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Civilian Leaders End Pacific Visit Remembering the Fallen

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sept. 19, 2004 – Participants in the defense secretary's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference ended their trip through the Pacific here Sept. 18 much as they started it a week earlier: remembering Americans killed at enemy hands on U.S. soil and vowing to support a strong defense to ensure it never happens again.

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The civilian business, civic, academic and local-political leaders wrapped up a visit to military sites in Hawaii, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Guam at the USS Arizona Memorial.

There, they paid tribute to the ship's 1,177 sailors and Marines killed during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the United States into World War II.

The group began its trip Sept. 11, the third anniversary of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, remembering the fallen from those attacks.

Thom Hart, president of the Quad City Development Corporation in Rock Island, Ill., called the visit to the USS Arizona Memorial "sobering" and said it provided an important contrast to the exciting, high-tech operations the group observed throughout the week.

"It reflects on the huge sacrifice that is also involved in our country's defense," he said.

"This trip ended with the group seeing the price of our freedom and security, and the fact that it doesn't come cheaply," said Air Force Lt. Col. Chester Curtis, director of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.

The program, established in 1948, introduces civilian opinion leaders with little or no military exposure to the workings of the armed forces. Nearly six decades later, it remains DoD's premier civic-leader program.

Following the visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, the group traveled to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at nearby Hickam Air Force Base. There, Army Brig. Gen. Montague Winfield, the commander, described far-reaching efforts to provide the fullest accounting possible of all Americans missing from the nation's wars.

"We're keeping the promise America makes to its heroes: we will leave no one behind," he told the group.

Today's visit culminated an itinerary that gave group members a firsthand look at U.S. military operations in the vast Pacific region -- a region President Bush has said will become increasingly important during the 21st century.

"They've seen our U.S. military role in the Pacific and gotten a taste of how increasingly vital that role will be in the future," Curtis said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Dierker, deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command and the group's host throughout the week, said he was impressed by the participants' enthusiasm over the U.S. military operations and technology they observed. "Even on a busy, jam-packed schedule, they were so interested and infatuated in what they were seeing that they fought sleep so they could absorb it all," he said.

But the most important message Dierker said he hopes they would take home to their communities involves the role of the U.S. servicemembers in the country's defense.

"It's truly those young 18- to 24-year-olds out there doing our nation's bidding," Dierker said. "They are the true strength of the U.S. military."

Bryan Ardouney, executive director of the Armenian American Political Action Committee, said the trip underscored sacrifices U.S. servicemembers are making around the world every day.

"We know of the sacrifices that our men and woman are making in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "But what's not reported are the sacrifices other servicemembers, such as those in Japan and Korea who also serve on the front lines of our nation's defense, are making. Their daily sacrifice speaks volumes about their character."

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Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Dierker

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USS Arizona Memorial

Click photo for screen-resolution imageParticipants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference learn about techniques used to locate missing servicemembers during a visit to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Sept. 18. Photo by Donna Miles  
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