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May 30, 2012

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My Week with the U.S. Military

Sherrie Westin (bio) is the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Sesame Workshop. Recently, she spent a week traveling with the Department of Defense Joint Civilian Operations Conference, which she recounts below.

One of my favorite moments from my recent week with the military was flying out on a Chinook helicopter, with the back door wide open, watching the other helicopters following in formation. We had just been “rescued” from a scene right out of Iraq, but it was at Fort Bragg Army base.

Another was finally treating my Marine drill sergeant, Sgt. Herrera, to a beer at the officers’ club at Parris Island — after he’d yelled at me the entire day as he simulated marine boot camp.

I also loved shooting an M-16 rifle and a Glock pistol.  I’m proud to say I hit 9 out of 10 targets!

And I came to love traveling on a huge C-17 cargo plane from base to base, in part because of its great crew! We even “pulled G’s” on a military combat departure, nose straight up. And I had the best seat in the house in the cockpit during our landing at Pope Air Field.

These were just some of the adventures I experienced while serving on the Department of Defense Joint Civilian Operations Conference (JCOC).  The JCOC is a one week program in which civilians from academia, business, government and the non-profit sector spend time with the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.  Established in 1948 by the first Secretary of Defense, the JCOC is designed to acquaint participants with the strength and readiness of the U.S. Armed Forces, and provide a better understanding of the challenges our men and women in uniform face.

When I was nominated and selected to participate, I was both surprised and deeply honored.  At Sesame Workshop, we have worked with the military for several years on an initiative called, “Talk, Listen, Connect” – designed to help young children of military families cope with the challenging issues of deployment or parents coming home injured.  This work has been enormously rewarding for all of us at the Workshop, and I was excited to get a chance to meet many of these service men and women and their families first hand.

At first I expected the week to be a bit like a USO Tour.  After numerous emails from the DOD on what to expect, what to bring and what shape we needed to be in (including a required note from my doctor) I began to fear the week would be more like the movie “Private Benjamin!”  Fortunately, in the end, it was more like “Top Gun.” I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world!

Throughout the week, we met with high ranking officers, from Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to each of the commanding officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard bases we visited.  Without exception, these leaders demonstrated their devotion and great respect for the young men and women who serve under their command.  And during tours, exercises, demonstrations, and meals, we had the chance to spend time with these individuals who are proud to serve.  It is clear how each see themselves as part of a greater whole, how committed they are to their shared values and the pride they feel in protecting our nation.

Only 1% of Americans serve in our military.  Many of us are not familiar with the struggles that accompany life in the military – particularly for their families.  I certainly gained a new appreciation for the commitment of our troops and have a renewed reserve to do all that I can to support our men and women of the armed services.

I’m pleased to say that the next phase of our Sesame Workshop program for military families is designed to help families cope with a range of issues they will face as they transition into civilian life, post military service.  In some ways, this will be even more challenging.  In addition to supporting our troops in every way possible, I hope that by hiring our veterans and welcoming former military families into our communities, that we can all I look for ways in which we can give back to those who have given so much.

Our resources for military families can be found at our Military Families Near and Far website.

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