From the Stars and Stripes archives
Soldiers' wives experience a bit of their spouses' work
Toting a packet of Meals, Ready to Eat, in one hand and a leather backpack in the other, Lee Hurst clambered out the rear hatch of an armored personnel carrier. Wearing a Gor-Tex jacket two sizes too big for her less-than 5-foot-2 frame, she gingerly stepped into the muck of Muna installation near Warner Barracks in Bamberg, Germany.
Tired, she walked over to a gutted cinderblock structure used for training soldiers, leaned against the scorched building and dropped her backpack.
"Wow," exclaimed Hurst, wife of Spec. Alan Hurst, a combat engineer with the 16th Engr Bn. "That sucker is powerful. It is so big. The controls are so sensitive. It gives you a real sense of power. Everything must move out of your way."
Hurst, a mother of twins, had just completed a 10-minute stint at the controls of the 5-ton APC. Along with 79 other women, all spouses of soldiers in the "Catamount Battalion," she was-participating in a morning of combat engineer training in an event that Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Walls called "Jane Wayne Day."
"Actually, this is Battalion Family Day," said Walls, a Vietnam veteran who on this warm, rainy day was directing these raw female recruits while many of their husbands remained at home to tend to the kids, do laundry and prepare dinner.
"It is an opportunity that allows the wives to experience a typical day in the life of a combat engineer, an effort to give them an overview of what their husbands do for a living," said Walls.
"Too often soldiers don't get home for lunch. They drag in late at night. They are dirty, they are tired. Wives become frustrated and angry. So, because family support groups wanted it, the unit decided to conduct a Jane Wayne Day. Spouses now will have a greater understanding and respect for what we do."
In addition to jockeying APCs around in the mud and taking numerous safety, weapons and range briefings at nearby Reese Range and the Muna installation, spouses received drivers training in an all-terrain Humvee, fired various weapons and breached minefields — or in engineers' slang, practiced "pop and drops."
For Natalie Tapia, wife of Pfc. Steve Tapia and mother of a 2-year-old girl, visiting the range was an experience that she won't soon forget.
"It was a blast," she said. "I had no idea what my husband did out here all day long. All this makes me understand. Now I can relate."
Pushing the oversize helmet up and off her nose, she continued: "Firing those weapons was fun. But my bullets were all gone before I knew it. I wanted to shoot the M16 more. I didn't like the 9mm pistol because of its kick. But I scored sharpshooter and expert, and I can't wait to get home and tell my husband that I outshot him.
The day drew to a close the way it began — in formation. Walls handed out certificates of achievement to participants, while Staff Sgt. Terry Hadley read an announcement that declared the spouses had "fraudulently enlisted" in Walls' unit.
As a result they were all being discharged, without pay — as soon as the vehicles were cleaned up at the wash rack.