FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Business leaders from throughout the state of North Carolina traveled to the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg area Thursday as part of a program used to inform, develop and engage them in issues facing the state.

Leadership North Carolina, similar to the local program, Leadership Fayetteville, focused on the Cumberland County area and brought 35 leaders from several businesses throughout the region to Fort Bragg for a day of fun and educational awareness.

The event began Sept. 22, with a tour of the Fort Bragg recycle facility, followed by a historical tour of the post. The first day ended with a visit to the United Services Organization.

The next day's events began with a tour of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville, during which participants had an opportunity to learn about the history of the U.S. Army paratrooper and their counterparts who don the coveted Green Beret.

The tour of the museum was of special interest to one of the Leadership North Carolina participants as his company is a supplier of Army parachutes.

John Oswald III, president and chief executive officer of Mills Manufacturing Corporation in Asheville, N.C., said he enjoyed the entire experience that Leadership North Carolina provided.
"It was great visiting the museum," Oswald said. "It makes you proud of our company and what we do to support these guys. You don't even have to be in the industry to be proud."

Oswald's company makes products like the T-10 parachutes that are used by the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers.

He said he was looking for a deeper understanding and appreciation for what the Fort Bragg Soldiers do for the country. He said that includes the impact that they have on America.

"They do a lot and I don't ever want to take it for granted. It's more than we are aware and may want to admit. I just want to make sure we support them for what they do, whether it's me and my company, or just me," Oswald said.

Following the visit to the ASOM, the group visited the Corregidor Courts/Bougainville Neighborhood Center, where they were given a "before and after" tour of renovated Family quarters.

Members of the group said they were impressed with the level of refinement given to the newer project, especially after seeing a yet-to-be renovated home.

After lunch at the 82nd Airborne Division Special Troops Battalion dining facility, the tour led them to the 34-foot jump tower, where they observed and participated in simulated airborne operations. Every member jumped from the tower, some even repeated the feat.

"The tour has been amazing. I've not had the chance to be on Fort Bragg before," explained Cathy Lowery-Graham, who works as the county extension director at N.C. Cooperative Extension in the Scotland County office. "It's very important for us, Leadership North Carolina, to come out and understand all facets of North Carolina and the military is very important to our state.

I know that with the (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) decision will bring an influx of thousands of people into the area and that could impact the region as well," Graham said. "We need to have understanding as to how we can be helpful here as part of our leadership responsibilities."

The tour then took the visitors to the parachute packing facility, or "pack shed" as it is commonly called on Fort Bragg. There, they had an opportunity to see the Soldiers as they packed parachutes for later use. They also visited the virtual combat convoy trainer, the simulator used to train the Soldiers for combat.

Leadership North Carolina events consist of six, two-day, monthly sessions, which are open to all citizens in the state. According to the organization's fact sheet, a successful applicant is one who is committed, motivated and is interested in serving the state. He or she must have demonstrated voluntary leadership in community affairs; possess a desire and willingness to seek key volunteer and/or appointed leadership roles; and have an occupational commitment to remain in the state, with a long-term commitment to playing a personal role in helping to shape North Carolina's future.

"This is our alumni tour," explained Katie-Rose Darby, who headed the Leadership North Carolina group, during its visit to the post. "This is the event in which we invite all of our alumni to come out and join us as we learn all about our state and its leaders. It makes perfect sense to come out here and meet our most exemplary leaders."

Later during the day, the visiting leaders had an opportunity to present commemorative U.S. flags to several wounded warriors assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion.

The day's events ended with dinner at the Mash House in Fayetteville, hosted by Joanne Chavonne, wife of Fayetteville mayor, Tony Chavonne.

The next day's events included a tour of Pope Air Force Base Graham, a Pembroke, N.C. native, said she was pleased with the tour and the planned events and activities.

"It's been a wonderful experience. In talking to some of our military personnel has been an eye-opening experience," she said. "I'm just so very proud that the military has such a presence here in this area."