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Issue 496 – July 26, 2016

Hi Andy,

We held a Tenderfoot board of review last night for one of our newest Scouts. We had two committee members present. I had sent out an email to the committee last week, right after I’d conferenced with this Scout, stressing the need for a review ASAP, but these two were the only ones who showed up after several phone calls to committee members and my having to advise one of my ASMs that he can’t sit on reviews because of his registered position with the troop. Still one-short, I called one of our Scout’s fathers, who is a former Scout, worked at Scout camp, and attended a National Scout Jamboree in the late 80s. I asked him if he could help out; he said yes, and came to the review immediately. As a result, the Scout successfully completed his Tenderfoot review! So here’s my question… Was it actually okay for me to have a non-registered adult to help with this review (I don’t make this an ongoing practice) when we can’t find a third (or fourth, or more) committee member to show up? (Name & Council Withheld)

You absolutely did the right thing for the Scout. Yes, this is permissible, per the GTE, so long as it as it’s a “one-off” and not made standard practice. The long-term best solution here is for your committee chair to recruit one or two more committee members for the express purpose of sitting on boards of review for all ranks up to Eagle.
Dear Andy,

One of the things I’ve started doing when planning a troop trip is to make an Emergency Contact Sheet that includes the phone numbers and addresses of the nearest hospital and state police or sheriff’s office where we’ll be camping. If we’re going to be in multiple locations, then each location will have the nearest hospital, law enforcement, and so on. I also have with me the phone number for our Chartered Organization Representative and who to call if there’s a problem with the troop trailer.

Recently, I added the name and cell phone number of our Scout Executive and, if we’ll be in a council area other than our own, then I look up the name of that council and get their contact information. Thinking about this, it would be really helpful if all councils have on their web page the cell phone number of the Scout Executive, since I’d hope that if I had a problem, incident, or emergency, I’d be able to inform the local S.E. of the situation and he might be able to provide assistance as necessary. Any chance you could feed that idea back to the national office and have them encourage councils to list an “emergency” number that a Scoutmaster could call in the event he need assistance from a professional? (Stephen) (Love your columns!)

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a Scoutmaster, I did much the same as you’re doing. I like your idea of including the S.E.’s contact information as well (I didn’t think of doing that!), especially in the off-chance that an “incident” needs to be reported.

Unfortunately, feeding ideas to the national office is above my pay-grade. That said, I’m happy to publish your letter right here (folks in the national office do read these columns) and let’s see if it strikes a chord…
Dear Andy,

As an adult volunteer working hours away from home and packing to meet the troop at the campsite this weekend, I assure you that there are more than “ten essentials” for a back pack. I count 11. (We can’t forget the back pack itself!) (Neal Cleary)

Okay eleven if you really want to include the pack. But since these are “for” a pack, I think it’s sorta understood…
Hi Andy,

I see the box in the handbook for the “leader” initials and date. But who is really able to initial and date as a requirement is completed? A committee member is considered a leader, but may have no clue how something is done, whereas a Star or Life Scout may not be a “leader” but has intimate knowledge about a certain requirement. (Bob Mitchell)

It may come as a surprise, but here’s the deal: Committee members really don’t generally interface with Scouts. This is what the Scoutmaster and ASMs (if any) do. Committee members are the “back room” support folks.

So, with that in mind, “Leader” can certainly be the Scoutmaster or designated ASM, and can even be the Scout’s Patrol Leader, a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, or—in certain circumstances—the Senior Patrol Leader. It can even be a Scout holding the position of Instructor. But a random Star or Life or Eagle Scout isn’t the logical place to go because—as you point out—he may not be a “Leader.” A Scout who’s First Class or above in rank can certainly be the instructor (lower-case “i” here) who then asks a “Leader” to sign the Scout off on having completed the requirement.
Hi Andy,

I’m a Merit Badge Counselor. My Scout grandson is 16 and lives with me. Do I need “two-deep” when working on a merit badge with him? (Ben Hayes)

It’s not “two-deep” that’s needed when counseling; there simply needs to be a third person (adult or youth, related or not—it doesn’t matter so long as that person is in earshot [they don’t have to be “visible”]). Your grandson can have a Scout “buddy” or your wife can simply be at home. Either is just fine. That said, because you’re his grandparent, I’d say you two are just fine! Or, if you really want to be 110% on the mark, you two can meet in a public place, like your local library or even on your front porch (weather permitting).
Hi Andy,

I’m with a troop that does merit badges differently from other troops I’ve been involved with in the past. In this troop, we will sign up several merit badge counselors for merit badges (usually Eagle-required badges), and then, on a once-a-month “advancement night,” our troop’s Advancement Coordinator announces to the Scouts the advancement requirements they need to work on, or merit badges they need to work on. He then instructs the Scouts to get with a counselor (they’re already in the troop meeting room) to work on the badge. For instance, a Scout might be told, “Johnny, you’re working on requirement 5a of the Camping badge, so go see Mr. White.” The Scout then goes over to Mr. White and works on that requirement. At the end of the night, the counselors then tell the Advancement Coordinator what’s been done for which merit badges, and these are checked off in the “Troop Master” software. (Yes, I know that Counselors are technically council-level positions, but our district tells troops to use their own MBCs.)

