ALBANY, Ga. -- After decades of imagining what life would have been like if he had followed his first instinct to join the military, a Lee County educator was finally given the experience of a lifetime.
"Impressive," "amazing" and "unbelievable" are just some of the words Larry Walters, superintendent of the Lee County School System, used to describe his recent military experience.
Nominated by Col. Terry V. Williams, commanding officer, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, Walters was one of 30 community leaders from around the country selected to attend the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference 79, hosted by United States Special Operations Command, Tampa, Fla.
The purpose of the program 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 military and to meet servicemen and women from all branches of service.
Walters said his class was divided into groups by service for certain activities, and he proudly stated that he was with the Marines.
"The list of participants was very impressive, and they were from all over the country," Walters said. "Our first stop was MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla."
During his journey, Walters had the opportunity to interact with the Navy Seals, Air Force Commandos, U.S. Army Rangers and the Army Green Berets.
"There is so much ability in each service, but to see the coordination and how well they work together was both amazing and impressive," he said.
"We flew to Naval Station Norfolk, Va., and following breakfast, went to the Navy Seal training facility for a tour and a ride on an inflatable raft that the Seals use."
The next stop, Walters said, was the U.S. Coast Guard training center in Yorktown, Va., where participants were shown how the Coast Guard rescues people from the water with a helicopter hovering above.
"We didn't have to climb down the rope ladder off the big boat, but I did," Walters said. "They brought in this inflatable boat and took us for a ride like I had never been on before.
"The next morning we boarded a C-17 and flew to Fort Bragg, N.C., to visit the Army. We were told that the plane we were on could parachute 110 soldiers in one minute. There were no windows and it reminded me of a flying warehouse."
At Fort Bragg, Walters and his group were taken to the Special Forces building for a briefing and a tour.
"Then they told us we would be in a mock battle situation for the day." he said. "We didn't understand what that meant during our bus ride to the sniper training school, but there were two Special Forces soldiers traveling with us. The bus gets stopped on the road, and these people come out of the woods. Then the soldiers get off the bus and start firing at them. Everything seemed so real."
Walters said once his group arrived at the Sniper School, they were able to fire various pistols and other weapons. He was impressed with the focus and accuracy of the snipers.
"I had the opportunity to fire a sniper rifle and was happy that I hit my target," Walters said. "Watching the snipers fire from as far away as 1,000 meters was amazing and almost unbelievable. It's like they never miss."
Walters said during lunch the group had military ready-to-eat meals which "actually tasted good." He had tried them once before when he participated in the "Marine for a Day" event at MCLB-Albany in 2009.
After lunch, they boarded a helicopter.
"I've never been on a helicopter before, but while boarding, we had to hold on to our clothes to keep them from blowing off," he said. "We were able to see so many things that seemed as realistic as it gets."
Walters' next stop was at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.
"Very early the next morning we boarded the bus and had a few drill instructors who tried to make us a Marine," he said. "Because I had been through the Marine for a Day event on the base, I knew it was all psychological. We went through the mock training, obstacle course and repelling but did not do very well on the marching. And the drill instructor let us know."
Walters proudly showed off a card he was given at the end of recruit training that reads "Congratulations, you have just completed the first two minutes of recruit training," and it was signed by the drill instructor.
Walters said his group's last stop was Hurlburt Field Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field, Fla., where they took part in several more tours and demonstrations.
"This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity taught me a lot of things that I never knew about the military," he said. "One of the things that stuck out was the Armed Forces' commitment to training and education. They also take really good care of their own.
"It was evident that the military is a wonderful career, and I have shared it with the high school and other principals upon my return. I'm very committed to telling their story and am willing to speak to students and groups in town whenever I can."