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Issue 432 – February 10, 2015

Thanks to you loyal readers and great Scouters for being patient with me! Yup, took a vacation. But by the time I returned I had a major client assignment in my lap, so I did the unthinkable: I let my work come before my Scouting commitment! Egad!


Dear Andy,

I’m in the midst of a discussion with another member of our troop’s leadership about the Second and First Class participation requirements (Second Class 3a, First Class 3). Both requirements say “Since joining, participate in…” For Second Class, this is 5 activities including 2 camping trips. For First Class, this is 10 activities including 3 camping trips. As I read these, the count is cumulative, based on the words, “Since joining…” So, for First Class, one would need to participate in a maximum total of 10 activities, 3 of which included camping. The opposing position is that, to be First Class, a Scouts needs 15 activities and 5 camping trips (5/2 for Second; then 10/3 for First). Is there anywhere I could find a written authority on this issue? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’ve read it exactly right. The “written authority” is indeed the language of the requirements themselves. “Since joining…” is absolutely specific. Otherwise, First Class would have stated, “Since becoming a Second Class Scout…” or something along that line. This is a simple matter—which you’ve done—of taking the language literally. Thanks for asking, and I hope your colleague gets the message!
Dear Andy,

I Googled my problem online and your name popped up. I’d appreciate your opinion on how to handle this situation. I’m very upset and frustrated.

My husband was the Scoutmaster of our local troop for years. A few years ago he was replaced. His replacement has been very disorganized and not working on any merit badges for a long time. So my husband decided to continue the work with my boys on getting merit badges done himself, as it was a slow process through the current Scoutmaster. Now the Scoutmaster is angry with my husband for helping my boys getting merit badges done. (I guess the Scoutmaster wants the boys to work on merit badges he chooses to do, with him only.) I was a Den Leader for many years and was happy to hear when boys went and got things done on their own with their parents. I personally think my husband should get a medal for working with my boys, instead of getting a load full from the Scoutmaster. What do you think we should do? (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s start here: The Scout Merit Badge Program is intended to be based on Scouts’ initiatives. They review the 130+ merit badges available—some required but most elective—and decide for themselves which ones they want to earn, and then set about accomplishing this on their own initiative. The Scoutmaster plays three roles in this process. At the outset, the Scoutmaster provides the Scouts with “blue Cards” (merit badge applications) and the name and contact for a local registered Merit Badge Counselor for the merit badge sought, whom the Scouts then call to get started and work toward completion. The second role the Scoutmaster plays is to receive back from the Scout the two sections of the blue card—one for the troop and one for the Scout himself—and makes sure the merit badge is recorded as earned and reported to the council service center. A third role is to present the card and badge to the Scout as quickly as it’s available from the service center.

Scoutmasters aren’t automatically Merit Badge Counselors unless they’ve registered as such, for one or more specific merit badges for which they have subject matter expertise. They’re not authorized to counsel Scouts on merit badges just because they’re Scoutmasters (or, with all due respect, ex-Scoutmasters).

Moreover, merit badges aren’t worked on during troop meetings; they’re done separately from troop meetings and always between the Scout and his Counselor.

Scoutmasters play no role in the selection of merit badges; this is 100% the Scout’s decision. A Scoutmaster might make suggestions (e.g., “Johnny, you have all merit badges needed for Star rank except a required one, so how about considering Citizenship in the Community? I can give you a blue card for that, if you’d like.” Or, “Bill, as long as you’re going to Scout camp this summer, how about I give you a blue card for Swimming, so you can complete that while at camp.”), but that’s the extent of the Scoutmaster’s involvement.

So, based on this, I’m really not sure what’s going on here. Is the current Scoutmaster, or your husband, doing something different from what I’ve described? If so, some corrective action on both parts might be necessary.

Finally, while parents play a major role in helping Cub Scouts complete achievements and electives for Cub Scout ranks, arrow points, and Webelos activity badges, that goes away entirely in the Boy Scout program.

The bottom line, based on your description, is that both your husband and the current Scoutmaster need to revisit what they’re doing, because it seems to be running counter to the intent and process for Scout merit badges and how they’re earned.

