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Issue 446 – July 8, 2015

Fast upon us is the Scout summer camp season. I’m already contemplating August-September and the phone calls that will begin then. You see, I’m a Merit Badge Counselor for five in the aquatic group. “It rained the day of my final swim test, and they canceled it.” “I flipped my canoe when I wasn’t supposed to, and was “docked” for the remainder of the week.” “I ‘failed’ the ‘break-the-hold’ requirement for Lifesaving and was flunked with no chance to try it again.” “It was the Counselor’s day off and he didn’t hold a final class.” “The staff high-tailed it out of camp on the last day and, in the confusion, didn’t give me my signed blue card.” “All the rowboats were being used and I couldn’t get a boat to demonstrate I knew my strokes.” “My buddy and I put out sailboat ‘pointy side down” one too many times and we were kicked out of the class.” And so the calls come in, year after year.

I’m happy to help these Scouts, and by the time they and I are done, everything they needed to finish up the badges we’ll have accomplished—we just work together till they succeed!

But what a pity these camps and—more important—their staffs can’t find ways to fix or avert these simple, largely predictable, contingencies (and simultaneously get rid of those baloney-stuffed reasons for thinning the herd as the week progresses!).

So Scoutmasters, while you certainly deserve a few hours of playing hearts, pinochle, or cribbage, and enjoying “cracker-barrel” conversations, make time to bird-dog your Scouts. Check on their progress during their week at camp. And be sure to get to know the staffs at the various venues your Scouts will be devoting their time to. The object is for your Scouts to return home with completed merit badge blue cards that Scout summer camps are perfect for. Take it from a guy who’s been doing this for well over two decades: There are simply far too many “partials” showing up back home in that annual August-September “window.”
Hi Andy,

I read a column of yours a while back about Eagle courts of honor. Our troop definitely expects the parents to plan the Eagle court of honor (we did have one integrated into a troop court of honor this past year), but having them as a part of our regular courts of honor would likely boost attendance. But here’s a wrinkle. If you’re an Eagle Scout when you receive confirmation from the BSA National Office, why do so many of the scripts I find online call the new Eagle Scout a “candidate” until the part in the ceremony where he receives the Eagle Scout Badge? (Rick Hautekeete, ASM, Cimarron Council, OK)

If you have a truly Scout-run troop, would you consider leaving it to the Scouts themselves to plan and run courts of honor? Let’s face it, we all—youth or adult, in any volunteer organization—are more likely to show up when we’ve made a personal investment in the success of the event, if for no other reason than “pride of ownership.”

Actually, you’re an Eagle Scout the moment your board of review is concluded; the BSA National Office essentially confirms that all the paperwork is complete and correct. And, if you think about it, you were really never a “candidate”—you were a Life Scout. (Heck, we don’t call, for instance, Second Class Scouts “First Class candidates,” so why all of a sudden do Life Scouts become “candidates” instead of just what they are: Life Scouts.)

So to your question. I believe the reason is as simple as this: Originally faulty thinking perpetuated because—unlike you—nobody ever stepped back and asked, “Why?” Instead, folks seem to believe that the Scout isn’t an Eagle till that medal’s pinned on. (I cringe every time I see a Scout, at a court of honor, photographed wearing his Eagle medal over his Life badge! For goodness sakes, give that Scout his oval embroidered cloth Eagle Scout badge as fast as you’re able, and let him know he can and should sew it on immediately!)
Hello Andy,

I’m an 18 year old Eagle Scout, now registered as College Scouter Reserve. As a younger Scouter, I’m wondering if tank tops are allowed for adults. I’ve gotten some grief about this, as tank tops not being appropriate. By no means are my tank tops inappropriate; they’re normal tanks you’d buy from any normal store. Do any actual written rules forbid these? And, if so, what other clothing is prohibited for an adult Scouter? (Name Withheld, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

