Hundreds of Boy Scouts Jamboree Heat Casualties

A Jamboree that started off with four Scoutmasters getting killed setting up a tent continues to go badly, with 300 suffering heat casualties yesterday waiting for a presidential visit that was postponed due to inclement weather.

Hundreds of Boy Scouts Fall Ill From Heat (AP)

The Boy Scouts marched onto the field singing, plopping down in the grass to wait for President Bush. But hours later, the news that Bush couldn’t make it was drowned out by sirens and shouts as hundreds fell ill because of the blistering heat. About 300 people, most of them Scouts, suffered from dehydration, fatigue and lightheadedness Wednesday — just days after four Scout leaders were killed at the national Jamboree while pitching a tent beneath a power line.

Temperatures at Fort A.P. Hill, an Army base where the 10-day event is being held, reached the upper 90s and were intensified by high humidity. “This is hot for me,” said Chad McDowell, 16, who lives in Warrenton, Ore. “Where I’m from if it’s 75, we think that it’s a heat wave.”

Half of the 300 who fell ill were treated and released from the fort’s hospital. Dozens more were sent to surrounding hospitals, where they were in stable condition Wednesday night, Jamboree spokesman Gregg Shields said. The more than 40,000 Scouts, volunteers, and leaders attending the event had been standing in the sun about three hours when word came that severe thunderstorms and high winds were forcing the president to postpone his appearance until Thursday.

At the last jamboree four years ago, Bush’s trip was also canceled because of bad weather, in which lightning strikes caused minor injuries to two Scouts. He spoke to the group a day later by videotape.

This time, Bush was expected to talk about the importance of Scouting and touch on the Monday deaths of four Scout leaders. Many Scouts ate dinner at 2 p.m. and stood in long security lines to get a good spot in the open field to see what for most would be their first glimpse of a president in person. Volunteers distributed water and ice by the caseload, and the Scouts were told they could remove their uniform shirts if they had another shirt underneath — a rarity for an event as important as a presidential visit, most Scouts said.

Soldiers carried Scouts on stretchers to the base hospital, located about three miles from the arena stage. Others were airlifted from the event while Jamboree officials called for emergency help from surrounding areas to transport Scouts during the storm, which brought high winds and lightning.

It sounds like the Scout leadership took all reasonable precautions here. Three hundred heat casualties, almost all of them minor, out of 40,000 attendees is not particularly alarming. Presumably, some of the boys aren’t in as good of shape as others and certainly few of them are likely to have been acclimated to this level of heat. Camping is an outdoor event and it’s rather difficult to find an air conditioned venue to seat 40,000 while on a camping trip.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. pip says:

    Camping is an outdoor event and it’s rather difficult to find an air conditioned venue to seat 40,000 while on a camping trip.

    I hear that next year Michael Jackson has agreed to host the Jamboree at Neverland. The “scouts” are excited so everyone should be taken care of…

  2. Jim Rhoads (vnjagvet) says:

    I was at AP Hill in July for ROTC summer camp combat exercises nearly 50 years ago. It was hot as blazes and humid, too. If I am not mistaken, it is fairly close to the Rappahannock estuary, and is right at sea level.
    Bugs are bad, too.

    This is also in the heart of the area of a number of Civil War battlefields like Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, The Wilderness, etc., many of which were fought in the summer. Those wool pants and shirts, not to mention the officers’ coats must have made it unbearable.

    I noticed that the BSA have had their national jamboree at AP Hill for a number of years, so this is nothing new to them.

  3. RonnieR says:

    I was surprised to see that the Boy Scouts are still around–it seems like quite an anachronism in this day and age. I have kids between 11-15 and I have never heard of anyone in our area (Georgia) even talking about it. My kids are way into outdoor stuff–rock climbing, mostly–but they tend to organize activities on their own.

    Anyway, sounds like a pretty miserable time! I wish them safe travels, though!

  4. bryan says:

    I think the word “casualties” is a bit severe for this story, since we’re apparently looking at minor heat-related injuries.

    Casualties sounds like, well, casualties.

  5. John says:

    James – thanks for the article – did you add the ‘casualties’ wording to get that ‘evening news spin’ ranking? 300 out of the 40,000 of thousands there isn’t too bad anyway – less than 1%. It defininely doesn’t mean ‘continues to go badly.’

  6. James Joyner says:

    “Heat casualties” is the term the Army uses (or, at least used when I was in from 1984-92) to describe people who “fall out” from the heat. It was a catch-all to describe everything from heat fatigue to heat stroke.