BOWLING GREEN, Va. – Friendship.
With that one, hesitant word, Manabu Hiratsuka, a 16-year-old Boy Scout from Kumamoto, Japan, summarized his and other scouts' hopes for the National Scout Jamboree at Fort A. P. Hill.
About 32,000 youths arrived Monday for the nine-day festival, which is held every four years. Among them were 331 scouts and adult leaders from 26 countries, including Malta, Belize, Poland, Gambia and England.
"This is great. I like to travel and I like to see how other scouts do things," said Igor Guncic, a scout leader from Rijeka, Croatia. Guncic was one of three adults who accompanied a group of 10 boys to the Jamboree, marking the first time that Croatians attended the American event.
"Maybe we can pick up some ideas -- and maybe we can give some ideas to them," Guncic said.
Their first impressions of America?
"Their food is too much pepper," said 14-year-old Marin Golubovic, who with his companions had spent a few days in Louisiana before coming to the Jamboree.
The international scouts were spread throughout the camp so they can mingle with Americans, said John F. Pyfer, Jr., chairman of the Scouts' International Operations.
"Language has never been a problem," Pyfer said. "They participate and, quite frankly, the friendships last forever."
During the nine days at Fort A.P. Hill, the Scouts will compete for merit badges and participate in a variety of activities, including scuba diving, canoeing, rafting and archery. They also will have access to exhibits dotted throughout the 15,000-acre site set up by the National Park Services and other agencies.
"Today is about everybody getting their gear set up," said Scout Master John Borley, who described the Jamboree as "the Olympics of Boy Scouting."
And the effort was massive.
About 17,000 tents were expected to go up Monday. About 200 doctors and nurses were on hand, in addition to a U.S. Army field hospital staffed with more than 220 people.
Or, looking at it from a different angle, organizers expected the scouts to consume more than 479,000 eggs, 76,000 hamburgers, 90,000 pancakes, 240,000 sausage links, 10 tons of beef stew and a 14 miles of subs.
Organizers said this year features the largest Jamboree contingent since 1973, when 64,000 attended at dual sites in Idaho and Pennsylvania.
Fort A.P. Hill, about 40 miles north of Richmond, has hosted the Jamboree every four years since 1981. Since 1937, nearly 600,000 Boy Scouts and leaders from throughout the nation have participated in the program.
This year, 1,520 scouts and their leaders almost didn't make it.
As of December they were still on the waiting list, until camp chief David Bird, one of the organizers, decided to create a camp especially for them.
The result -- the Jamboree's Subcamp 20 -- is the most geographically diverse camp at the festival, Bird said. While the other 19 are organized by region, Bird's camp has troops from Alaska to New Mexico.
"We're going to have a contest on accents," Bird said with a grin. "We have a group from Long Island, New York, and (one from) Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We want to see if they can talk to each other."