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Issue 449 – August 19, 2015

Hi Andy,

In your July 30th column (No. 448), about that Venturer in the Silicon Valley area, I almost get the feeling someone’s looking for reason not to help this young man. Yes, 60 miles might sound like a long distance, but in that area people often commute two or more hours by car to and from work every day, and if you lived in the even more rural sections of the American West, it could be more than 60 miles to the nearest town where your school is! My point is, people deal with these kinds of distance every day, and in the era of modern technology, communication across those distances is all too easy. If you want something badly enough, or, more importantly, want to help someone badly enough, you’ll figure out a way to make this happen. (Lee Murray, ASM, Reno, NV)

Your raise a valid point… Particularly the idea that if “you want it badly enough, you’ll figure out a way!” Thanks for taking the time to write!
Hi Andy!

In your July 30th column you talked about the “ideal” troop size. You stated that the best success comes from patrols of six Scouts each (The Patrol Leader’s Handbook and other BSA publications state that, ideally, each patrol has eight members, but I agree with you that six is just as good, if not better, for encouraging youth leadership.) However, you also stated that “When you do this, it almost doesn’t matter how many patrols make up the troop!” I disagree there. Just as a Patrol Leader is able to lead best when he has a patrol of just five other guys to work with, a Senior Patrol Leader is most effective when he has about the same number. A Patrol Leaders Council made up of 15 Patrol Leaders is nearly impossible for a 15-year-old SPL to manage, so keeping the number of patrols under eight is best. In my opinion, patrols should be kept to 6-8 members each and a troop should have around 3-7 patrols in order to function best, meaning that the ideal troop would have somewhere between 20 to 50 Scouts. (Matt, Northeast Pennsylvania Council)

You raise an excellent point! Yup, a PLC of massive size is less simple or easy to chair. But let’s also remember that we’re ideally looking at a seasoned Scout to be our Senior Patrol Leader—one who’s perhaps attended or even staffed NYLT courses and certainly, as a former Patrol Leader, has been coached in leadership skills by his Scoutmaster (remember this quote from the Scoutmaster Handbook: “The Scoutmaster’s most important responsibility is to train the troop’s youth leaders to run their own program”). So, since PLCs are sit-down-type “business meetings,” even a dozen or more PLs, who also have received training in leadership (and “follower-ship” as well) should be fairly easy to manage, particularly when the Scoutmaster is there in the background as “referee” should it become necessary.

This in no way denies your point. It’s intended to flesh out the idea even further. Thanks for making the time to share your thoughts!
Dear Andy,

I’m an Eagle with three palms for some 20 years now, and I’m now a “rookie” Scoutmaster. So here’s the question: Is it okay for a troop to work on merit badges, even Eagle-required, as a troop? I don’t mean that the Scouts complete them, but maybe they start them and knock off some of the harder requirements as a troop or patrol, and then we leave the Scouts with “blue cards” so they can go finish up the merit badge on their own.

Our Scouts want to work on merit badges as a troop because our meetings are “boring” and they don’t feel they get anything from them. But I have an Assistant Scoutmaster who doesn’t think we should be doing things this way, especially Eagle-required MBs.

I just want to do what’s best for the Scouts, and what they want to do, so that they want to stay active in the troop and have a good time. Thanks! (Scoutmaster Dave)

You have a good and wise ASM—be sure to keep him, and to seek his counsel. He’s correct: Merit badges don’t constitute “troop meeting programs.” In fact, using them this way is anathema to the purposes of the BSA Merit Badge Program.

Go to your local Scout shop, or, and buy all three copies of TROOP PROGRAM FEATURES (they’re $8.49 each, plus tax and shipping—easily affordable in light of the wealth of information they contain). Then sit down with your Senior Patrol Leader and go through each volume in enough detail for him to get a good idea of how many activities for troop meetings and outings they contain. Following this, your SPL introduces these books at the next Patrol Leaders Council meeting, and the Patrol Leaders pick what they’d like to do for the coming month’s troop meetings and camp-outs. When the PLC meets in the next month, they pick another set of activities, and so on, and you’re off and running!

