobs.) This gets the Patrol Leader of the “Loafer Patrol” (forgive my name selection here) into the “inside” of how a patrol really operates and interacts—something this patrol seems to be missing.

As the Scouts are putting that together, you, the ASM, and the SPL plan the activities for the weekend. These should concentrate on team-building activities and challenges. There are plenty of books available for this, including SILVER BULLETS, COWSTAILS AND COBRAS (I and II), TEAM CHALLENGES by Kris Bordessa, and of course the BSA’s NYLT STAFF GUIDE (the latter not to “run a course” but to borrow a few ideas).

Be sure to include a campfire, with song ‘n skits, at least one good “ghost story” (not overly long, but definitely scary!) and a gentle closing with a Scoutmaster’s minute (and “minute” does mean just that!). If you’re staying over through Sunday morning, there should be a brief “Scout’s own” service, too! In short, what you’re going to achieve is a near-perfect patrol camping weekend! This, then, becomes the model or template for all future trips—by the whole troop, organized completely by patrols (now, all your PLs now know exactly how to do this!).

Then, the Scouts run their troop meetings always focused on preparing for their next trip! Maybe it’s snow-camping, or a one-day cross-country ski outing (with inter-patrol competition, of course), or something else (like practicing for the Klondike Derby, if your council does these)… anyway, you get the idea.

Patrols are PERMANENT TEAMS. Get that concept right, and get buy-in from the Loafer Patrol’s PL, and everything else should drop into place.

Oh, one more little item that can make a huge difference: These aren’t “boys” or “kids” or “guys”—they’re SCOUTS. Always refer to them that way and both you and they will start feeling differently almost immediately.

Thanks, Andy. I love the idea of planning an outing specifically with the PLC as a training experience and will very likely do this with our next round of leaders, right after our upcoming elections. (N&CW)

Many things are working in the troop right now and we have many, if not most, of the “How a Scout Troop Works” in place and functioning. (Of course, there are always aspects that could get better, but things mostly go as they should.)

My particular issue continues to be that one patrol: five Scouts who just don’t seem able to “catch the spirit”. They show little self-motivation, no sense of duty to the troop, and want to just “come and play”. I expect a certain amount of that in new Scouts, but these are high school sophomores, so I expect them to have gotten beyond that phase by now. I sincerely appreciate all the ideas and suggestions you’ve given to help set the model from the top, but do you have any specific ideas for working with this particular group of boys?

Sophomore is a tough and transitional high school year—any teacher will confirm that! At approximately 15 years old, they’re no “little guys” anymore, but they’re not quite the “big guys” yet, either. They’re sort of stuck in a middle ground. If you do some online research into the psyche of 15 year-olds, you’ll gain some good insights. I’d say they need some special challenges of their own. Maybe it’s time for them to become a “Venture Patrol” (different from Venturing Crew!) which can give them more opportunities to strike out on their own, with minimal parental/adult “guidance” (keep in mind that, at this age, they’re trying to break away from being dependent but are struggling with what “independence” looks like). If you have an ASM who gets what these Scouts are all about, maybe he can specially mentor their Patrol Leader and help this patrol start doing things on their own, separate from the troop as a whole (yes, patrols can do this and still stay within the “Safe Scouting” guidelines!).
Dear Andy

Back in your column No. 424 (December 2, 2014), a Scoutmaster asked, “If the purpose of the Scoutmaster conference and the board of review are not to retest a Scout, where is the check and balance…?” and you provided your usual sage perspective. To augment your answer, there definitely is a built-in “retest;” it’s the EDGE Method for Scouts teaching Scouts. If the troop as a whole employs the EDGE Method, chances are that the Scout who might have “slid by” on tying a Bowline will sooner or later be in a position to Explain-Demonstrate-Guide-Enable a younger Scout on this skill. So, if Star Scout Sammy slid by without really learning the knot, he’ll need to either learn it PDQ or else he’s not going to look very sharp when it’s his turn to teach it. A Scoutmaster can facilitate this by arranging with the SPL that Star Scout Sammy will be teaching knot-tying to younger Scouts at next week’s troop meeting. So, Sammy finally learns his Bowline so he doesn’t embarrass himself next week. That’s the “retesting”! (Mitch Erickson, UC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Yes, the EDGE method is just about perfect for reinforcing Scout skills. We learn best when we teach others. Of course, one doesn’t “slide by” with most of the Scoutcraft skills: He can either do them, or he can’t. There’s no such knot as a “sorta-bowline.” But teaching others definitely means the Scout has mastery. Just be sure to give him plenty of notice. It would be pretty unfair to tell him, with a 5-minute warning. “Oh, you’re teaching flint n’ steel fire-starting tonight.” This is why the EDGE method is included in several rank requirements.

Of course, another way—one which reinforces and is not intended to be a replacement for EDGE—is to (here’s really weird concept…) at troop meetings and on camp-outs, PLAY GAMES THAT USE THE SKILLS!

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. 430 – 1/7/2015 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2015]


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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