OpEd: Visiting Military Installations Was an Eye-Opening Experience

Joint Civilian Orientation Conference shows our best, brightest

By Ken Dyer, Dougherty County School System superintendent in Albany, Georgia
Originally posted in the Albany Herald Online, June 23, 2018 

Ken Dyer. Photo courtesy of the Dougherty County School System website

I recently had the amazing experience of being one of 36 participants in the 2018 Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), which, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, is the oldest and most prestigious public liaison program and is the only outreach program sponsored by the Secretary of Defense.

During my weeklong experience, I had the opportunity to meet with Defense Secretary James Mattis, as well as senior Pentagon and military officials. I was able to tour military facilities throughout the southeast, including seeing how Coast Guardsmen in Charleston, S.C., patrol and secure our coasts; how Marines are made at Parris Island, S.C.; how airmen train at south Georgia’s own Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta; how Army Special Operations forces prepare for global missions at Fort Bragg, N.C.; and how the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, is equipped to defend and protect our nation’s interests abroad.

Not to mention, I was able to experience these things with 35 other JCOC participants who are among our nation’s premier private and public sector leaders. The impressive list of participants includes executives and current/former CEOs of major companies and corporations, executives and heads of major entertainment organizations and not-for-profit organizations, three college/university presidents, and others.

Of all of the high-ranking military officers with whom I interacted, of all of the very accomplished leaders with whom I participated, and of all of the leading-edge technology and weaponry I observed that makes our military the most capable in the world, I was most impressed with the servicemen and women I met in the field, many of whom are from what some call the “lost generation” of millennials.

At every stop, I met with 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who are leading the fight. They are truly our country’s best assets to national security. Sometimes we hear that the military is a measure of last resort for our students – that it’s an option only for students who can’t get into college. From what I witnessed, however, that is far from the truth.

Serving in the military is an exclusive club. According to the Pentagon’s statistics, of those who apply to serve, only 29 percent are able to meet the rigorous physical, academic and behavioral requirements to serve and, of that, only 1 percent actually serve. So, we really are talking about the best and the brightest that our nation has to offer. These dedicated few, many of whom are millennials, are the tip of the spear for our national defense.

At every level, young servicemen and women are undertaking complex tasks, working with the most sophisticated technology on the planet and carrying out missions that are literally life and death, and they’re doing it well. Some of our nation’s best and brightest have volunteered to serve in our military and defend our freedoms every day.

While I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the sacrifices of our service members, I don’t know that I ever fully thought about how the members of our youngest generation willingly and proudly serve and so ably protect us and our way of life.

My experience has prompted me to be a stronger advocate for the military as an option for our students and recent graduates, not as a measure of last resort, but as a viable first option: for those with a heart for service looking to make an impact for their country while receiving the best combination of discipline, leadership development, technical skills training and educational opportunities I’ve ever seen.

I encourage you to visit KnowYourMilitary.osd.mil to learn more about our servicemen and women, who they are, what they do and why they do it.

 – Ken Dyer is the superintendent of the Dougherty County School System. He recently completed a weeklong Department of Defense program aimed at providing civilian leaders with a better understanding of how our military functions.

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