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Issue 463 – December 1, 2015

Dear Andy,

I have a question regarding the relationship between a troop and its chartered organization—in our case, a church, which provides us with meeting and storage spaces. In return, the Scouts of our troop devote between 20 and 25 service project days a year for the church. As a result of this heavy service schedule, which typically is done over weekends, we actually go camping maybe only once or twice a year. Our troop committee has been discussing whether we should cut back on our service projects so that we actually have the time to do more camping and other traditional Scout-related activities. On one side of the debate is the argument that the Scouts need to learn the importance of commitment and service, and to show their appreciation to our chartered organization. On the other side is the realization that a troop shouldn’t be this church’s “youth auxiliary;” that the troop’s main responsibility is to conduct Scouting-related activities and not to be the “staff” at all these church fundraisers and similar functions. In short, this second side believes that the current troop-to-sponsor relationship is backwards, and these ongoing service projects to the church are actually getting in the way of the Scouting experience we’re supposed to be delivering. Ultimately, it seems to be question of balance, and we’d value your thoughts on where that balance should be. (Name & Council Withheld)

Frankly, this one’s a no-brainer: The relationship is indeed backwards. This troop should be out there, camping and hiking and canoeing and rappelling and having SCOUT ADVENTURE AND FUN no less than once a month, every month of the year. Otherwise, as you stated, these Scouts are nothing more than unpaid helpers—and you know what those are called!—week in, week out One or two or even three service projects a year for your chartered organization is the norm and would be just fine. Otherwise, all you have is “servers and leaf-rakers in tan shirts.” Besides, the harsh absence of outdoor activities—lots of outdoor activities!—are why these boys joined the troop in the first place, and the present relationship model isn’t allowing them to have the experience they signed on for. Plus, how the heck can they advance in rank if all they do is work around the church like a bunch of ants in a colony. (Yes, this one’s giving me the horrors!)

So stop these bi-weekly service projects right now. Tell the church leadership that you simply can’t deliver the Scouting program if all the Scouts do is work around the church, so you’re going to stop. The church leaders can pick two or—at the most—three things they’d like you to continue doing, and the rest of the time you’re going to go hiking and camping like Boy Scouts around the world do every month of the year!

(BTW, when your Scouts do all these fund-raisers for the church, the church, in turn, helps you buy new tents and other gear for camping and hiking, right? If not, it’s time for a second heart-to-heart conversation.)
Dear Andy,

Our troop has several patrol boxes of the “old school” type—3’x3’x5’ and heavy as all heck! Most of them have been sitting in storage for years; most are, at this point, rotted, broken, and otherwise largely unusable. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that many troops are going with “totes” these days. I realize that that sort of relatively tiny patrol box limits Scouts to a shorter-term type of camping. What, in your experience and opinion, should be the kind of patrol box and what size or kind of box would you recommend? (Neal Cleary)

“Patrol boxes” were great in my day, when patrols went “base-camping” for several days, slept under canvas that was actually canvas, and took day hikes out and back from their base camps. They were also great back in the days before light-weight tents and sleeping bags, and feather-weight stoves and cooking gear, to say nothing of freeze-dried foods. In today’s super-light world (have you been to an REI recently?), patrol boxes are hardly necessary.

So, bottom line: Forget the boxes and spend an afternoon at REI or the camping gear store of your choice! These days, everything’s so light a patrol of even just four Scouts can pack in all the gear and food they’ll need for a great weekend by simply sharing the weight equally among them.

Thanks, Andy! The boxes that our troop has are more of the “kitchen-in-a-box-for-a-week” type. It’s actually very convenient to have a prep stand area and yet I’m starting to agree with you about the weight. Even two 12 year-olds have a hard time lifting the patrol boxes we have, and that’s when they’re empty. Load ‘em up, and even two grown adults would feel the strain! But they do have lots of room for pots and pans and dishes and utensils, spices and matches and such.

So what do you suggest putting in a patrol box? (Some websites suggest lanterns, but we keep these separately.) I guess what I’m saying is that, because of the “kitchen box” model, when I think of a patrol box, I think of cooking, exclusively. Old ideas die hard, I guess. So, just what would you put in such a patrol box? (Neal)

Start camping exclusively by PATROLS. Distribute all food among all patrol members. Same with gear… Most tents can be divided up (main tent, rain fly, poles) so that each Scout in the patrol carries something. Cooking gear and the stove get divided up, too, so each Scout packs in his fair share of evenly distributed weight. It’s the job of the Patrol Leader to get cooperation on who carries what. Remember always that a troop is the “umbrella” for two or more patrols—it’s the patrol that’s the foundational unit of Boy Scouting… it’s not the troop!

