History of the OA’s service at the National Jamboree

This story was originally posted to oa-bsa.org on February 21, 2023 by Chuck Coutteau.

The Order of the Arrow has been responsible for a variety of services and programs at the BSA’s national jamborees. From providing guides for units around the jamboree to putting on unique programming, the Order of the Arrow has demonstrated its third principle, service, at the national jamboree with pride. Since the first jamboree in 1937, the Order of the Arrow has continually grown to provide important service to over 52,000 Scouts who attend the jamboree.

The first national jamboree was held in Washington, DC from June 30 to July 9, 1937. One of the biggest highlights of this first jamboree was that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to be an Arrowman, attended. Fast forward 13 years, in 1950, to the second national jamboree where the first OA Service Troop (what today is called the OA Service Corps) was established. The second jamboree was held at Valley Forge, PA and was the largest Scouting event to date. In total, 36 Arrowmen were chosen to serve in the OA Service Troop and provided behind-the-scenes logistics ranging from guarding dangerous locations to delivering mail to the troops. In 1953, 18 Arrowmen served in the OA Service Troop, and in 1960 the OA’s support expanded to two OA Service Troops.

The national jamboree returned to Valley Forge in 1964 and the OA participation grew to over 200 Arrowmen. The OA powwow was first introduced here and was attended by approximately 15,000 Arrowmen. This event marked the launch of the OA’s 50th anniversary celebration that would end at the 1965 National Order of the Arrow Conference. Furthermore, the OA increased their impact of service at the 1977 National Jamboree near Pittsburgh, PA. Not only did they provide an OA Service Troop, but it also oversaw the logistics of the youth staff sub-camp.  This included housing, food, transportation and recreation for the 600-800 youth staff members at the jamboree.

Moving forward, at the 1989 and 1993 jamborees, the Order of the Arrow continued to expand the OA Service Troop involvement in service. The OA Service Troop had become a recognizable brand that was depended on for the jamboree’s success. The American Indian Village was introduced at these two jamborees and was a huge success. It introduced jamboree participants to crafts, skills and American Indian dancing. The American Indian Village also gave Scouts the opportunity to earn the Indian Lore merit badge, and nearly 200 Scouts completed it. Finally, it continued to offer an OA-specific show with attendance over 10,000 each year.  

Approaching the 21st century, the Order of the Arrow solidified its presence at the national jamboree in 1997 by having the Service Corps become a major component of the event. The Service Corps was tasked to re-focus its service and allowed them to take a more integral role at the 1997 jamboree. New to the national jamboree this year was the The Outdoor Adventure Place (TOAP) and an interactive show called Odyssey of the Law. This interactive show/video presentation challenged Scouts to rely on the Scout Oath and Scout Law when they had to make tough decisions in their daily lives. With an attendance of more than 20,000 Scouts, the Odyssey of the Law show was one of the most popular programs at the jamboree. The huge enthusiasm for the OA interactive show prompted the jamboree to commit sustainable resources to continue this impactful program. After this huge success, the Order of the Arrow continued to put on interactive shows at future jamborees including: Scoutopia in 2001, Twelve Cubed in 2005 and the Mysterium Compass in 2010.  

The 2010 National Jamboree marked the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. This jamboree was one of the largest in history and the Order of the Arrow once again provided a wide variety of programs and support for the jamboree. A total of over 500 Arrowmen served on the OA staff including the OA Service Corps, the interactive show Mysterium Compass, the American Indian Village and a new program called PACEsetters (Personal Accountability and Commitment to Excellence).  

In 2013, the BSA moved the national jamboree to its permanent home: The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. The OA again provided a large Service Corps, as well as Trek Guides, Messengers of Peace Day of Service project leaders and the Indian Village. Trek Guides were tasked with a huge project – guiding every single troop and participants to the top of Garden Ground Mountain. The Trek Guides lead an interactive experience while hiking participants 3-5 miles. They were also the first face every Scout saw when they entered the jamboree. The Messengers of Peace Day of Service project leaders was tasked with helping complete meaningful service projects in Glen Jean, WV and the surrounding area. These Arrowmen helped Scouts take ownership of the local community while attending the jamboree. Again over 600 Arrowmen served with the Order of the Arrow staff and helped set the precedent for future jamborees to be held at SBR.

In 2017, the OA launched Operation Arrow, the largest OA staff ever assembled for a national jamboree. The zesty blue polo was never more prominent. Over 640 Arrowmen maintained a versatile presence to #FuelScoutingsAdventure at SBR as part of the Service Corps, Trek Guides, Indian Village and auxiliary staffs. Two adult-only staffs, Medical Transport Corps and Aerial Sports Team, provided endless support to jamboree medical operations and daily program. Due to its success and the OA’s commitment to service at the BSA jamboree for over 70 years, Operation Arrow will return in 2023.

In 2023, the OA will once again provide a Service Corps to exemplify its devotion to “service with a smile” during its daily tasks. It will also launch a new half-day outpost program area, Summit Apex, that will inspire Scouts to realize and truly appreciate the benefits of their Scouting membership. At Summit Apex, an evening reflection and celebration will leave Scouts with a renewed enthusiasm for Scouting and determination to grow local membership. For more information on how to join this staff, visit oa-bsa.org/jamboree. The OA is remarkably proud to serve its 19th consecutive jamboree and continue providing unprecedented cheerful service in West Virginia.