By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
April 18, 2008 - Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said he was often asked after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, 'Why?' "Why did 3,000 people die," he said people would ponder.
He knows why, England told a group of about 50 educators, doctors, lawyers, and business and community leaders today at the Pentagon.
It was because the terrorists couldn't figure out how to kill more.
"The reason that 3,000 people died on 9-11 is because the terrorists didn't know how to kill 30,000 or 300,000 or three million," England said. "But there is no question in my mind that ... if they could have killed three million people ... if they would have had the wherewithal ... then they would have done it. And they still want to."
England made a surprise visit to the group during the first day of orientation for the newest participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Course.
The JCOC is a program sponsored by the defense secretary for U.S. leaders who want to broaden their knowledge of the military and national defense. Over the next week, participants will fly to a handful of countries and see first-hand the efforts of servicemembers in each of the five services working in the U.S. Southern Command.
England told the group that as they meet and talk with servicemembers this week, they will get a sense of that commitment to service and the preservation of freedom.
"All of you will wake up in a free country ... made possible by the United States military," he said. "That's why people serve. They serve so that every generation can literally wake up in freedom."
The conference kicked off today with registration, orientation, a tour of the Pentagon and – like any good military operation – plenty of briefings.
This conference is unique in a couple of ways, leaders pointed out. This is the first time a JCOC has toured SouthCom since the program began in 1948. This is the 75th JCOC, and it is the oldest existing Pentagon outreach program.
This is the first JCOC to see more of the U.S. military's "soft power," or humanitarian assistance and other aid-oriented missions. Most of the previous conferences have focused on shows of military might and have even featured trips to combat zones.
The U.S. Southern Command area of focus encompasses more than 30 countries and covers about 15.6 million square miles. The region represents about one-sixth of the landmass of the world assigned to regional unified commands and includes some of the poorest countries in the world. There is only one actual U.S. military base in the region.
This trip will take the group to rural medical hospitals where care is delivered to thousands of impoverished families, on board ships providing humanitarian aid, and into the jungles to watch foreign military troops trained in counternarcotics with the aid of U.S. forces. They will still see some of the military combat power such as an aircraft carrier, submarine and such, but much will be couched within the perspective of soft power.
Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, the director of operations for the DoD's Joint Staff said that while the U.S. military is very good at projecting combat power, sometimes it is not the best or first choice.
"We are the best in the world at applying combat power anywhere in the world where it's required," Ham told the participants. "Sometimes that's not the right tool. Sometimes the better tool is soft power – assistance. Maybe it's a small medical team, or a civil affairs team that can help a host nation be more efficient in buildings roads and power and water distribution."
Ham told the group that the military has built-in humanitarian capacities and that employing them can sometimes hedge the need for combat power in the long run.
"We always have to stay capable. We always have to retain that ability to apply combat power when our nation needs us to do that," he said. "But it sure sounds to me a lot better if we can prevent that and the application of soft power is a tool in that kit bag."
Ham also spoke on the commitment of today's servicemember pointing out that everyone serving now has either enlisted or reenlisted since the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
"Every one of them knows they are joining a military that's at war. And they know what the risks are and yet they still come," Ham said.
Most the in the group have little or no contact with the military. In fact, that is why they are nominated for the program. Officials hope to garner the support of those they see as community influencers. The general encouraged the group to show support for the troops, regardless of their stand on the war, saying their support alone makes the difference to troops serving downrange.
"It matters more than I can put into words for those who are deployed to know that what they are doing is supported by most Americans," Ham said.