Ask the Expert mailbag: Merit badges, blue cards, First Class Requirement 10

expertlogo1In the season of Wise Men, you won’t find many wiser than Chris Hunt, advancement team leader for the Boy Scouts of America.

Whatever advancement-related question I throw at him, he answers right away. He’s one of the big reasons my Ask the Expert series has been going strong for years.

This time, I sent him three questions that came to me from blog readers like you and stemmed from real-life dilemmas you’re facing.

The first was from a Scouter wondering who may purchase merit badges, after he was told only the advancement chair can do so. Another asked for valid reasons a Scoutmaster can use to refuse to give a Scout a blue card. The third cropped up after a parent disputed Requirement 10 for First Class.

Find the original questions and Chris Hunt’s wise answers, after the jump.

Question 1: Who can purchase merit badges?


Who can purchase Merit Badges? What is BSA policy?

I would think this would be a simple question but it has recently become something of an issue. Previously, we were able to purchase the merit badges and awards at our Scout Store without issue and had them on hand to provide as soon as the Scouts earned them.

Now we are being told to purchase a merit badge we must provide proof the merit badges were earned and they must be purchased by the Advancement Chair.  This places more work on our Advancement Chair and leaves our Scouts waiting up to a month for their achievement.

We have enough trouble keeping Scouts interested and excited about Scouting. Making them wait makes it harder yet.

I know Scouting can be a drug to some but treating merit badges as a controlled substance is not the answer.

Is this BSA policy or a local bureaucrat creating policy?

— B.W.

Chris responds:

It is BSA policy that all rank advancement and merit badges must be reported in order for them to be purchased. This is explained in the Guide to Advancement in topic

Advancement is one of the most important measures of success in Scouting. If reporting is not required then advancement is under-reported. Unreported merit badges also causes difficulties in verification of the Eagle Scout Rank Application.

Units may report advancement through Internet Advancement or on the paper advancement report form. Both these methods can be explained by someone at the local council service center.

“Proof” that a merit badge has been earned comes in the form of either showing it listed next to a Scout’s name on the paper report form, or producing the printed report generated by Internet Advancement that shows the merit badge. Councils do not have the authority to require that a certain person in the unit purchase merit badges or that “blue card” copies be submitted, if that’s what is happening.

Question 2: Can a Scoutmaster refuse to give a blue card?


Thank you for your blog.

What are the valid reasons a Scoutmaster can use to refuse to give a Scout a blue card? A particular example that is of issue in our troop is having too many outstanding partial merit badges. If a boy has three or more partials the Scoutmaster will not give him more because of this troop policy.

— P.N.

Chris responds:

The policies regarding blue cards changed with the release of the 2013 edition of the Guide to Advancement. See topic Unit leaders do not have the authority to refuse to give a Scout a blue card.

The signature on a blue card signifies, simply, that the unit leader has had a discussion about the badge with the Scout and that the Scout has been provide the name of at least one registered and approved counselor.

The discussion should cover what the Scout might face as he challenges the badge. The SM, for example, may suggest that a Scout wait to take Shotgun Shooting until he is strong enough to lift the firearm weapon. The SM could also suggest that it would be wise for a Scout to finish up the badges he’s already begun, and so on. The Scout, however, regardless the advice of the SM, is free to pursue the badge.

He may also choose a different registered and approved counselor if he wants to. The blue card has been revised and reprinted to reflect this change, but there are still many old blue cards out there.

Question 3: How do I interpret Requirement 10 for First Class?

Hi Bryan,

I have a parent that is disputing Requirement 10 for First Class.  He says that the sole act of asking someone, whether they come or not to an activity, is enough. I disagree, as several Scouts in our troop met that requirement with no issues by bringing a friend to an activity. Just wanted to check with someone before I make my final decision to the troop.

