FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- The civilian is lost. He has not been a Boy Scout, obviously. You can spot that right away. He is the only person in camp not wearing khaki.
He needs help.
He has come to the right place.
For here, on a military training installation, are 30,000 boys between the ages of 11 and 17 who have memorized the third plank of Scout Law and are eager to show him that they can be:
A scout is concerned about other people. He does things willingly for others without pay or reward.
The civilian arrives here to document the 14th National Jamboree of the Boy Scouts of America, a nine-day celebration of boyhood. It's held every four years, just like the Olympics, only with more sweating.
He checks in at the visitor's entrance. He registers at the media tent. He nods politely when his helpful guide, Scott Carlberg of Bartlesville, Okla., one of 5,000 adult volunteers, says, "These are young men who are a cut above the average."
Then, somehow, it happens. The helpful guide leaves. The civilian loses track of his partner, the photographer, who has veered off with Stanley Patterson, 13, of Baltimore, and Nicholas Wright, 14, of Randallstown, for an afternoon of motocrossing and rappelling and tomahawk throwing. There are enough outdoor activities here to make a boy forget that he hid his GameBoy in his sleeping bag.
The civilian has no choice. He must place his fate in the hands of five other scouts from Troop 327, a Baltimore-area group.
They shake his hand. They smile. Then they put him in a line to wait for the bus. You either travel by bus or you walk, they say. The bus is better.
"When you get on a bus, you can't be polite," advises William Middleton, 13, who will be a ninth-grader at Owings Mills High School. "You've got to shove your way on."
Although the Jamboree covers just one-tenth of Fort A.P. Hill's 76,000 acres, it still has enough people to rank as the sixth-largest city in Virginia, and enough land for 16,000 tents, 1,300 latrines and 450 pay phones -- plenty to handle the opening day rush of homesickness.
There is a Jamboree radio station, zip code and daily newspaper (Today's Tip: Walk against the flow of traffic). There are more than 500 medical volunteers, including an obstetrician (a visitor gave birth four years ago). When these scouts say "be prepared," they mean it.
The civilian waits for the bus with his new scout buddies. The sun bakes them. The buses are running behind. The scouts do not complain. In fact, they are:
A scout looks for the bright side of things. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way. He tries to make others happy.
"You have to have patience, but there's no big rush anyway," says Jason Carter, 16, an Eagle Scout who will be a sophomore at Dundalk High School.
When the bus finally arrives, it is jammed with scouts from Connecticut, Wyoming and Missouri. Every state and several foreign countries are represented at the Jamboree.
William asks a Utah kid if he would like a Baltimore Orioles sticker. The Utah kid looks suspicious, as if this is part of some clever East Coast bait-and-switch scheme his parents warned him about. William gives him the sticker. The Utah kid gives William a pin shaped like a cucumber. William considers this a fair exchange. The Utah kid isn't so sure.
Bartering is big. Each scout troop has its own patch and pin, which are traded with other troops. All over camp, boys find some shade, spread out a blanket, display their patches and wait for a crowd. It's the scouting equivalent of a Middle East bazaar.
Some patches are more valuable than others. A patch featuring Elvis Presley -- the troop is from Memphis, naturally -- is hot.
"The biggest story so far is that one kid traded 40 patches for an Elvis patch for his sister," reports Chris Kinsey, 16, of Glen Burnie, who will be a junior at North County High School.
The Yoda patch is the most controversial. Apparently a California troop is using the "Star Wars" character on its patch without the necessary copyright. That's like cheating, the boys say.
"I actually held it," Jason says. "But I didn't want it." He doesn't want it because he is:
A scout follows the rules of his family, school and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobey them.
The bus drops off everyone at one of four "action centers" on the grounds. The civilian looks around. No sign of his partner. No sign of the helpful guide and his even more helpful air-conditioned car. If the theme song from the "Twilight Zone" suddenly pours from the loudspeakers, he will not be surprised.
He is entering ... Khakiland. The boys are expected to wear appropriate outfits, which may include scout-related T-shirts. Uniform inspection is held every morning, after breakfast (Fruit Loops and a muffin this morning).
But it's the men -- the scoutmasters and assistants -- who follow the uniform code to the letter. The olive green shorts, the khaki shirts with troop number proudly attached, the olive green socks with festive red trim.
Some of the men wear Teddy Roosevelt-style hats. Some carry wooden walking sticks. Some puff out chests covered with enough patches and badges to make a tinhorn general jealous. All look like they're auditioning for the Ned Flanders role in a live-action movie of "The Simpsons."
"It's not just a youth program," Carlberg says. "It's a lifestyle."
William is convinced that some are interlopers.
"You see these big, buff guys dressed like Boy Scouts," he says. "I'm telling you, they're with the Secret Service."
