A Call to Action - Locally Supporting Those Who Serve and Served and Their Families
Jaye Baillie, APR, IOM
August 10, 2012
Five Days. Five Military branches. Enough to change my life and my commitment forever to those who serve and served. Nominated and selected to represent Ocala/Marion County, our local chamber and the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals, I was honored to recently join 38 business and thought leaders from across the nation to participate in the Department of Defense Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC). Little did we know that by the end of this military immersion program we would be motivated to serve as local champions for our military, their families and our veterans.
During the week, we traveled to five military bases in Nevada, California and Washington. Each day, through briefings, tours and activities, our knowledge and respect for our sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines and coasties grew. We sailed Pacific on the USS Makin Island; cruised the bay aboard the Coast Guard 25-foot Defender-class boat from Station Seattle, flew in both a C17 and a Sea Hawk helicopter
s,; jumped from the 65 foot tall ‘Hell Hole’ tower, slid down ‘fast ropes’ and floated in dry suits. We ‘survived’ boot camp at The Depot in San Diego where there was no mercy shown by our Drill Sergeant and Drill Instructors as they tried (in vain) to whip us into shape. Marching in formation was hopeless for our motley crew. We participated in a battlefield training exercise complete with flak jackets, helmets, mock guns and bayonets jumping into fox holes and taking out the bad guy (tires) with the blunt of our rifle. We saw a live battlefield exercise and shot rifles. We sat in field ambulances listening to brave young medics explain how their training allows them to remove the wounded from an active battlefield. We watched the wounded warriors struggling to adjust to their ‘new normal’ at the phenomenal Walter Reed Medical Center. But most memorable, to me, was a child’s hand written note, anchored by small stones on the base of the Afghanistan and Iraq memorial, which said simply, “Daddy I miss you and love you.” The sacrifices became all too real.
Of all we experienced, what I enjoyed and where I learned the most, was chow time with the young women and man protecting us. They are bright, professional and dedicated. They worry about their families and fellow armed service members more than themselves. Most were under 20 and in their short time in the military have become amazing individuals who stand taller, exercise discipline and practice skills that were foreign to them when they joined.
During our briefings from the generals, rear admirals and majors we learned that JCOC was an important vehicle to help our opinion leaders to better understand the mission of the military and its critical role in defending our Homeland. We grew to understand national defense issues, the concerns around defense spending and the impact on the challenges facing our service men and women as a result of long and multiple deployments. We learned that less than one percent of US citizens serve in our military and that the majority of the nation has no idea of the challenges our military personnel face.
Well, the 38 who participated in JCOC 84, and those 83 sessions that occurred before, sure do. And following the thread of emails among our ‘class’, we are using our new found knowledge and appreciation to develop strategies to support those currently serving and our veterans. The incredible business leaders I met on this journey are recognizing the discipline and work ethic instilled in the military, are now examining hiring practices to ensure that veterans know about job opportunities and that hiring staff understand that a Veteran makes a great team member. They are meeting with their local colleges to understand and help promote educational opportunities for returning soldiers. They are writing blogs, newsletters and op ed pieces sharing what they learned to broaden the respect for our military and to encourage every citizens to do a little something to show how much we all appreciate the sacrifices our military men and women make to protect the United States of America.
For our part, the Chamber wants to examine what resources are available for our military personnel, their families and our Veterans and strengthen our efforts to support them. If you are interested in being a part of that discussion, please let me know firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms. Jaye Baillie, President & CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce, enthusiastically participated in JCOC 84 (July 22-28,2012).
.JCOC 83 Recap April 22-April 27, 2012
By Peter Keller, JCOC 83 Participant
JCOC initial meeting and briefing
All JCOC 83 participants and staff meet at the Hyatt Crystal City. Marine Corps team meeting and introductions among our group of eight (Ben Donenburg, Founder & Artistic Director, The Shakespeare Center of LA, David Falk, Founder and CEO FAME, David Jenkins, SVP Finance & Administration, Cleveland Browns, PWK, Valerie McCall, Chief of Government Affairs, City of Cleveland, John Pritzker, founding partner, Geolo Capital, Richard Weinberg, President Judd Enterprises and Omneity Entertainment, Sherrie Rollins Westin, EVP, Sesame Street Workshop). After filling out paperwork and (lots of) waivers, we received an introduction to the DoD. That was followed by a reception and dinner and Welcome Program, hosted by Dr. George Little, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense and René Bardorf, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. Also in attendance were a number of senior military officers from across the five service branches.
JCOC 83 – Day 1 Pentagon and Air Force
Pentagon in the am
Meet with Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman JCS (the nation’s 2nd highest-ranking officer) for a one hour briefing. He was interrupted at one point by a colonel with a red folder. We were told later that he had to go o.k. a mission (Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the JCS are both out of the country today). Admiral Winnefeld addressed many of the challenges facing our military after ten years at war, challenges in the current political environment and the potential impact of significant budget cuts. He mentioned that one of the most common concerns of wounded warriors as they are being medically evacuated is a desire to get back to their units. We heard a variation on this theme from virtually all senior officers we met. The dedication to mission and to fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coasties is simply incredible.
