FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, April 27, 2012) -- Thirty-seven business and civic leaders from across the nation attended a Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, or JCOC, this week and observed training at five military installations.

Participants ranged from the mayor of Pittsburgh to authors, businessmen, doctors, producers and lawyers. The goal was to nominate and invite participants who could make a difference in their local communities and regions, DOD officials said.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Community and Public Outreach Rene C. Bardoff said the intent was to educate opinion leaders about today's military so that they could take that knowledge back to their communities. She added it's her hope that they leave with a "commitment" to America's service men and women.

Valarie J. McCall, chief of government affairs for the city of Cleveland, was one of the participants. She said the orientation gave her an "upfront and close look at the hard work, intellectual capacity and dedication of our American Soldiers."

She said interaction with troops at each installation made her realize service members are human beings. "They go to work; they raise their families, pay mortgages and car notes" she said.

"That stated, they are not the average American, they are defenders of our free nation and protectors of our country," McCall said. "That to me was the most profound lasting legacy and I am honored to have spent so much time seeing what they do daily, that allows me to live freely."

JCOC is the oldest outreach program in the Department of Defense and is the only program sponsored by the secretary of Defense.

Fort Bragg was the fourth installation visited. JCOC participants observed training there conducted by the Army Special Operations Command April 26. They were immersed into an exercise pitting U.S. troops against the People's Army of the Republic of Pinelandia.

Some of the civilians role played as State Department representatives and joined Special Operations Soldiers as they met with villagers in Pinelandia. Others helped carry a litter with a simulated casualty as they boarded a Chinook Helicopter to leave the fictional country of Pinelandia.

JCOC participants also had a chance to sample Meals Ready to Eat in the field with Soldiers and they observed a demonstration by members of the 75th Ranger Regiment.