Being deployed brings many unique challenges for married Soldiers: paying bills, child care, and communication with family and friends. For dual-military marriages, these responsibilities can be even more confusing and frustrating, because they are both deployed. Sixteen dual-military couples gathered at Freedom Rest North at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, outside Tikrit, Iraq, Feb. 10-12, to learn effective techniques to keep their marriage strong and healthy while serving on a deployment.

The marriage retreat was more than just making sure couples stay together; it was an effort to ensure Soldiers remain mentally strong throughout a deployment.

"Improving marriages here is improving work performance for Soldiers," said Maj. Terry Romine, the Family Life Chaplain with 3rd Infantry Division and the counselor for the marriage retreat.

Romine worked through a series of exercises and lectures aimed at bringing couples closer together. He used video clips and got the participants involved with his often animated and passionate instruction.

One exercise involved couples standing apart from one another with their hands not quite touching each other. Then the couples placed their hands on each others' heart and hugged for 10 seconds.

For Romine, that particular exercise was very important. He said it brought the couples back together and demonstrated to each person in the relationship that the other is there for them. For some couples, closeness to their spouse was the best gift the Army could provide.

For one married couple, 1st Lt. Walter Long and his wife Staff Sgt. Michael Long, both from 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and Staff Sgt. Michel Long moved into their first house on COB Speicher, it was a containerized housing unit. They've been married for a year and a half, but due to training requirements, one of the two has been away for the entire length of their marriage. For them, this marriage retreat was a perfect opportunity to spend more time together.

"The Army gives plenty of opportunity to be apart," said Romine. "When they have a chance to be together, they should be together."

While some co-located couples have the opportunity to see each other every day on their COBs and Forward Operating Bases, others seized this opportunity to reconnect with their spouse after a being apart.

"We've been here four months and I've seen [my wife] once-for one day," said Sgt. Maj. John Johnson, the senior enlisted advisor for Command Post South. "This is a great opportunity for me to see her and also to enhance our marriage."

The benefits stretched beyond these couples deployed throughout U.S. Division North - Iraq. Couples were empowered with information and resources to take back to their home unit to help couples better cope with the deployment.

"We can take some of the stuff we learned in there and share with our fellow Soldiers," said Master Sgt. Cynthia Johnson, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. "We can recommend some of the books and share the stories and exercises from the retreat."

Romine, pleased to have the opportunity to offer a marriage retreat in Iraq, is well aware of the positive effects these 16 couples can have on their fellow Soldiers.

"There's everything right about this retreat," said Romine.