FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Two dozen spouses of Soldiers serving with the Fort Bragg-based 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade in Afghanistan gathered in Myrtle Beach Aug. 27 to 29 for a Strong Bonds Retreat.

"The theme throughout the weekend revolved around strength through togetherness," said Maj. Jonathan O. Bouriaque, who led the retreat and is the rear detachment chaplain for the brigade, which deployed in late July.

The chaplain said the weekend's workshops focused on relationship building, communication skills and stress management, but the most important part was the interaction across the tables.

An example of the cross-table talk was during the Sunday morning module that focused on dealing with trust and recovering from adultery. The spouses shared personal stories of betrayal and the post-betrayal decision on whether to save a relationship or not.

"We are a team. Each spouse has to be a resource for the others, and we will all get through this together," said Bouriaque.

Marjorie "Marty" V. Taschler, the wife of Spc. Stephen L. Taschler, said she would encourage all spouses to attend one of these retreats.

Taschler, whose wedding anniversary was on the Sunday, said she was grateful for the child care, which allowed the children to meet each other and the parents to devote themselves to the workshop sessions.

"It went very well," said Stacey T. Hale, a Family Advocacy Program specialist with the 82nd Airborne Division, who led workshops in the Saturday sessions.

Hale is the spouse of a deployed Soldier also. Her husband, Lt. Col. Anthony R. Hale, commands the brigade's 519th Military Intelligence Battalion. During the weekend, she participated as both a wife and as a trained professional.

"The spouses learned that they are not alone and other people are feeling the same thing," she said.

In addition to learning to help each other, Hale said the spouses became more aware of the multitude of resources available to help the Families of deployed Soldiers, such as Operation R and R, which offers vacation homes to Soldiers on mid-deployment leave, and Give2theTroops, which supplies comfort packages to Soldiers overseas.

Yvette N. Batts, the wife of Staff Sgt. William P. Batts, said her husband is a quiet man and she is going to use techniques she learned at the retreat to draw him out and encourage him to speak more freely with her.

Sgt. Andrew T. Payne, a chaplain assistant assigned to the brigade's rear detachment, said in the past, 50 to 100 spouses of deployed Soldiers would attend retreats, but the groups were too large.

"There was no way to give people the attention they needed with such a crowd," he said. Now, the retreats are capped at 25 spouses, plus their children. The attendees are put up in a hotel and provided breakfast and dinner.

There is a retreat scheduled for Sept. 24 to 26 and further retreats are anticipated through the deployment, he said.

Right now the goal is to help the spouse deal with their Soldier being gone and give them the tools to keep their relationship strong. After the deployment, there are have retreats to help with the re-integration process, he said.

While the goal is to bring every spouse at least once, Payne said spouses are free to put their names on a waiting list to attend additional retreats. "They have to be willing to react on short-notice, sometimes a Friday afternoon."

Hale said spouses are also welcome to find and attend retreats sponsored by other units.
Kara M. Roe, wife of Spc. Keith A. Roe Jr., said she liked the pace of the program with its sessions in the morning and the afternoons free for the parents and children to spend time together.

Roe said her daughter Anna, 7, insisted on going to the beach, a local water park and the hotel's pool on Saturday. "When we got back to our room, we just crashed."

Bouriaque said retreats like this one are an example of the new way the Army does business.
"No longer do you hear: 'If the Army wanted you to have a spouse, it would have issued one with your duffel bag,'" he said. "The Army now realizes that couples are one unit. If the spouse is dysfunctional, the Solider is dysfunctional."

Page last updated Thu September 16th, 2010 at 15:34