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Quiet Support
Tuesday was the 2nd of 4 Blue Gold Cub Scout dinners I'll be visiting this month. We're pulling in a few scouts from different packs which really helps the intermingling of scouts into patrols. They feel more like it's a new start rather than just a continuation of Webelos.

Two boy scouts just finishing their first year with the troop joined me to welcome the five new guys by replacing their neckerchiefs and removing their blue shoulder loops. My job was tough - I held the new neckerchiefs and handed them to the scouts when they asked.

When I got down to 1 neckerchief left and could still see two boys waiting to cross-over, I started getting a bit suspicious. I was specifically told 'five' scouts were joining us and I was even given their names. The last thing I wanted was to have one scout (and his family) start their Boy Scout time feeling left out. Wouldn't that be a bummer?

Now, I really try to minimize my involvement in the scouts' activities and usually enjoy watching them work things out. It was tempting to see what would happen when they turned to me for the last neckerchief and I could only hold up my empty hands. I'd love to see how they'd handle it and what they would do.

BUT, if you were there, you could tell as well as I that these two guys were already awful nervous being in front of a really big audience. With all eyes on us, I believe most of the adults could see that we were out of neckerchiefs and some were probably wondering what would happen. I weighed the growth potential versus the embarrassment potential and it was very lop-sided.

I just slipped my neckerchief off and had it ready for them to give to the last scout. No drama, no problem.

Sometimes just quiet support and filling little gaps is the best thing to do. Our two scouts thought everything went just fine and they did a great job. The new scouts are excited. And, I'd like to think maybe at least a couple adults noticed and will remember when their Bear grows up.

Scout On
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Posted: 22:36 02-19-2009 399
OA Camping Update
OA Camping RequirementWalter left a note for me on the Visitors page about his view of the OA camping requirement. The Scoutmaster ultimately decides what counts as camping or not. Walter also mentioned that he counts all days of a long-term camp towards OA - so a 10-day Jamoree would count as 10 OA camping days. The 'official' lodge election report we use specificially says 5 nights of consecutive resident camping, so we would only count 5 of those Jamboree nights.

I brought up this discussion at the troop committee meeting last night to get input and direction from the adults supporting the troop. The main question I had was, based on the fact that the Scoutmaster decides what counts as OA-eligible camping, "how many nights should we count from our backpacking, canoeing, cycling treks that are 5 days or longer?" I recited the OA requirements and stated that I would be comfortable counting 0, 1, or 2 nights.

After a fairly short discussion, the 8 people decided it would be best to count 0 nights, in strict accordance with the OA requirement. The general thought being that if a scout is not attending 5 troop weekend campouts in tents over a 2-year period, then he's probably not really promoting the purposes of the OA as he could.

I agree.

Scout On
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Posted: 9:46 02-17-2009 398
OA Camping Requirement
The Order of the Arrow is the BSA's national brotherhood of honor campers and has four purposes:

Each troop holds elections for the OA with all scouts present voting to approve or deny the membership of each scout on the ballot. All scouts on the ballot, no scouts, or just some scouts may be elected. To be elected, they need to receive a vote on at least 1/2 the submitted ballots and the number of ballots submitted must be at least 1/2 the troop membership.

To be eligible for OA membership, a scout must:
  1. Be a registered BSA member
  2. Hold First Class rank
  3. Have approval of Scoutmaster
  4. Complete 15 days and nights of Boy Scout camping in the 2-year period prior to the election


Requirement #3 puts the Scoutmaster in control over who s/he feels is 'worthy' of joining the Order. Scoutmasters may not allow certain scouts onto the ballot for any reason.
The Scoutmaster has the responsibility to speak directly with a scout well before the election if he plans to keep his name from the ballot. I, as Scoutmaster, have chosen to allow all scouts that meet the other requirements to be on the ballot since they have attained First Class and have camped with the troop over the past 2 years. I leave it up to the scouts voting to determine who 'deserves' to get elected. In our troop, elections tend to be fairly miserly while other troops tend to elect everyone on the ballot.

