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JCOC: Civilian Conference Celebrates Marine Birthday With Marine Training

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

CAMP HANSEN, Japan, Nov. 11, 2007 – Participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference celebrated the 232nd Marine Corps Birthday yesterday with Marines training at this Okinawa base.

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Afredo Mesa, vice president of a government affairs company in Miami, is part of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. The group participated in Marine training on the Marine Corps' 232nd Birthday on Nov. 10, 2007. Photo by Fred W. Baker III

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The group landed here Nov. 9 on the fifth day of a week-long tour of military forces in the U.S. Pacific Command.

They dined with Marines in the mess hall, cut a ceremonial birthday cake and sang the Marine song.

The JCOC is a defense secretary sponsored program for U.S. civic and business leaders who want to broaden their knowledge of the military and national defense.

The Special Operations Training Group here, part of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, led participants through military firearms training, both live and simulated, and taught the basics of rappelling -- a first for many in the group, including Afredo Mesa, vice president of a government affairs company in Miami.

Mesa had never rappelled before and was obviously nervous about his potentially rapid and uncontrolled decent down the 65-foot tower. Nevertheless, after some encouragement from his Marine trainer, Mesa made it smoothly down the wall and was back on the top of the tower in minutes for another go.

“Ooh wee, … hooah,” Mesa said and laughed, marking his mix of nervousness with an excitement for having rappelled for the first time.

He said the first step backwards off of the wall was the hardest.

“It’s the first few steps that are the trickiest. The initial leaning back (is scary), and you just kind of look at him (the Marine), get that final nod and you know you’re alright. At that point, it’s was just about having fun,” Mesa said. “I had a split second of thinking twice before going down. It was definitely overwhelming. And fun. And dangerous.”

Mesa said the training gave him an additional appreciation for Marines and the training and fighting they do daily.

“With every activity, your appreciation for these guys grows exponentially because this is their job. I did it for fun. This is their job, and they’re getting shot at. For them it’s not fun; it’s work, and it’s safety, and it’s survival,” he said.

Dave Paladino, president of Landmark Group, in Omaha, Neb., is scared of heights but he still went down the “hell hole,” short for helicopter hole, or the type of rappelling required from a helicopter.

“It’s awesome. I can’t believe how fun this is. I can’t believe guys get paid for this,” he said. Still, he conceded, there’s that moment when “you don’t know.”

Paladino said he wished more civilians could participate in this type of conference. He will be able to do a better job communicating to those back home about what the military is doing, he said.

“I hope to really spread it to my circle of influence, how important the job the U.S. military does. I think that a lot of people know that, but not intuitively know that. I think I’ll help them,” he said.

The live-fire range was also hugely popular with the group. There they fired .45-caliber pistols and M-4 machine guns. One of the top shooters, surprisingly, was a grandmotherly participant from Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Pamela Iles -- or California Superior Court Judge Iles -- impressed both the Marines and the JCOC group with her skills. “I’m going to back and tell everyone not to mess with the judge. She can shoot,” laughed one participant, leading to applause all around.

The judge later confided that she learned to shoot years earlier because of death threats on her life. “I loved the firing range. I was all excited when I found out we were going to be able to do that. When we got there, the young Marines were so helpful and supportive and I hit the target every time,” she said.

The judge called the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference the “biggest thing that has ever happened to me in all my life.”

“It was a phenomenal experience,” she said, adding that the best part was getting to talk to servicemembers.

“It gave us an on-site view of our military working people from the inside out, something we never get. I think that the value of JCOC is to give us the ability to go back to the community and express to people, whose information might be limited by national press and a lack of experience of the military, that these are rally smart, intelligent, devoted people who mentor each other and protect our country 24 hours a day,” she said.

What impressed her most was the professionalism and the commitment of even the youngest servicemembers, Iles said.

“There’s no way you can get around it. These young military people in all of the services are wonderful, and their commitment to their job and their country and each other takes my breath away. There’s no way to put that into words,” the judge said.

One instance, in particular, left a marked impression, she said, recalling a young sailor she met in the torpedo room of the USS Buffalo nuclear attack submarine.

“I was way behind in the crowd, and I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying to them, and so when they all passed by I walked up to him and I asked him his name and his age and I said ‘What do you do here?’ And he said ‘Ma’am I make this boat a warship to protect this country,’” Iles said.

“And he said it with such clarity. It wasn’t boasting. It was a commitment to his job and his ship and his shipmates,” she said.

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Related Sites:
Joint Civilian Orientation Conference
Special Report: The 74th Joint Civilian Orientation Conference

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDave Paladino, president of Landmark Group, in Omaha, Neb., descends down the “hell hole,” short for helicopter hole, or the type of rappelling required from a helicopter, during Marine training at Camp Hansen, on Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 10, 2007. Photo by Fred W. Baker III  
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