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Issue 433 – February 17, 2015

In my January 13th column (No. 431), in response to a reader’s comment about “lard-butt Eagle Scouts,” I responded, “Yup, pull-ups are still required for Personal Fitness merit badge.” I was right and wrong at the same time. Our USSSP resident expert on advancement requirements, Paul Wolf, mentioned to me that “actually, that is no longer the case. The strength test procedure in the current merit badge pamphlet now calls for either push-ups or pull-ups.” In effect, while both are “encouraged,” a Scout can qualify for the merit badge by “improving” in just one of these two; improving in both is no longer required. (Just thought you oughta know…)


Howdy Andy,

There’s a recent post on Bryan Wendell’s Scouting blog about a Life Scout who’s refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I’d appreciate hearing your own thoughts regarding this matter. (Name & Council Withheld)

I’d say the several dozen comments Bryan received cover the topic pretty well. My own take on this touches several dimensions. Briefly, (1) how did this Scout get to Life rank with this sort of attitude, (2) does he not understand that by refusing to do the Pledge he’s repudiating the Scout Oath, and (3) where are his parents and Scoutmaster and what’s keeping them from having an illuminating conversation with this Scout about his responsibilities as a role model to his fellow Scouts? If push came to shove, I’d have to say this might signal the end of his advancement trail—and maybe even his Scouting “career”—unless he can achieve some positive attitude adjustment, for one fundamental reason: Why would someone want to be a member of an organization whose precepts are counter to one’s own?

That said, my best guess as father of six is that this Scout is in his mid-teens and trying to individuate himself. So a little patience will probably go a long way. (Other Scouts, who all of a sudden have decided, for instance, that “there is no God,” have written to me over the past 13 years of authoring this column, and we’ve had some pretty intense conversations back and forth, with the end result that everything worked out okay for everybody once they learned that they can temporarily “rebel” without the world crashing down on them…so long as they understand and appreciate what’s really going on.)
Dear Andy,

Our district is in process of nominating and conducting elections for our district committee. So far, candidates for the nominating committee have been submitted to our council’s President, and he approved them. The nominating committee is in the process of meeting to develop a slate of members-at-large, a District Committee Chair, and a Vice-Chair. We seem to have encountered differences of opinion as to what happens to the names of the nominees once they’ve been developed and before they are presented to the voting members at the annual district meeting. One point of view is that the nominees’ names should be presented to the Scout Executive and council President for their approval before they’re presented to the district committee for election; the other is that this approval was basically given when the president approved the nominating committee. We’ve watched the video, “The District Nominating Committee,” and carefully listened to what it’s saying, but we’re not sure about what might not have been said. Can you help us with this? (Name & Council Withheld)

I’ve just re-watched that video, and I must say it’s excellent. It devotes 90%+ of its message to the quality of the people who serve as Nominating Committee Chair, nominating committee members, and—ultimately—the nominees selected and recruited by the nominating committee. As you heard in the video, the President of your council does approve the people who are identified as potential nominating committee members and the Chair. Parenthetically, although the Scout Executive isn’t directly involved in this process, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the S.E. will informally provide his or her own input to the President. Once the nominating committee identifies, selects, and recruits nominees to be elected at the district committee’s annual meeting, there’s no requirement or mandate that says these names must be further approved by anyone—salaried or volunteer—at the council level. Nonetheless, and although the video doesn’t state this, it seems to me that it would be an obvious courtesy—in the spirit of “one team” cooperation and collaboration—for the District Chair and Nominating Committee Chair to share these names with the S.E. and President; however, this would be informational in nature and not for the purposes of some sort of “final approval.”

Okay, so that’s the procedure. Now, the real key to all this is how well you all attended to the 90% of the video that talks to the types and quality of people identified and recruited for the district committee, so that you all can keep the district moving forward…maybe even taking it to a new and higher level than before!
Hi Andy,

The BSA certainly wants every registered adult in the unit to wear the official uniform, both to show a commitment to the Scouting program and to set a proper example for the youth. With this I have no issue and agree with completely. What I’ve been searching for to no avail (yet) is something in writing on specifically which adults are expected to be in uniform, and if and where there are any exceptions to this? From what I’ve been finding on the Internet, BSA publications, and so forth, is that Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters are uniformed for certain, since they have direct contact with the Scouts of their troops.

The ambiguous area is those who serve on a troop’s committee (and who, by way of their “job descriptions and responsibilities” are really not “direct contact” volunteers except in special situations [e.g., boards of review]). And then there’s the CR—the Chartered Organization Representative. The consensus in our troop is that although the CR and committee should own a uniform for suitable occasions, they’re generally not required to wear one. (In our troop, however, we do require any adult sitting on a board of review do so in uniform, which also gives them somewhere to display their “square knots” [if any] and position badges.)

And then we have Merit Badge Counselors, who, although duly registered with the BSA, but don’t wear uniforms, even though they’re “direct contact” volunteers.

So, o great and wise one, is there a black-and-white answer to this apparent dilemma? (Jim Kangas, MC, Northern Star Council, MN)

You’re spot-on that the adult volunteers in a troop who are expected to always wear full and accurate uniforms are the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters, if any. Committee members can wear uniforms if they choose, but this is purely optional for them. Merit Badge Counselors, likewise, have no mandate to wear a uniform. CRs, although members at large of the council itself, also have that personal choice. That’s about the sum and substance of it.

