Fourteen-year-old Glenn Posniack and the rest of Troop 162 from New York City were braced at attention, lowering the colors at the National Boy Scout Jamboree here, when the wind whipped in like nothing Posniack says he had "ever seen in Brooklyn."
Spaghetti and soggy underwear flew, tents lifted-off, metal gates crashed. Cayuga County's windmill threw sparks and Dotty, southern New Jersey's papier-mache Guernsey, sailed through a fence. The sky was darker than Bronx at midnight.
"Hit the deck!" bellowed Scoutmaster Dick Cordes, and boys scattered. Some kicked over billowing tents and others flipped on top to hold them down. Cordes kissed the dirt. Five scouts hid in a portable toilet.
When the storm was over, the Instamatics were brought out to record the destruction. It was a disaster made to order for a "Jambo," as the quadrennial gathering of 32,000 scouts is fondly called. The 36 intrepid adventurers from the core of the Big Apple were proud of themselves. They had . . . Been Prepared.
Camped among the pine and persimmon in a 5,000-acre tent metropolis, part of a 77,000-acre Army reservation between the Rappahannock and Mattoponi rivers 90 miles south of Washington, the boys from Troop 162 have a scouting style all their own -- a set of Norman Rockwell values with a distinct Brooklyn accent.
Bused down from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx, they each paid $425 for the 10-day experience. They are not naive when it comes to the wilderness, but most agree they can navigate New York subways better than they coiuld an outdoor trail.
Like the others who have flooded this rural Virginia countryside -- scouts from all over the world who should leave $6 million behind when their jamboree ends Wednesday -- they have learned to be thrifty, loyal and brave.
"Survival skills are survival skills wherever you are," says Scoutmaster Cordes.
It is 9 a.m. on the third day of the jamboree, the 10th in American scouting's 70-year history, and the eight boys from Troop 162's Empire Patrol are trotting double-time to a series of a tug-of-war matches.
Scouts from 28 countries are here. There are scouts in kilts, scouts with rising sun patches over their breast pockets, and even a group brought by a nearsighted British missionary from Nepal. They add a cosmopolitan flavor to the tent city as they walk its bubbling asphalt streets. The Boy's Life Jamboree Guide urges native scouts to "extend a friendly American 'Howdy.'"
There is no language barrier, however, when the Empire Patrol meets a patrol from Long Island for a tug of war.
"Where you from?" asks one of Empire's challengers.
"The City," says Jeff Rothstein, arms akimbo. Everyone must know what city, Jeff, 15, says.
Senior Patrol Leader Kyle Nelson of Brooklyn gathers the Empire Patrol in a huddle. "Now scouts," says the 17-year-old campsite philosopher, mixing scout creed with street slang. "You can look over there and see they got the blubber on you -- you know they feed them too much out on the Island -- but we got the brawn. We got the brains and it ain't no joke. That's what it is, teamwork. Pull together and you'll be in their face in no time."
But the Empire Patrol loses twice and dejection surfaces. In scouting, as in the American Way, it's important to participate, but better to excel. Nelson is right here, though. "No problem, scouts. You're two for four today. That's 50 percent. We'll get 'em tomorrow in fire building."
Senior partrol leaders like Nelson are key lieutenants in the paramilitary scout system, part of a pyramid of command seen within every patrol, troop, subcamp and up the line to U.S. Chief Scout Executive J. L. Tarr. As scoutmaster, Cordes, a friendly, middle-level computer expert at Dun & Bradstreet, offers advice, but rarely gives direct orders to his troop. Leadership, as figured in the scout system, he says, cannot be taught through hand-holding.
Senior patrol leader Nelson has been a scout for five years. He will be a senior in high school this fall, and has 36 merit badges for such activities as traffic safety, public health and citizenship. One of the patches on his red felt dress vest shows he participated in the 1980 "Trek Through Big Apple."
He is tough but understanding with the boys under his command, believing that "When you are serious, you have to have a joke in your heart, too." Later that afternoon though, he flies into action when Donald (Sarge) King, Empire's patrol leader and Nelson's subordinate, smacks a scout in the head.
King is relieved of duty, and assistant patrol leader Mattie Green is summoned to Nelson's tent.
"Your duty," Nelson says to Green sternly, "is to lead the patrol. If you play around or don't live up to patrol leader expectations, you'll be out, too. Don't go around hitting people, don't call them sucker. Keep your eyes on them. Know all their nicknames. Go now and tell them you are in charge."
"Can't I do that later?" pleads Green, 13, oblivious to the new responsibility. "I want to play Frisbee."
