FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Jennifer Hanson stands wrapped in a camouflage jacket, staring up at the rappelling tower at Fort Campbell’s Air Assault School. Thirty-four feet above her, the instructors prepare for their demonstration.
“Air assault!” an instructor shouts as he rappels headfirst from the tower. Gliding down the rope, he touches the ground in four seconds.
The Air Assault School is the first stop on a tour arranged by Hanson’s hosts, the Fort Campbell Officers’ Wives’ Club. In five hours she’s to perform for their annual Spring Fling charity event. But for now, she’s watching the tower even more intently. Hanson’s husband, songwriter Mark Nesler, just volunteered to try the ropes with her manager and bus driver.
“Where’s the safety mat?” Hanson calls out, clinging to Nesler’s denim jacket. He slowly makes his way to the ground, pausing halfway as soldiers call out instructions. Watching him suspended in mid-air, she quietly jokes, “Can we still have babies?”
Not a fan of heights herself, Hanson stays on the ground. “My husband pretty much gave me a heart attack,” she laughs. “But he did it, so he’s pretty proud of himself.”
After posing for a few photos, the entourage heads to an urban warfare re-creation site. There, five architecturally diverse buildings sit cloistered together, creating an odd-looking village. In the few windows not shuttered, one can make out the barrels of M16A2 rifles.
Inside a cinder block house, Hanson watches silently as soldiers four at a time search and secure doorways and rooms. “Clear this door, right there. Got it?” an instructor says, crouching in a doorway. The room is thick with tension and Hanson stays against the wall. “All right … go!” With weapons drawn, the men take their positions.
“I tell you, that was so intense!” Hanson says, with her hand to her heart. “That really moved me. And it made me realize: That’s what our soldiers are going through right now.”
As Hanson prepares for her show, she reflects on the day’s experiences. “The tour today was really insightful. It’s given me a better perspective of what these men and women really go through.” Pausing she adds, “And really a greater appreciation.”
When the Officers’ Wives’ Club asked her to perform, she never hesitated. “I think we all feel helpless because there’s nothing we can do if we’re not actually over there fighting. As an artist, I feel like the thing I can do is donate my time and perform and hopefully help the cause.”
Part of that cause includes giving the wives a break from the war’s television coverage. “We’ve been glued to the TV and it’s not healthy,” laughs event-volunteer Nancy Forrester.
As the women rush past to find their seats, volunteer Allison Bird adds, “It’s nice to get away and forget about your worries for an evening and spend time with good friends and people who support our husbands.”
Hanson’s 12-song set included her hit single “Beautiful Goodbye” and five other songs from her debut CD. As the crowd claps, sings and dances, she adds a few covers, including Rosanne Cash ‘s “Seven Year Ache.” But there is absolute silence as she sings Louie Armstrong’s classic “What a Wonderful World.”
“It is a wonderful world,” she says. “Because of women like you who are strong enough to stand behind the men that you love so much.”
As Hanson’s show wraps, Installation Commander Col. Kim Summers takes the stage. “We know how busy you are,” he says. “And when you come up here and do something like this, well, the one thing about the military is we never forget.” Summers then presented Hanson with a 101st Airborne hat and desert camo shirt. “It’s got my name on it!” she shouts. She quickly puts both items on and gives two thumbs up to the cheering crowd. “That uniform hasn’t looked that good in years,” Summers says.
With the help of Hanson’s show and a silent auction, the Spring Fling event raised more than $30,000 dollars for the Officers’ Wives’ Club Scholarship Fund.