FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Miss Alabama Liz Cochran and 13 other women vying for her state title visited Fort Rucker April 9 to learn about military life and entertain Soldiers during the 2010 Salute to the Troops tour.

The ladies toured weapons and aircraft simulators, AH-64D Apache Longbow and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior static displays at Hanchey Army Heliport, ate lunch with Soldiers at one of the post dining facilities and visited Matteson Range. Later that day, they treated Soldiers to a performance in the post theater and signed autographs.

Miss Wiregrass Area Jaye Herrod initiated the tour to thank Soldiers for their service and to learn about the lives of the individuals she represents.

"(We visited) to meet real faces, real Families and real figures," Herrod said. "Thank you for your sacrifices. These girls care and know what you do."

Miss Wiregrass Area Director Tricia Janasky agreed.

"We came to learn a little bit about what Soldiers do and because (all the girls) are very patriotic. They wanted to show appreciation to Soldiers and Families."

The current college students and graduates, ranging from ages 17-24, visited Goodhand Simulator Complex to experience the aircraft student-pilots fly. They tried out TH-67 Creek and CH-47F Chinook cockpit procedural trainers, learning the basics of starting and flying the aircraft.

Witnessing the intense training students receive here hopefully gave the women a new level of respect for Soldiers' duties, said Brett Smith, 110th Aviation Brigade deputy chief of academics and Goodhand tour guide.

"The largest percentage of the (Wiregrass) community is military," he said. "These women can see how we're contributing while we're here and see the professionalism."

During lunch, the women, who hold regional titles throughout the state, dined with A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment Advanced Individual Training students at the dining facility.

Some of the Soldiers said they appreciated that the women took the time to visit and showed they care about the servicemembers.

"We're at a time of war, and we need all the extra support we can get," said Pfc. Shannel House.

Herrod said spending lunch with House and fellow AIT Soldier Pvt. Sarah Scroggins showed her how down-to-earth female military members are.

"We have a lot in common. (The only difference is) we're putting on makeup while they're going to ATC (air traffic control) school. It showed me they're real people," Herrod said.

Ashley Davis, Miss West Central Alabama, said she was honored to spend time with Soldiers because she was a military child whose Army parents retired at Fort Rucker.

"(Visiting) reminds me of the sacrifices Soldiers make and the Families of our Soldiers make," she said. "This is an opportunity to thank them and let them know they're special."

Davis said she enjoyed getting to know troops on a personal level and learn a little bit about their duties.

"The No. 1 thing I learned is it's not an easy job. It takes a lot to be a Soldier," she said. "They're taking on incredible responsibilities, and I'm proud of them."

Cochran said the tour inspired her and she encouraged servicemembers to continue their hard work.

"It made me proud to be an American," she said of the visit. "Our troops are real people who just happen to be fighting for our freedom. We came out here and cared enough to learn what they do and celebrate what they do."

AIT unit members visited with the ladies again during a talent show at the post theater that afternoon. The women shared what they learned throughout the day, and sang, danced and played instruments for the crowd.

Soldiers like Pvt. Joseph Alluisi said they enjoyed the performance.

"It was fun. They were very talented," he said. "It makes us motivated. We've got not only regular people supporting us, but also beautiful women."

Pvt. Jordan Thomas agreed.

"It makes me feel like people are getting involved and there are other people cheering for me. It makes me feel (more) patriotic," he said.

Janasky said Miss Alabama steps down in June when the other women will compete for her position in Birmingham.

Page last updated Thu April 15th, 2010 at 13:43