Requirement 10 reads, “Tell someone who is eligible to join Boy Scouts, or an inactive Boy Scout, about your troop’s activities. Invite him to a troop outing, activity, service project or meeting. Tell him how to join, or encourage the inactive Boy Scout to become active.”

— A.Z.

Chris responds: 

Advancement requirements are to be implemented as they are written. Requirement 10 says the boy to be asked must be “eligible to join” or be one who is “inactive.” It says to “tell” the boy about the troop’s activities, and then it says to “invite” the boy to either an outing, activity, service project, or meeting.

It does not say the boy must show up at any of these four kinds of opportunities, or that the boy must join. That said, it’s better if the boy actually shows up and then joins, but this isn’t required, and unit leaders do not have the authority to add to requirements.

In some circumstances it may be difficult to get someone to actually show or join. For example, in some rural areas there may only be a few eligible boys available, and it is possible none of them may be able to get to an activity or join the unit. If it is suspected that Scouts are inviting boys who they know are not interested in joining, or who would find it practically impossible to get to an activity or to join, then this would be a subject to explore at a board of review. Scout spirit could be at issue.

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  1. Thanks for clarification on all 3 questions, but have one question & 2 comments.

    1. Can a Scout or a Scout’s parent purchase a Merit Badge as a replacement for one that they lost? The response to Question #1 above does not seem to address this contingency.

    2. While my son has not been refused a Blue Card yet, he does receive some flack from some of the ASMs (in our toop, all the ASMs have been delegated the authority to sign the blue card) because of the number of MBs he has earned. He completes them in a reasonable period (except for Gardening as he failed to get all 6 vegetables and 6 flowers to reach the picking/adult stage so he has to raise some more next summer) that is usually 1 week to 3 months depending on the MB’s difficulty. It will be interesting to see if this continues into his second year in the troop.

    3. My son had a hard time completing 1st Class Rqt #10 as at one time I had 18 boys in my Webelos den at his school. 13 crossed over to Boy Scouts so almost all my son’s friends were already in Scouting. I did not think it was appropriate for my son to ask one of the other 5 from his own grade to come since they dropped out because of a lack of time due to sports. He asked one of the few classmastes who had never been in Scouts to come 3 times, but the boy always forgot or something else came up. Our Troop would not count him just asking (even though I told them the requirement only required the invitation) so my son ended up asking the boy across the street that dropped out as a Wolf or Bear to come to a meeting. The neighbor boy did come and the requirement was checked off even though we knew that the odds of him joining were slim or none. I am glad that there is written documentation for my interpretation of 1st Class Rqt #10 in case other Scouts in the troop had a similar difficulty.

    • David,
      Regarding your replacement merit badge question, you should be able to purchase that at the Scout shop with appropriate documentation. The middle section of the blue card (with unit leader and counselor signature) or the merit badge pocket certificate should be sufficient documentation to purchase a replacement.


      • Actually, our council requires an advancement form to be filled out for any rank or merit badges.. blue cards or pocket cards are not sufficient in our store. parents may purchase replacements or for a display, but they have to know the info for the advancement form

    • My older son had several incomplete badges when he aged out. Most were badges he thought he would be interested in but once started found that not to be the case. This is usually the reason badges are not completed and it is not fair (nor valid per the 2013 Guide to Advancement) for a Scout to be required to complete a badge he has found not to be of interest to him (unless they are Eagle required badges and he is pursuing his Eagle.)

      The elective badges, in particular, offer a taster of what could become a lifelong hobby or career. If after starting the badge the Scout finds this is not as interesting to him as he thought it would be, the badge has accomplished its goal without having been completed.

  2. Sorry one nitpick. Regarding the Shotgun Shooting MB Comment. As a Certified NRA Rifle & Shotgun Instructor and Range Safety Officer, MB Counclor and Shooting Sports Coordinator – we always refer to them as “firearms” or “guns” not as “weapons”. They are a tool in the hands of the holder and we use them as sporting equipment not as weapons.