"No." commands Nelson, "do it now." Green trips off and Nelson goes to Cordes to tell him of the change. The change is all right with Cordes, who then advises Nelson to "make sure and observe how Mattie works."
Cordes, 35, is an admitted "scouting addict" -- a scoutmaster, cubmaster, Queens chairman for the Catholic Committee on Scouting, on the Queens Executive Board for Scouting, and carries a bunch of other titles he says he can't remember. His two sons and two daughters are or were scouts, and his wife is den mother for two groups of cubs.
Cordes says inner-city scouting is something of an enigma. He estimates that there are some 65,000 New York scouts among the 4.3 million scouts nationwide.
"Scouting is hard to define in a city," Cordes says. "I mean, you have this idea that you want to teach them urban survival skills, but what are you going to do, offer merit badges for chasing rats . . . ?
"Three-fourths of the word "scouting' is "outing.' Look around," he says, sweeping the colorful tent city with one hand and taking a deep breath of clean Virginia air. "Are we going to give them this in the city?"
Posniack agrees. His home troop meets in a church basement near Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. The troop's once-a-month campouts and canoe trips in upstate New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the highlights.
Sometimes, though, his troop goes to what he calls a "raggedy old camp in Staten Island . . . You don't feel like you're camping when you look across the road and see fire hydrants and street lamps," Posniack says.
The Empire Patrol is trooping across camp toward the rifle range. The foot-bound traffic is as heavy as a Manhattan rush hour, and as the boys walk, they call out to each other like street hawkers, offering to trade patches, hat pins and special jamboree trading cards.
Empire Patrol has been hiking for 40 minutes now and still hasn't gotten to riflery yet. They have trudged past electronic pathfinding (where modern day scouts track electronic foxes on a trail with a device hooked to a CB radio), past handicapped awareness (where scouts in blindfolds try to hit beeping softballs and play wheelchair volleyball), past Frisbee golf, bicycle jousting and rope making.
The boys are asked how their friends feel about scouting. Jeff Rothstein answers first. "Some people think it's kind of queer, and at first it really bothers you," says the 6-foot, 226 pound 15-year-old. "But then you go on a campout or something fantastic like this and it doesn't matter anymore. Here you realize there are so many of us that there is always somebody to back you up."
Finally they come to one of three trading posts, an outdoor bazaar where scouts can rid themselves of some of the $25 a day that jamboree officials estimate they'll spend while they're here. They vote to forego riflery and hang out at the yellow and white trading post tent.
Mugs like Posniack collects are going for $2.50; T-shirts, $6.50; jamboree pendants, $5, and Lifesavers, 40 cents. Wickham has forgotten his cards, but he's got patches, maybe a hundred, stuffed into a knapsack. Before coming to Virginia, he bought 20 multicolored New York "council strips" bearing the Statue of Liberty at $1.25 a piece.
Encountering two boys from southern New Jersey who are carrying their patches in briefcases, Scott Wickham, 14 starts to trade.
"Here's a beauty," says one of the South Jersey boys. "See that green arrow. It's a mistake. It's supposed to be red. Only 250 of them in circulation. A real prize. A real prize. I'm offering it at 20 for 1."
Behind them, one handicapped scout in a wheelchair is trading a vial of =irginia Beach sand to another wheelchair scout for a wooden Nebraska neckerchief slide. Next they exchange addresses.
"Hey," says the first. "I'm wheeling over to the merit badge midway. Want to come?"
Okay, but watch out, it's downhill."
The sight is staggering: 32,000 scouts, four lines deep, dressed identically in green and red baseball caps, green-drab dress uniforms and red, white and blue jamboree neckerchiefs. They march toward the sunset and the massive, grassy ampitheater, singing cadence calls, for the night's gala stage show commemorating the jamboree theme, "Scouting's Reunion With History."
It is a gala, multimedia presentation. A stage as long as two football fields. A 36-foot screen. Four 50-foot-high light towers. Horses and antique cars and fireworks. It goes on for three hours with music by the U.S. Naval Academy Band and eight color-coordinated "Re-Generation Singers," a group of young Americans who, they say, "travel across this great country of ours, bringing love and patriotism to everyone."
Back at Troop 162's campsite, Kyle Nelson is crying. The street-wise and forceful senior patrol leader had to stay on security detail while the others attended the festivities.
"They shouldn't have made him stay back," says Assistant Scoutmaster Reggie Logan, a Baptist minister from Bedford Stuyvesant. "By the time the next jamboree comes around, he won't be a boy anymore."