FORT BRAGG, N.C. --Bright-colored shirts and excited voices brought a cheerful ambiance to an otherwise grey, drizzly day at Towle Stadium field. Children of varied ages played together as they waited for the planned activities to start. Lines formed behind tables on one side of the field as adults dressed in army combat uniforms and their spouses in unit t-shirts waited to sign into the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment's first kids day.
Paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division's Grey Falcons organized a day full of physical fitness events, obstacle courses, food and army-specific activities to bring their troops and families together in a shared sense of camaraderie and unit pride. The event sprang from the suggestions of families impressed by the success of the squadron's Jayne Wayne day held earlier this year. Intended to familiarize the regiment's spouses with the day-to-day training experiences of the professional Paratrooper, the all-day event spurred a desire to also share that understanding with their children.
The kids day had a simple purpose: to foster resiliency within the ranks and the families of an organization tasked to respond to contingency situations anywhere in the world within 18 hours. As a component of the strategic Global Response Force, the Falcon Brigade has spent the last year training for many possible threats in an often tumultuous world. Recognizing the toll that the long days, intense training cycles and uncertainties can take on families, the regiment sought to draw together their most precious resources and forge strong bonds between them.
"This event allows the families to experience what their Paratroopers experience," said Maj. Jonas Anazagasty, the squadron executive officer. "It also brings the unit closer together."
"The strength of our army is our Soldiers and the strength of our Soldiers is our families," he said.
The first event of the day, physical training, was intended to enhance the physical strength aspect of resiliency. Knowing that strong muscles go hand-in-hand with strong minds, the Grey Falcons guided the children through a modified physical fitness test at Towle Stadium, including a lap around the track, push-ups, sit-ups in teams with logs for resistance, rope ladder climbs, and various, competitive relays. Broken into age groups, the events were tailored to challenge and encourage team building among the young participants.
From there, the squadron moved to the Advanced Airborne School (AAS), where instructors gave a demonstration on harness rigging and 34-foot-tower exiting procedures. Upon conclusion of the brief, many of the children began to don harnesses under their jumpmaster parents' help and then jumped out of the airborne training tower. The majority of participants who volunteered to take part in the event overcame their trepidation and made the jump.
"It's exciting but makes me nervous at the same time," said Haley, child of Sgt 1st Class Christopher Campbell, a jumpmaster who helped rig his daughter for the jump.
"You're at work with your daughter doing airborne operation stuff," said the senior Campbell. "It's kind of weird but neat."
The Grey Falcon officer-in-charge of the event, 1st Lt. Jacob Partridge, said the requirement for smaller harnesses posed a challenge. For that, help was sought from the Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga.
"We called the Airborne School there and they sent them up here so we were able to allow the smaller kids go through the tower too," said Partridge.
Once activities at the AAS concluded, the families went on to the obstacle course event. Thanks to the prior day's rainy weather, there was plenty of opportunity for the kids to get wet and dirty as they negotiated the course intended to try the physical limits of their Soldier-parents. The obstacle course had before been considered a fun and successful part of the squadron's Jayne Wayne day. For the Grey Falcon's kids day, it was no different.
With the afternoon sun blazing bright and high over the post, many of the kids found enjoyment back at the squadron headquarters as they sprayed mud off each other with water hoses. Many of the younger children battled the heat and humidity by chasing each other with water guns and water balloons. Some flung themselves down a small water slide and into an inflatable pool.
Near the water games, a bounce house was the epicenter of rambunctious activity as a game of tag ensued. On another side of the headquarters building, static displays of weapons and equipment and Humvee rides gave many an interactive army experience. Inside a classroom of one company facility, an engagement skills trainer, provided by the U. S. Army Fayetteville Recruiting Company, kept parents and children busy with simulated weapons training. Outside of the facility, families played with basketballs and footballs while others checked out the mock door trainer. All around, the smell of the barbecue grill filled the air.
As the long day drew to a close, the attendees filled the squadron classroom to eat together. The command team recognized each of the nearly 120 children that had participated in some or all of the day's events.
"Bringing everyone together is something we definitely should do again, every year," said Amy Campbell, the first to suggest the idea for the event to the command team. "The kids got to meet others their own age and know that there's other kids in the same boat as they are."
Many participants of all ages and the organizers seemed satisfied and considered the organization day a success.
Partridge said that while the Falcons are on the GRF, the spouses are often the ones taking care of the families and homes while their Paratroopers are training late hours. The event was also planned to coincide with the close of summer break and the start of the new school year.
This day was a way for the Grey Falcons to repay their families for their support, dedication and hard work, he said.
"This was an excellent time to reach out and thank the families."
Several parents at the event expressed that building esprit de corps and solidifying family bonds is as important as the many hours spent building combat capabilities and skill proficiency. With the uncertainty that faces the professional Paratrooper, a solid family support system can make a ready and resilient troop and those troops will make a unit that is prepared to meet any mission.
The sentiments of the many satisfied Grey Falcon families echoed the philosophy of the English writer, G. K. Chesterton, who once said, "The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."