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).