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Pacific Command Hosts Joint Civilian Orientation Conference

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, Nov. 5, 2007 – About 40 civilians with little or no previous military experience gathered in this tropical paradise today to get their marching orders for a week-long expedition that will take them across the Defense Department’s largest combatant command.

There was little time for umbrella-donned drinks though. Participants of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference had to prepare for a 2 a.m. wake-up to start what promises to be a very busy itinerary. Over the next week participants will fly to a handful of countries where they will see first-hand the efforts of servicemembers in each of the five services working in the U.S. Pacific Command.

The JCOC is a defense secretary sponsored program for U.S. leaders who want to broaden their knowledge of the military and national defense. JCOC is the oldest existing Pentagon outreach program. This is the 74th JCOC since it started in 1948.

“My hope for the participants is that we have a phenomenal experience in exploring the different cultures, but also that they get an understanding of both the strategic importance of the region and its increasing importance to international security,” said Anne MacDonald, JCOC director.

MacDonald said the itinerary is built around providing the group the most basic understanding of what the U.S. military is doing “day-in and day-out in the field.”

Because of security concerns in some of the regions in which the group will travel, itinerary details were not disclosed to participants until today. Specific sites visited can only be reported after each visit, conference officials said.

Geographically, PACOM is the largest combatant command, covering from the U.S. West Coast as far as Mongolia and China, and from Alaska south to Antarctica. Its area of responsibility covers more than half of the earth’s surface – about 105 million square miles – and includes nearly 60 percent of the world’s population. About 300,000 military members from all branches comprise the command.

During the week, participants will receive briefs on each of the services’ roles within the command and view related training. Then they will roll up their sleeves and participate. The group will dine with servicemembers in the field, fire military weapons, jump in the cockpit of a fighter jet simulator, rappel down walls, drive a Coast Guard boat and become part of a simulated mass-casualty exercise. Officials want the trip to be as “hands-on” as possible, they said.

Trip planning starts about five months before the conference and includes hundreds of man-hours in preparation. Servicemembers from each of the services volunteer to serve as team leaders for the groups. A handful of other volunteers help round out the efforts.

David Evans, acting director of the Defense Department’s Community Relations and Public Liaison office, said this type of conference is critical to giving community leaders an accurate picture of military life.

“The reason it’s so important now is we have an entire generation that was not obligated to serve time in the military. They don’t have a good idea of what the military is really about except what they see on T.V. So it is critical that we take these leaders out there to see what our military is doing day to day in forward deployed locations,” Evans said.

Participants are nominated for the conference by senior military officials or alumni of the program and selected because of their influence. A conference fee paid by the participants covers their costs. This year’s group includes doctors, government officials, businessmen and women and educators.

“What we’re looking for is a good mix of business leaders, educators, centers of influence in metro areas -- places where there may not be a military installation and we think this might be something that will be worthwhile for them to experience,” Evans said.

This is Coast Guard Lt. Sara Wallace’s third JCOC to serve as a team leader. She has witnessed the enlightenment that happens as members of the group meet and talk with servicemembers and are able to see what they do in the field, Wallace said.

“By the end of the week the biggest change you see in the participants is just the awe, the wonderment. They can’t say enough about the amount that each of the branches of service does. The amount of education they walk away with almost dumbfounds them,” she said. And it’s not the high-tech equipment that makes the biggest impression either, Wallace said.

“Usually it’s just the (servicemembers) themselves. Every time someone goes on this trip they usually walk away impressed with the amount of responsibility that these young men and women are charged with and how much they have to handle,” Wallace said.

The trip finishes back here Nov. 11 with a Veterans Day ceremony at the historic National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl. More than 44,000 U.S. war veterans and family members are buried in the 112-acre cemetery.

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