  3. Ditto regarding John’s response to, “The SM, for example, may suggest that a Scout wait to take Shotgun Shooting until he is strong enough to lift the weapon.”

    Thanks, Bryon, for your blog..

  4. There is a National Scout Shop in our Council Service Center. They were in the habit of selling MB and rank patches without proof of earning them. I believe they have been informed of the approved procedure. Who can purchase for the Troop depends on who the Troop authorizes to access the Troop account at the Service center. We can deposit funds with the Council to cover these types of purchases to avoid the small checks from the Troop or reimbursing people for the expenses.

    • We also have a National Scout Shop at our Council Service Center. They do require some sort of documentation to allow the purchase of the badges. That documentation can be a print out of the Scout’s individual record obtained from the registrar’s office. This will allow a parent to purchase a replacement badge (or rank) on their own.

      As far as who is allowed to purchase the advancement item, anyone with proper documentation can purchase it. The only time there is a stipulation as to who can make a purchase is when the unit account is to be used for payment. And then it is based on who the unit has authorized.

      Those paying cash, personal check, or personal credit/debit card are not restricted from purchasing the items if they possess the proper documentation supporting the fact it was properly earned.

  5. If your opinion that anyone can give a scout a blue card supersedes the words ” AND IS QUALIFIED…” then you, Chris Hunt, are not qualified to inspect a latrine. The approval must be up to the troop leadership who know the scout’s abilities more so than you or his parents in certain areas. It is long past that special interests, parents and guardians, whine and cry because their little darlings get their feelings hurt. Quality over Quantity. At least until January 1, 2014.

    • MIchael, did you even read the article? Where did Chris say that anyone can give the scout a blue card??? He said that the Unit Leader is not allowed to deny the card. It is appropriate for the leader to have a discussion about the Scout being ready. If the Scout insists but is not qualified, then he will not complete the requirements in a manner satisfactory to the MBC and will not earn the badge. If you aren’t going to follow the rules then you aren’t qualified to inspect a latrine either (BTW – do you feel better for insulting the man?)

    • I believe the “and is qualified” has to do with the referral to the merit badge counselor, not the Scoutmaster’s qualifications to issue the blue card.

    • Keep up with the times! The changes to the blue card and merit badge program have been on the table for the last couple of years. Check the new revised blue cards which now have the “… and is qualified…” wording changed. It is no longer on the blue card, so it would behoove you to read the pertinent sections of the Guide to Advancement concerning merit badges and the process for them.

      It has nothing to do with January 1, 2014, and everything to do with Scoutmasters having the dictatorial attitude that a Scout must in some fashion muster up to arbitrary rules, which were made up as a Scoutmaster goes along, much like the tone of your comment which basically is insulting and criticizing Bryan’s blog here, as well as other adults and parents who are bringing their sons to all that the Scouting program offers.

  6. Mike Bradshaw:

    What you forgot (or didn’t know, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here…) is that the merit badge application (the “blue” colored card for the most part) has been CHANGED to match the 2013 Guide to Advancement (back in the fall…). The CURRENT CARD does NOT state anything about “qualified” any more. As Chris stated, the interview between candidate for a merit badge and the unit leader is to talk about the merit badge and to recommend a suitable counselor for the badge.

    It has nothing to do with anyone getting their feelings hurt, whether now or after the 1st of next month. And it’s always been about quality, Mike. Nothing has changed and nothing will change.

  7. Q1…comment…if everyone followed policy that MBs and Ranks are controlled items and not to be sold without proof of earning them, either by an advancement report or
    by the scout showing proof then this is not a problem This is a common practice to get more than one rank badge if the scout has more than one uniform or in one case the scout’s dog ate his MBs he got at summer camp – Yes really!

    Adding work to you AC is part of their job:

    Chapter 3: Obtain necessary badges and certificates, etc., and arrange for timely presentation of ranks, Arrow Points, merit badges, awards, and other
    recognitions. It is best to obtain and present these as soon as possible after they are earned. They can then be re-presented in more formal settings.

