United They Stand
Strong Bonds retreat provides tools for long-lasting relationships
Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Stephen Crofoot
First Army Division East Public Affairs
During a recent Strong Bonds retreat in Gettysburg, Pa., Soldiers and their spouses learned and practiced different techniques to handle stressors and resolve conflicts in their marriage.
This training is the perfect start to building strong bonds in a marriage, said Master Sgt. Michael Bair, First Army Division East chaplain noncommissioned officer. "It is about strength and discipline, both in the military and at home.
"It's this kind of training that allows you the ability to develop discipline to develop strong bonds and long-lasting relationships, where the Soldier and their families are given the tools they need to fix problems at home."
Throughout the training, couples discussed conflict resolution techniques, relationship dangers, crisis management, and various communication ideas to help strengthen a marriage. They then applied the techniques to real-life scenarios.
"I think the best thing about this program is that it is very concrete," said First Army Division East Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Harry Huey Jr. "Strong Bonds includes communication and conflict resolution techniques that are skills-based and clear time-tested habits that are successful approaches inside and outside of the military."
The training reinforced to families that they are important, said Bair's wife, April, who has a degree in psychology,
"This training shows the Army does care," she said. "As a family member, now I know the Army is giving me tools to help better support my Soldier and family."
While Huey led the retreat, the Bairs oversaw the training. They both completed the Strong Bonds instructor course and see applications for the training in Soldiers' personal and professional lives.
Huey, who has been associated with the Strong Bonds program since 2005, said the program helps the force by enhancing Soldier and family member resilience.
"I think Strong Bonds is back to the basics in the sense that the program seeks to build strong families and individuals," he said. "Those are the basic building blocks of a healthy society and a healthy Army. It doesn't get more basic than that."
Helping Soldiers and families with issues has become a priority for the Army.
In 2011, there were 30,000 divorces in the Army, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the first five months of 2012, there have been 154 suicides in the Army, according to the Department of Defense.
Bair said that not only do these numbers intertwine many times, but Strong Bonds training can help combat those numbers.
"I think the more Soldiers we are able to touch through this, the better," he said. "I think it will result in those other numbers going down. Resilient families who can better handle stress will translate into less divorces and lower suicide rates. People know how to deal with the good times, but this training teaches you how to handle the bad times."
The training carries over into the workplace as well, said Bair.
"If a Soldier can communicate at home and deal with personal stress, then [he] can communicate at work and handle the stress," he said. "So morale and productivity will rise as well."
For 1st Sgt. Joseph Smith, senior NCO, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, First Army Division East, the training provided the opportunity to address two issues at once.
"With the amount of time we spend away from our families, this not only gave some free time to spend with our spouse and family, but also gave us several techniques to help get through issues," he said.
Smith also noted the benefit to training with other couples.
"It's really great having the chance to get together with other military families that have a similar background and have experienced deployments and time away from their families," Smith said. "This really gives you a chance to talk about your experiences and issues with someone who has been there before."
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