Any Soldier who has had "boots on the ground" in Iraq or Afghanistan has experienced stress. Traumatic experiences like being under attack, handling human remains or knowing someone seriously injured or killed are common.

All Soldiers need to know that they are not alone. The program conducted by the 20th Support Command (CBRNE) Unit Ministry Team is designed to help Soldiers and their Families cope with pre-deployment and post-deployment stress.

The Strong Bonds Program provides Soldiers just back from deployment or those getting ready to deploy time to rest, relax and prepare for transition. A skills-based relationship building program, Strong Bonds is led by Army chaplains. It is a commitment to the preservation and restoration of Army Families.

"The Strong Bonds Program was enacted by Congress some years ago," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Robert K. Glasgow, 20th Support Command (CBRNE) chaplain. "It's a fully funded retreat opportunity for single Soldiers and Soldiers with spouses and Families to go away on weekends to prepare for deployment or to help the reunion process when they return."

Although Strong Bonds is run by the chaplaincy it is not a religious program.

"People think it's some type of religious program," Glasgow said, "but it's not. We use the structure of a retreat, but this is not a religious retreat. The materials we use are developed by trained authors -- high-speed stuff - and the training we offer is empirically tested, based on research studies that have also been empirically tested.

"We offer eleven different programs," Glasgow continued. "After a Soldier attends one retreat, he or she can come to another and it won't be the same."

The program connects Soldiers and their loved ones to community health and support resources. Glasgow is experienced in conducting the retreats.

"I've done three so far," he said. "The retreat this year was at the Willow Valley Resort Conference Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania -- a world class facility. They have three indoor swimming pools, a gym and a couple of tennis courts."

The five-day retreat has a lot of built in relaxation time, but attendees are also required to participate in training. Classes include: Family Wellness Training, Active Relationships, Habits of Healthy Marriages, Couples Communication and a class on Deployment.

"We are required to do a certain amount of training, but we want to give participants free time to be a couple and spend time with their children," Glasgow said. "However, the retreat is education based. We go through a workbook that explains ways that couples come together in a relationship, ways that cause them to bond in a relationship. We walk them through and we follow them from day-to-day and week-to-week. It's also fun."

Soldiers who participated in the program found it informative.

"I would definitely recommend the retreat to Families who have a Soldier returning from deployment," said Sgt. 1st Class Kristian Penafiel, a light wheel vehicle mechanic with the 22nd Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort.) Penafiel recently returned from deployment and took advantage of the retreat in Lancaster.

"I was deployed to Iraq and didn't hear anything about the retreats until I came to this unit. The retreat was a way to expand my spiritual side and my personal side. I learned techniques that I will be able to implement within my Family.

"Most of the time, I forget to place my Family first," Penafiel said. "This retreat brought me and my Family together, and I learned how to treat my spouse and kids. I will go any time they have another retreat. And, I liked that they provided day care for Families."

Day care is provided free for participating Soldiers with Families.

The 20th SUPCOM Unit Ministry Team is currently organizing a Single Soldiers Strong Bonds Program at Ocean City, Md., where Soldiers will explore the facets of living a healthy single life.

"This Strong Bonds training is designed to help Soldiers establish relationship goals and provide essential skills to help singles make a good choice when picking a partner for life," said Master Sgt. Marva M. Rogers, of the 20 SUPCOM (CBRNE) Unit Ministry Team.

"They will learn to examine priorities, manage mate choosing patterns and evaluate a relationship's potential for long-term success. It is also a time for relaxation, recreation, fellowship and fun. Everything is free - rooms, food and transportation," she said.

For more information about upcoming Strong Bonds events, contact Rogers, 410-436-3362.