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Issue 461 – November 19, 2015

Dear Andy,

I’ve searched your past issues, and couldn’t find an answer to this question, so maybe I’m the first…

I recently returned from the first of our two Wood Badge weekends, at which we were all given patrol emblems. My patrol later discussed whether or not we should sew them on our uniforms in the same place that a Boy Scout would sew his patrol emblem, and a mix of opinions resulted. When I got home, I searched this question online, and found several discussion forums with a wide range of opinions on whether or not this was allowed or proper. I have seen opinions ranging from never wear the patrol emblem at all, only wear it while physically at the course, only wear while at the course and between weekends, wear from the time you start Wood Badge until you receive your beads, to wear it permanently on your uniform from now on. The last option (wear it permanently from now on) seemed to be the most common answer heard at the course, including the one or two staffers that we asked. However, the BSA Scout Leader Inspection Sheet doesn’t show a place for a patrol emblem. So I’m reaching out to you. Can you settle this? Thanks! (Joe Martinez, Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council, CA)

You couldn’t find anything in my 460 previous columns because—despite over 14 years of answering questions—you’ve asked a new one! Thanks!

Wood Badge patrol medallions are okay to wear while on the course itself (even if just pinned or otherwise temporarily affixed), but once the course is completed they should be removed because—as you’ve discovered—they’re not a regular part of an adult Scouter’s uniform.

That said, the more you connect with fellow Scouting volunteers, you’re going to see lots of aberrations on this, from old Wood Badge critters to “Old Goat” and “Rocking Chair” patrol medallions. Don’t fret or call out the Patch Police when you see these! Remember that, while we strive to set the best example we can for the youth we serve through Scouting, we’re still volunteers and there’s no real “Patch Police”—so folks sometimes have a tendency to overdo things a bit, out of pride in their patrols, a “troop custom,” or whatever. Does it do some sort of permanent damage? Probably not. Does it help folks keep their spirits up (if not their egos inflated)? The jury’s out on that one. So keep smilin’ and enjoy helping young men and women grow into better citizens that they might have been without Scouting. (“I used to be an Owl, and a good old Owl too…”)
Dear Andy,

My 16 year-old son, soon to be Star scout, recently joined a Venturing Crew, with firm plans to remain an active member of his troop as well because he believes both his troop and his crew offer different and equally valuable opportunities. He also has close friends in both his troop and his crew. But this dual membership of his seems to be causing some grief and confusion with his Scoutmaster, who seems to want boys to pick one or the other, but not both. Adding to the confusion, the troop recently formed a Venture Patrol of older Scouts, which the Scoutmaster believes should supersede dual unit membership. So the bottom line question: Is dual enrollment in both a troop and a crew allowed? Can you shed some light on this? (Troop & Crew Dad)

Scouting offers several programs for boys and young men (and, in the case of Venturing, young women, too): Boy Scouting, and Venturing including Sea Scouting. Like being a Little League (baseball) and a Pop Warner (football) league, these are separate interest groups, although, in the case of the BSA, Boy Scouting and Venturing/Sea Scouting are under the same BSA “umbrella.” A young man like your son is absolutely encouraged to pursue both programs, especially if he enjoys them (this is actually the key). If he holds at least First Class rank when he joins a Venturing crew, he can pursue Star, Life, and Eagle ranks in either program. Moreover—and this is important—being a member of one doesn’t in any way detract from his membership and participation in the other (any more than playing Little League baseball and Pop Warner football conflict with one another).

Your son has it exactly right: Boy Scouts and Venturing do indeed offer him different and valuable opportunities. Moreover, they rarely overlap or interfere with one another, and when both the troop and the crew have an activity on the same weekend it’s absolutely okay for him to choose one over the other, depending on his personal interests.

As for advancement, it can be a little confusing—from a record-keeping perspective—for your son to pursue Star, Life, and Eagle in both programs. He’s better off (and it’s easier for the two units) for him to pick one in which he’ll pursue Boy Scout advancement and leave rank advancement alone in the other. If he’d like, for example, to go for Eagle with his troop, he should be accorded the opportunity to do this, and the reverse is true as well. Meanwhile, there are a batch of Venturing awards available to him one, several, or all of which he may be interested in earning as well, and there are no restrictions on him doing this!

At age 16, he’s also qualified to be a member of the troop’s Venture Patrol, because such patrols do more adventurous stuff than “regular” patrols, because the Venture patrol concept was created precisely to keep older Scouts active in their troop. But even this doesn’t in any way diminish his opportunity to concurrently be a Venturer as well.
Hi Andy,

At a recent council-level strategic planning meeting, the topic of training came up several times. (A couple of years ago I was at a meeting where my district was complimented because we had the highest percentage rate of trained leaders in the council. It was 45%. I hung my head, and when asked what was wrong I said, “This means that my district is being complimented for allowing 55% of our units to be led by untrained people.”)

This lack of trained adult volunteers in Scouting still troubles me. I sure wouldn’t seek legal advice from someone who hadn’t passed the state
bar exam, or medical recommendations from someone with no medical training, and I absolutely wouldn’t send a child of mine to a school where the staff had no training in the subjects they were teaching. So how is it that we allow our children to participate in a unit where the leaders haven’t been trained? Why does the BSA allow unit leaders to attempt to run a Scouting unit when they’ve not been trained? When I ask this question of Scouting professionals, all I get is a “deer-in-the-headlights” look back.

