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Issue 441 – April 28, 2015

Dear Andy,

The last requirement for the Mile Swim patch reads as follows: “Swim 1 mile over a measured course that has been approved by the trained instructor who will supervise the swim.” Can you please clarify the meaning of this requirement? I’m asking because, at summer camp last year, we were led to believe that this swim could be broken up over several days, but the camp we’re going to this year has the Scouts train each day of camp and then do the full one-mile swim on the last full day of camp. So I now believe that we were misinformed last year and that the mile swim is supposed to be done in one continuous session. (Terry Nani, SM, Orange County Council, CA)

Yup, somebody sure got it wrong. The Mile Swim is one continuous mile without pause, holding onto anything, or getting out of the water. I wouldn’t, however, wait till the last day, because this sort of “endurance” isn’t “built up” in a matter of a few days, although the requirements stipulate up to (but not exceeding) an hour of training/preparation for a total of four hours over four days. However, if somebody does swim the entire mile on “day one,” he’s done, of course, because there’s nothing left to “practice” and swimming an hour at just 1 MPH isn’t all that tough (unless you’re talking ocean swimming, which is a whale of a different color!). And here’s some more good news: It’s not a race; there’s no minimum or maximum time to swim the mile, and any stroke or combination of strokes can be used.
Hi Andy,

I’d like to be a registered member of my son’s troop. I drive to almost all events and I’m already a registered Merit Badge Counselor. Do I need to hold a registered position with the troop, or can I simply be a registered parent who pays dues? I’d appreciate your clarification. (John McFarland)

Let’s start with what’s motivating you, and what you’d like to do. Would you like to serve on the committee and take on a specific responsibility? If so, have a chat with the Committee Chair about what the committee might need that’s of interest to you (and that you feel confident you can accomplish). Want to help the Scoutmaster, by being an Assistant Scoutmaster and mentoring Troop Guides (who, in turn, mentor the elected Patrol Leaders of new-Scout patrols)? If so, have a chat with the Scoutmaster. Would you like to be registered as a way to support Scouting in general? If so, talk to your council’s registrar about registering with your local district in the capacity of “Scouter Reserve” (Code 91). The key is simple: What are you looking for?

Thanks, Andy. The “key” is… I’d like to enjoy doing activities with my son. (John)

Ahh, that’s what I was guessing. Okay, if you want to have fun in the outdoors with your son, then go do it…but you can do this outside of Scouting! You see, Scouting is designed to be Scout-to-Scout. It’s really not designed to be a “Dad & Son” program (the YMCA’s “Indian Guides” program, by comparison, is exactly that: It’s a Dad-and-Son bond-building program). In fact, if other parents are regularly “camping and hiking with their sons” on Scout outings, they’re terribly mistaken. Surprisingly, the best Scouting programs happen when Scouts hike and camp with absolutely minimal parental/adult interference. When your son’s troop goes camping, the adults—with the sole exception of the Scoutmaster and perhaps one or, at the most, two ASMs—should be camping separately from the Scouts. By separately, I literally mean out of sight and earshot, and no “teaching” while on the camp-out. This is the only way Scouting can truly be Scouting. Any other way and it’s just “family camping in tan shirts.”

If your sons’ troop isn’t doing it this way, I’m going to suggest that unless they start doing this it’s time to hunt for a troop that gets it right. But, in the meanwhile, get out there with your son, and go hiking, camping, fishing, skiing, and whatever else you two would like to do together in the great outdoors!
Dear Andy,

My son just turned 11 and is about to graduate from 5th grade. He was a member of a Cub Scout pack, but didn’t advance beyond Bear, for no fault of his—just a family situation. At any rate, he’s about to enter middle school, and I want to redouble my efforts to get him involved in and recommitted to Scouting. The problem is, I believe the requirements are that he be involved in a Cub Scout pack for six months prior to transitioning and have earned the Arrow of Light rank. If this is true, can he be a Webelos as a 5th Grader to fulfill the prerequisites to becoming a Boy Scout? If not, does that mean he missed the boat on the Scouting experience? (Paulette Campbell)

Here’s the good news: Cub Scouting is absolutely not a “prerequisite” to being a Boy Scout! If your son is 11 years old, that’s all that’s necessary. He can join a troop TODAY!

When he—with his parents—connects with a troop now, he’ll have the opportunity to attend a few meetings, get into a patrol, and—most important—sign up to go to Scout summer camp with his troop for at least a week! Waste no time! Fine a nice troop and sign him up! It’s an experience that’ll have value for the rest of his life…I promise!
Hello Andy,

Recently, our troop we participated in a Camporee at which we built a tower using 20-foot poles. The tower’s platform was about 16 feet off the ground, and the Scouts had to climb a good five feet up in order to assemble the platform and its safety railing. We had no problem doing this because we have some Scouts who are great climbers and knot-tiers! But, since the Camporee, several Scouters have let me know that the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING prohibits such tall structures and that Scouts aren’t allowed to go above five feet to assemble their tower and platform. I’ve looked at the GTSS and see no direct prohibition. I’m also familiar with the “Climb On Safely” program, and I’m not sure how it applies to pioneering projects—I guess I need to dust it off again and re-read it. A while back, I researched rope bridges and did find directions that specified five feet as the maximum height on a foot rope, yet clearly any Scouts assembling a rope bridge would need to climb above five feet to install the hand ropes. Can you direct me to material that directly addresses this situation with pioneering projects? I’m asking because I’m concerned that many of the lashing projects our Scouts love to construct will now be off limits. Thanks for all your help over the years. (Robert Shannon, Western Los Angeles County Council, CA)

On a “five-foot rule,” checking with your council’s risk management committee would, I’d think, be your best bet, although with a 20-foot-tall tower, I’d think that anyone managing the Camporee would find it “visible” enough to point out any safety issue at the time the Scouts were putting it together. As for those who had something to say only afterwards, it seems to me to be human nature to become an “expert” at someone else’s expense once it’s way too late to do anything about it.