Then a full tour of the Pentagon.
We proceeded to Andrews AFB where we boarded our C-17 for the 2 hour 20 min flight to Hurlburt Field, FL located in Okaloosa City, FL, close to the AL border. Hurlburt is part of the greater Eglin Air Force Base reservation, and is home to Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the 1st Special Operations Wing (1 SOW), the USAF Special Operations School (USAFSOS) and the Air Combat Command’s (ACC) 505th Command and Control Wing. The installation is nearly 6,700 acres and employs nearly 8,000 military personnel.
Air Force Special Operations HQ, briefing by Lt. General Eric Fiel, United States Air Force, Commander, Air Force Special Operations Command. Then a demonstration of special ops training- disarming and subduing a hostile.
On to a mission briefing, then we commence a special operations night mission. In on a Russian MI-17 helo, we land at our target outfitted with night vision goggles, air cover from AC-130 gunships which proceed to obliterate (from 2 ½ miles up and away) several enemy positions near our landing site. Exit on a V-22 Osprey for the 25min flight back to Hurlburt Field.
Then head to overnight quarters.
JCOC 83 – Day 2 Coast Guard
Morning briefings at Hurlburt then breakfast with a bunch of special operations airmen just back from deployment, some very moving stories from these remarkable young men.
We then boarded our C-17 for the flight to Coast Guard Air Station Miami.
Arrive CG Station Miami. Lunch with the Coasties and briefing by Rear Admiral William Baumgartner, District Commander Seventh District, on their mission/mandate - primarily involving drug interdiction, border patrol/intercepting illegals at sea, rescue and public safety.
Aircraft inspection - primarily MH-65C helos and HC-144A fixed wing. Then law enforcement time; weapons demonstration.
Head to CG Sector Miami. On the water with the Coast Guard. The USCG Cutter Bernard Webber is the USCG’s latest; Sentinel Class “fast response cutter”. The Webber is the first of what will be a 54-ship fleet. It was just commissioned the previous week. 154 feet long with a top speed of 29 knots. It is armed with four, crew-served M2HB .50-caliber machine guns and one remote-control Mk35 25mm Bushmaster autocannon (which can fire 5 miles under full computer control).
We exited Miami harbor for an air/sea rescue coordinated with CG helo, two CG vessels and a Miami/Dade rescue ship.
Had a chance to launch/cruise (in shifts) on a high-speed craft (40 knot) housed in a rear compartment - drive off/drive in), sort of like a nine-man (six of us, three-man crew) super jet ski.
Then head back to our C-17 for the one hour flight to Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, SC.
JCOC 83 – Day 3 Marine Corps
Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC
Started at 4:15 at induction center.
A Drill Sergeant entered the bus ordered us to stand, then sit, then stand, then sit, then run off the bus. We lined up for the (in)famous Yellow Footprint Speech. Any time anyone looked to the side/scratched themselves/smiled/etc. the Sergeant nailed them. While we were told at the start of the week to use the head whenever one was available, try using the latrine with the Sergeant standing there ordering everyone to go, now! Drill Sergeant Herrera became our Sergeant all day and the discipline of our group of 38 did improve. While at 5am he told us we were garbage, he was a little more charitable by the end of the day. He explained the training rationale for the Corps and, while I am sure he would not admit it to new recruits, there was genuine concern for them as he worked his mission to turn them into Marines.
Even though we all knew it was a one day deal for us, it was pretty intimidating; hard to imagine what it is like for a 19 year old who has enlisted. Sergeant Herrera (almost) smiles when he pointed out a group of recruits in “the pit” being disciplined.
As the day progressed we had a command briefing from Colonel Benjamin Blankenship the Commanding officer at Parris, a very impressive Marine who became very emotional as he spoke of his feeling of impotence on 9/11 because he was stationed in Europe and was not immediately available in the US. Very emotional moment as he greeted Ginny Bauer, a member of our group who lost her husband on 9/11.
After the briefing we moved on to a martial arts demonstration and the confidence course.
We had lunch with Marines, I was with a seven year Marine officer who was last deployed last year. He will resign in September to go back to Wyoming as a fly fishing guide. Long discussion about policy, implementation, politics, MC leadership and training. A very impressive Marine.
We had about one hour at the range with the chance to fire M-16s at targets 200 yards out (the M-16 has a range of 1,500 yards). The electronic scopes are incredible (the M-16s cost $400/unit, the scopes $900). We each fired off multiple clips and had a chance to fire on burst mode (three-shot per pull).