Requirement #4 is the one that causes the most grief with scouts, from what I've seen. Extra details about the requirement are very important; The fifteen days and nights must include one, but no more than one, long-term camp consisting of six consecutive days and five nights of resident camping. The balance of the camping must be overnight, weekend, or other short-term camps.
The goal of the OA is to promote a strong camping program in the troop, so having a scout participate in many troop camping trips is important. But, if a scout attends summer camp, then any week-long backpacking, Philmont, Northern Tier treks do not count towards OA eligibility. The scout needs to do weekend camping with the troop for the other 10 days of camping.

I would encourage scoutmasters to distribute a list of eligible scouts before the elections so any scouts that wonder why they are not on the ballot can discuss it beforehand and understand the criteria.
It's not much fun to explain why a scout's 27 nights don't make him eligible but another scout with 15 nights is eligible.

Scout On


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Posted: 12:35 02-16-2009 397
Good Turns
good turn I just love a Good Turn! I figure the more I can do, the more examples I have to share with the scouts.

I got to do a fun good turn last Friday by volunteering to assist with a 4th grade school outing to a local park. There were 3 groups of about a dozen each rotating through 3 sessions. I got to lead a nature hike session. And, the kids built their own fires and cooked spaghetti for lunch. I made a couple new friends, like the little guy in the pic, and had a wonderful time getting worn out clomping through the snow. :-) I even had my BSA stocking hat on.

After awhile, it gets old hearing about 'Holding the door open', 'picking up my room' and saying 'Please' as good turns during scoutmaster conferences so I need to share rather than explain what is meant. A couple stories work a lot better than descriptions.

I believe the great scouting story of the English scout aiding Mr. Boyce pretty much says it all about Good Turns. A scout should keep his eyes open to the world arround him, looking for simple ways to help others at all times.

I buy the groceries for my family and I've got a habitual good deed going now. I actually get a 3-for-1, I figure. I park way out in the lot so others can get the close spots and I get a little exercise. I look for someone just finishing their unloading and ask if I can take their empty shopping cart for them. I return that cart to the store so the 'cart pick up dude' saves a bit of work. 3-for-1!

It's certainly not a big deal but it helps others. The people that park close and the 'cart pick up dude' don't even know I'm doing it so it's not for show. And, it's not something normally expected of me.

Promoting the Good Turn is really promoting the concept of putting others before yourself, looking out for others, and being a servant leader. I wrote about Eagle Characteristics over two years ago and I still think that's a pretty good list. Being aware of and caring for others is a strong building block for that distinction, and doing a good turn daily demonstrates that awareness.

Scout On
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Posted: 22:55 02-12-2009 396
Uniform Inspection Sheets
The BSA has uniform inspection sheets available for the centennial uniforms now. The main difference is a mention about placement of patches on the sleeve pocket. But, all the inspection sheets have been updated and a couple new ones created.

There are now sheets for Cub Scout, Webelos, Boy Scout, and Adult Leader.

Scout On
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Posted: 13:25 02-11-2009 395
Going Green
With 50 scouts in the troop and a new batch of 15 joining this month, we're finally forced to face the 'going green' issue. We can no longer purchase red shoulder loops, red troop numerals, or red Trained patches.

Fortunately, it's ok to put the loops and patches on the older khaki shirts so scouts can easily upgrade.

I got the ok from the troop committee, so I'm heading to the Scout Shop tomorrow to get green shoulder loops, numeral patches, and 2008 Centennial Quality Unit patches for all the scouts and registered adults in our troop. The SPL has decided we'll have a short ceremony at the next troop meeting to replace the shoulder loops and hand out the troop numerals. Hopefully, there will be some talk about the 100th anniversary in there someplace too.

I expect most of the scouts will not replace their existing troop numerals due to the sewing hassle. So, over the next couple years, the red numbers will fade away as scouts age out or outgrow their shirts.

