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Issue 533 – May 30, 2017

Hi Andy,

I’ve been our troop’s Scoutmaster for the last five years and an Assistant Scoutmaster before that. We’d like to have a Unit Commissioner for our troop, so that we can function better and run our troop the way that it’s supposed to be (particularly Scout-led). We’ve requested this from our District Executive and, to his credit, he has gotten us several UCs over the past several years, but all of them have only shown up for one meeting and then we never see or hear from them again. Consequently, I have a few questions about a US’s role toward a unit, and what we might do to secure a “permanent” Unit Commissioner. For instance, what do Unit Commissioners do? What is their actual role and responsibility to the troop? Are they supposed to have regular meetings with us, or is this on an as-needed basis?

The absence of a Unit Commissioner for a bunch of years now has started to affect our troop, because, as I understand it, commissioners are supposed to keep us informed about important information from both the council and the district. We’re missing a lot of this information, including when our annual charters need to be turned in. It seems that the only time that we hear from anyone at the council level is when they want money from us and our families. What would be the best way to handle this and secure a Unit Commissioner? (Mark Kociemba, Northern Star Council, MN)

A Unit Commissioner’s role is multi-faceted… A UC is an ambassador for the district and council, and a cheerleader for and counselor to the Scoutmaster and committee. A UC keeps the troop’s adult volunteers current with happenings at the district and council level (e.g., upcoming camporees, roundtables, and other regular and special events). When a troop is having internal difficulties, a UC can act as mediator between differing viewpoints and an educator on how the Boy Scout program is intended to be delivered. A UC has no “authority” over the troop or its volunteers—that’s the responsibility of the chartered organization, though your CR (Chartered Organization Representative), but can provide advice and suggestions. At rechartering time, your UC can help you through the paperwork and process involved.

A good UC will stay in touch regularly (i.e., at least once a month) by a combination of troop meeting visits, committee meeting visits, phone calls, and email exchanges. In short, a UC is a troop’s “friendly uncle.”

A UC, if he or she is any good and understands the job, definitely doesn’t just show up once a year to do a council fund-raising presentation (That’s the job of other people on the district level). So if you’ve had a recent UC who visited once and then seemed to “disappear,” give ’em a phone call and ask, “Hey, what happened? We miss you!”

Care and feeding of UCs: Thank ’em for visiting, invite ’em to courts of honor and committee meetings, have a cup o’ coffee a few times a year, let ’em know you value their service. And definitely give your District Commissioner feedback on how much you value having the UC who’s been assigned to your troop.

So, try again, and—whatever you do—let that UC know they’re welcome and valued!

Thanks for taking the time to write. I wish more troops like yours actually wanted a UC! Too many incorrectly think that a UC’s primary role is to be the district’s “cop” or “spy.” (On the other hand, some UCs mistakenly believe they actually are the district’s cop or spy and if you get one of these, you can feel free to send ’em packing!)
Hi Andy,

While searching the Web I came across a form (it’s attached) for a community award application from the Knights of Columbus. This award isn’t listed the current community award list. Is this an award that an individual Knights of Columbus Council created, or does it really exist as a national award? My Unit Commissioner and I are both brother Knights, and we’re curious. If you can let us know more about this, we’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks for all you do for us Scouters. (John Burnham)

Yes, this is a recognition acknowledged by the BSA and can be awarded (via nomination) to any Knight who has fulfilled the requirements. The nomination form you attached states the requirements and then goes on to describe the approval process: “Obtain the written endorsements of your Knights of Columbus Council” and “Submit the appropriate documentation and written endorsements to (your) Knights of Columbus State Boy Scout Coordinator.”