Based on my own experience in several councils and districts, I’d say simply: When you choose to wear a BSA uniform, do yourself and the Scouts your role-modeling for: Wear the COMPLETE uniform and leave your jeans and khakis at home, please.
Dear Andy,

I have a couple of situations I need some help with… First, can I, as a Scoutmaster, conduct my own son’s Scoutmaster conference? Second, as much as I’d like to be present at an upcoming Eagle court of honor, because I’ll be with my own son, who’s heavily involved in sports, I’ll be missing it and I’d like to know if I should feel guilty about this or not. Lastly, at our last summer camp stay, there was some inappropriate behavior and language among the Scouts, one of whom is very close to his Scoutmaster conference and sign-off for Eagle, and I’m really struggling with what to do with a Scout whose actions were counter to the idea of Scout spirit. Can you help me with any insights on these points? (John Benik)

For the first of your questions: Yes, you can conduct your own son’s Scoutmaster conference; however, it might be a fine courtesy and a great self-determination booster for Dad to ask his son what he’d prefer.

Regarding your possible absence at an Eagle court of honor, while Scouting is important in your life, your family including your son always comes first. Since there’s no Hoyle’s Law that demands the Scoutmaster be present, select a capable Assistant Scoutmaster to carry out the appropriate duties, and write a personal letter to the new Eagle Scout, to be read aloud at the court of honor.

As for “inappropriate behavior and language” while at summer camp, this should have been instantly dealt with, on-the-spot, by the adults there. Now, a whole bunch of months later, the water’s passed under the bridge. It’s done and over with. If the adults took no corrective action, well, time to move on. We’re here to support and guide young men; not hold “swords of Damocles” over their heads or “remind” them of past “transgressions.” So, unless this behavior is continuing, there’s no reason to lose sleep over what happened months ago…unless, of course, there was some sort of permanent emotional or physical damage as a result of the outburst (which would have immediately required to filing of an incident report to the Camp Director and Scout Executive). So, time to move on, because either the outburst was ultimately inconsequential or proper action by others wasn’t taken.
Dear Andy,

As our troop’s Committee Chair, it’s been bought to my attention after every meeting for the past six months that we have two specific Scouts in our troop who are generally disrespectful to their Patrol Leader, our Senior Patrol Leader, and the adult leaders of the troop. In general, these two refuse to do what their Patrol Leader asks of them and, when spoken to about this become extremely belligerent and start fights. When expected to be quiet and listen to instructions, they start by acting silly and, when the SPL tries to calm them down, they start yelling at him.

I’ve personally witnessed these behaviors several times. One of them will also use foul language to distraction but when removed from the meeting and told to call his mother to come take him home, he begins to cry and tell us that his mother won’t come and get him. In fact, when this happened on a recent overnight camp-out, the Scoutmaster called this Scout’s home and no one answered the phone.

The Scouts of our troop are tired of and unhappy with these ongoing problem behaviors and the inability for anyone to curb them. When the Scoutmaster conferenced with these boys’ parents, the immediate result was that their untoward behaviors accelerated. Now, they’re telling their parents that they’re “being bullied” by their fellow Scouts, even though by actual observation we have not seen so much as an iota of this allegation; it’s pure fiction. In sum, these two have managed to effectively ruin just about every troop meeting for the past six months.

As a teacher, I have seen this sort of behavior in school, but we have professional counselors and social workers to send such students to for guidance. Their parents haven’t advised us of any learning disabilities or autistic or other challenges these two Scouts may be dealing with, so that’s not an avenue we’re able to pursue. So how can we assist or guide these Scouts to start making the right kinds of decisions about how to interact with their peers and troop adults?

Right now, our Scoutmaster is documenting all the aberrant incidents. Our concern is that, if we don’t suspend these two Scouts, we’ll ultimately lose the other Scouts. What do you suggest? What is the BSA policy? Thanks! (Name & Council Withheld)

Waste no further time. The longer this persists the greater the danger to the Scouts as well as to the troop as a whole.

You adult volunteers have the clear obligation to protect and defend the other Scouts of the troop who are becoming the victims of the boys with behavioral issues. You aren’t professional therapists, counselors, or youth counselors; you’re volunteers. As such, you have the right to state that these two boys can’t be retained as troop members when you’re unequipped to deal with their outbursts and other ongoing disruptive behaviors.

For a situation such as you’ve described, the BSA is clear on the course of action to take. Refer to the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, page 129 (this is a partial quote; the complete one is in the book): “A boy who continually disrupts meetings or whose actions endanger himself or others…should be sent home,” and “Discipline problems that might lead to a boy’s permanent removal from the troop should be handled by the Scoutmaster and the troop committee and should always involve the boy’s parents or guardian.”

In short, when one or more boys habitually and belligerently harasses others and correspondingly refuses to cooperate with his Patrol Leader and other youth and adult leaders, for the safety of other Scouts in the troop they must be removed. This can be for a temporary period of time, with the understanding that each is welcome back into the troop when he is able to demonstrate that he can keep his emotions within due bounds. If, upon their eventual return, it is clear that they have corrected their attitudes and behaviors, they’re welcome to continue in the Scouting program. If either remains unable to do this, then he must be removed permanently, so as to protect the other Scouts of the troop from verbal abuse and physical harm.
Dear Andy,

Can a Life Scout start his Eagle project before he has the other requirements (including merit badges) completed? (Paul Peery)

Great question—thanks for asking! A Life Scout can begin earnest work toward his project the very morning after his Life board of review! (There’s a general misconception “out there” that all merit badges, etc., have to be completed first, and that’s just what it is: a misconception!) Further, while as a Star or even First Class Scout he can certainly start thinking about what he might want to do, including having conversations with potential beneficiaries and reading the project workbook and instructions…but actual “roll up your sleeves” or “sharpen your pencil” (or polish your PC keyboard) doesn’t begin till he’s Life.

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. 433 – 2/17/2015 – 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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