The simple answer is, of course, if you’re at a Scouting event, wear your uniform. As for “tank tops,” these are men’s garments that look a lot like the old (like, my father’s and grandfather’s) undershirts men used to wear all the time (but under their regular shirts), except these days they’re a little more loose-fitting and worn typically when exercising, competing in certain sports, weight-lifting, at the beach, and other similar activities. Are you talking about wearing a tank top somewhere else? Like as a substitute for a shirt (tee, V-neck tee, polo or golf shirt, or other collared) at an event where a shirt would normally be worn? I’m not sure I fully understand your problem. If you’re hiking and the weather’s hot; no prob. But if you’re at an event that’s in the “smart casual” or even just casual category, you’re probably making a mistake…which you can figure out pretty quickly: If you’re the only guy in the room wearing a tank top, you got it wrong, so go out to your car and put on the shirt you brought with you as “insurance.”
Dear Andy,

As a new Scoutmaster and having been out of Scouting for several years, I’m wondering…do you have a suggestions or advice on electronic devices—specifically cellphones—on camp-outs? (Darrell Lamme)

Thanks for asking about suggestions and not “rules”!

It used to be radios, then hand-held video games, then the Walkman, and those were sorta manageable. But cellphones? Especially smartphones? These aren’t gonna go away, unless parents spring for the new Apple Watch (which is likely to happen when Gen2 drops the price and adds even more features!). Anyway, they’re here to stay, just like Scout knives and such. So maybe we should embrace them. How? Ask your PLC to come up with ways to use cellphones as tools (instead of as—or at least perceived by us old guys as—distractions). Build adventures and games around them. Use their features when camping and hiking (like, they have a compass app, map apps, and lots more!). In short, don’t “fight” them, or you’ll lose; instead, consider the STEM concept and build their use into Scouts’ activities instead of trying to find ways to exclude them or get Scouts to leave ‘em home (they won’t, and, if they do, their parents are gonna scream “unsafe!”).
Dear Andy,

I’ve been looking over the new Boy Scout requirement changes coming into effect January 2016. I noticed note that a Tenderfoot requirement updates 6a with a new exercise—the “modified stretch and sit”—with a note to record the number done in 60 seconds. I’m not familiar with a “stretch and sit” that’s performed in such a way that you count the number, and I’m not able to find an actual description of this exercise. Can you describe it, or point me to a place where I can learn about the how you count the movements? (I’m used to measuring the distance of a stretch and sit; not the number of repetitions. Enlightenment, please! (Stan Stolpe)

Good news: The BSA Advancement Team has heard from enough folks about this one that they’re already working on it! Give ’em a chance to develop clearer language and I’m sure it’ll turn out okay!
Dear Andy,

You’ve mentioned regularly (and correctly, I’m convinced) that Scouts should arrange for their parents to drive their patrols to hiking trailheads or campsites, rather than having committee members or some such do it. Can you point to anything in Scouting literature that says as much, specifically? I think that’s the right approach, but not everyone may appreciate the wisdom of your advice. Thanks much. (Will Rodger)

Wow! Wouldn’t it be great if there were a BSA “rule” for everything! That way, nobody would have to think through what makes sense—they’d just have to do what the “rule book” says! Of course, I’m being more than a little sardonic here. And of course there’s no such rule.

Instead, we have a little something called “The Patrol Method.” The Patrol Method is all about a patrol working together for themselves. Patrols can plan their own hike and campouts, if they like, and of course they go on troop hikes and campouts with the other patrols in the troop. And the Scouts in these patrols advance in rank when they fulfill certain requirements for ranks and merit badges, like planning meals for the patrol, and cooking for the patrol, and, of course, giving leadership to the patrol! In other words, it’s all about THE PATROL. The “troop” is simply the “umbrella” under which its patrols operate—the patrol is, in fact, the core unit of Boy Scouting. There are patrol flags, and patrol yells, and patrol medallions on their right sleeves, and they elect their Patrol Leader, and the list goes on…

So, if meals are planned by patrol, and cooking, cleaning, and other assignments are done by patrol, it’s a logical extension that transportation is arranged by patrol, too. Heck, why not? What parent wouldn’t want to make sure his or her son got to go on the trip by offering to help out with driving?

