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An Experience of a Lifetime

By: Tammy Carnrike

Chamber COO Tammy Carnrike participated in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), a program sponsored by the Secretary of Defense for civilian public opinion leaders interested in growing their knowledge of the military and national defense issues. JCOC is the oldest existing Department of Defense outreach program having been held more than 81 times since its inception in 1948. Tammy spent five days in the Western U.S. visiting each branch of the U.S. military and learning about the readiness of the armed forces and our nation’s defense policies.

There’s a moment when a realization hits you. It’s more than an insight or an epiphany. It’s the moment where the reality of a situation not only changes your perception – it shatters it. You feel it all the way through your body and your worldview changes forever.

That moment came for me this July, in the mountains of the pacific northwest, as I stood in a Stryker tank, looking through the roof hatch as five other U.S. Army tanks patrolled near mine, churning the ground, and grinding their way through a simulated combat zone as soldiers completed drills nearby. Sweating in full combat gear under the summer sun, a heavy metal helmet sitting awkwardly on my head, the roar of tank drowning out everything but my own thoughts – it hit me.

I had no idea the level of commitment, discipline and endurance it takes to be a member of the armed forces and defend our country. I had no idea how indebted we truly are to our brave men and women in uniform.

I made this realization while participating in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC) this summer. Along with 39 other business and community leaders from around the country, I spent five days in the Western U.S. visiting each branch of the U.S. military and learning about the readiness of the armed forces and our nation’s defense policies. Each stop taught me something new about the military and heroes who belong to each branch.

Some lessons where technical. For instance, the Navy has the ability to rescue submarine passengers, anywhere in the world, within 72 hours. That’s right, 72 hours, and this unit can rescue individuals in a submarine as deep as 2,000 feet.

Other lessons were kinetic like firing an M4 rifle issued by the Army, twitching as a Marine Corp drill sergeant screams in your face, jumping in and out of a fox hole while completing a Marine Corps bayonet course and rappelling down a 65 foot building.

Some were awe-inspiring. Watching a mid-air refueling exercise from the cockpit of a C-17 above Missouri. Closing out an 18.5-hour day watching fighter jets take off for air to air combat in the dark of night at the Red Flag Nevada Test and Training Range located on 2.9 million acres and 15,800 square miles of airspace.

Others were more procedural, such as realizing the level of innovation and entrepreneurialism that the Navy demonstrates in order to provide the quality of life for their personnel. With shrinking federal appropriation   budgets, it requires creativity and innovative business thinking to be successful in providing the assets to support a quality base living experience.

Some are emotional. I will never forget my Marine Corps recruit experience and the look in the eyes of these young men as they showed their pride in being a Marine and their devotion to our country.

As our tour came to an end, I realized how much I’d learned. Budget constraints are a challenge at all levels of the military. Taking care of military families and veterans is a priority for all branches of the military. Collaboration is key in all sectors of the military to leverage resources and core competencies to find the quickest, most effective response to extraordinarily dangerous and complex situations.

After much reflection, based on what I heard and experienced, I wonder if our country needs a new defense strategy at this very important crossroads.

I heard from many of the branches of the impact that budget constraints limit investment in new equipment and upgrades while competing countries have the resources and are able to provide state-of- the-art planes and equipment to their military. Problems with exit strategies for military personnel ultimately result in stress on local and state economies, adding to the existing high population of unemployed veterans. And finally, with such large reductions in force, can we as a nation be confident we are backed by the properly trained and capable military we have come to expect should a crisis occur requiring the talent and strength of our military forces?

My experience with the JCOC was a life-changing one that I will continue to reflect and build upon. I want to thank my friends at TACOM in Warren for nominating me for the JCOC experience. While this column cannot even come close to conveying the true impact this experience had on me, I want to close with a scene from my last day.

We landed back at Andrews Air Force Base late Friday evening to visit the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon. As we departed the plane and walked to our waiting bus, we could see another C-17 on the tarmac behind us. The cargo bay was down, rather than the usual passenger departure steps. Out the back of the plane they were carrying stretchers of wounded soldiers arriving home from Germany and being loaded onto a medic bus. What a surreal ending to this week long experience of getting to know our military services and the brave men and women who make personal sacrifices to protect our country.

More from Tammy’s JCOC Experience:


Navy’s Innovation, Entrepreneurialism Stands Out

Getting to Know the Marines and Looking for My Advil