We then went to the parade ground to watch drills and training. USMC normally ~170,000 surged to ~215,000 and Parris and San Diego felt the pressure of processing and training so many. With the wind-down, the Marine Corps will scale back to a force of ~170,000 which will mean involuntary separations for many who had envisioned a career in the Corps.
Tower training and rappelling (90 foot tower) in the late afternoon then a briefing and video on the Crucible - the 54-hour marathon that ends each recruit’s training before he/she becomes a Marine.
We then went to the base club to hear from a number of Marines, their wives and the Family Service Officers who help support families in this high stress environment. Several families had both husband and wife as Marines, handing off kids as one returned as the other deployed. Very touching stories as you realize all of the sacrifices the make on our behalf. Before our departure Colonel Blankenship brought out a Marine Corps band that played a selection of battle marches before concluding with the Marines’ hymn (not the Marine Corps’ hymn, it is for the Marines, not the Corps, it is the oldest official song in the United States military).
I missed our 25th anniversary but, given that Lindsay’s father was a proud Marine (and a veteran of Iwo Jima), very appropriate that I spent the entire day with the USMC.
JCOC 83 – Day 4 Army
C-17 in attack mode this am from Beaufort to Fayetteville, Pope Army Air Field. In attack mode we took off in 1,300 feet with evasive maneuvers (pulling 2 Gs) then landed with a very steep descent, as if on a 3,000 ft unpaved strip, with a very rapid stop, dropped the tail ramp and taxied in reverse for rapid deployment off the ramp.
Then to Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest army base - 60,000 army, 14,000 civilian employees on 161,000 acres.
Plan for the day - Army Special Forces.
En route from Pope our bus was “hijacked” by guerrillas and we were taken hostage, two from our group were pulled from the group, had bags placed over their heads, and were thrown into an assault vehicle and driven off. The rest of us were photographed and herded to an assembly site. The commander of the renegades gave us an address in Pashtun. Eventually we were rescued by ... The Green Berets.
After a short video including pieces on two Green Beret Medal of Honor winners and three recipients of the Distinguished Service Medal, we were greeted and briefed by Lieutenant General John Mulholland, Commanding General, U.S. Army Special Operations Command and Major General Charles Cleveland, Incoming Commanding General, U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
Full tour of Special Operations including a demonstration of attack procedures, sniper demo (the instructor is the top ranked sniper in the world). He blew up a car at 400 yards and routinely hits his mark at 1,200-1,400 yards. Recently in Afghanistan one of our snipers took out a target with a .50 cal at 2,695 yards (that is over 1 ½ miles). Our sniper instructor had the quote of the day, “If I have weapons superiority the right to self defense is never denied to me”
We all had an opportunity with sniper rifles (firing from a prone position), then had range time with three weapons, M-16 (full auto), MP-5 .50cal with suppression and Glock 9mm. I was hitting targets at 400 yards.
Next, a very impressive urban/street attack where two instructors took out hostiles on a street with multiple cars for terrorist cover. We then went to a CQB (close quarter battle) demonstration, watching from a catwalk directly above the roofless eight-room structure. We had on full body armor and helmets. Below us the SFs blew doors, detonated bombs and wiped out hostiles in a ten-minute battle. An awesome display of force.
One of the specialists demonstrated the latest in biometrics, electronic data recovery, surveillance, etc. Very impressive capabilities that did not even exist three years ago. Rather than herd up suspects, many/most of whom are innocent, and inflame the locals, they can do print scans/matches in the field and take DNA samples. They can extract all data from cell phones and computers to verify/disprove the stories they are told.
Lunch was MREs with the operators. Again, every soldier was very impressive (even if the MREs were not; all of us over 50 were warned that the MREs are calorie/sodium/cholesterol bombs – suited for a young soldier, not for a middle age desk jockey).
After lunch we had additional displays of weapons, mobile satellite systems, field hospital equipment, drones and underwater equipment; in short, the full range of assets used by Special Forces Operators.
We then drove to a remote site where we were surrounded by hostiles. After being joined by a handful of operators who escorted us to a safe, rooftop location, we watched as three CH-47 Chinooks arrived with forces who took out the enemy positions in a 10 or 15 minute battle (three or four buildings across the street). We then moved to the choppers, while a fourth circled overhead, which “rescued” us and took us home. We were in the lead chopper, I was in one of the rear seats so I had a great view of the three Chinooks following us during the 15 minute trip home as the Rangers left the rear ramp down in flight. What a ride.
On base we were greeted by Lieutenant General Mulholland. A re-enactment of real welcomes for hostages freed by Special Operators - complete with welcome home signs held by women and children. Then the General asked everyone to stand, a hanger-wall size American Flag was unfurled and the National Anthem was played. A very moving address by the General with words about the dedication of USASOF and the sacrifices made. Again, a very touching moment as Lieutenant General Mulholland greeted Ginny Bauer.
