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Issue 517 – February 7, 2017

Last week (Issue 516) District Training Chair Chris Way asked if being Wood Badge-trained supersedes the need to also get Scoutmaster-Specific and IOLS (Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills) training. In Chris’s council, these two aren’t mandatory for Scoutmasters, and I offered that while it’s certainly true that this training isn’t mandatory, it’s certainly valuable. But I also identified my own Wood Badge course, which was—egad!—nearly three decades ago!

While I’m pretty good at keeping current, I’m sure not “perfect” and this one proves that point. The other thing I know for sure is that just being right doesn’t mean you can be righteous about it and if you’re not right you’d better open your eyes and ears wide and pay attention! So, here’s more on this subject, thanks to two fine Scouters whose experience in this arena easily trumps mine…

Hi Andy,

I’ve been an IOLS instructor for five years, and I’ve also completed 21st Century Wood Badge. These two courses have distinctly different purposes: Wood Badge focuses on leadership skills; IOLS is teaches Scouting skills for Tenderfoot through First Class.

IOLS participants learn the fundamental skills all Scouts need to know so that they can use them, teach them, and evaluate them in the field. How do you assess whether or not a Scout’s pack has the right equipment for the conditions and is well-packed? Try cooking a hot meal that can feed a patrol. What are your state’s laws and the BSA guidelines for open campfires and cooking stove safety? How do you camp so that you’re safe and rested, and able to observe Scouts’ activities?

Even people with extensive outdoor experience will typically learn something new over their IOLS weekend. I’ve had course participants who do winter mountaineering in the Sierras, but were glad to learn what’s appropriate and safe for young Scouts. I learned new things when I took IOLS (and I’ve been backpacking since the 1960’s!). So don’t short-change IOLS—it’s truly “a Scoutmaster’s best friend”! (Walter Underwood)

Hi Andy,

About adult training… While it’s true that there’s no required adult training to be a Scoutmaster, the troop itself is prohibited from chartering (or rechartering) unless the Scoutmaster has completed both Scoutmaster-Specific and IOLS courses. Here’s the statement from the BSA Form: 524-420 “UNIT RENEWAL APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS”…

“Requirements for Adult Leadership Registration: Youth Protection training is required for all BSA registered volunteers. New leaders are required to take Youth Protection training within 30 days of registering. In addition, the applicant must complete a Disclosure/Authorization form. (Cub Scout) Packs—Cubmaster is the top leader and must complete C40—Cubmaster and Assistant Position-Specific Training. (Boy Scout) Troops—Scoutmaster is the top leader and must complete S11—Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills and S24—Scoutmaster-Specific Training.”

Now whether or not this requirement is enforced is another question. In our district, two units were delayed in rechartering last year until their “top unit leaders” were trained. (Tom Linton)

So, now that my memory and experiences have been jogged significantly, I’ll add this about Scoutmaster-specific training: Wood Badge doesn’t “teach” us how a troop’s organized, or why there are patrols and how critical patrols are to the whole Scouting experience, why Patrol Leaders and the Senior Patrol Leader are elected (instead of being selected by a Scoutmaster with infinite wisdom), or who is and isn’t a member of the Patrol Leaders Council—and why! Moreover, new Scoutmasters who were Scouts are often, unfortunately for themselves and the Scouts of the troop they’re about to serve, had Scoutmasters who thought their job was to “rule” the troop. Scoutmaster-specific, when done right, spends more time on the WHY than the HOW (the How is “in the book”—the WHY is what happens in the course)!
Dear Andy,

Our troop has a nine-month election cycle for youth leadership, mostly because we have a small troop and feel it takes that long to work with the Scouts to give them the leadership skills and the experiences they need to learn for their positions. But as it turns out, our current Senior Patrol Leader will turn 18 three months before his term ends. This leads to the question, Who fills what will be a vacated position?

