Outreach Program Shows Educators Best of Defense Department
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2002 Most educators never get to visit the Pentagon's command center, build bridges with military equipment, fly in helicopters, and eat lunch with sailors and breakfast with Marines. But occasionally, some do.
Thirteen college, university and public-school administrators are spending this week being shown the best the Defense Department has to offer. They're up at 5 a.m. and busy till taps plays at whatever base they're visiting that day.
This small group is participating in the Joint Civilian Orientation Course, one of the secretary of defense's most important public outreach programs, a senior official explained.
"It brings together a distinguished group of Americans to tour facilities and meet service people," said Chris Willcox, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. He's the senior escort on the group's tour through facilities of all four military services.
During the group's tour of the Pentagon Oct. 8, David Chu, undersecretary for personnel and readiness, spoke to them in the room where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fields questions from the media in his televised press briefings.
Chu told them that transformation is really about recruiting quality people. He said the most significant part of transformation since the 1970s was the advent of the all-volunteer force.
"For the last 20 or 30 years we have focused on excellent people as the key to victory," he said. "If we don't have the people and they don't have the right outlook and preparation, no amount of spending on equipment is going to save us."
Willcox explained that was the focus of all the stops on this whirlwind trip. "Service people make all the difference," he said. "Their great work is what impresses people the most."
The educators apparently agreed. David Carter, president of Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, Conn., said every American citizen would get such a close look at the country's military forces if he had his "druthers."
"What's strange about our country is we expect people to understand and love America, yet we don't take time to teach them about America," he said. "You see the (military) people are just people. You see that they're passionate about what they do, and it's very enlightening and stimulating."
Susan Robinson, an executive with the American Council on Education, said the American public doesn't have as much contact with the military as when she was younger.
"Academics tend not to be people who have served," she said. "So I think we're a good audience to target." Robinson noted that academicians tend to be more liberal than the general population, but that her views had already changed because of this program.
"I have to say, in less than 24 hours I've been thinking quite differently about some of our military tactics," she said. "I think I came in more skeptical than I'm leaving."
Willcox said educators are a particularly good group to have interacting with the military because they have a lot in common with military commanders. Both groups -- educators and commanders -- work with young people, motivating them and looking out for their best interests, he said.
During a visit to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in Norfolk, Va., the ship's commander told the group the average age of his sailors is 19. College students fall into the same age range, Willcox said.
"They have a lot to talk about and a lot in common," he said. "This is an important opportunity for these two groups to get together."