By Franklin Fisher (Benning)April 30, 2019
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The Army at Fort Benning hosted a fun-filled day for families April 27, one that gave kids and others a chance to ride in combat vehicles, weave through an obstacle course, enjoy a cookout, meet friendly firefighters and police officers, and have so much fun with a police car's public address system that the cops could hardly pry the kids loose from it all.
The event, on a bright sunny Saturday, was hosted by the 198th Infantry Brigade, part of Fort Benning's Maneuver Center of Excellence, along with the police and fire departments of MCoE's Directorate of Emergency Services.
The brigade provides initial entry training for enlisted Infantry Soldiers. For that reason, many though not all, of the brigade's cadre are Drill Sergeants.
"It was a great opportunity for all our cadre to show their families part of what they do on a day to day basis," said Maj. Jon Godwin, the brigade's operations officer.
The event ran from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and drew more than 700 Soldiers and family members to the post's Sand Hill section, where the 198th Infantry Brigade is located. Guests ranged in age from infants to seniors.
"Oh, they had a ball!" Kevin D. Sparks, Patrol Branch Supervisor with DES's Police Division said of the kids especially. "The fire department put out the jaws of life. They briefed them on what the pumper truck actually does. Some of the older children, they really took a shine to the fire truck.
"And the same thing with the police car -- the lights, the sirens, the public address system," he said. "They liked that, they really liked that. It was hard to get 'em off of it. They didn't want to stop talking. Just saying their names, and 'Hello' and things like that." Also a hit with the kids was McGruff the Crime Dog.
The brigade hosts the family day each year, partly to give Soldier families a day of relaxation and fun, but also to help kids get at least some idea of what their Soldier parents do, said Godwin.
"All they really understand is mom and dad get up really early in the morning, put on the uniform, come home, and they really have no grasp of what mom and dad do. So it's really good family-building," Godwin said.
So the brigade laid on plenty to see and do.
Guests got to ride for about five minutes in the back of eight-wheeled Stryker armored combat vehicles. And there was a chance to experience rappelling -- a method by which Soldiers move down the side of a wall by sliding down a rope. Under careful supervision of brigade cadre, those who wanted got to don a rappelling harness, helmet and gloves and first, as practice, went down a 10-foot wall. Then came the much longer slide down the Eagle Tower, which the brigade uses to build confidence in the Infantry trainees while also teaching them how to rappel.
They also got to try out some of the obstacles used for training new Soldiers, and, inside the brigade's Engagement Skills Trainer, to fire electronically modified rifles and pistols -- no real bullets -- at electronic screens displaying target silhouettes. In addition, the brigade set up a display of a weaponry, including various types of automatic weapons and mortars.
And there was the cookout, which was a big hit all by itself.
"We had a cookout going pretty much the whole time -- hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and drinks," said Godwin. "We brought enough food to feed a thousand people and they were completely out of food. They definitely ate everything we cooked."
Besides affording families a chance to relax, and at same time get a look at what the brigade does, the day had important benefits from the perspective of the post's first responders -- its police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians, said Sparks.
When children are caught up in a real emergency, they may be deeply frightened, and fearful, including perhaps, of arriving first responders, he said.
But getting to have friendly time with first responders during an event like family day can help reduce that fear, and make it easier to get kids to safety in an emergency, Sparks said.
"When they actually get to come up and see a police officer or an EMT or firefighter up close, it develops a rapport, and then, when there's some type of emergency situation, those children are a little easier dealing with us. Even though they're scared to death, they know we're there to help them and not hurt them. So having these types of events are critical. We have to have 'em."