From the suburbs to Southern Command
By Courtney Llewellyn
Reminder Assistant Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW -- Most Americans know what the purpose of our military is -- to protect the United States and its people. Far fewer Americans actually get to see what our servicemen and women do on a day to day basis.
The Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC) is a program that allows regular American citizens to delve deep into some of the duties our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines perform. The JCOC is sponsored by the Secretary of Defense for civilian public opinion leaders interested in growing their knowledge of the military and national defense issues, according to the JCOC Web site.
John Maybury, president of Maybury Associates Inc., a member of the town's Board of Public Works and a member of the East Longmeadow Small Business Association, was one of the civilians to participate in this unique experience.
Maybury took part in JCOC 78, which took place from Sept. 11 through 17 and was sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command. He kept a blog of his experience, starting with his flight from Bradley International Airport to Washington, D.C. Direct excerpts from his blog will be written in italics: "We had breakfast @ 06:30 at The Marine Barracks Washington this morning. Then the commanding officer gave us a full briefing and tour of the grounds and Commandant's quarters. Over 200 years of history. Truly impressive."
"We were at the Pentagon on Sept. 11," Maybury said in an interview with Reminder Publications. "That was pretty powerful. We got briefings from [Lieutenant] General John Paxton Jr. and Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates. They explained what can be done by the military when taking into account the political aspect, the monetary aspect and the religious aspect."
A briefing from Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Fla., explained that U.S. SOUTHCOM is responsible for all Department of Defense security cooperation in the 45 nations and territories of Central and South America and the Caribbean Sea, an area of 16 million square miles.
"The role of SOUTHCOM is to monitor the militaries of other countries, terrorist activities and drug activity," Maybury stated.
From Washington, Maybury and the 49 others participating in JCOC 78 traveled to Cuba. "We were instructed to take our seats [on the plane] in preparation for landing at Guantanamo Bay. At 09:30 we received a tremendous welcome and loaded onto boats to cross over to the other side of the bay. The Coast Guard escort boats put on quite a show of their ability to maneuver and offer protection for our crossing."
Maybury said the conference stopped at Guantanamo Bay to see firsthand how the detainees were being cared for and to dispel some myths. They receive full medical care, stay in an air conditioned building, have a library and plenty of recreation time.
"The reports a lot of people read said that people who had been waterboarded were at Guantanamo, not that they were waterboarded there," Maybury clarified.
After that, it was off to Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela. The main mission of the Curacao Air Base is to reduce drug traffic in the region. From May 2008 to May 09, the base seized 265 metric tons of cocaine, .03 metric tons of heroin and nine metric tons of marijuana.
At the airstrip, the conference boarded the E3 AWACS, which Maybury described as "more or less an airborne air traffic control center and much, much more." The planes fly at around 30,000 feet and have a radar tracking range of an approximate radius of 300 miles. "The amount of sites and sounds ... is equivalent to drinking water from a fire hose!"
Next stop: Bogota, Columbia.
"Bogota was interesting," Maybury said. "We were treated at 50 potential American targets, so everything was really low-key. Everyone was dressed in civilian clothes."
The group witnessed a display of the Columbian special ops forces. "We saw a presentation of the finest troops in the unit. I was told last night that the Colombian Specials Operations Forces have won the International competition amongst countries from around the world for the last 5 years. After their incredible display the General asked if anyone wanted to try it ... I think I dropped the camera my hand went up so fast. I was the first one to repel off of a 4 story training platform."
The conference also learned how the military there is trying to shift the economy from running on drug money to running on funds from legitimate business.
"The drugs come up through Central America to the U.S. and then across to Europe and the money from that comes back to Columbia to buy houses and pay for groceries," Maybury explained. "If we totally knocked out the drug enterprise, their economy would collapse."
One new economic option: producing flowers for florists. The tropical environment of the country is ideal for growing flowers.
"I was slightly concerned about my time in Bogota, but I wasn't scared," Maybury recalled. "It was certainly different."
Next stop: Cartegena, Colombia, to visit with the Colombian Navy in the Cartegena port, then, off to Panama to witness PANAMAX09.
PANAMAX 2009 was one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world, involving more than 30 vessels, a dozen aircraft and 4,500 personnel from 20 nations. The JCOC 78 got to see the 2009 exercise start up on its first day. The exercise helps develop coalitions with other nations in a simulated setting to address disaster relief, terrorist threats and other situations that arise.
"It was unbelievable to see the power of the 20 nations working together," Maybury said.
The group then flew in Black Hawk helicopters onto the deck of the USS Mesa Verde out in the Caribbean.
After a brief visit to the Panama Canal, the conference traveled to the Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard, Integrated Support Command Miami. "When we arrived at our location an Army Special Forces helicopter came screaming in near us at a very low altitude and the six soldiers zip lined to the ground in a matter of seconds. A quite impressive event that displayed just how fast a unit can close in on a target and board."
Maybury said the biggest thing he took away from the conference is the true power of the United States Military. "The men and women serving, the discipline of our military is commendable," he said. "You're much more proud and much more appreciative of what our military can do when you experience what I experienced."
So how does a lifelong East Longmeadow resident with no military background at all get to experience something like this?
Participants in JCOC must be nominated, and Maybury was nominated by a business associate, Cathy Paige, vice-president of Manpower.
"I knew he had a huge sense of adventure and curiosity, that he was well-spoken and he knew a lot of people," Paige said. "I thought he was the perfect candidate."
It's important that Maybury be articulate, because his mission is not over. Now, he has to share his experience with others so that they too can learn more about our nation's military.
"Up until the day before I left, I did not quite understand how powerful our military is," he said. "I was worried that if two or three superpowers got together, they could wipe us out. Now I know that's not possible."
Maybury added that the conference offers a new and different perspective on our military versus what you made read in the newspaper or see on TV. "It brings a balance and more appreciation for what's going on," he said of the conference.
A principal goal of the JCOC is to increase understanding of the mission of the Department of Defense and the U.S. defense posture and capabilities by increasing public exposure to, and understanding of, military personnel, facilities, equipment and programs. Maybury said that anyone interested in learning more about the program should send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that he's a JCOC alumnus, he can nominate others to attend future conferences.
To learn more about JCOC, visit jcoc.dod.mil
. To read all of Maybury's blog, log on to www.jcoc78.blogspot.com