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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A diverse group of leaders from across the nation had a rare opportunity to experience life through the eyes of service members from each branch of the Department of Defense on a week-long tour to various military bases in the United States during the 83rd Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, which began April 22.

"The purpose of the JCOC is to expose Americans to the DOD and educate them on what each of the branches of the military do for our country," said Rene Bardorf, deputy assistant secretary of defense for community and public outreach.

The 37 participants who were nominated by DOD officials, military commands and JCOC alumni are leaders in areas such as business, politics, healthcare, sports and the arts and entertainment industry, would each be afforded accommodations provided to two-star general civilian equivalents for the majority of the orientation.

Initially, these progressive members of society were not extremely well-versed in the competencies and capabilities of the Armed Forces that protect and defend the interest of the United States.

While each service had a single day to display the relationship of technology and teamwork among its members, the Air Force was able to utilize the entire week transporting the leaders in special operations aircraft from start to finish.

"The senior officials had the privilege of seeing Air Force Special Forces as well as the operational Air Force," said Bardorf. "They had an Air Force crew all week aboard the C-17 Globemaster III, as well as the CV-22 Osprey."

The technological capabilities, integrity and unity among members of each service had a powerful impact on the participants.

"When I was initially nominated, 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," said Peter Keller, BNY Mellon managing director.

For five-days, the itinerary showed the members would be transported from base to base was rich with events, static displays and hands-on tactical training. But the focus of the orientation was more in depth than the highlighting events that took place.

"The emphasis of JCOC 83 is on increasing public awareness about the challenges service members and their families face after a decade of war," said Bardorf.

On April 23, the group attended the Pentagon Day Program where they had the opportunity to meet and be briefed by Navy four-star admiral Adm. James A. Winnefeld, Jr. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second highest ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces.

After the group toured the Pentagon, the Air Force kicked off the event as Joint Base Andrews, 11th Logistics Readiness Squadron transported senior officials from the Pentagon to Andrews to board a C-17 that would bring them to Hulburt Airfield, Fla.

While at Hulburt, the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron performed the air power demonstrations of pararescue, combat control and combat weather. The JCOC members also attended a barbecue with Air Force service members and their families to gain further insight into their lives.

"With all the things we were shown and allowed to experience, it was the people that we met that had the biggest impact on me," said Timothy Hillman, CBS Productions location manager.

The Coast Guard Sector in Miami began April 24 at Opa Locka Air Field with a static display of an H-65, HC-144 flights and a tour of Air Station Miami..

The following day would be a paradox for the group of leaders.

The members may have experienced culture shock by spending April 25 with Marine Sgt. Jonathan Herrera, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. drill instructor. Herrrera's hard-core persona reduced their statuses from two-star generals to brand-new recruits.

The JCOC participants were unaccustomed to this type of treatment, but the experience gave them true insight into military structure and discipline.

"Even though everyone hated dealing with the microcosm of the twelve weeks recruits must endure compressed into one day, we came to understand what it meant to earn the drill instructors respect and build camaraderie among one another and the military leadership as the day progressed," said Sherrie Westin, Sesame Street Workshop, New York executive vice president.

Drill instructors who work long hours week after week and spend more time with their recruits than their actual families talked about their sacrifices with the tour group at the end of the day.

The JCOC participants spent April 26 with The United States Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. to gain a better understanding of the U.S. Army through an exciting simulated hostage takeover and rescue scenario.

"We got to see specialists demonstrate the capabilities of advanced weapons systems," said Keller. "We were also able to fire a broad array of weapons from the M16, in single shot and full automatic modes, to the MP5 and a Glock pistol."

Somber moments of realization of what troops have been facing occurred throughout the trip.

"When you're carrying the wounded out on a stretcher then flying on Chinook alongside Army Soldiers, looking back at the other helicopters, you gain so much empathy," said Westin.

Before taking the C-17 back to Andrews, the tour closed the week out on April 27 at the Pensacola Naval Air Station Sherman Field, Fla., where the members could gain a comprehensive overview of Naval Aviation operations.

While there, they witnessed aircrew water survival demonstrations such as, a helo-dunker simulation of a helicopter crash at sea, parachute disentanglement and helicopter hoisting procedures. They also took a tour of the Naval Air Technical Training Center and Interfaced with enlisted instructors and students there.

Upon their return, Bardorf coined each member as they stepped off of the C-17 aircraft to commemorate the occasion.

The week was intensive, loaded with events, briefings and constant interaction. Yet, the JCOC group seemed to be more invigorated upon return than arrival. They exchanged laughs, stories and embraces with each other and the leadership who escorted them.

The purpose of exposing these members to the capabilities of the DOD was fulfilled. The sentiment echoed among the distinguished group of leaders was that service members and their families sacrifice so much and deserve to be taken care of by society in return.

"Of all the incredible experiences, I was most impressed by the enlisted men and women and the junior officers we were exposed to," said Keller. "They are a very passionate, professional and talented group; across all 5 branches. They make extraordinary sacrifices every single day. Ten years of war have put incredible pressures on our military forces. I'm from New York, and work in lower Manhattan and watched the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center four blocks away from my window. While I didn't advocate the war, I have always felt a huge debt of gratitude to those who serve in the military. I have never been more proud 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. We have an enduring obligation to ensure our men in women in uniform are provided for in every way."

For more information on Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, visit www.jcoc.dod.mil