Civic Leaders Get a Glimpse of Military Life
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 30, 2002 A mayor, a newspaper editor, a businesswoman and 55 other civic, business and industry leaders got an inside look at the military recently, and like all veterans, they've got "war stories" to tell.
The group attended the Defense Secretary's 2002 Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. The week-long JCOC, as it's known, is an annual, multiservice program for civilian public opinion leaders who have limited knowledge of the armed forces. JCOC acquaints participants with national defense issues and today's armed forces.
The Pentagon is always the first stop. JCOC participants attend briefings by the defense secretary, service secretaries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top civilian and military leaders. Then it's time to get their boots wet. The group packs up and heads for the field to tour warships, fly in military aircraft, try out training simulators, fire weapons, join field exercises and observe port security patrols.
This year's group visited Naval Station Norfolk, Va.; Naval Air Station Oceana, Va.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.; and Coast Guard Training Center, Yorktown, Va. Throughout the trip, they got to talk with America's troops and to meet the military commanders who lead them.
Each day was one experience after another, said Paul C. Artman Jr., mayor of Greenville, Miss. "I've always wanted to get in a C-130," he said. "They buzz around our airport all the time. I had the opportunity with the 82nd Airborne.
"We saw an impressive display of hardware," he said, but it's nothing without the people who volunteer to make it all work. "I was particularly pleased the way the ranking officers bragged continually about their troops, their young men and women. It wasn't just for our benefit. It was very heartfelt."
This was not Artman's first exposure to the military. "My father is a Navy veteran of World War II. He was on the battleship Iowa," he said. "Through the years, I've been fortunate to be invited on some smaller military excursions.
"We're very close to the National Guard in our community," the mayor added. "We had an Air Force base in our community that is now used as our regional airport. We have a Coast Guard station here and a Marine safety detachment."
Artman said the group flew on military aircraft and had a sea-going ride with U.S. Navy SEALs. Overall, he said, the military "probably treated us a little nicer than they would the average soldier that's out in the field, but I think overall we got a good taste of what they do and how they do it."
Back home in Mississippi, Artman said, he's talked about his military adventures with local media and constituents. "We've already had a community exhibit about my trip," he said. "There've been a number of television and newspaper accounts about what we saw and did and how impressive it was."
The mayor said his future speaking engagements would include a slide show from the digital photography he took along the way. Defense officials are also sending a video he'll be able to show his community. "We feel this entire event will be very worthwhile to share with all the people here," Artman concluded.
From Miami, Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the Miami Herald, said his visit with the armed forces was "one of the most fascinating learning opportunities that I've had about any subject in many, many years."
"Our days were certainly packed full from well before dawn until much, much later than taps," he said. "The opportunities to see the various segments of the armed forces at work at a time when the country is engaged in a very different kind of war, as we came to appreciate, was truly exceptional."
For Fiedler, leaving the Miami Herald newsroom to attend JCOC was a return to his roots. He said his father retired from the Air Force in 1966. "I've had no active military experience, but I've had the opportunity to understand the military culture, at least as it was in the '50s and '60s," he said.
Back then, Fiedler noted, the military was different from today. He said every male in his generation either had to serve or find some reason not to. Until the early 1970s, the nation drafted the majority of its service members.
"We are now 25 years into the all-volunteer military," Fiedler said. "This was the first time I had the opportunity to really kind of take a close look at the all- volunteer military and where it is now that it has passed through that first generation. Maybe even more important, the military of my youth was very much geared toward the Cold War. That hasn't existed now for a dozen years."
As Fiedler and the others learned, the military is undergoing a transformation to deal with such asymmetrical threats as global terrorism. The editor said he found it interesting to see how the Defense Department and the armed services are "actively grappling" with that issue.
"Hopefully," he said, "it's something that will be discussed much more widely by Americans as the next several months and years unfold."
The quality of the military people, from the sailor in the galley on board the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to the four-star generals who spoke with the group, was the one thing that consistently stood out throughout JCOC, Fiedler stressed.
"The self-assuredness, the eloquence, in many cases, and the commitment to the mission, was evident in every conversation," he said.
