President Bush's visit to the Boy Scout National Jamboree in central Virginia was put off until Sunday at the request of Scout officials so that they could make appropriate plans for handling any heat problems in the crowd, the White House said today.
Officials said last night that Bush would come to the Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill today after storms that moved through the region forced him to cancel a planned appearance yesterday. But those plans were scrapped this morning as Scout officials dealt with the after effects from the weather. More than 300 Scouts had to be treated for heat problems, including dehydration and light-headedness, after waiting in the blazing sun for more than two hours in their dress uniforms to see Bush.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Associated Press this morning that Boy Scout officials had asked Bush to postpone his visit. They "wanted to make sure they had all the medical supplies and EMT personnel to handle such a large crowd," McClellan said.
In a statement posted on an official Web site today, Jamboree Chairman Fran Olmstead said leaders wanted an opportunity to set up plans before undertaking another such gathering and noted that temperatures are expected to reach only the 80s this weekend.
"We feel that our Scouts and leaders will benefit most from an opportunity to review and emphasize our safety procedures and to replenish our resources," Olmstead said. "We want all participants to safely enjoy the many activities and programs at the jamboree. Also, the drop in temperature is a welcome change which should provide an opportunity to refresh."
Despite temperatures in the high 90s yesterday, hundreds of Scouts stood in long security lines in the afternoon and then sat waiting in an open field for the president. Supplies of ice and water were provided to the Scouts, but still many succumbed to the heat. According to the AP, soldiers from the fort helped carry sick Scouts on stretchers to the hospital and emergency workers from surrounding jurisdictions were called in to help treat and transport them.
Another statement posted on the Jamboree Web site said most of those suffering from heat problems were treated at the onsite clinic. Two people were hospitalized overnight for observation and are in stable condition, according to the statement. It gave no details about their ages or hometowns or where they were taken for treatment.
The 16th National Boy Scout Jamboree, held every four years at the military base 80 miles south of Washington, had a somber start. Four Scout leaders from the Western Alaska Council were electrocuted Monday when a pole they were hoisting for a dining canopy apparently struck a power line.
The assembly on Sunday with President Bush is scheduled to include a memorial service for the four leaders. The investigation of the deaths is continuing.
Five Alaskan Scouts at the Jamboree stopped Wednesday afternoon to check out patches offered by a Hawaiian Scout for trading. Their faces turned serious when they were asked about the accident, which some said they witnessed, and they declined to be interviewed. Several of their fellow troop members had gone home, they said, but those who stayed were managing to enjoy themselves as best they could.
"You can just say we're doing fine," one Scout said.
On Wednesday night, Matthew Adams, 17, a member of the Western Alaska Council, said that his first Jamboree in 2001 was so much fun that he "couldn't pass up the opportunity" to come again. But he said he and other members of Troop 711 did not begin to enjoy this year's Jamboree until Tuesday afternoon.
On Monday night, they slept in an Army barracks and waited for more details of the accident. "It was pretty tough," Adams said. He said the leaders who were killed were role models "for every Boy Scout in central Alaska."
David Apperson, 17, also of Troop 711, said things were better by Wednesday. "This is amazing. It's incredible," he said of his second Jamboree. "It's just cool to be a part of this."
On Wednesday, most of the 32,000 Scouts from around the world went about their regular activities. And that included enduring a beastly, oppressive heat that prompted troops to bristle when putting on their uniforms, neckerchief and all, for the Bush visit.
"I try to stay out of the heat," said T.J. Risseeuw, 14, of Wyckoff, N.J., standing nowhere near the shade. "It's not really working."
And looming in the backdrop is the threat that the Jamboree might not take place again after a recent federal court ruling that Defense Department contributions -- about $8 million -- to fund the event are unconstitutional because the organization requires members to affirm a belief in God.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who spoke to the Scouts on Wednesday, said he would ensure federal funding for future Jamborees. "Scouts of tomorrow deserve the exact same opportunity that you are having now to forge skills and forge friendships," he said.
Staff writer Clarence Williams contributed to this report.