Anyway, I’ve had Scouts who started with me as their counselor and suddenly they are awarded the merit badge at a court of honor! Turns out that they’d gone to another counselor to do unfinished requirements, as directed by the Advancement Coordinator. In the past, I’d start with the Scout on a badge and I’d work with that Scout until he had it all done, after which I’d sign his “blue card” and give the Scout his two segments. If the Scout was from the troop I’m with, I’d tell the advancement folks and they’d order the badge(s).

Is there not some principle that says that one of the purposes of merit badges is to allow youth association with adults? I think my current troop’s method short-circuits that. Can you tell me if I am wrong about this? (Name & Council Withheld)

Thanks for asking about one of the most important issues in all of Scouting.

Yup, this troop’s “method” is short-circuiting a whole lotta stuff! Mostly, it’s short-circuiting 50% of the purpose of the BSA merit badge program (which you’ll find in all BSA literature on this important aspect of Boy Scouting): Scout INITIATIVE!

The merit badge program is specifically designed so that it’s the Scout (and no one else) who decides what merit badge(s) to earn, when, and with what counselor. It’s in the Handbook: Pick a merit badge, tell your Scoutmaster, get a counselor’s name and contact information from your Scoutmaster, call up the counselor, set an appointment to meet, and then meet eyeball-to-eyeball to get started on the requirements…and continue to work with this adult until you’ve completed the requirements.

This process—which has been in place for decades—is absolutely deliberate. It follows the principle that advancement (or not) is in the hands of the Scout, first and foremost, and virtually exclusively.

For a troop to short-cut half of the process—the most important half, in fact—denies Scouts the opportunity to grow into young men who can take personal responsibility for themselves, develop a sense of initiative, contact a total “stranger” (who’s an adult, no less), and collaborate with that adult to achieve an end-goal. What this troop is ultimately doing is treating these Scouts as infants, by spoon-feeding them “badges” instead of life experiences.

How do we expect to develop young people who are Prepared for Life if we do for them what they’re supposed to be doing for themselves?

Thanks Andy! I’d like to bring this up with the Scoutmaster, who’s a reasonable guy, and our Committee Chair, who is a former advancement coordinator (and may have set up this method). Can you help me out, first, with some answers to some questions (and I’ll appreciate where, in BSA literature, I can find these answers)…?

Should the Scout stay with the same councilor for the merit badge?

Does the Scout have to use the “blue cards” to work on the merit badge?

Should the Scout go outside the troop for a merit badge councilor?

Does the Scout have to read the merit badge pamphlet for the badge?

Can a Scout be denied starting a new badge if he has too many unfinished ones?

What is the job of the Advancement Coordinator?

You need to make a small investment. In addition to the current SCOUT HANDBOOK (which I’m assuming you already have), get yourself two other books: 2016 BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (SKU 621535) and GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT 2015 (SKU 620 573). These are available at your local council’s Scout shop or online via

Here are some answers, but I’m going to leave the research you, because, in searching them out, you’re going to learn a whole bunch of other stuff that will help you help your troop AND the Scouts…

Should the Scout stay with the same councilor for the merit badge?
It’s not mandatory that a Scout do this, and sometimes it can’t be done (e.g., he gets a “partial” at summer camp and then completes the requirements once home), but, whenever possible, it’s definitely the better way to proceed. That said, if the Scout is in any way unhappy with a counselor, he has the right to go to his Scoutmaster and ask for the name and contact information for another counselor.

Does the Scout have to use the blue cards to work on the merit badge?

Should the Scout go outside the troop for a merit badge counselor?
Of course! This is 50% of the purpose of the BSA Merit Badge Program; that is, to contact and work with an adult he doesn’t know.

Does the Scout have to read the merit badge pamphlet for the badge?
Any Scout who doesn’t avail himself of the wonderful information in the corresponding merit badge pamphlet is just plain foolish.

Can a Scout be denied starting a new badge if he has too many unfinished ones?
No. That said, his Scoutmaster would want to conference with the Scout to unearth what the problem(s) may be…

What is the job of the Advancement Coordinator?
Fundamentally: Record-keeping.

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. 496 – 7/26/2016 – 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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