Aviation spouses soar, earn wings
October 18, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 18, 2012) -- Fifty-nine women and one man earned their Aviator wings Oct. 12 after successfully completing Aviation Spouse Day on Fort Rucker.
Spouses and fiancées were shuffled around post to experience four assignments that every Aviator must complete in order to graduate from flight school. Spouses also participated in a few standard military exercises that Soldiers complete every day, such as standing in formation and eating at the dining facilities.
The goal of the day is to help spouses understand the training their loved ones go through, according to Leigh Jackson, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence Family readiness support assistant.
"It is a day that focuses on spouses and brings them to a better understanding of what their spouses do throughout their training. It will help them comprehend what it takes to become an Army Aviator. The events are just a glimpse into Aviation training," she said.
Each spouse had reasons for volunteering to participate, but most shared Nicole Hammrich's desire to share the experiences their Soldier is having.
"I know how to better support him now that I have done this. It makes me feel better about safety, too, because I know the rigorous training and precautions that he and the instructors go through," said Hammrich, Group 4's team leader.
The spouses participated in four major tasks. They received "dunker" training at the Helicopter Overwater Survival Training facility, leadership and teamwork training at the Leader's Reaction Course, fired weapons at the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 and flew simulators at Warrior Hall.
At HOST, the staff joked with the spouses about horror stories that might have been passed on to them, but they assured the spouses that the training was necessary for pilots to not only survive and escape a water crash, but to survive at the water's surface afterwards.
"We show them exactly what is required of their husbands or wives and then give each participant a chance to go through a swimmer training device known as the shallow water initial memory mechanical exit release trainer. It shows them the types of procedures and exits that their Soldier has to be familiar with if they ditch an aircraft," said Danny Riggs, director of training at Survival Systems USA.
Spouses gained confidence at the Leader's Reaction Course, which gave them a chance to understand the mental and physical challenges that Soldiers endure.
"These spouses are getting a general overview of the physical demands as well as the communication it takes for a mission to be successful. Many start out telling themselves that they can't do it, but by the end they have more confidence in themselves," said Sgt. 1st Class Kendall Taylor, S-3 operations NCO in charge at the NCO Academy.
Walking in the shoes of their Soldiers, the spouses learned how to shoot a variety of weapons.
"The spouses participated in two scenarios. In one they tried to qualify with the M16 on a pop-up simulated range. They also learned how to handle machine guns. Both scenarios help them understand how difficult it can be to qualify, realize how heavy the weapons are and how daunting it can be to reload them," said Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Redondo, NCO Academy.
What many spouses were looking forward to the most was flying in the helicopter simulators, and each spouse got about a 15-minute flight in one of the simulators in Warrior Hall.
"Most of the time we were able to put them in the same type of aircraft simulator their Soldier flies. This was about exposing them to the environment their spouses operate in on a daily basis," said Kevin D. Hottell, FS XXI Simulation Services program manager.
Most Army spouses know all too well that sometimes when their Soldiers come home they may be too exhausted to try to explain their Aviation training to them. The day sought to lessen the gap of understanding and to teach the spouses just what it takes to be a pilot.
"I know I have a better understanding of what he's gone through. Sometimes he is too busy with coursework to help me really understand, but now I have a clearer vision," said Alee Nicholson.
"I know how stressful things can be on his end now. If [my husband] fails at something or doesn't accomplish something the way [he] wanted and comes home with a bad attitude, I understand why now. I now know how to better support him," said Alycia Ongiri.
Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general, joked at the graduation ceremony that the waiting around that the spouses experienced was "good Army training," but kept it serious with the skills the spouses learned from the activities.
"You got an appreciation for not only the skill it takes to do what they do, but the will required to do what they do," he said.
Angel Mangum, the general's wife, ended the day by telling the spouses how strong they are for supporting the Army Family.
"The strength of our nation comes from our Soldiers; the strength of our Soldiers comes from the Families. There is nothing more important in the Army than our Families," she said before congratulating the spouses.
Mary Kramers appreciated Angel's comments.
"It's exciting to be able to share these experiences with my husband, but overall it's great to see that the support doesn't just have to be for the person in the military, it's for us as well," she said.