Community leaders go through 'boot camp' on Joint Base McGuire-Lakehurst-Dix

By LISA BROADT | Burlington County Times | Published: April 7, 2019

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (Tribune News Service) -- Twenty-four new recruits jogged off a bus and into basic training Friday.
They wore a mismatch of hooded sweatshirts, windbreakers and athletic pants and ranged in age from their late 20s to mid 60s.

Though their ranks included educators, executives, business owners and a deputy mayor, on Friday, all were simply raw recruits, exchanging amused, bewildered and, sometimes, panicked glances, as U.S. Army soldiers barked them through basic training.

The initiation into military life was part of the year-long Honorary Commanders Program, a U.S. Air Force initiative intended to help civilians better understand military life, and to help the military become better acquainted with leaders in their community, according to Matt Ebarb, joint base community engagement chief.

"You have the fence separating us from the community," Ebarb said Friday. The Honorary Commanders Program lets the community "get in here, get to know us and get to know what it's like day to day when you're wearing that uniform."

"It's a lot more than what people think," Ebarb said.

Now in its 14th year, the program is the largest in the U.S. Department of Defense, according to Ebarb. The program allows civilians to partner with service members and to participate in a number of joint base events, including commander's calls, formal dinners, changes of command ceremonies and the annual boot camp.

Shortly after arriving on base Friday, participants were welcomed by Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Lamkins who described the upcoming day as the "tiniest taste" of what service members go through in basic training."

"We want to give you that insight," Lamkins said. "We want you to understand that the service members that you support ... are just slammed with things to learn in a very short space of time."

Training began with a crash course in facing movements and marching basics, followed by weapons instruction, led by Army staff sergeants Eric Rennert and Demetrius Frieson, both of the 174th Infantry Brigade. The morning ended with participation in night-vision and outdoors obstacle courses.

After lunch, Air Force service members stepped in to lead participants through chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive training and a mock deployment.

Participants were scheduled to celebrate their accomplishments at a graduation ceremony at the end of the day.

Breathing hard after finishing the outdoor obstacle course, Evesham resident and minister Brian Fisher said boot camp was giving him a "window into what our military members experience when they first enlist."

Fisher, lead pastor of New Life Assembly church in Wrightstown, said about 70 percent of his congregation is in the military; the Honorary Commanders Program has allowed him to connect with his congregants in a new way.

"I believe we should serve those who serve," Fisher said.

Participant Brian Agnew said he also was happy to have the chance to show his support for the military.

"They do a major service for our country," Agnew said, "and this is my small part to say thank you."

Eugene Fuzy, Bordentown Township deputy mayor, admitted that initially, boot camp was "disorienting."

"Confusing, definitely confusing," Fuzy said about stepping off the bus and into training. "I didn't know exactly what we were supposed to to."

The program has not only offered insight into day-to-day military life, but also has allowed Fuzy to understand how the armed service "does leadership and motivates people" -- information Fuzy said he hopes to carry through to his role as a government official.

(c) 2019 Burlington County Times, Willingboro, N.J.
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