MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- They were yelled at. They sounded off. They traversed the dreaded obstacle course. They sat through periods of instruction. They learned they were not alone.
For the 41 spouses of Combat Center Marines, the first Lifestyle, Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills program “CAX,” or combined arms exercise, showed them the path to success while being married in the Marine Corps Nov. 22 at Victory Field.
“This is the first event of its kind for LINKS throughout the Marine Corps and is not a ‘Jayne Wayne’ or ‘Warrior Day,’” said Lynne Crowe, a senior LINKS spouse, called mentors, and one of the lead planners for the event. “LINKS is scripted from Headquarters Marine Corps and is tailored for the spouses, and is definitely its own entity.”
“I thought about what is unique here, and I thought about the CAX because that’s what we’re known for here at Twentynine Palms,” added Crowe, referring to the training program Marines go through here at the Combat Center. “So we took that and applied it to our combined programs and took ideas from the key volunteers, family team building and the LINKS which are our combined arms.”
The attendees began their day with an indoctrination into the history, traditions and etiquette of the Corps from their mentors, who arrived via a convoy of Humvees. Each participant received a binder full of handouts to educate them in things like rank structure, Marine Corps birthday ball customs and the Marine’s Hymn.
Nine Combat Center Marines soon arrived on the scene, dressed in current uniforms from “cammies” to “blues,” and everything in between. Nicole Brown, one of the LINKS participants, volunteered to properly identify each uniform. The dress blue “charlies” and service “bravos” particularly caused confusion until she was guided by the helpful shouts and encouragement from the crowd.
“LINKS is where we try to impart some of the knowledge that we as Marines take for granted onto our better halves — to our spouses,” said Maj. Matt Baker, deputy director of Marine Corps Community Services. “We have our basic training and time with units where we learn about the Marine Corps, but they come into this organization only knowing what we take the time to tell them, essentially.
“What we wanted to do was make it more Marine-like in a sort of field environment and do some stuff like the obstacle course to go with the classes,” continued Baker. “This gives them not only a lecture on what the Marine Corps is like, but also allows them to experience it. They don’t just talk about an MRE [meal, ready-to-eat], they eat one. They put on a flak jacket and helmet and ride around in a tactical vehicle. Those kinds of things really help bridge the gap.”
The group rotated on to other classroom events before they got physical, entering a field command tent where they were met by Jany Wasdin, the base financial advisor, who explained things to them like how to read a leave and earning statement, how to work with allotments and how to stay financially fit when their husbands deploy.
“I heard about this from my husband, and I am proud to come to this and be part of the first group ever,” said Heather Worley, a 24-year-old Temecula, Calif., native. “I was amazed at the whole thing today; how prepared they were and how organized everything was. I finally got to feel what my husband goes through somewhat.
“The things we did like learning about an LES and things like that, especially if a husband is out for a deployment, the wives are in charge of the bills, taking care of anything that may come up at home,” said Worley, who’s husband recently returned from Iraq. “But the best part of this today was getting to know the other Marine wives here and interacting with them. It was just a whole bunch of fun.”
The wives were hustled out of the tent’s darkness and over to a 50-foot-long inflatable obstacle course, where they were broken down into teams led by their respective mentors and assigned a mission.
“For the obstacle course, the ladies had to collect paper words as a team and go through the obstacles and really work together,” said Navy Lt. Cathrine Pace, who took on the role of a harsh authoritarian to keep motivation “in check” and provide spouses a taste of the loud persuasion all Marines know from their training.
“It was fun and motivating for me, yelling and screaming getting some of those aggravations out with them, and they responded well to it,” said Pace, a chaplain with the Religious Ministries Directorate. “The LINKS program is a great education program that helps combine the military side with the civilian spouse side and gives them good, solid information from the right resources.”
Once all had traversed the obstacles, the groups ran to get their lunches de jour, an MRE. The looks of confusion and fumbling quickly passed once instructions were given, and many said they actually enjoyed their meals, but would not want to live on them for months at a time.
After their meals, the group attended more classes from volunteer speakers, mainly about situations and issues that arise during a deployment. From care packages and home movies to auto repair and what to do when that special song comes on the radio, each gave advice and took notes on clever ideas for the next separation.
One final interactive lesson in the perks and pitfalls of the Transportation Management Office for those inevitable big family moves and the spouses moved to some side tables to help each other put on flak jackets and helmets.
After getting properly suited up, they then boarded three seven-ton trucks for a tour of Mainside with maps during what turned into an impromptu land navigation lesson as well. The mentors spoke to their groups at each stop along the way and explained the services offered such as the commissary, housing office, village center and hospital.
Back at Victory Field and again on terra firma, the masses took their seats for a cake-cutting ceremony and a few words of encouragement and congratulations from Sgt. Maj. James Ricker, Combat Center sergeant major, after their long and arduous day.
“By coming here today, hopefully you had a lot of fun and learned a lot of things, but it also whet your appetite to find out more on your own,” said Ricker, who’s wife of nearly 30 years, Barbara, was also in attendance. “Pretty soon, you are going to be the battalion commander’s wife or the sergeant major’s wife or whatever rank, and the young ladies are going to look to you for the answers. And this all is where it starts.
“When you have your home front secure, you have no idea how much a relief that is to your Marine who is returning from or will soon again be deployed these days,” he told them.
Lizz Green, the newest Marine Corps spouse present, joined Barbara Ricker to cut a cake with a borrowed noncommissioned officer’s sword and enjoyed the first piece together.
“I really feel like I’m a part of history today,” said Worley. “Being in the first group to go through this feels great. That really puts the wives in their husband’s shoes. Riding around in the seven-ton was so much fun. If I’m still around, I think I might volunteer to help next time.”
“For most of the ladies that we have out here, their husbands are either gone, or are going to be leaving soon for a deployment,” said Baker. “That’s one of the reasons that this training is so important for them. It’s not just a nice ‘to do’ thing, but gives them a tool to succeed.”
Although she sees it as a complete success, Crowe said she expects the next LINKS CAX to be even more inclusive and hopes to see higher numbers in attendance.