David Falk and I got cockpit duty for the takeoff from Pope for NAS Pensacola. Great takeoff with the sun low in the sky and great clouds. It is a high cockpit, up the stairs from the cabin, so an amazing view during taxi, roll and takeoff. Then a wide arc around a major thunderstorm before continuing to NAS Pensacola, the birthplace of Naval Aviation.
We were greeted by Rear Admiral Donald Quinn, Commander, Naval Education and Training Command, and then taken to a reception at the Officers’ Club situated on the beach. Present at the reception were all of the senior officers plus a number of retired senior officers plus local business leaders.
The Army put on an excellent day. Four branches down, Navy day is tomorrow.
JCOC 83 – Day 5 Navy
Up for an early breakfast, one on one, with the sailors. I was with a sailor from New Braunfels, TX, in his second month at Pensacola after finishing basic at Great Lakes. He was top of his class in basic training. He is currently in ATC training but considering medical corps as a career. With the closures at Orlando and San Diego, all basic training is at Naval Station Great Lakes, IL.
There are 5,000 sailors at NAS Pensacola; the Navy cycles 14,000 students through and the place has the feeling of a college (Admiral Quinn refers to it as “our little schoolhouse. We had two busses and he was on our bus the entire day).
The air station also hosts the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) and the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute (NAMI), which provides training for all naval flight surgeons, aviation physiologists, aviation experimental psychologists. NAS Pensacola also became home to the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC), providing technical training schools for nearly all enlisted aircraft maintenance and enlisted aircrew specialties (air traffic controllers, ordinance specialists, divers, etc.) Specialty courses include aviation water survival.
NAS Pensacola contains Forrest Sherman Field, home of Training Air Wing SIX, providing undergraduate flight training for all prospective Naval Flight Officers for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, and flight officers/navigators for other NATO/Allied/Coalition partners. TRAWING SIX consists of the Training Squadron 4 (VT-4) Warbucks, Training Squadron 10 (VT-10) Wildcats and Training Squadron 86 (VT-86).
In addition to training all aviators from the USN, USMC, Pensacola trains aviators from Germany, Italy, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. The Navy trains 300-350 pilots for itself per year with trainees progressing from 17 weeks in the single engine Beechcraft T-6 Texan II (2 place turboprop with a top speed of 316, a service ceiling of 31,000 and an ability to handle up to 7Gs and -5Gs, training starts with stalls at 15,000) to the North American T-39 (a twin engine Sabreliner) to the T-45C Goshawk (a highly modified version of the BAE Hawk land-based training jet aircraft, manufactured by McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace, it prepares pilots for the F-18 but at a far lower cost). There is about a 20% attrition rate from pilot training. About 100 pilots opt for P-3 Orion training and move on to Jacksonville
We next had an hour or so on the flight line with all three types (inside and out) and instructors to answer our questions.
We walked out across the runway for some time with the Blue Angel Hornets. Not flying today but Q&A with the ground crew and good photo ops.
After some classroom time we went to the pool for some lessons in aviation water survival. Fully outfitted pilots were inverted in their harnesses (with night goggles) to test their ability to escape. Pilots on chutes were dropped in the pool and had to disentangle and escape. Very impressive instructors who were very cool; the key to survival. When calm the supplemental breather can last 12 breaths; when agitated two!
Given that helos are top heavy, they invert immediately and sailors can be 50 to 100 feet under by the time they get out; two breaths does not get you up. We watched two crews with their first experience with the “dunker.” Six are strapped in a helo fuselage that drops into the water and immediately rolls upside down. Scary stuff in a pool; imagine it at night in open water. The lead water safety instructor has been in the Navy only three years, a college grad, he joined at 30. A sharp contrast to all of the young kids we have been with all week.
Marines then demonstrated the latest in mobile ATC equipment meant to be deployed at the front (and continually moved up) so we can maximize safe take off and landing capacity. This latest technology can be set up in one hour, vs one day for the technology it replaces.
Admiral Quinn hosted a final lunch at the officers’ club and gave some powerful comments about all that our servicemen and women do and how important our support is (“without well trained professionals an aircraft carrier is just 102,000 tons of iron and plastic”).
When I was initially nominated for JCOC I was told that, if I was lucky enough to be selected, it would be the experience of a lifetime and that it would forever change me.
That was an understatement.
From our initial gathering last Sunday the experience exceeded my wildest expectations. Sunday night we were told that, as a matter of protocol, all JCOC participants would be afforded the rank of two star general for the week. That is heady stuff but we were, in fact treated like flag officers. The JCOC staff was uniformly impressive and the entire week went off with military (of course) precision.
We had the unique opportunity to fly on a range of military aircraft, to go out on the first of the Coast Guard’s newest class of cutters, to fire a broad array of weapons (from the M16, in single shot and full automatic modes, to the MP-5 to a Glock pistol). We got to see specialists demonstrate the capabilities of advanced weapons systems, cutting edge electronics and biometrics; including systems that did not even exist a year ago. We had incredible exposure to senior officers (from a four star Admiral, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, through three, two and one star Admirals and Generals). The senior officers demonstrated a profound concern for, and admiration of, the men and women under their commands. Several two and three star officers had to halt their remarks as emotions overcame them.
