A (Wild, Weird, Wired) Week with the US Armed Forces

A few weeks ago, I was wondering if I'd survive five days with the United States military intact. Today, I'm realizing I didn't. First, the backstory. In theory, the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference is "a program sponsored by the Secretary of Defense for civilian public opinion leaders interested in growing their knowledge of the military and national defense issues." In practice, it's as simple as spending a very intense workday with each of the U.S. Armed Forces—Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Army, and Navy. (For the record, that's the order in which we met them, not a value judgment!) And in reality, of course, it ends up being so much more.

We wrapped just a short while ago, so it's all still ricocheting around my brain. And let's be honest, between 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls and running around like recruits/hostages/commandos, I'm not exactly back at optimal levels yet. When something settles, I'll do my best to write about it. For now, though, I'm just trying to reconcile my bleeding heart with the newfound thrills of weapons training. (Seriously.) And wondering what it'll actually take to separate our feelings about the politics of war from our duty to care for the people who fight wars for us.

Guessing I'll need a day or two (or, like, 14,600) to resolve it all. But this is a good, important hurt. Or, as one of my fellow participants put it: It's amazing how much the human heart can hold.

So...pending world peace and my personal reintegration, thought I'd share some of my favorite images from the trip. "Favorite" isn't really the right word; some are sweet, some are somber, some are totally cool, and some I can only describe as affecting. But each one made me think, and at the risk of seeming shamelessly maudlin, I have the distinct sense they're all going to stay with me.

Here's to new experience, and all kinds of awareness.


And some bonus silly portraits...

Main photo taken in the gym at Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field on April 23, 2012. Silly portraits courtesy of the fabulous participants of JCOC 83. And for more on JCOC, follow the program here.