The overarching recognition (by the BSA) is called “Community Organization Award,” and some 20 different national organizations—including the Knights of Columbus—make this available for Scouters who have demonstrated exceptional service to youth through the Scouting program. Here’s a more complete description, from the BSA’s website (as of the date of this sub-page, the Knights of Columbus wasn’t listed; however, it seems like the Knights are on-board with this now!):

A Community Organization Award (COA) square knot is available for registered volunteers to wear on their Scout uniform. This square knot denotes that a Scout volunteer has been recognized by one of 20 approved national chartered organization partners for Scout service within that organization. Those organizations are as follows:
• AFL/CIO-George Meany Award
• Alpha Phi Alpha-Fraternity Good Turn Service Award
• Alpha Phi Omega-Herbert Horton Youth Service Award
• American Legion Scouting Award
• AMVET Boy Scouts of America Youth Outreach Award
• ARRL-Amateur Radio Service to Scouting Award | Requirements
• Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks-Marvin Lewis Award Requirements
• Department of Defense-U.S. Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal
• International Fellowship of Scouting Rotarians-Cliff Dochterman Award
• Kiwanis International-BSA Community Organization Award | Requirements
• Lions Club Scouting Service Award
• Freemasons-Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award
• Military Order of the World Wars
• National Society-Sons of the American Revolution Boy Scout Volunteer Award
• Nonprofit Leadership Alliance- H. Roe Bartle Training Award
• Philmont Staff Association-Silver Sage Award
• Ruritan National Service Clubs Scout Leader Community Service Award
• U.S. Power Squadrons, Raymond A. Finley, Jr. Sea Scout Service Award
• Veterans of Foreign Wars-Scouter’s Achievement Award
• Woods Services Award for Scouting With Special Needs notes that although these aren’t BSA awards, per se, they’ve been created by partner organizations to recognize their own members for youth service through the Scouting program, and are offered to allow Scouting volunteers to wear a BSA-approved recognition device (the square knot) on their uniform (the BSA, as you probably know already, has a policy prohibiting non-BSA awards and badges from being worn on Scouting uniforms).

Importantly, a Scouter, if he or she is a member of more than one of the above-listed community organizations, may receive this recognition more than once–one from each of the organizations they’re a member of.

So don’t hesitate, as Knights, to identify fellow deserving Knights, gather the information needed, and then nominate them! Once that Scouter has been recognized by the KofC, he can take the documentation of having received that award (such as a certificate, letter, medal, etc.) to his local Scout shop to purchase the square knot (SKU No. 613864) for uniform wear.

Go for it!
Well, as long as we’re on the subject of recognitions here, Scouter Ben Ward tells me that the BSA has instituted a recognition program at the council and district levels, for Scouter and—primarily—non-Scouter educators, that I was unaware of! It’s called the Elbert K. Fretwell Outstanding Educator Award. The information following is provided with thanks to Ben, the BSA, and Wikipedia:

Elbert K. Fretwell, Ph.D. (1878-1962), was the BSA’s second Chief Scout Executive, from 1943 to 1948, following James E. West and succeeded by Arthur A. Schuck. Professor Fretwell was an early leader in the field of youth development through recreation and extracurricular activity, at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City. In 1918, Dr. Fretwell was appointed by the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Red Cross to supervise recreation work in United States Army’s post-WWI “reconstruction hospitals.” He was also a long-time Scouting volunteer, and was recognized for his services with the Silver Buffalo Award in 1939.

Upon nomination and selection, the Elbert K. Fretwell Outstanding Educator Award may be presented to those who, through their careers, have contributed in significant ways to making students better people by modeling and teaching Scouting values. Often, this will go hand-in-hand with academic excellence, but the selection process should emphasize those who are proactive in modeling and teaching values, in particular. This award, it should be noted, isn’t exclusively for classroom teachers. Any school employee who is equipping students to make moral and ethical choices is eligible for this award. This could be a teacher, administrator, custodian, cafeteria worker, attendance clerk, resource officer, teacher’s aide, or any number of other pursuits within the education sector. (Note: This award recognizes what a person does for students in their professional role within education; not for what he or she may do directly for or within Scouting. While a Scouting volunteer who works in education is eligible for the Fretwell Award, the BSA points out that there are many other recognitions for the service of Scouting volunteers.)

You might ask: Why would this recognition have been created by the BSA? The answer’s summed up in the BSA Mission Statement: “The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

For more information on how you can consolidate this recognition into your district’s or council’s overall program, go here:

Happy Scouting, Folks –


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. 533 – 5/30/2017 – 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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