Spouses from 5 Okinawa squadrons train like Marines for a day
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 13, 2016
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa — The MV-22 Osprey seamlessly switched from helicopter to airplane mode as it zipped over the picturesque Okinawan coast toward the sea. Infrared images danced, and gauge needles rose and fell.
Moments later, a Navy amphibious assault ship steamed into view. Switching back to helicopter mode, the Osprey smoothly approached and made an uneventful landing on the deck.
Lisa Aguilera smiled as she exited the cockpit and approached her fellow Marine Corps spouses. The Los Angeles native — wife of Marine Sgt. Obed Aguilera — had some help making the tricky landing from an actual Osprey pilot sitting behind the other set of controls, but not bad for her first time in Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s MV-22 Osprey simulator.
Aguilera was one of 41 Marine spouses taking part in the second Marine Air Control Group 18 Spouses Warrior Day on Friday. Spouses from five MACG-18 squadrons became Marines for a day, to gain a better understanding of what their Marines go through. They donned their spouses’ flak and Kevlar, traveled in a Marine 7-ton vehicle, ate Meals, Ready to Eat and participated in a long list of activities — some fun, like the simulators; some cringe-worthy, like donning hazardous material suits in the scorching Okinawan heat.
“This has definitely given me some insight into what they go through — how heavy their gear is,” Aguilera said. “This was a great experience. I’m very happy we got to do this.”
The event — put on by the unit’s family resource officers — has quickly grown in popularity with participation doubling from its inaugural run last year.
The day began early, with a lesson in Marine Corps martial arts. They went through a grueling obstacle course and donned Hazmat suits, called Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear, that protect against chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks.
When they were done, they sat down for a lunch of MREs. Designed for function, the rations have improved significantly over the years and can sit for long periods of time without going bad, but gourmet they are not.
“Those MREs,” Aguilera said. “They’re horrible.”
The spouses were sweaty and a bit tired by the time they reached the base’s simulators first a CH-53E Super Stallion and then the Osprey.
Like the Osprey simulator, the Super Stallion trainer featured the interior of the bird, complete with all the sticks, controls and gauges. A single screen wrapped around the front of the aircraft, and Okinawa came to life courtesy of four overlapping projectors. Computers in another room could add adverse weather conditions, change the time of day or night and add ships to land on.
Marine Super Stallion pilot Capt. Ryan McGonigle said one of the ways to teach people to fly the heavy-lift helicopter is to put them cold in the simulator to get accustomed to the controls and the way everything works. McGonigle assisted the spouses as they “flew” around the southern Japanese island.
“I have more appreciation for what a day is like for them,” said Marine spouse Alicia Cleaver. “This is a fantastic opportunity for spouses to walk in their Marine’s boots.”
For the final event of the day, the spouses picked up rifles and pistols and took some shots in Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Training which uses video screens to replicate the range. Some had never shot pistols, and others struggled with the simulators’ realistic recoil.
“Those spouses out there, they didn’t sign on the dotted line, but they signed a contract of the heart,” said MACG-18 commander Col. Lorna Mahlock. “What they do is not easy. This gives them some context. It also serves as a way to connect [them].”
Marine spouses arrive for training at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan, wearing flak and Kevlar, in the back of a Marine Corps 7-ton vehicle, Friday, May 13, 2016. The second-annual Marine Air Control Group 18 Spouses Warrior Day is a popular event meant to show interested spouses from five squadrons what their loved ones do and how they fit into the larger Marine Corps picture.
MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIP