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Issue 528 – April 27, 2017

Hi Andy,

Our son just got home from a weekend campout. While there, he participated in a Firem’n Chit “class” taught by a Second Class Scout (same rank as our son). During this class, he was told that since he couldn’t start a fire with one match he wouldn’t get his Chit. The Scout assisting in this class had passed out the chits to all Scouts he felt had “passed” the class (including our son) but was then told by the other Scout that our son doesn’t get one because he’d used more than one match to start his fire. Is this right? (Chris & Jessica)

The whole scenario is pure baloney. Go online and check the requirements for the Firem’n Chit. Not a single requirement involves starting a fire; it’s all about SAFETY. Building an actual fire, including preparation and safety issues, comes into play in requirements 2a-d for Second Class rank (there are no fire-building requirements for either Tenderfoot or First Class), which, of course, your son’s already done. And there’s absolutely no requirement anywhere that mandates a fire must be started with a single match. In short, whoever was doing the “teaching” didn’t know his elbow from a smoke-shifter.

Have a calm, non-accusatory chat with the Scoutmaster, with the actual Firem’n Chit requirements in hand—and maybe one of you can volunteer to help teach the Scouts who taught this how to do it the right way.
Dear Andy,

We have a problem here, not only in my troop but in many others throughout our district as well. It has to do with older Scouts who just stop showing up, except for when they’re looking for rank advancement (especially in the Life-to-Eagle category).

These older Scouts should be giving back to the troop by working with the younger Scouts, for instance. If a Scout just doesn’t appear for months, and then shows up looking for a sign-off on his next rank, I believe this impacts the new and younger Scouts and sets bad example. Plus, a troop is supposed to be Scout-led, but when the older ones don’t show up, it reverts to adult led. What do we do with this ongoing problem? (Chet Wickett)

As a former Scoutmaster, I’ve experienced this problem. The older guys just weren’t showing up or even going on troop campouts anymore. So I sought counsel from a neighboring troop that had active older Scouts—so active, in fact, that many of them drove to troop meetings in their own cars! Okay, guys, I asked…How are you all doing this? Here’s what I learned (in no particular order):

– Older Scouts weren’t used to “teach” (or worse, babysit!) their younger counterparts. Learning Scout skills was done within each younger age-group patrol, age-peer to age-peer.

– The older Scouts were organized (naturally, by the way—they’d “grown up” in the troop this way) into their own patrols, made all their own plans, arranged for their own transportation for campouts and hikes, etc.

– They picked their own “pathways” on hikes. Where younger Scouts might hike five miles or more up gentle slopes that led to the crest of a hill, the older Scouts found a steeper pathway so they could “boulder hop” their way to the top! (Then, all patrols met up at the same campsite.)

– They wore “Venture” strips on their uniforms (this strip is worn above the right pocket), signifying that they’re the sort of “elite” of the troop—it was “aspirational”!
– They went on their own, separate, campouts, where they practiced “backwoods” skills and techniques (no tents, minimal equipment, etc.).

– Since most had been elected into the Order of the Arrow, they went as a group on Brotherhood weekends, area Conclaves, and so on—but absolutely never at the expense of their own troop-first involvement!

– The key to their success was simple. It boiled down to never forgetting that THE PATROL always comes first—it’s the core unit is Boy Scouting! (A “troop” is merely the “umbrella” under which the patrols operate as individual units but bound together.)

Dear Andy,

I’m a former Scout who “aged out” after earning my Eagle in October 2016; I’d served as the Senior Patrol Leader and then Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. In 2014, a group of adults proposed restructuring our patrols by mixing ages (i.e., the older Scouts would be mixed into younger patrols at random and then made Patrol Leader) instead of the way we’d been doing it, which was patrols by age. Our Patrol Leaders Council considered the proposal and unanimously decided to not switch our patrol compositions.

The group of older Scouts who were PLC members (and had also attended NYLT) saw this proposal as nullifying the position of Troop Guide and making the younger scouts dependent on the older Scouts. This, we believed, would also disrupt the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing group development stages.

Despite what we in the PLC considered pretty sound reasoning, the troop’s committee and even the Scoutmaster and assistants pushed through their plan anyway, even though we, the troop’s elected leaders wanted nothing to do with it. We tried pushing for the “new” way to be revoked, but that never happened; the adults simply said, “This is the way we do it now…We, the adults, have decided and the PLC can’t change it.”

Now, as an Assistant Scoutmaster, I’ve been planning to bring this up again to the committee, to get them to agree on letting the PLC decide. While contemplating this, I learned that the PLC decided to vote on this issue for themselves and their patrols. I was asked to sit on that meeting with another ASM (he, also, had been an SPL in the troop, as a Scout) and the Scoutmaster. Right away, the PLC decided that we needed to return to our former patrol method, and put this into effect right after summer camp this year, so that the re-formed patrols could adjust to our “new-old” method. But now both the Scoutmaster and the committee are attempting to block this decision and keep things as they have been for the past couple of years.

So here’s my question: Can a Scoutmaster or committee actually block a PLC decision like this? (Justin Krum, ASM, Gulf Stream Council, FL)

From “Day One,” your PLC has been absolutely correct: Patrols are organized by age groups (refer to the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and to the SCOUT HANDBOOK to confirm this). When a den joins a troop upon graduation from a Cub Scout pack (which is how 80%+ of all boys become Boy Scouts), they join as an intact group and become a new Scout patrol. If an older Scout is available to serve as a Troop Guide, his role is as advisor and coach for the new Scout patrol’s elected Patrol Leader—the Troop Guide is absolutely not a “temporary PL”!

This is the structure as established by the BSA and nobody has the authorization to deviate from this. It’s not “optional”—it’s the way things are done, period.

There’s a solid reason for this. When patrols are re-jiggered and ages are mixed, guess who gets dumped on? Guess who gets KP first? Guess who gets to clean up the campsite? Yup…it’s the youngest Scout or Scouts in the patrol. Meanwhile, it’s not fair to the older Scouts, who have different interests, hold higher ranks, and are reluctant to be “babysitters” for the new, younger Scouts who have been thrust upon them.

The ideal patrol is formed upon joining and, if things go as they should, these Scouts are together in their patrol for the next seven years! If a boy brand-new to Boy Scouts wants to join, it’s most likely the result of being friends with, and of similar age to, a Scout already in a patrol, so that’s the patrol the new boy joins.

Let’s remember this: THE PATROL IS THE FUNDAMENTAL AND MOST IMPORTANT “UNIT” OF BOY SCOUTING, and the “troop” is merely the “umbrella” under which the patrols operate. Without intact patrols, it simply isn’t Scouting. And the best way to have intact patrols is to keep those who join together, together.

In your troop’s case, the committee may have the very best of intentions, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re WRONG. Busting up existing patrols and then mixing ages in new patrols is one of the very worst things that can happen in any troop.

Feel free to show this message to all involved and, if anyone still doesn’t comprehend the importance of what I’m pointing out, suggest that they write to me for further commentary on the subject…or simply RTFM — Read The Friendly Manual!

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. 528 – 4/27/2017 – 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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