Joint Civilian Orientation Conference Takes First Trip Overseas
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 17, 2003 Even after six grueling days, 44 influential U.S. citizens remained jovial and vocally prideful of what they'd seen of U.S. military outfits in four countries.
These participants in the DoD Joint Civilian Orientation Conference visited troops and commanders in England, Germany, Italy and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia June 8-13.
This trip marked the first time JCOC participants have gone overseas since James V. Forrestal, the nation's first secretary of defense, established the conference in 1948.
The war in Iraq was part of the decision to take JCOC participants overseas, said Chris Willcox, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public liaison.
"Some of our forces that were located in the U.S. were not available to present a good program for the participants," he noted. "Also, we wanted to focus on the war against terrorism. Since so much of that war is taking place overseas, it made sense to take the participants to bases from which we're fighting that war."
JCOC is a weeklong, multi-service orientation program for civilian public opinion leaders who have limited or no knowledge of national defense issues. After meeting with top-ranked Pentagon officials, the group spent the rest of their trip in the field observing exercises, firing weapons, talking and dining with troops and receiving briefings.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, kicked off this year's program with an informal talk June 7 in Arlington, Va., near the Pentagon. The next day, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz addressed the group during a breakfast at the Pentagon. Among other topics, Wolfowitz talked about Operation Iraqi Freedom and the global war on terrorism.
Briefings in the National Military Command Center and a tour of the Pentagon followed. They then took a short ride to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where they boarded a military aircraft for the first leg of their whirlwind tour of the U.S. military presence in Europe.
En route to Europe, participants witnessed in-flight refueling. Their first stop was the Royal Air Force Base at Mildenhall, England, where Marine Gen. James L. Jones, head of U.S. European Command, welcomed them. There, U.S. Air Forces, Europe, demonstrated personnel and equipment drops.
Deputy EUCOM commander Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald, traveled with the group throughout the weeklong visit.
In Grafenwoehr, Germany, Gen. B.B. Bell, commander, U.S. Army Europe, and Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, greeted the participants. At the Grafenwoehr training area, JCOC members received a range orientation and live-fire demonstration by Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicle crews. They then were allowed to check out the equipment more closely, including firing the weapons and machineguns or riding in the Abrams or Bradley.
Participants then paired up with troops for a lunch consisting of humanitarian daily rations. These are the pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods that provide an entire day's nutritional requirements. Most recently they have been airdropped to refugees in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and were positioned for use in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
From Grafenwoehr, the JCOC group flew to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for more briefings and demonstrations at staging areas where U.S. military personnel and equipment were preparing to deploy to contingency operations locations.
The next morning the members flew to Naples, Italy, where they were helicoptered out to the USS LaSalle, flagship of the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet, in the Mediterranean Sea. They observed Navy and Coast Guard personnel demonstrating maritime interdiction and search tactics, performed .50-caliber and 25 mm cannon live fire and SEAL team demonstrations.
The group then headed to Tbilisi, Georgia, where they were greeted by a U.S. Embassy representative and Maj. Gen. Arnold Field, deputy commander, Marine Forces Europe. The participants received a helicopter tour of the area where U.S. Marines are training the Georgian army, visited the pop-up target range where they saw a display of Soviet- style weapons and fired the AK-47 rifle.
From Georgia, they flew to Stuttgart, Germany, for a briefing at U.S. European Command headquarters before heading back to the United States.
"I think we had a very successful trip," Willcox said. "The success wasn't only in the increased understanding that our participants have of the military capabilities, but also in the reaction that the troops had in the field to people from their home communities who are there to see them, cheer them on, to encourage them and to be impressed by the amazing capabilities they have.
"From individual conversations and anecdotes, I think the most important thing that they experienced was the interaction with the young service men and women," Willcox said.
Willcox noted that the participants were all very important people in their communities across the country. "If they reflect well on the military in their conversations with their peers and the people they interact with, that's reward enough for the effort we put into JCOC," he said.
Participants are regionally or nationally influential citizens from across the country. JCOC tries to reach presidents of universities and colleges, publishers and editors of newspapers, educators, business owners, and state and local government officials.
Others include those in management positions in the print and broadcast media, published authors, syndicated columnists, national association and regional leaders of professional, minority and women's organizations, chief executive officers, and senior officials of private enterprises with regional and nation reach.
Participants are nominated by Pentagon and military base officials throughout DoD and former JCOC members.
"One of the things we thought has been inadequate in the program up until now is the lack of contact with the alumni," Willcox explained. "So we've developed a Web site and an e-mail system so they can remain in touch with us and we can remain in touch with them. Hopefully we can build a relationship that's a little bit more long term."
Army Maj. Joe Yoswa, deputy director of JCOC, pointed out that the conference cost each participant $2,100. The money covers the full cost of their meals, boarding, gifts provided to them and any amenities. The government provides military airlift.
Noting that this was the third conference he has worked on, Yoswa said, "The encapsulating comment I've heard by one of the participants was, 'Joe, I have some problems. I'll have a serious problem when I get back home.'
Yoswa said over the years, the woman and her friends had always believed that the United States could do without its standing army. They thought that the country could develop a fighting force through the draft and it would be a simple thing to do.
"She looked at me and said, 'My problem is, I have to go home now and tell them we were wrong. We would never be able to draft an army and work at the capabilities and proficiencies of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen that volunteer to put their lives on the line on a daily basis.'
"That encapsulated everything the program is supposed to do make them understand what we're doing," Yoswa said.