Conference Introduces Influential Civilians to Military
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2005 A group of civilian business professionals and politicians embarked Oct. 17 on a weeklong trip meant to familiarize them with the military.
The Joint Civilian Orientation Conference began here with the group of 45 people touring the Pentagon and Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. The group will travel to Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy before coming back to Washington Oct. 22.
At the Pentagon, the group had breakfast with Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and other senior defense officials. England spoke about the importance of the war on terror and the nobility of America's servicemembers. He then answered questions about National Guard and Reserve issues, re-enlistment, and the Geneva Conventions, among other things.
After breakfast, the conference participants were given a tour of the Pentagon and a briefing in the National Military Command Center. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked with the group and answered questions about current operations. Many of the group members said they enjoyed interacting with Pace on such an informal level.
"General Pace was remarkably candid," said Kevin Bernzott, chief executive officer of Bernzott Capital Advisors, in Camarillo, Calif. "I have appreciated the willingness of all the military people we've come in contact with to answer questions."
Courtney McAnuff, vice president of East Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, Mich., agreed that the briefings were candid and helpful and said that this experience will help him work with the military cadets in ROTC at his school.
"It helps me to be able to tell the story of the military better to prospective students who are interested in that as a career," he said. "It's hard to talk to them without this experience."
The Joint Civilian Orientation Conference is designed to familiarize influential people who have little or no military experience with the different military services, Air Force Lt. Col. Chester Curtis, the program's director, said. One or two conferences are held every year, and they include a diverse group of professionals from all over the country, he said.
The highlight of the program for him, Curtis said, is seeing the civilians meet young men and women serving in the military.
"It makes people realize that it's more than just technology providing their defense," he said. "It's the people."
This conference allows the civilians to see the professionalism, enthusiasm and intelligence of servicemembers, Curtis said. The program' goal is for these civilians to share what they've learned with their peers, he explained.
"We hope that they will take back to their communities what they have learned, especially to those communities that may not have a military base," he said. "They perpetuate what they've seen and learned, and that has a ripple effect. So we're reaching a lot more people when we wouldn't ordinarily."