Nancy Guth has always been proud of her martial-minded daughter, a University of Virginia philosophy graduate who was thrilled to get a 9mm Beretta for her graduation gift and is now going through officer's training at Quantico Marine Base.

But other than seeing her daughter dragging home bone-tired after a long day of training, Guth said she didn't have any idea of what she was going through--until she spent a day at Quantico this week in the heat and dust, lugging around a helmet and flak jacket, firing a grenade launcher and savoring military cuisine in the form of Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs.

"It did give me a little appreciation for what they do," said Guth, 48, a Stafford County school administrator whose daughter, Marta DeVries, is in training to be a Marine second lieutenant. "Because sometimes you think, oh, they're just rolling around in the dirt."

More than a hundred family members were invited to the Virginia base Monday to experience firsthand what their loved ones undergo during their six-month training regimen. At Quantico, it's known as Jane Wayne Day, a throwback to the time, not so long ago, when the officers in training were exclusively men.

That's no longer the case, of course, but the moniker endures, its provenance unknown.

"The name goes back to when I was a second lieutenant and probably way before," said Maj. Rose-Ann Sgrignoli of Quantico's public affairs office, making it more than 15 years old.

These days, Jane Wayne Day is all-inclusive: wives, husbands, significant others, fathers, mothers and other relatives of officers-to-be are all invited to participate in the day-long program, which includes a ride in an armored personnel carrier, an obstacle course and automatic weapons fire. A lot of automatic weapons fire.

Monday's first stop was at the rifle range, where family members were given a brief overview so that they could tell their M-16 rifle from their M-249 machine gun and their M-203 grenade launcher.

After a quick rundown on the rules of the range (including where, and most definitely where not, to point the gun), the call went out for volunteers to lob smoke grenades.

No one moved.

Soon enough, though, the practice range crackled with gunfire.

"Now I understand when he says how tired he is. It certainly is real," said Andrew Lingler, 53, of Elyria, Ohio. His son Robert, a recent Naval Academy graduate, persuaded his parents to start their vacation early so they could come to Jane Wayne Day.

"He talked about carrying one of those assault rifles. Now I get an idea of just how heavy that thing is. And actually hitting a target!" Lingler marveled.

Katherine Steele, 21, from Seattle, said her husband begged her to go through the program.

"Your husbands are gone for 16 hours a day and they're coming home and telling you this stuff and you don't really know what they're talking about," she said. "I think it helps for the husbands to know they don't have to come home and explain everything for two hours."

After the tour of the rifle range, it was lunchtime. Family members were given their choice of MREs, including cheese tortellini, chicken stew, ham with scalloped potatoes and beef steak, the latter helpfully labeled as "chunked and formed, thermostabilized and charmarked."

"I can't recommend the chicken stew," said Jennifer Hardee, 23, of Charleston, S.C., whose boyfriend is in training.

Thus fortified, the group was brought to the obstacle course to confront the "Climb of Commitment" and the "Scale of Integrity," where they were were encouraged to try their hand at climbing a rope ladder and scaling a wall.

Family members said they were impressed by the level of training, even when they had some idea of what to expect.

"My husband talked about the rifle range. He talked about how he was nervous about qualifying, and now I can tell what he was talking about, because I couldn't even see what I was shooting at," said Gloria Lucero, 28, of Costa Mesa, Calif.

That's the point of the Jane Wayne Day, Sgrignoli said. "If you don't know what your spouse is going through in [training], you don't really know what kind of support they need."

Quantico stages similar days for the families of each of seven groups that train at its Basic School; Monday's event was for the 220 second lieutenants of Echo Company. Congressional staff members and community groups also have been invited to participate.

"The Marine Corps, needless to say, recognizes the benefit," Sgrignoli said.

For Mary Sheetz, 36, of Bethesda, the day helped change her mind-set about the Marines. Her cousin is going through Basic School after graduating from the Citadel.

"He is so passionate about his work . . . so I wanted to see his world," said Sheetz, a public health service investigator.

"Before today when I thought about the Marines, I had a very scary image in my mind. But now you see a more human side."

CAPTION: Bridget Ryszentnyk digs her way through a sand obstacle over which is spread simulated barbed wire during Jane Wayne Day at Quantico.

CAPTION: Dressed in a four-pound helmet and eight-pound flak jacket, Abby Aylward gets a taste of what new Marine officers go through.

CAPTION: Gloria Lucero launches her small frame toward the next element of the "Leap of Loyalty," one of the challenges on the obstacle course that officers' family members tried at Quantico.

CAPTION: Leah Palletier, whose husband is in Echo Company, scales a wall using her willpower and a sturdy rope after a morning of firing weapons and a lunch of Meals Ready to Eat.