Despite all of this, I was most impressed by the enlisted men and women and the junior officers we were exposed to. They are a very passionate, professional and talented group; across all five branches. Their dedication to their mission, to their country and to their colleagues in arms is incredible. They make extraordinary sacrifices every single day. Ten years of war have put enormous pressures on our military forces. As a New Yorker, who works in lower Manhattan and who watched the 9/11 attacks on the WTC from my 19th floor office window, I did not buy President Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq and I feel that the operations in Afghanistan have gone on for far too long. That said, I have always felt a huge debt of gratitude to those who serve in the military. I have never been prouder of our service men and women, or had as real an appreciation of all that they do, than now, having been fortunate enough to have been selected for JCOC.
JCOC 83 included an incredibly diverse group of very talented individuals. They came from academia (the President of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, the Assoc. Director of the Kennedy School, the VP for Admin of the University of Wyoming), the arts (the head of the LA Shakespeare Center, an actress, two producers, a location manager and two writers), business (the director of diversity at Time Warner Cable, two bankers, the President of the Nat’l Assoc of Beer Wholesalers, the heads of the Arizona and Oklahoma Chambers of Commerce), government (the Mayor of Pittsburgh, the Chair of the FL Fish & Wildlife Commission, the Chief of Govt. Affairs of Cleveland), medicine (three doctors, the head of the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General Hospital, the head of a physical rehab center, a vet), media (the head of Sesame Street Workshop, a TV station head) and sports (David Falk, Michael Jordan’s agent, the CFO of the Cleveland Browns, the president of IMG Sports, the President of the Anaheim Ducks, the president of Hendrick Motorsports, the leading NASCAR team, the Director of Athletics at the University of Miami).
I can say without reservation that all of us were profoundly moved and impressed by all that we saw this week and by all of the service men and women that we met.
Friday morning at NAS Pensacola Admiral Quinn informed us that an Army Special Operator was killed Thursday in Afghanistan (we spent all day Thursday at USASOC) along with two Navy specialists.
They died for us.
We must have an enduring obligation to them.
JCOC 83 Staff
- René C. Bardorf, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
- Rose-Ann Lynch, Director, Joint Civilian Orientation Conference
- Dave Evans, Joint Civilian Orientation Conference
- Captain Byron McGarry, USAF, Air Force Team Leader
- Captain Nathan Braden, USMC, Marine Corps Team Leader
- Lieutenant Matthew Allen, USN, Navy Team Leader
- Lieutenant Felicia Thomas, USCG, Coast Guard Team leader
- Master Sergeant Michelle Thomas, USA, Army Team Leader.
- Sergeant First Class John Piper, USA, Photographer
Editor's Notebook: A Persian Gulf Journal
By Mr. Timothy B. Clark,
Editor, Government Executive
December 8, 2006
Across six days in October, I got an inside look at the U.S. military that's afforded very few. With 44 other civilians and Defense Department escorts, I flew 17,000 miles through seven time zones to three Persian Gulf countries and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.
We participated in a ground training mission in the Kuwait desert, landed by helicopter on a huge amphibious assault ship in the Persian Gulf, toured the sophisticated air combat control center managing minute-by-minute engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and saw the military's largest nation-building outpost on the Horn of Africa.
I returned with a blur of impressions: the vastness of the American enterprise in the region; the high quality and spirit of the troops; the great difficulty of fighting in Iraqi cities; the commanders' laser focus on the roadside bombs that so threaten our troops; the frank acknowledgment by military leaders that political, social and economic reforms are prerequisites to "victory" and their deep resentment that they're not getting more help from civilian federal agencies.
Our trip was called JCOC 72 -- the 72nd Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, a program begun by Defense Secretary James V. Forrestal in 1948 to give civilian opinion leaders an immersion course in military operations. This was only the second time a group had been taken to Central Command, ground zero in the global war on terror, a 27-nation region that includes Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Oct. 17 at 11 a.m. Bahrain time, we landed in theater after an overnight trip in a C-17 transport aircraft. Immediately, we visited the Coast Guard, which shares docking facilities with the Navy at Mina Salman pier. Six 110-foot cutters are stationed here, each carrying medium-range weapons and a crew of 22. A principal mission is to guard Iraqi oil platforms in the Gulf, 250 miles, or a day's steaming time, to the north on the line between Iranian and Iraqi waters, where there's regular probing of the oil facilities' defenses.
The Coast Guard also inspects cargo shipments, and at a training facility, I witness a tall, rail-thin bosun's mate expertly demonstrate how to rappel down a stack of containers and break through their locks. Only the hint of a ponytail suggested this was a woman, but at our group dinner we meet her, Nancy Lee Greiner, a 13-year veteran of the service, beautiful in her evening dress. Her story of escape from the routines of her hometown was echoed by other troops. The military offered them more excitement, a greater sense of purpose and more responsibility. Greiner, for example, is assistant port operations officer.
