Dreams come true during Aviation Spouses Day
January 17, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 17, 2013) -- Dreams came true in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Aviation spouses Jan.9 and 11 when 57 women participated in Senior Aviation Spouses Day and Aviation Spouses Day.
The goal of the days are 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 [Soldiers] do throughout their training. It will help them comprehend what it takes to become an Army Aviator," she said.
The women completed four assignments that every Aviator must complete in order to graduate from flight school, and several compared their Soldiers, afterwards, to Prince Charming, whose mighty steed is a helicopter.
"My husband does so much -- he is Prince Charming and going through some of the experiences that he had to is eye opening. I've always put him on a pedestal when it comes to being in the Army," said Angela Robertson.
The spouses received "dunker" training at the Helicopter Overwater Survival Training facility, and leadership and teamwork training at the Leader's Reaction Course, and then fired weapons at the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 and flew simulators at Warrior Hall.
At HOST, the spouses learned just how difficult it can be to escape and survive a crash in the water. They learned how their spouses have to pass several tests, such as the treading water test, and the many positions they must escape from inside the helicopter.
"We give each participant a chance to go through 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. It makes them realize that a pilot can't rely on sight to escape," said Robert Barcelona, alternate contract manager and instructor at Survival Systems USA.
The Leader's Reaction Course gave spouses 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," 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 such as the M4, .50-caliber machine gun and M240 Bravo. They were taught certain aspects about safe marksmanship like proper shooting positions, how to reload a weapon and what to do if a weapon jams. Some of the spouses were more natural shooters than others, but they all brought their hooah attitudes.
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 either the Kiowa Warrior, the Black Hawk or the Chinook simulator.
"I loved the simulators because that is what he will be doing and it is the only time I will ever touch the controls of any type of flying contraption," said Whitney Shields.
The operators joked about making the spouses fly in the opposite airframe of their Soldier so the spouses can tease them back home about "flying an attack" or "the fastest" helicopter, but most chose the airframe their spouse flies.
"The overall experience is about exposing them to the environment their spouses operate in on a daily basis," said Kevin D. Hottell, Flight School XXI Simulation Services program manager.
The program is geared towards helping spouses identify with their Soldiers and to bring them closer together through the mission, so there is always too many spouses and not enough slots. So this quarter a Senior Aviation Spouse Day was created to help alleviate some of the difficulties of limited space.
"The senior spouses wanted to participate, but they didn't want to take away 15 slots from younger spouses that would also like to participate. So, we split them so they could be involved but not take away from the entire group experience," said Jackson. "They have a smaller, shorter, condensed version where they can do their team building and learn, but not take away from the majority."
The spouses that participated in the Jan. 9 course appreciated what the program did for them.
"We really didn't want to take away a single spot from the junior spouses. So, we really appreciate this opportunity," said Leslie Edens.
Other senior spouses, like Kathleen Newton, agreed.
"My husband will be retiring, so I am so thankful to get this chance. It is something that I have never had the opportunity to do before and I won't have the opportunity ever again," she said.
During the graduation ceremony, Sgt. Maj. Marvin A. Pinckney, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence G-3 sergeant major, addressed the spouses and thanked them for their own service to the Army.
"Thank you for what you do for our Soldiers. You are their backs and support them in their efforts, but now hopefully you can appreciate what they do throughout their time at Fort Rucker," he said.
Col. Douglas M. Gabram, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence deputy commander, ended the day by thanking the spouses for being as strong as they are while supporting the Army Family.
"The strength of our nation comes from our Soldiers, but the strength of our Soldiers comes from their Families. It comes from you. You are sometimes undervalued and underappreciated, so I thank you," he said.