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Operations, Professionalism Wow Civilian Leaders

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SOUTH CHINA SEA, Sept. 16, 2004 – The crew of USS John C. Stennis treated civilian leaders from throughout the United States today to a demonstration of what Rear Adm. Pat Walsh, commander of Carrier Group 7, called "raw power" able to project U.S. military force anywhere in the world at a moment's notice.

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Dee Ruckman, a partner with Gardere Wynne Sewell in Dallas, left, and Kim Labonte, co-owner and business manager for Labonte Motorsports, prepare for an "e-ticket" ride to USS John C. Stennis aboard a C-2 Greyhound aircraft. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Moreen Ishikawa, USAF

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The civilian leaders a "who's who" of business owners, chief executive officers, educators, local politicians and civic leaders visited the carrier Stennis, deployed about 200 miles off the coast of Singapore, during a weeklong trip throughout the Pacific to observe U.S. military operations firsthand.

The visit is part of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, a program created in 1948 to introduce civilian "movers and shakers" with little or no military exposure to the workings of the armed forces.

Today's visit began with an hour-long flight from Paya Labar Air Base, Singapore, to the carrier aboard C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery aircraft. Most exciting for most of the visitors was the arrested landing, in which arresting wires brought the aircraft to a screeching halt within less than the length of a football field after reaching the flight deck.

Capt. Dave Buss, commanding officer of the Stennis, described the landing, as well as the catapult off the carrier at the end of the visit, as "the best e- ticket ride this side of Disney World."

"I loved it!" exclaimed Bob Heidrick, vice chairman of the Spencer Stuart executive recruiting firm in Chicago. "It's the best airline I've ever flown!" quipped Andy Camacho, chairman and CEO of Camacho Inc. in Los Angeles.

Aboard the carrier, the group members toured the combat direction center, where Cmdr. John "J.R." Jones explained the carrier's self-defense capabilities.

They visited the carrier air traffic-control center, which controls and manages the vessel's air plan and manages its refueling tankers. They climbed to the primary flight control area, where Cmdr. Dave Swathwood, "air boss," and his crew were directing launch-and-recovery operations.

But a highlight was walking out on the flight deck, watching the Nimitz-class carrier's F-14 Tomcat, S-3 Viking and F-18E Super Hornet aircraft catapult off the deck at about 150 miles per hour, and arrested landings for other aircraft returning to the carrier.

Adam Aron, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, said he was amazed by the capabilities the carrier provides. "It's so incredible that we're 6,000 to 7,000 miles off the Pacific coast of the United States, and here's a full- fledged airfield operating in the South China Sea," he said.

Other group members said they were particularly impressed by the teamwork required to provide that capability. "I'm just speechless. It's amazing to see the talent out there," said Chris Lien, president of Birdsall Sand and Gravel, Inc., in Rapid City, S.D. "There's a choreography going on, and everybody works in such harmony together."

"It's just amazing a choreographed ballet," agreed Angela Williams, CEO of Communication Consulting and Coaching based in Mount Pleasant, S.C. "What I can't get over is the coordination and expertise required not only to catapult, but also to land."

But amidst all the wowing over the high-tech aircraft and their maneuvers, Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian American Political Action Committee in Missoula, Mont., joined other members of the group in saying he was most struck by the professionalism of the servicemembers behind the high- powered operations.

"The technical capabilities are awesome," he said. "But as impressive as that all is, what really stands out to me are the men and women who make it work."

Buss told the civilian group that's exactly the message he hoped they would take away from their visit and share with their communities when they return home. "We can buy equipment and technology and do flight operations, but the most important thing here and the reason I've stayed in the Navy for so long is the dedication of the phenomenal men and women who make all this happen," he said.

More than half his crew joined the Navy after the United States was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. "They wanted to contribute," Buss said. "They wanted to do something selfless, and I can't think of anything more selfless than what they're doing out here."

Irma Flores, chief financial officer for Hospital Klean of Texas, Inc., said the visit gave her a deeper appreciation of the U.S. military and the sacrifices servicemembers make every day. "These people give up their lives and their families to protect the way of life that so many of us take for granted," she said. "It's heartwarming to see and makes me appreciate them so much more."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageParticipants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference watch an aircraft launch from the flight deck of USS John C. Stennis, under way in the South China Sea off the coast of Singapore, Sept. 16. Photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageGreg Allen, president of Advance Food Company in Enid, Okla., greets sailors on the flight deck of USS John C. Stennis during the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference's visit Sept. 16. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Moreen Ishikawa, USAF  
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