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Community leaders share JCOC journey

By Pamela Jackson | | July 23, 2009

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Two of Dougherty County’s top educators recently returned from the 77th Joint Civilian Orientation Conference which was hosted by the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Marine Administrative Message 741/08 states that the purpose of JCOC is to provide an opportunity for a diverse cross-section of influential U.S. public opinion and business leaders to better understand the missions and goals of the United States military and to meet service members from all branches.

Dr. Everette Freeman, president, Albany State University, and Dr. Sally Whatley, superintendent, Dougherty County School System, attended the week-long outreach program sponsored by the Department of Defense in June.

Whatley described her time as an outstanding, extraordinary and very humbling experience.

“We started out in Colorado Springs, Colo., with a visit to North American Aerospace Defense Command and Peterson Air Force Base.  This was such an extraordinary experience because I think as citizens, we are aware only on a very small scale what it takes to defend our country beyond our borders.  What they have done to protect us, especially since 9-11 is phenomenal,” Whatley said.

Freeman added that the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center watches North America on land, under sea, on the sea, in the air and in space.  “It is nothing like any of the things we see in the movies,” he said.

Whatley said while visiting Ft. Carson, CO., she had the opportunity to interact with the Army general and young recruits during one of their meals. 

“I am always amazed at their reasons for joining the military and level of commitment.  The conversation with the general was enlightening because he talked about his experiences and that he had a son who was studying to be an Army doctor and committed suicide,” she said.

“That experience really impacted his life and he is now such a strong proponent of the young men and women under his leadership getting all the resources they need to cope with all they have to deal with,” Whatley continued. “The general also lost a son in the war in Iraq, yet prior to having breakfast with him, you could hear his passion about the Army and serving his country.”

Freeman added that the one thing that struck him about all the commanding officers he met during the conference was that none of them had any pretense about being ‘big shots’.  “None of them saw themselves as some kind of larger than life person, rather very humble.  They always gave credit to the civilians and the service personnel under them, never for themselves.  That speaks to the uniqueness of our country.  The lesson we learned here is that the higher the rank, the more likely that officer is to be humble and appreciative, well educated and very much focused on the welfare of the country and the people who served under them,” Freeman said.

Whatley and Freeman said there was a significant appreciation for families and the sacrifices families make throughout the branches of service.  Both said that the leaders they had the opportunity to meet were very humble and always spoke about the sacrifices the families make.

Freeman said that the training of Marines, and other branches, is intense because the focus is on allowing those on lower levels of the organization to make the important decisions.  What if we had organizations on the civilian side that truly had that same concept?  It would certainly require more education, but the return would be as incredible as we saw in the military branches,” he said.

“We experienced all five branches of service.  It was a whirlwind trip, but there was no way anyone could have described it for me to help me know what an extraordinary experience it was going to be,” Whatley said.

“Our job is to help try to explain it to those who have not attended JCOC yet.  The best way to do that it is to suggest that our armed services will not be defeated in any war setting, not simply because of any American manifest destiny, but because the volunteers who are enlisted in the branches and who work as civilians believe in the mission, our democracy and preserving our way of life around the world,” Freeman said, during the tour.

“What also struck me,” said Freeman, “was that this volunteer apparatus called our armed services is made up of young men and women who joined of their own free will.  Each branch has a different culture born out of its history, yet each one see the interdependency of one branch with the other.  The obvious connection is that the Marines could not do what they do without the Navy and so on. We are now able to communicate their message based on what we saw and heard during our tour.”

Whatley added that she saw some of the interdependence of the branches in the last Base Realignment and Closure Commission process, but to see it in action was exciting.  “The level of respect and the amazing sacrifice the military makes for us so we are able to live our normal lives is extraordinary. It is humbling to know that we enjoy those freedoms, but to see first hand the men and women who volunteer to do this and the commitment they have is amazing, she said.

Freeman said that the Marines really live up to their motto, ‘Earned, never given’.  “I thought I knew what that meant.  It means that you are a recruit and if successful in recruit training, you earn the right to become a Marine.  We saw that determination to become Marines while visiting the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif.   There were recruits out there in the heat and dust going through their fighting exercise in pairs with buckets of sweat pouring off of them and you could see their exhaustion.”

Freeman said no one wanted to give up and were saying with their eyes, that they would not give up because their mission was to become Marines.  “At the pool area, you could see the same determination in their faces, many of whom probably never got into the water until that day.  They were determined to become Marines and it really hit home that this business of becoming Marines is really a world apart.  You really do become a different person,” he said.

Whatley said that her appreciation for the Marine Corps has always been there, but as great an appreciation she has for all services, the Marines are still at the top of the heap. 

“The level of efficiency in our base and the services they provide, the civilians and the work they do and how it is recognized nationally and internationally, what they do for those men and women at war to have a level of safety that they would not have otherwise, gives you a deep sense of pride that you are a part of this community and share it with the Marine base,” she said.

Both concluded that there were no favorite parts of the trip and they were humbled to be a part of the team of 30 that was chosen from all over the U.S.  Freeman and Whatley said, “No other community had two people so that was really an honor.  It was a phenomenal group of men and women and I enjoyed getting to know the others in the group.  We were all humbled by the experience and have a deep admiration for all the men and women in all branches and a real sense of pride.”

“I also enjoyed seeing people under 30 years old handling millions of dollars of equipment and no one said, young person, you cannot touch that or you have to be 60 years old to fly a jet.  It was amazing to see young people being prepared in the event we have to go to war.  They were prepared to assume responsibility and were trained and trusted to do their jobs,” Freeman said. 

Whatley said participating gave her a greater appreciation for the fact that in three of the high schools here, they offer Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

“We are on the right pathway as a public school system because we are preparing young people to have a level of discipline and make good choices and have extraordinary experiences beyond high school.  That was an affirmation to me to see the level of training and the opportunities they have, she said.

Both Whatley and Freeman said even though they were in separate groups and rarely got to talk, it was quite an experience. 

“There were lots of hands-on activities and they soon found out it was rare for civilians to get those opportunities, so we knew how special it was.  I would encourage anyone given the opportunity to go to do so.  Set aside whatever you need to and don’t hesitate,” Whatley said.

“I wanted to fly the Osprey myself, but they said no. And going into Cheyenne Mountain made me aware that so few Americans will have that experience.  It was quite an honor and if I could do it again, which I can’t, I would go in a heartbeat,” Freeman added.


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