FORT STEWART, Ga. - Five hundred fifty family members from 3rd Infantry Division attended a strong bonds family retreat held, Oct. 19 to 21, in Hilton Head, S.C.

The marriage retreat was led by Maj. David K. Trogdon, the chaplain for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, and Staff Sgt. Andre L. Gambrell, the chaplain assistant noncommissioned officer in charge for 4th IBCT.

The retreat included a marriage seminar video and sessions held by other contributing chaplains from Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field. The sessions discussed communication, deployments, and army programs that help families.

Roxanne R. Walker, the 3rd ID chaplain's wife, shared her experiences as a military wife and mother.

Walker, the president of the Fort Stewart Protestant Women of the Chapel, touched on how to talk with deployed spouses. She said, "Don't lay everything on them, they worry too." She understands the struggles families go through during deployments, and she encouraged the ladies to be strong during those moments, both in their faith and mentally.

For some couples, this was their first retreat. Private 1st Class Julian R. Espejo, a mortar man from headquarters and headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th IBCT, and his wife Michelle found out about the retreat through their battalion chaplain's assistant.

They said, "We have pages of notes and definitely enjoyed it." Mrs. Espejo said she really enjoyed the five love language quiz. "I found out he likes quality time more than affection." This is the first marriage retreat for the couple, who have been married for eight months.

For other couples, this was not their first retreat, but look forward to these types of experiences offered by the chaplain's office.

2nd Lt. Christopher L. Ortiz, a support platoon leader with HHC, 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th IBCT, said, "My chaplain called me and asked if I wanted to come; it's nice to have a chaplain that thinks of you."

Lymarie Valle, Ortiz's wife, said, "This is going to be our first deployment and I felt the seminar answered many questions." They both agreed that talking about deployment and finding out about many family resources was what they really enjoyed from the seminar. Ortiz said at the last marriage seminar, they were just shown a video.

Before the marriage seminar was over, Capt. Michael W. Bradford, the chaplain for 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th IBCT, surprised his wife, Panoh Bradford, by renewing their vows in front of the 200 Families at the seminar.

The Bradfords have been married for 29 years, but Capt. Bradford is slated to deploy during their 30th wedding anniversary, said Chaplain Trogdon.

Chaplain Bradford, of Huntsville, Ala., said, "I kept it a secret from her; she asked why she needed a new dress."

Mrs. Bradford, a native of Thailand, has been to many family retreats as a chaplain's wife, but didn't expect this. With a smile on her face, she said, "He surprised me with what he did."

After the seminar and vow renewal, families were released to enjoy the rest of their two night stay at the beach-front resort. All meals were included for the length of the stay, and free child care was provided for children of all ages.

Gambrell, a Philadelphia, Pa., native , said, "In the past we've had limited funds, but the army and the Chief of Chaplains office realized that strong bonds retreats reduce stress and are a factor in helping families and in reducing suicides ... we have unlimited funds now." "It was phenomenal", he added.