About 100 Army spouses from Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield received star treatment on Sunday.
While Operation Homefront Georgia and Outback Steakhouse on Abercorn Street in Savannah hosted soldiers’ spouses for an appreciation luncheon, producers of the Lifetime cable TV series "Army Wives" filmed the real life Army wives. Lifetime also donated $10,000 to OHF Georgia. The nonprofit organization provides military families emergency support and morale services.
Fort Stewart Army wife Renee Tokach said she found out about the luncheon via the OHF Georgia Facebook page.
"They selected 80 wives [from Fort Stewart]," Tokach said. "The slots filled up in 12 minutes. We felt special to be treated to lunch. Outback normally doesn’t open until 3 p.m."
Tokach has been a military spouse for 14 years. She is married to Staff Sgt. Adam Tokach who is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor, 2nd Heavy Combat Brigade Team, 3rd Infantry Division. The couple has two children, Bobbi Buckingham, 16, and Jason Tokach, 9.
Tokach, a fan of the show since it first aired four years ago, said she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
"We got to meet Brian McNamara. He plays Maj. Gen. Michael Holden. Now we know how it feels to be actresses. They put us on these nice buses. They filmed us as we were going to the Outback. Then they filmed us getting off the bus and in the restaurant the whole time. One of the directors interviewed me. We did a lot of retakes," she said.
Tokach said she likes the show because it portrays some of the real life challenges military families face.
"Like when the (TV) husbands come home from a deployment. They have to reconnect with their families. We have to reconnect with our loved ones when they return home."
Tokach’s husband has had five deployments to Iraq.
"What makes being an Army wife rewarding is my husband being able to serve our country," she said. "It’s always nice to see someone come up to my husband and thank him for what he does."
Army veteran and spouse Chastity Verdejo also enjoyed the luncheon.
"It was nice to get the recognition," Verdejo said. "We’re just here supporting our soldiers. We married them knowing they were serving. We chose this lifestyle. We love the man and we’re going to follow who we love."
Verdejo met her husband when she was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Her husband, Sgt. Rafael Verdejo with Headquarters Headquarters Battalion, 1-76 Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, is currently deployed to northern Iraq.
"This is his third deployment and our second deployment being married," Verdejo said.
The show "Army wives" is based on the book, "Army Wives: The Unwritten Code of Military Marriage" written by Fort Stewart Army wife Tanya Biank. Biank also serves as a consultant for the TV drama. She said she was not able to attend the event at Outback, but was glad to see spouses "honored and recognized in such a special way."
"The Army is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle – for the entire family," Biank said. "Army wives and their families sacrifice on behalf of a nation of families. To me that is very humbling and admirable. The most admirable Army spouses I know are those who put their personal wants and needs aside and give back to other Army families. This is a small group of women worthy of recognition."
Biank said she has worked with Operation Homefront in the past and wrote a syndicated column for the military support organization for several years until November 2010.
The footage taken of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield’s spouses at the luncheon will be included in the TV show’s March 13 episode, said Liz Fitchel, director of morale for OHF Georgia.
Fitchel said the event was put together at lightning speed.
"When Operation Homefront National was contacted by Lifetime, OHF National called Kim Scofi, President/CEO of OHF Georgia," Fitchel explained. "Kim was asked to organize ‘real’ Army wives to participate in the filming of the first episode of season five of the show."
Fitchel said Christina Anthony and Corey Conner with the Hinesville YMCA organized free childcare for the spouses’ children on Sunday. Anthony is a local OHF Georgia representative.
Fitchel and Scofi said Outback is a staunch supporter of OHF, having committed to raising $1 million for the military family support organization.
"They have specially selected dishes on (the red, white and bloomin’) menu that’s featured throughout the year," Scofi explained. "They’re a big supporter of the military. It’s the reason we had the wives from Fort Stewart and Hunter come into Savannah."
Scofi said Lifetime’s donation will enable OHF Georgia to treat 1,500-2,000 army spouses to a day of pampering on March 16. Wives will be indulged in skin and hair care, a neck and shoulder massage and belly dance lessons, she said.
"It’s just a day where they can take off their army wife and mommy shoes … and have a relaxing day," Scofi said.
For more information about OHF Georgia, call Anthony at 912-877-1340.