Tim Dill of Albany stands with the M1128 Mobile Gun System on a Stryker vehicle.
In a little over five days I toured five military branches and developed a deep appreciation for our armed services and their roles in our lives. Nominated and selected as a member of the business sector, I was honored recently to join 38 business and thought leaders from across the nation to participate in the Department of Defense Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC). I had no idea at the beginning of this military immersion program we would all become motivated to serve as local champions for our military, their families and our veterans, but that is exactly what happened.
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 the Pacific on the USS Makin Island; cruised the Puget Sound aboard the Coast Guard's 25-foot Defender-class boat from Station Seattle, flew in both a C-17 aircraft and a Sea Hawk helicopter, jumped from the 65-foot-tall "Hell Hole" tower, slid down "fast ropes" and floated in dry suits. We "survived" Marine boot camp at The Depot in San Diego, where there was no mercy shown by our drill sergeant and drill instructors as they tried to whip us into shape. Marching in formation was embarrassingly more difficult than it should have been for our 39-member civilian group.
We participated in a battlefield training exercise complete with flak jackets, helmets, rifles and bayonets jumping into fox holes and taking out the bad guy (tires) with the butts of our rifles. We saw a live battlefield firing exercise and fired live M4 automatic 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 met with the soldiers responsible for mine sweeping who had recently returned from Afghanistan. I was thinking during their demonstration that they must have drawn the short straw, but each of them had volunteered for this vital and dangerous assignment. And vivid and lasting memories for me were the many notes left behind at the Afghanistan memorial that simply told their deceased heroes how much they loved and missed them. The sacrifices are real and ultimate.
We were briefed at the Pentagon prior to our first C-17 flight from Andrews Air Force base to Nellis Air Force base in Nevada. High level officers, including generals and an admiral, told countless stories of military life and the daily sacrifices these young men and women endure.
But where I think I learned the most was when we ate in the mess halls with the young women and men protecting us. They are motivated, wide-eyed, and ready to learn. They miss their families and friends. Most were very young and had already developed a maturity not often seen in their civilian peers. While onboard the USS Makin Island off the coast of San Diego, a young sailor noticed my Coors Light logo on my shirt. He showed me a Coors Rocky Mountain trademark tattooed on his arm and we swapped shirts. It was a classic moment for me that I will never forget.
During our briefings from the generals, admirals and majors, we learned that JCOC was an important vehicle to help our opinion leaders 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 challenges facing our service men and women as a result of long and multiple deployments. We learned that less than 1 percent of U.S. citizens serve in our military and that the majority of the nation is unaware of the challenges our military personnel face. I certainly was not prior to this life changing week. One night, two of us sat outside the base living quarters with a sergeant major until two in the morning, talking about how relocations and deployments have affected his family and the toll it has taken on their relationships.
On the long coast-to-coast flight home on Friday night, there was an ambivalent mood in the plane that captured both our wonderment of all we experienced and the reality that it was about to be over. Many of us took time to review our notes and collect our thoughts. And as if on cue and to keep us grounded in our incredible experience, we landed at Andrews and were held on the plane while military medical personnel disembarked wounded servicemen and women from an adjacent C-17 and rushed them to Walter Reed Medical Center in waiting ambulances. It was a sobering experience.
Having received this amazing honor to participate in this experience compels me to tell this story and recount some of our activities. I returned with a visceral and deep respect for our armed services and their missions. I think we civilians sometimes think we can't lead like they do in the military because we can't give orders. But there is ample leadership to learn from the armed forces. Being prepared, well-trained, well-equipped, and knowing one's role is a solid path to flawless execution. These young men and women, as well as their officer leaders, are well trained, capable and ready to protect and defend our freedom and for that each of us should be thankful and proud. We are fortunate to live in this country.
I will leave you with a challenge. The next time you meet one of our young servicemen or women, continue to thank them because when they are not in civilian life it can be a thankless job. And please go one more step. Ask what you can do to help support them. Offer whatever you can. Perhaps you could baby-sit and arrange a night out. Invite them and their families to your home. Include them in community activities you may take for granted. A key learning for me that was repeated by two of our Department of Defense hosts was these young men and women are proud. They will rarely ask for your help or support. They are taught to be tough and self-sufficient. I urge you to go the extra step and reach out to our warriors who serve our country on our behalf and do what you can to give back to those who have given so much.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Tim Dill is the vice president and plant manager for MillerCoors in Albany.