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Issue 549 – November 7, 2017

Here’s a conversation from November 7, 2007—ten years ago—with a fellow online columnist…

Hey Andy,

As I read your considerable archive of advice, I note that some of the most intractable situations brought to you involve leaders with some serious blind spots—they seem to be caught in a cul-de-sac of their own importance and their own way of doing things, at the cost of their unit’s program. While everyone around them sees they’re missing the point, they don’t. Turns out, the BSA has a terrific self-assessment tool. Here’s where to find it:

Following the steps there can help adult volunteers get a read on their effectiveness. It even suggests training based on the assessment. (Clarke Green)

When I tried that link today I got a “404 ERROR—FILE NOT FOUND.” Darned shame, because I did the assessment myself ten years ago and it was most enlightening. Here’s what I said about it at that time (including some ideas we can still all use today)…

Thanks for alerting me about this site. I tried it myself, and I can tell you, I sure wasn’t “perfect”! Even the questions alone gave me hints as to stuff I didn’t know or was less than sure of. It’s fun to do, thought-provoking, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s open-minded about their “Scouting expertise.”

Yup, often the problems I receive center on self-important volunteers who do things their own way, somehow thinking that they know better than the Scouting program. When this happens, it’s most often in the arena of Boy Scout advancement and almost always has to do with putting stumbling blocks, hurdles, and other arbitrary barriers in front of enthusiastic boys.

While we might think blind spots, like cancers (in more ways than one!) may not be curable, just as with biologic diseases, preventative measures can be taken if we volunteers really want to deliver the Scouting program as it’s intended. Some of the ways to prevent blind spots are to stay in touch with “the big picture” by going to Round Tables, so we can interact with others with both less and more experience than ourselves, by re-taking training courses—even if just for the sake of charging our batteries—or joining a training team for new Scouting volunteers to pick up on a subject we, ourselves could use some help with, and then training our own Assistant Scoutmasters. These are some of the things we all can do that help prevent blind spots!

And now back to today…
Hi Andy –

Our family just moved to New Jersey from Indiana, and my two sons just transferred from their troop back home to one in our “new” home here. My older son transferred as an Eagle Scout; my younger as a Life Scout with everything except two merit badges and a conference done for his own step up to Eagle. Their troop is a good one and very active in the out-of-doors, so no problems there. The problem is with a form letter my younger son just received from the council office.

He completed his merit badges and his Scoutmaster conferenced with him, and the troop leaders said that he should take all paperwork—his rank application, service project workbook, blue cards, and so forth—to the council office for recording and date-checking. When he did this, everything seemed just fine, till he brought home a form letter from the council. In that letter, he was told that in order for a board of review to get scheduled he’s supposed to personally ask his references to write letters on his behalf. His application—which he turned in—already lists his references and their contact information, and it was our understanding from the process my older son went through in Indiana, that actually contacting one’s own references to ask for references letters isn’t something the Scout does; this is supposed to be done by somebody else (for instance, my older son’s troop advancement chair did this). So I guess my question is whether this is okay or not, and do councils actually have the right to make up different rules for things like this? Any insights you have would help set my mind at ease here. Thanks! (Concerned Scout Dad, Council Withheld)

Well, your concern is pretty accurate. Your Indiana council got it right; your new council’s off the mark. It’s even written up in the BSA’s GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (check out Topic in the 2017 edition—page 67—available online as a PDF file).

The process of contacting a Scout’s references to request recommendations is the responsibility of the council advancement committee or “designated others”—but “designated” should never mean the Scout himself. It’s made crystal clear: “It is up to the council’s designated representatives to collect the responses.” While “the council determines the methods of contact,” the GTA is clear that this isn’t the responsibility of the Scout himself.

So, what to do… My suggestion would be to ask whoever authored that letter to check the GTA for accuracy of instructions. But don’t do this yourself at this point. This should fall to your son’s troop advancement chair, or Committee Chair, or possibly his Scoutmaster. Good luck!
Dear Andy,

I’m now Scoutmaster of a new troop (a majority of us felt we could be more successful leaving the old one and its politics behind), so, after resigning, we started up an old, “retired” troop (it went “inactive” some five years ago), and started a brand new Venturing crew as well.

When we did this, we requested “75” as our troop number (same number as the moribund troop) and asked for “751” for the crew. We chose these numbers for two reasons: The 75 would honor a troop that had been successful “back in the day” and 751 would honor a Scouting friend who’d recently passed. But our council says we can’t use 75. According to the council registrar, “Both of your units will need to have the same unit number because they are issued to the same chartering organization. The chartering organization owns the number in the event they chose to start another unit, i.e. pack, troop, crew or post at any time in the future… Both units will have to go under “751” or another number if you chose… The number “75” is still owned by the (original chartering organization) and, as such, they own the rights to the number for a pack, troop, crew and post.”

Is there any sort of solution or work-around in a situation like this? (Michael Thornton, SM)

Sorry to hear about the hang-up on the “75” number usage, but there’s a solution… Unless that original chartered organization still sponsors any active Scouting units with that number, a brief letter from them to the council that relinquishes “75” should do the trick of making that number available to you! Check with that council registrar on this, and if there are no active “75” units, the registrar can simply request a release of the number. This will make you free and clear to proceed.

As for a chartered organization “using” only a single number for all units sponsored, I’m not so sure that that’s a BSA national policy, and it’s worth some additional research. It seems to me that a “Troop 75” and a “Crew 751” (a) should be okay and (b) would certainly help reduce confusion between the two unit types.
And finally…

Three sharp-eyed loyal readers and accomplished Scouters—John Ruppe, Paul Wolf, and Chet Lapeza—wrote to me about my being incorrect last week when I’d said that 30 merit badges beyond the required Eagle 21 can be recognized by a bronze, a gold, and a silver palm.

They’re absolutely correct: Two silver palms do the job!

(My decision to go with all three to show the relationship between bronze, gold, and silver wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve ever had, and I’ll take twenty lashes with a wet lanyard if I’ve misled anyone.)

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Just to me at: 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. 549 – 11/07/2017 – 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.

Read Andy's full biography

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