Reality TV meets Army life

Yolanda Goins confesses she’s “not a television person.” That might change, now that she’s a television personality. Yolanda and six other military wives were chosen from hundreds of applicants to star in “Married to the Army: Alaska,” a reality television program now showing on the Oprah Winfrey Network and which premiers this Sunday on American Forces Network.

The cast members are all Army wives from the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry, of which Yolanda’s husband is the commander. The show documents the women’s lives back at Fort Richardson, Alaska, while their husbands are deployed to Afghanistan.

“I never dreamed we’d get selected,” said Rynn Randall, another cast member. “We’re just a normal family going through a military life and trying to come out as positively and the strongest way possible,” she said.

I met Rynn and Yolanda and the show’s executive producer Stephanie Drachkovitch at a promotional event in Washington, D.C.

The stars and creators of the show are aware not everyone considers cameras and military life a good combination. This one was filmed with the cooperation of Army Public Affairs, and the Army provided footage for some of the events in the show.

Executive producer Stephanie Drachkovitch, herself an Army brat, said she wanted to present a faithful picture of military life. She expressed confidence the show would speak for itself.

“Nonfiction television right now is a lot of gratuitous conflict and cartoon characters,” she said. “OWN approached this show differently, with some authenticity. I think people will see that this is pretty real.”

"'Reality show’ is almost a bad word,” Yolanda conceded. “Initially we received a little bit of push-back and a little bit of pessimism that this type of thing could embarrass the Army.”

She said the cooperation of Army PA, as well as the producer’s background as a military family member was reassuring to her.

“My hope is that when military spouses watch this show that they feel they are being celebrated and recognized, also that they see a sense of sisterhood, a sense of positivity,” she said. “Whatever the story may be, hopefully they can find themselves somewhere within the cast members.”

I had my own reservations about military life as reality television, but after previewing the first two episodes, I was somewhat reassured.

I recognized the military life depicted in the show. It made me laugh, cry, and yes, cringe occasionally. There’s the officer’s wife who takes herself and her status a bit too seriously. Then there’s the wife who can’t stop criticizing her husband while he’s home on R&R. I recognize these women. I know them. Maybe I’ve been them, hence the cringe.
Yolanda said friction among the cast is a small part of the story.

“In any family there will be conflict, so it’s not what you face, but it’s your response to it. Yes, there was a little conflict, and the ladies handled it beautifully … It’s the working through it that’s important.”

Rynn said the seven women in the show are very different from one another.
“There were just some personalities that were very aggressive, and some that were passive,” said Rynn. “It was a slippery slope to not take sides and to help everyone remember … that we’re in this together to love one another. That’s what I tried to say and do.”

Rynn, the mother of four, said her family’s relationships benefited from being documented. As well as being filmed, the families were also interviewed about their actions and emotions.

“To have someone follow you and ask you why you did that or ‘How did that make you feel?’ – You don’t do that on your own,” she said. “Day by day, you’re just doing normal things and you don’t stop to think about why you do them or what it’s making you feel like or how your kids are feeling.”

“I have to honestly say that if I was not participating in the show … I don’t think we would have stopped to question ‘How are we doing?’ We would have just kept going.”

Rynn said the producers were sensitive to her children’s space, backing off the film crew when her teenagers wanted privacy. Yolanda said most of the time she was happy to open her life to the cameras, because she wants people to see the challenges of military life.

“The only time I could not film – I just could not do it – was when I said goodbye to my husband from R&R.  They interviewed me a little later, but immediately when he went through that gate and headed to that plane ... I could not talk.”

Col. Morris Goins, newly returned from Afghanistan, accompanied his wife at the D.C. event and was supportive of the program.

“Showing the sacrifices of these seven ladies is representative of all military spouses and their sacrifices and struggles,” he said.

“Married to the Army: Alaska” is available stateside on the Oprah Winfrey Network and to overseas viewers on AFN. Check schedules for airtimes.

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