Friday , 20 September 2019

How a Week with the U.S. Military Made a Lasting Impact on 37 Business, Community Leaders

By Marine Sgt. Drew Tech
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

“On the battlefield, no one wins on their own. Teams win battles, and if you can win the trust and affection of your soldiers, they will win all the battles for you.”

These were words Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delivered to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy during the Class of 2017’s commencement in May.

As simple as the expression may sound, and as often as we’ve all heard of the importance of teamwork, what does the average civilian know of our military — America’s finest team?

In a time where the future can seem so uncertain and the divide between the civilian and military worlds is ever-increasing, it’s more important than ever that the American people understand who the men and women of our military are and of the great commitment they make each and every day to defend our freedom.

A group of 37 civilian leaders representing business, academia, health care, religion, media and entertainment had the opportunity to see our nation’s military firsthand through the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, the Pentagon’s public outreach program.

Last week, the group set out on the 87th iteration of the Defense Department’s oldest outreach program, starting with briefings at the Pentagon and then getting an intimate experience with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

As I tagged along through the week, I was able to see the group take in the exciting — and, at times, exhausting — 15-hour days, challenging themselves to do all they could to experience and get to know the lives of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from across the country.

A group of participants from the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference pose for a photo on the flight line at Fort Drum, N.Y., Aug. 10, 2017. DoD photo by Marine Sgt. Drew Tech

“Loyalty only counts where there are 100 reasons not to be.” – Mattis kicked off JCOC87 with his many words of wisdom

The JCOC87 team started the week off bright and early with a trip to the Pentagon. Seated in the famous Pentagon press briefing room, participants spent the morning hearing the military perspective through briefings and question-and-answer sessions with senior leaders.

The morning really became interesting when the defense secretary arrived. Dana W. White, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, walked to the podium, excited and honored to introduce Mattis for the first time in her tenure. Before she could get past a few words of introduction, she was cut off with a “That’s enough” from a smiling Mattis. After a brief set of remarks, Mattis opened the floor for questions — every hand in the room was raised. He was scheduled to speak to the group for only about a half hour, but he was enjoying the conversation so much that he ended up speaking for nearly 90 minutes. The room was all ears when Mattis spoke, covering topics from leadership to the nation’s adversaries.

“I was just in awe of the amount of knowledge he has and how willing he was to share that with us,” said Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine. The extra time spent with Mattis actually prevented the group from receiving its scheduled Pentagon tour, but I don’t think anyone was too upset by this. For many, the opportunity to meet with a military figure as distinguished and legendary as the retired Marine general was second to none.

“It was worth the trip,” said Jo Ann Ross, president of sales for CBS Television Network. “If I had to go home today I would be totally happy.” I think that just about sums up the way we all felt after meeting Mattis, but lucky for us, the first day had more to offer.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefs members of the Joint Civilian Orientation Course at the Pentagon in Washington, Aug. 7, 2017. The mission of JCOC is to increase public understanding of national defense by enabling American business and community leaders to directly observe and engage with the U.S. military. DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley

Marine Day: Marine Corps Base Quantico

After the Pentagon, we loaded up on buses and made our way down the road to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

At Quantico, we were scheduled to arrive and conduct a live-fire range with the Marines from Weapons Training Battalion, but the heavy rain canned those plans and the great folks of JCOC were introduced to the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer. Basically, it’s just a more realistic version of the classic Nintendo game “Duck Hunt,” in which the weapon is real in virtually every sense — besides ammunition, of course — and instead of aiming at pixilated flying ducks, you’re shooting at standard Marine Corps targets.

Next, we were taken to Raider Hall, where Joseph Shusko, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and director of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, gave us all a brief history lesson on martial arts in the Marine Corps and the Marine Raiders of World War II. Shusko took everyone outside to watch three of his instructors demonstrate some MCMAP techniques on one another. Here, the participants were able to see not only the physical and mental discipline that are hallmarks of a Marine, but also the character development that the Marine Corps emphasizes when training in hand-to-hand combat.

Martial arts instructors demonstrate defensive techniques for members of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference at Quantico, Va., Aug. 7, 2017. DoD photo by Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ben Flores

The Marines like to say, “if it ain’t raining, we ain’t training,” but fortunately for us, the skies had cleared midway through the afternoon and I could experience my favorite event of the day — a ride in the MV-22B Osprey. I’ve flown in Ospreys several times before, but these weren’t just any Ospreys; these were the “Green Tops” of Marine Helicopter Squadron One, the squadron responsible for the transportation of the president of the United States, the vice president and other key leaders.

Check out the ride!

A Marine Corps day wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the chow hall.

The group ate dinner with young second lieutenants at The Basic School, where newly commissioned officers are taught the basics of being an infantry platoon commander. This allowed the participants to not only get a taste for what kind of food Marines eat each day, but, most importantly, it gave them the chance to engage with the young officers and hear their thoughts on what life training as a Marine is like.

Coast Guard Day: Coast Guard Base Boston

The next morning we flew to Boston in what was to be our vehicle for the week, an Air Force C-130J Super Hercules. It was Coast Guard day, and I have to say I had a lot to learn.

Going into the day, I didn’t really know much about the Coast Guard besides the fact that growing up I had seen them out policing the water when I would go out on my Grandpa’s boat. Other than that, I knew they had rescue swimmers, because I’d seen that on TV a few times.

I was struck by just how happy they all seemed. Every Coast Guardsman I talked to was so passionate when talking about what they did for their service.

We learned of the 11 official missions the Coast Guard conducts, including port and waterway security, drug interdiction, aids to navigation, search and rescue, living marine resources, marine safety, defense readiness, migrant interdiction, marine environmental protection, ice operations and law enforcement.

