OKINAWA, Japan (May 20, 2013) -- A break in the start to Okinawa's rainy season allowed the Deployed Spouses Luau to go off without a hitch on Saturday at Torii Beach, giving military families the opportunity to socialize while enjoying the Torii Beach Water Park, children's activities, a hula show and a stunning sunset.
More than 225 people attended the luau, including 37 spouses of deployed Service members from the Army and Air Force. The event featured catering by CJ's Sunset Grill which offered ribs, pulled pork and grilled chicken. The luau was open to all branches of the military and was hosted by Army Community Service on Torii Station and the Airman and Family Readiness Center on Kadena Air Base.
Distinguished visitors included Brig. Gen. James Hecker, who recently assumed command of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, and LTC Cory Anderton, Commander of U.S. Army Garrison Torii Station.
Kaulana Carrell is a "key spouse" who volunteers with the AFRC. Key spouses provide a connection between leadership and spouses to keep spouses informed or raise any issues they may have with leadership. They also assist spouses during difficult situations -- such as typhoon cleanup -- so they do not have to deal with it alone. Carrell's husband is attached to 18th Wing's civil engineers on Kadena Air Base and she became a key spouse volunteer three years ago.
"I got involved when my husband was deployed. I had a great experience (with my own key spouse) and I wanted to pay it forward," said Carrell. "We help new wives when they come in … we teach them things like understanding all the acronyms and learning the ways of the Air Force."
For spouses like Bethzaida Rybicki, the luau was a way to connect with other women who face the same challenges she does when her husband is away. Her husband has been in the Air Force 10 years and is attached to the 961st Squadron where he works as an Air Battle Manager. They have a 10-year-old daughter named Alondra.
"These events are great because it gives me something to do and gets me out of the house … which is great for my daughter," said Rybicki. "Deployments are harder for her now because she is older and she understands what is going on. This is my husband's third deployment and I just try and keep her busy."
Sheillani Wilson, whose husband it attached to 18th OSS Weather and currently deployed to Guam, agreed that having her family separated is the biggest challenge for military spouses -- but one that is made easier with support from agencies like ACS and AFRC, as well as the volunteers that work with those organizations. Her daughter Shae is two years old and doesn't always understand why her father is not around.
"It's hard when your family is not around, but it's good knowing it's not just me -- it's better having other people around who are going through the same things I am," said Wilson.
Wilson clearly enjoyed the evening's activities, which were highlighted by her daughter taking center stage with hula dancers from the local group Hui Nohona Aloha.
The Deployed Spouse Luau is part of a series of deployed spouse dinners that are hosted by a different Service organization each month. The events are normally held on the third Saturday of the month and are open to all spouses and children of deployed or TDY Service members. Organizers provide free dinner, onsite childcare, prize giveaways and informational display tables from organizations such as United Service Organization, Families Overcoming Under Stress, the American Red Cross and the AFRC