By 1st Lt. Raena Guerrero and Sgt. 1st Class Rob Wayman, D Company, 53rd Signal Battalion (SATCON)March 28, 2013
WAHIAWA, Hawaii - On Jan. 2, the Soldiers and spouses of D Company learned that Chaplain (Capt.) William J. Sheets, 53rd Signal Battalion (Satellite Control), would lead a marriage retreat in March.
This was to be the second in a four-part series titled, Five Love Languages, as part of the Strong Bonds Program, a chaplain-led program for commanders that builds relationship resiliency.
The Strong Bonds mission is to increase Soldier and family readiness through relationship education and skills training. Four Strong Bonds programs applied to the Army force generation cycle help single Soldiers, couples and families to thrive in the turbulence of the military environment.
Attendees voluntarily participate in a Strong Bonds offsite retreat designed to maximize relationship training impact. The retreat provides an emotionally safe and secure training environment to address the effect of military lifestyle stressors.
Healthy relationships are important to the Army because they contribute to the maintenance of a healthy Army and a secure force. With increasing demands placed on Soldiers and families, to include both frequent deployments and duty relocations, intimate relationships are fully tested.
Research shows that training in communication skills, intimacy, and conflict management increases marital satisfaction and reduces rates of family violence. Building Army Family resiliency is part of a strategic approach to cope with the high operational demand placed on today's Army.
All 18 slots were filled quickly after the program was announced. Strong Bonds was scheduled to take place March 15-17, but fiscal uncertainty caused the program to be suspended.
Planning for Department of the Army civilian furloughs, hiring freezes and suspension of tuition assistance for Soldiers are some of the more widely known effects of the current budgetary climate. On March 8, all active component Strong Bonds events were officially temporarily suspended, as well.
"It was not easy explaining to the families and Soldiers that the Strong Bonds retreat had to be canceled, but they understood the dismal circumstances," said Capt. Rebecca L. Bort after a family readiness group meeting.
As tighter budgets have recently made such retreats scarce, service members and their spouses understand the opportunities are rare and should be taken when they arise.
"While I understand that the Army has to make adjustments based on the blanket cuts the government made, I think it is such a shame that this has to be one of the areas that gets hurt the most," said Stephanie Sorg-Kratt, an active member and co-leader of the unit FRG. "I am so grateful to the Army for all the opportunities that it has offered my family. What I don't think many people understand is that there are also sacrifices that have to be made. We are some of the lucky few where our husbands do not get deployed but they do spend a significant amount of time and energy at work.
"These retreats allow us all to take time to relax, reconnect, and learn some great tools to handle the many stresses that can come with being an Army family," she added.
On March 13, Bort said he received a phone call from Sheets saying the retreat was reinstated, but unfortunately, separated by land and sea, he would be unable to lead the event.
Instead, Chaplain (Capt.) Philip Jeon, a local chaplain from 307th Signal Battalion, accepted the last minute request to support and host this Strong Bonds event. The Soldiers and families were notified and all available slots were refilled.
The event took place at the J.W. Marriot Ihalani Ko Olina Resort where the couples arrived on March 15 for registration followed by dinner as a family. Childcare was provided and the first iteration of training began Friday evening.
On March 16, the families enjoyed breakfast together followed by the children attending daycare and the second block of instruction. The day's events included several video presentations from Mark Gunger titled, "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage." There was also a video presentation by Dave Ramsey covering the Financial Peace Plan.
The day's training concluded at noon in preparation for "Couples Night" ¬¬-- time scheduled to allow Soldiers and their spouses to spend some quality time together and reconnect, which is often difficult when balancing shift work, children and for some spouses school work, as well.
The retreat concluded March 17 with one final training session and an after action review.
"We were glad the Strong Bonds wasn't cancelled. After all the bad news about furloughs and tuition assistance, this event was a rewarding experience to our family," said 1st Lt. Joseph Guerrero, husband of 1st Lt. Raena Guerrero, unit executive officer.
The Guerreros are a dual military couple and spent the last year apart while Joseph was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, making this event very significant to them both.
One of those who took part in the retreat said she enjoyed her time and was glad to be able spend some time relaxing, if only for a weekend.
"We are very grateful for the opportunity to take part in the Strong Bonds Retreat, our Soldiers work long hours and it's hard to find quality family/couple time," said Wendy Dienhart, FRG leader. "The training we received is a good reminder, even to those with the best relationships, that it takes work and thoughtfulness to make a successful marriage."