If, on the other hand, you spend lots of time “car-camping,” then patrol boxes might come in handy. For contemporary ideas, just use any search engine for “patrol box design” and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of examples from which to choose!
Dear Andy,

This is a question about the Order of the Arrow. One of the requirements for eligibility is to have camped 15 nights in the two-year period prior to the election, of which a maximum of five can be at a long-term summer camp. So if a troop goes on a nine-day canoe trek, where the Scouts sleep in a tent they’ve pitched each night, does that count towards the total of 15? And what about “cabin camping”? Does this count? (The requirements don’t specify that the camping must be in a tent that you pitched, like some of the rank or merit badge requirements.) (Joe Sefcik, Connecticut Rivers Council)

It’s often best to have a personal conversation with your local lodge advisor…a volunteer just like you! But, in the meanwhile, the way it typically worked in the four or five lodges I’ve been a member of, dating back to 1956, if a Scout was out there camping while on a canoe trip for 9 nights, he has just 6 more nights in the two years prior to the annual troop election needed to qualify (of which no more than 5 can be while at summer camp). (Let’s be sure to remember that the OA is known as “The Brotherhood of Honor Campers.”)

Camping is, as we used to say, “under canvas” and still often say “under the stars.” Cabin camping…? Well, somehow I think you already can guess the answer.
Dear Andy,

When Scouts travel to high adventure bases and other distant destinations, typically there can be a need to stay in a hotel or motel overnight. When doing so, the way I read the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING, we’d need to secure rooms that can hold six people, since the minimum is 4 Scouts with 2 adults. If we wanted to just bed down the Scouts, with no adults in a room (put adults in separate sleeping rooms), is that allowed? Thanks! (Stephen Everson, CR, Lewisburg, PA)

The first order of business is to check with your local council. I can only tell you, from my own experience traveling cross-country with a Jamboree troop, the Scouts stayed with Scouts in their own rooms and the adults stayed with adults in their own rooms; there was no “mixing.” (Minimum two Scouts to a room was the same basic structure as two Scouts to a tent.)

Hint 1: Be sure, when you check in, that the facility has turned off any “adult channel” access in all rooms occupied by minors.

Hint 2: You’re going to need “hall monitors”…consider them sentries. So get all your Scouts in rooms on the same floor, so you can post adults for the night (in shifts, of course) with sight-lines of all rooms occupied by the Scouts. (Skip this step and be prepared for possible mayhem <wink>)
Dear Andy,

It looks like I’m being denied membership in the Order of the Arrow, and this has been a running battle for the past five years. Our council’s Lodge Advisor claims it’s because of my supposed “inappropriate behavior” toward Scouts at past OA functions. I say it’s retaliation for a claim I submitted some years ago to the waste, fraud, and abuse representative. I’ve been a Scoutmaster, and a member of the lodge, for some forty-odd years, and not once has there ever been the slightest negative complaints aimed at me. I’ve spoken several times with our Scout Executive, but have gotten nowhere. I’d appreciate knowing who’s next up the “chain of command.” (Name & Council Withheld)

As I started reading your letter, my very first thought was that a conversation with the “Chief of the Fire”—your Scout Executive—would be the way to proceed. But then you told me that it’s apparently the Scout Executive himself (or herself) who’s blocking your way. What’s even stranger is that you’ve actually been a member of the Order of the Arrow since completing your Ordeal forty or more years ago! So what seems to be happening is that you’re being blocked from being a member of the OA lodge in your local council, rather than being “denied membership in the Order of the Arrow,” and that’s because the OA policy is once an Arrowman, always an Arrowman. So, one quick question…Have you tried simply paying your annual dues? That’s right, just sending a check (with no cover letter—just your name and contact information, or the lodge’s application, if they have one) for whatever the annual dues are, made payable to the lodge and sent to the proper address, and seeing what happens next? Give it a try. If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll assume it worked out okay. If not, let me know, but I’ll tell you right now that each council and each lodge is pretty much independent ever since the BSA’s regional structure was reduced and then virtually eliminated.

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. 463 – 12/1/2015 – 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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