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Issue 516 – January 31, 2017

Hi Andy,

Can a young man who’s no longer in a Boy Scout troop but is now a member of a Venturing crew continue to earn merit badges? (Ben Hayes)

If he reached First Class rank as a Boy Scout before becoming a Venturer and he’s working toward Eagle rank, then certainly! If he’s not working toward Eagle rank, then no; merit badges are only earned by Boy Scouts or by Venturers per the situation I first described.
Dear Andy,

At one time in the past, my father’s Scout troop operated their color guard with non-working, wooden drill rifles such as a marching band might use. He’s now passed these ceremonial rifles along to me thinking I might wish to use them with my Scouts today. I’ve read numerous blogs and forum threads about “too much military” this and “no operating rifles” that. Can someone please just tell me, straight up, the BSA policy on the use of fake rifles by a color guard?

I’m not interested in a rehash of the Drum & Bugle Corps paragraph in the BSA GUIDE TO AWARDS & INSIGNIA because it doesn’t directly answer the question, which is: Can a troop color guard or honor guard, in uniform and acting as members of a BSA troop (i.e., not as members of a Drum & Bugle Corps), in a BSA ceremony presenting the flags, carry ceremonial rifles? (Les Beaver, SM, Great Smoky Mountain Council)

For an official response to your question, you’ll need to contact your Scout Executive or someone in the BSA National Office.

For me, as an in-the-trenches volunteer just like you, good sense rather than a “policy” prevails: Since the Scouting movement is neither a military nor even para-military movement, and since only military or law enforcement carry firearms of any kind (real or ceremonial) while in uniform, it would logically follow that Scouts do not carry firearms—even ceremonial ones—in public ceremonies because doing so would present an entirely wrong “message” or “impression” regarding what this youth movement is all about, and provide an incorrect impression to Scouts themselves. In other words, I don’t need a “rule” to tell me what we shouldn’t do, because good sense does this just fine. Think of it this way: The military’s job is to train men for war; Scouting’s mission is to prepare boys for peace.
Hi Andy,

Thanks for all your great information and guidance! Our troop’s been guilty of using the term “color guard” but we’re changing as I’m writing this. But this raises a point that’s a bit puzzling… I’ve personally seen all kinds of flag ceremonies by all different troops and packs, and each one uses different wording for the actual flag ceremony. Is there one, simple official BSA version written down somewhere that our troop can use for our own meetings plus church, civic, and other ceremonial situations? (“Mea culpa” Scoutmaster)

Nope… The BSA doesn’t have any “official” flag ceremony (or language to be used). But the Girl Scouts sure do! If you Google “flag ceremony” you’ll find dozens online, published by GSUSA troops across the country. This isn’t to say Boy Scout troops, summer camps, and so on don’t have these, too. But the Girl Scouts, in my experience, publish them in much greater detail.

It’s certainly okay for there to be lots of variations; after all, we’re not a military or even para-military movement. But it sure would be a good thing if we got our language right, and you’re leading the way when you see the difference and decide to make the change.
Dear Andy,

I’m our district’s training chair. This question came up the other day, and I have been unable to come up with an answer…

A Wood Badge-trained Scoutmaster has been told that in order to continue as Scoutmaster he must take both Scoutmaster-specific and IOLS (Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills) training.

We’ve done our homework, which reveals that it’s not mandatory for Scoutmasters to be trained in order to hold this position, and so we’ve put this issue to bed. But we also realize that this just dodges the real question, which remains unanswered.

If a Scouter has earned Wood Badge while serving in one position (say, as a Cub Scout leader), would he or she be required to take the elementary training for a new position (e.g., Scoutmaster)? We feel that Wood Badge training more than covers what is offered in the SM-specific and IOLS courses. So could someone in this situation get a “bye” because Wood Badge—the top-level unit Scouter training—is already done? Further, does a District Training Chair have any latitude in this regard? (Chris Way)

I think a conversation with your council’s training chair may be in order here. While it’s certainly true that training—even for a critical position like Scoutmaster—isn’t “mandatory,” it’s certainly valuable when it comes to direct, hands-on youth service. (Just imagine a guide who’s never once been inside a cave telling you that he or she is taking your sons spelunking, but “Not to worry…How tough could it be?!”)

