By Meghan Vittrup
American Forces Press Service
July 2, 2008 - The cast of the Lifetime cable network drama "Army Wives" graced the red carpet at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here yesterday to help kick off the July Fourth week and salute servicemembers' often-forgotten spouses. "We wanted to hold a screening at Walter Reed because we feel so strongly about honoring the strength and sacrifice of the real military families who inspire our show 'Army Wives' and our nation," Maria Grasso, senior vice president of series for Lifetime Networks, said in a news release.
The United Service Organizations, the Army and other organizations organized the red-carpet event, where cast members Sally Pressman and Brigid Brannagh, and Tanya Biank -- author of "Army Wives: The Unwritten Code of Military Marriage," the book upon which the series is based -- joined dozens of real military spouses in a tribute to their everyday roles in military life.
"I'm here because it means a ton," said Brannagh, who plays Pamela Moran in the series.
"It just means a lot to be here," she said. "All the soldiers, and the Army families and military families, what they do on our behalf is just so unbelievable." She added that it's an honor to be able to bring more attention to military spouses.
Also strolling across the red carpet were Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and his wife. Although the general confessed he hasn't seen the show, his wife, Sheila, said she hasn't missed an episode.
"Right prior to its debut, I traveled around talking to Army families," Mrs. Casey said. "They were peppering me with questions about this, because there's great concern about how we would be depicted. And so I did start to watch from the beginning, because I knew I was going to be asked questions."
Military spouses and families had the opportunity to have their pictures taken with the stars and to talk with them and share their stories.
"I don't go through a day without an Army wife coming up to me and really opening up and telling me a story -- like an intimate story -- about their life, about their day-to-day," said Pressman, who plays Roxy LeBlanc on the show. "And I'm speechless and so unbelievably honored and so grateful."
Mitja Ng-Baumhackl, husband of a Navy officer, also attended the red carpet event. "It's actually been a real adventure," Ng-Baumhackl said of being a military spouse. "And there certainly have been a lot of challenges. The 'Army Wives' show actually is so great because it's very authentic at raising those challenges."
Ng-Baumhackl said some of his challenges as a husband have been a little different from those a wife faces. But, he added that he still faces the same challenges that military wives have faced for years, such as finding steady employment and packing up and moving across the country, all the while making sure the kids have an easy transition as well.
After the red carpet arrivals had concluded, the crowd joined Deborah Spera, "Army Wives" executive producer, and Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff, who was injured in Iraq, for a panel discussion. The Woodruffs are co-authors of a book titled "In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing."
Lee Woodruff described her experience as an "army wife." Although she is not the spouse of a servicemember, she said, she has experienced some of the same things military spouses experience, especially after her husband was seriously injured by a roadside bomb while he was embedded with troops in Iraq.
"I want to honor all of you," she said to the military spouses in the audience. "You are my heroes, all of you. I didn't know a lot about the military before Bob got injured, but I do know some of what you go through."
Woodruff spoke about her experience when her husband was in Iraq, hoping she would not get the dreaded phone call learning of an attack that either injured or killed her husband. Indeed, on June 29, 2006, a roadside bomb nearly took his life.
Bob Woodruff spent weeks in the hospital suffering from traumatic brain injuries. During his recovery, the Woodruff family created the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation. The foundation helps ensure that servicemembers with combat-related injuries receive quality long-term treatment.
Lifetime also launched a postcard drive during last night's event. Network officials are encouraging fans to write and send postcards showing their support not only for servicemembers, but also for the families that allow their husbands, wives and children to serve for their country.
Operation Homefront, a nonprofit group that tries to bring a better quality of life to military families, will distribute the postcards to military families. Operation Homefront is a supporter of the Defense Department's America Supports you program. America Supports You connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
An advance screening of "The Hero Returns" -- the "Army Wives" episode that will air July 6 at 10 p.m. Eastern Time on Lifetime -- capped off the evening at Walter Reed.
"I really think what all the Army wives go through -- and military wives in general -- is so much bigger, so much more than what anyone goes through in a marriage anyway," Brannagh said. "But I would still say that the same skill set that works in a marriage works with the Army and works with your husband -- or your wife."