By G. Anthonie RiisApril 12, 2019
Soldiers who fight for freedoms and the American way of life can find their own Families in jeopardy, U.S. Army Chaplain Corps officials say they recognize those hardships and are there to help them get through it.
"When I deployed, I noticed that most people's problems in the combat zone were back at home," said Lt. Col. Thomas McCort, Fort Knox, deputy garrison chaplain. "That pulls on the Soldier, it pulls at their morale, and it pulls their attention away. It's hard to focus on the mission at hand if they're worried about their families back home."
Long deployments, frequent moves and the feeling that Soldiers are always on duty can have negative costs to family life, said McCort. The Chaplain Corps has the resources to help.
"The Army has seen the wisdom of having chaplains specifically trained in marriage counseling and family development assigned to most garrisons," McCort said. "[Family Life] chaplains attend approximately 18 months of training to get licensed in marriage and family counseling. They do a ton of work and hundreds of hours of practicum dealing with [marriage and family] issues."
Major Jonathan Lee is assigned as Fort Knox's Family Life chaplain and conducts counseling at Fort Knox.
"My ministry is married life and family life issues," Lee said. "I provide counseling on a weekly basis, and for many of the couples I see, this is the last step before deciding to divorce."
Lee admits he's no miracle worker but said he is there to facilitate communication and to teach couples to hear each other.
"My job is to help their relationships by training them to listen and to communicate [in order] to connect," Lee said. "There is conflict in every marriage because there are differences. Emotional connection is so important.
"Instead of talking, we need to listen more."
Lee said Family Life chaplains may be helpful, but it is still the couple's job to do the hard work.
"I can't develop the relationship if both partners aren't here, or if they're here and one is hiding things," said Lee. "The help I can give is very limited if both of them aren't willing to do the work."
Lee said there isn't a one-time fix; couples may need to come early and often to keep their marriages functioning.
"We see a lot more success with younger couples, but some couples wait too long and let things build up," Lee said. "They should have acted sooner; it is harder after too much time has passed, and it is often not successful."
Lee said some couples need a jolt to get them back on track, and then training to keep them there.
Lee said the Strong Bounds program, a free overnight retreat to different exotic locations, has provided that electricity before, but he stresses that the program isn't just a romantic getaway.
"We used to call them retreats but [refer to] them as training, now," Lee said "[Couples] come for about six hours of training, and the rest of the time is family time spent bonding with each other and practicing what they've learned."
The Strong Bond training is free to Soldiers and DA civilians, and has even provided childcare. Lee said the program has its merits but insists that married life gets easier with hard work.
"The couples willing to do the hard work are the couples who recover," said Lee. "We've had several couples who return [to attend other Strong Bond events], and their marriages get better and better until a point when they are [functioning] pretty well."
Besides professional pastoral marriage counseling, the Fort Knox Chaplain Family Life Ministry offers premarital guidance, Survival Skills for Healthy Families and Financial Peace University to help Soldiers and civilians with various family issues.
McCort said there are other resources available to couples at the Family Life chaplain's office.
"We have a media section with books, audio books or movies that we think is helpful to Soldiers dealing with different issues," McCort said. "We often have couples work on the same book while on deployments, so they have something they can talk about and connect."