    The unfortunate part is that you can probably buy any MB or Rank badge on ebay or other sources. I’m not sure how they get the current items

    Q2: “Refusing” to give a BC no, but this tells me the SM doesn’t have a very good relationship with the scout to have that meaningful conversation about his advancement. For Example….Not having started First Aid MB but wants to start E Prep would generate a conversation about whether or not the scout has reviewed the MB requirements before asking for his BC. Scouts having a lot of partials to me is frustrating but also a “so what”. You might ask him if he thinks he is still interested in the MB. Most times scouts understand this…helicopter parents a different story.

    Q3. The intent of req 10 is to have scouts recruit scouts. It is written as it is because the scout has no control over whether or not the boy he asks will attend so he is not penalized. Here’s what I do…Scout says he feels he’s met the requirement by inviting Johnny. Quick question on whether Johnny is currently eligible to be a scout (one of my guys invited his 4th grade neighbor), Req is signed off but I ask the scout to give me Johnny’s phone or email and I have an adult follow up with the parent to ensure the message got from Johnny to them that he was invited and welcome to attend. Sometimes the parent has no idea that Johnny was even asked.

  8. Why would I care how many partial MB’s a Scout has outstanding? Every one they start is a learning opportunity. If they didn’t finish it, maybe they learned that that special interest topic was not theirs. Many partial MB’s have helped many a young man shape his plans for the future, decide which career path to pursue (or not pursue in this case.)

    Also, as far as I know, there is no statute of limitations on partials, at least in our troop. We try to impose a 1 year limit for getting it done, but in reality and practice, we accept previously completed requirements at any time. So, if a Scout starts Citizenship in the Community when he is in the 6th grade and then decides to finish it a week before his 18th birthday to finish Eagle, the requirements completed 6 years ago still count.

  9. I’ve always been bothered by the “controlled items” mentality. When I sit down with a recruit for his “Scout” Scoutmaster’s conference, if he passes, I’d like the flexibility to award that rank patch at the end of that meeting. He’s excited, I’m excited. Let’s fill out an advancement report and award that young man his rank patch. Making him wait while the gears of adminis-trivia grind through their cycles is not something this young man cares about.

    Rank advancement will always be based on official records (advancement reports, etc.) and not on purchased patches. Is the BSA having a patch shortage caused by non-Scouts buying patches?

    • Many units have difficulty remembering to file the proper paperwork if they get the badges without filing up front; then we run into issues later if the Scout transfers or goes for Eagle. It isn’t a new phenomenon; it has been with us since the beginning. So file, get the badge; and present it at the next troop meeting.

    • Unofficially, some units have a cigar box (&c) with extra badges to be presented “when earned” or for last minute advancements turned in just before the start of the quarterly Court of Honor. This can be an accumulation of badges that were not awarded (boy moved …) or past scout shop shopping errors. The “awarded” badge from the cigar box supply is replenished when the next advancement report sheet is submitted.
      This provides instant recognition.
      A Scout is Resourceful.

      • Ya I tried that….

        NONE of the of boys who received their rank directly after their board of review bothered to sew them on their shirts. Then at the next Court of Honor, mom or dad caught me in the corner and asked why they hadn’t received their patch…….Sorry ma’am he did back two months ago after his board of review with the Committee. Sorry he didn’t give, lost, threw out his rank patch.

        I will just wait till the next court of honor.

  10. My troop pushes age as a limiting factor for MBs. For example they only have a handful they say is acceptable for a 6th grader, then a few more for 7th graders. My son is a 7th grader and was not allowed to attend a Communication MB because the requirement was…you have to be 14 years old. Is this acceptable?

    • I don’t think this is allowed. It is adding to the requirement which is forbidden in BSA. Check with your district commissioner.