Rather than purchasing 3 individual green numerals for a troop like 479, there is a 3-numeral patch that you can custom purchase in lots of a dozen. Instead of costing $3.57, it costs just $2.09 (according to my local Scout Shop guy). The shoulder loops cost $1.99/pair.

Don't forget the green Trained patches for troop leader training, too.

Scout On

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Posted: 7:01 02-11-2009 394
Cemetery Service
service projectFor the past 4 years, our troop has been travelling across the city to Ft. Snelling Veterans Cemetery to team up with other local troops in an Order of the Arrow sponsored service project. In one day, the scouts remove all the wreaths that were placed by veterans' headstones before Christmas.

This year, the weather was around freezing so it was a great day and easier work. Two years ago, our troop was one of only a couple that showed up because it was soooooo cold. Just snipping plastic ties was a challenge that day.

Besides cleaning up the ragged, weather-worn wreaths, the scouts get a glimpse into history by reading many of the headstones and learning when all these soldiers died. The row upon row upon row of graves cause at least some of the scouts to pause. We've even had a few conversations about costs of freedom, responsibilities as scouts, respecting veterans, and responsibilities as scouts.

You might check in your community to see if a similar service could be done.

Scout On
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Posted: 6:58 02-09-2009 393
Really Cold Camping Tips
See winter camping tips for general advice for cold weather camping.

But, when it's really cold, like 20F below zero, there are more weird things that happen and stuff for which you might not be prepared:

These are all things experienced last weekend by our scouts as 7 of them earned their council Zero Hero awards.

Scout On
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Posted: 5:28 02-04-2009 392
Using Tools
The PLC knew that new scouts would be joining the troop at the end of the month. They were trying to come up with ideas on what to include in troop meeting agendas to get the new guys off to a good start. I sat there tracking the ideas in my head as I came up with them, ready to offer a couple if the SPL asked.
But just then, an Instructor pulled out this sheet and they had their skills training sessions done for the next two months.
They chose not to do whipping and fusing rope since they'd be inside, but decided knots would be a good choice since our next campout requires them to lash together a drive-in movie screen.

I've found that coming up with ideas immediately when asked is not a common skill amoung scouts (nor any population). But, with a reminder list of ideas, they are very good at choosing the ones that would be most fun and organizing and expanding on them. So, having a list of the advancement requirements for new scouts, they have no trouble choosing ones to do in troop meetings. I believe this is using the tools available to your advantage.

In this instance, they chose not to do whipping and fusing rope since they'd be inside, but decided knots would be a good choice since our next campout requires them to lash together a drive-in movie screen. Older scouts will practice lashing and hopefully design a screen while 6 scouts teach the new scouts two half-hitch and taut-line hitch. At the second meeting, they plan to have a knot-tieing race or relay to keep it fun. When we camp, the new guys should be able to contribute to the project right away.

Providing usable tools for the scouts is a Scoutmaster's job. Training is certainly an important tool. The gear we use: axes, saws, tents, rope, matches, bandages, ... and so on are obviously tools. Scouts have little problem mastering those physical tools and using them to accomplish tasks. The more difficult parts of Scouting, the leadership, citizenship, and character building, also require tools. Good role models, discussions of right and wrong, and training sessions are all helpful. But, I think a set of tools can make the job easier without detracting from the goals.

Whether scouts are planning a campout or a troop meeting or a year of activities, having tools to work with helps them accomplish the goal. If the tools are used as prompts and suggestions rather than cookie-cutter answers, the scouts gain in skill.

Scout on
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Posted: 8:25 02-03-2009 391
We're Famous
For 15 minutes, or a couple pages in Boys' Life at least, Troop 479 gets to be famous.

At our troop meeting last night where we went sledding at a local park rather than meet at the normal place, one scout ran up saying, "Did you see it? Did you see it?"
He was waving his Boys' Life magazine that had just arrived in the mail today and had an article about the troop's winter campout last winter. The guys crowded around, "Hey, that's me!", "Here's you, Matt!"

