MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Military spouses are the unsung heroes for many of our men and women in uniform. They constantly face challenges inherently unique to those who live their lives supporting those who serve.
With every deployment, the spouse is tasked with staying behind and holding down the fort. With every permanent change of station, the spouse must say goodbye to family and friends and then, upon arrival, find their place in the new area. They are patriots shaped by the very same ideals as their uniformed spouses -- ideals such as "the needs of the military" and "service before self."
Unfortunately, the challenges they face and the successes that come with them never seem to be publicized enough.
On the evening of Feb. 20 on Maxwell, a fun and entertaining spouse experience out at Project X turned out to be the perfect metaphor for the plight of the military spouse during a deployment.
Project X is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, experiences of the Squadron Officer School curriculum. It consists of various physical obstacles and complicated tasks that a team must solve together, using strength, creativity and teamwork. SOS offers student spouses a chance to try Project X during every eight-week class, and this most recent iteration was mine to organize and lead.
As an SOS flight commander, I have led multiple flights of students through Project X, but this would be my first experience leading spouses through the rigors of Project X obstacles. I thought I had a pretty good idea of how the evening would go, but I was mistaken. I can honestly say I was not prepared for the intensity I would witness, nor the emotions of pride and amazement I would feel both during the event and afterward.
The spouses were not there to play. They were there to dominate. As I watched them band together, fearlessly tackle every task, and ultimately succeed at every challenge they faced, I realized how this event was just a microcosm of the heroic work of our military spouses, especially during deployments.
As the spouses successfully crossed the piranha-filled stream, simulated, of course, with only punctured gas cans and a metal pole, it dawned on me that this related to their dedication as military spouses. The obstacle was like handling a crisis while their spouse was deployed. Much like a deployment, during the exercise, their spouse was not there to help; they were expected to succeed and the spouses all had to support one another.
Time and time again, the spouses figured out new and inventive ways to navigate the challenges and not just endure, but exceed all expectations. Many times throughout the evening, it was the Airmen who seemed the most surprised at how well their spouses performed.
My favorite moment of the night was when one of the military members tried to offer advice to his spouse and was immediately and abruptly told, "Shut up. ... I got this!" Throughout the evening, I couldn't help but think of how this scenario plays out each and every time a married Airman deploys, causing the spouse to step up and face any and all challenges. And many times, they don't need or desire the advice of the deployed member, just their encouragement and appreciation for a job well done.
The spouse Project X event was an overwhelming success. All of the spouses who participated appreciated the chance to show their stuff to their loved ones in uniform. And for those in uniform, the chance to see their spouses in action was an experience they'll never forget.
The Airman and the supporting spouse, bonded by love and service to their country, are a poignant reminder of what it takes to be the best country in the world. This was clearly on display at 5 p.m., when the national anthem played out at Project X. In unison, all of the spouses stopped, faced the flag and stood with pride, side-by-side with their military loved ones in a show of respect for the United States, the country they spend their lives defending together.