HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - With the sounds of the nearby Atlantic Ocean waves crashing the sandy beaches, more than 50 couples renewed their wedding vows during the finale of a three-day marriage retreat weekend.

Sponsored by the 81st Regional Support Command, the Strong Bonds' Marriage Enrichment Workshop brought 72 Army Reserve Soldiers and their spouses to the island resort recently.

The weekend kicked off with a welcome from Maj. Gen. Charles E. Gorton, the 81st RSC commanding general, who stressed the importance of family in today's Army Reserve.

"First and foremost, I want to thank you for making the choice to be here," Gorton told the attentive participants. "By being here, you are showing your spouse and family that you are dedicated to a more enriched family life."

With couples in attendance ranging from newlyweds of less than four months to more than 20 years together, Gorton said, like them, he owes most of his military success to his wife.

"Without her, I wouldn't be here today," he said. "She has stood by me throughout my long military career. Our spouses are our number one fans."

After Gorton's brief inspirational speech, it was down to the business of helping Army families grow stronger.
The chaplain-led program helps Soldiers and their families build strong relationships, said Chaplain (Maj.) Ike Eweama, the 81st RSC Family Life Chaplain.

"The program's mission is to build Soldier readiness by providing skills the Soldier can use to strengthen his or her marriage and other relationships," he said.

Eweama said the program is important because the Army is only as strong as the Army Family.

"Soldiers who are strong at home in their relationships are strong in the Army," he said. "American Soldiers, being members of the world's premier fighting force, sacrifice for our country every day and so do their loved ones."

He said the military life puts extreme hardship on relationships, especially in wartime. So the Army, backed by Congress, has committed unprecedented resources to help Soldiers build stronger relationships through the Strong Bonds Program.

Eweama said he hopes participants reap the great benefits that Strong Bonds was meant to give the couples.

"The essence of Strong Bonds is to empower Soldiers and their loved ones with relationship-building skills, and connect them to community health and support resources," he said. "It is a holistic, preventative program committed to the restoration and preservation of Army families, even those near crisis."

The Strong Bonds program is one way of saying thanks to service members and their Families for the sacrifices they make every day, Eweama said.

"Because we understand the stresses of military life, we want to serve them through an off-post, Strong Bonds weekend retreat," he said. "Every attendee at these events will gain skills that fortify their marriage and relationships by enjoying a time of relaxation, recreation, fellowship and fun."

Eweama said although the program is not a psychotherapeutic session, it is very important because of the increasing demands placed on Army Families and Soldiers, including frequent deployments and relocations. Intimate relationships are tested and many marriages end in divorce.

"Research shows that training in communication, intimacy and conflict management increases marriage satisfaction and reduces rates of family violence," he said.

Gorton said he hopes that what couples take back with them to their homes is the ability to better communicate and understand each other.

"Some couples think it is easy to communicate, but I can tell you from personal experience it isn't a simple process," Gorton said. "I want our Families to understand each other and realize the importance each brings to the relationship."

Gorton said without strong Army Families, the Army Reserve wouldn't be the force it is today.

"We owe it to all of our Soldiers and their spouses to give them the tools to succeed at home," he said. "They are our Family as well."