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Operation On Target basics

Operation On Target is a great mountain-top experience that centers around hiking to a mountain summit and signaling to other scout units with special On Target mirrors. Other fun and exciting activities that can be included in Operation On Target are mountain-top ceremonies, competition in various areas of performance, making and learning to use On Target mirrors, learning about and using ham radios, or an awards banquet at which prizes are awarded for outstanding performance during On Target. Also, signaling base-stations can be set up on the valley floors at which parents can come and signal their sons on the nearby mountains.

Operation On Target came into existence as a scout activity in the early 1980’s, but the use of reflected sunlight to send signals has a much older history. The HELIOGRAPH was a signaling device used by the armies of several countries during the late 1800’s, especially by the United States Calvary in the great American Southwest. The heliograph was an instrument that was used to send messages by reflecting sunlight with a mirror or mirrors. The heliograph used by the U.S. Army had a mirror with a sighting rod, and the entire device was mounted on a tripod. A screen or shutter for interrupting the flashes was mounted on another tripod. If the sun was in front of the sender, its rays were reflected directly from a mirror to the receiving station. The sender used the sighting rod to line the flash up with the receiver. If the sun was behind the sender, its rays were reflected from one mirror to another, and then to the receiver. The flash was lined up with the receiver by adjusting the two mirrors. Messages were sent as short and long flashes by opening and closing the shutter. The flashes represented the dots and dashes of the Morse Code. The distance that heliograph signals could be seen depended on the clearness of the sky, the length of uninterrupted sight, and the size of the mirrors used. Under ordinary conditions, a flash could be seen 30 miles with the naked eye and much farther if the receiver used telescope or binoculars.

Operation On Target as we know it today uses the same principles of mirrors and reflected sunlight. This outstanding activity is open to Scout troops, Varsity teams, and Venturer crews. Operation On Target can be as basic or as involved as your unit would like it to be. Some units will incorporate a variety of activities into On Target such as radio communication, the making of elaborate or unique mirrors, photography competitions, overnight backpacking excursions to the more remote mountain summits, nature study, and even video productions.

For interested units, there are many merit badges which could be included in your On Target experience, including Astronomy, Backpacking, Camping, Communications, Cooking, Geology, Hiking, Indian Lore, Nature, Photography, Radio, and Signaling. The only limit to the fun and adventure of Operation On Target is your own imagination.

The key to a successful On Target experience is PREPARATION. I would offer the following suggestions to help you in your preparation process:

  • Discuss On Target with the young men in your unit. Their enthusiasm will be directly proportional to your enthusiasm!
  • Commit the scouts to participating in this great activity.
  • Enlist the help of your unit committee. Assign scouts and committee members to work side-by-side on various assignments, such as mirror making, mirror aiming techniques, peak selection, ham radio operator recruitment, mountain-top experience, competition areas, time capsule construction, photography, and hiking and camping.
  • Focus on the various areas of responsibility in your unit meetings as On Target date approaches.
  • Send two adult leaders and two boy leaders to the On Target Kickoff Workshop held each spring.
  • Be sure to file a Tour Permit with the Council office two weeks before the event.
  • Pray that on the third Saturday in July we will have beautiful, cloudless skies and bright sunshine!

Wait no longer! Select one of the many majestic and challenging peaks in our area and start making your preparations for a great activity. I would suggest you now go back to the Main Menu page and click on “Dates for On Target & the Kickoff Workshop” to find out when this activity takes place. Happy signaling!

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