Author Avatar

Issue 513 – January 3, 2017

Hi Andy,

Any tips for a dad going on a Philmont trek? I know my son will have no problem this summer; it’s me I’m worried about! Unfortunately, so far I’ve taken “Be Prepared” to the extreme and I’ve wound up a “maximalist” when it comes to packing—right now my pack looks like the Beverly Hillbillies car! Any tips you can offer would be really appreciated (Joe Sefcik, New Haven, CT)

Are you ready? Here we go…

1) Read “The Complete Walker IV” by Colin Fletcher, especially the sections on “cut out the ounces and the pounds will take care of themselves,” and be furiously diligent about taking only gear that can be used in at least 2 ways!

2) Put weights up to 35-40 pounds in the backpack you’ll be carrying, and start walking with it for no less than an hour at least 3 times a week, every week, in all weather. On weekends, walk no less than 5 miles with it, in all weather, on both Saturday and Sunday if possible, but never less than at least once.

3) If you plan on wearing new hiking boots, don’t wait—buy them now and break them in now!

4) Never forget that, just like Scouting really isn’t about hiking and camping, your upcoming trek isn’t really about backpacking… It’s a life-changing mental and emotional experience… so make it your Zen. Good luck!
Hi Andy,

Two Merit Badge Counselors associated with our troop have put together a series of pre-troop meeting sessions for a “class” of up to 14 or 15 Scouts, for Citizenship in the Community merit badge. On the surface, this seems fine, but I’ve noticed that the program is pretty rigid. Miss a session, for instance, and there’s no “make-up” available; the Scout can continue, but he’ll get a “partial” on the missed session. Also, the sessions themselves are entirely requirement-oriented (i.e., “Show up and you’ll learn what you need to know for requirement x”) instead of being about one’s community, its government, its elected and appointed officials, the purpose of town meetings, how a town council operates, and so on. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be anything that involves the Scouts working together, either as a group (or groups) or as “buddies.”

I’m concerned that, by setting the work schedule on their own terms and not the time availabilities of the Scouts, these counselors may be overlooking the factors that are supposed to include Scouts’ initiative and personal responsibility. Are these counselors moving our Scouts in the right direction, in the right way, or am I just being maybe old-fashioned? I’ve tried to point out that all advancement, including merit badges, is supposed to be at the Scout’s own initiative and pace, and not the often arbitrary time-lines of counselors, but I’m not having much success on this front. Meanwhile, although this “program” began with more than a dozen Scouts about two months ago, the Scouts, one-by-one, are disappearing and not coming back for these sessions, which are getting less and less populated as the weeks go by. Any thoughts here? (Tom)

Let’s start here: These adults need to be registered as Counselors for this merit badge and they must have completed Youth Protection Training. If not, there’s a serious problem; but, for today, we’ll assume the positive.

The next big question is: How versed are these folks in the actual role of the Merit Badge Counselor?

While I’m sure they have the best of intentions, your description of their “program” does seem to smack of “classroom learning” rather than actual counseling, in which the Scout is in charge of his own schedule and time-line.

Good news! The BSA offers both Merit Badge Counselor Orientation (go to training/…/Merit_Badge_Counselor/
The_Essentials.pptx and especially note slides 22-23-24 and 32-33) as well as Training (go to v=4ZlCureuDpY). I’m going to recommend that all in your troop who are registered MBCs go through both of these (even if they’ve done this before now).

It’s apparent throughout both of these resources that counseling is best when it’s one-on-one (or two at the most); and that when it becomes a “group” the purpose is for interaction among and between the Scouts; not just sitting there, listening to lectures till their eyes glaze over and ears fall off.

Thanks, Andy! Yes, they’re registered as Cit-Community counselors and also have completed YPT. But I, too, see it as you do and, as you mention, “classroom counseling” that’s scheduled a half-hour before the start of troop meetings isn’t a learning-by-interaction format but rather a plow-through of the requirements—the Scouts never really get to grasp the significance of being involved as citizens of their community.

I’m going to pass these resource links that you’ve provided to all our troop leaders and counselors with strong encouragement to review them both (I might even use banners, balloons, and flags!). Thanks, again! (Tom)

The BSA orientation and training materials do discuss “group” merit badge work, and I can certainly attest that, as a MBC, I’ve done this myself, for Scouts in two different troops. In one case it was a group of about six, for Family Life; in the other, it was a similar size, for Communication. The big difference, however, was that the Scouts themselves did most of the talking, while I—as facilitator—guided their discussion. This way, they learned from one another rather than from my own droning on and on! For Family Life, one very involved and revealing discussion was how each of their “family dynamics” was different and where there were similarities…especially when the Scouts had younger or older brothers and sisters! They were also very keen observers of how their parents interacted, and they keyed off one another on where they “fit” in the family. For Communication, one of the things this group did was planning and putting on one of the best “indoor campfires” I’ve ever enjoyed observing (and, having been a summer camp staffer for more than a half-dozen years, there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen!). One of the best outcomes of these two instances was the bonding that happened between the Scouts. Conversely, had I chosen to “lecture” and “give orders,” each Scout would have remained an individual, with little to no bonding, and I would have created Scouting’s answer to the “Bataan Death March.”

So if your current MBCs are willing to FACILITATE, everyone can have the opportunity for a special experience… But keep the group(s) small: Six is just about perfect (think Wood Badge and why there are patrols of six!).
Dear Andy,

A group of ten or so of our Scouts, from different patrols, have an opportunity to do some additional conservation work on a project they started a few weeks ago. At that first go-round we had a good mix of adult leaders and Scouts. But this time, due to this time’s scheduling putting it on a weekday, it’s doubtful that we can send any adults (they’re working). However the Scouts are available because, for them, it’s their winter break from school. So can we send them by themselves to do work on this project?

We can drop them off, and pick them up later. The work, and the Scouts, will be supervised by representatives of the state agency coordinating the conservation work, so safety and supervision isn’t a concern.

The BSA GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING says, “There are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when the presence of adult leaders is not required and adult leadership may be limited to training and guidance of the patrol leadership. With the proper training, guidance, and approval by the troop leaders, the patrol can conduct day hikes and service projects.” I’m taking this to mean the Scouts can do this work without any adult supervision from our troop; however, if it turned out that one of our trained leaders could be there, would we need two adults to satisfy YP guidelines? It’s a bit confusing. (Lee Murray, Nevada Area Council)

Rather than tying yourselves up in a “legal hairball,” just consider this an intra-patrol activity that will be overseen by the state agency personnel. In suggesting this, I’m assuming that this service project won’t be carried out in deep forest or wilderness area, but will most likely have some public visibility, and that we’re talking about a few hours and not an “overnight” situation. One way to help this work would be for the Scouts to be in full uniform, which makes them easily identifiable to themselves and others (and it also makes for a great photo op!).

Thanks, Andy—that’s pretty clear! And your guess is spot-on: the project is about 1,000 yards from a subdivision, with easy visibility, and it’s a maximum 6- to 8-hour project for the Scouts (i.e., no overnight).

Can I ask one more related question? Based on what I’m hearing from you, if the same intra-patrol group decided to go on a multi-day backpacking trip, due to the overnight and back country aspect, they would then need proper two-deep adult oversight. Is that correct? (Lee)

Yup, you’re correct. For an overnight, you’d want to observe the “two-deep” adult presence guideline. But this is for safety; not “youth protection.”

Happy Scouting and Happy New Year!


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. 513 – 1/3/2017 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2017]


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

Follow Andy

Subscribe via email or RSS and follow via social media.

Comments are closed.