It seems to me that a few years back I read somewhere that the BSA was beta-testing a program (with about five councils) that would require all leaders to be trained, within a short period of time, in order to be a unit leader. Do you know anything about this and, if so, what’s the status of it? (Bill)

One of the great pluses to the BSA program is that the “boots on the ground” are those of volunteers—we’re still very much a grass-roots movement. This is also our greatest liability, because we can’t “force” a volunteer to partake of the myriad excellent training courses available—we can only encourage.

So enjoy the “pat on the back,” and get those who have “drunk the Kool-Aid” to encourage others to do what they’ve done, emphasizing (just as we do with youth), that it’s fun, you’ll learn stuff you can use in your daily life, and you’ll enjoy your time among friends that can last a lifetime!

Thanks, Andy…But you didn’t answer my question. Is the BSA doing anything to require leaders to be trained before they can be registered as unit leaders?

Here’s a local situation… We have a troop that flat-out requires its youth-contact adult volunteers, and committee members as well, to be trained before they can take on their roles with the troop. The result of this is that this unit has grown from about nine Scouts to over 90 in a very short period of time, and most every boy in the area approaching Scout age wants to join this troop! Okay so far, but the troop has already outgrown first one, and then a second meeting place, and there’s really no other chartering organization in town with a larger meeting place. Courts of honor are an even bigger logistical problem when all of the parents show up. Plus, it’s created an almost full-time job for the Scoutmaster in managing all of the ASMs and the troop’s many events and service projects, all on top of being a father, husband, and full-time job-holder.

It has gotten to the point that boys are being turned away from this troop because it just can’t absorb any more boys. One thing we’ve tried is to tell the parent we can take his or her son providing that parent signs on, takes training, and takes a job with the troop. Further, you just can’t take a hundred Scouts camping, hiking, or canoeing, and if we all went to our council camp for a week in the summer, we’d fill more than half the camp!

On the other hand there are many other troops in the area that are struggling. They have only maybe ten to a dozen Scouts and would like to grow, but their leaders aren’t trained and so don’t offer the kind of Scouting experience boys thrive on. You could say that they’re doing their best, but without training their best just isn’t all that good, and the Scouts know it. The result is that their Scouts either drop out after a year or so, or they want to switch troops to be with their friends who are doing real Scouting.

So my question again is, Do you know if the BSA is working on anything that’s going to require leaders to be trained before they can sew on the unit leader badge? (Bill)

Let’s back up for a moment… The purpose of “training” is to increase the odds that the Boy Scouting program is delivered properly, especially in two key dimensions: Scout-led program and the Patrol Method. Both of these can be delivered by simply reading and adopting what’s described in the old SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK or the new TROOP LEADER GUIDE, and neither of these will be delivered by people who take the training and then do things as they see fit instead of how the BSA says a troop should be run.

Second issue: Every single troop (and its volunteer adults) has a single, unified mission, and that’s to involve as many boys and young men in the Scouting program as possible. The notion of “turning boys away” is just that: A notion, and a wrong one at that!

So my first suggestion is this: All Scoutmasters and Committee Chairs from all troops need to sit down together and decide how you’re all going to deliver the same program, no matter what troop. The principle is this: It’s not about the troop; it’s about the BOYS.

So, for smaller troops that are indeed delivering the program as it’s supposed to be done, the “pitch” to the parents is this: Sure, your son can join that “big” troop, and then you can plan on your son getting “lost” in a sea of tan shirts, but in THIS troop, the Scoutmaster will know your son personally, by his first name, and your son will get personal attention “from the top” and not by some conglomeration of random Assistants.

The next thing to always keep in mind is this: It’s not about “the troop”—it’s all about the PATROL! When a patrol of six to (absolute maximum) eight boys who are friends and in the same patrol, it really doesn’t matter what troop they’re in, because the patrol is everything! A solid patrol can be in any troop, and an entire patrol can even switch troops so long as they stay together…and they stay together right up till their 18th birthdays!

So, collaborate with one another and create a bunch of solid troops, each one neighborhood- and community-based, and assembled across ages and grades.

That troop of 90 can be divided into at least two troops, or patrols can be moved over into other troops. And newly-formed patrols can be in any troop; not just the “big” one, for all the disadvantages to this that you point out!

But it’s going to take collaboration, and sharp focus on what your joint overall objective is. This isn’t about waiting for some “national edict.” It’s about all of you getting on the same page: IT’S ABOUT THE BOYS!

There’s also another option, of course, and that’s to switch all Scouts in the “big” troop who are high school freshmen into a Venturing crew, which gives them greater high adventure opportunities, allows them to go co-ed, and puts them even more in charge of their own destinies! (And, so long as they’re First Class when they join the crew, they can continue all the way to Eagle if they want!)

“The BSA” isn’t going to “solve your problem” by legislating trained leadership or legislating anything else for that matter; only you and your fellow volunteers can do this—collaboratively.

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. 461 – 11/19/2015 – 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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