An inside look at the National Planning Meeting
Every year, Section Chiefs, members of the National Order of the Arrow Committee, and some support staff gather in Dallas for the biggest OA planning event of the year. These top leaders from all over the country assemble for an intensive four-day session, known as the Order of the Arrow National Planning Meeting.
At the meeting, the Section Chiefs elect the new National Officers, plan for the National Order of the Arrow Conference (or other national program of emphasis), and organize the Order of the Arrow Program for the coming year. The meeting is led by youth, as are other Order of the Arrow events. "It's an event like none other," tells 2001 National Chief Don Cunningham. "The National Planning Meeting is an experience of a lifetime."
The majority of the section chiefs who attend the National Planning Meeting are there for the first time; about twenty percent have attended prior meetings. 2001 Central Region Chief Dominique Baker notes that every year is different. Dominique had attended the meeting before he was elected Region Chief. "Both times were very different. The different types of people make it a different kind of event."
After traveling from all over the country, everyone finally arrives for the much-anticipated meeting. All of the section chiefs, national officers, and adult advisers have time to meet each other talk. "You make friends with people really quickly," says Dominique Baker. "It's the coolest feeling to be in a room with the top youth leaders in the nation."
The first order of business is to elect the new national leaders, starting with the new National Chief and National Vice Chief. After a welcoming dinner, the election commences. This goes on from about 8:00 PM to quite late, often 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM. "It's the changing of the guard," exclaims Don Cunningham. "It closes the last chapter of a generation." The new National Chief immediately takes control of the National Planning Meeting. With this long night of creating history, everyone gets some rest at their hotel rooms, only to wake up at 7:00 AM the next morning.
The second day begins with a breakfast and then it is straight to business. Section Chiefs group by their home region to elect their Region Chief. This election is much shorter than electing the National Chief and National Vice Chief; it only takes about an hour. After the Region Chiefs are elected, they get 10 minutes to themselves and then hit the phones. "I had to call so many people; my parents, lodge adviser, Scoutmaster, and friends," tells Dominique Baker. "It's very overwhelming; you go from a Section Chief to a National Officer in a split-second."
Once the new National Officers are elected, a National Order of the Arrow Committee meeting takes place. This meeting consists of the National Chairman, OA Director, and the all of other members of the committee. The new National Officers are introduced, and then join the committee.
The Section Chiefs are then assigned to the various NOAC committees, according to their preferences. Later, the committees meet for the first time and elect a Conference Vice Chief who presides over the committee.
Later, The outgoing National Chief gives a final report along with the other past National officers. The past National Officers receive their final token of thanks (aside from an applause): the famous black sweater. Next, the new officers are sworn in and business returns. Committees gather up and planning starts. "People just start spiting out ideas and voting on them. Eventually the bad ones are filtered out and the good stay on the drawing board," tells Dominique. The day ends with a dinner, and the food at the meeting is usually well received. Many specialties include the Texas BBQ Beef, Turkey, Pasta, and traditional pizza. Salad is said to be plentiful. Lots of good food for hungry leaders.
The next day begins with the job of planning the next NOAC. (On non-conference years, the planning focuses on the appropriate other national programs.) Creating the Conference theme is the first item of business. Everyone gets into one room and starts throwing ideas around. The bad ideas are voted out and the good ones stand. Eventually, a sound theme is voted on and the committees break off to begin their planning based on the newly chosen theme. Committees write, erase, think, and speak to plan for the future. After a hard day of planning and thinking, the committees present everyone with a closing report. The new national officers deliver their first report and challenge everyone for a strong future. The final day rolls by quickly with a continental breakfast and then departure for home.
The whole Dallas experience is "one of a kind," tells Don Cunningham. "It is the one place, with exception of the National Order of the Arrow Conference, where the top OA leaders in America gather." Don finds it so remarkable to plan for a weeklong event in practically a weekend, let alone the planning for programs like Trail Crew and Wilderness Voyage.
The National Planning meeting is organized by the National Chief, OA Director, National Chairman, and Vice Chairman of National Events. The adults at the meeting pay their own way. Section Chiefs attend without charge, and their transportation is usually paid for by their section.