Trip gives me a greater appreciation for military

Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2012, 2:50 pm
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By Mara Sovey
Nominated by the Rock Island Arsenal as a member of the business sector, I was honored recently to join 38 others from across the nation at the Department of Defense' Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.

I had no idea this military immersion program would motivate us to be local champions for our military, their families and veterans. We toured five military branches and developed a deep appreciation for our armed services.

We visited bases in Nevada, California and Washington. Daily briefings, tours and activities expanded our knowledge and respect for sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and coasties. We flew in a C-17 aircraft and a Sea Hawk helicopter, sailed the Pacific on the USS Makin Island (amphibious assault ship), jumped from a 65-foot tower, slid down ropes, cruised the Puget Sound aboard the Coast Guard's 25-foot Defender-class boat and floated in survival suits.

It started with a Pentagon briefing before our first 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 sacrifices made to ensure our freedom.

We survived Marine "boot camp" at The Depot in San Diego. With a 4:30 a.m. arrival, we were abruptly awakened by the welcome from our drill sergeant while standing at attention on yellow foot prints that will never leave my memory. Marching in formation was embarrassingly more difficult than it should have been.

We participated in a battlefield training exercise 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 firing exercise at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Seattle.

There we sat in field ambulances listening to young medics explain that they're trained to rescue wounded from the battlefield. We met soldiers responsible for mine sweeping, who recently returned from Afghanistan.

Surprising to me, each had volunteered for the dangerous assignment. Perhaps my most impactful memory was a dinner conversation with families of service members who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

We learned the JCOC is an important vehicle to help opinion leaders better understand the mission of the military and its critical role in defending our nation. We grew to understand national defense issues, concerns about defense spending and the challenges of long and multiple deployments.

We learned that less than 1 percent of U.S. citizens serve in our military. I was not aware of the intense emotional, mental and physical training our service members must endure. I was surprised by the young age of our service personnel who had developed maturity beyond their years.

At the end of the week, on the long flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C., there was a bittersweet mood that captured all we experienced and the reality that it was about to be over. Many entered thoughts in journals, expressed gratitude and said goodbye to new friends.

And, as if to keep us grounded in our incredible experience after we landed at Andrews Air Force Base, we were held on the plane. We saw medical personnel carry wounded warriors from an adjacent C-17 that had just landed from Germany. They were transported to Walter Reed Medical Center. It was a very sobering moment.

I returned to the Quad-Cities with a deep respect for our armed services, their missions and all that happens at the Rock Island Arsenal.

I learned a lot about leadership from the men and women serving our country. Being prepared, well trained, well equipped, knowing one's role and having the discipline to adhere to these principles is a solid path for flawless execution.

These young men and women, and their leaders, are excellent role models for these virtues and are ready to defend our freedom — and for that, each of us should be thankful and proud.

I'd like to leave you with a challenge. Every time you meet our servicemen or women, please thank them for their service. I ask you to please give back to those who have given so much; continue to care for service members, veterans, Department of Defense civilians, contractors and their families as they return home to the Quad-Cities.

Work with Rock Island Arsenal and local service members, veterans and their families to connect them to local support, and initiate/retool programs and services to complement existing support systems, partnerships and relationships to enhance the strength, resilience and readiness of our Armed Forces.

With a strong Rock Island Arsenal, we will have a strong region and an even stronger nation.
Mara Sovey is director of the Corporate Citizenship Center of Excellence and president of the John Deere Foundation. She is a board member of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, United Way of the Quad Cities, the John Deere Classic and Renew Moline.


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)