From Navy Vice Adm. Patrick M. Walsh and Marine Brig. Gen. Anthony Jackson, we learned that Americans contribute about two-thirds of a 45-ship international task force conducting maritime security, consequence management and humanitarian and disaster relief operations in the region. The U.S. fleet is staffed by 16,200 sailors, and the Navy also has about 12,500 boots on the ground.
This is a new role, but "there's a real feeling in the Defense Department that the Army and Marines are busy, so what skill sets can we use to help them?" Walsh said. Staffing detention facilities is among their shore duties. Jackson reported that morale is good among the 28,000 Marines in the region, high casualties notwithstanding. Re-enlistment rates are the highest in history, he said.
Troops we encountered seemed highly trained and motivated, with some shouldering responsibilities unthinkable at such a young age in civilian life.
On the bridge of the USS Iwo Jima WASP-class amphibious assault ship, flagship of a seven-vessel expeditionary strike group, 1st Lt. Mindie Guerrero, 25, a University of Illinois graduate, served as officer of the deck in charge of the ship. Behind her stood Seaman Melissa Lambert of Brooklyn, N.Y., whose three years in the Navy had qualified her to drive the boat, keeping to a course displayed on a monitor nearby.
The average age on the ship is 21, according to Capt. Michael A. Walley, a charismatic leader whose red turtleneck identified him as the "Sheriff"-- a nickname earned when he was present by chance at a huge drug bust on the southern U.S. border. The ship carries 1,800 Marines -- average age 19 -- as well as seven Marine Corps vertical takeoff and landing jets, 30 helicopters and a variety of vehicles that can be taken ashore on huge hovercraft that float out of the depths of the vessel.
The Iwo Jima houses a hospital that served victims of Hurricane Katrina, and it was the key Navy asset deployed to help evacuate Americans from Lebanon last summer.
A tremendous effort is under way to find better ways to counter deadly improvised explosive devices -- to retard their placement alongside Iraqi roads, to detect them once they're placed, to disarm them without incurring casualties and to protect the troops with better-armored vehicles.
Making IEDs from the extensive caches of ammunition in Iraq requires "no sophisticated research and development," said Army Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, who is commander of the 3rd U.S. Army and is in charge of supplying soldiers in the CENTCOM region. Roadside bombs are made with off-the-shelf items and triggered by cell phones, devices similar to garage-door openers or hard-wired systems. Some can take out the Army's largest armored vehicle, the 70-ton M1A1 Abrams tank.
Whitcomb called for a Manhattan Project against IEDs. The improvised bombs "get at our center of gravity; our willingness to stay," he added. In theater, he said, some 300 Navy electronics engineers are working the problem, while at home, an IED task force headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Montgomery Meigs is spending $3 billion a year.
At Camp Dragon in northern Kuwait, 10 miles from the Iraqi border, we saw how troops learn to travel the dangerous region. A road scratched through the desert was lined with plywood shacks and ancient cars, and local men were hired to act as surly Iraqi civilians who easily could be insurgents. Our Humvee convoy went after one. In the turret, I found it difficult to rotate the gunner's station to bring my machine gun to bear on his fleeing vehicle. My rounds fell far off target.
Our Humvee was blown up by a simulated IED, resulting in two killed and two wounded. My broken leg was quickly placed in a lightweight, moldable cast, while the sergeant who led us was treated for loss of his lower leg.
During this and other training exercises, I was impressed by the military's ability to make routine what's unthinkable to civilians. From breaking into and clearing occupied buildings, to reacting to grievous wounds, young soldiers seem highly prepared for the dangers they face. Training is their job when they are not in the fight.
Budgets and Assets
Budget worries surfaced during some of our conversations. We're facing "a long generational war, and we'll lose it if we high-five it out of the end zone," said Whitcomb. "Americans spend as much on gadgets and lights between Halloween and Christmas as we do on the defense budget. Where are our priorities?"
He echoed a question the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Edmund P. Gianbastiani Jr., had asked while talking to us at the Pentagon. Defense spending is "historically low as a percentage of gross domestic product," he said. "Do we have enough to do what we need to do?"
More than $100 billion a year now is being spent in the CENTCOM region.
The large bases we visited in four countries were works in progress. Living conditions often were primitive; stacked containerized dwelling units were top-drawer, better than the rows and rows of conical tents that house many troops.
The United States is building a brand-new highway from south of Kuwait City to the Iraqi border to avoid traffic and population centers. In a logistical operation unprecedented in modern times, the military sends tons of materiel into Iraq every day.
Two million gallons of fuel move up the highway daily in 7,000-gallon trucks driven by contract employees from Kuwait and nations as far distant as Sri Lanka, the Philippines and India. U.S. troops haul military equipment north.
