Attending Tailhook Reunion as a Significant Other

Is this really my first post about the Tailhook Association and it’s yearly epic throw down in Reno?! While Tailhook does a great many things to support the Naval Aviation Community (scholarships, etc), the Tailhook Association is best known among Naval aviators and their significant others as the people who throw the big yearly reunion party at the Golden Nugget in Reno, NV. The reunion is frequently referred to as just “Hook”, and it’s most recently taken place at the Golden Nugget in Reno.

I’m here to tell you that Hook is a lot of fun, even for us significant others and spouses, and you should totally go at least once in your Naval aviator’s career (whereas they probably go many or most years of their career).

Hook is a multi-day event and it’s like a giant college reunion with all of the people you most want to see. This past year, I attended Hook with a girl friend who was there for work. She and I split a hotel room at the Golden Nugget and my husband stayed in his squadron admin in another hotel. This sounds like a weird situation, but I’ll explain more later.

Hook begins on Thursday afternoon with tons of vendors hawking their wares (freebie and for purchase!). Any company who is or wants to be anyone in Naval Aviation has a booth: from the big defense department contractors like Boeing to aviation community charities to authors who write about Naval Aviation to squadron watch makers to retirement planners to spouse small businesses. I LOVE the flight simulators – enjoy landing an F/A-18 or 35 on aircraft carriers, shooting missiles, flying upside down, and cloud surfing.

Squadrons and flight associations rent “admins”, which are meeting rooms adjacent to the vendor area. On Thursday night, admins begin opening their doors and they remain open until Saturday. Reunion goers mix and mingle at the admins nightly; everyone from newly winged students to Admirals rub elbows and do a lot of talking while using their hands to demonstrate their jet’s movement … you KNOW what I’m talking about. Haha.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, there are free and informative speaking events to attend for anyone, as well as closed-door information events for flight crews, sometimes broken into rank or interest area. For a fee, you could also attend an Association sponsored golf outing, trip to Top Gun (so much fun!), 5k, or sight seeing trip.

The party continues Friday, with vendors throughout the day and the Bug Roach Mixer in the evening at the admins. The mixer is the biggest social event of the reunion, and it becomes a sea of humanity in green flight suits, randomly punctuated by civilians (usually spouses and folks who are no longer in). This is the BIG NIGHT. There is also a ticketed dinner event hosted by the Association (I’ve never attended).

Saturday is usually quiet, but my friend and I learned this year that all the best freebies are given out on Saturday! There is an unofficial pool party at another hotel, which is more of a tradition than an event. I skipped the pool party this year, as my friend and I were recovering, brunching, and wandering the vendor hall again, but I know it’s a fun time. A lot of folks leave on Saturday afternoon, but official events continue through Saturday.

I really want to set expectations for significant others who are attending, though. This is a reunion FOR Naval Aviators and flight crew, and while significant others are totally welcome and even catered to by many vendors, we are NOT the focus and you shouldn’t go with the belief that you’ll have sooo much to do everyday.

First, ensure people know you will be there, and that those people are the kind of people you want to hang out with, even without your aviator. Your person will want to hang out with his or her old friends and tell ridiculous stories about doing ridiculous things in their jet – stuff you might be interested in, but maybe not for 72 hours straight. This year, I had a hotel room with a girl friend who is not a member of the aviation community, so I knew she would want to hang out with me the whole time. I also confirmed that 10 or more of my spouse friends would be there, too. In fact, one of my best spouse friends had a booth, so I knew I could find her there everyday. I also knew a bunch of female aviators and flight crew who would be there, and I knew that they’d want to hang out with my friend and me in addition to hanging out with their coworkers and old friends. So, even if I hadn’t been sharing a room, I knew I’d be all set with friends.

Second, go with the knowledge that you probably won’t spend the whole time with your significant other. I’m not talking about getting lost and separated in the crowd (though that might happen!) – I mean that it would probably be best for both of you if you planned some friend time where you both could wander around the vendors and parties on your own. It doesn’t have to be like “Friday from 4 – 6 I’m hanging with my friends and you’re hanging with your friends” – I mean you should be flexible and if they get caught up with their stuff, you should go get caught up with your own stuff. Thinking you’re going to spend the whole time together sets you up for disappointment and a fight. So, don’t assume anything. My husband and I spent the whole time together the first year I went, and this past year we only saw each other for a few hours a day. Many of my friends who go will make girls night dinner plans with friends who will be there, and they usually go to bed alone while their significant other continues the party with their aviation friends. It’s like that. I’m writing a lot here to purposefully set your expectations in a realistic way.

Third, I don’t recommend going until you’ve been around the aviation community for at least a year or two, and don’t go if it’s your aviator’s first time going. It helps to know a lot of people. I end up talking to Michael’s aviation friends as much as he does, and usually separately, but I’ve known some of them for 7 or more years now. We’re basically old friends. My first time at Tailhook was the year we got married, and I felt like I didn’t know ANYBODY (and I didn’t). I was bored after listening to the first 17 hours of aviation talk and I wished that I had friends to talk to. I didn’t know a single other significant other because none of my friends went. So, don’t make the same mistake I made!

Fourth, go prepared for the occasion. Daytime is super casual – lots of us significant others wear jeans and a squadron shirt or something casual for wandering around the vendors. I tend to dress up for the evening parties because I take a TONNNN of pics with friends who I rarely see, but that’s me. Sometimes groups of squadron spouses will dress up in fun outfits together on certain days or at certain events. You’ll see some ridiculous and fun get-ups at the Bug Roach Mixer. I usually wear long sundresses and I always carry a shoulder bag because there are freebies and fun things all over the place. I often times end up carrying my husband’s stuff, even if we aren’t hanging out together at the moment. If you have aviation accessories, shirts, etc, Hook is the time to wear them proudly! Also, if you’re someone who enjoys a few choice beverages, bring your own. Refill yourself as needed from your room. You will thank yourself for not relying on the pricy bars 24/7. My friend and I had our own stash, but we also drank from the bars when we wanted something else.

Fifth, I recommend staying at the Nugget with a friend rather than your significant other. My friend and I loved being able to walk up to the room to use the bathroom, put our stuff down, get changed, refill our beverages, grab a snack, etc. Our friends who were staying across town at the other hotel couldn’t do that. If you have a squadron friend whose significant other is also staying in the admin, you two should def room together at the Nugget. The admins are great for the flight crew, but as a significant other, we don’t really belong there. Let the squadron have their own ridiculous fun while you and your friend get sleep, have easy access to your stuff, and overall live a better life 😉 The only thing you will have to travel for is the pool party, but my friend and I didn’t even go to that this year because we wanted to brunch and get some hair of the dog after a late night, if you know what I mean.

As always, drop me a comment if you have any questions!

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