HURLBURT FIELD, FL – For one of the visitors, an inside look at Air Force Special Operations Command prompted a return to childhood.
Dr. Terry Barber’s eyes were wide as he described his participation in a night operations scenario during his recent AFSOC tour.
“My description to some of my friends was, I have died and reincarnated as my 12-year-old self,” Barber said. “I could only fantasize about taking a ride in a CV-22 Osprey, riding in a Mi-17 helicopter and standing next to gigantic guns in the C-130 gunship.”
Barber, a pediatrician and physician director at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, was one of 37 national civic leaders selected to participate in the 2012 Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, the Secretary of Defense’s premiere civic leader tour.
Since 1948, the goal of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference has been to expose national public opinion leaders without knowledge of the military to each branch of service, growing their knowledge in both military and national defense issues.
These civic leaders are individuals who have great potential to support military members whether it be through assisting them with educational opportunities, giving them jobs or supporting their families, said Rose-Ann Lynch, director of the Conference.
“It is very important to us that they are engaged and they are educated,” Lynch said. “This is a part of the world they are not touched by, and we want them to be touched by it. This is why the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference is so important and why the Secretary of Defense sponsors it personally.”
AFSOC represented the Air Force portion of the tour with Hurlburt Field, Fla., being the first stop during the week-long event, which also includes Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard components.
The Conference selectees hailed from across the nation and included the president of Hendrick Motorsports, the associate director for the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and the mayor of Pittsburg, Pa., to name a few.
Guests toured AFSOC aircraft, participated in physical training at the Special Tactics Training Squadron and prepared for a mock deployment through the 1st Special Operations Wing Deployment Control Center.
They also participated in a night operation, which allowed them to observe radio calls for fire and a corresponding firepower demonstration from an AC-130U gunship.
Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of the Sesame Workshop and one of this year’s members, works on a program designed to help young children in military families cope with deployment.
Westin, who said she feels much stronger toward the military after having spent just one day at Hurlburt Field, called the chance to visit AFSOC the “experience of a lifetime.”
“I am struck by the fact that it is really only one percent of our country that serves, so the vast majority of us may not have a relative or close friend who is serving,” Westin said. “It is so important for the rest of us to understand the sacrifices these Airmen and their families are making. As a community, we owe them a debt of gratitude, and we need to be cognizant of what they are going through, thinking of how we can help during the time they are deployed, but also at the time they return.”
Like most of the attendees, Barber said he grew up without a military presence in his life. The Conference afforded him a unique opportunity to get some perspective.
While the hardware was impressive to him, what struck him most was the dedication of the Airmen he engaged with.
“The most impressive element of this experience is the Airman that chooses to become a member of AFSOC knows what he is getting into. He knows that this is the real deal,” Barber said. “Moreover, he takes pride in being a part of something bigger, and he is a real professional about it.”
Rene Bardorf, deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Community and Public Outreach, and AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel accompanied the tour.
At the close of the visit, Bardorf emphasized how key each participant is in ensuring the military receives the support it needs from the community. She called on participants to take the knowledge they gained back to their home bases to foster support for the military.
Barber certainly plans on doing so. He was inspired after witnessing firsthand the dedication that drives Airmen to uphold the mission.
“These are young men and women that give us a life of freedom and security, and every single day, 24/7, they are on guard,” he said. “They give us the freedoms that we enjoy here in this country, and we owe it to them to honor their spirit, their strength and their dedication to us.”