At an American air base, we also saw some of the most sophisticated assets in the field. The RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft can monitor conversations on the ground and is staffed by people trained to understand local languages. The E-8C JSTARS aircraft can pick up infrared images of moving traffic and stationary targets on the ground. The air war is run from a command center at the base, whose location we were asked not to reveal.
Huge video screens display all aircraft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan, and chat rooms enable dozens of people working on the floor to discuss what the aircraft are seeing and possibly targeting. The two-story, floor-to-ceiling video wall also includes live images from Predator drones and feeds from U.S. and British news organizations. Predator images, fed to laptops of troops in the field, allow precise adjustments to target unmanned aerial vehicles' Hellfire missiles.
We were seeing firsthand the practical effects of the concerns former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld voiced when he told our group on Oct. 15, "It's quite a different proposition to wage war in a country you're not at war with."
Bombers and fighter-bombers take off every day from the air base, but they often return from Iraq with payloads intact. The 500-pound bombs are simply too big, too destructive to use in urban environments where civilians are at risk.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, who commands CENTCOM air operations, told us that "limiting collateral damage is job one" as he displayed the careful decision-making process for dropping a bomb. "If you kill an innocent, you have lost the fight and you may have lost the war," North said.
Officials at the base seemed excited by the arrival of a new 250-pound bomb. "Small diameter bomb explodes onto scene," screamed a headline in the Oct. 15 Desert Eagle, the newspaper of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.
I was struck by the concentrated deployment of many hugely expensive and sophisticated air assets against cheap, primitive IEDs. F-15s, sent up for eight hours (and four refuelings) a night, carry pods that scan for variations in the terrain or the faintest heat signatures that could indicate IEDs, enabling their crews to warn ground troops.
This seemed a principal focus of their missions. An F-15 weapons officer reported that it was difficult to pick out potential IEDs but added that "we are the guardian angels overhead" for ground troops in trouble, and that fighters can scare the enemy away without dropping ordnance.
Some assets are ancient: I toured a KC-135 Strato-tanker refueling aircraft whose crew wasn't born when it was built in 1958. Its newly installed avionics system won't work unless it's specially cooled before takeoff.
Hearts and Minds
Virtually every briefing emphasized the importance of nonmilitary goals.
CENTCOM's deputy chief, Vice Adm. David C. Nichols Jr., for example, told us that the most important task "is to change conditions that give rise to terrorism [by seeking] political, economic, educational and social reform." He voiced a common military frustration at the dearth of coordinated help from civilian agencies.
Whitcomb, discussing the importance of economic development in Afghanistan, said of agricultural reform: "The poppy problem is not a mission the military wants. Other organizations need to get involved."
In the absence of other resources, the Pentagon has been forging nation-building capabilities. But Rumsfeld voiced tough criticism of Congress for cutting his funding requests "for building partnership capacity."
It does little good to arrest criminals in Iraq "if the Ministry of Justice is incompetent or crooked," he said, adding that the country's citizens "have to have confidence in non-military institutions-finance, health, criminal justice and others."
We went to see how the military is managing civil affairs on the Horn of Africa -- the largest such effort under way.
Commanded by Navy Rear Adm. Richard Hunt, CENTCOM's Combined Joint Task Force-HOA marshals about 1,800 military and civilian Defense and State department employees, private contractors and coalition partners, to "wage peace," as Hunt puts it. The task force attempts to cover eight countries with a total population of 167 million people, many of whom live in extreme poverty and are afflicted by displacement and disease.
The task force is headquartered in Djibouti, at a one-time French colonial base called Camp Lemonier. One important mission is military-to-military training, and Hunt said U.S. trainers (often Special Forces) emphasize the law of armed conflict and human rights concerns in the hope that African military forces will earn the respect of the citizenry.
We flew by CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter across the Gulf of Aden to the town of Tadjoura, Djibouti, to see Navy Seabees' progress in refurbishing a hospital and secondary school in the town of 5,000 people. The hospital, primitive but improving, serves a regional population of 25,000, as does Tadjoura's "college," where the Seabees are building a dormitory to house 25 girls sent from outlying areas.
U.S. officials hope educated women will have the confidence to pressure the male population to stop chewing khat leaves, which lowers productivity by inducing euphoria, depression and other effects. Lt. Col. Mark A. R. Koloc, a civil affairs planner, has a $12 million budget for these and other projects. He stretches dollars by employing local labor.
I asked the French-speaking mayor of Tadjoura, Abdourazak Dauoud Ahmed, whether he favored the Americans over the Chinese, who have a huge presence in Africa and are building a sports stadium in his town. "Mais oui," he replied, recounting difficulties dealing with the Chinese.
