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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota military wives meet Army Wives

CHARLESTON, SC- Three Army wives have become fast friends during their three-day adventure, dozens of stories and love for the same TV show

Over the winter holidays spouses of deployed Minnesota Service members had the opportunity to tell their story for a chance to win a trip to the set of "Army Wives" in South Carolina

After a month of dreaming about the trip they won, Andrea Curely, Samantha Koktan and Tammy Estes met for the first time Feb 22, 2012 at Andrea's salon in Eagan, Minn Tammy and Samantha got acquainted as Andrea cut their hair in preparation for the next day's early morning flight They knew each other's basic story from the 60-second video they had each uploaded to the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Facebook page

Andrea has been married two years and lives in Farmington with her husband Nik and dog Oliver  Her husband deployed with 1/34 Brigade Special Troops Battalion headquarters last May and is serving in Kuwait

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Samantha met her husband in college and he helped her battle Pituitary tumors and Hodgkin's lymphoma They live in Marshall and have a sixth month old daughter, who her husband Joe hasn't seen much of because of his deployment with the Army Reserves

Tammy has three kids and is going through her fourth deployment with her husband in ten years He is also deployed to Kuwait with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry

With a night of story telling under their belts and fresh haircuts, they boarded a plane the next day on their way to Charleston, SC to visit the set of "Army Wives"

The day they had been looking forward to began when Lt. Col. Les Carroll, the National Guard liaison for Lifetime's "Army Wives," met the Minnesota Army wives at their hotel in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

On the 20-minute drive through Charleston to the studio, Carroll filled the wives in on who was who with the show, taking time to include a fact or two about the historic city of Charleston

Finally he pulled into a rundown strip mall  White trailers filled about 20 parking spaces and a manned police car was stationed by the curb of the old, nondescript shopping mall

"This is it," said Carroll

As they walked up, the Air Force officer was greeted by the crew and he introduced each crew member to the three real Minnesota Army wives

Once inside, they were greeted with low lights, and the backside of sets in every direction "Big Jason," one of the tallest of the crew, ushered the Minnesota wives to a little viewing area he had created for them to watch the action 

"Settle in "¦ Settle in "¦ Rolling," said "Big Jason"

"Set "¦ Action," said the director  The Minnesota Army wives, wearing earphones, sat alongside the assistant director and script supervisor's chairs Their folding chairs circled around the monitors for cameras A and B

They watched as scenes between characters Roxy and Trevor, then Joan and Roland, slowly unfolded Each line was gone over time and time again, then the cameras switched angles and the lines were performed a few more times 

In between takes, crew hustled around the set, changing lights, powdering the actors, moving set pieces from here to there Men and women, dressed in comfortable work clothes, jumped into action as soon as "cut" was heard But when "Big Jason" called out "rolling," they all hushed and gathered around a set of monitors to see for themselves the magic they helped create 

While the stars of "Army Wives" came and went from their trailers to the set without much fanfare, it was the Minnesota wives who were drawing a crowd 

One of the costume crew was happy to see some Minnesota faces From Perham, in northwestern Minnesota, Annie Lee said she's been in the south for several years and doesn't get a chance to come home much 

Erin Krakow who plays Tanya, Jeremy Sherwood's fiancée from season five, told the Minnesota wives she's impressed with what they do as real Army wives She was also quick to share her Minnesota connection, as her boyfriend lives in Minneapolis

"You're from Minnesota?"said Sterling K Brown who plays Doctor Roland Burton on the show

"Yes," the Minnesota wives said

"No really, where are you from," said Sterling "I don't hear the accent" He laughed and shared a story about how he'd enjoyed his time in the land of 10,000 lakes performing at the Guthrie Theater 

The whole production crew and actors took a break together in the afternoon and feasted on roast beef, chicken, fish, red potatoes, steamed vegetables, salads, fruits and pies for desert Andrea, Samantha and Tammy found a spot next to Sally and Drew, who play Roxy and Trevor on the show

"What are you doing down here?"said Sterling outside of the set labeled "Burton's Residence, Main Floor"

The Minnesota wives told him the story of the contest How they each made a 60-second video describing what it's like to be an Army wife in hopes of winning a visit to the set The General John Vessey Jr Minnesota Chapter of AUSA promised a trip to the three wives with the best story, and most likes for their video on the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Facebook page 

Sterling pulled out his iPad and said, "Show me your videos"

Terry Serpico, who plays Col Frank Sherwood on the show, joined in on the conversation with Sterling and the Minnesota wives Soon everyone had their smart phones out exchanging pictures of their spouses, kids and dogs

Outside in the warm sun, the Minnesota wives followed a makeup artist and stylist into the makeup trailer Wendy Davis, who plays Col Joan Burton, was getting her hair washed as the wives took a tour of the salon on wheels
"Let's see the main studio," said Carroll

Andrea, Samantha and Tammy piled back into the SUV and headed across town As they turned into the entrance of the main studio, they could see tan trailers and road blocks that looked straight out of Iraq, the AAFES entrance and a bus from Fort Marshall Carroll explained that all of the real offices doubled as exterior sets for the show

Inside the main warehouse, they walked through costuming into a large room that had even more sets than the old strip mall did From the outside each looked like a plywood wall, but inside each little box were entire homes and offices

They walked the through the Sherwood's kitchen into their dining room and to the familiar door with three diamonds They went behind the bar at The Hump Bar, stood behind Maj. Gen. Holden's desk at home and work, and toured the Holden's various rooms Back outside, across the railroad tracks, they could see The Hump Bar

Over a nice dinner at a waterfront seafood restaurant that night, they reflected that the visit they had dreamt about for weeks was over They had met and made friends with the stars they had watched on Sunday night for years  Now it was just them, with their stories and new friendships 

Conversation over dinner soon switched from Roxy, Roland and Frank "¦ to Nick, Joe and Tom, their deployed husbands

They enjoyed the company of other wives who knew exactly what they're going through and they talked about what they are learning through this deployment

For Andrea, the time apart from Nick is strengthening their relationship "That absence really does make the heart grow fonder," she said  "When he came home on leave last month, they felt like they did when they first fell in love"

Sam recalls how Joe stood by her side as she fought Hodgkin's lymphoma and the challenges of her first pregnancy She depended on him and now it's just her and baby Jerrica "His deployment has reminded her that she is strong and independent, traits I'm proud of," she said

Tammy says it's different this time "For my two oldest, ages 8 and 9, this is their third deployment, and it has proven to be the hardest on them" She wasn't expecting it to be much different this time around, but it is While she has always tried to surround herself with other Army wives during deployments, this time she is really drawing strength from her friendships

The Minnesota military wives contest was fun for these three from the start They laughed while telling of their trials and tribulations making their videos, trying to get them uploaded and then getting everyone they knew to vote  They know all of the other contestants through each of their 60-second videos and comments they have shared back and forth via Facebook Many of the wives who didn't win wrote Andrea, Samantha and Tammy a note of congratulations

As they keep the home fires burning and wait for the return of their husbands, these Minnesota wives have some great memories, and even better "¦ new friends

To see all the photos, visit the photo gallery at wwwBeyondTheYellowRibbonorg

24 Feb, 2012
Photo and stories by 2nd Lt Melanie Nelson
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs

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