FORT SILL, Okla. (April 6, 2017) -- Three married couples attended the "Duty Day with God" couples' retreat workshop, March 11, at Frontier Chapel Center.

The retreat was organized by 100th Brigade Support Battalion Chaplain (Capt.) Uche Iheke. The couples' place of duty and main focus for the day was building a stronger bond with their spouses and enjoying time together.

Despite the retreat's name, the day centered on effective communication techniques rather than any specific religion. Fort Sill Garrison Family Life Chaplain (Maj.) David Ditolla, presented the duration of the class. He led the retreat and prompted games that encouraged couples to be transparent with one another. The couples first played a game that focused on knowing their spouse better. Couples had to answer questions about their spouses' likes and dislikes as well as other facts. This game got couples laughing and chatting.

"I liked the game; it made us realize things we didn't know about each other," said Spc. Teayona Owens, a 100th BSB Soldier, who heard about the couple's retreat from her supervisor. She attended with her husband, Spc. Deoante Owens a 3rd Battalion, 13th Field Artillery Soldier. The couple have been married nearly two years.

The second game focused on problem solving, and in between rounds, Dittola spoke about the importance of effective communication with partners. He said it's a misconception that good relationships have fewer problems. In truth, they are simply able to deal with the problems that come their way.

Pvt. Kendra Carmichael, a 15th Transportation Company Soldier, attended with her husband, Spc. Kyree Carmichael, from 2nd Battalion, 4th FA. She said they have been married for two months, and that effective communication has been something they've had to work at harder now than they had to before they were married. She said they are determined to work out problems and bond as a couple now more than ever because her husband is expected to deploy sometime this year.

"Even if you're not dealing with something now, it can be beneficial to have the training [on effective communication] if something does happen." Carmichael said.

Ditolla went on to say that marriage counseling isn't about fixing the other person. It's about admitting the things that each person in a couple can work on.

Later in the seminar, Ditolla spoke about the dangers of escalation and the importance of taking a time out. He said taking a break or walking away from a disagreement temporarily can be the most effective tool when both parties are emotionally heated. Ditolla recommends in some scenarios coming back to a topic when both people are clearer minded.

Owens said she liked learning about cooling off during the heat of the moment.

"Whether it's an hour or a day, walk away and come back to the conversation," Teayona said. "Breaks are just a cool-off time."

In the last relationship game, couples had to practice repeating a statement that their partner made. This was an exercise on listening skills.

Teayona said she attended the workshop so that she and her husband could gain a better understanding of each other. She admitted that in the past they have struggled with understanding each other's point of views.

"Of course we talk, and we listen to each other, but do we really understand?" she said.
Carmichael said she liked that the training emphasized listening over negotiating.

"Negotiating can create arguing back and forth," said Carmichael. "When you're listening to someone you're trying to gain an understanding. It's not about fighting to get your point across."

After a morning of games and lessons, the couples joined in the cafeteria room of the chapel for pizza, pasta, and soda that the chaplain corps provided.

Iheke said he hopes to reach more 75th Field Artillery Brigade couples, and help them strengthen their relationships.

"While the class focuses primarily on married life and family dynamics, unmarried Soldiers are welcome to attend if they are in a serious relationship," said Iheke.

He added that although the "Duty Day with God" retreat was led by the 100th BSB, Soldiers from other battalions in the 75th FA Brigade are always welcome to attend.
Owens said the training is underrated.

"More people should take advantage of these free opportunities to improve their marriages because it's very helpful," Owens said. "Every couple has relationship issues whether they realize them or not; even if someone thinks they're in the perfect relationship, they should still give it a try and come open-minded."