FORT RUCKER, Ala., Sept. 27, 2011 -- Sixty Fort Rucker spouses flew, shot and swam their way through a day of hands-on exercises, hoping to better understand their Soldiers' experiences and even earn their own set of Aviator's wings Sept. 16.

Aviation Spouse Day returned for the second time this year with doubled participation and changes that allow more focus on the Aviator's experience, said Deborrah Cisneros, United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence, or USAACE, Family Readiness Support Assistant and director of Aviation Spouse Day.

Four groups of spouses spent the day learning helicopter overwater survival training, completing team-building obstacles at the leader's reaction course, firing M-16s at a simulated rifle range and learning to fly helicopters in simulators. The day concluded with a graduation at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, where spouses were awarded their wings in front of Family and friends.

The increase in participation and fine-tuning of the event was the result of collaboration between Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, and Cisneros, who have worked to provide a realistic and beneficial training experience for spouses at Fort Rucker.

"We created the event to give the spouses firsthand experience of what their Soldiers do. After the first event, the spouses shared that it really did give them a better understanding what Soldiers have to go through to be Army Aviators," said Cisneros.

Though the first Aviation Spouse Day was a success, there were several changes made to improve the event. Cisneros explained that in order to provide more chances for spouses to earn their wings, the quota for participants was raised from 24 to 60. Spouses also asked for opportunities to get to know fellow participants, which led to a social and information session for the spouses a few days before the events.

After the first Aviation spouse day, Crutchfield noticed that the helicopter overwater survival training provided to the spouses was not the same as what Soldiers undergo. With Crutchfield's assistance, the underwater events were moved to the real HOST training facilities, where participants were able to see a demo of a real underwater helicopter evacuation along with an underwater exercise.

Crutchfield explained that providing this opportunity for spouses is essential, because family readiness is as important as military readiness.

"It was that important to me that we move things to make this happen. [Spouses] are so important to our mission. You are part of this Army. Family readiness is just as important as operational readiness," said Crutchfield.

Along with the hands-on activities, spouses were educated on the different aspects of Aviation training. According to Erica Geranen, one of the day's participants, the focus on educating spouses had many benefits, even for long-time Army spouses.

"I think that it's a small glimpse into what they're going through. I've been an Army wife for 10 years now, so I know what he goes through. I think this will give me a little bit more of a detailed look at what he's doing," she said.

After completing the simulators and underwater training, participant Kelsey Bailly had a better understanding of her husband's training from the shared experience with spouses and Soldiers.

"It's awesome that there's training set up for spouses to come out and see what [Soldiers] go through. I think it's great that we can be a part of the Family that our husbands are in. It just makes a better Army family," she said.