This makes the most sense from another standpoint, too…This way, the parents get to know some of the Scouts in their own son’s patrol! (They’re in the car, too!)

Transportation by patrol makes sense in several other ways as well. A parent who’s agreed to drive is less likely to ditch the assignment at the last minute if it means their own son might not get to go on the trip. And Scouts themselves are more likely to show up when it’s their own parents doing the driving.

So let’s skip the “rule book” and use a Scoutmaster’s good sense: The more the Scouts do for themselves (rather than us parents doing for them) the better and stronger they’re going to grow up! “Troop parent-driver pools” are a lot like training wheels on bikes. Bikes with training wheels teach kids one thing and one thing only: How to ride a bike with training wheels.

Andy, that makes sense, all right. But you know how people can be In our troop, this is about the only thing the Scouts don’t plan and do for themselves. BTW, good point you make about trailers. Our troop’s never had one, never wanted one, never will. And we’re not a tiny troop. (Will)

Here’s the deal: When patrols are as self-sufficient as possible, including asking Dad and Mom for drives to the trailhead, how can that parents say no? This pretty much assures the patrol has its act together and everybody’s going. This peripherally helps eliminate to problem of just two Scouts from a six-Scout patrol showing up, and then getting arbitrarily scrunched with another short-member patrol for “convenience”—which is indeed convenient…for everybody but the Scouts themselves!

It also starts defining them as a self-contained unit that can go anywhere! There’s psychological power in this, and that patrol succeeds best—almost always!

If you’ve taken Scoutmaster-specific training (under any name, including the old “Scoutmastership”—and I’m really dating myself here!), think about it: How was transportation arranged? By patrol, of course! You think this is an “accident”? Nope, it’s a teaching method that does so by simply making it happen that way instead of “lecturing” ad nauseum!

Don’t just “try” this; simply DO it and stick to your guns. You’ll be amazed and delighted at how much bonding takes place between the parents, too–and there’s your future troop committee and helper-outers! Everyone wins with this simple segue!
Hey Andy,

In a past “Andy” column about paintball and pointing firearms (or simulated firearms) at people being not allowed, you mentioned that shooting at living things isn’t authorized. However, Venturing crews are allowed to hunt, which says that animals are fair game (pardon the word-play). Can you do a little digging to find the source of the ruling on not pointing weapons and whether it was meant to apply to just people or to animals as well? (We have lots of buzz going on here what with the update on water guns. Question there too, if we called them “water sprayers” and they didn’t look like a firearm, would that make them “okay”?) Thanks for all you do for the Scouting movement. (Bob Wilcox)

The GTSS (Guide To Safe Scouting) covers this, in various sections, pretty darned well, and with clarity. First, let’s remind ourselves that Venturing is a program distinctly different from Cub/Boy Scouting in any number of ways; however, it’s NOT different when it comes to what I’ll call the “human-to-human” factor. Bottom line: We don’t shoot at, strike, or otherwise use humans as targets of any kind in the overall Scouting programs. Note, for instance, that most martial arts involving striking with hands or feet are specifically excluded as activities endorsed by the BSA. Note, also, that with regard to Cub/Boy Scouts, shooting arrows, BBs, or .22 cartridges at anything other than “circle” or “bullseye” targets is strictly prohibited (e.g., no “silhouettes” of even animals, much less people!)

So, whether it’s a paintball gun or even a water pistol, WE DON’T SHOOT AT ONE ANOTHER! And to think that we can dodge this with a “well it’s just a hose” loophole is just that: It’s a dodge, in the realm of “just because we found a ‘legal’ loophole doesn’t mean what we’re doing is ethical—and isn’t Scouting all about ethics?

The other dodge I’ve seen is to declare an activity that involves shooting at one another a “non-troop” activity (which we know is 100% BS).

Here’s the deal: You know in your heart what’s right, so just do what you already know is the right thing. It doesn’t take a legal genius to know that shooting or even throwing stuff at another person is flat-out wrong (and baseballs, footballs, and basketballs are thrown TO another person, not AT another person—just to plug that loophole while we’re at it).

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. 446 – 7/8/2015 – 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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