Part of the answer may well have to do with when one took Wood Badge (and completed it, I’ll presume)… Was it back in the days when Cub Scout and Boy Scout leaders took separate courses? Or was it more current (e.g., 21st Century Wood Badge), with lots of outdoor stuff, including setting up a campsite, cooking, taking a hike, etc., etc.

Further, some councils offer an alternative to IOLS…a “second pathway,” if you will, that allows experienced Scouters to “test-through” the outdoor skills elements for Tenderfoot-through-First Class that they performed or taught.

You’re correct that there’s no national requirement stating that one must have completed IOLS (or even position-specific basic training) to register as a Scoutmaster. But if someone’s successfully completed Wood Badge for the 21st Century, the point would seem to be moot.

Thanks, Andy! I’m going to have a conversation with our Council Training Chair about this apparent conundrum. (Chris)

I’ll tell you that I’m slightly prejudiced on this issue because Wood Badge saved my skin when I was chosen as a brand-new Scoutmaster! It happened that I’d signed up for Wood Badge and started the course just two weeks after sewing on my Scoutmaster badge. My first three years were directly shaped by my “ticket”!

As training chair, it’s endlessly frustrating for me to face the resistance that people have to getting training. (I sometimes think that spelunking “cold” might be easier than navigating as Scoutmaster.) You would think that new volunteers would insist adamantly that they be trained instead of trying to duck it at every turn. Besides, it’s interesting, informative, and mostly it’s fun! (Chris)

Wood Badge was a hoot! I did mine in—egad!—1989 and I’m sorry I can’t do the whole thing all over again. It was the most fun I’d had since my days as a Scout summer camp staffer!

(WE4-58-89: I used to be an Owl — “The other white meat”)
Hi Andy,

Aren’t a Scout’s troop meetings supposed to be fun? Our son—a new Boy Scout—comes home each week complaining that they never have fun. In the troop and patrol meetings, they either work on their own rank advancements and merit badges or help other Scouts catch up on their advancements, clean their patrol boxes, etc., etc. to the point of no games, no challenges, no “spark”! They never seem to do any fun stuff. Now, we have to drag our son to these troop meetings.

Am I missing something? Is this how Scouting works? We’re trying to keep our son engaged, since Scouting seems to be a better option than video games or messing with his cell phone all the time. (Worried Parents)

Yup, you’re right…and I’m sorry your son’s disappointed. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. In the first place, troop meetings are no place for either merit badge work (Scouts do this with their counselors—outside of troop meetings) or cleaning patrol boxes (these should be cleaned up at the time they’re used—not in troop meetings). Yes, skills needed for rank advancement are sometimes taught in troop meetings (in the best troops, they’re taught by experienced Scouts; not by adults—and they’re taught at mini-patrol meetings “inside” the troop meetings). And then, of course, there are the inevitable (and usually boring) “announcements”—but these are rightly done by the Senior Patrol Leader; not by the Scoutmaster or any other adult. The main parts of a troop meeting should be (a) preparing for the next outdoor adventure and (b) intra-patrol competitions developed around Scouting skills (the best way to learn is to DO!).

If this troop isn’t providing these things, and your son’s willing to check out other troops in your area, I strongly urge you to do this with him! I’m hoping that you’ll find one or more other troops that get it right, and then your son can readily transfer from this present exercise in boredom and join up with a troop that makes Scouting FUN!

Scouts “vote” with their feet: If it’s boring, sedentary, book-work, or same-old same-old they’re outa there in a flash and they look for a troop that delivers challenges; adventure; friendly, team-building competitions; and—you said it—FUN!

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. 516 – 1/31/2017 – 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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