By Paul D. Prince, U.S. Army Forces Command Public AffairsOctober 14, 2009
CRYSTAL CITY, Va. (Oct. 8, 2009)-Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Strohm, assigned to the Army Office of the Chief of Chaplains, and Chaplain (Col.) Bradford Fipps, a U.S. Army Forces Command Staff Chaplain, reached out to FORSCOM Family Readiness Group leaders today, offering information for the Strong Bonds curriculum.
Strong Bonds is a commander-initiated-but chaplain-led-program designed to help strengthen relationships through skill-training for singles, couples, Families and deployment cycle support. All sub-programs aligned under this curriculum are focused on sustaining life-long relations and building up the future force, according to Strohm.
Fipps told attendees how to ensure this training takes place.
"The Army runs on a training schedule. One of the things that makes it a commander-initiated event is that it needs to show up on a training schedule," Fipps explained. "Encourage your chaplain to make sure it's on the training schedule...."
If Strong Bonds events are not on the training schedule, Soldiers can be extracted from the program due to other scheduled training; and subsequently, the Family is unable to complete the program, Fipps added.
Under the Strong Bonds curriculum, the Pre-marital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge (PICK) program is available for singles, Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) for couples and Family Wellness program for Families seeking to enhance their Family skills. There is also a class for deploying and redeploying couples. The singles, couples and Family programs have a structured course consisting of a set number of training hours and an off-site retreat for completion, according to Strohm.
The Strong Bonds concept was first implemented as a pilot program in 1997 under the branding Building Strong and Ready Families (BSRF). BSRF commenced as a three-phase program that climaxed with a weekend retreat for the participating couples. After conducting focus groups in 2004, program officials re-named the relationship-strengthening program Strong Bonds.
"Strong Bonds is an activity-based, action-oriented training," Strohm said. "Sitting at tables and watching PowerPoint slides is not Strong Bonds. It's intended to be activity oriented, 10 minutes of information and 20 minutes of doing something with what you heard."
The Army Reserve, National Guard and Active Army all participate in the Strong Bonds programs. As of 2008, more than 65,000 people have participated in the programs. By year-end 2009, more than 2,600 Strong Bonds events are slated to have been completed, and about 160,000 people are expected to have participated in the events and programs.
"The funding for Strong Bonds is a part of the regular budget now," Fipps said.
We are not sure how much money we will get this year, but our plan is to provide the training and retreats our Families need, he added.
In addition to the Strong Bonds Program, Soldiers and their Families can receive assistance through Army Community Services whose mission is to assist commanders in maintaining readiness of individuals, families and communities within America's Army. ACS, available at all Army installations, provides a myriad of programs and services to assist Army Families to include helpful resources for pre-deployment and redeployment time periods, according to Fipps.
Fipps also told FRG leaders to have their unit chaplains attend FRG meetings prior to reintegration to help spouses become aware of redeploying Soldiers' mindsets.
"There are programs (chaplains can facilitate) called Communications or Battle-mind training...the chaplain can come in and remind you of what will be on the Soldiers' minds when they get home," he said. "One of the biggest problems (Soldiers and Families) have is unfulfilled expectations."
FRG leaders learned that chaplains' services are confidential and available to individuals who want the assistance.
"The chaplain's role in the life of a Soldier or a Family member is only as much of a role as that Soldier or Family member wants the chaplain to have," Strohm said. "You (may) say 'chaplain the door is open' or 'no chaplain, the door is closed.'"
For more information concerning how individuals can register for any Strong Bonds sponsored programs, visit the Strong Bonds Web site at www.strongbonds.org or contact the local installation chaplain's office.