Jane Wayne Day.
Some jobs have “take your spouse to work” day. The military takes it one huge step farther. On Jane Wayne Day, military spouses can wear their husband’s gear, shoot real weapons at the range, eat an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), and even test their skills at a military obstacle course. This is no ordinary day at the office. In fact, participants have to sign a waiver to attend.
Not every unit offers a Jane Wayne Day. So when I have had the opportunity to attend, I have jumped at the chance. My husband is Marine Corps Infantry, so Jane Wayne Day is one of the few chances I have to see what he experiences “in the field” during training.
I attended my first Jane Wayne Day in Quantico in 2007, when I was a military fiancée. It was unusual because it was also a weapons display and demonstration for Congressional staffers. Not only did the spouses get to see impressive weapons like the Javelin being fired, but we also got to fire weapons like the M-203 Grenade Launcher and heavy machine gun Mk-19. I must admit, that was really cool. I finally understood my fiancé’s interest in going to the field and using different weapons on a range. We were using training rounds, not real ammo, but I still remember the huge thrill when my grenade hit the tank on the range and made an orange “cheezy poof” cloud.
We fired real ammo, too. The women had a chance to fire shotguns and handguns at close targets. A Marine stood at each station and walked us through the safety steps. This was my first time firing any type of weapon. The weight of the handgun impressed me: it was solid, heavy, heavier than I had expected. Standing and firing while holding my arms straight did not feel natural, so I was grateful for the Marine’s instructions. He made it all seem very safe and easy. Hitting the target gave me a sense of confidence and safety. The shotgun, however, did not go quite as smoothly. It recoiled more than I expected, and I definitely shot… the ground.
Fast forward 9 years and 4 duty stations, and I finally had a chance to experience a typical Jane Wayne Day, shortly before my husband’s 6th deployment. This time, the unit organized different stations for us so that we would have a true field experience. Everyone had to wear a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet, which are heavier than you would think! We started with instruction and training on firing a rifle, and practiced using the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer (ISMT). Then we rode in 7 ton trucks out to a range where each spouse fired 30 live rounds of ammo from an M-16 rifle into a target 25 meters (36 yards) away. The Marines walked us through each step so that it felt completely safe, and even fun. I was very proud of my tight shot group!
By then, everyone was hungry, so it was time for a traditional military lunch: MRE’s. An MRE is a meal ready-to-eat, which is packed into a brown plastic bag. The food inside can last for years in storage. When you are ready to eat it, you use a heating pack inside the pouch to “cook” your meal. The ladies in my group tried a variety of flavors. Some were not so bad—similar to eating chunky canned soup or canned pasta. Others were a little more gross. But the perk of each MRE is the packets of snacks that come with it: trail mix, crackers, cheese spread, chocolate, and more. The snacks are designed to last for the rest of the day, so each MRE pouch contains thousands of calories of food. It isn’t something I would want to eat every day, but it is definitely enough to survive on.
The next part of the day was traveling to a fake training town and practicing clearing buildings. This is a skill that infantry Marines practice for months before deploying overseas. We had about an hour at the site, so our results were… pathetic. We carried fake rubber guns, so the exercise was completely safe. We first learned how to walk a patrol, leaving distance between each person and observing in different directions. Then we learned how to stack up against a doorway and enter a building with possible enemies inside. (There were Marines who had volunteered to dress up as “bad guys,” but they were only armed with harmless rubber rifles.) Everything was fun and games until they led us through a practice drill where we would have to make our own quick decisions and clear a small group of buildings. We approached it in a long line, on patrol. Then the spouses stacked up against a gate and signaled when we were ready to enter. As we poured into the first courtyard, we were shocked by the sound of machine gun fire right in front of us. As a group, everyone recoiled back and almost ran away! Even though it was only a recording and we knew we weren’t in real danger, it takes a lot of training to actually run towards gunfire. We quickly realized that clearing buildings is a very precise choreography that takes months of training. This is what our Marines do when they are out in the field: they practice something again and again until they don’t have to think about the decisions, and the actions become reflexes. I left that field with strong admiration and respect for my Marine.
The final portion of the day was running an obstacle course called the Combat Fitness Test (CFT). Marines run a CFT at least once a year as part of their monitored physical fitness tests. They have to complete the obstacle course (and several other exercises) within a certain amount of time. For the spouses, all women, there was no adjustment. We ran the same distance the men do, and carried heavy ammo cans that were the same weight as theirs. The only difference is that a woman’s “qualifying time” is a few seconds longer than it is for men. To complete the course, I had to low crawl, throw a grenade into a target (I missed), carry a sandbag to simulate carrying an injured person, and run with two 30-pound ammo cans. I completed it in just over 2 minutes, which would have been a failing score for a male Marine, but was a passing score for a female Marine. So, I was exhausted, but proud that I survived and succeeded.
By the end of Jane Wayne day, I was dusty, thirsty, and tired. When I came back to the house where my husband had been caring for our 4 children all day, I finally realized what it is like for him to come home after a day in the field. I just wanted a shower and a good meal. But I had finally seen things through his eyes. Now I understand what all those months of training are for: professional skills, confidence in combat, and physical training. It’s reassuring to know that the Marines are trained so well for their jobs. Jane Wayne day gave all the spouses a fun opportunity to live a day in their spouse’s shoes, and feel more confident about the upcoming deployment. If you ever have a chance to sign up for a Jane Wayne day… DO IT!
Have you ever had a chance to go to work with your military spouse? Tell me about it in the comments!