Families of deployed Soldiers from the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Campbell, Ky., gather with local community members during their retreat Sept. 11-13 in Huntsville as part of the Strong Bonds program.

"OMG!" said Denise Lewis upon seeing the crowd gathered in the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel.

More than 250 family members, Team Redstone leaders, community leaders and representatives from various support organizations were assembled. They met in a reception room for a "Welcome to Huntsville" event Sept. 12.

With their spouses deployed in Afghanistan for a year, the family members of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Campbell, Ky., were ready for a relaxing time - a retreat from the stress of running a family, working jobs, being involved in the community, and the day-to-day household operation without the presence of their spouses.

The group is part of Strong Bonds, formerly known as the Building Strong and Ready Family program in 1997, an Army family readiness/support group led by the 159th Chaplain unit. The program recognizes the importance of family support.

"We are so happy to be here," said Lewis, family readiness group brigade adviser.

Lewis is the driver of the program; and ever since she and her husband visited Huntsville for an "R&R," she knew she had to make this city a part of the group's approved sites for the planned retreats. With more than 3,000 Soldiers' families to look after, along with the National Guard units in Sacramento, Calif., all experiencing multiple combat deployments, Lewis knew that now more than ever she needed to plan some activities before year's end.

"We came here for an IPR (in-process review) to assess potentially what is available to us," she said. There are so many things to consider -- from accommodations to separate adult and children's activities, to ensuring that the drive time home is manageable in the event of an emergency.

"There are so many Army communities that do not have social activities," Lewis said. "Here we have one conglomerate."

Other pre-approved sites have included Gatlinburg, Chattanooga and Nashville. Huntsville was added to the list in September.

"It's always great seeing old friends," Maj. Gen. Jim Myles, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command and Redstone Arsenal, said at the welcome event. "We follow and support your spouses. Our Soldiers couldn't do what they're doing without your support. To be able to go back in deployment knowing that their families are being supported and cared for in their time of need allows Soldiers to focus on the mission at hand and have some peace of mind."

Myles pointed out that many members in the Huntsville community are prior military. "They understand multiple combat deployments, time away from families, and the need to have a strong family and community network," he said.

Lewis told the audience that the 159th Soldiers are "doing an amazing job." She thanked the Huntsville community for the overwhelming support her family readiness group has received. "Everybody here has been really incredible," she said.

Many organizations provided support, primarily from the Tennessee Valley Chapter of the Army Aviation Association of America. Others included defense partners such as Colsa, EG&G, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Team Redstone, the Association of the U.S. Army, Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Early Works, the Westin, and Huntsville Botanical Gardens.

Activities planned for the Strong Bonds retreat included an ice cream social, a visit to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (and its IMAX movies), SCI Quest Center, a "Welcome Home" sign making event, lunch and shopping at Bridge Street Town Center, door prizes and giveaways, and more.

"We want you to have a wonderful time," Alice Myles, wife of the Redstone commander, said. "This is just a small slice of what we have in Huntsville. We are all committed to supporting you."

"It really makes a difference of what you do while they're deployed," said Huntsville Police Chief Henry Reyes, who represented mayor Battle while he was out of the country. "You're here to support them; we're here to support you. Anything we can do for you, just let us know."

"On behalf of over 2,000 TVC members, I'm delighted that you are here," said Bill Weaver, president of AAAA. "When you say jump, we say how high'"

Strong Bonds is fully-funded and chaplain-led with the support of the commanding officer. Soldiers and their families attend with others in the unit who share the same deployment cycle. During the retreat, Soldiers and families participate in small group activities that reveal common bonds and nurture friendships. This shores up spousal support at home, which can be vital while the Soldier is away. In addition, Soldiers and families gain awareness of community resources that can assist with concerns about health and wellness, even crisis intervention. An increasing percentage of recruits come from Army families. Strong Bonds is an investment in Army families and in the future force.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16