Middle East Trip Gives Civilian Leaders New Insights Into U.S. Military
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
TAMPA, Fla., May 1, 2006 Civilian leaders returned here yesterday from a whirlwind trip through Southwest Asia with a fresh new perspective about U.S. military operations under way and the caliber of the men and women serving the country in uniform.
The 47 business, academic, civic and organizational leaders, all participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, agreed that it's one thing to draw conclusions based on what they read in newspapers and see on TV, but quite another to draw their own firsthand conclusions.
The group members visited Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar to observe ongoing operations. They met with soldiers and Marines who train troops how to conduct road maneuvers and confront improvised explosive devices before moving forward into Iraq, and Coast Guardsmen who pull security for Iraq's offshore oil terminals and are teaching Iraq's marines to eventually take over the mission.
They flew aboard USS Ronald Reagan, the United States' newest and largest aircraft carrier, to meet sailors providing a critical show of force in the region and supporting troops on the ground. Later, they met airmen who transport troops in and around the theater, keep them supplied and provide life-saving close-air support when it's needed.
Over the course of seven days, the group members traveled thousands of miles aboard an Air Force C-17 cargo plane, Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Navy MH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, Army armored Humvee vehicles, and a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, among other transportation modes. They earned the "tailhooker" label after flying aboard or catapulting off the Reagan in a carrier onboard-delivery aircraft, commonly called a COD.
They also got to "kick the tires" of Air Force F-15E fighter jets and other aircraft supporting troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and to tour Coast Guard cutters that patrol the Persian Gulf.
In addition to observing U.S. servicemembers at work, the group members got to try their own hands at some operations. They made a tactical movement with Marines through a counter-improvised explosive device training course, conducted close-quarter marksmanship and live-fire training with Army trainers, practiced ship-boarding techniques with a Coast Guard team and fired paintball rounds at notional insurgents in a demonstration run by Air Force security forces.
While wowed by all they saw and did, the group members agreed that nothing struck them so overwhelmingly as the servicemembers they met throughout their trip.
Bruce Simon, president of Omaha Steaks, based in Omaha, Neb., said he was impressed across the board by the quality of the troops he observed and talked with. They're "extraordinarily motivated men and women, who are all volunteers, working under unbelievably difficult conditions," he said. "These are first-class kids. Meeting them and seeing what they do really makes you proud to be an American."
After going through the counter-IED training course, Dr. Marshall Bouldin, a professor at Mississippi Medical Center, said he got a fresh perspective of "how deadly serious this is." It's something "that never full comes across when you're home, watching CNN or reading the papers," he said. "But you can really see how well-trained these people are. They're trained so that everything becomes a reflex."
Steve Schulz, senior strategy consultant for the Gallup Organization, said the common theme he witnessed at every stop on the trip was the quality of the people. "They're well-trained and articulate. They understand their roles and responsibilities, and they're extremely professional," he said.
"Everyone knows that (our troops) are working hard and doing wonderful things," Schultz said. "But when you ride in their equipment and meet them and see firsthand what they do, you really get an appreciation."
John Fox, vice president for Royal Caribbean Cruises, said the JCOC experience left him impressed, not just with military capabilities, but also with the troops' commitment to their mission and each other. "I'm impressed with the professionalism with which these men and women go about their jobs, and impressed with the three-stars (generals and admirals) and how they care about their people," he said.
Cathy Ann Paige, vice president of Manpower Inc.'s Northeast U.S. Division, said she was "stunned by the level of education and breadth of knowledge of the leadership over here."
"These are all CEO-quality people who could be making a million dollars a year," she said. "It's obvious they're not in this for the money. They're getting their rewards in other ways. You can see that they believe in understand the importance of what they're doing."
Similarly, Paige said she was impressed by the level of responsibility junior servicemembers are entrusted with so early in their careers and how well they carry out their missions. "You see how dedicated they are to what they do, and they're out there, doing it every day," she said. "You can't help but be impressed."
Larry Oney, chief executive officer for Hammerman & Gainer International, said he wishes his own organization ran as smoothly as the military units he observed during the JCOC trip. "I didn't realize how strong an organization the military was, or the quality of the people from the bottom to the top," he said. "This is like what you see in corporate America. You train your people and keep them sharp.
"I'm just overall very, very impressed," Oney said. "I think the military has it together."
"This is a very important time for you to come and see your armed forces," Navy Vice Adm. David C. Nichols Jr., deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, who accompanied the group during the trip, told the participants.
"This is your armed forces. And I would ask you to take back what you saw and what you learned from talking to the troops," he said. "Because, after all, they are the true litmus test of how things are going here."
The JCOC program gives civilian opinion leaders an introduction to military operations so they can gain a better understanding of how they're conducted and an appreciation of the people who serve in uniform.
The latest trip was the first to the Middle East since the Defense Department started the program in 1948.