By Staff Sgt. Dave Conklin, 9th Mission Support Command Public AffairsSeptember 2, 2008
LAIE, Hawaii - They came from across the 9th Mission Support Command (MSC) prepared to strengthen their marriages and repair strained relationships brought on by the stress and uncertainty of separation and deployment to a war zone. Twenty couples from the Army Reserve's 9th MSC participated in the "Strong Bonds" Marriage Skills Workshop, Aug. 15-17, at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu. Marriage Skills, Single Soldier and workshops for deploying Soldiers on Oahu, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and Alaska, where 9th MSC Soldiers are based, reached out to more than 600 participants this year. The 9th MSC Chaplain's Office organized and administered the three-day program. "When I was deployed to Iraq last year, the primary Soldier counseling issue I had to deal with was difficulties with relationships back home," said 9th MSC Command Chaplain (Col.) Mark Larson, primary instructor coach. Larson said the Army found Soldiers returning from combat had difficulty reconnecting with their spouses and families when they came home. Chaplains often have to deal with the fallout of redeployment and reintegration for Soldiers. Chaplains have found that if they can be proactive on the front-end and help Soldiers define aspects of a healthy relationship, they can cut down on the pain of bad relationships and the problems those relationships cause before, during and after deployment. "The Strong Bonds Program provides the tools to build and maintain strong relationships," Larson said. Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, endorses the program. "The individual Army Reserve Soldier is not an effective Soldier if he or she has personal or family problems," Stultz said. "In other words, if we want to retain the Soldier, we have to work very hard to retain his or her family as well." Workshops are patterned after a curriculum called PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program), based on years of research at the University of Denver and other leading universities around the world. Each workshop is located and organized as a retreat with all meetings, meals and lodging away from the responsibilities of home and work. Training includes six sessions as well as time for participants to talk and reflect informally. Sessions include informal instruction followed by discussion, practice and coaching. Session subjects include communication danger signs, talking without fighting, filters, events and issues, expectations, problem solving, foundations for friendship, ground rules for protecting relationships, commitment, sensuality and sexuality, and core belief systems. The workshop concludes with a brief voluntary marriage vow renewal. Sgt. Laurie Kurk of the 9th MSC and her husband Tim have been married for seven years and have one child. "She was here (in Hawaii) a year-and-a-half before I arrived this June, so this was a good way to reconnect," said Tim, an electronics technician. "Only three days after we were married, Kurt was deployed to Germany," said Cindy Smith, wife of Col. Kurt Smith, 9th MSC plans and security director. "Although we have now been married for 25 years and have two children, we learned much more at the workshop than we expected, including listening techniques and communicating without issues." Pfc. Lydia Williams of the 302nd Transportation Terminal Battalion has only been in the Army Reserve for four months. Her husband Joshua Stinson is a petty officer in the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor. They have been married almost five years but do not get much time together. Williams said they wanted to attend a couples' retreat where they could spend some quality time together, and she was not disappointed. According to Williams, the workshop has made them better communicators. In his message to workshop couples, Brig. Gen. Alexander Kozlov, 9th MSC commander, said, "Throughout your military service, you and your spouse have made tremendous sacrifices. The strength of your marriage and the faithfulness of your spouse have in a large way contributed to your success, both professionally and personally. "I firmly believe that this Marriage Skills Workshop will give you the tools to maintain and improve the quality of your relationship," added Kozlov. "This program shows how much the Army Reserve is interested in the whole family and one more thing that helps us strengthen our Army Reserve families," Larson added. All Army Reserve couples are eligible to attend a Strong Bonds workshop. Priority is given to Soldiers who will deploy soon or those who have just returned from deployment. For more information about the Strong Bonds Program workshops, contact Staff Sgt. Felicia Mungo at 808-438-1600, ext. 3329.