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Issue 535 – June 27, 2017

An international convention of over 40 thousand Rotarians, a quick vacation at Oak Island, North Carolina, two major all-day in-town events, and now the dust has settled a bit, so I’m finally back at this keyboard, with most of my fingers functional again. Here we go, with my thanks for your patience…

Hi Andy,

Quick question… I use for my badges and awards information, but may have missed this one: When it comes to “square knots,” is there an order of precedence above the left pocket of a Scouter’s uniform shirt? (Rodney Honeycutt)

Good news! Order of preference is the wearer’s. He or she can arrange these—bottom row to top—in any order that they’d like.

That said, let’s also remember that “God is in the details”… Square knot do have left and right sides! So be sure to do a little more homework, so that they’re sewn on facing the correct direction. Seriously! Because I can promise you that some “OCD” Scouter (like me!) is gonna notice. (If they’re the right kind of Scouter, they’re not gonna say anything, but they’ll still spot the glitch.)
Hi Andy,

I’ve been working for the last several years as a member of my council’s program committee. I’m charged with building council’s merit badge counselor corps and also to make sure our camps and merit badge events are staffed with approved and registered merit badge counselors for the badges they are signing off on. I just finished leading a special training session for our council’s camp staff, including getting all those age 18 and over registered for the badges they’ll be handling at camp. As recommended by the BSA, we included all sub-18 staffers who’ll be assisting as instructors in this training session.

So, can these younger instructors get credit for having completed the training now, so that when they return to camp staff next year (or the year after) when they’re 18, this year’s training will satisfy the training specified for when they can become an “official” merit badge counselor? (Bill Cox)

A key element in approval of a merit badge counselor by your council’s advancement committee is subject matter proficiency. If this is in place, there should be no major problem in registering 18 year-olds as counselors for merit badges, especially if they’ve already participated in a council-sponsored orientation program. Merit badge counselor training has no “expiration date” (like YPT, which is to be refreshed at regular intervals), so it seems to me that the training they participated in as youth instructors should be acceptable and can carry forward.
Hi Andy,

Can a Scoutmaster require a Scout to cut his hair? What about insisting that a Scout get his hair cut short as a “requirement” for going on a canoe trek at the BSA’s Northern Tier-Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base? One of the Scouts in this high adventure crew has a full head of hair, and now—after all his payments have been made—the troop’s ex-Marine Scoutmaster, who likes running the troop “military-style,” is insisting that he get his hair cut short or he’s not going! (Name & Council Withheld)

Let’s take the larger issue first… Scouting is absolutely not a military, paramilitary, or even military “prep” organization; it’s an educational movement the mission of which is to instill positive character development, citizenship, and mental/physical preparedness. If this former Marine thinks he’s still a master sergeant, he’s in the wrong job in the wrong organization.

If this Scoutmaster can’t or won’t change his approach to the Scouts he serves (yes, I mean serves: He’s not “in charge” of the Scouts—they’re in charge of themselves and the highest ranking leader of the troop is the Senior Patrol Leader, not the Scoutmaster), then he needs to be moved either to a different volunteer position in the troop or out of the troop entirely.

As for haircuts, mandatory standards for this exist nowhere in BSA policies, rules, or procedures and it is completely inappropriate to attempt to enforce some arbitrary rule unless there’s some significant safety issue involved, which is entirely unlikely (e.g., females typically have longer hair than males and this provides no restrictions to in- or on-water activities in Scouting).

The committee needs to take charge here (don’t overlook the fact that the Scoutmaster reports to the committee and not the other way around) and tell the Scoutmaster he’s out of line. And, by the way, no Scoutmaster can “go around” a diligent and observant committee that has a spine.

Thanks, Andy. If things don’t improve with this Scoutmaster, is there any set procedure the committee must follow? I’m asking because I’m not confident of his fairness to the Scouts, either. He seems to be playing favorites with some, and at the same time making advancement more difficult for others. (N&CW)

Bottom line: The Scoutmaster serves at the pleasure of the Committee Chair (CC) and Chartered Organization representative (CR). If the CC and CR agree that the wrong person is in this position, for whatever reason (which need not be explained or even described because this is not an “employer-employee” relationship; it’s purely volunteer and removal from same does not affect one’s livelihood, etc.), then all that needs to happen is a very brief in-person meeting between both the CC and CR, and the person to be removed, at which meeting the CC and CR say the following: “Thank you for your services to this troop; they will no longer be needed.”

That’s what’s called the “hard-landing” approach. A softer landing would be to say, “Thank you for your services as Scoutmaster; it’s time for someone else to take the reins here, so if you would be interested in serving on the troop committee, we’d be happy to have you take on the job of…(non-youth-contact position).” If the response is along the lines of “I’ll think it over” or “You can’t do that,” the reply is either: “There’s nothing to think over; the decision’s been made and it’s final” or “Yes, we have the authority to do this and we’ve made the decision; it’s final.”

One caution: Don’t for one second think you’re going to “hurt his feelings.” The only feelings you need be concerned about are the Scouts themselves!
Dear Andy,

Can a Scoutmaster refuse to sign off on a completed Eagle project that’s been signed off by the beneficiary? My son, between himself and his helpers, has over 200 hours into this project and now the new Scoutmaster isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do with a completed project that’s met all stated BSA requirements and has a beneficiary who’s very happy with the end result. This probably sounds crazy, but we can’t figure out why this Scoutmaster is delaying a simple sign-off signature, when the beneficiary’s already done this. (Dan T.)

There’s no reason for a Scoutmaster to withhold adding his or her signature to an Eagle project completion document if it’s already been signed by the project’s beneficiary. Only the beneficiary—by signing—can actually affirm that the project was completed as agreed upon with the Scout. The Scoutmaster’s signature is, in effect, perfunctory and need not be withheld for any reason.

If the Scoutmaster, upon learning what I’ve just stated (which is not my “opinion,” by the way—it’s standard BSA procedure), continues to refuse (or drag his heels for no reason, which is almost worse than actually refusing), then take this situation immediately to the troop’s Committee Chair AND Advancement Coordinator AND Eagle Project Coach. If they can’t properly educate the Scoutmaster, then you all need to go directly to your district’s or council’s Advancement Chair.
Hi Andy,

We have Scouts who have earned both the Firem’n Chit and the Totin’ Chip. Can they wear both of these flaps on their right pocket? I can’t find the answer anywhere! (Mike Grice, ASM, San Diego-Imperial Council, CA)

Go to and do a search for each of these. When you click on them you’ll find this statement: “Note: This item is not for uniform wear.” Bingo!

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. 535 – 6/22/2017 – 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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