My opinion is that the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader steps into this slot, based on the statement in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK that “With the approval of the Scoutmaster, the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader…takes his place when the Senior Patrol leader is absent.” This is the only place I could find any relevant information that fits this situation. What would be your guidance on this? Where else might I find information on this subject? (Randy Lusky, SM, Laurel Highlands Council, PA)

There isn’t a lot in “official” print on your situation, so let’s start here: Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders aren’t elected, and they’re not the runners-up when your troop holds its Senior Patrol Leader election; the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader is appointed by the Senior Patrol Leader (with the guidance of the Scoutmaster). So it seems to me that your best bet is to hold a new election, perhaps even right now, but stage it this way: The newly-elected Senior Patrol Leader’s term will begin on the exit of the current Senior Patrol Leader, but his training—led by the current Senior Patrol Leader (with you in the background, of course)—begins immediately and continues for the next three months, so that he can step in immediately when the current Senior ages out. This way, you have continuity, and an election. To solve one “wrinkle,” if the current Assistant Senior Patrol Leader wants to run for this position, that should be absolutely okay.
Dear Andy,

If a troop has multiple Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders, but they’re different ranks, which one is in charge in the absence of the Senior Patrol Leader? (Skip Brumme)

The BSA envisions a single Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, who’s responsible for the Scouts appointed to positions of responsibility, including Quartermaster, Scribe, Historian, etc. The classic (and standard) troop organization chart reflects this, even for “large” troops (see SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK). Despite this specific protocol, it’s not unusual to find troops with multiple Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders. One of the responsibilities of the (single) Assistant Senior Patrol Leader (who is appointed by the Senior Patrol Leader, by the way—the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader isn’t the “runner-up” in a troop’s Senior Patrol Leader election) is to “take the Senior Patrol Leader’s place when he is absent.”

For a troop with multiple Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders, it seems obvious to me that the Senior Patrol Leader would select the one Assistant Senior Patrol Leader who will fill in for him in his absence. There is, of course, no BSA guideline on rank or age, because the BSA specifies a single Assistant Senior Patrol Leader. So, on balance, I’d have to say it’s still the Senior Patrol Leader’s decision, and his decision alone. The Senior Patrol Leader is, after all, the top dog in the troop.
Hi Andy,

Can adult leaders earn the 50-Miler Award, provided they’ve hiked the miles and performed the required conservation work? (Lee Murray, Nevada Area Council)

Yup, sure can! Just be sure the patches go on your equipment (e.g., your favorite backpack) and not on your uniform.
Dear Andy,

We have two Second Class Scouts in our troop; both are great Scouts and have racked up a bunch of merit badges, but they’re stuck at Second Class because they can’t swim. They’ve tried and they’ve taken lessons—one of them for a full year—but they just can’t seem to pass the Swim Test for First Class rank. What are their options? How do Scouts advance if they can’t swim? (Ron Myers, CC, Transatlantic Council, Wiesbaden, Germany)

The flat answer is: They don’t.

But I’m sort of confused here… If they’ve indeed made it to Second Class, this means that they’ve both passed the BSA “beginner” test by jumping feet-first into water over their heads (same as First Class), leveling off (same), and swimming 50 feet (First Class is 300 feet in a strong manner and without stops using a specific set of strokes), with a stop-and-turn (same) (First Class includes rest-floating). So, it strikes me that this isn’t so much a case of “can’t swim” as it’s a question of endurance while underway in the water. So, if this is accurate, what to do…

Well, making it through the First Class requirements includes one that might help these Scouts: Req. 8a: “Be physically active at least 30 minutes each day for five days a week for four weeks.” If this became lap-swimming, that’s a minimum of ten hours of strength- and endurance-building swimming, and if they swam for an hour each day…well, you can do the math!

Unless a qualified physician classifies these Scouts as permanently disabled, mentally or physically, thereby opening the door for an “alternative” requirement, this is something they’ll need to accomplish or they’ll indeed be stalled permanently at Second Class.

My final suggestion here is that they need to learn how a severely near-sighted, horribly asthmatic boy became a sharpshooter, buffalo hunter, “The Hero of San Juan Hill,” and the youngest President of the United States, and then find their own way through this challenge with Theodore Roosevelt’s “strenuous life” as their guide.

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. 517 – 2/7/2017 – 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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