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Issue 488 – May 24, 2016

Dear Andy,

My thesis for “Doctorate of Commissioner Science” has just been approved; I’ve received my certificate and the “DCS” patch. But although I’ve asked, nobody seems to be sure about where it’s worn. Some say it’s a “temporary patch” for the right pocket. Others say I can put it above the right pocket (where a Jamboree patch is supposed to go). Still others say I can wear it on my left sleeve, in place of my normal Commissioner position patch. Can you help with this? (Al Phresceau, New Jersey)

Yup, I sure can…but you’re not gonna be particularly happy. Although it’s a recognition, it’s not intended to be worn on your uniform.
Dear Andy,

I’m concerned about a Scout in our troop trying to put together a “Capture the Flag” war game under the “disguise” of it looking like an orienteering activity. Is there a definitive BSA rule I can refer to, so that we, the adult leaders, can stop this kind of military activity-type stuff once and for all? This same Scout is always pushing questionable activities, like paintball, for instance. He’s been told many times that these aren’t Scout-appropriate activities, but he doesn’t give up. He waits until he thinks he won’t be overheard and then urges the younger Scouts to say these are what they want to do. How do we put an end to this sort of stuff? (L.J., ASM)

Capture The Flag is hardly a “war game.” It’s actually an elaborate variation on the game of Tag, and it’s been played by Scouts for generations (I played it over 50 years ago, at Scout summer camp). There’s nothing inherently “military” about it, and it can be lots of fun because it’s based on teamwork and strategy as well as physical ability (lots of running!).

As for paintball, as long as there are no human or other living targets (or simulations of same), paintball is a BSA-approved activity. Bull’s eye targets are completely permissible, but that’s where it stops. There’s no shooting at one another, under any circumstances.

As for this Scout’s deviousness, this can stop if a general announcement to the entire troop is made about the kinds of activities they can choose to do, and those they’ll need to go somewhere else to do.
Hi Andy,

I’m facing a recruiting dilemma, and hope you can help. We’re an active, Scout-run troop in a large suburban area with a lot of Cub Scout packs. Last year, a large number of new Scouts from a pack sponsored by one of the local churches joined our troop, even though we’re not affiliated with that church. But, in addition to a pack, that church also sponsors a Boy Scout troop. The troop they sponsor is 99% adult-run, and their “selling point” is that “In our troop, your son will be an Eagle Scout in three years if he attends all our meetings.” We, on the other hand, emphasize leadership, character, and camping, with advancement as a natural (but not all-important) byproduct.

This year, the about-to-graduate Webelos from that pack weren’t allowed to come to our troop’s recruiting events; their Cubmaster insisted that all of “his” Webelos join the troop at the same church.

Despite this roadblock from one pack, we still recruited nine Webelos Scouts from four other packs.

Is there any way we should respond to that roadblock? Or should we just leave it alone? (Name & Council Withheld)

Wow! A troop that’s Scout-run! How refreshing! I’m sure sorry that that other troop has it completely backwards, but it’s up to their Unit Commissioner (if they have one) to help them see the light—an uphill battle, most likely. So stick with what you’re doing, knowing that you’ve got your priorities right.

That said, let me go a little further, with a suggestion about the nine new Scouts you’ll be receiving… Be sure they divide themselves in to two patrols; not one. This will leave growth room for each of them. If you lump them all together, they’ll start out too large and the opportunity for attrition will be excellent (the opposite of what you want to achieve). In “dividing,” let the Scouts sort things out. Just ask them, once they’re all at a meeting together, to divide themselves into one group of four and another of five, and no Scouts left out (they can do this much better than we adults can!). Avoid the temptation of “seeding” these new Scouts into existing patrols, where they’ll be the “low man” and likely get all the chores the other Scouts would prefer to not do.

Then, when the two patrols are formed, ask two older Scouts to be their Troop Guides, to mentor these patrols’ own elected Patrol Leaders! (And remember that Troop Guides are indeed mentors; they’re absolutely not “temporary Patrol Leaders.”)

As far as the boys that go to the other troop, let it happen, but—as best you can—be sure the parents (and their sons, if possible) know that if they’re ever unhappy they can change troops.

It’s important for all Scouts and parents to know that boys don’t “marry” troops; they pick troops that they think they’ll be happy in, and if they’re not happy, they change. This isn’t “quitting.” It’s the same as going to a restaurant and not liking the food. You may finish the meal, but you just don’t go back again.

As for that single-minded Cubmaster, how about simply inviting him to a meeting or two (keep this informal and no “pressure”) so he can see first-hand what those boys he sent elsewhere are missing (without ever making a point of this—he’ll figure it out on his own).

Thanks for the great advice, Andy! I circulated our email thread to a few ASMs in our troop, which resulted in two items I’d appreciate your thoughts on…

First, I was advised to “proceed with caution” on contacting the Unit Commissioner. I think I’ll take their advice, and leave it alone. We all live in the same community and attend the same schools. I don’t know if I’m ready to make waves in this little pool.

