By Pfc. Robert YoungNovember 24, 2009
CAMP CASEY, Republic of Korea -- Early on a drizzly Nov. 13 morning, 39 wives of 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, Soldiers stepped off a bus at the soccer field near Camp Casey's Carey Gym.
Immediately greeted with the classic Army words of welcome: "Hurry up, waiting on you," the wives were hustled into formation as the "G.I. Jane Platoon."
The crisp late autumn morning did not dampen the spirits of the women assembled to take part in the first "Manchu Spouse Challenge." Leaders of 2-9 Infantry had organized a day of events designed to give Soldiers' wives a chance to walk in their husbands' boots.
The list of events read like a mini-boot camp schedule. Every minute from the 6 a.m. formation until the end of the day was scheduled with activities that would challenge the Manchu wives' mettle.
"I have to admit it was difficult to determine what events to put in so that they are not completely drained by the end," Lt. Col. Milford H. Beagle, the 2-9 Infantry commander, said with a smile.
Manchu Soldiers shared their commander's enthusiasm for the event.
"I hope that my wife gets an understanding of what we do. I want her to see that this is not a nine-to-five job, that we have to do many different activities in order to accomplish our given mission and our day isn't done until we've met our goals," said Pfc. Jayson Weir.
The day's events ranged from morning physical fitness training, which included both tae kwon do and a modified Marine Corps combat fitness test, to weapons fire on Apache range in addition to a night-vision-goggle maze and a couple road marches thrown in for good measure.
The schedule would pose a daunting challenge for any Soldier. Standing on a damp cold soccer field a few hours before normal wake-up time, it might seem impossible.
The assembled wives, though, seemed undaunted as their motley platoon sounded-off with "G.I. Jane" at the call to attention. They were in high spirits as they marched to Cary Gym for the morning tae kwon do session and bursts of laughter punctuated each missed step.
"You do all this before breakfast," one wife asked the platoon leader, Cpl. Myong Yost. A warm smile and a nod were her only response.
"How our Soldiers perform on a daily basis depends on how much support they receive at home. We set up today's event to share with the spouse a true understanding of what their husbands do daily. We also hope to build a strong sense of community among the Manchu wives," Beagle said.
During the next session of morning PT, the wives took the Marine Corps combat fitness test. The test involved lifting a 15-pound ammunition can over the head for a one-minute period, sprinting, low crawling, a grenade toss and a race back to the starting line carrying two sand bags - activities Army wives might not do every day.
The wives cheered each other on and remained upbeat as they struggled through the course.
"I run almost every day just to keep in shape, but this gave me a totally different workout. Low-crawling made me use muscles I didn't know I had," Manchu wife Amy Weir said after finishing the course.
The battalion chaplain described the event as a way to support the Manchu Family and have fun.
"The wife gets to experience the life of her husband in fun, challenging, team-building events," said Capt. George Wallace, the unit's chaplain. "There was a two-fold purpose to this event: we wanted to build a supportive community around Army spouses within the battalion while also building a network of spouses supporting each other. The support network helps wives feel less alone when their husbands go out to the Korea Training Center for long periods of time, and it helps new wives get oriented within the community."
The wives moved on to Apache range, where they fired live rounds after receiving a basic marksmanship briefing. They moved a bit awkwardly dressed in Manchus' "battle rattle," but soon adapted to the protective gear and seemed very excited to fire weapons, many of them for the first time.
Pfc. Bryan Sandoval looked on as his wife hit the target 18 out of 20 times at the M-4 range.
"I knew she would be a little bit tired, but I knew she could do well," he said. "I think today gave her a better understanding of what I complain about when I'm really tired. It is easier to show somebody something than tell them."
The wives also ate like Soldiers, feasting on meals ready-to-eat.
"I am feeling good. I felt confident out here and really enjoyed firing a gun. I did feel a little of my husband's pain when we had the MREs for lunch - they take a little getting used to," said Iveth Sandoval.
After firing at the range, the tired wives still faced a formidable road march back to Manchu headquarters. The intrepid "G.I. Jane Platoon" faced the march with good humor and a sense of joy as their day of Manchu life drew to a close.
"They really came together and encouraged each other during the road march. They were all really tired, but by staying positive nobody lost heart," said the G.I. Jane platoon leader.
By the end of the day, despite being tired, wet and dirty, the platoon's excitement was palpable as the wives caught sight of their husbands and children waiting for them. Children scurried through the formation as the battalion commander distributed certificates acknowledging each wife's participation in the first Manchu Spouse Challenge.
"When you get to do these kinds of activities with other wives, you form a different relationship with them than if you go to a barbecue or a potluck," said Lindsey Mosman. "It felt good to meet new people and come together as a team to overcome challenges. I know I can rely on these other wives for support since we all know what the others are going through."
Although the day started with some trepidation on the part of the Soldiers' wives, they saw each other through the challenge.
"We got to work as a team and today's activities created a great sense of camaraderie," Karen King said.
(Pfc. Robert Young writes for the 2nd Infantry Division's Indianhead newspaper.)