PORTLAND, Ore. - The strength of the Army Reserve is only as strong as the relationships that support the Soldiers within it. The Army Reserve works to improve the resiliency of those relationships with a chaplain-led program called Strong Bonds.

The 88th Regional Support Command conducts more than 20 Strong Bond events a year, the most recent hosted 32 couples in Portland, Ore., April 4-6.

During the event, participants were given tools and information to enhance communication and healthier relationships with a nationally recognized curriculum called Prevention Relationship Enhancement Program, or PREP. Using this curriculum participants are led through video and workbook-supported discussions on various aspects of communication, personalities and problem solving.

This is especially important for Army Reserve couples according to the 88th RSC Deputy Command Chaplain, Lt. Col. Robert Brady.

"Army Reserve families have a much more complex set of circumstances than their civilian counterparts," said Brady. "They must balance not only their civilian careers and relationships, but also manage and navigate through deployments, battle assemblies, annual training, schools, and various other military obligations which cause interruptions in life."

"Additionally, Army Reserve families are typically geographically dispersed and don't have ready access to resources available on active duty installations such as Army Community Services, behavioral health services, and family life chaplain counseling," said Brady.

Maj. Virginia Emery, chaplain, 88th RSC Strong Bonds Program manager, said this program is open to and applicable to all couples no matter where they are in their relationships.

"This training is for everyone from newlyweds to those celebrating their 30th anniversary," said Emery. "It's also great to have couples who have not been together long to see and gain insights from those who have," said Emery.

Sgt. Maj. Andrea Jusino and Sgt. 1st Class James Jusino, of the 75th Training Division, are a dual military couple who live in Damascus, Ore. Though married for 31 years, they said the Strong Bonds training benefits them directly as well as gives them tools to help others.

"Many of the things taught at Strong Bonds are applicable in all aspects of life," said Andrea. "We both have our civilian jobs and children, but we are also Soldiers and can share the tools we have been given with all of them."

"The communication tools very relevant," said Andrea. "Life happens and the longer you put something off the more it festers and I think that's why couples get divorced - because they don't know how to communicate."

Although the training is led by chaplains, Strong Bonds is not a ministry event said Emery.

"Strong Bonds is a skills-based training event designed to enhance relationships - regardless of theologies or beliefs," said Emery. "It is run by chaplains, but the training is not coming from a theological standpoint so that it can reach out to all Army Reserve relationships."

First Lt. Paulo Quijano, of the 334th Chemical Company, and his husband William reside in Seattle and were married last year upon the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Like many of the other newlywed couples, they decided to attend the training to learn some useful tools and be able to incorporate them in their relationship early on.

"It's good that you don't wait till there is a problem," said Paulo. "A lot of this program is about being able to identify problems and frame them correctly. If I can identify issues and define them before they become a problem, then we can work on it before it turns into a bigger issue."

William said he was surprised and happy that it wasn't just another class that focused on how to incorporate the Army into your life.

"It's not just about military skills," said William, "but teaches and gives tools on how we can grow as a couple - and how we can improve our marriage."

According to Brady, the Strong Bonds program has a substantial impact on the force because of what it does and also what it prevents.

"Who cares if you have the best Soldier in the world if he is consumed with a disintegrating relationship," said Brady. "If you don't care for the foundations of our military it will suffer. Every leader realizes that it doesn't matter if you have bullets if you don't have a shooter who is focused and able to do his job."

Cpl. Michael Greenman, of the 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, and his wife Eve reside in Oakridge, Ore., and decided to attend the Strong Bonds event after being told about it at their unit.

Michael and Eve have been married for two years, but have known each other for 22 years. Eve said in that time they had developed a very strong friendship and were gratified by the program's emphasis on that aspect of relationships.

"One thing that it really enforces is friendship," said Eve. "You have to have that in a relationship otherwise you don't have all that special stuff. It's not just about being married, it's about being friends - that's what's important."

Everyone can benefit from this type training and it is truly worth the investment said Brady.

"Life is busy and we have to prioritize where we spend our time, but sometimes we take for granted the one person who said I will be there through thick and thin," said Brady. "If you have made a self-chosen commitment and obligation to try and live out your days with someone else - why wouldn't you want to invest your time into it any time you had the opportunity."

Signup and learn more about Strong Bond events by visiting www.strongbonds.org