Playing soldier for a day while spouse is away
June 4, 2006
FRIEDBERG, Germany — Margaret French clutched the M-16 and offered a warning to the enemies about to appear on the big video screen.
“You scared?” she said aloud as she aimed the simulated rifle she picked up for the first time minutes ago. “You should be.”
French isn’t a soldier, but she looked like a natural and was having a little fun.
She was among 130 Army wives participating in the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team’s Combat Spouse Badge Challenge on Saturday at U.S. Army Garrison Friedberg.
With their husbands away fighting an insurgency in Iraq, the event gave spouses a chance to play soldier for a day and experience some of the training their loved ones go through before they head to the front lines. It was the first time the brigade had done anything like the challenge, and many rear detachment soldiers and spouses said they hope to do it annually.
Lt. Col. Tony Amos, the garrison commander, said the experience was intended to boost the morale of the wives as they endure the hardship of living overseas with their husbands fighting a war. The brigade’s Family Readiness Group, various volunteers and rear detachment soldiers helped run the event.
“Everything we do, we do together,” Amos said. “Everyone is involved from the soldier, the spouse, the kids. So, if the soldier is deployed, we try and come up with innovative ways to keep the family engaged in the whole process, make them feel like they’re doing their job, too.”
Spouses, separated into platoons and squads, competed in various events that included carrying a casualty on a litter from one point to another as quickly as possible, and shooting enemy fighters in the same simulator their husbands use to hone their marksmanship.
They also got a chance to see how they measured up physically and mentally by taking a typical fitness test, with push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. Each participant had to take a physical before entering the challenge and was encouraged to work out under her unit’s training program.
The spouses began preparing in January and some used the event as motivation to get or stay in shape. One spouse said she had lost 30 pounds since her husband left on his deployment.
Others used the challenge as a chance to see what it’s like to be a soldier, and to socialize with the other wives.
Audrey George said she enjoyed firing the M-16, which didn’t have as much kickback as she had expected.
“It’s really neat to get to see that this is the actual training that they go through,” said George, whose husband, Donald, is deployed.
Megan Albrecht, her face painted with camo paint, emerged from the move-under-direct-fire event with rain beginning to fall and jokingly exclaimed, “Where do we sign up?”
She has no intentions of serving next to her husband, Joseph, an Army captain who is deployed to Iraq with the Germany-based 1st Battalion, 37 Armor Regiment. She came just to have fun.
At the end of the events, each spouse received a certificate and the Combat Spouse Badge, said Lynda MacFarland, the family readiness group adviser for the combat team.