    • It is NOT allowed. Guide to Advancement: The Scout, the Blue Card, and the Unit Leader
      A few merit badges have certain restrictions, but otherwise any registered Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or qualified Venturer or Sea Scout may work on any of them at any time. Before he begins working with a merit badge counselor, however, he is to have a discussion with his unit leader. That a discussion has been held is indicated by the unit leader’s signature on the Application for Merit Badge, No. 34124, commonly called the “blue card.” Although it is the unit leader’s responsibility to see that at least one merit badge counselor is identified from those approved and made available, the Scout may have one in mind with whom he would like to work. The unit leader and Scout should come to agreement as to who the counselor will be. Lacking agreement, the Scout must be allowed to work with the counselor of his choice, so long as the counselor is registered and has been approved by the council advancement committee. However, see “Counselor Approvals and Limitations,”, for circumstances when a unit leader may place limits on the number of merit badges that may be earned from one counselor.

      However, it is within a camp’s rights, for example, to use age as a limiting factor. A wise SM should also help the 11 year old boy to find something more interesting to him than Personal Management, which is better taken by an older scout who can get more out of it and won’t be bored.

  11. I earned two merit badge at summer camp two years ago. I have not received either badge. I also do not have the blue card, but the scoutmaster indicates that there is a record of me completing the requirements for both badges. Will I receive the blue card for my records when I receive the reward?

    • That’s up to your troop. I would talk to your advancement chair. He or she may have missed them.

      Our troop recently began issuing blue cards for badges earned at summer camp so scouts will have them for their records. The Guide to Advancement clearly states that ALL MBs should have blue cards, and I don’t know why our camp (and yours) doesn’t issue them as the GTA states they have to, but I also wouldn’t want to have to be responsible for the 11 year old scout keeping up with them in a camp setting. Of course, the earlier they learn to do that, the better.

  12. It’s interesting when a scoutmaster insists he is required to assign a MB counselor, and will only assign one that he “knows”, so therefore is refusing to even release partial cards held by the troop to a Scout that found an authorized merit badge counselor from another troop willing to help him complete his badge work.

    Mind you the blue cards were issued by a different scout master

  13. We just left/transferred from a troop (say Troop A) and asked the Scoutmaster to forward the 25+ Blue Cards my son earned while at this troop to the Scoutmaster of the new troop (say Troop B). (The scoutmaster of Troop A never gave back the “applicant portion” of the Blue Card to the scouts, and indicated to us when we joined the unit that he keeps these for posterity). Now the Scoutmaster of Troop A states that he doesn’t have the Blue Cards anymore and that he disposes of them after 3 months as he cannot keep so many Blue Cards.. His Troopmaster record was missing 2 of his Merit Badges…fortunately the Summer Camp keeps records, so we have gotten copies
    QUESTION: What does everyone think about a Scoutmaster who does not return the “Applicant ” portion of the card, and then disposes of them???

    • My son was part of a troop that not only did the SM refuse to give the Scout’s their portion of the blue card, but he had not signed a blue card after completion for 4 years! Needless to say, we left the troop. I was fortunately involved with committee and advancement so when I returned the Advancement binder containing all the blue cards, I kept my son’s BCs.
      Never should a blue card or portion of a blue card be disposed.
      The SM also refused to allow a Scout that wasn’t employed to work on the Personal Management MB and told a Star Rank that he had to repeat the rank because his Boy Scout Handbook wasn’t signed off -even though Council had him at Star for 3 years!
      No one is allowed to change National’s policy or rules!!

  14. How do you respond to the demand that the scoutmaster issue 122 blue cards to a scout at one time? Are we really obligated to do that? The Parents were hovering right over his shoulder and made a huge stink because I actually counseled him against trying to work on 122 subjects all at once. The subjects of work/life/scouting balance, time management, organization, and available resources fell on deaf ears with his parents prodding him along the whole time..

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