Strong Bonds tightens family ties
September 26, 2011
- families, strong bonds,
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.--The Carroll family, headed by Robert and helmed by Jennifer, is a case in point for the typical Army family.
Robert and Jennifer have been married nearly four years, they have two children, one boy age 8 and one girl age 3.
Robert is an operations sergeant for Alpha Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, while Jennifer manages the home and attends school on-line.
Sgt. Carroll has been in the Army for 11 years, has deployed four times, and strives to perform his job well and serve as an exemplary non-commissioned officer.
They live in Linden Oaks, an off-post military community that supports Fort Bragg, N.C.
Their family home, with David, their son, and Savannah, their daughter, is as can be expected, a busy place, full of love, but hectic none-the-less.
As those familiar with the military lifestyle can relate, weekends are never a sure thing. Calls from superiors, subordinates, additional duties, field training exercises, last minute no-notice musters are always lingering.
"Even on the weekends, you're still in the Army," said Jennifer.
This past weekend was different however.
The Carrolls took a unique opportunity, provided them through Robert's unit chaplain, to work on their marriage and spend some quality time focusing on their family.
"It isn't often that we can leave the Army behind, forget about it, and just focus on us," said Jennifer with a smidgen of her native New York accent.
The Carrolls joined 25 other couples and families from 3rdBSTB and more than 100 couples and families from other units at Fort Bragg at The Sand Dunes Resort for luxury weekend retreat, paid for by the Army's Strong Bonds Program.
"We've been needing some time to ourselves, and wouldn't be able to fit something like this into our budget" said Robert.
So Friday afternoon, after David had completed a project for school, the Carroll family packed up their Mazda 6 sedan and headed to the beach.
Driving through intermittent rain showers and arriving two hours later, the Carroll's checked in to their room, and the sun began to break through the clouds.
"We really felt that we had left the Army, and all its stuff, behind," said Jennifer. "It was a real," Jennifer sighs, "ahh, moment."
Dinner that night was a fully catered, and complimentary, seafood spread that furthered the feeling and left none for want, as the Strong Bonds program picked up the tab.
"I was surprised to see the crab legs, and I loved the stuffed flounder," said Jennifer.
"They [Strong Bonds] went all out, it was actually really relaxing," said Robert. "I didn't expect crab legs."
Strong Bonds had the entire weekend catered, with the only exception being dinner on Saturday evening, where couples were encouraged to dine out locally.
"Following dinner, we dropped the kids off at childcare and went to the first session," explained Jennifer. "We had been on some other retreats and thought we knew what to expect, we really came out of Chaplain Busby's first session well, motivated, excited for the rest of the retreat,"
According to Chaplain (Capt.) Barry (Hoot) Busby, the Carroll's and the 3rd BSTB chaplain, Strong Bonds is a congressionally mandated and funded marriage enrichment program.
"The Army realized we need to focus on giving coping and resiliency skills to military families," said Busby.
The program offers couples the chance to escape from the hustle their lives and operational tempo of their livelihoods, and focus on communicating, and listening to one another's needs and concerns.
The Strong Bonds program was born from the Army discovering the need and the value added by cultivating our married service members, said Busby.
Attendees of the retreat were treated to three days and two nights accommodations at a first-class beachfront resort, meals were catered, and childcare was provided, all at no expense to the families -- yes, free.
The course itself only ate up a fraction of the families' time.
In all, the Carrolls and the other participating couples spent only seven hours, broken over three days, in the couples communication course. The rest of the time was allotted for the families to do whatever they pleased.
Some couples and families took advantage of the resorts lazy river, water-park, pools, saunas, and even the day spa. Others ventured out to the beach, walked the boardwalk, shopped, or sought out other adventures offered in the beach community.
The Carrolls spent some family time on the beach, "what started as toes in the water, turned in to wading, turned in to splashing through the waves in no time," said Robert.
Saturday the Carroll's went to the beach again, went out to dinner, and much to Savannahs delight, capped Saturday off with a trip to Alligator Adventure, an exotic animal park.
"Be sure to ask for the military discounts, we found that many of the attractions here offer up to 75% off," said Robert.
A final class on Sunday morning after breakfast concluded the retreat.
The Carroll's seemed relaxed, refreshed.
Jennifer says she's grateful they attended. Robert nods his head in agreement.
"No offence," Jennifer says to Robert, "but we needed this."
Robert indicates he concurs, and no offense was taken.
Jennifer was most relieved to see that there were others in similar situations -- married to a Soldier. "I mean I know that there are others, but to see them, meet them, and see that whatever out problems may be, they are not unique. Others have them too."
"It's hard for people outside of the military to understand what we have to deal with, they say they understand, but they just can't," said Jennifer.
Robert was most pleased with the communication tools he was able to learn from the Strong Bonds course.
"I really feel like these tools are something that is going to help us," said Robert.
Looking at his wife, holding hands, clearly communicating, Robert notes, "That right there is why this program is so important. If it wasn't for them," referring to Chaplain Busby, and Strong Bonds for picking up the tab, "we wouldn't have been able to do this without breaking the bank."