Meanwhile, get the current Merit Badge Counselor list from your advancement chair or committee and let the Scouts know that, based on whatever merit badge or badges they’d like to go for, you can give them the name and contact information for a nearby MBC and they can get started! Suggest that they do this in Buddy pairs—it’s more fun that way and they can give each other mutual support!

Got it? Good! And huge thanks for being willing to ask!
Dear Andy,

The Camping merit badge req. 9a2. says, “Backpack, snowshoe, or cross-country ski for at least 4 miles.” Does this mean a 4-mile backpack hike on foot, or a 4-mile backpack SKI trip? (A.B.)

Backpacking, just like the requirement says, can be with hiking boots, boots with snowshoes attached, or x-country (i.e., Nordic) skis, just so it’s 4 miles minimum. All are “on foot,” if you think about it!
Dear Andy,

Can a Chartered Organization Representative (Code “CR”) also be an Assistant Scoutmaster? (Nona Me)

In a troop, the only person who can hold dual positions is the CC, who can also be the CR. Good reason for this: Since an ASM, to use your example, reports to the SM, who in turn reports to the CC, who reports to the CR, it doesn’t make good sense to have an inside-out loop.
Hi Andy,

The other day, we cleaned out our troop storage closet and came across lots of troop records dating back over ten years. This includes old applications, blue cards, advancement information, and even old financial records. Is there some sort of a BSA policy for record retention at the unit level? I tried searching the Internet and could only find information on record retention for councils and the national office. (John Pinchot, Longhorn Council, TX)

Nope, no formal “policy.” Just be guided by your own good judgment… and maybe pass this stuff on to your troop’s Historian, to see what he can do with it (and maybe ask the troop Webmaster to post some photos of interesting stuff on your troop’s website).
Dear Andy,

The GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, Topic “Eagle palms.” These are apparently not considered “ranks” but rather “degrees” of the Eagle Scout rank. Where can I find out what these degrees are? (Ben Hayes)

The “degrees” are exactly what you’ve probably suspected: Bronze, Gold, and Silver…and beyond. Simple as that! For instance, “Eagle” is the rank while, “Eagle-with-gold palm” is the rank-plus-two degrees, and “Eagle-with-bronze-and-silver-palms” is the rank-plus-four degrees.
Dear Andy,

One of the American Heroes Channel series labels the BSA leader as a “liar.” If you don’t know the “before Scouting” history of Lord Baden-Powell, you might be taken aback! Apparently, the Scouting movement was directly linked to his military past in that the genesis of the movement was his observance that the men in his units were “soft” when it came to surviving in the outdoors, and he wanted some kind of training program to help remedy that.

Anyway, my son is taking the “Scouting Heritage” merit badge. One of the requirements is to teach and play a game from B-P’s time. None of these looked familiar to any of the Scouts, but when Joey saw “Kim’s Game” he immediately recognized it. I actually passed this game on to him when he was a Den Chief so he could play it with our den. Now he’s teaching it to his friends! (Joe Sefcik, New Haven, CT)

If your son and his friends want to learn more about Baden-Powell, there are several excellent biographies, one aimed at your son’s age group. The other two are by William (“Green Bar Bill”) Hillcourt and Tim Jeal.

I don’t get the “liar” reference, but one of B-P’s early books was titled, “Aids to Scouting”—written for military scouts. He later re-edited that work and re-titled it, “Scouting for Boys,” published at first in installments and later between covers. He didn’t intend to start a youth movement, but when the “Scouting for Boys” serial articles and book became immensely popular among English boys, who created games from them, he recognized that something perhaps revolutionary was going on. This is most likely why, when dubbed the “Father of Scouting,” he demurred, preferring to be considered Scouting’s “uncle.”
Hello Andy,

I just want to thank you for your website and columns. My son just made Eagle, and the information in your columns made his and our journey through Scouting a little easier. He’s aged out now, but intends to participate as an adult. I also have another Scout son, who’s now twelve, and I’m looking forward to reading your columns with him, too. (Bill Lynch)

Thanks, Bill—You (and your sons) just made my day! Heck, maybe my MONTH!

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. 449 – 8/19/2015 – 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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