Could be. President Clinton will address the scouts later tonight. The whole camp is abuzz, although the Baltimore-area youths note that his appearance will lop two hours from their allotted activity time. Attendance is mandatory.
"You'd have to hide in the woods not to go," says William, sounding like one of those Vietnam-era GIs forced to attend the Bob Hope Christmas show.
Maybe it's the president's visit, or the sight of all those uniforms, but the Jamboree has a starched-shirt military feel. Fort A.P. Hill brings in 1,600 military police and engineers to use the event as an exercise in crowd control. And the various branches of the armed forces are well represented; many boys tote belongings in plastic bags courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps.
"It's not supposed to be like the military, but it is," says Jason, a member of the Naval Reserves.
He's not complaining, mind you. Just being:
A scout tells the truth. He keeps his promises. Honesty is part of his code of conduct. People can depend on him.
Jason has no hair. He shaved his head for the summer and for the reserves.
"I thought he was a skinhead when I first met him," William says. "But he's pretty nice."
Although the Boy Scouts strive for ethnic diversity, the Jamboree has all the multiculturalism of Norway, a point not lost on William, one of the few African-American boys here.
"I think this is primarily a Caucasian-type thing," William says.
Again, he's not complaining. Like the other boys, he enjoys scouting, especially the camp-outs. He likes the camaraderie. He even appreciates Scout Law.
"They're not helping little old ladies across the street, but they're nice guys," he says. "It's not like I was selling drugs and then stopped when I became a Boy Scout. I just try to be good. This is fun."
It's lunch time. The civilian, of course, is unprepared. He stands in a long line to buy lunch tickets, then stands in a longer line to exchange the tickets for a hamburger. The civilian wonders if they award merit badges for waiting in line.
"This isn't Disneyland," Chris says.
Before the Jamboree is over, the scouts will eat an estimated 8.5 tons of hamburger, 3.5 tons of hot dogs and 43,000 gallons of milk. (And they will buy some 28,000 cans of soda pop, if the Pepsi guy loading a bank of machines is accurate.)
The Baltimore scouts eat something called a "high adventure" lunch, which was given to them in camp -- a box of crackers, peanut butter, cookie and "some kind of chicken substance," Chris says. He preferred the Spreadables of four years ago.
At a First Aid tent, the civilian borrows a telephone to track down his helpful guide. The boys find some shade for their lunch. Then Brian Howle, 17, who just graduated from Dundalk High School and who has saved every issue of Boys' Life since 1986, spots what must be a mirage.
There, sitting by herself, is a girl. A black-haired teen-aged girl.
This is a rare but not unique experience. At the national Jamboree four years ago, Chris explains, "there was a Girl Scout troop from Sweden. No kidding. Sweden."
Brian looks at the girl. He and Jason embark on a reconnaissance mission. They go because they are:
A scout is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows good manners make it easier for people to get along together.
Jason and Brian return a few minutes later.
"Her name's Melissa," Jason reports. "She's from Williamsburg, Va. She's here to see her boyfriend."
The boys break camp. The civilian is supposed to meet his helpful guide at another action center. The boys say this is down the road. The civilian learns that down the road can mean anywhere from two blocks to two miles.
"You want a map?" Jason asks helpfully. "I've got an extra one."
It is hot. They march up one hill, down another hill, up an even steeper hill. The civilian begins to understand the wisdom of wearing olive green shorts.
They find the action center. No sign of the helpful guide. No sign of the camera-toting partner. The civilian is still lost. The boys are getting antsy. Their activity time is running short.
"I wanted to do something today," Brian says.
They walk to the Buckskin games, where black-bearded John Campbell of St. Joseph, Mo., who has the pelt of a white fox hanging from his belt, teaches them how to shoot a "50-caliber CVA Bobcat black powder rifle."
"Don't put your finger on the trigger until we tell you," Campbell demands, and the scouts, being good boys, obey.
The scouts can shoot at targets or anything they want. Jason plugs his hat. William drills a hole straight through his Troop 327 purple-and-gray T-shirt.
"My hat survived," he says.
Speaking of survival, the civilian wonders how to find his car. He calls the media tent and begs for help. Another helpful guide is dispatched to find him.
The Baltimore scouts must leave. They need to get back to camp to eat, clean up and wait for President Clinton to speak. They may have to wait three hours. They do not complain.
The night turns out well. The boys watch the fireworks and laser show and the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team. Jason, the Eagle Scout, shakes the president's hand.
As the civilian leaves, the scouts say goodbye. They do not make fun of his long pants. They do not shake their heads in dismay. They do not, thankfully, offer to help him across the street.
They do not do these things because they are:
A scout understands there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. He does not hurt or kill harmless things without reason.
"When you're a scout," Jason says, "you pretty much follow the rules."
Pub Date: 8/02/97