We had just returned from this year's winter campout on Sunday so it was nicely fitting to have the article arrive the next day. This year, it was -20 with windchill down to -35 so we got a bunch of Zero Hero awards unlike last year when it dipped almost to zero but not quite.

This short, safe introduction to extreme cold weather camping is a great learning experience. When a tin cup or metal spoon instantly sticks to your lips, you learn to use plastic. Scouts learn that bananas are not practical cold weather food when they see one frozen rock-hard and are unable to eat it. There is no simple chore in frigid weather - every task is a challenge.

In case you didn't know, you can submit your troop's upcoming adventure as a story idea at Boys Life

Scout On
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Posted: 8:34 01-27-2009 390
LNT in Brazil

Fortaleza, Brazil is a big city in a warm climate and has many poor people and lots of trash around. Many of them are too busy surviving to worry about the natural environment, much like large cities in our country.

There was a natural area in the city close to where we were staying so we took a walk through it one day.
As soon as we stepped off the paved road onto the dirt trail, it was like a completely different world - nearly what I would expect a jungle to be like.

I was very excited to see this sign along the trail. It describes how long trash takes to decompose and is nearly identical to the Leave No Trace materials I use when teaching at home! (Click on the image to see a larger version)


We saw crabs in the mudflats, teaming fish, lizards, monkeys, birds, and thick foliage that completely masked out the surrounding city.

There were also signs warning against campfires, staying on the trail, and this one about observing animals from a distance.

This was one of the many highlights of my trip. Minimizing impact isn't just a USA-specific ethic - it is a global one.

Scout On
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Posted: 9:28 01-10-2009 389
Fun First Aid
Making a personal first aid kit is a 2nd Class rank requirement that can be a fun activity. Every year, I show scouts that I have my kit and tell them I take it with me everywhere. I also give each of them a CPR mask and gloves from the Red Cross to start their kit.
This little kit is the basis for an extremely valuable part of Scouting - that of being prepared for medical emergencies as well as small injuries.
It's fortunate that I do take my little kit with me, even on family vacations. Last week, we used many bandaids for scrapes and scratches on the beach and around town.

But, that little kit is really just for the simple cuts and scrapes. When something bigger happens, you need to rely more on your ability to improvise with what is on hand and know the basic First Aid Response steps for various situations.

The basic skills introduced in the early ranks are built on in various merit badges, such as First Aid, Emergency Prep, and Lifesaving. Additional training available to scouts for Babysitting, CPR, and Wilderness First Aid expand on skills that ready a person for many situations. We really do need this sort of training to help ensure a safe scouting program, but it can get boring if not applicable to the scout. Making it relevant through examples, stories, and hands-on experience is crucial. I'm always looking for new examples, preferably not my own.

While playing in the waves in Brazil, my wife was unceremoniously smashed into the sandy bottom by a very impressive reminder of the power of nature. She came up with blood on her forehead and her hand on her neck, complaining that it hurt.
OK, right now, if you have some first aid training, you're probably thinking 'immobilize!' The problem was that those waves weren't just stopping until we could casually stroll on up the beach. They continued to knock her around, so getting her out of the water fast was the first task. Once we were in a safe spot, then we tended to her neck.
Turns out she just tweaked the neck muscles and the forehead was just skin scraped away. But, it was a good lesson that first aid can't happen until the scene is safe.

When I'm presenting WFAB sessions or doing first aid with scouts, it's more fun and interesting to stage scenarios. I could say, "Pretend this is a cut and show me how to treat it." Or, I could get a package of ketchup from Arby's and my pocketknife and pretend to be cut. Or, even make some easy fake wounds to use often.

Making the serious skills fun to learn is the trick. Maybe "Build it and they will come" could be "Make it fun and they will learn". This is what the Instructors in our troop hear from me over and over, through my words, and hopefully through my example when I'm doing the teaching.

Scout On
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Posted: 22:16 01-08-2009 388
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