As we enter the end of a tumultuous election season, this is why I am confident our country’s best days are ahead: If you spend some time getting to know the men and women in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as I had an opportunity to do recently through the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), you’ll walk away impressed, reassured and encouraged.
Participating in the JCOC program provides a six-day, eye-opening immersion experience in the five branches of our military. The week left me with several takeaways. (A fellow member of the trip, the chairman and CEO of the Tampa Bay Times, thoughtfully penned his reflections about our shared experience in a piece for his newspaper, which I’d encourage you to check out as well.)
I was struck by the tremendous character of the men and women who serve our country as members of the Armed Forces. Our best Americans serve in the military, and we are incredibly blessed to have these fine individuals in all branches of service. Across the board I found them to possess strong values, a sense of decency, confidence, a servant’s heart, and good old-fashioned common sense. There is a tremendous amount of pride that comes from protecting the country while building skills for work after the military for those who do not make it a career.
I was honored to meet many of our active servicemen and women through this experience. One standout was a 26-year-old Army Ranger medic who is married with two young kids and has already completed two deployments to warzones.
He shared with our group three things he thought we should know about military service: 1) The U.S. has first world problems, which pale in comparison to the problems he has seen in other parts of the globe; 2) the importance of family; 3) live within your means. That young Ranger has the perspective of someone who has lived a lot of life in his 26 years.
In addition to the impressive individuals that power our military, I was blown away by the strength and cutting edge performance of our military equipment and its training exercises. Whether the world’s best climatic center at Elgin Base, the USS George Washington aircraft carrier or aircraft like the Blackhawk, F-35, or Osprey, our military is expertly equipped and has received world-class training. We are fortunate that our armed forces have at their disposal elite technology that helps us keep the peace and, when necessary, ensures we emerge victorious in tough battles.
Our group heard first-hand from the General Paul Selva, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about current U.S. military priorities, which he says are: 1) Russia, 2) China, 3) Iran, 4) North Korea and 5) radical terrorist organizations.
Within each of these challenges is recognition of the dangers of cyber warfare as well. To fund these and other priorities, we spend around $597 billion a year on our military. This is more than any other country and almost as much as the next 14 countries combined. But the world is not getting safer, and the first task of government is to protect its citizens.
My new understanding of our country’s military prowess is especially meaningful given Arizona’s rich and ever-growing defense presence, where over 1,200 aerospace and defense companies employ more than 52,000 people directly, and which is responsible for 5.91 percent of state GDP and an over $9 billion economic impact, not to mention our valuable military installations like Luke Air Force Base, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ft. Huachuca, Camp Navajo, Yuma Proving Ground, the Barry Goldwater Range, and the Marine Corps Air Station.
We have three members of Congress on the House Armed Services Committee, and our senior U.S. senator, John McCain, serves as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
We also have an engaged business community, eager to support this sector of our state’s economy. So, how can we help?
First off, we need to take advantage of the skills our service members receive. I am proud of the Arizona Chamber’s support for Rep. Borrelli’s bill that allows certain skills learned in the military to apply toward civilian skill certifications.
Efforts like the U.S. Chamber’s Hiring our Heroes initiative, which helps veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities, deserve even more support. Or the Veterans Business Summit, presented by the Phoenix Business Journal, taking place on Nov. 10, which will provide information, education, and networking for veteran business owners and transitioning service members.
Trade is also a part of our military strategy, as Defense Secretary Carter shared during a visit last year to ASU in discussing the U.S.’ influence in Asia. Expanded trade agreements increase world wealth and bring countries together for peaceful purposes.
Given the battering free trade has taken during the presidential race, it will be important to rebuild a bipartisan coalition that can move trade agreements again.
And finally, we need a strong economy. The cost to maintain our military is expensive, but there’s no higher purpose, as I now know much more intimately.
What a privilege to get a glimpse into the people, power, and performance of our modern U.S. military. I am thankful for this opportunity, and now have an even deeper pride in our country and its service members. This is an experience I will not soon forget, and one I will be talking about for some time to come.