Better halves don't quit: 160th spouses take on SOAR challenge
June 9, 2014
- "There was a lot of coming together, getting out of individual comfort zones and pulling together as a team to have fun and share a great experience. These are some tough ladies, and they have proven time and time again that they are not going to quit." - Jen Ryan, wife of Col. Philip Ryan, 160th SOAR commander
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- It's widely-known that the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment employs some of the best aviators, crew-chiefs and support Soldiers the Army has to offer. Given the nature of their mission, however, little else is known about the extensive training that goes into making -- and maintaining -- Night Stalkers. Not even spouses are exempt from the shroud of "need-to-know basis."
Tuesday morning, 160th spouses arrived at the Old Clarksville Base in droves, ready to experience a day in the life of a 160th Soldier. Those who hope to join the ranks of the Night Stalkers must endure a five-week training cycle -- what is infamously known as "Green Platoon." The SOAR Challenge (sometimes known as Pink Platoon) gave participants a chance to go through a day's worth of challenges -- an exercise designed to boost morale and encourage cohesion among Night Stalker spouses.
"The day is about giving some of our spouses the opportunity to experience what these guys go through … in terms of physical fitness, challenges through modified combat, rifle experience and the Air Assault course," said Maj. Alan Hill, 160th SOAR public affairs officer. "They get the chance to be a Soldier for a day and share in what their spouses do on a day-to-day basis."
Shoulder-to-shoulder, participants stood through a video, followed by a briefing which outlined the details of the day ahead. They were then split into three large groups -- green, yellow and pink -- and shipped off to their respective destinations.
For some, the adventure began on the grounds of the Old Clarksville Base, where 160th Soldiers led them through a variety of PT exercises, including tire flips, log carries and calisthenics. Following a quick tutorial on emergency field medical practices, the group was then released to conduct a 1-mile land navigation project and tasked with locating and treating combat casualties, loading a Humvee with equipment and survivors and hauling the disabled vehicle uphill.
Following the completion of this exercise, SOAR spouse Brittany Wahl said she gained a newfound respect for the work her husband does each day.
"He'd come home beat down and tired all the time," Wahl said, "and I remember going 'Why are you always so tired?' But right now I'm exhausted and it's only 10 a.m. I was proud of him before; I think I'm even more proud of him now for accomplishing this."
Having to miss last year's event due to pregnancy, Wahl appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this year's unique experience -- and encourages other 160th spouses to consider taking part in the future.
"I recommend they at least go through this once -- just so you can see what your husbands went through," she said. "They should come and get some perspective."
At the second leg of the rotation, spouses had their rifle and pistol skills tested at the firing range and were treated to a minigun demonstration.
Spouse Crystal Schutter says the best part of the firing range portion was that she got the opportunity to help out a friend.
"I shot the wrong target," she said with a laugh.
Schutter, who has participated in similar events in the past, said that in addition to the camaraderie among spouses, the SOAR challenge gives them the chance to gain insight into what their Soldiers endure for five weeks as part of Green Platoon.
"With some of the things they have to go through, I have a higher respect for my husband -- and definitely a higher respect for the 160th as a whole," she said. "The way they train their Soldiers -- the way it's all-encompassing -- is wonderful."
On the third leg of the challenge, spouses were transported to the Sabalauski Air Assault School. There they were harnessed, briefed and sent to rappel down the school's legendary 34-foot wall.
"It was scary at first," said Schutter, "but it was a lot of fun."
Many spouses were eager to climb back up for a second and third try after conquering their initial apprehension.
Back at the base, participants got the full experience as they were led through the grueling obstacle course, trudging through mud and water and smiling all the while.
When the day's training came to an end, spouses who made it all the way through were fitted with their pink berets and given a special place among the ranks of Night Stalker spouses.
"This was my first SOAR challenge and I had a lot of fun," said Anna Kamps. "I was able to do things that a lot of wives in the Army will never get to do with some other really great Night Stalker spouses."
For Jen Ryan, wife of Col. Philip Ryan, 160th SOAR commander, the benefit of the day came from seeing the spouses' unique reserves of strength and resilience.
"There was a lot of coming together, getting out of individual comfort zones and pulling together as a team to have fun and share a great experience," she said. "These are some tough ladies, and they have proven time and time again that they are not going to quit."
With the event in its third successful year of completion, Hill says he is confident that the SOAR Challenge will become a tradition within the Night Stalker Family.
"I do think it's going to be an enduring thing," he said. "Spouses really enjoy it and they're getting out there. It's a break to get out there and sweat and fire weapons in a unique environment. They can say 'Look what I did.' It's something not a lot of people get to do."