State Sen. Susan Paddack is back from a week-long trip to the Middle East and Africa aimed at giving leaders from across the country an opportunity to experience first-hand what it is like for Americans serving in the military. The Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), organized by the Department of Defense, enabled Paddack to meet with men and women serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Tinker Air Force Base nominated Paddack to be one of only 45 participants nationwide.
“This was really the experience of a lifetime. After only a week, I had a much deeper understanding of the sacrifice and hardship our men and women endure on behalf of our country—but they do it willingly because they believe in our nation and in the freedoms that we all enjoy,” said Paddack, D-Ada. “At every step of the way, I felt I was in the company of true heroes.”
The trip, which took members of the conference within just a few miles of Iraq, also took Sen. Paddack and others to Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Djibouti, which is in the horn of Africa. In addition to briefings from Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld and other military leaders, participants had a chance to live, eat and sleep just as the troops do.
“We flew from Andrews Air Force Base to Bahrain in a C-17 cargo plane—once there we had the opportunity to participate in military exercises with full gear,” Paddack said. “I can tell you that equipment is very heavy, and our troops are doing this on a daily basis in triple-digit temperatures. They are simply extraordinary men and women.”
Paddack said she was especially pleased to be able to visit with troops from Oklahoma. After visiting with them, the senator took their names and contact information so that when she returned to Oklahoma she could contact their families. “I just wanted to be able to tell their parents that their kids are doing great and how proud we are of them.”
Paddack said she was also impressed by the military’s humanitarian efforts in Africa, including building schools and helping thousands gain access to life-saving medical care.
“Our servicemen and women are doing their best to make this world a better, safer place. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to see their efforts first-hand,” Paddack said.
Now that she’s back home, Paddack said she wanted to help raise awareness in Oklahoma about a Defense Department sponsored program called “America Supports You.”
“This program gives civilians an opportunity to show support for our troops and their families in a wide variety of ways,” Paddack explained. “From helping purchase pre-paid calling cards for deployed military so they can keep in touch with their family to helping send comfort items, this is a wonderful way to let our servicemen and women know how much we appreciate everything they are doing for us.”