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Issue 514 – January 10, 2017

Last week, Joe from Connecticut asked if I had any tips for a Philmont trek first-timer. Two readers reached out, one with and offer and the other with some great suggestions. Here they are…

Hi Andy,

Please share my e-mail address with Joe. Last summer I was lucky enough to accompany our crew on our very first trip to Philmont. We learned a lot during or prep and during the trip. I’d be happy to share what we learned. (Lee Murray, Reno, NV)

Hi Andy,

THE COMPLETE WALKER IV is a great book, but things have really changed in the 15 years since it was written. We can go much, much lighter now and still be safe and comfortable. If the lighter pack reduces fatigue, it increases safety. The key idea from that book is that gear is the last thing we choose. After we understand our skills, the challenges of the trek, and our goals, then we are ready to choose gear. Colin Fletcher’s gear choices aren’t mine, but understanding his decision process allows me to make better choices.

I teach IOLS and High Adventure Training in our council and recommend two books and two practices:

First Book: “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide” by Andrew Skurka. This even includes an appendix with recommendations for Philmont. This is the best backpacking book I know and I have a few shelves of them, including my dad’s books. A new edition is coming this year, but I wouldn’t wait if I was going back to Philmont. Here’s a link: My review of his Philmont list:

Second Book: “Lighten Up!” by Don Ladigan. Some of these techniques are for solo or pair hikers, not Scout leaders, but this short book will take a couple of pounds off your pack. Here’s the link for this one:

Practice #1: Make a list and weigh everything. If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. I recommend weighing in grams and converting to English measure. I have tent stakes that weigh 4g, 6g, and 7g, and I don’t want to deal with that in fractions of ounces.

Practice #2: Learn something on every outing. Don’t take a chair (I learned that I really want a chair). Take the ultralight sleeping pad and your regular pad (just wasn’t comfortable on the 4 ounce pad). Don’t take camp shoes (haven’t packed camp shoes for twenty years). Navigate with GPS (I walked a half mile in the wrong direction). Cook new things (freezer bag cooking, bannock, campfire twist bread, etc.).

How light can you go at Philmont? Ask Doug Prosser:
(Walter Underwood)
G‘morning Andy,

I think I know the answer but can’t find it… My grandson is an Eagle Scout and is in a Venturing crew. If he has life membership in NESA, can he wear that square knot on his Venturing uniform? And can you give me the reference source? (Ben Hayes)

If your grandson is age 18 up to 21, and he’s willing to remove the oval Eagle Scout badge from his left pocket, he can definitely wear the NESA Eagle “knot” instead. But he’d be in error if he considered wearing both. If he’s under age 18, he’ll have a bit of waiting to do before making this decision. (Source: It’s from the BSA book, GUIDE TO AWARDS AND INSIGNIA)
Dear Andy,

I was a Scout in the 1950s. Back then, Second Class rank required knowing, sending, and receiving Morse code (which gave me fits). I see that that requirement has vanished. Would you please verify when, for this old sailor? (Frederick F. Fletcher, CDR USNR Ret.)

Morse code was apparently dropped in 1972, beginning with the Eighth Edition of the Handbook.
Hi Andy,

Can a religious chartered organization limit membership in its troop to just members of that religion or denomination? (Jim Kelley, NCAC)

This sounds like a simple question, but we could be sticking our toes in some pretty muddy water. A whole bunch of years ago, there definitely was at least one particular church I’m aware of that did limit its membership to members of that faith only…but this went the way of buggy-whips several decades ago, as that church recognized the wisdom of inclusiveness over exclusion. Today, its Scouting units continue to thrive with multiple-faith representation among youth members. I also know that, as the BSA worked through gender-related issues, chartered organizations were provided significant latitude; but whether that’s restricted to the orientation issue or goes beyond it is definitely above my pay-grade. So the best I can do from here is to recommend a face-to-face (or voice-to-voice via phone, but no less than that) conversation between you and your assigned District Executive. Your D.E. will likely be the most current, and most knowledgeable on this specific issue. (BTW, I’d be happy to publish your D.E.’s information on this…it may be able to help others in our Scouting community.)
Dear Andy,

What are the Scouting requirements for Merit Badge Counselors? Are they like Venturing crew consultants, that is, subject experts, except that they require background checks and youth protection training? Is training as a Merit Badge Counselor required or “recommended”? The reason I’m asking is that, in our council, we now have Merit Badge Counselors who are Advisers in our Order of the Arrow lodge. I’m not sure this is a problem or not, as they do need to go through the background checks and complete YPT; however, I do see it as a way to possibly get around paying BSA and council dues. (Confused Arrowman)

Pretty much as you’ve stated, MBCs are registered adult volunteers (yes, with BSA-initiated background checks) and are YPT certified. If your council offers it, they can take MBC orientation and training sessions, or take these online on their own. They will, of course, be topic-specific qualified for the merit badges they’ve designated (i.e., merely being registered as a Merit Badge Counselor doesn’t mean one can counsel on every merit badge; it means only that one is qualified for specified merit badges).

As for Chapter Adviser and Lodge Adviser, although these have “position” patches, they aren’t registered positions; they’re positions specifically appointed by the Chief of the Fire (aka Scout Executive) of your council.

So, if one or more MBCs holds a Chapter Adviser or Lodge Adviser position with your OA lodge, remember that this is by appointment, which further means that if your Scout Executive is okay with the Chapter Advisers of a Lodge Adviser coming from the council’s MBC pool (and therefore non-dues-paying), well, that’s his or her decision.

But let’s also remember that in order to be a Lodge/Chapter Adviser, one needs to be a member of the local OA lodge, and to be a member means one has been elected. Largely, units elect members into the OA. So even if they’re MBCs, they’re most likely also unit-level registered volunteers and have therefore been background-checked, etc., and they’re dues-paying members of the BSA and the local council.

Hi Andy,

Is it appropriate for a council Vice President of Field Services to also hold a district-level position, such as District Advancement Chair? (I’m just wondering if this is spreading oneself too thin.) (Steve Craig)

There’s nothing inherently inappropriate (or “illegal”) about holding two (or more) positions like this, although one would hope it’s not too burdensome. The key question is one of time allocation relative to the other aspects of one’s life: family, work, etc. If someone can do both, that’s okay; but I’d also be a bit concerned if the reason behind it was council/district level volunteers in short supply…or if some sort of “fiefdom” is being cobbled together up.

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. 514 – 1/10/2017 – 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.

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