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Troop Visits Give Doctor New Respect for the Military

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

SHANNON, Ireland, Oct. 24, 2005 – Dr. Neil Fruman didn't realize how much of an impact a trip to military installations around the world had made on him until, during an airport stopover in Ireland on the way home Oct. 22, he saw a group of soldiers headed to Iraq.

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The participants of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference greet and thank deploying U.S. soldiers in Shannon Airport, Ireland, Oct. 22. One JCOC participant, Dr. Neil Fruman, said he had a lump in his throat in his chance meeting with the troops, knowing that they were headed to Iraq and they stood "proudly for me, my family and my country." Photo by Staff Sgt. Suzanne M. Day, USAF

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"It became very clear to me then," said Fruman, a family practitioner from Lafayette, Calif. "Looking in the eyes and shaking the hands of these men and women of different countries of origin, nationalities, heights, weights, sexes - all with smiles on their faces, eager, anxious and respectful, standing proudly for me, my family and my country - I realized I didn't have that feeling of respect for them before. I had a lump in my throat the entire time."

Fruman, chairman of the medical ethics committee at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Calif., was one of 45 participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference Oct. 16-22. They attended high-level briefings at the Pentagon and traveled to several military installations in Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy to familiarize them with the military.

Before going on the trip, Fruman said he was skeptical about the mission in Iraq and not a supporter of the military. He said he attributes his views partly to growing up in the 1960s and '70s, partly to how he looks at the medical world, and partly to a mistrust of the media which, he said, don't provide the full story.

"When I say Department of Defense, I usually think about the policy side and I don't really think about the people on the other end," he said.

The conference gave participants a lot of opportunities to meet with servicemembers of all ranks and ages. Fruman said those conversations are what helped him see the side of the military he was missing. The troops had terrific morale, he said, and he believes it's genuine.

"I don't think that's something that can be faked," he said. "I don't think that can be paraded out in front of us. I don't think it's simply that they're too numb to know any better. The guys that have served and want to go back certainly know a lot better. ... They still believe it's their purpose in life to support the country."

Now that he has changed his mind about the military, Fruman said he wants to find reliable resources to learn more, and he wants to spread the word to his colleagues, family and friends.

"I have friends on the left and right of me who, neither side, can believe I took advantage of this opportunity," he said. "So they're very curious and I want to see how they respond to some of the things that I come back and tell them. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to tell more of the story, as I experienced it."

There are still some things Fruman said he isn't sure about, like the balance between homeland issues and military actions overseas, but one thing he is sure of is the quality of the troops he met.

"I do know that I'm glad to have met these folks on this side who will respond in any circumstance, any day of the week, any time of the day," he said. "They have a job to do, and it's not that they don't ever question it, but they don't ever question that they will act as they've been trained and will perform in a successful manner."

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Joint Civilian Orientation Conference

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDr. Neil Fruman (left) and Wayne Hettinger visit with U.S. soldiers during a lunch of meals, ready to eat, during the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference at Grafenwoehr Army Airfield, Germany, Oct. 19. The JCOC is a weeklong, multiservice orientation for civilian public opinion leaders. JCOC participants attended high-level briefings at the Pentagon, then observed exercises, fired weapons, and participated in training at various locations, including Germany, England, Italy and onboard USS Mount Whitney in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo by Staff Sgt. Suzanne M. Day, USAF  
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