After watching an urban warfare exercise at Fort Bragg, Fiedler talked with a soldier who, he felt, exemplified today's men and women in uniform. A chemical/biological detection team demonstrated how it would respond if a deadly agent was found in a building. Fiedler later learned that one team member had been on the scene after anthrax spores were discovered at the U.S. Senate in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
The editor asked the young troop, who looked about 19, "Is this what you joined the military to do, to put on a suit like this and put yourself in situations where you are exposed to probably some of the worst, most dangerous stuff that mankind can conceive? Is this what you signed up for?"
The soldier looked genuinely puzzled by the question, Fiedler said, and then replied, "I signed up to serve my country, and this is what my country's asked me to do."
"I was speechless," Fiedler recalled. "This was not something that he said because somebody had told him that this was part of what you're supposed to say to civilians. I think he said this because that's exactly what he believed. I walked away from that enormously proud and impressed and, in a way, comforted that this is the caliber of young person that we have."
Even though many of the senior leaders had told the civilians the quality of the young people today are as good as any who have ever put on uniforms, Fiedler said he'd still been skeptical.
"You think that young kids today are all going to hell in a hand basket," he said. "They wear spiked hair and they put rings in their navel and all that stuff. Then you see this and you realize that certainly these are first-class young people.
"One of the generals had said that the only difference between the soldiers of the previous generation and the soldiers of today is that these soldiers are bigger, smarter and more motivated," Fiedler said. "I certainly have no evidence to the contrary. I was very impressed with the quality of the people who have chosen to serve in the uniformed services."
Fiedler said he thought about why the military would appeal to a young person today. "I came to think that it might be that there are very, very few places anymore where a young person can choose to serve in a selfless way, to connect to some cause or to some purpose that's larger than self interest. The military is probably the most accessible and offers the most opportunity for someone to be part of something larger than themselves to give meaning to their lives.
"Maybe the idea that it's all-voluntary is a good thing, because those people who do go to it are coming to it with that kind of attitude," he said. "It was a powerful demonstration of how well-served we as U.S. citizens are."
From Seattle, Phyllis J. Campbell, who chairs the Community Board at U.S. Bank of Washington, said they got "the whole nine yards of the dust-in-the-food, eating-in-the-field experience" while visiting the U.S. Marine Corps.
"It's really been an on-going journey since I returned in terms of my learning," she said. "I still think of things I got out of the trip."
The trip exceeded my best expectations," Campbell said. "I was left with the overwhelming impression that our country is in good hands." JCOC, she said, gave her a sense of security. "There are some good folks thinking about not just the traditional defense of our country, but the defense in terms of the new threats facing us."
The businesswoman said her previous exposure to the military was limited. Her husband had served in the Army before she knew him, and her father did a tour in the Army years ago. The Army's Fort Lewis is in her home state, as are McChord Air Force Base and several Navy and Coast Guard stations.
JCOC took her aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and an attack-class submarine. She got to see the ships and the sailors at their duty stations and witnessed the decision- making process involved in Coast Guard drug-interdiction operations.
"Sometimes there's nothing like going through a simulation like that to really understand the kinds of decisions these folks make hour-to-hour, day-to-day, week-to-week in their job," Campbell said. "It gave me a new appreciation for the training and professionalism needed to be a part of our United States military."
The businesswoman also went to the field with Marines and to the firing range with the Army. "I fired an M-5 Beretta pistol," she noted. "That was a little nerve-wracking, but I survived. We were in a KC-135 tanker when it refueled an F-16 fighter -- see, I've even got the lingo down. We got to go down into the pod, where you're basically looking eye-to-eye with the pilot, and we watched the docking- refueling process."
The trip changed her impression of the military. "I went from a 'somewhat positive' or 'neutral' position to a 'very supportive' position of our overall Defense Department and the various branches of the military," she said. "I didn't have any idea that the branches of our military cooperated to the degree they did."
All the way from the defense secretary and Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon to the service members at the different sites, Campbell said, "you could see the consistency of messages and strategies in action. There was a real alignment and coordination of our country's defense."
Campbell said her previous impressions of the military had been formed years ago when the all-volunteer Army was first initiated. "I'd read all the stories that said there were a lot of problems and issues, which I believe there were. What I saw, in fact, was a very highly trained, highly dedicated, professional work force that is being trained and educated to do their job."
She plans to share her military experience with local community groups. She's already talked with local newspaper editors and agreed to talk with state congressional representatives.
"If I were asked to do this prior to JCOC, I would have declined," she said. "I didn't have enough information to be motivated to give the kind of positive testimony I believe I'm equipped to give now, because I obviously believe it."