Next, I was also surprised to receive push-back from our ASMs on having our nine (and now, as of today, ten!) new Scouts separate into two patrols. I think I’ll take YOUR advice. I think two patrols of five Scouts, with trained and qualified Troop Guides, is the way to go. (The ASMs’ concerns were that “we’re going to lose two or three Scouts, and a patrol of three just can’t work,” but I don’t think we’re going to lose—I think we’re going to gain!

Thanks again. You’re helping me be a better Scoutmaster. (N&CW)

Just so we’re clear, the purpose of the Unit Commissioner is to function as a guide, mentor, and friend of the Scoutmaster and troop committee. We’re not “council cops” and we aren’t in the business of witch-hunting. It’s that pack’s Cubmaster who needs help, and maybe a UC can help him. The basic idea is simple: Any boy can choose any troop he wants, any time he wants. This Cubmaster, my making his goal an edict, is operating beyond his authority as a volunteer. He needs counseling and a UC is in the best position to do this. Remember: Commissioners don’t “out-rank” anyone! We don’t have the authority to demand anyone change what they’re doing, even if what they’re doing is completely off the reservation! So fear not. Commissioners are here to help; not to “give orders.”

Stick to your guns on two patrols, for exactly the reasons you’ve cited. Your ASMs have just proven why they’re assistants… They have a lot to learn before they can be considered Scoutmaster Material!

The way to build strong patrols—brand-new ones and even those that have been established for a while—is to put as much responsibility on their shoulders as possible. This means adult volunteers and parents need to step back and let go of what’s they’ve been doing. First, the PLC does all the deciding on where their patrols are going to go hiking and camping. Second, all patrols are responsible for themselves. This includes menu planning, food buying, checking out tents from the Quartermaster, arranging for their own transportation, etc., etc. The committee and parents don’t do any of this! No “troop transportation captain” anymore. No more “troop trailer” to get the tents to the campsite. If there are patrol “cook boxes,” then each patrol checks one out of inventory and figures out how to get it to the campsite. Every member of the patrol has a job: PL (manages the duty roster), Grubmaster (does the buying, collects food money from each Scout), Transportation Chief, Patrol Quartermaster, Firemaster, Cooks (two Scouts), etc.

Always use the Patrol Leader Handbook and the SPL Handbook—make sure each of your troop’s elected leaders has one! In short, do everything you can to make this strong troop even stronger.

(BTW, this stuff works! We don’t have to “re-invent” Scouting; we just have to stick with the program as it’s written for us to do! It’s like a great cookbook… If we follow the recipe we’re going to make something really great, but if we start making substitutions, leaving stuff out, or adding in stuff that’s not in the recipe… Yuck! )

Thanks again for the great feedback. Since I became Scoutmaster a while back, I’ve tried to point our 60 Scouts toward, as you say, Scouting’s True North. I’ve asked the Patrol Leaders Council to re-form per my SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, brought a patrol of 16 Scouts together and asked them to re-group into two patrols of eight each (which they successfully did—by themselves), led training for every youth leadership position, purchased SPL and PL handbooks for those leaders, and brought Order of the Arrow elections back into the troop. I also asked our troop committee to invest troop funds to purchase large tarps for every patrol (until I arrived, all camping was done on a “troop” basis). When I discovered, early on, that all fourth- through seventh-year Scouts were labeled “leadership,” and didn’t have a patrol of their own, I got them to create their own “older Scout patrol.” Now there’s no reason go “troop camping”—now they’re all camping by patrol.

I’m blessed with a group of ASMs, a committee and chair, and a Chartered Organization Representative who all have supported everything I’ve instituted. Most importantly, we’ve now had two Senior Patrol Leaders and a score of ASPLs who’ve bought into the upgrades and have risen to the challenge of running the troop by and for themselves, with my support role as mentor and coach. (Yes, a few Scouts originally grumbled about “tradition” and “that’s not how we’ve done it,” but they came around pretty fast once they caught the swing of things.

Funny thing happened with the former “Troop Leader Council.” In the past, all youth leaders had a voice in these meetings, even positions like Historian and Quartermaster. But—and this is a kick in the head–when we restructured to a real PLC, removing the “open invitation,” attendance by the Patrol Leaders actually went up. Then we actually had competition to be the next Senior Patrol Leader—it was no longer merely “crown the next Scout in line.”

I’m having the time of my life! For the previous eight years, I’d been a youth baseball coach. Switching my volunteer efforts to Scouts has been so much fun. I thought I’d miss the dugout culture and the camaraderie that comes with coaching a team, but I’ve realized that my “team” has simply become larger, and it’s always in-season. It’s a blast…For me AND our Scouts!

I owe much of the reforms to the common sense advice you provide in your columns. Keep it up, and keep challenging me to be a better Scoutmaster. Thanks for that! (N&CW)

Folks ask from time to time, “Do you get paid to answer all those questions and write these columns?” You bet I do! You’ve just given me the best possible “paycheck” I could ever receive.

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. 488 – 5/24/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]


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.

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