Thanks for deciding to write, and I hope this helps you all—including the Scouts!
Dear Andy,

I’m trying to find out an official ruling on a husband and wife meeting the “Two-Deep Leadership” guideline. I’ve always maintained that a couple is considered one, per my training years ago. I was recently told that a husband and wife can count as two for this guideline. Is this true? (Name & Council Withheld)

My “Scouting arithmetic” says 1+1 = 2. I have no idea who might have convinced you otherwise.

But Andy, they had stated that it’s because a spouse can’t testify against the other and that it’s for our protection that we count ourselves as one.

Yeah, in a court of law. But that’s not what this is about… This is so that, if there’s an accident, one adult can remain with the uninjured Scouts and the other can go get help with/for the injured Scout. (Remember that Merit Badge Counselors, for instance, don’t need to have a second adult present; only a second person—which can be a second Scout!)
Dear Andy,

This is about that article in SCOUTING magazine (Jan-Feb 2015) about “The Scout-Led Troop.” Did you see it? The troop in the article finally tries the Patrol Method, with the result that it’s not a well-oiled machine and “the boys aren’t mature enough,” so the Patrol Method is dumped for another year. Or, “the culture of the troop isn’t right for this,” so they—the adult “leaders” duck the whole thing altogether. In a call to the key national training Scouter, I’m told there’s no change of policy, but some folks in charge of writing the syllabus accidentally “misplaced” the Patrol Method. But it’s worse than a mere oversight. While the new Scoutmaster-specific syllabus is an improvement—it actually has some sentences in it about the Patrol Method—it doesn’t even have the objective of teaching Scoutmasters (and ASMs) what the Patrol Method is supposed to be. This seems to be consistent with a decision—overt or otherwise—to move to troop-method, adult run (or at least tolerate it). Any idea what’s going on when—and this is a fact—a local Scoutmaster here who’s had no PLC meetings for twelve years and Patrol Leaders couldn’t even tell me what patrol they were in, but the troop led the council in popcorn sales and FOS winds up “Scoutmaster of the Year,” and some folks who are supposed to be pretty savvy tell us that “the Patrol Method is ‘one option’ that maybe was possible years ago”? (Name & Council Withheld)

I read that same article…with utter dismay. This is a black-and-white issue: Either the Patrol Method is in place, or it isn’t. It’s the same principle as “you can’t be ‘a little bit’ pregnant”—You are, or you’re not. The nonsense about “not ready,” “not mature enough,” and the rest is just that: Horsepucky. The cold fact is this: Without the Patrol Method, it’s just a bunch of boys in tan shirts being led around by a bunch of misguided adults who want to be Webelos III Den Leaders.
Dear Andy,

When my youngest son crossed over, we looked at troops and found one that both my sons liked a lot. It was church-sponsored, and had a Scoutmaster who was extremely good with kids (he was retired Army and teaching middle school). I moved my one son and we all joined up. About six months later, the Scoutmaster had to move, so we installed a new one. Problem: The Scouts—the majority of them—just didn’t like this guy. He was into yelling at the Scouts on a regular basis, including my own son, at summer camp, because he was practicing bugle calls in his tent. When the Senior Patrol Leader—God bless him!—intervened, the Scoutmaster decided to change the “qualifications” to be an elected youth leader and—what a surprise!—only the Scoutmaster’s own son managed somehow to meet the new qualifications, so he was simply appointed. No election at all. Modeling dad, guess who started yelling constantly instead of working through the Patrol Leaders, like a good SPL is supposed to always do? When the Scouts ignored him, he started enforcing the old “drop and gimme ten” nonsense. His dad really liked this, and at the next camp-out actually created “push-up periods” for every Scout in the troop.

Four of the Scout dads in the troop are themselves Eagle Scouts; I’m one of these. One’s son aged out, another has already split, leaving just two of us, and the other dad is thinking of just walking away, too. He and I took this to the Committee Chair, and hit a wall: She thinks the Scouts should “tough it out” (fact is, I think she’s afraid of the Scoutmaster). Now my older son—just three merit badges away from Eagle—wants to quit, and I can’t blame him one bit. Any thoughts, Andy, before we walk? (Name & Council Withheld)

Darned shame the former Scoutmaster neither trained his replacement nor was part of the selection process, but that’s water under the bridge except for the lesson it teaches.

