KUWAIT (Army News Service, May 2, 2007) - Braced against a strong, blustery wind, burdened by body armor and blinking away stinging sand, civilians held onto machine guns in the Kuwaiti desert and fired their weapons at targets down range.

Nominated by the military, 45 Americans holding positions of leadership in education, government and industry arrived at Third Army/U.S. Army Central\'s training ground in Kuwait in late April to experience the lives of Soldiers.

For nearly 60 years, the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference has helped civilians to understand and appreciate what servicemembers go through on a daily basis.

"What's most impressive is how committed the Soldiers are and how proud they are to serve their country," said Chris J. Kanazawa, president and chief executive officer of Parker Ranch in Hawaii, the fifth-largest cattle ranch in America. "After the experience, we can go back and share with our respective communities how well-trained our Soldiers are and how dedicated they are to their missions."

During two days of orientation and training, the civilians gained an overall view of Third Army's mission in supporting the war on terror from servicemembers they at with and learned from on the firing ranges.

While at Camp Buehring and the Udairi Range Complex, the civilians also learned some of the rigorous training processes Soldiers must complete before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Upside down in a flipped up-armored Humvee, the civilians scrambled to get out of the vehicle while remaining calm and maintaining security - just one of the dangers Soldiers face on convoy operations.

The civilians also experienced what Soldiers go through when working as convoy gunners, riding along the range as simulated explosions and gunfire lent realism to the exercise.

"I was really awed," said Amy Coen, president of Population Action International, an independent research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. "I now have some slight appreciation for how scary it really is."

Firing a weapon for the first time, Ms. Coen cocked her helmet to one side and adjusted her Interceptor Body Armor before settling down in the sand.

"It's surreal," she said. "Firing the gun was easier than I thought, but everything that went with it was so hard."

Many of the participants said they wanted to experience life in a combat zone to see beyond the news media's reporting and hear the Soldiers' opinions.

"I learned the civilians wanted to know what we're doing over here," said Pfc. Philip Matz, a truck driver and gunner assigned to the 89th Transportation Company. "It was nice because they cared."

A few participants felt a connection to the troops because they or their family members also served in the military.

"I'm very proud to be out here," said Jay Elmore, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War and a law firm from Atlanta. "I'm most impressed at the risk and professionalism of the Soldiers who are in these convoys."

The civilians also learned close quarters marksmanship and medical training from Soldiers and prior military who are now working as contractors.

"It's nice for them to see what we actually have to go through," said Spc. Michael Galore, an infantryman with 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment. "It's work for us over here, but it's also family over here for us, and it's good the civilians got to see how we're doing."

Spc. Galore helped the civilians learn how to fire a variety of weapons and answered questions from James Schmitt, the mayor of Green Bay, Wis., who asked Spc. Galore about his life back home and his unit in Kuwait.

Before leaving the training grounds in UH-60 Black Hawks and MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters, Mr. Kanazawa reflected on his soldiering experience and understanding of what it takes to be a real Soldier.

"We have our young men and women in going in harm's way defending our country, so I think we owe it to them to learn as much about their experiences as possible," he said. "Our Soldiers are making a big difference."

(Sgt. Sarah Scully serves with the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16