While at Coast Guard Base Boston, we got to tour the Coast Guard cutter Spencer, take a ride on a response boat, and watch how they place buoys in the water. The highlight of the day for me was when we watched a demonstration by a search-and-rescue team with a swimmer jumping out of the helicopter into Boston Harbor to save a simulated casualty. After a long day with the Coast Guard, and seeing and learning about all that they do, I have to admit, I admire those coasties.

A Coast Guard rescue swimmer jumps from a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a search-and-rescue demonstration for participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference at Coast Guard Base Boston, Aug. 8, 2017. DoD photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Drew Tech

Navy Day: Naval Submarine Base New London

As a Marine, I’ve had the chance to experience several aspects of the Navy throughout my career. I’ve been on their amphibious assault ships, spent plenty of time around Navy corpsmen, and I was even lucky enough to go on an aircraft carrier during last year’s JCOC. However, few Marines, if any, get the experience of going on a nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarine. At Naval Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, I was lucky enough to get that opportunity when I toured the USS New Mexico. It was amazing to get a feel for what a submariner experiences in the tight quarters of a submarine. After going down in the sub for just a short tour, I have the ultimate respect for submariners, and I am sure glad that I joined the Marine Corps. I don’t know how I would feel about going under water for weeks at a time without seeing the light of day.

I can’t talk about most of what I saw on the submarine, but in summary, I’ll just say that it was amazing to me to see what a technologically advanced machine a Virginia-class submarine is. The thing was an absolute marvel of modern science.

Beyond the tour of the USS New Mexico, we also got to see how submariners are trained and visited many of the different training facilities on base.

Lastly, we were taken to the submarine museum on base where we were given a history lesson on submarines. We even got to tour the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. It was amazing to see how similar the Nautilus was to the modern sub we toured earlier in the day.

Participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference pose for a photo aboard USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn., Aug. 9, 2017. DoD photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Drew Tech

Army Day: Fort Drum

When we arrived at Fort Drum, New York, I did not know what the Army would bring this year. During last year’s JCOC, they arguably stole the show in terms of being the most action-packed day of the week. I had high expectations that they’d do it again this year, and they did not disappoint.

In the morning, they brought us to the 10th Mountain Division’s Light Fighters School, where they taught the JCOC participants how to rappel from a 40 foot wall. Watching the participants face their fears and go down the wall was pretty entertaining.

Gretchen Corbin, the commissioner for the Technical College System of Georgia, rappels down a 40 ft. wall during the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference’s Army Day at Fort Drum, N.Y., Aug. 10, 2017. DoD photo by Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ben Flores

Just a couple more examples of our action packed day: We got to watch explosive ordnance disposal technicians demonstrate how they use their robots to dispose of improvised explosive devices, we got to see a live-fire infantry assault on a small village, and we flew in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

A highlight for me was when we got to see how the Army medics train for casualty evacuation on an obstacle course. A team of four soldiers carried a stretcher holding a casualty mannequin through a grueling obstacle course in full gear, showing us how they communicate as a team during casualty evacuation. Best part was, after they watched the demonstration, the participants went through the course. There’s nothing like watching a bunch of well-dressed civilians dirty their chinos crawling through tunnels and under barbed wire. I was impressed by their will to accomplish the mission!

A group of participants from the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference make their way over an obstacle during a casualty evacuation obstacle course at Fort Drum, N.Y., Aug. 10, 2017. DoD photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Drew Tech

Air Force Day: Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst

Last but not least was Air Force day at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

We spent the day learning about the missions carried out by airmen at the base. One of the things that stood out to me were the Phoenix Ravens, who are specially trained security forces personnel dedicated to providing security for Air Mobility Command aircraft transiting areas with high terrorist and criminal threats. We also toured a KC-135 Stratotanker and a KC-10 Extender, the Air Force’s two main aerial refueling aircraft.

The most impressive part of the Air Force day was when we got to go in the super realistic flight simulators. Inside the simulator, it looked no different than if you were actually sitting in the cockpit of a KC-10 Extender. I got to actually feel what it is like to land a plane! My landing may have been a little rough, but thanks to my co-pilot, who was an actual Air Force KC-10 pilot, I was able to get just the right amount of help to do it without crashing. As someone who’s always dreamed of flying, that would have to be one of the highlights of my week.

Participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference pose for a photo on the flight line at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Aug. 11, 2017. DoD photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Drew Tech

Mission Success

The mission of JCOC is to increase public understanding of national defense by enabling American business and community leaders to directly observe and engage with the U.S. military. I think it’s safe to say that the mission was a success!


“One of the things that really struck me was the caliber of people I met across the board. From all the branches that we spent a lot of time with, to all of the individuals that we connected with, the leadership we connected with, and the staff we connected with, even the participants, I just felt that it cumulated to this amazing experience that I will never forget in my life. When I’m 80 years old looking back over my life, this will be an experience that will come to my mind.” — Julia Sabin, vice president of government affairs for the J.M. Smucker Corporation.

“Every minute of the last week has exceeded my expectations in ways that I was really not prepared for, most of which has been because each and every day we had the opportunity to really get to know the people that constitute the United States armed services. Not all the stats, not all just the technology, not all the budgetary side of it, not all the policy side of it, but truly and honestly getting to know the people. It didn’t matter if it was a four-star or somebody that legitimately was just getting out of basic, every last one of them cared about their community, they cared about their country, and they cared about being well trained to do what they were responsible to do. That came across with every single person I met this week and I will tell you that in the private sector, I do not have weeks like this often.” — Adam Ghetti, chief executive officer of Ionic Security

James Citrin, the senior director at Spencer Stuart, and a participant this year, wrote his own account of this year’s conference. I would recommend reading it at the following link:

For more information about JCOC, go to

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