Don’t quit yet; you do have several options…

Here’s the first: Band together with other like-minded parents and demand of the Committee Chair that the Scoutmaster be replaced. If this is refused, then you all immediately take your sons to another troop. (Don’t threaten; just do it.)

Or, get yourself appointed Chartered Organization Representative (Code: CR) and then fire both the Scoutmaster and the clueless Committee Chair, whereupon you take over the Committee Chair position and select an appropriate Scoutmaster. (Yes, if you read page 2 of the BSA Adult Application, the CR has the absolute authority to do this.)

The third option is to walk—which you and both your sons have every right to do. But, if you do this, that drill sergeant of a Scoutmaster and his bully son will continue abusing minors (yes, let’s call it by its right name).

So here’s the question to ask yourself: As an Eagle Scout, what sort of a “model” do I want to be for my sons? If you answer that the way I think you will, then take a good look at the troop’s other parents and ask yourself: What would an Eagle Scout do?
Dear Andy,

I learned during a recent committee meeting that our Scoutmaster, our advancement coordinator, and our Committee Chair all came to this agreement: If a Scout “tries really, really hard” but just can’t pass the First Class Swim Test, they’ll pass him and sign off on this critical requirement (yes, even if the Scout can’t or won’t swim a single stroke or even get into the water). That’s it. No “proof of permanent mental or physical disability” required. Just “try really, really hard,” whatever that’s supposed to mean!

Big surprise: It turns out that the Scoutmaster’s son couldn’t pass the Swimmer Test at summer camp. Guess who just got First Class rank?

My own son took swimming lessons, as have others in the troop, and passed the test legitimately (and, by the way, also have the skill!). So I wrote a brief note to the CC about this disparity. Her answer was, “The decision came from the council office. If I don’t agree, talk with them about it.” So, last week, I called our District Executive, who said she’d “look into the matter.” She did, and this was her answer: It’s okay to pass Scouts who can’t complete the Swim Test for First Class (sans medical evaluation) because, in the first place, some families don’t have the financial means to afford swim lessons. Her second rationale was that some small towns in our district don’t have a public pool for Scouts to learn to swim. Third, a Scout “might have asthma.”

I’ve shown her both your own column (Issue 278, 11/20/2011) and also Chris Hunt’s “Ask the Expert” article. No effect. Here’s a District Executive, no less, sticking by the notion that “if a Scout tries hard to pass the First Class Rank requirement for swimming and can’t pass it, he shouldn’t be held back from advancing.” (Hey, I’m really not making this up!) (Name & Council Withheld)

Everybody here, including that so-called District Executive, knows that the “tried hard” argument is complete Horsepucky. And they also know they’re not just short-changing young people but actually placing them and others in harm’s way.

But, let’s follow that nonsensical argument for a moment… Let’s suppose that the Red Cross started CPR certificates to people who “tried but couldn’t do it”… Or, how about the FAA granting pilots’ licenses to people who “tried hard” but just can’t seem to land a plan without nose-diving into the runway. Or how about an OB/GYN who hasn’t so much as delivered a newspaper? Or a Cop who can’t shoot straight? But enough of this nonsense…

Obvious BSA policy violation aside, there’s a huge danger in allowing a Scout to move forward in rank advancement when he fails to complete a requirement—especially one like swimming. At some point in the future, someone not knowing he can’t (or refuses to) swim will, on seeing that he’s First Class, place him in a water-related situation, at which point one of two things will happen: He’ll either be forced to admit he can’t swim or—and this is the more likely—he’ll place himself or others in water-related harm’s way.

This controversy isn’t between “them” and you; it’s between wrongheaded people and BSA policy. Therefore, the action to take is simple and straightforward: Report the District Executive’s remarks to these three people simultaneously: The council’s Scout Executive and President, and the Chair of the Council Advancement Committee.
Dear Andy,

Have there been any new changes regarding “position of responsibility” for Star, Life, or Eagle that now permit “Assistant Patrol Leader” to qualify? This is what people in our council office are now saying. (Name & Council Withheld)

APL is not now, and hasn’t ever been, a qualifying position for Star, or Life, or Eagle. There has been no change. Whoever made this statement at the “council office” needs to check before more folks are misled. This is in writing all over the place! (Meaning: It’s not my “opinion”—it’s fact.)

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. 432 – 2/10/2015 – 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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