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Connecting with families: Spouses get taste of Aviation training, earn wings

Madeleine Dickson, military spouse, surfaces after tackling a simulated underwater helicopter crash during Spouses Aviation Day April 14 at the Helicopter Overwater Safety Training facility. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Madeleine Dickson, military spouse, surfaces after tackling a simulated underwater helicopter crash during Spouses Aviation Day April 14 at the Helicopter Overwater Safety Training facility. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: April 21, 2016

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 21, 2016) -- Training is key to the success of the U.S. armed forces, and giving a taste of that training to spouses is a way to help build a cohesive Army family.

That’s why 34 spouses of Soldiers on Fort Rucker got the chance to participate in Spouses Aviation Day April 14, where they experienced a bit of the training Soldiers go through by trying their hand at shooting, flying simulators and learning water survival techniques.

The spouses were split into four teams in which they were set to experience four different types of training that every Army Aviator must endure: flight simulation, firing range simulation, team building skills and Helicopter Overwater Safety Training.

Throughout the day, the groups visited the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 shooting range simulator where they got to try their hands at shooting M-4 and M-16 rifles, as well as Mark 19 and 50-caliber machine guns.

Spouses also got more than their feet wet at the HOST training facility, where they learned about how Aviators escape a situation if their aircraft goes down over water. They suited up in full flight gear and hit the water, where they had to swim underwater along a designated area to open a hatch, simulating being trapped in a submerged aircraft.

“I felt like the hardest part of today was the dunker training,” said Marjolein Lootens, military spouse whose husband flies for the Netherlands air force. “I feel like we got a better understanding of what it is our guys go through.”

Although the water had some spouses, like Lootens, feeling a bit anxious, the flight simulators at Warrior Hall had others flying high to gain a deeper appreciation for what their Soldiers do.

Wendy Zwart, whose husband also flies for the Netherlands air force, said the flight simulator training was among the toughest parts of her day.

“The flying part was really hard,” she said. “You have to do so many things at the same time and that’s not easy to do. We wanted to get an idea of what it is our guys go through all day and we did – it was great to see that.”

Unlike previous Aviation Spouse Days, the spouses in this iteration weren’t able to take part in the Leaders Reaction Course because of inclement weather, but they weren’t afforded time off. Instead, they got a taste of Army physical training as they took part in exercises that tested their core strength and stamina.

After all was said and done, the spouses were able to graduate during a ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum and earn their wings.

Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, presided over the graduation, and offered his thanks and gratitude for the support that the spouses provide their Soldiers.

“I think it’s pretty amazing when you look at what you got to do today. You can see the level of detail and the hard work that your Soldier goes through – and that’s just a small taste,” said the commanding general. “It’s phenomenal that you did it and I’m glad you got to see that piece of what your Soldier does. I think it’s very important because that connection that we have with Soldiers and their families is critical to our security.

“People don’t often grow that connection, but we say so often that we recruit a Soldier but you retain a family,” continued Gayler. “If we can’t keep families totally in with their Soldiers, then we lose great Soldiers and our Army hurts, our nation hurts and the security of all of us in the United States hurts.”

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