But before we all get tangled up in our own underwear, has anyone considered constructing such towers horizontally, lying on the ground, and then hoisting them upright with ropes tied to one side, much like you’ve seen in “barn raising” as depicted in various movies and videos?
Dear Andy,

My son, a 14 year-old Life Scout, had a District-level review of his Eagle Service Project proposal about six months ago. At that time, he told me afterwards that the experience was truly awful. Apparently, the District Advancement Chair started yelled at my son over “missing” items in his proposal. Nothing lethal, mind you, and nothing that couldn’t be added in, with a little instruction on what’s necessary. But the yelling shut my son down completely, and he wound up literally too scared about what might come next to speak up about the rest of his proposal. For the past half-year, I’ve done my best to encourage him to complete the missing items and go back for a second review. Well, it turns out he did add in what he was told to, but he refuses to go back for another review, because, in his words, “I just don’t want to be yelled at again.” And here’s the bigger problem: My son’s experience isn’t unique.

This District Advancement Chair has a very long history of abusing Scouts in this manner. Several other Life Scouts, like my own son, have simply refused to continue the process as a result. These are young men who literally walked away from Eagle as a result of this one man. Strangely, any maybe I should say sickly, he actually enjoys the nickname Scouts have given him: “Mister Crabby.” Apparently, he has a particular vendetta against what he calls “young” Eagles, which at this point appears to be anyone shy of their 17th birthday.

Because of other volunteer work I do in the district, I have to work with this guy a lot, and I don’t want there to be bad blood between the two of us, so I brought this matter up quietly with our district’s Key Three and asked if my son could have his project proposal reviewed in one of the other districts—there are ten others—in our council. Unfortunately, this backfired when our District Executive told the Advancement Chair about my request. Now, there’s a “mandate” that my son must go to this guy and nowhere else, period.

I’m very unhappy about the way the D.E. handled this, and I won’t allow my son to be subjected to this guy. But where does this leave my son? Are there any options? Can this guy really block my son from going elsewhere? Just to be clear, this is only for the district signature; everyone else had signed off six months ago. Help! (Name & Council Withheld)

I respect your desire to avoid “bad blood” between you and “Mister Crabby.” However, if I had to choose between my son and some self-styled tyrant… well, I think you can guess whom I’d choose.

You did your best through “diplomatic back-channels.” Now it’s time to meet the problem head-on. To begin with, this is where your son’s Scoutmaster and his “Eagle advisor” need to take charge of the situation. When your son goes back to have his project proposal reviewed, he definitely needs an advocate in the room. Since BSA policy prohibits “secret” or “closed” meetings, particularly between adults and Scouts, my recommendation is that your son’s Scoutmaster and/or your son’s “Eagle advisor” (the person who helped him formulate his project concept) accompany him to this meeting…maybe both, in fact! The simple presence of knowledgeable adults standing with your son may be sufficient to quell further outbursts, but if they should occur anyway, the adults with your son can intercede on his behalf and act as his defenders.

(Yes, Scouts are supposed to “fend for themselves,” but not in the face of someone who is using his position as one of “power” instead of responsibility, as this person is apparently doing. Put at least one strong advocate at your son’s side, and don’t anyone buffalo you into thinking this can’t be done.)

One possible outcome—and we may as well deal with it right here—is that your district’s advancement chair refuses to hold a project review meeting on these terms. If that occurs, then the course of action is to immediately request a review with the council advancement chair or designate, bypassing the district chair entirely. Of course, this will undoubtedly raise a concern about “what will happen when it’s time for the Eagle rank board of review with this same person.” The obvious answer is that this will not be allowed to occur: Your son’s Eagle board of review will exclude “Mister Crabby,” and the instruction for this should come directly from the council advancement chair.
Dear Andy,

About a month ago, at a court of honor, it was announced that our son earned five merit badges. The merit badges were given to him that night, and my son felt very proud of what he’d accomplished. A little later that same evening, my son put the badges on a table nearby for a moment, at which point his Scoutmaster came over and took them, claiming my son hadn’t completed some unrelated requirement. When my son stated that he had indeed done the requirement his Scoutmaster said he hadn’t, the Scoutmaster then concocted another requirement that he claimed my son hadn’t completed, and refused to give back his badges. What do we do to get these back? (Really burned parents)

Demand them. The BSA policy (not my opinion and not open to discussion) is this: Once signed off and awarded, no badge can ever be “taken back.” It’s also a BSA policy that no individual, group, or entity has higher authority regarding merit badge completion than the Merit Badge Counselor, and the MBC’s decision can never, ever be challenged or reversed—by anyone.

So together go to the troop’s Committee Chair and advancement coordinator and demand that these be returned to your son or, failing that, re-purchased and given to your son. Don’t waste your time confronting that idiot Scoutmaster, because he’ll drag you down to his level and then beat you with experience.

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. 441 – 4/28/2015 – 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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