At the Djibouti base, about 300 employees of Halliburton Co. subsidiary KBR handle operations ranging from cleaning to running the flight line. Among other contractors we'd encountered were two tough former noncommissioned officers running safety operations at the machine gun and rifle range at Camp Dragon, the northern Kuwait outpost. They were employed by MPRI of Alexandria, Va.
In his early 50s, Koloc is playing a key role in spreading the word of American good intentions among African populations. A reservist on a one-year call-up, he's an impressive officer, as were men like the Sheriff and Marine Maj. Gen. Timothy F. Ghormley, CENTCOM chief of staff.
They're more than twice the age of the men and women who make up the bulk of the force. Guerrero and Lambert on the bridge of the Iwo Jima, are examples, as is 1st Lt. Jessica L. Regni, 25, co-pilot of our C-17.
We encountered many who are pursuing military careers, and others, such as Djibouti-stationed Marine reservists Pfc. Ricky J. Pinson and Lance Cpl. Dylan C. Baker, who'd gone into the service to escape boring jobs and to help pay for college, but weren't necessarily in for more than a six-year stint.
Many seemed unimaginably young: Army Spc. Christopher Greene, for example, who drives heavy trucks at night in round trips taking up to 14 days from Kuwait to Baghdad. He's 21 and married, but looks younger.
In the Kuwaiti desert, I met Marine Sgt. Matt Romine, whose wife of eight years and two children, 6 and 3 years old, are living near his unit's home base in Alaska. He joined the Marines to escape the boredom of managing a warehouse and never looked back.
Nearby stood Sgt. Kelley Starling of Live Oak, Fla., a nine-year veteran of the Marines. "I love my job," he said. Did he have a wife at home? "No, sir," Starling replied, "If I'd needed one, they would have issued me one."
Dedicated to a fantastic group of fellow travelers, the Men and Women of JCOC 80
By Dr. Harris Pastides, JCOC 80
September 11-16, 2010
We all met on a Saturday, an Armed Services adventure,
With very little detail on where we were to venture.
It started on a somber note, the day was 9/11,
We prayed for fallen heroes and raised our heads to heaven.
We left from Andrews Air force base, on a shiny limousine
But never had we seen this kind, our own C 17!
We oohed and aahed and snapped our photos of airmen very fine,
And better than any airport, not one security line!
First stop was San Diego, and the Navy was our host.
We took off on the Freedom, of that we will always boast.
It revved its massive engines, it took off like a jet,
But alas with no drug thugs around, we would not need to get wet.
And then we toured the Vinson, a carrier with much might,
And imagined ourselves landing and screeching out in flight.
Our limo whisked us off again to a cooler destination,
In five hours we had arrived, at Elmendorf Air Station.
We talked to many young officers who shared the Alaskan way,
And then the Air Force and Army shared us for an unforgettable day.
We witnessed aircraft scramble, intercepting was their role,
And we even did our own part, by slidling down the pole!
We sat right in a Blackhawk, as pilots we were faking,
But all we really wanted was to have our photo taken.
The low point of the trip was upon us, and it wasn't the high seas,
It was on the bus when they handed out...those dreaded MRE's!
The Soldiers armed our learned group, and presented us a thriller,
But little did they anticipate, we were all natural born killers!
We donned our armor, blew up doors, and climbed in all those Hummies,
We invaded suspect houses, and took out all the dummies!
It's a good thing that we fired blanks because we Rambo's would not be defeated,
If the M4s had been loaded, we would have returned very much depleted!
We witnessed 19 paratroopers practice making war,
Or were they just reclaiming the HumVee pushed out the door?
At night we were royally treated to dinner, music and wine,
And a beautiful well-trained eagle, who sat there so sublime.
On Tuesday we were dealt a blow by Mother Nature acting on cue,
Who sent the fog to Kodiak, and cancelled our overboard rescue.
No worry for our weary team, who cancelled their alarm from beeping,
By now our greatest passion, was for showering and sleeping!
The day was quickly reclaimed, by morning's early light,
with news from Our Coast Guard leader, the mighty Ryan White.
We got to know the Coast Guard as they told us of their roles,
And later went to Anchorage, to shop and eat and stroll.
On Wednesday we prepared ourselves, when waken from our dreams
For one whole day of dust and guns with the United States Marines
We saw much urban combat, and learned how to react
When bad guys mix with good ones in planning their attack
We fired guns with live ammo but marksmen we were not,
When the dust had cleared we were happy to see that no one had been shot!
And now back at the Pentagon, we prepare for our re-entry
From a journey so rewarding, and from bounties oh so plenty.
We are grateful in a new found way for our beacon Motherland,
And for all our unsung heroes, on sea, and air and land.
There is no way to repay this debt that provides us with our freedom,
We can barely even recognize the heroes' families burden.
So instead we will simply stand and salute those who we will never forget,
Airmen, soldiers, sailors, marines, and the brave Coast Guard cadets.
We leave here as resolved Americans, our commitment much more weighty,
The fifty intrepid travelers now friends from Conference 80.