Operation On-Target (see Heliograph) is a high adventure activity mainly for Varsity Scouts, but also including Venturers and older Boy Scouts. The event is mainly held in the western United States, but has included Hawaii and New York. The basic idea is to have Scouts scattered across a particular area, located on mountain peaks or other prominent points within line of sight of each other. Using large signaling mirrors, they relay messages from peak to peak. Many units spend time in the weeks or months before the actual event learning communications skills like ham radio and signaling. Reaching the peak can also be a challenge, requiring the boys to practice hiking, camping, and backpacking skills. They also need to consider what they will do if the clouds block the sun.
Two main goals are to establish a signal link from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, and to make a link from the Pacific Ocean to at least the continental divide. The event has been annual since 1981. As many as 5,000 scouts have participated in a single year, with participation from Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington, from Puget Sound in Washington to Catalina Island and San Diego in California.
The annual event is held on the third Saturday in July and September. Areas with warmer climates typically see larger turnout on the latter date.
A manual for this event was developed by the Great Salt Lake Council, was later reprinted in one of the Varsity Scout Program Helps books, and now is a chapter in the Boy Scouts of America Varsity Team Features Volume II handbook. While even small handheld mirrors, 3" to 4" on a side, can be seen 30 miles away, teams are encouraged to take along at least one large mirror. The classic large Operation On-Target signal mirror is a modular design with four square feet of reflecting area, transported in backpacks and assembled on-site. It consists of four 12"x12" mirrors bolted to a square of plywood with wing bolts and mounted on a light tripod. A small aimable signal mirror is taped to one edge as a sight.
Early Beginnings: The concept for Operation On-Target originated with Glannin A. Cloward, a former U.S. Air Force pilot and WWII veteran. In 1964 Mr. Cloward led a group of 10 Explorer Scouts from Post 156 (Clearfield, Utah) to the top of Mt. Timpanogos; from there they flashed signals (reflected sunlight) down to the inhabitants of Utah Valley (see photos) using pieces of old mirrors from which Mr. Cloward had created signal mirrors patterned after those carried in military aircraft survival kits. Several dozen local residents, seeing bright flashes from the peak, improvised return signals using household mirrors from locations around the valley approximately 5 to 25 miles away. The following year a peak-to-peak signaling event was attempted between five peaks in northern Utah, but due to bad weather and inadequate planning communication was successful only between two of the five peaks. Similar activities involving just one to three scout units were repeated multiple times from 1965 to 1979 from various mountain peaks in central and northern Utah. In 1980 Mr. Douglas G. Brewer and several other Scout Leaders volunteered to expand the activity into a well coordinated, multi-council, multi-state event, and Operation On-Target was born.
- Varsity Team Program Features Volume II. USA: Boy Scouts of America. 2000. pp. 79–87. ISBN 978-0-8395-4838-6.
- Associated Press (July 15, 1983). "Varsity Scouts will attempt flashy world record". The Deseret News. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
- Romney, Richard (April 1984). "Varsity Scouting On Target". Boy's Life: 28–31. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "Varsity Scouts Practicing Their Mirror Messages". Deseret News. 24 May 1988. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Scouts Join in `Operation On Target'". Los Angeles Times. Jul 18, 1987. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- Palmer, Douglas D. (July 18, 1982). "Mountains weren't admiring themselves". The Deseret News. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "Bad weather clouds Scout project". Spokane Chronicle. July 18, 1983. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "Scouts' sun signals right on target". The Deseret News. July 19, 1999. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- AP (July 13, 1983). "Scouts to Attempt 1,000 mile Relay". Spokane Chronicle. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "Scouts to Signal From Mountains". The Deseret News. June 18, 1982. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "Scouts Plan Mirror Message". The Spokesman-Review. July 14, 1984. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "Flashing mountains reflected Scout's communications skills". The Deseret News. July 16, 1984. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- "Scouts try to traverse western states with mirrors". The Spokesman-Review. July 18, 1983. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- KZ1O, Dave. "99 Hobbies - On Target and BSA". Podcast. Internet Archive Community Audio. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Message from a mirror". Spokane Chronicle. July 18, 1983. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- Palmer, Douglas (July 2, 1989). "Scouts to Provide Midday 'Fireworks'". Deseret News. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Scouts Plan Signal Event At Clearfield" Ogden Standard Examiner, July 21, 1965, page 12A
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