108th Training Command hosts Strong Bonds retreat

12/05/2011  |  By Spc. Rich Barkemeyer 108th Training Command, Public Affairs Office
The Griffon

Sgt. 1st Class Tommy Melson, 108th Training Command (IET) G6 and his wife Belinda renew their wedding vows with Chaplain (Col.) Ralph Gore, Jr., command chaplain, for the 108th during a Strong Bonds retreat hosted by the 108th Aug. 12-14 on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Photo by Spc. Rich Barkemeyer, 108th Training Command (IET) Public Affairs.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — During the weekend of Aug. 12-14, the 108th Training Command (IET) hosted a Strong Bonds Retreat on Hilton Head Island, S.C., to help married couples and single Soldiers enhance and strengthen their relationships. Started in 1997 with just four events, Strong Bonds has spread throughout the Army and Army Reserve, and now reaches more than 160,000 Soldiers and Family members per year.

Over the course of the weekend, Strong Bonds attendees participated in various workshops covering such topics as problem solving, commitment, and most importantly, communication.

“This program was designed by some folks out in Colorado, psychologists and social workers,” said Chaplain (Col.) Ralph Gore, Jr., Command Chaplain for the 108th TC about the instruction that took place during the weekend. “They just did a tremendous number of individual studies and then larger group studies over a long period of time to validate that their program worked if you simply listened to what they say and act on it.”

The weekend began with an icebreaker session Friday night, and continued with classes Saturday morning. Following lunch Saturday, attendees were encouraged to go to the beach, sightsee around Hilton Head Island, or otherwise spend time with their loved ones.

“There are two things that take place in a Strong Bonds event,” said Gore. “One is the training, and that is given by the chaplains or chaplain assistants who have been trained in some particular curriculum. The second thing that takes place is the practicum time, and that’s the time that couples are given to be together to practice some of the skills that they have been learning about in the Friday night and Saturday sessions.”

Okechukwu Chigbu, a chaplain candidate with the 108th Training Command (IET), leads a discussion during the single Soldier’s portion of the 108th’s Strong Bonds retreat, held August 12-14 on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Photo by Spc. Rich Barkemeyer, 108th Training Command (IET) Public Affairs.

The event concluded Sunday morning with a chapel service, after which couples were given the chance to renew their wedding vows. The retreat received high marks from attendees, many saying they would like to attend another Strong Bonds event.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Donald McIntyre, a drill sergeant with A Company, 3rd Battalion, 323rd Regiment, and a Stone Mountain, Ga., resident. “For the military to spend money on something like this means a lot to me. It’s my first one, and I want to come to as many as I can. It was a good learning experience for all of us.”

“This was my first one, but I had gotten a lot of word-of-mouth that it was a great experience, and after being here for the weekend, I definitely agree that it’s a great experience,” said Master Sgt. Masaya Alexis, an operations NCO with the 108th Training Command (IET), and a Denver native. “The location was top-notch. The demeanor and embrace of the coordinators and facilitators was very inviting. The knowledge that they shared with us was well-presented.”

While Strong Bonds began as a way to help strengthen marriages, the program now has a special course for single Soldiers. 

“The purpose of the single Soldier event is to try to teach skills for those who are in the marriage market,” said Gore, “to help them identify the sorts of things that make for good relationships, and partners who will enable them to build a relationship.”

The single Soldiers workshop focused on the book “How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk” by John Van Epp. The session was unlike most Army training in that it was discussion-based, said Ferris Scott, a Charleston, S.C., resident and member of HHC, 2nd Battalion, 98th Training Division (IET) who attended the event.

“I was expecting ‘death by Power Point,’ said Scott. “But it’s been really relaxed, and everyone can express their own opinion. I learned a lot, not just from the male perspective but from the female. I’m very set in my own ways, and I like things done a certain way. I learned a lot about communicating and the importance of compromise I’m looking forward to coming back to the next one.”

The 108th hosts several Strong Bonds events throughout the year, but Soldiers who attend more than one may not get the same set of instruction again, said Gore.

“There are about 13 different curricula, so there’s always something new going on,” he said. “In other words, this program that was rather monolithic and small at first has grown immensely with a host of possibilities and instructional techniques. This keeps it fresh, so if you go to a Strong Bonds event this year, there’s a good likelihood that if you go to one next year or the year after, you’re probably going to get a different approach.”

The program will continue to evolve, and eventually the separate programs for married couples and single Soldiers may be combined into one larger group, Gore said. For now though, the Strong Bonds program remains a key focus of the 108th Training Command.

“The goal here is to build strong and resilient families, and if you do that, you have a Soldier who is more likely to be effective,” said Gore. “If you’re downrange and all you’re doing is thinking about problems at home, then your head’s not in the game. That’s a good way to get hurt, or get somebody else hurt. This, in a sense, has proved across the board to be a force multiplier. It’s all about taking care of Soldiers and their families.”

The 108th will continue to try and increase Soldier readiness by strengthening families with programs such as Strong Bonds. In the meantime, Gore encourages as many Soldiers and family members as possible to attend one of the events.

“I’m surprised by the number of people I come across who have never been to a Strong Bonds event, and I just don’t get it,” said Gore. “Think this through: the Army is going to pay you to go, the Army is going to pay for your hotel, the Army is going to pay your per diem, and they’re going to pay your transportation. This is like an all-expenses-paid vacation. And all they ask you to do if you’re a married Soldier is to work on the relationship with someone you’re supposed to be in love with. I look at this and think, ‘Why don’t we have thousands of people flooding us to go to these things?’ If you’re out there and you haven’t been, you need to try it.”

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