National Commander James Koutz (second from right) gets a tour of the National Scout Jamboree site in West Virginia. (Photo by Craig Roberts)

National commander impressed with Scouting site

American Legion National Commander James Koutz took a day-long tour of the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on July 15 and came away pretty happy with what he witnessed.

"This is really, really impressive," Koutz said. "It’s no wonder the Legion takes such pride in our involvement with Scouting."

Koutz drew upon his tough, coal miner heritage as he trekked up, down and around major attractions in the Summit Bechtel Reserve campground. The tour lasted nearly seven hours, all while a public address announcer repeatedly issued extreme heat warnings. The Summit Bechtel Reserve, the new, permanent home for the quadrennial national and international scout gatherings, is vast. It covers about 10,600 acres in the lush hills around Beckley, W.Va. Koutz wasn’t alone in his challenge, however. His aide, Steve Short, was alongside, as was their host, Beckley Post 32 Adjutant Frank Cook, Scout VIP guide Jack Butler and rugged, 79-year-old Montana National Executive Committeeman Elmer Palmer, who led the walking tour.

The commander was honored by Scout leadership as the very first VIP to visit the sprawling new campsite. Koutz toured a water sports lake, a BMX biking course, and a rock and boulder climbing area, among other sporting venues. The commander also took wood-carving mallet and chisel to a 20-foot long Eagle Scout totem-in-progress, greeted volunteers manning a Legion promotion booth, exchanged greetings with Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock, signed autographs and shook many, many hands. "I even recruited two new Legionnaires," he recalled as the tour wound down in late afternoon.

Koutz, Cook and Butler ended their day with an exhilarating and cooling 50 miles-per-hour glide down a 1,500-foot zip line. First, however, was a 30-minute climb up to the launch tower atop one of the highest hills on the site. "That was worse than marching through the jungle in Vietnam," reflected Koutz. Still, a big smile creased his face as the zip line adventure ended. "I’d do it again right now – if I didn’t have to climb up that hill again," he said.

The 2013 National Scout Jamboree runs through July 24, with 40,000 Boy Scouts attending. The Boy Scouts of America’s acquisition of the site and the construction of its facilities was made possible through a $50-million donation from the Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Stephen Bechtel is co-owner, along with his son, of the largest construction company in the United States. Bechtel became an Eagle Scout in 1940 and has long supported Scouting.