By Sgt. Rakeem Carter, 4th Cavalry Multi-Functional Training BrigadeMarch 2, 2018
Husbands and wives filed into a quiet room at the Great Wolf Lodge in Mason, Ohio, on Feb. 13 to attend a Strong Bonds marriage retreat.
With their children off to enjoy a day of fun nearby, couples found their seats and glanced down at copies of Gary Chapman's "Five Love Languages: Military Edition,"
At the front of the room stood Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Tommie Pickens.
Pickens kicked off the three-day Strong Bonds retreat by saying, "I don't know about you, but as a man, I want to know how to better communicate with my wife," said Pickens, the 4th Cavalry Multi-Functional Training Brigade chaplain. "I want to know how to identify my wife's love language so that I can be intentional in meeting her needs."
An Army-wide, unit-based and chaplain-led program, Strong Bonds assists commanders in building individual resilience and strengthening the Army family. Events, which are conducted at offsite retreats to maximize the effectiveness of the training, are provided at no cost to Soldiers and focused on offering a fun, safe and secure environment in which to address the stresses a military lifestyle can cause.
Over the past year, more than 130,000 Soldiers and Family members have participated in over 3,700 Strong Bonds events.
"The Army has adapted and put a lot of resources behind Strong Bonds to be able to help our Families," Pickens said. "They understand that stronger relationships means a stronger Army."
Specific training is offered to single Soldiers, single parents, couples, Families with children, and any Soldiers and Families facing a deployment.
"There is a multitude of training designed for Strong Bonds that can range from 'Seven Effective Habits of Healthy Families', 'Five Love Languages' and 'I got Your Back' for single Soldiers," Pickens said. "So Strong Bonds encompasses the holistic Soldier and Family."
Pickens said he really believes in the program because he has seen its impacts firsthand within his family.
"As a facilitator, I've been able to put into practice what I'm actually facilitating," Pickens said. "I actually take it home and share it with my family. That's how I can gauge that it's successful. Every opportunity I've had to teach Strong Bonds, I've learned something from it. I learn not just from what I teach but what my family teaches me."
During this event, Pickens gave couples a test to discover their primary love languages, listed in the book as words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.
Each couple then learned what impact communicating in their spouse's primary love language can have on their marriage, enabling them to better meet each other's emotional needs.
Pickens said meeting those needs and communicating your own needs are important in a marriage, but you must learn to be effective.
"Everyone wants to be an effective communicator," Pickens said. "It's a skill."
Darryl Jones said that's why he was there to develop that skill.
"We needed some family time," said Jones, a native of Radford, Virginia, who brought his wife, Jessica, and their two children, Darryl, 7, and Nevaeh, 6. "With work every day and picking up kids from school, we just needed some free time to bond."
Jones and his wife met at a professional boxing match in 2013. Jessica, a Huntington, West Virginia native, said the relationship came at a crucial moment in her life when she was finishing up her 10-year career in the Army.
"He's been with me throughout my transition out of the Army," she said. "It's been great to have his support."
The Joneses, who have been married three years, said they've tried unsuccessfully several times to go to a Strong Bonds event. Jessica smiled as she expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to attend this retreat.
"This one came around and so we said, 'Let's do it!'" she said.
By the end of the conference, the couple said they were satisfied the retreat would help enrich their marriage.
"We got a chance to see what each other's love language is," Jessica said.
She added that she has always joked with her husband about what their love languages might be and has tried to spark his interest in taking the time to learn them.
"For a while now she has been trying to get me to understand the five love languages, so once they showed us the military side with this new book that they have, it brought another perspective," Darryl said.
Darryl said he spends a lot of time traveling as an observer coach/trainer. As a result, the Strong Bonds program proved invaluable in helping to build resilience within their family.
"Being able to do this kind of [event] brings us all together," he said.
Pickens said he believes bringing families together and building resilience is what the Strong Bonds program is all about.
"The core mission for Strong Bonds is to increase individual Soldier and Family readiness through relationship education and skills training," Pickens said. "The Army understands that a strong and resilient Army Family means a ready individual Soldier."
For more information about the program or to sign up for a retreat, contact a unit ministry team.