FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Most Aviation spouses have limited knowledge of what it is their Aviators do every day.
Many do their best to connect with their Soldier’s job by trying to understand all the acronyms and the differences between the various helicopters, and try to follow along as Soldiers explain aerodynamics, and the parts and pieces of their aircraft.
Some may even memorize a few emergency procedures while helping students study “five and nine’s,” but most don’t know what a day in the life of a Soldier at Fort Rucker looks like at all.
June 3, 25 wives and one husband of Soldiers at Fort Rucker were given the opportunity to dress and act the part of an Army Aviator by learning water survival skills, completing team-building obstacles, receiving survival training, firing M-16s at a simulated rifle range and learning to fly helicopters in the simulators.
At the end of the day, all 26 spouses were pinned with Aviation wings by Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, while their proud Soldiers looked on.
As an Army spouse herself, Deborrah Cisneros, Family Readiness Support Assistant and director of Aviation Spouse Day, said the event had been a dream of hers for many years.
“A lot of times we think we know what it is that our Soldiers do, but until we’ve actually tried a little piece of it, we don’t understand how much they really have to go through to be a Soldier, but even more here at Fort Rucker, to be an Aviator.
“When we were at our previous duty stations, they always had Spur Day for cavalry spouses and Combat Spouses Day for infantry spouses, but you never heard about anything for Aviation spouses, and I always thought, ‘How come we don’t have a day?’”
Nine months ago, in a meeting with Crutchfield, Cisneros said her vision became a reality, and the planning and preparation began.
“We had 98 spouses register for the event. We let all spouses register, it didn’t matter what unit you were in or what your spouse’s rank was, as long as your Soldier was stationed at Fort Rucker. Then we had a lottery-style drawing to select the 26 spouses.”
WO1 Elena Norman, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, said she signed her husband up for the event without telling him. She said he was a good sport about it and looked forward to the experience.
“He was a little nervous about being the only guy, and he wasn’t really sure what to expect, but he got to experience what I do every day being one of the few women in my class. He was really excited, though.”
The spouses, many dressed in their partner’s uniform, arrived at the first activity at Flynn Pool, where they would learn water survival skills. They completed a 200-meter swim, treaded water for two minutes and learned to use combat pants as a floatation device. They were given the option to experience the HOST Shallow Water Egress Training chair, where they were seat-belted into a metal cockpit frame and turned upside in the water before having to unlatch themselves and exit out the side of the frame.
Christina Zieglar said her experience in the SWET chair was a bit frightening.
“I had to make sure to test the seat belt before they flipped me over. I wanted to see how hard it was to unlatch first,” she said. “It was a little scary, but I am glad I can say I did it.”
With temperatures reaching into the 100s, the group headed to the Leaders Reaction Course, where they were divided into smaller teams to complete several team-building obstacles.
Sgt. 1st Class Phil Scibelli, Noncommissioned Officer Academy, said he was impressed with the spouses’ performance on the courses.
“The spouses think about things a lot more than soldiers do before they go with a plan,” he said.
Scibelli saw one group of women complete an obstacle where they had to get a metal barrel over a 15-foot inclined platform in record time using a strategy that he had never seen before " after talking about it for only two minutes.
“Men want to come and muscle through the obstacles with strength, when sometimes all it takes is some clever thinking,” he said.
The spouses were given Meals- Ready-to-Eat on their way to the Engagement Skills Trainer where they were taught how to properly fire an M-16 rifle. While most had trouble hitting the target, all had dramatically improved by the end of the simulation " one spouse hit 10 out of 20 pop-up targets. The spouses were moved into another range facility where they learned that a “bazooka” is actually called an AT-4, and that it takes a lot of grunting and groaning to chamber a round in an MK-19 grenade launcher.
Then spouses completed what many said was the best part of the day. At the Warrior Hall flight simulators they got to fly the TH-67, OH-58, UH-60 and CH-47 simulators. Instructor pilots were not as tough on the spouses as are they are on their students, though. One instructor allowed a spouse turn a TH-67 upside down and crash it into a building to “see what it was like.”
Spouse Greg Norman said flying the simulators was his favorite part of the day.
“That technology is amazing " what the Army has in its training facilities is mind blowing,” he said.
Having completed all the necessary courses, spouses cleaned up and headed to the Aviation museum where Crutchfield and his wife pinned them with Aviation wings and presented them with a diploma.
WO1 Dwight Zieglar, 1Bn. 145th Avn. Regt., arrived to watch his wife receive her wings with a bouquet of flowers in hand. He said he was happy that she was able to experience some of the things he has done in his training, but more importantly he saw the ceremony as a way for spouses to be honored for all their sacrifices.
“She is really busy with her career, and for her to want to participate so much with Army programs has made me really proud of her,” he said. “She has really given up a lot for me to come here and she has supported me through this, so I am happy to support her with this. I’m proud of her.”
Crutchfield closed the ceremony by giving the spouses permission to go home and tell their Aviators, “Honey, I already got my wings, what’s taking you so long?”
Cisneros said future Aviation Spouse Days will occur quarterly and she plans to make the opportunity available to a larger group of spouses.