Retreats offer troops respite, resiliency training
March 23, 2011
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (March 17, 2011) -- St. Patrick's Day couldn't have been any better. Temperatures hovered around the low to mid 60s. A few clouds and bright sun seemed to put a spotlight on the newly blossomed dogwoods and forsythia. And Pfc. Brian Murphy, sporting a sparkling green hat, green T-shirt and jeans, seemed to devour the moments in large gulps.
"I love Virginia because I love history," said the 20-something Soldier. "This is an awesome place to be."
Colonial Williamsburg was that place. The 18-century outdoor museum with its rich heritage served as an unlikely backdrop for Army resilience training March 16-18, but it was perfect for nine attendees who sought a break from the daily stresses of military duty, said Chaplain (Capt.) Chris Wallace, chaplain,16th Ordnance Battalion, 59th Ord. Brigade.
"These Soldiers have been deployed, and they are at a high operational tempo with the (advanced individual training) students," he said. "This gives them some rest and relaxation - a break."
The break Wallace referred to is part of the Strong Bonds Program, administered by the Department of the Army's Office of the Chief of Chaplains. It is a chaplain-led effort that teaches single military members, single-parent members and married members how to be resilient amid multiple deployments and the turbulence associated with them. The training often takes place at well-known tourist destinations. Food, lodging and admission are free to participants. Wallace said Strong Bonds is one way to help Soldiers tackle life beyond the Army.
"The Army prepares Soldiers for combat," said Wallace, who has deployed himself. "This is something that says that Soldiers are people, that their personal lives are important. We have relationships and other major events in life, and all of those are part of who we are. You don't want a Soldier who is not whole and well in theater, in combat."
The program agenda began Wednesday at a hotel in Williamsburg proper. Participants were shown "Restreppo," a documentary about a U.S. Army infantry platoon and its time in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley and how platoon members coped with an array of issues.
"We talked about the losses that people experience during combat," said Wallace, "and how to come back home to family and friends and live with that, endure and do what our country asks us to do."
That teaching format - lightly guided and using engaging discussion - made a fan of Murphy, who lost a friend during a deployment. The Michigan native has participated in other Strong Bond trips at other installations, but those were not as memorable, he said. "They really didn't teach me anything," said the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 59th Ord. Bde. Soldier.
"It was just a few videos, and the chaplains didn't talk too much.
"Here we watched a video and had a discussion about it," he said. "That's the kind of stuff that I like. It was more interactive than sitting around taking notes."
Wallace said the trips are centered on the military member and his or her well-being, but is not religion-based. "This is not a religious retreat," said Wallace. "We focus on relationship skills - skills for resilience, perseverance and endurance. It's not a church service, is open to all and everyone who comes enjoys it and has an outstanding time."
Wallace, who looks younger than many of the participants, said he is careful not to project himself too much. He favors a leisurely approach to the way the trips are conducted. "We enjoy talking about what happens on deployment; we enjoying talking about relationships," said Wallace. "People deal with challenges in their own way and we enjoy hearing how everyone else deals with it."
On the second day of the trip - St. Patrick's Day - the participants were free to individually explore the sights. Some set about doing so in pairs, strolling down Duke of Gloucester Street, dipping in and out of the historical shops and snapping photos.
A discussion about relationships was scheduled for the third day.
Wallace was enthusiastic about the trip's outcome and said it was a success.
"It went really, really well," he said.
Military members may call their chaplain's office to inquire about the next Soldier's Retreat.